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Additional info for A Political Romance: Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon and the Making of the French Republic, 1872–82
He had signed up at the age of fourteen and had no alternative career to pursue when the Napoleonic Wars ceased. To re-enlist, as he did, was not unusual. Émile Pillias describes Léonie Léon as the ‘daughter of an Orleanist’. But personal loyalty to the duc d’Orléans (eldest son of King Louis-Philippe), whom he served as aide-de-camp in the 1830s, did not necessarily represent a political stance. After Napoleon’s defeat, Léon served the Bourbon kings for fifteen years, the Orleans king for eighteen years, and the Emperor Napoleon III for twelve more years.
31 It is likely, too, that Léon’s work as a courtesan brought her to Hyrvoix’s attention. 34 From their liaison came a son, Alphonse Léon, born on 5 February 1865 in Bordeaux. There is no doubt about the child’s paternity. Two ‘The unforgettable day of 27 April’ 23 months later, Hyrvoix made a will leaving 30,000 francs to the child: a generous gesture that would have been unthinkable unless Alphonse was undoubtedly his son, since he had no legal obligations to either mother or child. Hyrvoix’ legitimate son was in no doubt, either, about Alphonse’s paternity.
Gambetta was a national hero; an emerging leader whose oratory drew republicans together. He offered hope that republicans might summon the unity and strength to contest, and to replace, Napoleon III’s imperial regime. For Léonie Léon, seated in the audience watching this powerful and exciting man, this was to prove a life-changing moment. Bourg-la-Reine Friday 1 My Dear and only beloved, What powerful magic do you work on me? Your letter sparkling with wit and with love spread fire through my whole being!