Sunday, February 1, 2015

Empress Eugenie and the Life-Size Doll

Victoria, Princess Royal, 1855

This is why I love history. Always have. While into a corker of a good read about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, "We Two" by Gillian Gill, I came across this lovely tidbit.

Despite the fact that France had been England's sworn enemy for eons, Queen Victoria was advised to make nice in 1855 with Napoleon Bonaparte III, a nephew of the first Napoleon who in 1853 had declared himself Emperor of France and was ruling with his beautiful wife, Eugenie. Victoria invited the couple to England for a state visit. They were treated royally. Queen Victoria was reportedly charmed by the charismatic couple. She and Eugenie remained friends till the end of Victoria's life. Fifteen-year-old Vicky, Princess Royal, was smitten by the beautiful Eugenie, and the two became friends as well.

Empress Eugenie, 1858

Empress Eugenie was the Jacqueline Kennedy of her day. That's how far reaching and important was her influence. Paris was the undisputed capital of fashion, and Eugenie was on top of the capitol. A Spanish royal, Eugenie had managed to fend off Bonaparte's legendary charms so the only way he could win her was to wed her.

Eugenie sympathized with Princess Vicky's plight that she had no stylish clothes to wear. Even then Britain had a solid reputation for stodgy and the Queen herself had questionable taste in fashion. Before the visit ended, Eugenie had Vicky's measurements taken for a "life-size doll" to be made. Eugenie then sent it from France with a wardrobe of Paris fashions for "the doll" to wear. And Princess Victoria had a lovely wardrobe of the latest styles without ruffling any royal feathers.

Lest you think all this history is just ancient, Eugenie lived until 1920, dying at age 94. Dowager Countess Violet of Downton Abbey might even have known her.


  1. "Even then Britain had a solid reputation for stodgy"? implying we still have that reputation?! News to me!
    Slightly offended Brit who very much enjoys reading your blog .....

  2. Yikes! Let me correct that! I am a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile (garment fiber pun intended), but for many years Britain did have some catching up to do fashion-wise. But, hello, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Roxsanda Ilincic, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki... the list goes on and on. What surprised me was how long ago Britain had that reputation, which has been shed lo these many years. So please forgive, any and all Brits, who took what may be argued a justifiable offense. And I for one don't think France is the capital of fashion anymore, either.

  3. Thanks for this lovely snippet of history -- and the reminder that it was not really that long ago.