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Napoleon and Josephine

Quick Facts

Him: Napoleon Bonaparte, a general in the French Army

Her: Marie-Josephe-Rose de Beauharnais

Setting: Late 18th- and early 19th-century France


Background

Napoleon, an ambitious military man, meets Rose de Beauharnais at a party and finds himself smitten. Believing her to be wealthy and younger than she actually was, he renames her Josephine and pursues her until she finally accepts his proposals for marriage. In 1804, after Napoleon had conquered much of Europe, the two were crowned the Emperor and Empress of France.


Story

The marriage of Napoleon and Josephine is one of the more complex matches made in history.

 

He was a military leader bent on world domination looking for an older, wealthy woman to unite with. She was a member of the moneyed elite whose family had escaped the rampaging populace during the French Revolution.

 

Like a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, Josephine forced the young general to pursue her with all his might before accepting his marriage proposal.

It may seem somewhat romantic at this point – and, to some extent, it was – but much of the relationship was built upon misdirection or outright deception. Napoleon, for one, had been told by Paul Barras that Josephine was younger and wealthier than she actually was.

 

(In fact, he was offloading her as he took on a new mistress, her friend.) Josephine was looking for similar financial support to that offered by Barras so she and her two children, Eugene and Hortense, would not be thrown onto the street.



Napoleon left for Italy shortly after their wedding, heading onto the field of battle with a deep admiration for Josephine in his heart. She, on the other hand, considered the relationship more of a business arrangement and immediately began dallying with other men.

 

Unable to conceive after the birth of Hortense, a fact Napoleon was aware of, Josephine went so far as to pretend she was pregnant in order to avoid joining her husband far away from the social circle of Paris.



After a brief rendezvous in Italy, Napoleon headed off to Egypt to continue his war and, thanks to a conversation with a trusted confidante, learned of Josephine’s infidelity.

 

He was crushed and he vowed to divorce her which, oddly, became the turning point for a true love developing in her heart. She cared for him immensely and he, despite his loss of a romantic inclination, would eventually have a strong, respectful affection for her as well.



Even after their eventual divorce, in 1810 so Napoleon could marry the Archduchess of Austria, he remained dutiful to Eugene and Hortense as though they were his own children, providing for them and her financially.

 

He made sure Josephine retained the title of Empress even as he took another wife and, when he abdicated in 1814, was one of the last people she spoke of before dying several months later.


Reputation

Much of what is famous about the love story between Napoleon and Josephine is the infidelity, as both were known to take on adulterous relationships over the course of their marriage. Though the arrangement was primarily political at first, it did turn into a true love for the ages – immensely respectful, if not the sort of romance we all hope to aspire to.



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