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  • Empress Joséphine of France died on May 29, 1814.

    Beatriz Camino

    Empress Joséphine of France died on May 29, 1814.

    Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814) was the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). She served as Empress of the French from May 18, 1804, until their marriage was annulled on January 10, 1810. Additionally, she was the Queen of Italy from March 1805 until 1810.

    Early Life & First Marriage

    Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, better known as Joséphine de Beauharnais, was born on June 23, 1763, on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Her family arrived on the island in 1726 seeking fortune through a sugar cane plantation. Joséphine spent her early years amidst the plantation and tobacco fields and among the families of her father’s slaves.

    In 1779 she married Alexandre de Beauharnais, son of a wealthy French naval officer and former governor of Martinique. The couple lived in Paris and had two children: Eugène and Hortense de Beauharnais. However, the marriage was an unhappy one. Alexandre, a properly educated gentleman, was embarrassed by Joséphine’s lack of sophistication and the relationship quickly became abusive. Consequently, in March 1785, she obtained a separation from her husband.

    Joséphine remained in Paris and adapted to Parisian high society, procuring fashionable dresses and jewellery. By this point, the French Revolution was in full swing. Alexandre played an active role in its early stages; he was elected to the Estates-General of 1789 as a deputy of the nobility and was one of the first nobles to support the Third Estate. However, despite his support of the Revolution, he remained an aristocrat, which automatically placed him under suspicion of counter-revolution during the Reign of Terror. As a result, he was arrested in March 1794. As Joséphine defended him, she was also arrested and spent three months as a prisoner of the Jacobin regime.

    Alexandre was guillotined on July 23, 1794, just four days before the fall of Maximilien Robespierre. Joséphine narrowly escaped death and was released from prison. After her release, she had an affair with General Lazare Hoche, who refused to leave his wife for her. She then moved on to Paul Barras, a leading figure in the revolutionary government. However, he soon grew tired of her company and decided to introduce her to the young general Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Marriage to Napoleon

    When they met, Napoleon was 26 and Joséphine was 32. Initially unimpressed by the young officer, she saw the advantage of marrying Napoleon, who had just been named commander of the Army of Italy, as she was deeply in debt. He, on the other hand, was attracted to Joséphine partly because of her connections in Paris’ high society. On March 9, 1796, the couple married in a civil ceremony. Two days later, Napoleon left Paris to take command of the Army of Italy.

    Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796-1797 was a success, launching him into political superstardom and cementing his reputation as a military genius. While he was in Italy, Joséphine became romantically involved with Hippolyte Charles, a young hussar lieutenant. In 1798, during his Campaign in Egypt and Syria, Napoleon learned of her affair. Enraged, he began a relationship with Pauline Fourès, the wife of a junior officer, who became known as 'Napoleon's Cleopatra.' When Napoleon returned to Paris in October 1799, he and Joséphine confronted each other about their infidelities, but they eventually reconciled.

    In November 1799, Napoleon seized control of the French government in the Coup of 18 Brumaire. Four years later, on December 2, 1804, he proclaimed himself emperor of the French and crowned Joséphine as empress. In March 1805, Napoleon added the title of King of Italy, making her the Queen of Italy. He also elevated her children to high positions in the Empire: Eugène de Beauharnais became Viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy and married Princess Augusta of Bavaria, while Hortense de Beauharnais married Napoleon’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, becoming Queen of Holland in 1806.

    As Napoleon conquered Europe, Joséphine remained in Paris, becoming a leading figure in fashion and sophistication. However, her extravagant spending on fashion and luxury furnishings incurred debts even greater than those of Marie Antoinette, causing tension with Napoleon’s sisters.

    Annulment & Death

    By 1809, Joséphine had not given Napoleon a child, which put a significant strain on their marriage. Consequently, on 30 November, he decided to annul their marriage, citing his need to strengthen his dynasty. The annulment was finalised on 16 December, and a divorce ceremony took place on 10 January 1810. Still, Napoleon allowed Joséphine to keep the title of empress and retain her residence at Château de Malmaison. She was also given the title of Duchess of Navarre. Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria by proxy in March 1810, who bore him a son, Napoleon II.

    In April 1814, after being defeated in the War of the Sixth Coalition, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba. Joséphine continued to live extravagantly at Malmaison, hosting dinners and balls. After one such event, she contracted pneumonia and died on 29 May 1814 at the age of 50.

    Although no longer Empress at her death, Joséphine’s descendants included European royalty. Her grandson through Hortense, Napoleon III, ruled the Second French Empire. Her granddaughter through Eugène, Amélie of Leuchtenberg, became Empress of Brazil, and another granddaughter, Joséphine, married King Oscar I of Sweden, making Joséphine a direct ancestor of the current royal families of Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Denmark.


    Napoleon I Gold - 20 francs or - An 14 W - NGC AU 53 - 1620 examples1807 A.D. Napoleon I Bonaparte: Commemorating the victories of the year - very rare in silver! -1/2 franc 1812U Napoleon I NGC MS 62

    Napoleon I Gold - 40 francs or - 1810 K Bordeaux - 886 examples1805 A.D. Napoleon I Bonaparte: The breaking of Camp at Boulogne & crossing of the Rhine5 francs 1812U Napoleon I ZFr+


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