A Love Story

Love story at the dental surgery of Thomas W. Evans, or how Napoleon III met Eugenie


Xavier Riaud[1]

I will not relate the crazy actions which made Eugenie’s rescue possible. By protecting her all the way to Deauville where she sailed for England, Evans achieved a heroic deed (Lamendin, 1999). I wish, in addition to the work mentioned above, to relate the circumstances of a burgeoning love, that of Napoleon II and Eugenie, his Empress.

Thomas W. Evans

Thomas W. Evans was born on December 23, 1823. He obtained his doctorate in medicine at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. In 1841, Thomas (Deranian, 2006) became a student of the Philadelphian dentist, Dr John de Haven White. He opened a surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, then in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In 1847, he acquired a certain notoriety after demonstrating a new technique for fillings using gold at the annual Philadelphia exposition, where he won first prize. There, he also met Dr John Clark, a retired Parisian doctor who returned to his place on holidays. Clark (Riaud, 2007) was quickly convinced that a dentist as gifted as Evans would be something of a sensation in Paris. So, in November, 1847, Evans (Riaud, 2006) moved to the French capital, where he met another American dentist, Dr Starr Brewster, who treated numerous patients in the French aristocracy. One day, Brewster (Iverson, 1998), who treated Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte – the future Napoleon III (1808-1873) – was summoned to the services of the Emperor, but he was unable to attend. Brewster sent Evans in his place, and from then on, Evans became the official dentist for royal European families. He earned the friendship of Napoleon, who named him the crown’s official dentist in 1853. He also became an official member of the Emperor’s council, and in 1854 was awarded the Legion of Honour (Riaud, 2007).

Dr Thomas W. Evans (1823-1897) (Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Archives, 2005)

Memories, memories….

“I met the Prince (Evans, 1910) soon after his arrival in Paris. He hadn’t been at the Elysee Palace for very long when he sent a message to Doctor Brewster asking if the good doctor could pay him a visit. As chance would have it, Doctor Brewster had taken ill when the message arrived and could not make it to the Palace. I had the good fortune of replacing him and visiting the Prince myself.

He received me in a very amicable fashion, in such a way that I did not perceive he required the services of Doctor Brewster, and I felt unexpectedly at ease with him. I performed a light operation on him, which relieved him greatly. Once I had finished he thanked me with immense cordiality, complimenting the ‘gentle’ manner in which I had performed my work. He expressed a desire to see me again the following day. I continued to offer him my services, and from then on until the day of his death I visited him frequently, sometimes twice weekly; as it was not only in the capacity of a dentist that I would visit him – he quickly expressed to me that I was a source of friendship and confidence.”

Dental care for a Prince, then an Emperor

Later on, the American dentist (Evans, 1910) remarked: “My professional relations with the Emperor began, as I have already said, shortly after he became President of the Republic. His teeth were extremely delicate, which, according to him, was a trait he inherited from his mother. Because of this hypersensitiveness – the term which was used by Corvisart and Nelaton – which spread throughout his body and became increasingly worse towards the end of his life, he suffered enormously from the most minor of inflammations, so much so that he required my services quite often.

In addition, he had a tendency to suffer from hemorrhaging; as a child he nearly died from loss of blood after having a tooth extracted. He owed his life to the vigilance and care of his mother, who, during the night of this hemorrhage, pressed her finger firmly into his gums until they stopped bleeding. As I was ordinarily called to the Palace for problems relating to his teeth, I almost always managed to relieve his suffering. He hated it when we caused him pain; so I approached with great caution anytime I had to touch his teeth or gums with an instrument. It was therefore only natural that the Emperor would be most grateful for the gentle manner in which I treated him, and for the great relief that I was, happily on many occasions, able to give him almost instantly. But I was not the only one in my profession to enjoy his admiration – it was afforded to all dentists. He found aid and relief in our capabilities, and for this reason he had an excellent opinion of dentists in general. 

