Josephine de Beauharnais


July 5, 2022

Joséphine vicomtesse de Beauharnais, born Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, pronounce Taschèr (Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique, 23 June 1763 – Rueil-Malmaison, 29 May 1814), Joséphine for short, was a West Indian beauty, who was part of Parisian society, known as the first wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.


Joséphine was born in Martinique into a French noble Creole family. She was the daughter of Joseph-Gaspard Tascher de la Pagerie and Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois. The head of the Tascher family was a baron, the other members of the family had no noble title. Her father, the son of a French settler, married Rose-Claire, the daughter of a French settler, in 1761. The couple lived on the plantation they ran and later bought from Rose-Claire's parents. His father-in-law had served at the French court as page to Maria Josepha van Saksen (1731-1767) and came to Martinique around 1755 as aide-de-camp of the French governor François de Beauharnais (1714-1800).


Joséphine, as a lady then Marie-Rose, was called "Yeyette" as a child, a name given to her by her nurse. She was the eldest of three daughters. After her followed Catherine-Désirée and Marie-Françoise ("Manette"). It was Napoleon who gave Yeyette the name 'Joséphine', the name with which she went down in history.


Her family struggled financially after a hurricane destroyed their plantation in 1766. Through her aunt Edmée Marquise de Beauharnais, born Tascher de La Pagerie, a marriage was arranged with stepson Alexandre de Beauharnais, the son of the former governor. Alexandre was sent to Paris to pursue a career. Joséphine, 16, lived in her father-in-law's house on Rue Thevenot. The marriage was unhappy: the ambitious Alexandre found Marie-Rose, as she called herself, undeveloped. Marie-Rose had no taste for knowledge about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. Political matters were also not for her. Marie-Rose, in turn, felt neglected by the often absent Alexandre. He would have fought in North America. Moreover, loyalty was not a high priority. Two children were born of the marriage: Eugène (1781) and Hortense (1783), later wife of Lodewijk Napoleon and Queen of Holland. After a few years, the distance between Marie-Rose and Alexandre became even greater. Alexandre's girlfriend, Laure de Girardin, fanned the flames and made him believe he was not Hortense's biological father. Marie-Rose took this so seriously that she left the house. The judge had to intervene. Marie-Rose negotiated a separation from bed and board and alimony in 1785. These demands were granted by the judge when it was found that Alexandre could not prove his allegations of Marie-Rose's alleged infidelity. The judge also allowed Marie-Rose to manage her own (financial) affairs from now on. Eugène was allowed to live with her until he was five years old; Hortense was assigned to her. In 1793 Alexandre commanded the Rhine army as a general during the First Coalition War, but made mistakes and military blunders. De Beauharnais was accused of arriving late to the first German democracy, the Republic of Mainz, which had been besieged by Prussian troops. He is said to have deliberately allowed his men to capitulate at the Siege of Mainz (1793). From prison, Alexandre addressed a letter to General Hoche recommending Eugène and his wife. He was beheaded under the guillotine on July 23, 1794, a few days before the end of the Reign of Terror. Marie-Rose was also imprisoned in Croissy in November. She was released after the fall of Robespierre on 6 August. In prison she had met the sophisticated Thérésia Cabarrus, later Madame Talli