long and white pieces to wear

One hundred and sixty five years ago today my nephew Louis Napoleon, who had recently declared himself Emperor Napoleon III, married Eugenie de Montijo, Countess of Teba. A civil marriage ceremony was held on 29 January at the Tuileries the evening before, Eugenie then returning to her rooms at the Elysee Palace around midnight.

The 30th was a frosty but clear day and Paris was festooned in colourful banners, pennants and triumphal arches bedecked with imperial eagles, Napoleonic bees and the imperial initials N and E. Breaking tradition, Napoleon III travelled from his apartments at the Tuileries to join his bride for breakfast at the Elysee and she displayed the gown she was to wear for the ceremony (this was relatively easy for Louis Napoleon as there was a secret underground passage between the Tuileries and the Elysee, the young Emperor using the latter as a convenient residence for his mistresses).

Eugenie arrived at the Tuileries Palace at 11 AM putting the finishing touches to her hair which included a spray of orange-blossoms and a diamond diadem. Eugenie descended from her apartments to the Tuileries courtyard at noon to join the Emperor in a gilt carriage drawn by eight chestnut horses bedecked in white plumes and red leather trappings. This was the same carriage created for my coronation almost 50 years before, and used for my second marriage to Marie Louise in 1810.

The imperial cortege proceded from the Tuileries via the Carrousel, Place du Louvre and Rue de Rivoli on to the Notre Dame de Paris with marching bands and a regiment of Guides at their head while the cannon of Les Invalides boomed in salute. Arriving at the cathedral at 1 PM to a scene of The Door of the Last Judgement transformed into a royal porch with imitation tapestry paneling and equestrian statues of Charlemagne (and my imperial self) atop the central pilasters. The interior of the cathedral was decked with laurel wreaths and friezes of eagles, nine green banners with golden bees and imperial escutcheons.

Napoleon III wore the full dress uniform of a general de division with the Legion of Honour and Order of the Golden Fleece in evidence. Eugenie's long trained bridal gown "was of rich white silk, covered with exquisite Alencon... she wore a boucle de ceinture simulating a sun, the historic Regent diamond representing the planet, and three hundred other brilliants figuring its rays or hanging as aiguillettes. Further a diadem of six hundred brilliants bedimmed the effulgence of her hair, whence, from under a spray of orange-blossoms, fell a veil of Brussels point. A rope of pearls... was wound four times around her neck."

Lady Augusta Bruce, a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, who was the guest of the British ambassador to France (Henry Wellesley, Earl Cowley - nephew of the Duke of Wellington) described Eugenie's ensemble thus, "She wore a diamond crown or diadem, round her waist a row of magnificent diamonds to correspond, and the same trimmings round the basques of her gown. Then a sort of cloud or mist of transparent lace enveloped her."

The imperial couple entered the cathedral as 500 musicans played the march from Meyerbeer's "Prophet", then proceeded along the nave under a canopy of red velvet lined with white silk while 15,000 candles lit the ancient space. Archbishop of Paris Sibour performed the ceremony (Pope Pius IX declaring he was too old to travel from Rome. He was only 61 and lived another 25 years, so I suspect he did not like how I had treated Pius VII at my coronation!). After a Mass, which included the Coronation Mass by Luigi Cherubini, my brother Jerome and his daughter Mathilde presented the imperial couple with offering candles. The Bishops of Nancy and of Versailles held up the canopy while the couple were annointed with incense and Holy Water. The register was witnessed by Jerome and his son Napoleon. The imperial couple's final procession to the Great Door of the Cathedral was accompanied by Jean-Francois Lesueur's Te Deum (which had been especially composed for my coronation). long and white pieces to wear

The event was quite a success viewed with great interest, but not neccessarily huge acclaim, by the Parisians. Some accounts do mention one mishap claiming that the imperial crown atop the carriage was knocked off at the vaulted entrance to the Tuileries courtyard. Some say it happened on the way to the cathedral, others on the way back. Some say the crown was re-affixed, others that it "shattered to pieces". To further gild the lily, some claim the same thing happened to me at my wedding to Marie Louise. Well, I certainly don't remember that and find it hard to believe as everything I do is perfect!