In line with my blogs about both the fictional and historical figures in my novels I come to the man at the centre of all events in Europe in that age—Napoleon I, Emperor of France. But how do I let him in, that wily schemer, without him taking over the whole show? Well, I fall back on the novel’s identity as Regency romance for this posting—this will be about Napoleon’s loves.
In 1795, The young General Napoleon met the fashionable widow Rose de Beauharnaise through the actions of her young son Eugene. Here is the report given in the Memoirs written by Bourrienne, a school friend of Napoleon’s who became his confidential secretary for five years during the Consulate and into the Empire.
Pic 1 Josephine de Beauharnaise
–[“Eugène was not more than fourteen years of age when he ventured
to introduce himself to General Bonaparte, for the purpose of
soliciting his father's sword, of which he understood the General
had become possessed. The countenance, air, and frank manner of
Eugène pleased Bonaparte, and he immediately granted him the
boon he sought. As soon as the sword was placed in the boy's hands
he burst into tears, and kissed it. This feeling of affection for his
father's memory, and the natural manner in which it was evinced,
increased the interest of Bonaparte in his young visitor. Madame de
Beauharnais, on learning the kind reception which the General had
given her son, thought it her duty to call and thank him. Bonaparte
was much pleased with Josephine on this first interview, and he
returned her visit. The acquaintance thus commenced speedily led to
Pic 2 The Young Emperor
Alexandre de Beauharnaise, Josėphine's first husband had been
Guillotined during the “Terror” and she had been imprisoned and
had barely escaped the same fate. She and Napoleon became lovers,
when she switched from the name Rose to please him, and
they were married within a year. She was six years his senior.
[Madame de Rémusat, who, to paraphrase Thiers’ saying on
Bourrienne himself, is a trustworthy witness, for if she received
benefits from Napoleon they did not weigh on her, says, "However,
Napoleon had some affection for his first wife; and, in fact, if he
has at any time been touched, no doubt it has been only for her and
by her" (tome i. p. 113). "Bonaparte was young when he first knew
Madame de Beauharnais. In the circle where he met her she had a
great superiority by the name she bore and by the extreme elegance
of her manners. . . . In marrying Madame de Beauharnais,
Bonaparte believed he was allying himself to a very grand lady; thus
this was one more conquest" (p. 114). But in speaking of
Josephine's complaints to Napoleon of his love affairs, Madame de
Rémusat says, "Her husband sometimes answered by violences, the
excesses of which I do not dare to detail, until the moment when,
his new fancy having suddenly passed, he felt his tenderness for his
wife again renewed. Then he was touched by her sufferings, replaced
his insults by caresses which were hardly more measured than his
violences and, as she was gentle and untenacious, she fell back into
her feeling of security"
Readers who know both of these S&S novels, this last observation
may remind you of someone. Here is Napoleon writing a letter to his
wife after the battle at Arcona.
Pic 3 Josephine as Queen of Italy
VERONA, the 29th, noon.
At length, my adored Josephine, I live again. Death is no longer
before me, and glory and honour are still in my breast. The enemy
is beaten at Arcola. To-morrow we will repair the blunder of
Vaubois, who abandoned Rivoli. In eight days Mantua will be ours,
and then thy husband will fold thee in his arms, and give thee a
thousand proofs of his ardent affection. I shall proceed to Milan
as soon as I can: I am a little fatigued. I have received letters
from Eugène and Hortense. I am delighted with the children. I will
send you their letters as soon as I am joined by my household, which
is now somewhat dispersed.
We have made five thousand prisoners, and killed at least six
thousand of the enemy. Adieu, my adorable Josephine. Think of me
often. When you cease to love your Achilles, when your heart grows
cool towards him, you wilt be very cruel, very unjust. But I am
sure you will always continue my faithful mistress, as I shall ever
remain your fond lover ('tendre amie'). Death alone can break the
union which sympathy, love, and sentiment have formed. Let me have
news of your health. A thousand and a thousand kisses.
Pic 4 Napoleon on the Bridge at Arcola.
In this very abbreviated account, I have to go directly to the ending,
but on the way that both had lovers during their marriage, and that it
was often a stormy passage.
This next comes from Wikipedia.
Pic 5 Empress Josephine
When, after a few years, it became clear she could not have a child, Napoléon while he still loved Joséphine, began to think very seriously about the possibility of divorce. The final die was cast when Joséphine’s grandson Napoleon Charles Bonaparte who had been declared Napoléon’s heir, died of croup in 1807. Napoleon began to create lists of eligible princesses. At dinner on November 30, 1809, he let Joséphine know that — in the interest of France — he must find a wife who could produce an heir. From the next room, Napoléon’s secretary heard the screams.
Joséphine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir. The divorce ceremony took place on January 10,1810 and was a grand but solemn social occasion, and each read a statement of devotion to the other.
On March 11, Napoléon married Marie-Louise of Austria by proxy; the formal ceremony took place at the Louvre in April. Napoléon once remarked after marrying Marie-Louise that “he had married a womb”. Even after their separation, Napoleon insisted Josephine retain the title of empress. “It is my will that she retain the rank and title of empress, and especially that she never doubt my sentiments, and that she ever hold me as her best and dearest friend.”
The story of Napoleon's wives would not be complete
without saying something about the “poor Womb” that
he married for dynastic reasons, Marie-Louise of Austria.
Pic 6 Empress Marie-Louise
The end of the War of the Fifth Coalition resulted
in the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise in 1810,
which ushered in a brief period of peace and friendship
between Austria and the French Empire. Marie Louise
dutifully agreed to the marriage despite being raised
to despise France. She was an obedient wife and was
adored by Napoleon, who had been eager to marry a
member of one of Europe's leading royal houses to cement
his relatively young Empire. With Napoleon, she bore
a son, styled the King of Rome at birth, later Duke of
Reichstaedt, who briefly succeeded him as Napoleon II.
As a princess of the royal family of Austria she didn't
need anyone to cry for her. After Napoleon's abdication
she returned to Austria, became Duchess of Parma
and after his death married, morganatically, twice more,
and bore three more children to her second husband.