In Martinique, a French Caribbean colony, in 1763, was born a lady whose fate was both illustrious and wretched. Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie most popularly known as Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress of France. Josephine had no idea that she was heading towards the French Throne when she moved to Paris at the age of 16 and married a businessman Alexandre de Beauharnais. This relationship was marred by adultery and womanizing by Alexandre and ended in an informal separation. Josephine fought a legal case against her husband and won. She rose to the epitome of society as a successful independent Business-Woman. Josephine had two children from this relationship Eugene and Hortense.
Alexandre accuses Josephine of Adultery
According to popular French belief a child can never be born before the due date. In case a child was born before the due date the mother was accused of infidelity. Josephine’s daughter Hortense was born one and a half week before the due delivery date. Alexandre tried to accuse Josephine of adultery; Josephine fought back and in the end won the case. She separated from Alexandre and started her independent life.
The Reign of Terror and Josephine’s Imprisonment
The Comite de Salut public ordered Alexandre to be arrested on 2nd March 1794. He fell to the infamous ‘Guillotine’. The Terror in French revolution was a movement that was against Autocracy. 14000 to 16000 members of the aristocratic class were executed. Josephine though not directly an aristocrat was a regarded too close to the anti-revolutionary class. She was also arrested and imprisoned in the Carmes prison. She had to undergo a lot of mental trauma and torture in her four months of imprisonment. This had severe implications on her health. Her infertility that led to her separation from Napoleon resulted from this trauma and stress.
Controversy: Where did Josephine’s Wealth came from?
The question of whether Josephine had illegitimate relations with many rich and powerful people arose because of the wealth she had amassed in no time. This is a widely contested controversy however there is enough evidence to prove Josephine was not a courtesan, she was a business-woman. This is a common tendency in society that when a woman starts making a lot of money (much more than the men of her society) she is labelled as an infidel. Indeed Josephine’s had acquaintances with many men, however there was only a business relationship between them. Over the time she had built strong political and business connection who could readily lend her money. She was in a position to serve as ligand between popular powerful businessmen. The evidence in her private journals and diaries show that she was a member of the Freemasons, a society of businessmen. Josephin was perhaps the only woman in this organisation.
In 1776 Josephine married a penniless Corsican General Napoleon Bonaparte and remained truly in love with him for the rest of her life even though Napoleon had to divorce her because she could not give him a successor. On 2nd December 1804 Josephine was coronated the Empress of France by Pope Pius VII. Even though Napoleon remarried, his heart could never forget Josephine. They remained true lovers till the end of their lives.