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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Empress Josephine

by
Ernest John Knapton

published by
Harvard University Press,
New York, 1963

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 14

p182 Chapter 13
Mistress of the Tuileries

One evening in October 1799, Josephine dined with Gohier, president of the Directory, and his wife in their apartment in the Luxembourg Palace. Gohier had been a moderate in the early years of the Revolution; he had also been astute, with the consequence that he had finally reached his present exalted situation. Josephine and his wife (who had once been his cook) had become close friends. During the dinner dramatic news, not altogether unexpected, was brought to them. The 'military telegraph' — a recently developed device that sent visible signals in simple semaphore code from one hilltop to another and could span France in two days — reported that General Bonaparte had landed on the south coast of France. Aware of the troubled situation at home and eager to profit from it, he had left his army under General Kléber to languish on the sands of Egypt, where two years later it surrendered to the English. Accompanied only by a few intimates, Bonaparte had risked the dangerous Mediterranean crossing and after a sixteen‑day voyage, which more than once brought glimpses of British sails on the horizon, had arrived safely at Fréjus.

He was returning to an explosive world. The unsavoury intrigues in the life of Josephine were but a pale reflection of other intrigues carried out on a national scale by politicians, soldiers, and businessmen. The Constitution of 1795 — that work of caution intended to give the country stability after six years of revolution — had proved vastly disappointing. The two elected chambers were crowded with nonentities; the ministries were corrupt; and the board of five directors wielding executive power lurched from crisis to crisis, never knowing when a sudden coup would remove one or other of its members. In Paris, Jacobin groups had begun to reappear. This dark p183picture had some mitigating features, for the country had weathered the worst economic storms and some important technical reforms were under way. Even so, the actual régime smelled of decay. One ambitious politician manoeuvred to outwit another, and for many it seemed that the strong hand of the soldier would give the only solution to the political problem.

The general foreign situation was alarming. War had been resumed in the preceding March, so that France was now threatened by a Second Coalition. One Austrian army was advancing in Germany through the Black Forest. Another, supported by Russian divisions and commanded by the brilliant general Suvorov, overran northern Italy, drove out the French, and entered Milan, where Cossack cavalry appeared on the recent scene of Bonaparte's greatest triumphs. Another Russian army had invaded eastern Switzerland and in August had seized Zurich. These were dangers that now called for drastic action.

Josephine quickly declared to Gohier that her husband's return would be no threat to liberty — an involuntary recognition, surely, of the widely felt concern over what a victorious general might do. