Posts Tagged ‘Josephine’

Wedding Anniversaries and More Royal Gossip

Posted in General, On This Day on March 9th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Napoleon and JosephineOn this day in 1796, fading socialite beauty–and somewhat circulated mistress–Josephine de Beauharnais married a mumbling, young immigrant.  (No, Napoleon didn’t need a green card, just the status of having a celebrity wife.)  Within the year, however, Napoleon would have status of his own.  Smashing four Austrian armies and conquering Italy does get you noticed!

The couple had no children.  Josephine, however, does have descendants.  Napoleon was only her second husband.  Her first was Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais.  As a Vicomte during the French Revolution, Monsieur Beauharnais obviously had a bad sense of timing.  He left his widow with a daughter and a son.  Hortense de Beauharnais–with the emphasis on the first syllable–would marry Napoleon’s brother Louis, but didn’t even pretend that all the children were his.  At least Napoleon III was certain that Josephine was his grandmother.

Josephine’s son was Eugene, a name that indicated his charm and ability.  He really was a capable, admirable individual.  Yes, he was appointed Viceroy of Italy through nepotism, but he governed so well–and how often do you hear efficient Italian government in the same sentence–that the Allies seriously discussed letting him stay on after Napoleon fell.  Of course, competence would have made the other rulers look bad, so Eugene had to be fired.  He had married a Bavarian princess, so he was in no danger of starvation.

Eugene de Beauharnais and his frau had a daughter named Josephine, a sentimental if tactless choice.  Young Josephine in turn married a nice French boy who happened to be the Crown Prince of Sweden.  (In an early example of a guest worker program, Sweden had offered its throne to a French general named Bernadotte.)  Her grandchild became the Queen of Denmark and her great-grandson became the King of Norway.

So the royal houses of Scandinavia are all descended from the first Mrs. Bonaparte.  Even after a messy divorce, that is not a bad compensation.

Father of the Bribe

Posted in General on May 15th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

If you had looked at Napoleon’s resume in early 1796, you would wonder why he had command of an army–even a third-rate one guarding the Italian border. The 26 year-old really did not have much of a war record. In 1794, as an artillery captain, he had distinguished himself in recapturing the French port of Toulon from French royalists and the British. France was so desperate for capable officers that he was subsequently promoted to brigadier general. Then, in 1795, as the security chief for the French government he did quell a riot in Paris. But what had he done to merit the command of L’Armee d’Italie? To be blunt, he had married the right woman.

Josephine was Napoleon’s first great conquest. She was lovely, charming, aristocratic, a leading figure in high society, and the mistress of the most important man in France. No, not Napoleon; That distinction–both political and venereal–belonged to Paul Barras. The leading politician in the fading days of France’s first republic, Barras (1755-1829) was a remarkable renegade. Born an aristocrat, he was a Jacobin when was it was popular, and Conservative when it was prudent. A lesser man–or a more ethical one–would have been guillotined by one faction or another. But not Barras, he survived and thrived. Now, he was the leader of the Directory, the five-man executive board that governed France. The position came with obvious perks–bribes and mistresses–but even venality has its responsibilities.

A glamourous–but aging–mistress like Josephine could not be just debauched and abandoned like a chambermaid. Dumping her required French finesse. But Barras had a retirement package for her: marriage to an ambitious little (literally) social-climber. He encouraged the match, telling Josephine that the brusque Corsican had a promising future (he did) and telling Napoleon that the lovely widow had a fortune (she didn’t). Even if Josephine’s wealth was a fable, she did have a glamour and a bearing that would elevate the social standing of any grasping upstart.

And there was a nice wedding present from Barras: the command of an army. As you know, Napoleon made good use of it. At this point, his resume became very impressive: the very definition of an over-achiever. In a few years, the new ruler of France would present Barras with a very thoughtful retirement present. Barras would be under house arrest but, having amassed a number of mansions, he could vary his confinement from one palace to another.

When Napoleon fell, the still versatile Barras was a royalist again. For some reason, the restored Bourbons did not trust Barras. He would never regain political power, but he was also spared any retaliation for his past duplicity and corruption. During his five years in power (1794-1799) he must have stolen a fortune; two decades later, he was still loaded. When it came to bribery, Barras was as much an overachiever as Napoleon ever was.