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Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s First Wife: The Enigmatic Empress and Napoleon’s Love Story

Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's First Wife
Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s First Wife

Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814)- Introduction

Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814): The Remarkable Life of Napoleon’s First Empress

Early Years in Martinique

Born as Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on June 23, 1763, in Martinique, Joséphine’s family had humble origins as French colonial gentry. Her grandfather, Gaspard Tascher, ventured to Martinique in 1726 in pursuit of prosperity through sugar cane plantations. Unfortunate circumstances, including natural disasters, hampered his success. In 1752, her father, Gaspard-Joseph, secured a role at the court of Louis XV, only to later return to manage the family plantation, Les Trois-Îlets.

Joséphine’s early life was intertwined with the plantation’s beauty, its sugarcane fields, and the enslaved individuals who worked there. She was cared for by an enslaved nurse named Marion, who left a lasting impression. Joséphine’s family included two younger sisters, Catherine-Désirée and Marie-Françoise. In 1773, Joséphine and Catherine-Désirée attended a boarding school in Fort-Royal, where they received a modest education encompassing writing, singing, dancing, and embroidery. Tragedy struck in 1777 when Catherine-Désirée passed away, prompting Joséphine’s return home at the age of 14.

Marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais

At 16, Joséphine embarked on a new journey by marrying French viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais in 1779. The couple settled in Paris, yet their marriage was marked by turmoil.

Surviving the French Revolution

The tumultuous years of the French Revolution brought challenges to the couple. Alexandre faced imprisonment, and Joséphine’s life was threatened by the guillotine. Her life was spared as the Reign of Terror came to an end.

Marriage to General Napoleon Bonaparte

In March 1796, Joséphine’s life took a momentous turn when she married General Napoleon Bonaparte. This marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey, with Joséphine becoming Empress of the French when Napoleon proclaimed the First French Empire in May 1804.

Legacy and Her Name

Joséphine’s legacy extends beyond her role as Empress. Despite challenges in providing an heir to Napoleon, her descendants from her first marriage left a significant impact on history. Her grandson, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, would rise to power as Napoleon III, ruling over the Second French Empire from 1852 to 1870.

It is important to note that Joséphine went by different names in her lifetime. She was known as Marie-Rose before meeting Napoleon and adopted the name Joséphine Bonaparte after their marriage. While historians during the Bourbon Restoration era referred to her as Joséphine de Beauharnais, today, she is commonly recognized by this name.

Marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais

Around the late 1770s, François de Beauharnais, a prosperous French naval officer and former governor of Martinique, was on the lookout for a suitable bride for his son, Alexandre. Alexandre de Beauharnais, born in Martinique in 1760, had shared part of his infancy with the Tascher family, as he was considered too young to accompany his parents to France. One of the reasons behind their union was their shared childhood experiences. Furthermore, Alexandre’s mistress happened to be Joséphine’s paternal aunt, adding to the match’s suitability.

The Shift in Betrothal

Initially, the plan was for Alexandre to marry Joséphine’s younger sister, Catherine-Désirée. However, after Catherine-Désirée’s untimely death in 1777, the betrothal transitioned to Joséphine. In October 1779, Joséphine accompanied her father to Paris, where she married Alexandre two months later. This marked the start of an extraordinary tale set against the backdrop of historical events.

Family Beginnings

Upon settling in Paris, the couple welcomed two children. Their son, Eugène de Beauharnais, was born on September 3, 1781, followed by the birth of their daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais, on April 10, 1783.

Surviving the French Revolution

The marriage between Alexandre de Beauharnais and Joséphine encountered considerable difficulties. Alexandre, as an educated gentleman, felt embarrassed by Joséphine’s provincial manners and perceived lack of sophistication. This led to her exclusion from social gatherings, placing a strain on their relationship.

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