How To Style Your Home As If You’re A French Empress

In my readings this morning, I discovered that on this day in 1796 Joséphine de Beauharnais married the famous French general Napoléon Bonaparte. Although Beauharnais had been known as “Rose” in her life before Napoléon, it was when he crowned her the First Empress of France that he decided to call her Joséphine instead. From then on, Joséphine referred to herself as such, as did everyone else.

Joséphine was the first wife of Napoléon. However, it was her second marriage from which she already had two children (she was a widow thanks to a guillotining of her first husband during the Reign of Terror.) This fact about her had members of Napoléon’s family not very impressed with his choice in a wife. There was also the slight issue that he was not just in love, but quite obsessed with his new wife; and although he’d leave just two days after their wedding to lead the French army into Italy, his countless love letters to his beloved Joséphine were constant. Some of these infamous words of love are still around to this day.

Despite all the lover letters to his wife, there were the endless affairs that both of them had while they were apart — we are talking about the French after all. Into their first year of marriage, with Napoléon still off trying to conquer the world, Joséphine bought a run-down estate that she would eventually name the Château de Malmaison. She worked tirelessly in designing and having her new home constructed to her liking, but upon Napoléon’s return from war, he was less than thrilled that she thought it appropriate to drop 300,000 francs on the desperately in need of some fixing abode.

Eventually their marriage would end in divorce when Napoléon discovered all of Joséphine’s infidelities while he was away. Completely devastated but still madly in love, he allowed her to stay in Château de Malmaison, and also insisted that she keep her title as the First Empress of France. Allegedly, Napoléon’s dying words were: “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Joséphine.” I guess some women are difficult to forget.

During her lifetime, Joséphine was not only regarded as stylish, elegant and an impeccably gracious hostess, but as one who transformed a run-down estate into an elaborate celebration of her love for roses — her garden consisted of 250 different varieties of them — and all things lavish and exquisite.

You may not live in a fancy château on the outskirts of Paris, but you can at least make an attempt at creating the same ambiance. Even if it means your gold kitchen set is just painted that color and didn’t break the bank to purchase.

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    • Ellen W.

      Not just any flowers- roses! There’s even a beloved Old Garden rose called “Souvenir de la Malmaison” which, sadly, isn’t actually one of the roses bred for her, but is very much of the style of roses she loved. But I’m sure she would understand if you can’t keep roses alive in your apartment- she woul’ve probably been way into orchids if they’d been available in Europe in her lifetime.

      And I seriously love the way The Gloss features influential French women all the time.

      • Amanda Chatel

        Well as New Yorkers, we like to think we’re “almost” European. And personally, I’m a Francophile…

        Vive la France… toujours!

    • MR

      Yeah, she was Napoleon’s muse. And the effect his, the People’s Army, had on advancing democratic ideals – though of course through war. You know there was this woman who’s presence I believed was a very important influence on a very good, investment performance period I had. But in the end, she turned out not to even be a friend. Yes, she didn’t cheat on me, but betrayed me in another way. After Waterloo Napoleon was exiled to a tiny rock of an island, just off the South American coast. That’s where he said those last words. Yeah, I do like the floral color scheme of Josephine’s garden.