A British historian’s capable account of Josephine Bonaparte (1763-1814) and her tumultuous relationship with the celebrated French general and political leader Napoleon.
Born in Martinique to a family of planters, Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie, whom Napoleon would later rename Josephine, dreamed of escaping to the colorful world her father, a former page at the court of Versailles, had told her awaited in Paris. The opportunity to leave for France came in the form of marriage to a wealthy but dissipated young seducer, Alexandre de Beauharnais, who ridiculed his new wife mercilessly for her “thick Creole accent and clumsy manner.” Only after de Beauharnais divorced her four years later did Josephine begin her transformation into one of the most desirable women of her age. Determined to find a place among the glittering French nobility, she became a courtesan; through a combination of political savvy and luck, she managed to survive the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath. Liaisons with important leaders eventually brought Josephine into contact with the hero of the French counterrevolution, Napoleon, who fell passionately in love with her. Against the wishes of the socially ambitious Bonaparte family, the pair married in 1796. For the next eight years, the balance of power between them favored Josephine, who took lovers while her husband gloried in his military conquests. But as the ungainly Napoleon grew more desirous to become the new European Caesar, that balance shifted decidedly in his favor. Josephine—who was unable to bear her husband a child—eventually found herself displaced by hordes of mistresses and eventually, a second empress, Marie-Louise of Austria. Yet, as Williams (Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch, 2010, etc.) ably shows, beneath the lust for power and prominence each shared, a remarkably durable passion bound them together to the end.
An intelligent and entertaining biography of “the Empress whom France never forgot.”