In a Word...

...tonight. Patsy McGarry

 

Ah Josephine. Not tonight? On this day in 1796 Napoleon married his Josephine only to do a Henry VIII on it when she couldn’t produce an heir. But Josephine was no shrinking violet. She was, in fact a Rose by another name.

Her full name was Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, whose maternal grandfather, Anthony Brown, may have been Irish. A Wild Goose, perhaps.

Josephine’s first husband was guillotined during the French Revolution’s reign of terror. They had two children. Even while married she had several affairs. In 1795, she met Napoleon.

She was 33, he was 27 and smitten; she was not. Still, as he preferred to call her Joséphine, she adopted the name. They said she did not love Napoleon and that it took years before she warmed to him. However he helped with her debts.

Lovers

A biographer later said: “In choosing her lovers Rose (Joséphine) followed her head first, then her heart.” She was attracted to men capable of fulfilling her financial and social needs.

Napoleon, on the other hand, was a patsy (I know, let it pass). He was besotted. In a December 1795 letter to her, he wrote: “I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.”

A month later he proposed and they were married on March 9th, 1796. Then he was off to Italy and sent her many love letters. She, on the other hand, began an affair with an army officer. Ah, those French. (Easy now – remember we meet France in the Six Nations tomorrow.)

‘Power is my mistress’

When he heard this Napoleon was upset and followed suit or, rather, the wife of an army officer. There were several other women and in 1804 he declared “power is my mistress”. But he remained married to Josephine.

In 1810 they agreed to divorce so he could marry and have an heir. That April he wed Marie-Louise of Austria, commenting graciously: “It is a womb that I am marrying.” The following March they had a son.

Joséphine died in 1814, aged 50, while Napoleon was exiled on Elba. His last words in 1821 were: “France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Joséphine.” (France, the army, head of the army, Joséphine.)

Tonight, from Old English toniht. Was to-night until early 20th century.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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