Birthday: June 23, 1763
Died At Age: 50
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Empress Joséphine
Born in: Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique
Famous as: First Empress of the French
Empresses & Queens
Spouse/Ex-: Alexandre de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte
father: Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher
mother: Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois
children: Eugène de Beauharnais, Hortense de Beauharnais
Died on: May 29, 1814
place of death: Rueil-Malmaison
Who was Joséphine de Beauharnais?
Joséphine de Beauharnais is known in history as the first wife of the French emperor Napoleon I and in turn, the first empress of the French. Her first husband was Alexandre de Beauharnais, with whom she bore a son, Eugene and a daughter, Hortense. She was the maternal grandmother of Napoleon III by her daughter and by her son, she became linked with the future Danish and Sweden royal families. She was also one of the ancestors of the royal houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg. During the Reign of Terror, her first husband was executed and she was locked up in the Carmes prison. Since she did not bear Napoleon any children, he divorced her in 1810. The famous love letters written by Napoelon to her, bear testimony of their passionate love affair. She was also known for her Château de Malmaison, the extraordinary rose garden full of uncommon species collected from all over the world. She looked after the garden with great interest. She was recognized as a kind and generous lady and an engaging hostess to her guests. Her elegance and beauty were highly praised. Joséphine died in Rueil-Malmaison on 29 May 1814.
Childhood & Early Life
Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born on June 23, 1763 in Les Trois-Îlets in Martinique. However, there is a dispute regarding her birthplace. Henry H. Bree in his ‘The History of St. Lucia’ states that she was born in the island of St.Lucia.
Her father was Joseph-Gaspard Tascher, chevalier, Seigneur de la Pagerie, lieutenant of ‘Troupes de Marine’ and mother was Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois. They were a wealthy Creole family and the owner of a sugar plantation.
A marriage alliance was arranged between Joséphine’s younger sister Catherine- Désirée and Alexandre, the son of the French aristocrat, François, Vicomte de Beauharnais. But because Catherine died when she was 12 years old, it was decided that Joséphine would marry him.
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The First Marriage
Joséphine married Alexandre on 13th December, 1779, in Noisy-le-Grand. Two years later, she bore him a son, Eugène de Beauharnais. A daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais was born next.
Their marital life was not a peaceful one. It led to a court ordered separation soon after. During this time, she along with her children stayed in the Pentemont Abbey.
On 18th April, 1794, Joséphine was arrested by the Committee of Public Safety as she was thought to be close to the anti-revolutionary circles during the Reign of Terror. She was kept imprisoned in the Carmes prison.
Alexandre was accused of having failed to defend Mainz and guillotined on 23rd July 1794. After the fall of Robespierre, Joséphine was released on July 28th, 1794.
Marriage to Napoleon
Before her marriage to Napoleon, Joséphine de Beauharnais had brief affairs with famous political figures like Paul François Jean Nicolas Barras.
She met Napoleon in 1795 and a year later, he proposed marriage to her. They got married on March 9, 1796. However, this marriage was not well received by Napoleon’s family.
Soon after the marriage, Napoleon had to leave for Italy. During the period of separation, he sent her many love letters which speak of his passionate love. The marriage went downhill when the lonely Joséphine became involved with Hippolyte Charles, a Hussar lieutenant. Napoleon was enraged when he heard about his wife’s affair and lost all interest in maintaining fidelity from his side as well.
On December 24th, 1800, Joséphine escaped death very narrowly when the carriage she was supposed to be in, exploded on its way to Opéra.
Empress of the French
Joséphine de Beauharnais was officiated as the Empress of France at Notre Dame de Paris, on December 2, 1804.
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Napoléon Charles Bonaparte, Joséphine’s grandson was declared as the future heir of Napoleon because the couple did not have a son of their own. However, when he died, Napoleon decided to remarry so that France would have an heir.
Joséphine agreed to the divorce and the divorce ceremony took place on 10th January 1810. It was a somber affair in which they both read out a statement of devotion to each other. Following the divorce, Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria.
Patroness of Roses
In 1799, Joséphine bought the Chateau de Malmaison and appointed horticulturalists, gardeners and botanists, in order to fashion it in on ‘English’ style.
Andre Dupont, the horticulturist started the rose garden and soon Joséphine took personal interest in it.
She wanted to collect every species of rose and at Napoleon’s orders specimens were brought from England and China. It is assumed that when she died in 1814, there were about 250 roses in her garden.
She came up with the first written record of the cultivation of roses. In 1810, she hosted the first rose exhibition in history.
Personal Life & Legacy
Joséphine continued to live at the Château de Malmaison after the divorce. She and Napoleon were on cordial terms.
On 29th May, 1814, Joséphine de Beauharnais died. She was walking in the gardens of Rueil-Malmaison with Tsar Alexander.
She was laid to rest in the church of Saint Pierre-Saint in Rueil.
When Napoleon came to know of her death during his exile in Elba, he locked himself in his room and refused to meet anyone for two days.
Her descendants founded the Russian, Brazilian and Scandinavian lines of the Beauharnais family.
Joséphine was known for her spendthrift ways. Napoleon had once said that the only thing that came between them were her debts.
A number of precious jewels possessed by the Swedish and the Norwegian royal families are said to belong to Joséphine’s personal collection.
Nathalie Alexandria Kotchoubey de Beauharnais, the famous ‘Time’ journalist was a direct successor of Joséphine through the Russian line of Beauharnais family.