Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Welcome to the first installment of #PodcastingHistory! For the next several weeks my blog is going to feature guest posts from some wonderful podcasters. In each post a new person will take you behind the scenes, describing the process of creating one episode of their podcast from choosing the topic to releasing it out into the world for your enjoyment. I hope that by pulling back the curtain between hosts and listeners, it will help everyone understand podcasting history in a whole new way.
My adventure with Empress Eugenie of France, began on a lovely Sunday in September of 2014. I was partaking in my yearly tradition of strolling through the Broadway Flea Market. Held each year in Manhattan’s Times Square, the Flea Market is a wonderful, grand event where the New York theatre community comes together to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. As usual, the streets were packed with people doing everything from buying props from shows (ask me about the rifle I own from the original Broadway production of Les Misérables) to taking photos with stage stars.
I stopped at one of the stalls to examine a stack of books that seemed to be calling to me. One of the gentlemen running the table told me that his husband loved history but had recently changed most of his collection over to a Kindle so he no longer needed these books. Happy to discover history books at a theatre even, I took them off his hands.
When I got home, I was immediately drawn to Desmond Seward’s Eugenie: The Empress and her Empire. Going into that book, I knew very little about Eugenie other than that she was married to Napoleon III, whose childhood I knew much more about than his adulthood. I read it quickly, and two details in it sparked my interest:
In 1870, when her husband’s empire was crumbling, Eugenie fled from Paris to the safety of England…by having her American dentist help her sneak out of the country!
Despite the fall of the Second Empire, Eugenie still wanted her husband and son buried with the full pomp due to their former station. France, however, wanted nothing to do with Bonaparte rulers anymore. So, she did what any determined lady would do: took matters into her own hands. Eugenie had her own abbey, complete with church and imperial crypt, built in the English countryside. It was the final resting place she believed they deserved.
These epic events would form the bedrock of my Eugenie episodes. Originally I had hoped to make one episode about Eugenie, but as fascinated as I was with both occurrences, they were simply too much to cover in only one episode of Footnoting History, especially since our episodes tend to run only between 15 and 20 minutes each. So, I shouted to my co-hosts that I would cover all of January 2015 by myself and developed a two-part series:
In addition to the typical sifting through books and articles (thanks Fondation Napoleon and Fordham University Library!) I got to indulge my love of reading old newspaper articles. These all dated from between the 1870s and the early 1900s. I love seeing what articles decided to cover, the details that vary from publication to publication, and determining what was true in them and what was wild speculation. I found it particularly amusing that years after the flight from Paris, American newspapers were still going after Eugenie’s dentist, Thomas Evans. They very much wanted to know if he was selling off land he had secretly purchased for the exiled Empress Eugenie. (Spoiler alert: Evans denied it.) It’s engaging with this type of source, where the past shows it is so much like the present, that I love. It’s also why if you scroll through many of my older episodes you will see newspaper articles on the Further Reading list. They are invaluable.
Also invaluable are real life experiences, and few could top the one I had while researching my second Eugenie episode, the one focusing on her life with Napoleon III and their son in exile in England. As I mentioned, I knew Eugenie built a monument to her family in the English countryside. Although I live in New York, at the time I was preparing to visit a friend in London for a few weeks. This seemed like an ideal opportunity. I could enhance my understanding of Eugenie by hopefully actually going to her abbey, called St. Michael’s, in Farnborough. I firmly believe that it is important to visit the burial places of the historical people I study because it is the closest I will come to meeting them, so the idea of being in the crypt where Eugenie, Napoleon III, and the Prince Imperial were interred practically caused my face to turn into the emoji with the hearts for eyes. The abbey was a short train ride from London (great!) but the public tours were only conducted at certain times, and they did not coincide with my trip (disappointing!).
Not to be deterred, I contacted St. Michael’s and was able to secure a private tour of the property. It was the first time I used my Footnoting History credential for anything, and that was exciting, but mostly I could not wait to see what Eugenie had created in person.
When I arrived on the day of my tour, I was greeted by a lovely guide named Maria. She knew everything about the beautiful grounds, which truly were a slice of France crated abroad. The name, St. Michael’s, came from the patron saint of France, and more notably, it was built as (and remains) a Catholic church, not a Church of England. Although it was originally the home of Benedictine monks literally imported from France, today the residents are English, because the last French monk passed away in 1956. Maria showed me the soaring architecture (all inspired by French cathedrals, of course), talking about how Eugenie donated her own dresses to be made into church vestments, and taking me into the imperial mausoleum itself. It was beautiful and sad, and parts of it had been donated by Queen Victoria. Following in Eugenie’s footsteps and seeing her private entrance brought home just how devastated she must have been after losing both her husband and son. When Maria showed me tombs located just outside of the crypt and explained that they belonged to servants who wanted to be buried near those they devoted their lives too I was even more certain that I was right to do these episodes.
Returning home from my trip at the end of November 2014, I was excited and daunted by the prospect of condensing all my newfound (beloved) information down into easy-to-enjoy episodes. It took a few weeks, with tons of writing too much followed by extensive pruning. Ultimately I ended up with two episodes that totaled just over a half hour and which cover the core remarkable events of Eugenie’s life after losing the crown. I hope the degree of admiration and respect I have for her resilience shows through.
Researching history is as much about learning as it is about reading and writing. I look forward to finding more topics that lead me to places I never anticipated and bringing what I learn there to your ears.
Christine Caccipuoti is the Assistant Producer of Footnoting History, where she regularly talks about Bonapartes, heads the Revolutionary France Series, and runs the official Twitter account. Christine received her BA and MA in history from Fordham University, and is also a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA.
Sources from Empress Eugenie in Exile, Parts I and II
D. Walter Cohen. “Dr. Thomas W. Evans, A Nineteenth-Century Renaissance Man.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 139:2 (1995), pp. 135-148. Edward A. Crane (ed). Memoirs of Dr. Thomas W. Evans. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1905. Desmond Seward. Eugénie: The Empress and Her Empire. United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 2004. Harold Kurtz. The Empress Eugénie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
William Smith. The Empress Eugénie and Farnborough. United Kingdom: Hampshire City Council, 2001. “The Death of the Emperor Napoleon III.” The British Medical Journal, 1: 629 (Jan 18, 1873), pp. 73-74.
"Dr. Evans's Home-Coming." New York Times (1857-1922), Sept 02, 1897 via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
“Dr. Thomas W. Evans Dead.” New York Times (1857-1922), Nov 16, 1897 via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
"Empress Eugenie at Eighty-Two." New York Times (1857-1922), Sep 6, 1908 via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.