Harriet Howard: Mistress to Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III)

Harriet Howard was born in 1823 as Elizabeth Ann Haryett. She was the daughter of a boot maker who made fashionable footwear for the British aristocracy and in addition her grandfather owned the Castle Hotel in Brighton. It was a coastal resort situated on the southern coast of England where people like Jane Austen and Eliza de Feuillide visited. As a young girl Howard attended school and took dancing and riding lessons. She also had dreams of being a Shakespearean actress.

Harriet Howard as the Countess of Beauregard in 1850. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At the age of 15 Harriet Howard left home and became involved with Jem Mason, a well-known jockey described as a “steeple chaser” and the “unscrupulous type.” She lived with him in London as his mistress and it was there while pursuing a career in acting that she renamed herself Harriet Howard. Although she and Mason lived together for three years, he refused to marry her and so at the age of eighteen she left him.

Her next relationship began around 1841 with Francis Mountjoy Martyn. He was an army officer of the 2nd Life Guards and fourteen years her senior. He could not marry her either because he was already married. However, he she did have a son with him. He was named Martin Constantin Haryett but was presented at his baptism as a son of her parents.

Martyn also gave her a fortune and enabled her to befriend many well-to-do people. Among her friends was Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, was an Irish novelist, journalist, and literary hostess known for her beauty, charm, and extravagant tastes. The Countess of Blessington had befriended Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I). She then introduced Harriet Howard to him 1846.

Harriet Howard - Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

Louis Napoleon. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Louis Napoleon had conducted a failed coup against King Louis-Philippe in 1836. He had been exiled, traveled to Brazil, and lived in New York for time. Eventually he ended up in London, where he strolled Hyde Park, busied himself socializing, and attended numerous parties. When he met Howard, he quickly discovered that she was dazzled by the name Bonaparte and enamored by him. At the time she was depicted “as a woman of exquisite proportions and classic beauty, with the regular features of a Greek statue, and with magnificent shoulders.”[1] Her beauty was probably one explanation as to why Louis Napoleon was drawn to her and of course her being wealthy was also another reason for him to be smitten. Of their meeting, it was reported:

“According to Napoleon III’s biographer Fenton Bresler it was at Gore House that pretty Lizzie Howard met the future emperor of the French. Hardly a woman of spotless character … it took her a year to decide to leave her Life Guard to set up home with Louis Napoleon. When she did, she devoted herself to her new man.”[2]

After Louis Napoleon and Harriet Howard began living together, his two sons, Alexandre Louis Eugène and Louis Ernest Alexandre, joined them. The boys had been born from an affair Louis Napoleon had with a servant while imprisoned at the Château de Ham. However, that did not matter because both boys were educated alongside Howard’s son Martin.

Louis Napoleon always wanted to return to power and while the couple lived together Howard supported and financed his efforts and conspiracies to do so. Part of her reason for being supportive both emotional and financially was because a month after his escape from prison, his father, Louis I of Holland, died. That meant that Louis Napoleon was the clear heir to the Bonaparte dynasty and she dreamed of being beside him when he regained power.

Louis Napoleon’s father, Louis of Holland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the “July Monarchy” abruptly ended in 1848 despite a law forbidding any Bonaparte from residing in France, Louis Napoleon crossed the Channel and arrived in Paris where Bonapartists where supporting him. Unfortunately, the new French government was concerned about his arrival and so he returned to England. That worked in his favor when the provisional government then floundered because when elections were held his name was placed on the ballot and he was elected to the National Assembly.

He then returned to Paris with Harriet Howard and performed his duties with distinction. Because of his service and fame, he then won a national election held for President in 1848 and was sworn in on 20 December 1848. According to the constitution Louis Napoleon would have to step down as President at the end of his term. He was unhappy about that and wanted the law changed to allow him to stay in office longer but was short a two-thirds majority in the Assembly. However, he believed he was supported by the people and therefore decided to retain power through a coup d’état that happened in December 1851.

