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Duc de Morny

Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, duc de Morny (October 21, 1811 - March 10, 1865), French statesman, was the natural son of Hortense de Beauharnais (wife of Louis Bonaparte, and queen of Holland) and Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut, and therefore halfbrother of Napoleon III.

He was born in Paris, and his birth was duly registered in a certificate which made him the legitimate son of Auguste Jean Hyacinthe Demorny, described as a landowner of St. Domingo. M. Demorny was in fact an officer in the Prussian army and a native of St Domingo, though he owned no land there or elsewhere.

After a brilliant school and college career he received a commission in the army, and next year entered the staff college and became lieutenant. The comte de Morny, as he was called by a polite fiction, served in Algeria in 1834-35 as aide-de-camp to General Camille Alphonse Trezel, whose life he saved under the walls of Constantine.

When he returned to Paris in 1838 he secured a solid position in the business world by the establishment of a great beetroot-sugar industry at Clermont in Auvergne, and by writing a pamphlet Sur la question des sucres in 1838. In these and other lucrative speculations he was helped by the beautiful and wealthy wife of the Belgian ambassador, Charles Joseph, comte Lehon, until there were few great commercial enterprises in Paris in which he had not an interest.

Although he sat as deputy for Clermont-Ferrand from 1842 onwards he took at first no important part in party politics, but he was heard with respect on industrial and financial questions. He supported the government of Louis Philippe, because revolution threatened his commercial interests, but before the catastrophe of 1848, by which he was temporarily ruined, he meditated conversion to the legitimist cause represented by the comte de Chambord. His attitude was expressed by the mot with which he is said to have replied to a lady who asked what he would do if the Chamber were "swept out." "Range myself on the side of the broom handle," was his answer. Presently he was admitted to the intimate circle of Louis Napoleon, and he helped to engineer the coup d'état of December 2 1851 on the morrow of which he received the ministry of the interior.

After six months of office, during which he had shown commendable moderation and tact to his political opponents, he resigned his portfolio, ostensibly because he disapproved of the confiscation of the Orleans property but really because Napoleon, influenced by Morny's rivals, resented his pretensions to a foremost place in the government and his desire to insist on his claims as a member of the Bonaparte family. He now resumed his financial speculations, and when in 1854 he became president of the Corps Législatif, a position which he filled with consummate dignity and tact for the rest of his life, he used his official rank to assist his schemes.

Politics and high finance with Morny went hand in hand. In 1856 he was sent as special envoy to the coronation of Alexander II of Russia; he executed his mission with prodigal splendour, and brought home a wife, Princess Sophie Troubetzkoi, who by her connexions greatly strengthened his social position. In 1862 Morny, whose power was at its culminating point, was created a duke. It is said that he aspired to the throne of Mexico, and that the French expedition sent to place Maximilian on the throne was prompted by Napoleon's desire to thwart this ambition.

In any case, in spite of occasional dissensions, Morny's influence with the emperor remained very great, and the liberal traditions which he had retained enabled him to serve the imperial cause by his influence with the leaders of the opposition, the most conspicuous of whom, Émile Ollivier, was detached from his colleagues by his efforts. But while he was laying the foundations of the "Liberal Empire" his health, undermined by a ceaseless round of political and financial business, of gaiety and dissipation, was giving way, and was further injured by indulgence in quack medicines. The emperor and the empress visited him just before his death in Paris on the 10th of March 1865.

Morny's valuable collection of pictures was sold after his death. In spite of his undoubted wit and social gifts Morny failed to secure the distinction he desired as a dramatist, and none of his pieces which appeared under the pseudonym of M. de St Rémy--Sur la grande route; Monsieur Choufleury restera chez lui, and the Finesses du man among others--met with any considerable success on the stage.

The figure of the duc de Morny is familiar to the general reader in the duc de Mora of Le Nabab of Alphonse Daudet, who had been one of his secretaries. See F Lolie, Le Duc de Morny et la soclété du second empire (1909). Earlier accounts are by H Castille, M. de Morny (1859), and Arthur de Ia Guéronnihre, Etudes el portraits politiques (1856).

See also F Loliée, Le Duc de Morny, adapted by B O'Donnell. A volume, Extraits des mémoires de Morny: Une Ambassade en Russie 1856, was published in 1892.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.