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to provide great services to the Emperor (Evans, 1910) from a professional point of view, and I was amply rewarded in so many ways, particularly by the encouragement that he gave me and the consideration he showed me, which resulted in dentists being held in very high regard…”

The Court dentist

He continued: “The Emperor (Evans, 1910) realised quickly that I was worried about the position I occupied within his immediate entourage. And, as he saw no difference between the men except for their intelligence, merits or knowledge, I was soon officially admitted to the Elysée Palace on equal footing with medical doctors, surgeons, university professors and men of science in general.  When the Court was constituted, I received the title ‘dental-surgeon’ under the same form and conditions as the other doctors and surgeons of the ‘health service’ attached to the ‘House of the Emperor’. I wore the same golden uniform as the other members of the personal medical service, and my salary was equal to theirs.

I was the sole dentist at the Tuileries Court, and the Emperor showed great benevolence and attention to my well-being at every occasion, particularly in public. My position within the imperial Court allowed me to travel to other Courts, and there were few in Europe in which I was not welcomed.”

He finally explained that: “Napoleon III (Evans, 1910) was a very laborious man. He went to bed late and rose early. When he needed to see me, he would arrange an appointment very early. When I arrived, he was generally in his office, where he had already been working for several hours…”

Marriage – a State duty?

Some time after the coup d’Etat of December 2, 1851, which saw the Prince take power as absolute monarch  (Albou-Talbart, 2006), his closest advisors recommended that he marry. After several unsuccessful attempts at convincing him, the future Emperor finally realised the necessity of marriage, at the age of 44.

Eugenia Maria Ignacia Augustina Palafox de Guzman Portocarrero y Kirkpatrick de Closeburn, 9th countess of Teba, or Eugenia de Montijo (1826-1920)

Evans remembered: “In the Autumn of 1851, I met a Spanish family of three; a woman and her two daughters (Evans, 1910).

One of the daughters (Evans, 1910) was remarkable not simply because of her great beauty, but her vivacity and intelligence; and those that knew her intimately admired even more so the kindness of her heart and the sympathy she showed to all those who suffered or were in need. (…)

There was in her manner so much nobility and concern for those in her care, and I recognised very quickly that Eugenie de Montijo was a being completely exempt from ostentatious tendencies. She was one of those rare beings who followed the generosity of her heart, and for whom the left hand ignores what the right hand does.

She was living at the time in Vendome Place, not far from my surgery, and was generally accompanied by a friend, Mrs Zifrey Casas, of American origins but married in Spain, or by her servant Pepa.

The numerous visits the young countess made to me, often in the interests of her overseas compatriots for whom I could offer my services, allowed me enough occasions to form an opinion of her character.

Impressionable, compassionate, generous, ready to abandon herself to a moment’s impulsion, and rarely thinking of herself, she never seemed so happy as when she was able to offer her help.   

A meeting at the dental surgery


The dentist remembered: “One day, among the people with her in my waiting room, there was by chance a friend of the Prince-President (Evans, 1910). This man, in a great rush, seemed somewhat annoyed at having to wait; so she offered him to go ahead of her, even though she herself had been waiting much longer than him; the gracious manner in which she did so surprised him, because, barely had her entered into my office, he asked me who was this beautiful young woman who had allowed him to enter before her.

Soon after, the Countess of Teba and her mother, the Countess of Montijo, were included on the list of people invited regularly to receptions at the Elysee Palace, where the Prince-President remarked; the young countess was admired and attracted the attention of all who were present.”

An attractive face

Visibly affected by this woman, the celebrated practitioner (Evans, 1910) said of her: “Her round figure and remarkably pure traits were singularly attractive; she had a pale and shiny complexion, soft blue eyes that were particularly transparent and shadowed by long eyelashes, which, when closed, were slightly lowered, and hair with a magnificent hazelnut hue. She had a slightly thin nose of exquisite form, and a delicate small mouth, which, when she smiled, gleamed like a row of pearls.

The Prince is interested

“The Prince, struck by the beauty of the Countess, recognised equally the rare qualities of her heart and spirit. (…) He met her again in the autumn of 1852 (…) At the moment he became Emperor (Evans, 1910) he announced officially his engagement to the Senate in the throne room of the Tuileries, as well as to the Legislative Body, and to the highest functions of the Empire.”