The coup was financed primarily by Howard. She had paid his debts several times previously and was now pledging her fortune for him to achieve his goal of Emperor. One year after the coup Louis Napoleon’s ambitions were realized when in a confirming plebiscite, he became Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. As Emperor, Howard knew that he would need a wife but then it was decided that because of Howard’s reputation she could not fill the role as Empress. 

Harriet Howard - Emperor Napoleon

Emperor Napoleon III in 1855 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The name of Eugénie de Montijo was soon circulated as a possibility. Louis Napoleon had reputedly been attracted to her for some time. She was the daughter of Cipriano de Palafox y Portocarrero, 8th count of Montijo and his wife, María Manuela Kirkpatrick de Grevignée. Supposedly, when Harriet Howard heard the rumor that Louis Napoleon might make Eugénie his wife, she tried to cause problems:

“It was whispered in the ante-chambers that Miss Howard, who now felt herself about to be supplanted … went to pay off a score against her Imperial lover. Mlle de Montijo was thrown unreservedly to the sharks. Seeds of ill-feeling against her were sown both among the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Alarming ideas concerning the wedding settlements sprang up on the Exchange. Nothing was left undone to poison the public mind. The panic mongers declared that if the Emperor, in spite of all this disapproval, persisted in marrying the upstart, he would invite the Powers to refuse him recognition, to turn their backs upon him, and reduce France to a position of isolation.”[3]

Nonetheless, despite all the controversy over Eugénie it was decided the Emperor would marry her. Harriet Howard was therefore cast aside. In the Intimate Memoirs of Napoleon III it was written that on the 14 January 1853 the following was reported:

“The decision is finally made, and now everybody accepts it ― everybody, that is, except Miss Howard, who is furious. Her dream of being the Pompadour of the Empire is shattered. She has disdainfully refused all conciliatory suggestions, and if care be not taken, there will be a scandal. Mocquart [sic] has definite instructions, and if necessary he will carry off the offended English lady manu militari, and put her on board ship at Calais or Dieppe.”[4]

Apparently, it was necessary to at least remover her. Howard was therefore sent away to Le Havre when Napoleon III formally announced his engagement to Eugénie on 22 January 1853. The couple then wed a few days later in a civil ceremony at the Tuileries Palace followed by a grander religious ceremony that took place at Notre Dame Cathedral on the 30th.

The Empress Eugénie in the early 1850s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although Louis Napoleon’s affair with Howard abruptly ended, their break did not last long. Within six months of his marriage, he resumed intimacy with her. Supposedly Eugénie found sex “disgusting” and so he returned to the bed of Howard. When Eugénie found out about his affair she refused to give him an heir unless he permanently ended his relationship with Howard, which he did. Nonetheless, after the birth of their son, Louis Napoléon, Prince Imperial, Napoleon III resumed his “distractions” with other women.

Emperor Napoleon III with his wife and son. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the meantime, he also worked to repay his debts to Howard for the money she had advanced him. His first installment of one million francs was paid on 25 March 1853 through Jean-François Mocquard, who served as the chief-of-staff to the Emperor. However, when the Emperor failed to make a payment, Harriet Howard sent a letter to Mocquard dated 24 July 1855 that stated:

“My very dear Friend, ― To-day is the 24th of July, and I see with sorrow that the engagements entered into with me are not accomplished [when I doubt I am vexed; there must be no more doubt]; in fact, I believed, and I still believe, that it is an error ― why make me suffer? If things are to be thus, I should have done better to have kept the six millions, instead of three millions five hundred thousand francs, which should have been paid, on my demand, at the end of the year 1853, and it was for this reason that I begged of the Emperor to tear up the first sum (two million five hundred thousand francs). It makes my heart bleed to write this, and if my marriage contract were not drawn up as it is, and if I had no child, I should not have taken this step … I depend upon you to put an end to so much suffering. The heart of the Emperor is too good to leave a woman whom he has tenderly loved in a false position, and he would not wish to be so himself ― you know my position, you are my tutor, and it is for this double reason I address myself to you. I was mistaken the other day in writing his Majesty. In one of his letters dated May, he says: ‘I will give Giles to-morrow paper for the three million five hundred thousand francs.’ So there is nothing to be done but calculate the annuity of 50,000 from the 1st June 1853, and 50,000 from January to October. I pray God there may be no more questions of money between me and he who possess every other feeling of my heart. I kiss you tenderly, and love you the same.”[5]

