The Bonaparte Women – Hortense de Beauharnais (Part 2)

(public domain)

Read the first part here.

Hortense was now free to respond to the charms of Charles de Flahaut, a man she had long admired. She was staying in Geneva when she met him as he was part of her mother’s entourage.1 They could not be together long as his military duties required him to go to Paris. Hortense took plenty of rest before taking on the journey to Paris, and she arrived there at the end of September 1810. Once there, she also saw her two sons.

Hortense settled in a house in Paris with a small household. She had been allowed to keep her title. She settled into a routine of drawing and painting in the morning, lunching with her lady-in-waiting and riding or walking in the afternoon. There was no royal protocol in her house.2 Charles de Flahaut became a regular visitor, and the two began a passionate love affair, but by early 1811, Hortense began to fear she had fallen pregnant by her lover. Charles was delighted, but Hortense was afraid. When she was six months pregnant, she left Paris for the baths at Aix-les-Bains, and Charles too took a three-month leave for his health. In her memoirs, Hortense recorded, “I wanted to travel but fell ill in Moritz-en-Valais…” She had given birth to her fourth child on 21 October 1811. She could only hold the boy briefly. He was registered with the name Charles Auguste Joseph Louis de Morny, with fake parents.3 She returned to Paris without her son.

After the tragic death of one of her friends, Hortense left for Dieppe to recover. There she met Madame de Souza, who had the young Charles in her care.4 Then came even more tragedy, as her mother died on 29 May 1814 at the age of 50. Hortense was there when her mother died and had to be carried into the next room. Not much later, Napoleon was defeated, and the Napoleonic era had come to an end. Hortense travelled east to her brother and his family. He had married Princess Augusta of Bavaria in 1806. Soon she was on the move again, and she returned to France to face the newly restored Bourbon King. He allowed her to remain in France with her two sons, but she was closely watched by the secret police.5 Napoleon’s escape from Elba was brief, and he greeted her coldly. He accused her of staying in France during his exile and her meeting with the King. Napoleon was defeated again at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 and exiled to St. Helena, where he died.

What would the future be like without Napoleon? On 17 July, Hortense was ordered to leave France within 24 hours. She decided to leave her valuables as she feared being robbed. Hortense held her sons’ hands as the carriage left Paris. She did not know what their final destination would be. At Aix-en-Savoie, she was reunited with Charles, but he could only stay for one day.6 In October, a Parisian lawyer came by to demand her eldest son. He was told to bring the boy to Rome. Hortense and her youngest son remained behind.7 Finally, permission came for her to stay in Baden, at least for now. At the end of 1816, she ended her affair with Charles de Flahaut once and for all. She had never been his one and only love. In 1817, he married Margaret Mercer Elphinstone.8 Hortense bought a house on the Swiss side of the Bodensee. Finally, she could settle down again.

She spent her days writing her memoirs and wrote a lot about her stepfather. The death of her brother in 1824 hit her hard. In 1826, her eldest son married a cousin, Charlotte Bonaparte. She had hoped for grandchildren, but none would come during her lifetime. In the early 1830s, Hortense was finally able to return to Paris. She told the King they were on their way to England, and he introduced her to his wife and sister.9 Her eldest son died at the age of 26 in 1831. In her last few years, she mourned her sons and lived only for Louis. Her health began to deteriorate, though she paid no particular attention to it. In the early hours of 5 October 1837, Hortense died. She was buried alongside her mother.

  1. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.329
  2. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.332
  3. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.344-345
  4. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.381
  5. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.438
  6. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.498
  7. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.496
  8. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.503
  9. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.538

About Moniek Bloks 2319 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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