'NEVER WASTE TIME dramatising life,' said the Empress Eugénie in 1911 to her biographer Lucien Daudet. 'It's quite dramatic enough without that.' The 85-year-old woman spoke from unrivalled experience. Her career had been one of the previous century's most astounding and her position as an historic icon was unshakeable, but there were moments when this child of a Spanish count and a Scottish wine-merchant's daughter might have wished for an existence less crowded with incident. Except for her family's friendship with Stendhal (who thrilled her with stories of Napoleon's victories, converting her &m socialism to Bonapartism), nothing in a rather hoydenish girlhood of pistol-shooting, bareback riding and visits to the bullring could have prepared Eugenia de Montijo for the singular destiny which led to her marriage in 1853 to Bonaparte's nephew Louis Napoleon, self-appointed 'Emperor of the French'.
Attempts at accrediting Eugénie as a foreign adventures of dubious moral character failed principally because she and her husband were so to capitalise on the popular impact made by their glamour and wealth. Overnight, as it were, an imperial court was spirited into being on a scale of magnificence unseen