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Joséphine de Beauharnais

Joséphine de Beauharnais (June 23, 1763 - May 29, 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and became Empress of France.

She was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie in Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique on a slave plantation, the daughter of Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher, chevalier, seigneur de la Pagerie, lieutnant of infantry of the navy, and Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois.


Her sister Catherine-Désirée, who had been promised to a French army officer, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, died on October 16, 1777. Alexandre accepted to marry Joséphine instead.

In October 1779, Joséphine went to mainland France with her father. She married Alexandre on December 13, 1779, in Noisy-le-Grand. With him she had a son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824), and one daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783-1837), who married Napoleon's brother, Louis Bonaparte, in 1802. By her son's daughter, Josephine of Leuchtenberg , wife of King Oscar I of Sweden, she is a direct ancestress of the present royal houses of Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein.

On March 2, 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the Committee of General Security ordered the arrest of her husband. He was jailed in the Carmes prison . Considering Joséphine as too close to the counter-revolutionary financial circles, the Committee ordered her arrest on April 19, 1794. A warrant of arrest was issued against her on 2 Floréal, year II (April 21, 1794), and she was imprisoned in the Carmes prison until 10 Thermidor, year II (July 28, 1794). She was freed thanks to the trial of Robespierre. Her husband, accused of having poorly defended Mayenne in 1793, and considered an aristocratic "suspect", was sentenced to death. He was guillotined on July 23, 1794, together with his brother Augustin, on the Place de la Révolution (today's Place de la Concorde) in Paris.

On July 27, 1794 (9 Thermidor), Tallien arranged the liberation of Thérèse Cabarrus, and soon after of Joséphine. She attempted to rehabilitate the memory of her husband and faced fanancial difficulties. In June 1795, thanks to a new law, she was allowed to recover the possessions of Alexandre.

As a widow, Joséphine de Beauharnais was mistress to several leading political figures. Reportedly including Paul François Jean Nicolas Barras. She met General Napoléon Bonaparte, who was six years younger than her, and married him on March 9, 1796. Joséphine is said to have had regular affairs with other men, which almost led her to a divorce in 1799.

She was crowned Empress by her husband Napoléon in the Notre-Dame cathedral, much to the dislike of his family, especially his mother, who was not present on the day of the Coronation (December 2, 1804).

When it appeared she was unable to give him any children, she agreed to be divorced so he could remarry in the hopes of having an heir to succeed him. The divorce (January 10, 1810), was the first under the Napoleonic Code. In 1811, Napoleon married Marie Louise of Austria, with whom he had a son the same year.

After her divorce, she lived at the Château de Malmaison, near Paris. When she died in 1814 she was buried not far from there, at the St. Pierre and St. Paul church in Rueil. Her daughter Hortense is interred near her.

Last updated: 11-08-2004 04:22:19