Napoleon Bonaparte (08-15-1769 to 05-05-1821) was the first emperor of France and is considered one of the world's greatest military leaders of all times.
He was sponsor of the Napoleonic Code, revolutionized military training, education, and organization, and established the long-lived Owner/ Source of Photo: Bruun-rasmussen https://skeel.info/ Concordat with the papacy. What could be more romantic?
I can think of a lot of more romantic things. That Napoleon was a brilliant military strategist and politician, is the sort of information we all learned in school. He was the Emperor of France and Josephine was Empress. I’d never even imagined there was a great love story there.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
The story begins six years before our hero was born, in June of 1763, when Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born in the French colony of Martinique. Rose, as she was called by family and friends--Napoleon changed her name to Josephine because he didn’t like the name Rose--was the daughter of a moderately wealthy aristocrat who owned a sugar plantation.
La Pagerie Sugar Plantation - The house where Josephine grew up
Photo source: Royalty and the Atlantic World 2: Napoleon, Josephine and the French
Caribbean; 03-10-2013 by Carolyn Harris http://www.royalhistorian.com/napoleon-josephine
Her family arranged a marriage to the wealthy Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, not for Josephine but for her younger sister Catherine who was twelve. The Tascher family was depending on the liaison to end their financial hardships, but Catherine died suddenly. Thus, Josephine took her place and married the Viscount in 1779 at the age of 16.
They had two children, but the marriage failed eventually, and in 1794 she got court authorization to separate. It scarcely mattered, since her husband was accused of being a supporter of the royalists during the Reign of Terror and was sent to the guillotine. Josephine, also jailed for four months, was freed when Robespierre was overthrown and executed.
Josephine, reunited with her two children, turned to her many well-heeled friends and continued to live an active social life. Not only was she well connected, she was charming, beautiful and, reputedly, expert at living the good life and spending money, particularly other people’s money.
Despite the taint left on her departed husband’s name, Josephine became one of the most prominent women in Paris society. She had many affairs with important political and military figures, and became the mistress of Paul François Jean Nicolas, Viscount de Barras, the most politically influential man in France.
There are several fanciful tales about how she met Napoleon, but historians tend to believe they met in 1795 at a social event while accompanying Barras. Apparently, Josephine didn’t particularly like Napoleon but she realized he was an ambitious man with a sharp intelligent mind.
Josephine Bonaparte de Beauharnais -by Andrea Appiani (1796)
Source of photo: https://culturacolectiva.com/history/
Whether that is accurate or not, Napoleon proposed. His family was against his marrying Josephine and thought he could do better. Josephine’s friends and daughter advised her not to marry him. Not in love, Josephine still hoped that General Hoche, whom she had met in prison and had an affair with, would leave his wife and marry her. When she realized he would never do so, she accepted the proposal.
They were to be married in a civil ceremony at 8 pm on March 9, 1796. The written accounts of their wedding are bizarre. Absolutely nothing was normal. The wedding party arrived on time. Napoleon was four hours late, his excuse being that he was so absorbed in planning a military champagne that he’d lost track of time. The official who was supposed to marry them had left after two hours of waiting, and the ceremony was eventually performed in the middle of the night by some junior civil servant.
Josephine’s ex-lover, Barras, served as witness. Both bride and groom had lied about their ages on the marriage certificate, Josephine taking off four years and Napoleon adding eighteen months.
On their wedding night, Napoleon discovered Josephine expected her pug dog to sleep with them in the bed. He objected but eventually gave in. According to J. David Markham, www.dummies.com/education/history/ “An unamused Napoleon nevertheless attempted to claim his husbandly rights (or perform his husbandly duties, take your pick), but the miserable dog, evidently unhappy with the competition, bit him on the shin.”
It sounds a bit like an “I Love Lucy” episode.
THE NOT SO HAPPILY EVER AFTER ENDING
Regardless of their beginning, most chroniclers indicate Napoleon and Josephine shared a love and passion throughout their marriage which was genuine and kept them together despite each of them having numerous affairs. She was a good and loving mother and was particularly close to her daughter, Hortense. Napoleon was a good stepfather despite his absences.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
After fourteen years of marriage, six after he was crowned emperor, Josephine had not produced an heir. In 1810, Napoleon gave in to pressure, had the marriage annulled, and married Marie Louise of Austria (who did produce him an heir).
Napoleon loved Josephine deeply for the rest of his life, and after the divorce he ordered that she keep her title as Empresses of France. She retired to Malmaison, her estate outside Paris, alone but with considerable resources.
He died seven years later and his last words were for Josephine. His tomb is located in the Josephine’s Manor House Malmaison is now a
Dôme des Invalides, Paris. museum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_de_Malmaison
Biographers and historians often slant their opinions of Josephine in the direction of her being just another opportunist or of being a victim of the times which valued women only for their ability to have children, males specifically.
I don’t believe we need to feel sorry for Josephine on any level, even if she was dumped by the emperor. She lived her life as she wanted, enjoyed more freedom than most women of the time, and achieved the position in society and politics that she desired. Together, Napoleon and Josephine are considered one of the most famous and powerful couples in history.