She was a celebrity of Second Empire France and known for her relationship with Napoleon III of France. She was often caricatured in contemporary press and is considered to be the model for Émile Zola"s Nana. A candy is also named after her.
She was reputedly the most universally loathed of Napoleon III"s mistresses, though perhaps his favorite She outlived Napoleon"s deposal in 1870 and died in 1886 aged 48.
Born into poverty, she began working as a laundress in Saumur at the age of 15. After an affair with a lieutenant opened her eyes to the wider world, she became an acrobat and trick rider in a provincial circus before becoming an actress in Paris and adopted the name Marguerite Bellanger.
While her talents were limited, she become popular and was one of the most sought after courtesans in the city. In June 1863, while on a carriage ride in Street-Cloud Park, Napoleon III spotted Bellanger sheltering from the rain beneath a tree.
Shortly thereafter, she became his mistress.
She received many gifts from the Emperor, including two houses, one of which had a back door into the castle gardens. In February 1864, she gave birth to a son who she named Charles Jules Auguste François Marie Leboeuf. Bellanger retired to a house in rue de Launay à Villebernier and in November 1864 she was granted a pension and the castle of Villeneuve-sous-Dammartin.
Her child was also granted a pension and the Chateau de Mouchy, which Napoleon III had purchased discreetly.
Still a beautiful young woman, Bellanger took lovers during her residency at Villenueve-sous-Dammartin. Bellanger continued her association with Napoleon until his death in 1873, even through the Franco-Prussian War and his captivity.
When he died in exile, she traveled to England to mourn her "dear lord". She lived the rest of her life as a lady, devoting herself to charity and good works.
Marguerite Bellanger died on 23 November 1886 after contracting a cold during a walk in the park of the castle at Villeneuve-sous-Dammartin.
She was interred at the Montparnasse Cemetery. Her only child, Charles Leboeuf, died without issue in 1941 after a career as an officer