Wife of Napoleon and Empress of France
Marie Joseph Rose Tascher De La Pagerie, empress of France, wife of Napoleon I, was born at Trois Ilets, near St.Pierre, Martinique , June 24, 1763. Her father, whose family emigrated from the vicinity of Blois, France, held the office of Captain of the Port at St. Pierre.
Like most young ladies in French colonies, Josephine received only a limited education, yet her grace and kindness of heart endeared her to all whom she met. At age fifteen she was sent to France and one year later married Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, also a native of Martinique, who was major in an infantry regiment. This was not a happy union, yet the two had a son, Eugene and daughter, Hortense, who became queen of Holland by her marriage to Louis Bonaparte and mother of Napoleon III.
Although he had been a promoter of the French Revolution and had faithfully served his county in arms, Viscount de Beauharnais was arrested during the Reign of Terror (1793–94; a period of the French Revolution characterized by a wave of executions of presumed enemies of the state) and beheaded. Before his death, Josephine tried relentlessly to procure his release, which led to her own imprisonment; and her two children were reduced to poverty.
After her release, Josephine met Napoleon Bonaparte, then an obscure officer. He fell desperately in love with her, although she was six years older than him. They married on March 9, 1796 . Twelve days later, Napoleon was appointed to the chief command of the French army in Italy. Josephine accompanied him in his Italian campaign, and exercised a great influence in restraining him from measures of violence and severity. She shared all the honors that were bestowed upon her husband and was with great difficulty prevented from accompanying him to Egypt.
During their separation and after his return, Josephine began to entertain the most brilliant society of France, which contributed a great deal to her husband’s power. She was crowned in Paris , December 2, 1804 , but her happiness was soon marred by sadness and fear. She had no children by Napoleon and in his eyes he needed an heir to maintain his power. After many struggles between his love and ambition, Napoleon, forced Josephine to consent to a divorce. The marriage was dissolved on December 16, 1809.
While Napoleon had divorced her, the nation still held Josephine in high esteem, which gave her continued power over the French people. Her high standing with the royalty of surrounding nations protected her during the disasters that befell France in 1814.
While she was a beautiful woman, Josephine’s greatest assets were her grace and goodness of heart. She has been called Napoleon’s “star.” His fortunes, it has been said, arose with her, and waned when their connection ceased. Josephine died on May 29, 1814 .