Historical Dictionary of the French Second Empire, 1852-1870

By William E. Echard | Go to book overview

W

WAGNER IN FRANCE. See TANNHAUSER.

WALEWSKI, COMTE ALEXANDRE ( 1810-1868), diplomat and politician; born at Walewice Castle ( Poland), 4 May 1810, the illegitimate son of Napoleon I and Countess Marie Walewska. On the death of her husband, who had assumed paternity, Marie Walewska married Marshal Philippe d'Ornano, but, following her own death a short time later, Walewski was raised in Poland by his mother's brother. The boy studied at Geneva and Warsaw. Affected by romantic nationalism, he escaped from Poland to France, returning to participate in the uprising of 1830-1831 against Russian rule, during which he was sent to London by the revolutionary government in an attempt to gain diplomatic support for the Polish cause. Stranded and destitute following the collapse of the insurrection, Walewski emigrated to France where he lived with his stepfather, became a naturalized citizen ( 17 July 1833), and served in the French army in Algeria. In 1837, however, he went on the inactive list (he resigned from the army in 1841), returning to Paris to make his fortune, for by this time he had spent his inheritance.

In the late 1830s, Walewski failed to establish himself in politics, journalism, and the theater (he may have collaborated with Alexandre Dumas fils in writing Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle in 1839, and his five-act comedy, L'école du monde ou la coquette sans savoir, played with no great success at the Théâtre Français in January 1840). He came, however, under the patronage of Adolphe Thiers and in 1840 began a diplomatic career. His three-year liaison with the celebrated tragedienne Rachel (a son was born in November 1844) had just ended in March 1846 when Walewski was sent as French minister to Florence. There he met and married (in May 1846) Marianne (Marie Anne) Ricci, the daughter of a Polish émigré family of aristocratic (Poniatowski) background. This second marriage ( Walewski's first wife, Caroline Montague, a daughter of the earl of Sandwich, had died in 1834), while it brought no great dowry, was to prove a very good one. On 28 February 1847 the young diplomat was sent to the tip of South America where the Argentine Confederation was just beginning to take shape. In September 1847 he returned to Paris, in time to experience the Revolution of 1848. That revolution revealed two significant characteristics of Walewski's

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