Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense de Beauharnais

Beauharnais, Hortense de, 1783-1837, queen of Holland (1806-10), daughter of Alexandre and Josephine de Beauharnais and wife of Louis Bonaparte. She was the mother of Napoleon III and—by her lover, the comte de Flahaut—of the duc de Morny.

See C. Wright, Daughter to Napoleon (1961).

Hortense Eugénie Cécile Bonaparte (née de Beauharnais), Queen Consort of Holland (10 April 1783 - 5 October 1837), was the wife of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland and the mother of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

Early life

Hortense was born in Paris, France on 10 April 1783, the daughter of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and of his wife Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie. Her parents separarated shortly after her birth. In 1794, her father was executed during the Reign of Terror and her mother was imprisoned in The Carmes. She was later released on 6 August, due to the intervention of her best friend Thérèse Tallien. Two years later her mother married Napoleon Bonaparte. Hortense was educated at the school of Madame Jeanne Campan at St. Germaine along with Napoleon's youngest sister Caroline Bonaparte Murat. She was tall, slender with blonde hair, large blue eyes, a heart-shaped face and fine features. She had an elder brother, Eugéne de Beauharnais. Hortense was an accomplished (amateur) musical composer and supplied the army of her stepfather Napoleon with rousing marches.


In 1802 at Napoleon's request, Hortense married his brother Louis Bonaparte. The couple had three sons:

In 1806 Napoleon appointed his brother Louis, King of Holland. Hortense accompanied her husband to The Hague, in spite of the fact that their marriage was an unhappy one. In 1810 Louis abdicated as King of Holland and settled in Germany; Hortense, on the other hand, returned with her sons to France.

Illegitimate son

Hortense was now free to respond to the romantic overtures of the man whom she had long admired, Colonel Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut, a sophisticated, handsome man rumoured to be the son of Talleyrand. They soon became lovers. In 1811 at an unspecified inn in Switzerland close to Lake Geneva Hortense secretly gave birth to a son by her lover,

  • Charles Auguste Louis Joseph (21 October 1811 - 10 March 10 1865), later made duc de Morny by his half-brother, Napoleon III. Only her brother Eugéne, Adélaide Filleul de Sousa, de Flahaut's mother, and her closest companions were aware of her pregnancy and the subsequent birth. She had used poor health to explain her prolonged visit to Switzerland, the journey having been arranged by Adélaide. Hortense cleverly disguised her pregnancy (she was by then, in her sixth month), during the baptism of Napoleon's son, Napoleon II when she was chosen to be one of the child's godmothers, an honour she shared with Madame Mere, mother of the Emperor.

Later Years

At the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814, Hortense received the protection of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia; at his instigation she was created duchess of Saint-Leu by King Louis XVIII. During the Hundred Days, however, Hortense supported her stepfather and brother-in-law Napoleon. This led to her banishment from France after his final defeat. She traveled in Germany and Italy before purchasing the Château of Arenenberg in the Swiss canton of Thurgau in 1817. She lived there until her death on 5 October, 1837, at age 54. She is buried next to her mother Josephine in the St Pierre-St Paul church in Rueil-Malmaison.

A portrait of Hortense hangs at Ash Lawn-Highland, the Virginia plantation home of James Monroe, 5th President of the United States. It was one of three portraits given by Hortense to Monroe's daughter Eliza, who went to school with Hortense in France. (The other two portraits are of Hortense's brother Eugene de Beauharnais and of Madame Campan, the headmistress of the school attended by Hortense and Eliza). Eliza's daughter Hortensia Monroe Hay was named in honor of Hortense.


  • Mossiker, Frances. Napoleon and Josephine. p. 347.
  • Epton, Nina. Josephine.

See also

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