Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary (8 November 1777 – 17 December 1860), was Queen of Sweden and Norway as the consort of King Charles XIV John, a former French General and founder of the House of Bernadotte, mother of Oscar I, and one-time fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte. She officially changed her name there to Desideria, which she did not use herself.
Background and education
Désirée Clary was born in Marseille, France, the daughter of François Clary (Marseille, St. Ferreol, 24 February 1725 – Marseille, 20 January 1794), a wealthy silk manufacturer and merchant, by his second wife (m. 26 June 1759) Françoise Rose Somis (Marseille, St. Ferreol, 30 August 1737 – Paris, 28 January 1815). Her father had been previously married at Marseille, 13 April 1751 to Gabrielle Fléchon (1732 – 3 May 1758), without issue.
Desiree had a sister and brother to whom she remained very close all her life. Her sister, Julie Clary, married Joseph Bonaparte, and later became Queen of Naples and Spain. Her brother, Nicholas Joseph Clary, was created 1st Count Clary. He married Anne Jeanne Rouyer, by whom he had a daughter named Zénaïde Françoise Clary (Paris, 25 November 1812 – Paris, 27 April 1884). Zénaïde would marry Napoléon Berthier de Wagram, 2nd duc de Wagram (10 September 1810 – 10 February 1887), the son of Marshal Berthier, and have several children, among them the first wife of Joachim, 4th Prince Murat.
As a child, Désirée received the convent schooling usually given to daughters of the upper classes in pre-revolutionary France. However, when she was barely eleven years old, the French Revolution of 1789 took place, and convents were closed. Désirée returned to live with her parents, and was perforce home-schooled thereafter. Later, her education would be described as shallow. It has been observed by several historians that Désirée was devoted to her birth-family her entire life.
Meeting the Bonapartes
In 1794, Désirée's father died. Shortly after, it was discovered that in the years before the revolution, he had made an appeal to be ennobled, a request that had been denied. Because of this, Désirée's brother Etienne, now the head of the family and her guardian, was arrested in his father's place by the revolutionary authorities. According to the traditional story, Desiree accompanied her sister-in-law Suzanne to the office of people commissar Albitte to appeal for her brother's release. In the waiting room, however, she fell asleep, and was forgotten by the exalted Suzanne, who succeeded in her mission. She was discovered by Joseph Bonaparte, who accompanied her home. Joseph was then introduced to her family. Joseph and Désirée were engaged, and the brother of Joseph, Napoleon Bonaparte, was also introduced to the family. Reportedly, it was Napoleon who suggested that Joseph should be engaged to her older sister Julie instead, while he should be engaged to Désirée; this suggestion had the approval of all four involved. Joseph married Julie, and Désirée became engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte on 21 April 1795. In 1795–1797, Désirée lived with her mother in Genoa in Italy, where her brother-in-law Joseph had a diplomatic mission; they were also joined by the Bonaparte family. In 1795, Napoleon became involved with Joséphine de Beauharnais. He broke off his engagement with Désirée on 6 September, and he married Joséphine in 1796.
In 1797, Désirée went to live in Rome with her sister Julie and her brother-in-law Joseph, who was the French ambassador to the Papal States. Her relationship with Julie remained very intense and deep. She was briefly engaged to Mathurin-Léonard Duphot, a French general. The engagement was more or less arranged by Napoleon, who wished to compensate her with a marriage, and Duphot was attracted by her dowry and position as sister-in-law of Napoleon. She agreed to the engagement with some reluctance, because it was known that Duphot had a long-term partner and a son. On 30 December 1797, on the eve of their marriage, Duphot was killed in an anti-French riot outside of their residence Palazzo Corsini in Rome.
After her return to France, Désirée lived with Julie and Joseph in Paris. In Paris, she lived in the circle of the Bonaparte family, who sided with her against Josephine after Napoleon had broken off their engagement. She herself did not like Josephine either, as she has been quoted calling her an aged courtesan with a deservedly bad reputation, but she is not believed to have shown any hostility toward Josephine as did the members of the Bonaparte family. She received a proposal from General Junot, but turned it down because it was given through Marmont. Désirée eventually met her future spouse, Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, another French general and politician. They were married in a secular ceremony at Sceaux on 17 August 1798. In the marriage contract, Désirée was given economic independence. On 4 July 1799, she gave birth to their only child, a son, Oscar.
