Joséphine de Beauharnais was a socialite who eventully became General Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife and a French empress.

The love story between Napoleon and Josephine is definitely greatly publicised, but not necessarily great.Some historians believe that the future Emperor met his wife-to-be at a ball in the house of Paul François Barras, the member of the Directory and Josephine's former lover. Napoleon's secretary Bourrienne, however, tells a completely different story in his memoirs. According to Bourrienne, Josephine's son Eugene presented himself to General Bonaparte in order to solicit his father's sword. Napoleon liked the boy and granted his wish. When Josephine learnt of the kindness the young general showed to her son, she called on him to thank him in person. Meneval, who became Napoleon's secretary after Bourrienne, recalled that 'Josephine was irresistibly attractive. Her beauty was not regular but she had la grace.'What we do know for a fact is Napoleon's deep affection and love for Josephine from the very start of their relationship. He wrote passionate letters to her from day one. Here is a letter he wrote after they spent the night together: 'My waking thoughts are all of you. Your portrait and the remembrance of last night's delirium have robbed my senses of repose. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what an extraordinary influence you have over my heart. Are you vexed? Do I see you sad? Are you ill at ease? My soul is broken with grief, and there is no rest for your lover. But is there more for me when, delivering ourselves up to the deep feelings which master me, I breathe out upon your lips, upon your heart, a flame which burns me up. It was this past night I realised that your portrait was not you. You start at noon. I shall see you in three hours. Meanwhile, my dolce amor, accept a thousand kisses, but give me none, for they fire my blood.

Her marriage to Napoleon I was her second; her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais was guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she was imprisoned in the Carmes prison until five days after Alexandre's execution.

As soon as they got married, Napoleon left on his Italian Campaign. He overwhelmed Josephine with letters and declarations of his love. 'I curse the glory and ambition which keeps me from the soul of my life,' he wrote. Napoleon's ardour was a source of much entertainment for Josephine, who enjoyed mocking him and reading his letters aloud to her friends. Her own letter to him were cold and rare. She used a formal vou when addressing her husband, something that upset him immensely. 'You treat me to a vou?' he raged in one of his letters. Napoleon was faithful to Josephine while on campaign and entreated her to come and see him in Italy. Josephine kept him waiting. Last thing she wanted was to leave Paris with its theatre, balls, shopping and, most importantly, a young and dashing hussar Hippolyte Charles, with whom she was conducting a passionate and very public affair. When she finally conceded and came to see Napoleon, she brought Charles with her. So happy was Napoleon to see his wife, he didn't suspect a thing.Napoleon finally found out about the affair in 1798 in Egypt. 'I have a great, great deal of domestic sorrow now the veil has been completely lifted,' Napoleon wrote to his brother Joseph. To add insult to injury, this letter had been intercepted by the Royal Navy and published in England. Napoleon was adamant in his desire to divorce Josephine as soon as he returned to Paris. No letters from Napoleon to Josephine survive from the Egyptian campaign. It was possible that he stopped writing to her when he found out about the affair. Only after Josephine betrayed him did Napoleon have an affair himself - with Pauline Foures, a beautiful wife of one of the officers. 

Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in Notre-Dame de Paris, December 2, 1804

Napoleon forgave Josephine when he returned to Paris but their relationship was never the same. His passion for her cooled, while she developed a strong love and respect for her husband. Josephine would never be unfaithful again but Napoleon would have many affairs. He divorced Josephine in 1809 because she couldn't give him an heir and married an Austrian princess Marie Louise. He was very good to Josephine during the divorce, gifting her with residences and generous annual allowance, paying off her massive debts and allowing her to keep her Imperial title of Empress. They remained in touch until Josephine died in 1814.

Napoleon's Farewell to Josephine,Napoleon divorces Josephine

Napoleon letter to Josephine

Dec. 29, 1795

I awake all filled with you. Your image and the intoxicating pleasures of last night, allow my senses no rest.Sweet and matchless Josephine, how strangely you work upon my heart.Are you angry with me? Are you unhappy? Are you upset?My soul is broken with grief and my love for you forbids repose. But how can I rest any more, when I yield to the feeling that masters my inmost self, when I quaff from your lips and from your heart a scorching flame?Yes! One night has taught me how far your portrait falls short of yourself!You start at midday: in three hours I shall see you again.Till then, a thousand kisses, mio dolce amor! but give me none back for they set my blood on fire.

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