Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, Empress of the French from 1804 to 1809 was the great love of Napoleon I.
Napoleon’s greatest love
Napoleon‘s greatest love, the Emperor’s lucky star, Joséphine was born on June 23, 1763 on the island of Martinique. Coming from a family of ancient nobility, she left her native island the year of her sixteenth birthday. She married Alexandre de Beauharnais in Paris; from this union are born two children, Eugène and Hortense. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in separation in 1785, on the eve of the French Revolution. Evolving in the circles of power, Joséphine and Alexandre de Beauharnais were both imprisoned in 1794 – he was executed, she was released after three months of captivity.
Empress Joséphine – Copyright Grand Palais de Paris
Characterized by elegance and kindness
Bonaparte is six years younger than Josephine. They met in the spheres of Thermidorian society, after the fall of Robespierre, and married in 1796. If it was an act of mad passion for Napoleon, it was a marriage of convenience for Josephine, who , as a divorced woman, seeks to secure her status. It was from this date that Napoleon decided to call his wife Joséphine (according to her middle name “Joseph”) and no longer Rose, which was her usual first name. During the Italian campaign, Bonaparte continually sent impassioned letters to Josephine; very involved in social life, the latter rarely responds to him. She finally joins him in Italy, and is justified propelled to the front of the public scene. Joséphine must then compose a new role, which prefigures that of the current first ladies.
This role is reinforced when Napoleon becomes Head of State and becomes First Consul. As Empress, Josephine leaves the image of a popular sovereign, characterized by elegance and kindness. Succeeding Queen Marie-Antoinette, she held court at the Tuileries Palace and in the various imperial palaces.
The most sumptuous in Europe
Napoleon indeed wanted to make his court the most sumptuous in Europe, and the Empress played a decisive role in the deployment of this strategy of influence. Joséphine is passionate about fashion, jewelry, the arts… Napoleon therefore counts on her to promote the Empire’s art of living.
Far from the etiquettes imposed by court life, Joséphine especially likes to take refuge in her little castle of Malmaison. A compulsive collector, she deploys her taste for the arts; the castle is full of paintings, antiques and sculptures of all kinds. Hands-on, the Empress is also passionate about botany and natural history. As a specialist, she is particularly interested in the acclimatization of animal and plant species. She acclimatizes nearly two hundred new plants in Malmaison, which bloom in her greenhouses for the first time in France.
A difficult divorce
But Josephine still does not give an heir for the Emperor. When Napoleon learns that his mistress, Marie Walewska, is pregnant, he resolves to the difficult decision of divorce, now convinced that Josephine is sterile. Because his affection for her remains unchanged, she retains the rank of Empress, as well as possession of the Château de Malmaison. Following the divorce, she travels through France and Europe, and invests herself with joy in her role of grandmother, Eugène and Hortense having had children. The events that mark the end of the Empire – the Russian campaign, then the abdication of the Emperor – affect him deeply.
Joséphine died in 1814, aged only 51, after a short illness. Unanimously celebrated, she was a decisive figure for the Empire, and her influence can still be seen over time.