Harriet Howard - Jean-François Mocquard

Jean-François Mocquard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sometime in the mid-1800s Napoleon III finally repaid Howard all the money he owed her. He also gave her the title of Comtesse de Beauregard as she had become the owner of the Château de Beauregard and its park. The estate was located close to the main route between La Celle-Saint-Cloud and Versailles near Paris. However, the château was in a poor condition at the time she acquired it. She therefore rebuilt it in a neo-classical style and enclosed the whole area with a wall.

Harriet Howard - Chateau Beauregard

Chateau Beauregard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After Napoleon III’s marriage to Eugénie, his two sons that Howard had helped raise were returned to their mother. Harriet Howard then became involved with a Captain Clarence Trelawny, an English horse breeder. They married in 1854, and he used her money to finance his horse business. Unfortunately, their marriage was unhappy and did not last. That was noted by the Western Daily Press who reported in 1860:

“A Mm. Howard, celebrated for her intimacy with the French Emperor previous to his marriage, and on whom he bestowed a handsome income immediately previous to the event, afterwards married the son of Sir John Trelawny, the Welsh baronet; and now, after a separation of some time from her husband (on whom she had settled by contract about £2,000 a year); the lady is taking measure to secure a divorce. Unless hushed up, the case will bring up past circumstances not at all agreeable for high personages.”[6]

Napoleon III in 1868. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Their divorce was finalized in 1865 and that was the same year Harriet Howard died. It happened at her château on 19 August 1865 at 6:30 pm. A month or so after her death, the King’s County Chronicle published a brief but somewhat unflattering notice of her death:

“The death of the Countess of Beauregard ― better known formerly as Mrs. Howard, and whose name was mixed up with that of Napoleon III. in his earlier careers ― has revived a good deal of Parisian gossip. Some years ago she married Captain Trelawney, of the Guard. At the chateau and grounds of Beauregard near Versailles, ‘years ago,’ says the correspondent of the Exter Flying Post, ‘I used to see the lady frequently; she was tall, inclined to be stout, extremely fair, and with hair of a reddish tinge. Her manner was unassuming and most pleasing. Latterly she used regularly to attend the English church at Versailles, where her handsome barouche and a pair of ‘steppares’ attracted considerable attention. Last year she separated from Captain Trelawny by a decree of the Courts, for in France divorce is not possible. It was owing to her that the Empress paid that extraordinary November visit to England some three or four years ago. The Paris gossip is that she abjured Protestantism a few hours before her death. To her credit be it said, that if her life had not been of the purest, she made the poor partakers of the wealth that her imperial lover bestowed on her. Her charities were most extensive. And so sinks of out sight another of the notorieties of the Elysee.”[7]


  • [1] F. H. Cheetham, Louis Napoleon and the Genesis of the Second Empire (London: John Lane, 1909), 235
  • [2] N. Foulkes, Last of the Dandies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005), 322
  • [3] Allison, A.R., Poinsot, M.C., van Cleemputte, P.A., ed., Intimate Memoirs of Napoleon III (Boston: Little, Brown, & Publisher, 1912), 15
  • [4] Ibid., 17
  • [5] The Secret Documents of the Second Empire (London: W. Tweedie, 1871), 165–66
  • [6] Western Daily Press, “-,” January 19, 1860, 3
  • [7] King’s County Chronicle, “A Parisian Notoriety,” September 13, 1865, 3

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  1. Steve on January 13, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    I recently read Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and was therefore pleased to read about the scandalous career of a woman on the edges of the novel. Nicely done.

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