Empress of France, First Wife of Napoleon Bonaparte
1763 – 1814 A.D.
Josephine, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and first Empress of France. She was born in the island of Martinique, being teh eldest of three daughters of Lieut de la Pagerie. Her beauty and grace, though of languid Creole style, won the affections of a young officer, the Vicomte de Beauharnais, to whom she was married at the age of sixteen. Of this union, which soon proved unhappy, were borne two children, a son who later by the favor of Napoleon, Prince Eugene, Viceroy of Italy, and a daughter, Hortense, who married Napoleon’s brother Louis and became Queen of Holland and mother of Napoleon II.
When Beauharnais entered into political life at Paris, the beauty and vivacity of Josephine won her many admirers; and after the Revolution during which her husband, as an ex-noble was executed, she became in 1795 one of the queens of Parisian society. In that year she et the young General Napoleon Bonaparte, he was twenty-six years of age, while Josephine was six years his senior. He was speedily captivated by her charms, while she, on her side, felt very little affection for the thin, impecunious and irrepressible suitor; but eventually she acquiesced, and the civil marriage took place in 1796, two days before the bridegroom set out to take command of the army in Italy.
Bonaparte’s letters to Josephine during the campaign reveal the ardour of his love, while she rarely answered them.
The Empire was proclaimed in 1804, and on the eve of the coronation at Notre Dame, Josephine gained her wish that she should be married anew to Napoleon with religious rites.
Soon after their relations became strained, the childless union grew increasingly unsatisfactory to Napoleon as his ideas of founding a dynasty developed, and in 1809, after his successful Austrian campaign, he definitely decided upon a divorce, to which Josephine was induced to give her mournful compliance. On the following day the Senate sanctioned the divorce and bestowed upon Josephine Imperial honors and a large annuity.
At her private retreat, La Malmaison, near Paris, which she had beautified with curios and rare plants and flowers, Josephine closed her life in dignified retirement. Napoleon more than once came to consult her upon matters in which he valued her tact and good sense. Her character resembled that of other women of her time, who had had the same education and environment. Frivolous and extravagant, she was also kind and affectionate, and her charm of manner, which combined the dignity of the old régime with the ease of the new, fitted her to reign in the society of the Empire.
Her friends, Mme. de Rémasat and others, pointed out that Napoleon’s good fortune deserted him after the divorce; and it is certain that Josephine’s influence was often used on behalf of peace and moderation both in internal and foreign affairs.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.