January 10th, 1810 – The Divorce of Joséphine

Today-In-History

Joséphine de Beauharnais’s marriage to Napoleon I was her second; her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais was guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she herself was imprisoned in the Carmes prison until five days after Alexandre’s execution. Her two children by Alexandre became significant to royal lineage. Through her daughter, Hortense, she was the maternal grandmother of Napoléon III. Through her son, Eugène, she was the great-grandmother of later Swedish and Danish kings and queens. The reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg also descend from her. She did not bear Napoleon any children; as a result, he divorced her on January 10th, 1810 to marry Marie Louise of Austria.

Joséphine de Beauharnais 680

Joséphine agreed to the divorce so the Emperor could remarry in the hope of having an heir. The divorce ceremony was a grand but solemn social occasion, and each read a statement of devotion to the other.

Joséphine de Beauharnais 1On March 11th, 1810, Napoléon married Marie-Louise of Austria by proxy; the formal ceremony took place at the Louvre in April. Napoléon once remarked after marrying Marie-Louise that despite her quick infatuation with him “he had married a womb”. Even after their separation, Napoleon insisted Joséphine retain the title of empress. “It is my will that she retain the rank and title of empress, and especially that she never doubt my sentiments, and that she ever hold me as her best and dearest friend.”

After the divorce, Joséphine lived at the Château de Malmaison, near Paris. She remained on good terms with Napoléon, who once said that the only thing to come between them was her debts. (Joséphine remarked privately, “The only thing that ever came between us was my debts; certainly not his manhood.”—Andrew Roberts, Napoleon)

In March 1811 Marie Louise delivered a long-awaited heir, to whom Napoleon gave the title “King of Rome”. Two years later Napoleon arranged for Joséphine to meet the young prince “who had cost her so many tears”.

Joséphine de Beauharnais 3Joséphine died in Rueil-Malmaison on May 29th, 1814, soon after walking with Tsar Alexander in the gardens of Malmaison. She was buried in the nearby church of Saint Pierre-Saint Paul in Rueil. Her daughter Hortense is interred near her.

Napoleon learned of her death via a French journal while in exile on Elba, and stayed locked in his room for two days, refusing to see anyone. He claimed to a friend, while in exile on Saint Helena, that “I truly loved my Joséphine, but I did not respect her.” Despite his numerous affairs, eventual divorce, and remarriage, the Emperor’s last words on his death bed at St. Helena were: “France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Joséphine.”(“France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine”).

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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