The Kirkpatrick Empress of France

Born in Granada, Spain, María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick (1826-1920) is the most highly placed and famous character in the Kirkpatrick family tree. From an aristocratic family, she became Empress of France when she married Napoleon III in 1853. I do not know when our trees cross, although it is likely before 1600 when Scots began to relocate to Ireland in large numbers, and perhaps well before. No claims to the throne coming from me!

Her grandfather was the Scotsman William Kirkpatrick of Closeburn ((1764–1837), who was US Consul from 1800-1817, and he was a wine merchant in Malaga, Spain. He’d exiled in Spain after supporting the Stuart pretensions to the throne made returning to Scotland problematic. As United States Consul in Malaga between 1800 and 1817, William Kirkpatrick excelled in commerce, with excellent connections in Europe and America. ” Allied with similar families from across Europe, the Kirkpatricks revolutionized trade and industry in southern Spain and even had a hand in introducing grapevines to Australia.” Geni

María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick
María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox y Kirkpatrick, 39 x 50cm/16 x 19″

His daughter and mother to Eugenia was María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closeburn y de Grevigné. Eugenia’s father was Don Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero, Grandee of Spain, 15th Duke of Peñaranda de Duero, 9th Count of Montijo, 15th Count of Teba, 8th Count of Ablitas, 8th Count of Fuentidueña, 14th Marquess of Ardales, 17th Marquess of Moya and 13th Marquess of la Algaba. Her mother, María Manuela Enriqueta Kirkpatrick de Closeburn y de Grevigné, gave birth to María Francisca de Sales “Paca” de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick, who became Duchess of Alba, and later to Eugenia. There was a son who died young.

In 1834 María Manuela Enriqueta took daughters Eugenia and her older sister to Paris, fleeing a cholera outbreak. There the red haired Eugenia became an athletic and affable student, if mediocre academically. She liked horseback riding and swimming. She was very interested in politics and came to support the Bonapartist cause. Eugenia met Napoleon at a reception he hosted after he became the President of the Second Republic at the Elysée Palace on April 12, 1849. They wed on 29 January 1853 in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries in Paris, which is connected to the Louvre, and on the 30th in a religious ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Napoléon and Eugénie had one child together, Napoléon, Prince Imperial (1856–1879). They lived in England after their exile. She died on a visit to Spain.

Emperor Napoléon III and Eugenia de Palafox Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick
Empress Eugenia with Emperor Napoléon III and Prince Napoleón Eugenio Luis (b 1856) circa 1858

Our guide at Closeburn Castle, María Navarro de Sepúlveda, said Eugenia was on the wild side. For example she purportedly enraged the Ottoman Sultan by taking a son in her arm. She supported many conservative causes, reflected in her staunch support of monarchies. She opposed the unification of Italy, in large measure due to her loyalty to the Pope. On the other hand, she advocated equality for women, supporting such causes as the effort to make George Sand the first female member of the Académie Française. She was a supporter of the arts, establishing the Musée Chinois at Fontainebleau.

She was no wall flower, that seems certain. She was active in governing France, officially representing the Emperor when he traveled outside France, while acting as his adviser on many matters. Among other official activities, she was present at the opening of the Suez Canal. She opposed a Prussian candidate for the vacant Spanish throne in the controversy that precipitated the Franco-German War of 1870. See

She had a strong influence on fashion and was memorialized in film. The Eugénie hat, popularized by Greta Garbo, was worn dramatically tilted and drooped over one eye. More representative of the empress’ actual apparel was the late 19th-century paletot, a coat with bell sleeves and a single button enclosure at the neck. Her character played a role in six films, and in the miniseries Sisi of 2009 vintage. The asteroid 45 Eugenia was named after her. She has a place in the official website of the Chateau of Versailles. There is much more of note. There are numerous books and articles about Eugenia:

Aubry, Octave (1939). Eugenie: Empress of the French. London: Cobden-Sanderson. Du Camp, Maxime (1949). Souvenirs d’un Demi-Siècle: Au Temps de Louis-Philippe et de Napoléon III 1830-1870 (in French). Hachette. Duff, David (1978). Eugenie and Napoleon III. New York: William Morrow. ISBN0688033385. Filon, Augustin (1920). Recollections of the Empress Eugénie. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd. Retrieved 14 August 2013. Horne, Alistair (1965). The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Kurtz, Harold (1964). The Empress Eugénie: 1826–1920. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. LCCN64006541. Leroy, Alfred (1969). The Empress Eugénie. London: Heron Books. McQueen, Alison (2011). Empress Eugénie and the Arts: Politics and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century. Burlington: Ashgate. ISBN9781409405856. “Hôtel du Palais”. Merimée. Ministry of Culture. Retrieved 10 June 2013. Prince, Danforth; Porter, Darwin (2010). Frommer’s France 2011. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN9780470641774. Sencourt, Robert (1931). The Life of the Empress Eugénie. London: Ernest Benn. Seward, Desmond (2004). Eugénie: The Empress and her Empire. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN0-7509-29790. Stoddart, Jane T. (1906). The Life of the Empress Eugénie. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Tschudi, Clara (1899). Eugenie: Empress of the French. A Popular Sketch. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Wawro, Geoffrey (2003). The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871. Cambridge University Press. ISBN9780521584364. See Wikipedia

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