March 9, 1796: Napoléon Bonaparte marries his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born in Martinique to a Caucasian Creole family in 1763. The family was well-to-do and owned a sugar plantation. She was called Rose and the family struggled financially after a hurricane in 1766. Rose’s aunt was the mistress of François, Vicomte de Beauharnais and used her influence to get her niece married to the aristocrat’s son. Unfortunately, it was Rose’s younger sister. Catherine was 12-years-old at the time and died before she could leave for France. So Rose was sent as a replacement.
Rose arrived in France with her father in October of 1779 and married Alexandre de Beauharnais on December 13 of that year. The marriage was unhappy, but produced two children. A son born in 1781 and a daughter born in 1783. During the Reign of Terror, Alexandre was arrested along with his cousin Augustin. Both were guillotined on July 23, 1794. Rose was also arrested but she was released five days after her husband’s execution. It would take nearly a year, but eventually Rose was able to recover the possessions of her husband and was once again in a position of wealth. She had affairs with several leading political figures of the day.
In 1795 she met Napoléon Bonaparte who was six years younger than she. First she became his mistress. There are extant letters from Napoléon to his beloved, whom he always called Joséphine, a name she would use for the rest of her life. In January 1796 he proposed and the couple wed on this day. His family did not approve of the older widow with two children. They had the added torment of feeling inferior to this woman who had been living the life of an aristocrat for years. Two days after the wedding, Napoléon went off to war against Italy. The love letters continued to arrive, full of passion and love for the separated couple.
Joséphine stayed in Paris where she met Hippolyte Charles and had an affair with him. When news reached her husband, he was furious. The letters continued to arrive, but the passion had considerably cooled. In 1798, Napoléon was in Egypt and took his own mistress, Pauline Foures who became known as Napoléon’s Cleopatra. Joséphine took no more lovers while married, although her husband took several other mistresses. Their marriage never recovered and as she produced no heir for her husband, by 1809 he talked of divorce. They were divorced on January 10, 1810 and on March 11, Napoléon married Marie-Louise of Austria by proxy. She did give Napoléon the son he desperately needed the next March. Joséphine remained on good terms with her ex-husband. She caught cold while walking in her famous rose garden and died in 1814. She was fifty years old.
Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength.
Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.
The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it. – all from Napoléon Bonaparte
Also on this day: Glamour Doll – In 1959, Barbie was shown at the American International Toy Fair.
Jean Calas – In 1765, Jean Calas was exonerated, three years after his death.
Ride, Sally, Ride – In 1964, the first Ford Mustang was built.
Teeth – In 1822, a patent for artificial teeth was granted to Charles M. Graham.