Napoleon and Josephine

1795 1795

In the late summer Napoleon found himself stranded in Paris without a command. Although he had risen to the rank of Brigadier General at age twenty-six, his career was in jeopardy. His fortunes improved when he came under the patronage of the Vicomte de Barras, who encouraged his interest in Josephine de Beauharnais. Napoleon regarded Josephine, the widow of a guillotined general, as "worse than beautiful" and ignored the difference in age. She was eight years older and practiced in the ways of the world. Although penniless, she had excellent connections and gave him substance. On Barras's advice, he married her, and Barras gave him command of the French army in Italy as a wedding gift. Napoleon's affection for Josephine survived their divorce and his military defeats. On being exiled twenty years later he wrote: "Adieu, my dear Josephine. . . . never forget him who has never forgotten, and will never forget, you."


A year after being imprisoned by Robespierre, Josephine was living a fashionable life at 6 Rue Chantereine. Her good taste, warm personality, and influential friends filled her small two-story house. Napoleon called upon her there after Josephine's teenage son, Eugene, visited the young general to seek the sword of his guillotined father. Entranced by her charm and easy-going disposition he disregarded her having been Barras's mistress. After they spent their first night together as lovers he wrote: "I awaken full of you. Between your portrait and the memory of our intoxicating night, my senses have had no respite. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what is this bizarre effect you have upon my heart?" Josephine's tenderness toward him deepened during their fourteen year marriage. In asking her for an annulment so that he could marry Princess Marie-Louise of Austria he told her: "I still love you, but in politics there is no heart, only head." 

Napoleon Bonaparte

1768: Napoleon is born on the island of Corsica a year after the island has come under French rule. Consequently, he is a French citizen, not Italian. 

1785: After completing his training at the Ecole Militaire in Paris in only a year, Napoleon becomes an officer at the age of sixteen.  

1793: He displays brilliance as an artillery commander at Toulon and is promoted to Brigadier General.  

1794: Napoleon is arrested for his associations with Robespierre. He is released after a short imprisonment and moves to Paris.  

1796: Napoleon and Josephine marry and retire to the wedding bed. Josephine's dog Fortune, a pug who has had sleeping privileges, resents the intrusion and bites his rival on the calf. 

1804: Napoleon is crowned as Emperor by Pope Pius.  

1810: After an annulment of his marriage to Josephine, he marries Marie-Louise of Austria, the eighteen-year-old niece of Marie-Antoinette.  

1811: Josephine sends Napoleon congratulations on the birth of his son.  
1814 A series of military defeats leads to the fall of Paris and Napoleon is exiled to the island of Elba.  

1815: He escapes from Elba and forms a new army but is defeated at Waterloo and is returned to exile on the island of St. Helena.  

1821: On his deathbed he sees Josephine in a vision and tells an aide: "She disappeared at the moment when I was about to take her in my arms ... she told me that we were about to see each other again, never more to part ..."

Josephine de Beauharnais 

1763: Josephine is born Rose Tascher, the oldest of three daughters, to a noble French family living on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies. 

1779: At age sixteen she departs to France for an arranged marriage with Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais. The marriage later produces a son and a daughter.   

1794: Her husband, Alexandre, is appointed a general during the Revolution but fumbles the defense of Mainz and is guillotined. She is imprisoned and barely escapes the guillotine herself. 

1795: She meets Napoleon, and though not bowled over, describes herself as "tenderly attached." She allows him to change her name to Josephine and marries him the next year. 

1799: A balcony on which she is standing collapses and she falls fifteen feet, sustaining internal injuries which will make it impossible for her to have children. 

1800: Josephine begins decorating Malmaison, a three- story house eight miles from Paris. She lays out the gardens and imports exotic species of flowers and plants 200 varieties of roses. By cross breeding she produces the tea rose, from which most garden roses today are descended. 

1809: She consents to an annulment of her marriage to Napoleon so that he can marry and produce an heir for the empire. 

1812: Josephine retires to Malmaison permanently with a pension of three million francs. 

1814: A month after Napoleon is exiled to Elba, she dies from a chill caught while strolling outdoors in a thin and revealing gown. 


Napoleon first met Josephine when he called at her small two-story home at 6 Rue Chanterin, now Rue de la Victorie. 

At 10 o'clock in the evening on March 9, 1796, Josephine and Napoleon were married in a civil ceremony at a registrar's office on Rue d' Antin. 

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