The Last Empress of France was born into a Spanish noble family on 5 May 1826. Eugénie was formally educated mostly in Paris. A school report praised her strong liking for athletic exercise, and although an indifferent student, that her character was “good, generous, active and firm.” A short, disastrous stay, in 1837, in a boarding school near Bristol, England, where she was known as “Carrots”, for her auburn hair, and from which she tried to run away, to India, completed Eugénie’s formal schooling. However, most of her education took place at home, under the tutelage of English governesses.
In 1849, Eugénie first met Prince Louis Napoléon after he had become president of the Second Republic, with her mother. The couple wed, on 29 January 1853, in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries, and on the 30th there was a much grander religious ceremony at Notre Dame. Eugénie found childbearing extraordinarily difficult. An initial miscarriage in 1853, after a three month pregnancy, frightened and soured her. On 16 March 1856, after a two-day labor that endangered mother and child and from which Eugénie made a very slow recovery, the empress gave birth to an only son, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, styled Prince Impérial, who was tragically killed in the Anglo-Zuzu War.
Her husband often consulted her on important questions, and she acted as Regent during his absences in 1859, 1865 and 1870. A Catholic and a conservative, her influence countered any liberal tendencies in the emperor’s policies. When the Second French Empire was overthrown after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the empress and her husband took refuge in England, and settled at Chislehurst, Kent. After the deaths of her husband and son, as her health started to deteriorate, she spent some time at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The former empress died in July 1920, aged 94, during a visit to her relative the Duke of Alba, at the Liria Palace in Madrid in her native Spain.