During the coup of 1799, when Napoleon took power, Désirée was exposed to manipulation from both the Bonaparte family, who wanted Bernadotte to support Napoleon, and the Bernadotte faction, who wanted him to take action for himself. Both sides tried to use her to influence Bernadotte and extract information from him about his attitudes. Aware of this, he did not tell her of his plans, but he was later to say that it was because of family influence that he had been passive during the coup. During the coup, the couple were forced to take refuge in the country villa of General Sarrazin at Villeneuve St. Georges: Désirée apparently dressed as a man during the escape. She kept in contact with Julie all the time, and Napoleon accepted Bernadotte apparently because of her.
In 1800, Désirée was present at a failed assassination attempt on Napoleon, when a bomb exploded between the carriage of Napoleon and the carriage where she and Caroline Bonaparte were sitting. Désirée was not interested in politics, but her good connections made her a puppet in the hands of her husband and Napoleon, who both used her to influence each other and to pass messages. In 1801, Bernadotte had her interfere in favor of General Ernouf through Joseph. In 1802, a conspiracy against Napoleon was discovered. Napoleon suspected Bernadotte, and interrogated Désirée, who naively told him that her spouse had not been involved, though he had met Moreau in their home and mumbled his name as well as the word conspiracy in his sleep. After this, Napoleon appointed Bernadotte governor of Louisiana. The couple was ready to sail, when the appointment was retracted.
On 19 May 1804, her spouse was made Marshal of France, which gave her the equivalent position. However, she was described as indifferent to social position, like her sister Julie. Napoleon gave her an allowance, and a house in Rue d'Anjou Saint-Honoré, where she resided for the rest of her life when in Paris. At the Coronation of Napoleon on 2 December 1804, she followed Josephine, whose train was carried by her sisters-in-law, carrying the handkerchief and veil of Josephine on a pillow.
Her spouse was a leading general in the French army under Napoleon, and normally absent from Paris. He liked her to be a member of high society, and had her take lessons in dance and etiquette from an instructor Montel. Désirée had a good relationship with the Bonaparte Imperial family. Upon the request of her spouse, she did not have to be a lady-in-waiting, and did not participate in court life. She lived in the circle of the Bonaparte and Clary family and also participated in high society, where she enjoyed music, theater and dance, while she spent her summers at spas or her country villas at La Grange and Auteuil. It is believed that she may have had a romantic relationship with the Corsican Ange Chaippe, who often acted as her escort. She is described as pretty and pleasing and a skillful dancer, but fairly anonymous. She lived mostly separated from her spouse in Paris during his absence. She informed him about political events in Paris by correspondence.
During Bernadotte's time as governor of the Hanseatic cities and governor of Hanover, Désirée visited him in Hamburg with her son a couple of times but she never stayed long; each time she soon returned to Paris. She was not happy living anywhere but Paris. In 1806, she was forced to accompany Empress Josephine to Mainz. When her spouse was made Prince of Pontecorvo in 1806, Désirée worriedly asked if she would be forced to leave Paris, but was happy when she was assured that she would not. In 1807, she visited Bernadotte in Spandau and in Marienburg in East Prussia, where she nursed him during his illness.
In August 1810, Bernadotte was elected heir to the throne of Sweden. Désirée initially thought this was to be similar to the position of Prince of Pontecorvo, and did not expect to have to visit Sweden more than she had been forced to visit Pontecorvo: "I thought, that it was at it had been with Ponte Corvo, a place from where we would have a title." She was later to admit, that she had never cared about any other country than France and knew nothing of foreign countries nor did she care about them, and that she was in despair when she was told that this time, she would be expected to leave Paris. Désirée delayed her departure and did not leave with her spouse. She was delighted with the position she had received at the French court after her elevation to crown princess (she had been invited to court events every week), and she was frightened by the stories of her reluctant French servants, who tried to discourage her from leaving by saying that Sweden was a country close to the North Pole filled with Polar bears. Finally, she left Paris and traveled by Hamburg and Kronborg in Denmark over the Öresund to Helsingborg in Sweden.
