Story time, Josephine de Beauharnais and Napoleon Bonaparte

There are indeed men who are attached more by resistance than by yielding and who unwittingly prefer a variable sky, now splendid, now black and vexed by lightnings, to love’s unclouded blue. Let us not forget that Josephine has to deal with a conqueror and that love resembles war. She did not surrender, she let herself be conquered. Had she been more tender, more attentive, more loving, perhaps Bonaparte would have loved her less.”
Imbert de Saint-Amand

Josephine portrait by François Gérard

Josephine Bonaparte became the empress to Napoleon’s empire on December 2nd, 1804. She is often overlooked in history just as many other quietly influential women of the past, but her legacy of intelligence is profound and exotic.

She was described as languorous and depicted sensuality with her aura- capitalized on the idea of being different and igniting a questionable way about her. A woman who had a provocative reputation, yet surpassed the expectations others had given her; a master of inventing herself.

The story goes that Josephine invited Napoleon to one of her soirees and though he knew of her reputation he was inclined to go. When he was there he felt out place amongst the writers, and as if he didn’t belong in the midst of the nobility that was left after the french revolution. There were beautiful women everywhere that night, many of which were supposedly more beautiful than Josephine herself. But of course with elegance and empress-like fidelity she was sought out more than any of the others were. After this soiree Napoleon began his chase for the heart of a woman who heightened his self confidence with her attention. He would visit her and their time spent together always depended on the mere decision of whether or not she was in the mood to be hot or cold to him. After all, what more can a woman do to show her power in a world of chaos and war dominated by the egos of men. They would fight and the next day she would send him passionate letters and he would run to her soon after. They were married in march of 1796 and only two days later Napoleon left for Italy to fight against the Austrians.

incoronazione di napoleone
zoomed in photo of Jacques-Louis DAVID painting “The Coronation”

“You are the constant object of my thoughts, ” 

“My imagination exhausts itself in guessing what you’re doing.” 

His generals reported that he had been driven to a place of complete isolation with the thought of her. He would leave meetings early and spend hours writing to her. Though as she became colder to him he noticed, and his determination to end the war grew stronger with rage.

“To live for Josephine!”

“I work to get near to you, I kill myself to reach you!” 

His letters oozed passion the more he wrote and a friend of Josephine’s who had read the letters mentioned, “The handwriting [was] almost indecipherable… What a position for a woman to find herself in- being the motivating force behind the triumphal march of an entire army.”

Months went by and Josephine stayed away until she decided to finally meet him. Though the circumstances did not workout as the armies were in battle she waited in Milan and Napoleon’s anger increased. Once he finally reached to her, her loving disposition allowed him to let go of his maddening frustration. She softened his heart with her ways and they took long carriage rides in the nights. He began missing meetings as he was enveloped in the love they had.

He wrote to her, “Never, has a woman been in such complete mastery of another’s heart.” And the most intriguing thing is… they only spent 15 days together out of the entire year he was away campaigning.

After all this he heard rumors about her infidelity and acquired a coldness towards her. Though his feelings and affection lessened, so he took upon himself a large number of mistresses. It’s fascinating though, as she was never threatened, for she knew the power she had over him and the love they shared. He was always hers. Behind his calm exterior was this emotional and aggressive person in which only she understood to the full extent. His chase and frustration with her gave him masochistic yearning to have her.

It’s said that Josephine was nearly minutes away from losing her head on the guillotine during the revolution, and from that near death experience she sought out two goals in her life….

  1. to live a life of incredible pleasure.
  2. and to love a man who could best supply it.

She died May 29th 1814.

And When Napoleon Bonaparte was on his deathbed on May 5th 1821, the last word he spoke was, “Josephine.” 

“She who long retain her power must use her lover ill.” -OVID

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