Bernardine Eugénie Désirée
Clary (8 November 1777 – 17 December 1860), one-time
fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte,
was a Frenchwoman who became Queen of Sweden and Norway as the wife
of King Charles XIV
She officially changed her name there to
, a Latin version (slightly incorrect) of
her original name.
Early life and family
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, and his second wife (m.
1759) Françoise Rose Somis (Marseille, St. Ferreol, 30 August 1737
– Paris, 28 January 1815).
He had been previously
married at Marseille, 13 April 1751 to Gabrielle Fléchon (1732 – 3
May 1758), without issue. Her sister, Julie
Clary, married Joseph
Bonaparte, and later became Queen of Naples and Spain.
brother, Nicholas Joseph Clary, was created 1st Count
Clary and married Anne Jeanne Rouyer, by whom he
had Zénaïde Françoise Clary (Paris, 25 November 1812 – Paris, 27
April 1884), wife of Napoléon Berthier de Wagram, 2nd duc de Wagram
(10 September 1810 – 10 February 1887), son of Marshal Berthier
, and had issue.
Désirée received the convent schooling usually given to daughters
of the upper classes in pre-revolutionary France, but, during the
of 1789, convents were
closed and Désirée returned to live with her parents. Her education
was quite shallow as was the custom for most girls. She was to be
very devoted to her birth-family her entire life. In 1794, her
father died. Her brother was arrested by the revolutionary
government, and she was later to say that he was released by
intervention, after which Joseph was presented to her family and
married her sister. Désirée was presented to Napoleon Bonaparte
, to whom she became
engaged on 21 April 1795; but upon becoming involved with Joséphine de Beauharnais
he married on 9 March 1796, Bonaparte broke off his engagement with
1795–1797, Désirée lived with her mother in Genoa in
Italy. In 1797, she went to live with her sister
Julie and her brother-in-law Joseph, who was the French ambassador
Her relationship with Julie was always to
be very intense and deep. She was briefly expected to marry the
French General Léonard Duphot, but he was killed in a riot in Rome
in December 1797, on the eve of their marriage.
After her return to France, she met her future husband, the French
General Jean Baptiste Jules
. They were married at Sceaux
on 17 August 1798. In the marriage contract, Désirée was given
economic independence. In 1799, she gave birth to their only child,
a son, Oscar
, but the couple lived
more or less separate lives afterward.
Her husband was a leading general in the French Napoleonic army,
and normally absent from Paris. Désirée had a good relationship
with the Bonaparte Imperial family, as well as with the Empress
Joséphine, and declined taking sides in the conflicts between
Joséphine and the Bonaparte siblings. She had a place in the
ceremony in 1804, holding the
empress's train, and was later to say that she had supported
Joséphine when the Bonaparte sisters also holding the train had
tried to make the empress lose her balance. Désirée lived a
comfortable social life in Paris during her husband's long
absences, though she preferred an informal family life to that of
the Imperial court. It is believed that she may have had a
romantic relationship with the Italian Ange
Chaippe. In 1804–1805, Bernadotte was made governor of
Hanover, and Désirée
and her son moved to Hamburg; but she
soon returned to Paris.
She was not happy living anywhere
but Paris. When her husband 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.
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 the other and to communicate with each
other with her as a messenger.
her husband was elected heir to the throne of Sweden.
Désirée initially thought this was to be similar to the position of
Prince of Pontecorvo, and was depressed when she found out that
this time she was expected to leave Paris.
Désirée visited Sweden for the first time in 1810 but could not
adapt to the demands of formal court etiquette
. She was said to have been treated with
a certain snobbery by the court and especially the Queen
though the Dowager Queen
was kind to her. The climate was also a shock; she arrived during
the winter, and she hated the snow so much that she cried. She had
never wished to be a queen and did not want to move so far away
from her family. The queen found her spoiled and undignified, and
Désirée's companions, especially Elise la Flotte, made her
unpopular by encouraging her to complain about everything.
