Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, was born in Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique. She was from a wealthy white Creole family that owned a sugar plantation. Little did she know that she was destined for greatness as the first wife, love, and Empress of Napoleon Bonaparte.
When Josephine met Napoleon, she was already a mature widow with two children, as she was married to a French aristocrat who did not escape the Reign of Terror. Josephine had spent many traumatic months as a prisoner and was spared when Maximilien Robespierre was arrested and executed. He was responsible for her imprisonment and her first husband’s execution. In fact her first husband was executed only five days before he was. It is likely that Josephine would have followed her husband shortly to the guillotine. Being through such an ordeal took a toll on Josephine and when she was released she sought comfort in spending what she obtained from her late husband’s estate and taking several prominent lovers.
She met Napoleon in 1795, when he was only a Corsican-Italian officer in the French army, engaged to who would become a future Queen of Sweden. At the time Josephine was involved in an affair with Paul François Jean Nicolas, Vicomte de Barras. Shortly after they met Napoleon bombarded her with heavily passionate love letters and pursued her relentlessly. Many of these letters still survive today, along with letters that Napoleon wrote Josephine throughout their marriage. It was after she met Napoleon that she began to use the name Josephine, for before she had always been known as Rose. Napoleon preferred Josephine.
In 1796, right after Napoleon broke his engagement to his fiance, he married Josephine. This outraged his family, who felt Josephine was way beneath them as they were Italian nobility by ancestry. His mother and sisters were especially displeased. Josephine had possessed aristocratic mannerisms that they actually lacked, and they mistook that for haughtiness and pride. Also, she was six years older than Napoleon and had children from her previous marriage. They were especially resentful at how well Napoleon treated Josephine’s children, as if they were his own to an extant. None of this mattered however, as letters prove, Napoleon was passionately in love with Josephine.
One wonders if Josephine was as in love with Napoleon as he was with her, for soon after the marriage Napoleon left to lead the French army into Italy. Almost immediately after he was gone, Josephine began and affair with a Hussar Lieutenant, Hippolyte Charles. During the Empire Era, it was not uncommon and even considered fashionable for even women to have extra-marital lovers. Napoleon was enraged when he found out, and thus began their torrid love affairs and volatile love-hate relationship. Even though they both carried on openly with lovers, Josephine never thought of leaving Napoleon, and Napoleon never stopped loving Josephine.
When Napoleon became emperor in 1804, the coronation was immaculate. Pope Pius VII officiated the ceremony that took place in the Notre Dame de Paris, where Napoleon crowned himself, and then crowned Josephine. The ceremony was not so joyous for Josephine, as she was already under scrutiny by Napoleon and his family because she had not given Napoleon any children. Her sister-in-laws, who carried her train during the ceremony were no friends of hers. Almost everyone around her, disliked her. The fact that Napoleon still loved her and did crown her must have been some consolation and triumph.
A few years later, Josephine really felt hopeless, as she still did not bear an heir. Now that her husband was Emperor it was imperative that he have one. As Empress it was her duty and she failed. The trauma and terror she suffered imprisoned during the Reign of Terror very possibly took its toll on her health and body. It is not uncommon that women be brought to premature menopause when they suffer from very stressful and traumatic experiences. Post traumatic stress disorder could have caused her to become barren. The fact that she had two children with her previous husband, before the terror, and that Napoleon had at least one illegitimate child that he claimed, proves that both were capable.
Napoleon had no choice to set aside Josephine and remarry. Even though they divorced and Napoleon remarried, he still allowed her to carry the title of Empress along side his new wife. He even continued to have a good relationship with her children. He would tell several people that he still loved Josephine, even though he did not respect her, which was mostly due to her numerous and open infidelities during their marriage. He would love her until his death as her name was one of his last words.