- Historic Sites
The Dentist And The Empress
The mob was at the palace gates; her husband was already a prisoner; the servants were stealing imperial treasures before her eyes; Empress Eugénie turned to the one man in France she could trust—Dr. Thomas W. Evans of Lancaster, Pa.
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
Menacing reports flowed in. The rioters were shaking the gates of the Place du Carrousel and the palace gardens, crying, “Down with the Spaniard. To the guillotine! Death to Badinguet!” (The Empress was of Spanish birth; “Badinguet” was a derisive nickname for Napoleon). All present urged the Empress to depart at once. “Had the Empress been found there and then,” Lord Ronald Gower wrote in his Reminiscences, “her life would not have been worth a moment’s purchase.” Eugénie hesitated. Chevreau whispered, “Remember the Princesse de Lamballe,” friend of Marie Antoinette and victim of the massacres of September, 1792, after being subjected to the grossest indecencies. By delaying, Nigra urged, the Empress would only destroy her friends, and both ambassadors emphasized that if she escaped now she would carry the authority of the Regency with her wherever she went.
Eugénie “bowed as only she could bow as at some great state function,” put on a black straw Derby bonnet, a long waterproof cloak, and thick veil. She picked up a reticule with two handkerchiefs in it, forgetting a bag that had been got ready for her. There were embraces, then “Adieu, adieu.” Eugénie made a sign to a small group to follow her. M. de Cossé-Brissac announced to the rest, as in times of solemn ceremony, that the Regent was no longer in the palace. The three chamberlains lit cigarettes, descended the grand staircase, and told the Swiss in their tricorn hats to ground Eugénie “bowed as only she could bow as at some great state function,” put on a black straw Derby bonnet, a long waterproof cloak, and thick veil. She picked up a reticule with two handkerchiefs in it, forgetting a bag that had been got ready for her. There were embraces, then “Adieu, adieu.” Eugénie made a sign to a small group to follow her. M. de Cossé-Brissac announced to the rest, as in times of solemn ceremony, that the Regent was no longer in the palace. The three chamberlains lit cigarettes, descended the grand staircase, and told the Swiss in their tricorn hats to ground their arms: all was finished. The imperial flag that floated over the palace when the sovereign was in residence was lowered a little after three o’clock, never again to be raised over the Tuileries.
Accompanied by Madame Lebreton, the admiral, the two ambassadors, Lieutenant Louis Conneau, son of Napoleon’s Court physician, and a few ladies, Eugénie descended to the courtyard of the palace intending to take her coupé, which stood as usual, the coachman on the box, awaiting orders. The Place du Carrousel was filled now with the mob. Metternich pointed out the livery of the driver, the crown on the door of the carriage, the imprudence of using it. The group retraced their steps to Eugénie’s private apartments, entered the long suite of rooms that led by way of the Pavilion de Flore to the galleries of the Louvre. They tried the door that gave access to the Grande Galerie. Locked. No answer to knocking. The shouts of the rioters penetrated the thick walls. Then providentially the Emperor’s treasurer appeared with a master key. The group traversed the great gallery, crossing the Salon Carré, the Galerie d’Apollon, and came out into the Salle des Sept Cheminées. There the Empress turned, gave the men her hand, told them to seek their own safety, not forgetting to instruct Conneau to take off his showy uniform before leaving the Tuileries, embraced the women once more. She looked up. On the wall she saw Théodore Géricault’s famous picture of ill omen, The Wreck of the Medusa , a large painting of a shipwreck realistically depicting the suffering of the survivors on a raft. “How strange,” she later told Dr. Evans, “that this picture should be the last one I should ever look at in the galleries of the Louvre!”
Now with only Madame Lebreton, Metternich, and Nigra, who had nothing to fear, being diplomats, the Empress passed through the Egyptian Gallery. Then descending the three broad flights of stone steps that led to the ground floor, they threaded their way past funeral monuments of dead kings, to reach the door which opened upon the arched colonnade leading to the square in front of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. Eugénie stumbled, accepted Nigra’s arm. The demonstrators surged through the square. There was singing, wild shouts of “Death to the Spanish woman. Vive la République!” As the little group stood in the vestibule, hesitating, Chevalier Nigra asked the Empress if she was afraid.
“Why do you ask me?” she replied. “My arm is resting on yours. Do you feel it tremble?” And she added, “Now let us go, boldly.” (“Il faut de l’audace.”) Just as they reached the sidewalk a boy of the streets shouted, “There’s the Empress!” Nigra caught hold of his arm and silenced him. One account says he boxed the gamin’s ears, another that he frightened the youth by accusing him of saying, “Long Live the Prussians.”
At that moment, a large, closed cab with four places, such as was used at the railway stations, appeared, and Metternich helped the ladies into it. The Empress compressed her skirts to make room for him when the door was brusquely slammed shut. Liberator? Gallant? Prince Charming? They who had sighed after her and flattered her had abandoned her to the hazards of the streets and the vagaries of popular resentment, perhaps fearing to compromise their governments with the rising sun of the new Republic.