On 22 December 1810, Désirée arrived with her son Oscar in Helsingborg in Sweden, and the 6 January 1811, she was introduced to the Swedish royal court at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. She was met in Helsingborg by her appointed Mistress of the Robes Countess Caroline Lewenhaupt and the maid of honor Mariana Koskull. The Swedish climate was reportedly a shock for her: she arrived during the winter, and she hated the snow so much that she cried. Her spouse had converted upon his election as heir to the Swedish throne, and upon their arrival, her son was also to do so, as was required, and was taken from her to be brought up a Lutheran. There was, in accordance with the Tolerance Act, no demand that she should convert, and a Catholic chapel was arranged for her use. Désirée was not religious, but the Catholic masses served to remind her of France, and she celebrated the birth of the son of Napoleon, the King of Rome, by a Te Deum in her chapel.
Désirée was unable to adapt to the demands of formal court etiquette or participate in the representational duties which were required of her in her position of Crown Princess. Désirée's French entourage, especially Elise la Flotte, made her unpopular during her stay in Sweden by encouraging her to complain about everything. She did not have a good relationship with Queen Hedwig Elizabeth Charlotte, though the Dowager Queen Sophia Magdalena was reportedly kind to her. In her famous diaries, queen Charlotte described her as good hearted, generous and pleasant when she chose to be and not one to plot, but also an immature "spoiled child", who hated all demands and was unable to handle any form of representation, and as "a French woman in every inch" who disliked and complained about everything which was not French, and "consequently, she is not liked."
Désirée left Sweden in the summer of 1811 under the name of Countess of Gotland, officially because of her health, and returned to Paris, leaving her husband and her son behind. She herself said that the Swedish nobility had treated her as if they were made of ice: "Do not talk with me of Stockholm, I get a cold as soon as I hear the word." In Sweden, her husband took a mistress, the noble Mariana Koskull.
Under the name Countess of Gotland, Désirée officially resided incognito in Paris, thereby avoiding politics. However, her house at rue d'Anjou was watched by the secret police, and her letters were read by them. She had no court, just her lady's companion Elise la Flotte to assist her as hostess at her receptions, and she mostly associated with a circle of close friends and family. Her receptions were frequented by Talleyrand and Fouché, who upon the mission of Napoleon tried to influence her consort through her. In 1812, she acted as mediator when Napoleon negotiated with her consort through the Duke de Bassano. Her consort liked her to be placed in Paris, where she could calm Napoleon's rage over the politics of Sweden and keep him informed about the events in the center of European politics, but as their correspondence has been lost, it is not known how political it was. During the meeting between her consort and the Russian Tsar in Åbo in 1812, the Tsar suggested her consort to divorce her and marry one of his sisters, but her consort turned down the proposal.
Before his attack on Russia, Napoleon asked Désirée to leave France. She made herself ready to leave, but managed to avoid it. As she officially lived incognito, she could avoid politics when Sweden and France declared war in 1813. During the summer of 1813, she retired to the country estate of Julie, Mortefontaine, with Catharina of Württemberg to avoid attention before she returned to Paris New Year's Eve of 1814. The 31 March 1814, upon the arrival of the allied armies in Paris after the defeat of Napoleon, her house was a refuge for her sister Julie. She met her spouse, who was among the allied generals to arrive in Paris. She did not return with him to Sweden when he left, however, which attracted attention. When asked why by the Swedish Count Jacob De la Gardie at Mortefontaine, she answered that she was afraid that she would be divorced if she did.
On 14 May 1814, she was introduced to Louis XVIII of France, whose court she often visited the following years and whom she is said to have liked quite well. After the Hundred Days in 1815, the members of the Bonaparte family were exiled from France. This included her sister Julie, and when Louis XVIII expressed a wish to do her a favor, she regularly asked him to make an exception for Julie and allow her to live in Paris. In 1816, she made plans to return to Sweden, but she wished to bring her sister, Julie, along with her. Her husband thought this unwise, as Julie was the wife of a Bonaparte and her presence might be taken as a sign that he sided with the deposed Napoleon. In the end, this came to nothing. At this point, she often spent time with Germaine de Stael and Juliette Récamier. In 1817, Désirée's husband placed a Count de Montrichard in her household as his spy to report if she did anything which could affect him.