Sweden in 1811 under the name of "Countess of Gotland", officially because of her health, and returned to
There she stayed for twelve years, 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
. She resided incognito in Paris, thereby avoiding
politics during the difficult period when Sweden was at war with
France. However, her house at rue d'Anjou was watched by the secret
police, and her letters were read by them. When Napoleon was
defeated in 1814, her house was a refuge for her sister Julie.
Bernadotte met her in Paris, but returned to Sweden without her.
She was ridiculed by the court of Louis XVIII of France
as an upstart,
but had her own little court where she held receptions. In 1816,
she made plans to return to Sweden, but she wished to bring her
sister, Julie; her husband thought this unwise, as Julie was a
member of the Bonaparte family and her presence may be taken as a
sign that he sided with the deposed Napoleon, and in the end, this
came to nothing.
Désirée's husband had employed a count de Montrichard at her
household (1817) as his spy to report to him if she did anything
which could affect him.
Queen Desideria of Sweden and
In 1818, her husband became king of Sweden; but she remained in
Paris, officially for health reasons, which was discussed in the
papers in Paris and by her visitors. In Sweden, her husband took a
mistress, the noblewoman Mariana
. Désirée held receptions in Paris as the queen of
Sweden on Thursdays and Sundays, though she still used the title of
countess. She fell in love with the French minister, the duc de
, and followed him on his travels until his death in
1822, she met her son in Aachen.
In 1823, Désirée returned to Sweden together with her son's bride,
Josephine of Leuchtenberg
the visit was initially to be but a short one. In 21 August 1829,
she was crowned Queen at her own request. She also talked about a
coronation in Norway, but the Norwegians found it impossible
because of her religion. She was, in fact, not religious, but was
forced to attend mass and confession by her daughter-in-law. She
was the first commoner to be a queen since Karin Månsdotter
in 1568. 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
, but Désirée soon grew tired of her royal status and wanted
to return to France. However, her husband did not allow it.
There is nothing to indicate that she ever had any political
influence. She spent her summers at Drottningholm Palace, (a residence her spouse disliked) or Rosersberg
Palace, and often visited Swedish spas, such as Ramlösa spa.
She visited Norway a couple of times,
the first time in 1825. The court was astonished by her informal
behaviour. Every morning, she visited her husband in her nightgown,
which was shocking, as her husband usually conferred with members
of the council of state in his bed chamber at that time. Otherwise,
they met only on formal occasions: because she was always late at
dinner, he stopped having his meals with her after 1826: and as her
spouse 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. She went to bed late, and woke up
She never became very popular at the royal court and never learned
to speak Swedish, and there are many anecdotes of her attempts to
speak the language. She kept her French personal staff: the first
years, her niece, countess Marcelle Tascher de la Pagerie, was her
lady-in-waiting. Among her other more known ladies-in-waiting were
the Norwegians Kathinka Falbe and Jana Falbe; because of Desiree's
eccentric habits, they were to be known as "Strapatsfröknarna"
(approximately "Mlles. Calamity").
In 1844, her husband died. In 1853, she wished to return to Paris,
but her fear of sea travel made it impossible. 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
had thought Queen Désirée 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. She 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 a real conversation, but she would say
"Kom, kom!", which is Swedish for : "Come come!"
There are other 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
, one of the few Swedish words she learned,
which means around and around.
On the last day of her
life, she entered her box at the Royal Swedish Opera
just as the
performance had ended. Désirée died in Stockholm on 17 December 1860.
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
Désirée Clary in fiction
and of two films:
- Désirée Clary d'après sa correspondance inédite avec
Bonaparte, Bernadotte et sa famille, Gabriel Girod de l'Ain,
Paris: Hachette (1959).
- Herman Lindvist, Historien om alla Sveriges
drottningar (The Histories of the queens of Sweden) (In
- Lars Elgklou: Bernadotte. Historien – eller
historier – om en familj (Bernadotte. The History – or
histories – of a family). (1995)