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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Joséphine de Beauharnais

Joséphine de Beauharnais was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. This made her the first Empress of the French.


Joséphine Marie Rose was born in Martinique on June 23, 1763. Her father was a manager of a plantation there having retired from French naval service.

In 1777 she was married to Alexandre de Beauharnais. They had two children: a son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781–1824), and a daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783–1837) (who later married Napoléon's brother Louis Bonaparte in 1802).


The willowy Joséphine was among the gayest of French women in her era. She was good-natured, with refined manners, grace and charm.

Joséphine was imprisoned during the French Revolution and her husband was guillotined. Joséphine was freed five days later, thanks to the fall and execution of Robespierre, which ended the Reign of Terror.

One of Joséphine's best friends was Marie Tussaud, the wax modeller. She became the mistress of the French Revolutionary, Paul Barras, a member of the Directoire.

Barras arranged her marriage with Napoléon Bonaparte on March 9, 1796 in a civil marriage ceremony. Napoléon had been attracted by Joséphine's grace and charm, her delicately turned up nose and her long lashed eyes.

The marriage was actually invalid: the official who conducted it was not entitled to do so, the witness was underage, the bride lied about her age and the groom gave a false address.

Until meeting Napoléon, she was known as Rose, but Bonaparte preferred to call her Joséphine, the name she adopted from then on.

Napoléon and Joséphine held their lively parties at Château de Malmaison. The Seine retreat was given to Joséphine as part of her divorce settlement.

She did not have any children with Napoleon. Because of this he divorced her on January 10, 1810 Joséphine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir. He married Marie Louise of Austria three months later.


Joséphine had long legs, a slender figure, grace and charm. She had a serious allure rather than a great beauty.

Baron François Gérard - Joséphine in coronation costume - Google Art Project

The Duchesse d'Abrants said of the young Joséphine "Her teeth were frightfully bad,"(She had black teeth caused from eating too much sugar cane in her youth) "but when her mouth was shut she gave the appearance especially at a few paces distance of a young and pretty woman." Because of her black teeth, Joséphine taught herself to laugh with closed lips.

Napoléon and Joséphine were both very fond of jewels and spent vast sums on them. Napoléon recovered almost all the stones from the old French crown jewels and had them reset for his wife.

Joséphine was expertly groomed and she devised a style that consisted of the flimsiest fabrics while managing to stay just the right side of respectable.

She took a daily bath, which was unheard of in Joséphine's day.

When Joséphine had her wardrobe inventoried in 1809, the first empress possessed 666 winter dresses, 230 summer ones and two pairs of knickers.

Josephine tried to make the sweet potato bfashionable but it was too exotic for the general public.

Joséphine had a pug called Fortune who once bit Napoléon on the leg for crowding him in bed.

Josephine had a pet orang-utan that joined her for dinner dressed in a white cotton blouse.

Her Château de Malmaison was noted for its magnificent rose garden, which she supervised closely, owing to her passionate interest in roses, collected from all over the world.


After her divorce Joséphine found herself consigned to the little court of Malmaison where she lived in retirement cultivating the flowers she loved.

Portrait of Joséphine later in life by Andrea Appiani

Joséphine died in Rueil-Malmaison on May 29, 1814, soon after walking with Tsar Alexander I in the gardens of Malmaison. She was buried in the nearby church of Saint Pierre-Saint Paul in Rueil.

Despite his 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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