In 1818, her husband became King of Sweden, which made Désirée Queen. However, she remained in France, officially for health reasons, which caused speculations in the press in Paris and by her visitors. After she became Queen, the Swedish Queen Dowager wrote to her and suggested that she should have Swedish ladies-in-waiting, but she replied that it was unnecessary for her to have a court as she still resided incognito. Désirée officially kept herself incognito and did not host any court, but she kept in contact with the Swedish embassy, regularly visited the court of Louis XVIII and often saw Swedes at her receptions, which she hosted on Thursdays and Sundays, unofficially in her role as Queen, though she still used the title of Countess.
During this period, she fell in love with the French prime minister, the Duc de Richelieu, which attracted attention. According to one version, she fell in love with him after Louis XVIII had given him the task to deny her regular appeal for her sister Julie in the most charming way possible. True or not, she did fall in love with him, 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. Another version of her behavior toward him was, that her consort had given her the task to make contact with Richelieu for political reasons, but that his attitude had made her too embarrassed to do so.
During the summer of 1822, her son Oscar made a trip in Europe to inspect prospective brides, and it was decided they should meet. As France was deemed unsuitable, they met in Aachen and a second time in Switzerland. In 1823, Désirée returned to Sweden together with her son's bride, Josephine of Leuchtenberg. It was intended to be a visit, but she was to remain in Sweden for the rest of her life. Désirée and Josephine arrived in Stockholm 13 June 1823. Three days later, the royal court and the government was presented to Désirée, and 19 June, she participated in the official welcoming of Josephine and witnessed the wedding. - A well-known story is that after her return to Sweden there was a warm and dry period, so the peasants turning up to see her were coaxed into greeting her with "Vi vill ha regn!" ("We want rain!" in Swedish), which sounds very similar to the French "Vive la Reine!" ("Long live the Queen!").
On 21 August 1829, she was crowned Queen of Sweden in Storkyrkan in Stockholm. Her coronation had been suggested upon her return, but her consort had postponed it because he feared there could be religious difficulties. There was actually a suggestion that she should convert to the Lutheran faith before her coronation, but in the end, the question was not considered important enough to press, and she was crowned all the same. She was crowned at her own request after having pressed Charles John with a wish that she should be crowned: "otherwise she would be no proper Queen". A reason for this is believed to have been that she regarded it as protection against divorce. Later in life she described how impressed she had been during her coronation. She was, however, never crowned in Norway because of her status as a Catholic. Desiree had asked to be crowned Queen of Norway as well, and funds had been set aside to finance a coronation in Norway in 1830, but in the end this was not possible. She was the first commoner to become a Queen of Sweden since Karin Månsdotter in 1568.
The relationship between her and king Charles XIV John was somewhat distant, but friendly. Charles John treated her with some irritability, while she behaved very freely and informal toward him. The court was astonished by her informal behavior. She could enter his bedroom and stay there until late at night even though he hinted to her that he wished to be alone with his favorite Count Magnus Brahe. Every morning, she visited her husband in her nightgown, which was seen as shocking, because her husband usually conferred with members of the council of state in his bed chamber at that time. Because of their difference in habits, they seldom saw each other even though they lived together. Because she was always late at dinner, for example, he stopped having his meals with her, and as he also preferred to have his meals alone, it was not uncommon for the nobles of the court to sit alone at the dinner table, without the royal couple present.
There is nothing to indicate that she ever had any political influence, and she was praised for her lack of interference in politics. Whenever Charles John became agitated, she was known to be able to calm him with the one firm word: "Bernadotte!" One such anecdote was when Charles John, known for his hot temperament, raged about how he would punish some political advisories in various ways. For every punishment he stated, she is said to have struck her fan in the table and said to the surrounding courtiers: "He could not hurt a cat!", upon which the court started to laugh. She was also to have said: "Oh, I like to hear you say that, you who do not even have the heart to wring the neck of a cat!"
