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Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, Duke of Leuchtenberg (1781-1824)

An only son, Eugene Rose de Beauharnais was born on September 3rd, 1781 to the Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais and his wife Marie-Joseph-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, later called Josephine by Napoleon.

Eugene's father was a soldier and a politician, being a member of the Estates General and president of the Constituent Assembly, and when the revolution came, he was wise enough to embrace it, renouncing his titles. At first this bode well. In 1793 General Beauharnais was made commander of the Army of the Rhine, but as things became more extreme, the fact that he was a former noble was too much for the Jacobins to bear.

The Jacobins seized the opportunity when de Beauharnais failed to relieve Mainz that August. He was first relieved of command, then arrested, then imprisoned, along with Josephine. The following year, Alexandre went to the guillotine. Josephine survived, only because the Jacobins fell from power.

With the founding of the Empire in 1804, Eugene was promoted to general, soon afterward came the honorary title of Colonel General of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde Imperiale. In 1805 he was named a prince of the empire and made Napoleon's viceroy in Italy, where he served his stepfather loyally. In 1809 he was only 28-years old and eager to make a great reputation for himself. War with the Austrians was imminent and his inexperience was the source of great anxiety for Napoleon and the viceroy alike.

It was this strong, determined woman who decided that no matter what, her children would be protected and looked after. Without money, she relied upon other means to advance her position. She contrived to get Eugene posted as a staff officer with the smitten General Hoche, who no doubt received a mother's gratitude.

This was all good for Eugene. Even by the standards of the day, he could be considered old fashioned. He had been schooled to believe in civic and military integrity, and he was proudly patriotic. He wanted to serve, unjaded by his father's death.

Prince Eugene as Napoleon's Viceroy of Italy

First Campaign

His first campaign was in the Vendée, and he fought at Quiberon, but within a year his mother had arranged his safe return to Paris; for she was now of some importance. It was here that Eugene met Napoleon Bonaparte, currently a newly-promoted General of Division. Bonaparte had suppressed the Royalist Coup in October of 1795, and Eugene met him when requesting the return of his father's sword, seized during the suppression. It seems Napoleon was impressed, as was Eugene, and the blade was returned.

Little did Eugene guess that in March 1796 Napoleon would become his stepfather. Much has been written of the great romance, with opinion changing readily and frequently about who loved who and just how much. What mattered to Eugene was his career. In June 1797 Bonaparte arranged a posting for his stepson as a lieutenant in the 1st Hussars, part of the renowned Army of Italy. He promptly became an ADC to the general, and Napoleon took keen interest on instructing the youngster personally.

In 1798 Eugene was one of the 'lucky' ones who went to Egypt, being present at the Battle of the Pyramids. Then he was badly wounded in the head at the Siege of Acre, proving in both actions that he was excessively brave, to the point of foolhardiness. At Aboukir he had recovered enough to fight on Bonaparte's staff.

Eugene seemed mesmerized by Napoleon, who appeared everything that he had been taught was perfect. A great, conquering general, of noble character, yet with the common touch. Napoleon in turn was impressed that his stepson courted no favours, and was more than prepared to get stuck in. Napoleon confided to Eugene that his marriage to the lad's mother was going through a rough patch.

Josephine was of somewhat easy virtue, and a leopard never changes its spots, as we say in the trade. Her long-time lover was a fellow rather exotically named Hippolyte Charles, with whom she took up whenever Napoleon was away, which was of course often. Sadly Josephine was not very discreet, and it had even reached Egypt that she was misbehaving once more. The angry general told his stepson that he intended divorce.

Prince Eugene in a hussar's uniform

Back From Egypt

Eugene was definitely lucky when he attended Napoleon on the return trip from Egypt, for there were few berths available. Back in France, Eugene was instrumental in facilitating a reconciliation. In love, at least, the future emperor was a soft touch. Not long after napoleon was First Consul, and Eugene a captain in the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Consular Guard. It was with his squadron that Eugene fought at Marengo, earning a battlefield promotion for bravery.

In 1802 Eugene became colonel of the whole regiment and until the coming of the Empire in 1804 he concentrated on looking after his men and furthering his military studies. Then in 1805, as a member of the new royal family, Eugene was made a prince, and in June of that year he was appointed Viceroy of Italy, acting on behalf of the French Emperor who was now that country's King. He was 23 years old.

The post of Viceroy was not altogether pleasing. It was not a military one, and Eugene found himself pining for the army. When war came later that year, Massena was given command in Italy, with Eugene acting as little more than a glorified recruiting officer. Following Austerlitz, Massena was needed elsewhere, and as there would be no fighting, Napoleon felt safe in making Eugene commander of what was left behind. It was a job he did well, for Eugene had been working on army staffs for eight years, and the transition to top job was a straightforward one.

