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.