Women in history:Josephine de Beauharnais – Bonaparte

Today begins the heading ‘Women in history’.
The first character that I present is Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte, the first wife of Emperor Napoleon and Empress of the French.One of the women that I admire ..

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Marie Josèphe Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie was born at Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique, on June 23, 1763. Her father, Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher, seigneur de la Pagerie, was a Lieutenant of Troups de Marine and the owner of a sugar plantation; her mother was Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois.

The family struggled financially after hurricanes destroyed their estate in 1766. Edmée (Desirée for the French), Joséphine’s paternal aunt, had b
een the mistress of François, Vicomte de Beauharnais, a French aristocrat. When François’s health began to fail, Edmée arranged the advantageous marriage of her niece, Catherine-Désirée, to François’s son Alexandre. This marriage would be highly beneficial for the Tascher family, because it would keep the Beauharnais money in their hands; however, 12-year-old Catherine died on 16 October 1777, before leaving Martinique for France. In service to their aunt Edmée’s goals, Catherine was replaced by her older sister, Joséphine.

In October 1779, Joséphine went to France with her father. She married Alexandre on 13 December 1779, in Noisy-le-Grand. They had two children: a son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781–1824), and a daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783–1837). Joséphine and Alexandre’s marriage was not a happy one, leading to a court-ordered separation during which she and the children lived at Alexandre’s expense in the Pentemont Abbey. On 2 March 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the Committee of Public Safety ordered the arrest of her husband. He was jailed in the Carmes prison in Paris. Considering Joséphine as too close to the counter-revolutionary financial circles, the Committee ordered her arrest on 18 April 1794. A warrant of arrest was issued against her on 2 Floréal, year II (April 21, 1794), and she was imprisoned in the Carmes prison until 10 Thermidor, year II (28 July 1794).

Her husband was accused of having poorly defended Mainz in July 1793, and being considered an aristocratic “suspect”, was sentenced to death and guillotined, with his cousin Augustin, on 23 July 1794, on the Place de la Révolution (today’s Place de la Concorde) in Paris. Joséphine was freed five days later, thanks to the fall and execution of Robespierre, which ended the Reign of Terror. On 27 July 1794 (9 Thermidor), Tallien arranged the liberation of Thérèse Cabarrus, and soon after that of Joséphine. In June 1795, a new law allowed her to recover the possessions of Alexandre.

In 1795, she met Napoléon Bonaparte, six years her junior, and became his mistress. In a letter to her in December, he wrote, “I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.” In January 1796, Napoléon Bonaparte proposed to her and they married on 9 March. Until meeting Bonaparte, she was known as Rose, but Bonaparte preferred to call her Joséphine, the name she adopted from then on.

 The marriage was not well received by Napoléon’s family, who were9fd813ad355bd175a8e8e71d5c7c7c30
Two days after the wedding, Bonaparte left to lead the French army in Italy. During their separation, he sent her many love letters. In February 1797, he wrote: “You to whom nature has given spirit, sweetness, and beauty, you who alone can move and rule my heart, you who know all too well the absolute empire you exercise over it!
In December 1800, Joséphine was nearly killed in the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, an attempt on Napoléon’s life with a bomb planted in a parked cart. On December 24, she and Napoleon went to see a performance of Joseph Haydn‘s Creation at the Opéra, accompanied by several friends and family. The party travelled in two carriages. Joséphine was in the second, with her daughter, Hortense; her pregnant sister-in-law, Caroline Murat; and General Jean Rapp.Joséphine had delayed the party while getting a new silk shawl draped correctly, and Napoléon went ahead in the first carriage.The bomb exploded as her carriage was passing. The bomb killed several bystanders and one of the carriage horses, and blew out the carriage’s windows; Hortense was struck in the hand by flying glass. There were no other injuries and the party proceeded to the Opéra.
The coronation ceremony, officiated by Pope Pius VII, took place at Notre Dame de Paris, on 2 December 1804. Following a pre-arranged protocol, b38caef35a13c5ffcf8d83bab8702a23Napoléon first crowned himself, then put the crown on Joséphine’s head, proclaiming her empress. Shortly before their coronation, there was an incident at the Château de Saint-Cloud that nearly sundered the marriage between the two. Joséphine caught Napoléon in the bedroom of her lady-in-waiting,
, and Napoléon threatened to divorce her as she had not produced an heir. Eventually, however, through the efforts of her daughter Hortense, the two were reconciled.When after a few years it became clear she could not have a child, Napoléon, while still loving Joséphine, began to think very seriously about the possibility of divorce. The final die was cast when Joséphine’s grandson Napoléon Charles Bonaparte who had been declared Napoléon’s heir, died of croup in 1807. Napoleon began to create lists of eligible princesses. At dinner on 30 November 1809, he let Joséphine know that—in the interest of France—he must find a wife who could produce an heir. From the next room, Napoléon’s secretary heard the screams.

Joséphine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir. The divorce ceremony took place on 10 January 1810 and was a grand but solemn social occasion, and each read a statement of devotion to the other.On March 11, Napoléon married Marie-Louise of Austria by proxy; the formal ceremony took place at the Louvre in April. Napoléon once remarked after marrying Marie-Louise that despite her quick infatuation with him “he had married a womb” Even after their separation, Napoleon insisted Joséphine retain the title of empress. “It is my will that she retain the rank and title of empress, and especially that she never doubt my sentiments, and that she ever hold me as her best and dearest friend.

Joséphine died in Rueil-Malmaison on 29 May 1814, soon after walking with Tsar Alexander in the gardens of Malmaison. She was buried in the nearby church of Saint Pierre-Saint Paulin Rueil. Her daughter Hortense is interred near her.

Napoleon learned of her death via a French journal while in exile on Elba, and stayed locked in his room for two days, refusing to see anyone. He claimed to a friend, while in exile on Saint Helena, that “I truly loved my Joséphine, but I did not respect her.“Despite his numerous affairs, eventual divorce, and remarriage, the Emperor’s last words on his death bed at St. Helena were: “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Joséphine.“(“France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine”)..

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