The 1830s were a period when she did her best to be active as a Queen, a role she had never wanted to play. The decade is described as a time of balls and parties, more than had been seen at the Swedish court since the days of King Gustav III, but Désirée soon grew tired of her royal status and wanted to return to France. However, her husband did not allow it. As Queen, Désirée is mostly known for her eccentric habits. She is known to have kept reversed hours and, consequently, for often being late and keeping guests waiting, something which agitated her spouse. Normally, she retired at four in the morning, and awoke at two o'clock in the afternoon. Before she went to bed, she took a "walk by carriage": during these trips, she often paid visits, which were normally inconvenient because of the time. When the weather was bad, her carriage drove round the court yard of the royal palace instead. It was normal for her to arrive for a visit to an opera, when the show had ended.
Désirée was interested in fashion, devoted a lot of interest and pride in her hair and wore low cut dresses until an advanced age. She enjoyed dance: her standard question at court presentations were if the debutantes liked to dance, and she herself danced well also during her old age. Her conversations were mainly about her old life in France. Her niece, Marcelle Tascher de la Pagerie, served as her Mistress of the Robes her first years as Queen and also her main company, as she could speak to her of her main topic, her old life. After her niece had returned to France, she often socialized with the rich merchant Carl Arfwedson, who had once been a guest in her childhood home. She never became very popular at the royal court, where she was regarded with some snobbery because of her past as a merchant's daughter and a republican. She never learned to speak the Swedish language, and there are many anecdotes of her attempts to speak the language.
As her daughter-in-law, Désirée was a Catholic, but in contrast to Josephine, who was a devout and practicing Catholic, Désirée was not religious. Her devout Catholic daughter-in-law insisted that she attend mass and confession. She did attend masses to please Josephine, but stated that she had no sins to confess. When the priest started to preach and reprimand her, she silenced him and stated that such talk irritated her nerves.
Her favorite summer residence was Rosersberg Palace, where she kept chickens for pets, but as Rosersberg was remote, she more commonly stayed at Drottningholm Palace or Haga Palace. She also often visited Swedish spas, such as Ramlösa spa. Among her other more known ladies-in-waiting were the Norwegians Kathinka Falbe and Jana Falbe. Because of Desiree's eccentric habits, they were known as "Strapatsfröknarna" (approximately "Mesdemoiselles Calamity"). During her stays at Rosersberg Palace and in spite of her fear of the dark, she took walks in the park at night and instructed one lady-in-waiting to walk in front of her dressed in white to keep bats away from her.
Désirée was also Queen of Norway. She visited Norway a couple of times, the first being time in 1825. In Norway, she is most known as the protector of Eugenia stiftelse [The Eugenia Foundation] for poor girls in Oslo of Maria Schandorff, which she protected and often visited from 1828 until 1847.
In 1844, Charles XIV John died and Desideria became Queen Dowager. Her son, the new King Oscar I, allowed her to keep her usual quarters in the Royal Palace as well as her entire court, so she would not have to change her habits. When her daughter-in-law Queen Josephine tried to convince her to reduce her court of her own free will, saying she no longer needed such a big court as a queen dowager, she answered: "It is true that I no longer need them all, but all of them still need me." She was a considerate and well liked employer among her staff. One notable member of her court was Countess Clara Bonde, who was described as a personal friend and served the queen from her return to Sweden until her death.
Désirée did engage in charity but it was discreet, and it has been said: "Her charity was considerable but took place in silence". One example was that she supported poor upper-class women by giving them sewing work. She also acted as official protector of charitable institutions, such as the Women's Society Girl School. The same year she became a widow, she was described by the French diplomat Bacourt: "Royalty has not altered her—unfortunately, for the reputation of the Crown. She have always been and will always remain an ordinary merchant woman, surprised over her position, and surprisingly to find upon a throne." He also added that she was a goodhearted woman.
After her return to Sweden, Désirée had kept her house at Rue d'Anjou in Paris awaiting her return. It was managed by her sister Villeneuve and her old French staff, while her business in France was managed by her nephew, Vicomte de Clary. In May 1853, after Napoleon III had made himself French emperor, she made preparations to return to Paris. Everything was ready, and she was escorted to her ship in Karlskrona by her grandson Oscar. Her fear of sea travels, however, made it impossible for her to leave.
