JOSEPHINE (MARIE ROSE JOSEPHINE TASCHER DE LA Pagerie) (1763-1814), empress of the French, was born in the island of Martinique on the 23rd of June 1763, being the eldest of three daughters of Joseph Tascher de la Pagerie, lieutenant of artillery. Her beauty and grace, though of a languid Creole style, won the affections of the young officer the vicomte de Beauharnais, and, after some family complications, she was married to him. Their married life was not wholly happy, the frivolity of Josephine occasioning her husband anxiety and jealousy. Two children, Eugene and Hortense, were the fruit of the union. During Josephine's second residence in Martinique, whither she proceeded to tend her mother, occurred the first troubles with the slaves, which resulted from the precipitate action of the constituent assembly in emancipating them. She returned to her husband, who at that time entered into political life at Paris. Her beauty and vivacity won her many admirers in the salons of the capital. As the Revolution ran its course her husband, as an ex-noble, incurred the suspicion and hostility of the Jacobins; and his ill-success at the head of a French army on the Rhine led to his arrest and execution. Thereafter Josephine was in a position of much perplexity and some hardship, but the friendship of Barras and of Madame Tallien, to both of whom she was then much attached, brought her into notice, and she was one of the queens of Parisian society in the year 1795, when Napoleon Bonaparte's services to the French convention in scattering the malcontents of the capital (13 Vendemiaire, or October 5, 1 795) brought him to the front. There is a story that she became known to Napoleon through a visit paid to him by her son Eugene in order to beg his help in procuring the restoration of his father's sword, but it rests on slender foundations. In any case, it is certain that Bonaparte, however he came to know her, was speedily captivated by her charms. She, on her side, felt very little affection for the thin, impecunious and irrepressible suitor; but by degrees she came to acquiesce in the thought of marriage, her hesitations, it is said, being removed by the influence of Barras and by the nomination of Bonaparte to the command of the army of Italy. The civil marriage took place on the 9th of March 1796, two days before the bridegroom set out for his command. He failed to induce her to go with him to Nice and Italy.
Bonaparte's letters to Josephine during the campaign reveal the ardour of his love, while she rarely answered them. As he came to realize her shallowness and frivolity his passion cooled; but at the time when he resided at Montebello (near Milan) in 1797 he still showed great regard for her. During his absence in Egypt in 1798-1799, her relations to an officer, M. Charles, were most compromising; and Bonaparte on his return thought of divorcing her. Her tears and the entreaties of Eugene and Hortense availed to bring about a reconciliation; and during the period of the consulate (1799-1804) their relations were on the whole happy, though Napoleon's conduct now gave his consort grave cause for concern. His brothers and sisters more than once begged him to divorce Josephine, and it is known that, from the time when he became first consul for life (August 1802) with large powers over the choice of a successor, he kept open the alternative of a divorce. Josephine's anxieties increased on the proclamation of the Empire (May 18, 1804); and on the 1st of December 1804, the eve of the coronation at Notre Dame, she gained her wish that she should be married anew to Napoleon with religious rites. Despite her care, the emperor procured the omission of one formality, the presence of the parish priest; but at the coronation scene Josephine appeared radiant with triumph over her envious relatives. The august marriages contracted by her children Eugene and Hortense seemed to establish her position; but her ceaseless extravagance and, above all, the impossibility that she should bear a son strained the relations between Napoleon and Josephine. She complained of his infidelities and growing callousness. The end came in sight after the campaign of 1809, when Napoleon caused the announcement to be made to her that reasons of state compelled him to divorce her. Despite all her pleadings he held to his resolve. The most was made of the slight technical irregularity at the marriage ceremony of the 1st of December 1804; and the marriage was declared null and void.
At her private retreat, La Malmaison, near Paris, which she. had beautified with curios and rare plants and flowers, Josephine closed her life in dignified retirement. Napoleon more than once came to consult her upon matters in which he valued her tact and good sense. Her health declined early in 1814, and after his first abdication (April 11, 1814) it was clear that her end was not far off. The emperor Alexander of Russia and Frederick William III. of Prussia, then in Paris, requested an interview with her. She died on the 24th of May 1814. Her friends, Mme de Remusat and others, pointed out that Napoleon's good fortune deserted him after the divorce; and it is certain. that the Austrian marriage clogged him in several ways. Josephine's influence was used on behalf of peace and moderation both in internal and in foreign affairs. Thus she begged Napoleon not to execute the duc d'Enghien and not to embroil himself in Spanish affairs in 1808.
See M. A. Le Normand, Memoires historiques et secrets de Josephine (2 vols., 1820); Lettres de Napoleon a Josephine (1833); J. A. Aubenas, Hist. de l'imperatrice Josephine (2 vols., 1858-1859); J. Turquan, L'Imperatrice Josephine (2 vols., 1895-1896); F. Masson, Josephine (3 vols., 1899-1902); Napoleon's Letters to Josephine (1796-1812), translated and edited by H. F. Hall (1903). Also the Memoirs of Mme. de Remusat and of Bausset, and P. W. Sergeant, The Empress Josephine (1908). (J. HL. R.)
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