Imperial discourse

On this day, Napoleon said of her: “The one who has become the object of my preference is one of the highest birth. French by heart, by education, by the blood memory of her father who fought for the Empire, she has, like Spain, the advantage of not having in France family to whom it is necessary to offer honour and dignity. Gifted with all qualities of spirit, she will be the ornament of the throne, and on the day of danger, she will become one of its courageous supports. Catholic and pious, she offers to the heavens the same prayers as I for the glory of France; all that is good and gracious, she will bring once again, I firmly believe, the virtues of the Empress Josephine.

Therefore I say to France: I would prefer a woman that I love and respect to a woman for whom marriage is but an advantageous alliance. Showing disdain for no person, I give in to my desire, after having consulted my reasoning and conviction. By valuing independence, the qualities of the heart, the joy of family above that of dynastic prejudice, I will not be less brave because I will be freer.”

On January 30, 1853, Napoleon III married Eugenie de Montijo in Notre Dame Cathedral, in a ceremony identical to that of his celebrated forebears and those of Josephine. Evans was of course invited. It was a triumphant ceremony and Eugenie would go on to become one of the most loved and admired Empresses of the 19th Century.

A pearl necklace

A few days after her marriage, Eugenie (Evans, 1910) sent her servant Pepa to help heal Evans so that he could come to the Tuileries to offer his services to her. “Her Majesty desired that I would come myself. (…) It was unusual that she would ask me to come and see her, it was as if she was asking me a favour.

As soon as I entered her room, she welcomed me cordially and with great simplicity. (…) My illustrious and very interesting patient was well at this moment, but she had recently suffered greatly and was worried her symptoms would return. And, as she had important issues to attend to during the day, and a reception that evening, I stayed several hours at the Tuileries and did all that I could so that she would be able to attend her appointments. As such we had a lot of time to talk (…) It was the first day of her marriage that she had suffered most, and the Emperor (Evans, 1910) offered her his greatest sympathies; he offered her much attention, and continually entered into her office to see how she was feeling. As I was soon to be leaving Paris, I was very happy to know that my charming patient suffered no more, the Emperor returned to her room, jewel case in hand; he approached the Empress, took out of the case a magnificent pearl necklace, and passed it around her neck.”


This love story had a profound affect on me. In fact, how many practitioners among us can say we have found love in our dental surgery or in some manner related to our profession? In fact, this happened to me. This is how I met my wife and the mother of my daughter, as I was replacing another dentist. We are still together to this day.

Bibliography and references

Albou-Tabart Sylvie, Bernard Daniel et al., Les rois de France [The kings of France], Hachette Collections (ed.) Paris, 2006

Deranian Martin H., Thomas W. Evans: Pennsylvania’s dentist to Europe’s royalty, in J. Hist. Dent., Spring 2006; 54 (1): 17-23

Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Archives, Philadelphia, 2005

Evans, Thomas W., Mémoires du Dr Thomas W. Evans [The memoires of Dr Thomas W. Evans], Plon (ed.) Paris, 1910

Iverson Daniel, The Civil War: three dentists who made a difference, in J. Hist.Dent., 1998 Jul; 46 (2): 85-88

Lamendin Henri, L’impératrice Eugénie, des dentists et l’Histoire… [The Empress Eugenie, dentists and history...], in Le Chirurgien-Dentiste de France [The dental surgeon of France], 16/09/199, n 950, pp. 38-41

Riaud Xavier, , L’influence des dentistes américains pendant la Guerre de Sécession (1861-1865) [The influence of American dentists during the Civil War (1861-1865)], L’Harmattan (ed), Collection Médecine à travers les siècles [Medicine throughout the centuries Collection], Paris, 2006

Riaud Xavier, Les dentistes, détectives de l’Histoire [Dental detectives of history], L’Harmattan (ed) Collection Médecine à travers les siècles [Medicine throughout the centuries Collection], Paris, 2007

[1] Dental Surgeon, Doctor in Epistemology, History of Sciences and Techniques, Laureate and Associate member of the National Academy of Dental Surgery and Free member of the National Academy of Surgery.

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