Napoleon Bonaparte’s successful conquest of Europe as well victories in several other parts of the globe like Egypt for the large part can be attributed to his understanding of his men and ability to move them as and when required. However, one blot on his illustrious life is his tumultuous relationship with Josephine.
Josephine was highly vivacious and elegant which made her a popular figure in the highly social Parisian life. Napoleon who came from the little island of Corsica always wanted to prove his mettle and become part of coterie in Paris. In his quest to gain social and political supremacy, Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais and was instantly swept away by her beauty.
Josephine was however much more cautious and calculative in her approach towards Napoleon who was nothing more than a Junior Officer at that point. She had already gone through a failed marriage and was a single widow after her husband, Alexandre, vicomte de Beauharnais was killed guillotined in June 1794.
She was quite aware of the political turmoil in France and knew that a relationship with young officers like Napoleon may not lead her anywhere. Josephine was already close to influential men like Paul Barras and Jean-Lambert Tallien. However, Napoleon true to his nature, kept persevering and Josephine relented to marry him after he was named the commander for Italian expedition.
The two were married in a civil ceremony on March 9, 1976. Napoleon went off to Italy and later to Egypt in 1798-99 for highly successful military expeditions. Josephine on the other hand continued with her extravagant life style and courted several young officers.
During the Egypt campaign, Napoleon kept writing to her, professing his love without any reaction form the other end. At one point, Napoleon’s love letter was intercepted by the British navy and he soon became the laughing stock in the whole of Europe.
Unable to contain himself anymore, Napoleon returned to Paris to divorce her. However, Josephine’s two children seem to have dissuade him. They lived a rather very prosperous and happy married life till 1804 during the period of ‘consulate’.
However, their marriage had already hit a rock bottom by that period. Josephine’s failure to give Napoleon any descendant adding to her extravagant lifestyle increased the rift in their relationship.
Finally, Napoleon decided to dissolve their marriage and conveniently divorced Josephine owing to some legal loopholes in their marriage. The divorce contract was completed on December 14, 1809. Napoleon went ahead to marry Marie Louise of Austria.
Josephine retired to Malmaison Estate which was very close to the couple. Even after the annulment of their marriage, Napoleon provided everything for Josephine and allowed her to retain the title of Empress. Josephine was heartbroken and shattered by the divorce.
She inevitably died in Malmaison, France, on May 29, 1814 and was buried later on at the nearby Saint Pierre-Saint Paul Church in Rueil.
Napoleon was also quite shaken by the death of Josephine. In her, Napoleon found someone who could match his taste for luxury and enthusiasm for life even though she didn’t really reciprocate his love in the equal measure. He spent considerable time at the Malmaison Estate which was their holiday retreat, remembering Josephine.
Now, branding Josephine as a promiscuous and wild women is quite easy for historians to indicate that pursuing her was one of the grave mistakes that Napoleon had made in his life. To claim otherwise would be denying the adventurous spirit for which Josephine stood out.
Women in the 18th century Europe hardly had any civil and political rights even though countries like France themselves were going through a complete overhaul of the socio-political structure. In fact during revolution, women like Josephine were even more vulnerable.
After the death of her husband, she was already in an economically frail state. In all probability she would have landed at some brothel of Paris had she not made use of her charm and eloquence to get close to influential men in Parisian society. She also used her position in the Parisian society to advance Napoleon’s career as a military commander.
And finally when it comes to fidelity, Napoleon himself didn’t mind getting himself indulged into some sexual gratification all the while professing his love for Josephine.
Josephine’s fine sense of style and decor is very visible in Malmaison estate and other palaces. Her calculated actions and decisions in life also paved the way for prosperous future of her children. Her daughter, Hortense de Beuharnais became the Queen of Netherlands by the virtue of her marriage to Louis, brother of Napoleon I. In fact her son, Napoleon III would later became the emperor of France.
Josephine’s son Eugene tied the knot with Princess Augusta of Bavaria. Their seven children were married in several royal families of Europe. Eugene’s eldest daughter, also named Josephine, would later become the Queen of Sweden.