Also following Austerlitz, Napoleon decided it was time for Eugene to marry. By all accounts, Princess Augusta of Bavaria was a stunner, and when the two met at Munich they were utterly smitten with another. They would eventually have seven children. Eugene's new father in law, the king of Bavaria, Max Joseph, wanted Eugene made King of Italy but Napoleon balked. However Josephine stuck her oar in, and Prince Eugene Napoleon (as he now was), became heir-presumptive to the Italian throne his future rule dependant on Napoleon not siring a son.

Eugene's wife, Princess Augusta Amelie of Bavaria

This was all well and good, but Josephine was unable to influence where it counted. An application for a command against Prussia in 1806 as turned down flat. When Murat became King of Naples, things got worse. Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, was married to Murat. She was an ambitious, nasty piece of work, and she hated Eugene. Her meddling caused unpleasantness between Murat and the Viceroy, and an ill-feeling that would last.

Eugene temporarily got the upper hand in 1808. When Napoleon went to Spain, Caroline conspired with Fouché and Talleyrand to put Murat on the throne should anything happen to her brother. Murat was, of course, completely dense, and as such Caroline envisaged herself as the ruler of France. Sadly for her, a letter from Talleyrand to Murat discussing the plot fell into Eugene's hands, and from there to Napoleon.

That Napoleon did not shoot Murat is a mystery. Some have argued that he was invaluable as a cavalry general, but there were plenty of others available without such a streak of treachery. Nevertheless, like the Foreign Minister, he survived. It did, however, set an un-healable rift between Eugene and Murat.

Eugene's performance in 1809 has been covered in length over the last three issues of First Empire. Suffice to say he started out losing to the Archduke John at Sacile, before turning the tables at the Piave and Raab. Finally he fought bravely at Wagram. Despite this unswerving loyalty, no baton was his.

After Wagram

After Wagram, Eugene was given Vandamme's VIII Corps and Reynier's IX Corps to add to the Army of Italy already under his command. With these troops he was to guard the Emperor's southern flank. However there was no more fighting. He went instead to sort out the Tyrol, where insurrection had been flaring up continually for years.

On December 15th of 1809 Napoleon finally divorced Josephine, but if Eugene thought that his career might be affected, he was wrong. In 1812, came the big one. Eugene was given IV Corps, called the Army of Italy, for the Invasion of Russia. It was the first time that, for a full campaign, he would fight under Napoleon in an important capacity. He acquitted himself well, fighting bravely at Borodino and throughout the retreat.

Then, when Murat deserted, Eugene took command of the retreating army and led it safely back to Germany in 1813. Still he received no baton. At Lützen he fought superbly, and afterwards Napoleon sent him back to Italy where he organised the defence against the Austrians capably, holding out until the abdication in 1814.

Prince Eugene by Butz

Eugene then promised his father in law, the King of Bavaria, not to meddle further in French affairs, and Eugene agreed. When Napoleon returned, he must have been sorely tempted, but honourable man that he was, Eugene kept his word. It turned out to be a good decision. Effectively becoming a Bavarian, Eugene was made Prince of Eichstadt and Duke of Leuchtenberg, living out his days in comfort at Munich.

So why was Eugene not made a marshal? Certainly it cannot have been a matter of independent command. Only seven of the marshalate held major independent commands, and many had less experience than Eugene finally acquired. Furthermore he was reliable and completely loyal. It may be that pressure from the greedy and vindictive Bonaparte clan, all of whom were jealous of the Beauharnais' aristocratic roots, stopped Napoleon from acting. As an independent commander, he certainly measures up.

Eugene has of course been much maligned by Macdonald and his minions, Pelet and Petre, whose opinions over the years have carried far more weight than they have deserved. That Macdonald required Eugene discredited in order to propagate his own fanciful memoirs has escaped many, yet latterly the scales have received a balancing.

Eugene is today recognized as the very capable commander he was, though one often sidelined ironically because of his own reliability. But he still didn't get the baton which he so richly deserved. Eugene died young of cancer in Munich on 21 February 1824.

Eugene's titles: Viscount de Beauharnais, captain of the Royal Guard hunters, chief of the squadron in Marengo, Brigadier general (1804), Prince of France (1804), Imperial Highness, archchancellor of the Empire (1805), Viceroy of Italy (1805/1814), adopted son of Napoléon I under the name Eugène Napoléon (1806), Prince of Venice (1807), hereditary Grand-Duke of Frankfurt (1810), hereditary peer of the Empire (1815), Duke of Leuchtenberg and Prince of Eichstädt, Bavaria.