Tag Archive | Napoleon

Memoirs of a Highland Lady: Queen of Sweden

The book Désirée  by Annemarie Selinko was one of the first historical fiction books I read. I loved the movie version of the book starring Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando. My favorite scene is when Désirée throws champagne on Josephine’s dress because she knows it will stain. (She should know, as the daughter of a silk merchant.) A close second is when she runs away and is thinking of jumping from a bridge when her future husband finds her and pretty much announces that they’ll be married. I guess that’s not the way it really happened, but I love it nonetheless.

So imagine my surprise when I’m reading Memoirs of a Highland Lady and dear Désirée appears!

Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary was the daughter of a silk merchant in Marseille, France. She was briefly engaged to Joseph Bonaparte and her sister Julie to Napoleon Bonaparte, but then they switched partners. Julie married Joseph Bonaparte and Napoleon eventually broke his engagement to Désirée to marry Josephine instead. Désirée instead married a General of France, Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte, who was eventually adopted by the childless King of Sweden as heir to the throne. Désirée did not enjoy living in Sweden and returned to France without her husband and son in 1811.

Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte

At one point she apparently fell in love with the French prime minister, but the affection was not answered by Richelieu, who referred to her as his “crazy Queen”. According to Laure Junot, she did not dare to speak to him or approach him, but she followed him wherever he went, tried to make contact with him, followed him on his trip to Spa and had flowers placed in his room. She followed him around until his death in 1822.

Elizabeth Grant writes:

On reading over my travels, I find I have left out a good many little incidents that in their due place would have materially lightened the rather meager narrative, but they are in themselves too trifling to stand alone in a list of omissions—excepting indeed two incidents which really should not be forgotten. Our dinner at the Dutch merchant’s at Rotterdam, for he kept his word that chance acquaintance of ours of the table d’hôte at Maestricht, and the singular behaviour of two people who, one or the other of them, crossed our path in almost every direction, the queen of Sweden and the Duc de Richelieu.

Bernadotte Eugénie Désirée Clary Bernadotte

She was the Wife of Bernadotte, once Mademoiselle Le Clerk of Marseilles. Monsieur de Richelieu had, ‘twas said, been her lover and she was constant still, age though detracting from her charms not having chilled her heart. He had tired of the business and he was now intent on flying, while she pursued. He had a light carriage and travelled post with small attendance and he must have had a staff of intelligence Agents all along the road besides, for frequently when he seemed quite settled comfortably in the same hotel with ourselves at different places, Aix, Liège, Spa, he would suddenly interrupt all his quiet arrangements, pack up and be off without leaving a trace behind and just get out of sight before the queen arrived in her more stately equipage, a well loaded Berline. Her stay was always short, her manners hurried, the many imperials were no sooner unpacked and carried up to her apartment than they were down again and replaced upon the carriage, and her Majesty and suite hastening after them, when away they rolled upon their fruitless search. While we were in the habit of encountering them, he had always the start of her, always escaped her. She was a pretty little woman, no longer young but well preserved, beautifully dressed and had something attractive about her air though he was not in the least dignified. It was odd altogether such proceedings in a queen, for there seemed to be no attempt at any concealment of the object of her cross journeyings, the enquiries concerning the pursued being quite open and most minute. We set the whole affair down to the account of foreign manners.

Armand-Emmanuel Duke of Richelieu

Memoirs of a Highland Lady

‘I was born on the 7th May 1797 of a Sunday evening at No. 5 N. side of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, in my father’s own lately built house and I am the eldest of five children he and my mother raised to maturity.’ Thus opens one of the most famous set of memoirs ever written. Since its first bowdlerised edition in 1898, they have been consistently in print. This is the first ever complete text. Written between 1845 and 1854 the memoirs were originally intended simply for Elizabeth’s family, but these vivid and inimitable records of life in the early 19th century, and above all on the great Rothiemurchus estate, full of sharp observation and wit, form an unforgettable picture of her time. The story ends with the thirty-three-year-old Elizabeth finding her own future happiness in marriage to an Irish landowner, Colonel Smith of Baltiboys. ‘A masterpiece of historical and personal recall.’ Scotsman

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Memoirs of a Highland Lady

Apsley House Celebrates the 199th Anniversary of the Victory of Waterloo

wellington

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Many authors of historical romance are passionate about military history and delight in studying every little detail. I have to admit that I was always bored in history class when we studied battles and dates and stuff. To me, history is the story is people and how they lived, what they thought, and how they struggled through life’s challenges. Which is why I love visiting historical homes and museums and imagining what it was like back then.

As much as Society tried to ignore the military conflicts and live their lives normally (much as we do even today), these wars—particularly the Peninsular War—directly affected them. As a Regency romance author, I don’t (or haven’t) written directly about this war with Napoleon, but it is important to know about it because my characters would have known about it, and it would no doubt have affected their thoughts and attitudes. Britain lost 15,000, the Prussians, 7,000, at Waterloo alone (Napoleon lost 25,000 and 8,000 captured). That’s not counting the losses in the previous years. And keep in mind that France was only an English Channel away, so there was a good chance Napoleon might try to invade Britain itself at some point. (It wasn’t quite like WWII where Britain was actually attacked by German warplanes, but it had to be a concern of the British people during the Regency era as well.)

For that reason alone, I embrace the study of this important battle, and why I returned to Apsley House (Wellington’s home) this weekend for the Waterloo Festival.

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_ProjectImagine how the history of the world would have changed had Napoleon emerged the victor at Waterloo? Would he indeed have been able to conquer the world? There is no doubt that he was a military genius, but he was human and made some mistakes that contributed to his downfall. Of course, the heavy downpour the day before the battle was a contributing factor as well.

Apsley House is a beautiful home, full of portraits of Wellington and his cronies and important statesmen of the time. (Did you know he and Napoleon were born the same year?) I have a feeling Wellington actually admired Napoleon’s military acumen, in spite of his determination to thwart the man’s ambitions to rule the world. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful homes this summer, and I love to savor each and every piece, but the one thing that really impresses me about Apsley House is the numerous, extravagant gifts that were pressed upon the Iron Duke from grateful statesmen all over the world. The priceless silver pieces, the china and porcelain, the furniture, the sculptures—this extraordinary man did the world a tremendous favor by managing to stop the most cunning, determined, and ambitious man anyone of the time had ever seen.

spectacular-silver

porcelain

silver

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was like a god!

The Festival

Besides visiting the house itself, during the festival included various events. For example, I enjoyed watching the demonstration of the soldiers of the 95th Rifles. See the video here. I believe they will improve with practice! Then, in the ballroom, another “soldier” gave a rundown of the battle using vegetables, fruits, and baguettes. The end of the demonstration is here.

95th Rifles

95th Rifles

For more photos of Apsley House, Wellington, and Waterloo, check out my Pinterest page here.

Next year is the bicentennial. Are you up for a trip to London in 2015?