During her last years, she was worried about her house in Paris because of the plans of the city architect Haussmann, but Napoleon III made an exception for her and allowed for her house to stand, which it did until one year after her death. Désirée had a fairly harmonious relationship with her daughter-in-law, and felt sympathy for her grandson's bride, Louise of the Netherlands.
After becoming a widow, she grew more and more eccentric. She went to bed in the morning, got up in the evening, ate breakfast at night, and drove around in a carriage through the streets, in the courtyard, or wandered around the corridors of the sleeping castle with a light. An anecdote illustrates this: in 1843, a palace guard saw the Queen fully dressed on the palace balcony in the middle of the night. When he came home to his wife, he told her that she was lazy in comparison to the Queen, who had gotten up hours before sunrise. He thought the Queen Dowager was up earlier than anyone else in town, but in fact, she had not yet gone to bed—she would eventually get up from bed at three or four in the afternoon.
Désirée enjoyed making unannounced visits, and sometimes she would take in children from the streets to the palace and give them sweets; she was not able to engage in any real conversation, but she would say "Kom, kom!" (Swedish for "Come come!")
There are stories about people having been awakened by her carriage when she drove through the streets at night. The carriage sometimes stopped; she would sleep for a while, and then she would wake and the carriage would continue on its way. Sometimes she drove in circles around the royal palace. This habit was called "Kring Kring" (Swedish for "around and around"; one of the few Swedish words Désirée learned).
On the last day of her life, she entered her box at the Royal Swedish Opera just after the performance had ended. Désirée died in Stockholm on 17 December 1860.
Her paternal grandparents were Joseph Clary (Marseille, 22 November 1693 – Marseille, 30 August 1748), son of Jacques Clary and his wife Catherine Barosse, paternal grandson of Antoine Clary and wife Marguerite Canolle, and maternal grandson of Angelin Barosse and his wife Jeanne Pélissière, and wife (m. in Marseille, 27 February 1724) Françoise Agnès Ammoric (Marseille, 6 March 1705 – Marseille, 21 December 1776), daughter of François Ammoric and his wife Jeanne Boisson.
Her maternal grandparents were Joseph Ignace Somis (c. 1710 – Marseille, 29 April 1750), son of Jean Louis Somis and his wife Françoise Bouchard, and wife (m. in Marseille, 27 May 1736) Catherine Rose Soucheiron (Marseille, 11 January 1696 – Marseille, 18 February 1776), daughter of François Soucheiron and his wife Anne Cautier.
|Ancestors of Désirée Clary|
- 8 November 1777 – 17 August 1798: Mademoiselle Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary
- 17 August 1798 – 5 June 1806: Madame Bernadotte
- 5 June 1806 – 26 September 1810: Her Royal Highness The Princess of Pontecorvo
- 26 September 1810 - 5 November 1810: Her Royal Highness Princess John Baptist Jules of Pontecorvo, Princess of Sweden
- 5 November 1810 – 4 November 1814: Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Sweden
- in France: Summer of 1811 – 13 June 1823: Comtesse de Gotland (Countess of Gotland)
- 4 November 1814 – 5 February 1818: Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Sweden and Norway
- 5 February 1818 – 8 March 1844: Her Majesty The Queen of Sweden and Norway
- 8 March 1844 – 17 December 1860: Her Majesty The Dowager Queen of Sweden and Norway
Arms and monogram
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Désirée Clary has been the subject of several novels and movies.
- Désirée (1951), by Annemarie Selinko, a novel in the form of a mock autobiography. It was originally published in German, by Kiepenheuer & Witsch, and became a worldwide best-seller. It has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, English, French, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish, Persian, and Turkish.
- Le Destin fabuleux de Désirée Clary (also Mlle. Désirée) (1942), a French film by Sacha Guitry.
- Désirée (1954), an American film based on Selinko's book, with Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando.
- The Bernadotte Album (1918), a "screen treatment" by John B. Langan on the lives of Clary and Joséphine (née Marie Tascher), which purported to be "Founded on the memoirs of Marie Tascher and Désirée Clary."