Napoleon and Josephine - The Great Love Affair

August 19, 2021

Napoleon and Josephine - The Great Love Affair

Josephine was a 32-year-old mother of two when she met 26-year-old Napoleon in 1795 at a society ball hosted by Paul Barras, Napoleon's mentor and the "de facto" Governor of France. Josephine was Paul Barras' mistress at that time.

The love affair of Napoleon and Josephine was so explosive their passionate letters have been immortalised in countless books and films — there are said to be more books about Napoleon than any man in history.

Here's just a tiny sample of the love he lavished on Josephine, taken from his incredibly intense letters to her.

"I hope before long to crush you in my arms."

"I shall be alone and far, far away. But you are coming, aren't you? You are going to be here beside me, in my arms, on my breast, on my mouth? Take wing and come, come."

"A kiss on your heart … and one much lower down. Much lower!"

Napoleon and Josephine married 225 years ago on March 9, 1796 and, even though the union didn't last long, his first wife was said to be the only woman he ever truly loved.

Josephine was the name Napoleon used to call his first wife, who was born Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, the daughter of a minor aristocrat and chronic gambler.

Josephine had been married at the age of 16 to aristocrat Alexandre de Beauharnais and had a son, Eugene, and a daughter, Hortense.

The marriage didn't last and in 1794, when Alexandre was arrested for treason, Josephine was also thrown into prison.

While Alexandre was executed, Josephine managed to escape with her life and became the lover of Paul Barras. But by the time Napoleon and Josephine first locked eyes, Barras had tired of his mistress and was eager to get rid of her. He was keen to find a new lover to take her place, so he encouraged Napoleon to romance Josephine. Not that it took much encouragement, of course. This was the love affair of the century.

Josephine was aware she was on the verge of being replaced, so she was looking for a way to survive French society. Napoleon was little more than an unemployed Corsican officer (just four years later he was ruling France).

He was looking for an older woman because he believed he'd be more accepted in society with a sophisticated lady on his arm. The couple set about seducing each other, completely unaware that they were beginning a love affair set to be one of the most memorable in history.

Napoleon proposed to Josephine in January 1796, inundating her with intensely romantic love letters from various military posts around the world with the French army.

In his letters, there was plenty of "dirty talk" but Napoleon spent a lot of time chastising his lover for not writing back as often as he'd like.

"Without his Josephine, without the assurance of her love, what is left him upon earth? What can he do?"

By this stage Napoleon was the Emperor of much of Europe. A few days after he married Josephine in a civil wedding service, Napoleon was forced to leave his new bride in Paris while he led a battle against Italians and Austrians.

While their letters are clear evidence that the couple truly loved each other, Josephine was struck with a case of "wandering eye", falling into the arms of other men who took their chance on Josephine while her husband was away fighting battles and conquering foreign lands.

In 1798  Napoleon led an army of 35,000 to conquer Egypt and, in October 1799, he was given the task of heading the government with unlimited powers.

During this time, Napoleon managed to regain French control of Italy after defeating the Austrians, he created the Bank of France, reformed the education system and also reformed the French legal system, establishing new laws known as the Code of Napoleon. 

But what Napoleon desired more than anything was an heir and Josephine failed to provide him either a son or daughter.

Just five years after tying the knot and after penning hundreds of passionate letters to the woman who was supposedly the love of his life, Napoleon broke up with his Josephine. They were said to still love each other but the need for an heir outweighed everything else.

Interesting note: Josephine's daughter from her first marriage, Hortense, later married Napoleon's brother, making her both his stepdaughter and sister-in-law.

In January, 1810, Napoleon arranged for the nullification of his marriage on the grounds that a parish priest hadn't presided over the ceremony.

The two were said to remain on good terms and Napoleon allowed Josephine to hold onto the title of Empress. She moved into a private residence at Malmaison, near Paris, where she was able to keep up her lavish lifestyle.  But Josephine's life was cut short at the age of 51, when she died of pneumonia, on 29 May 1814.

Napoleon died seven years later as a British prisoner on the island of Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

A popular myth is that Napoleon's very last word, as he took his final breath on earth, was "Josephine!"

Source: NZ Herald





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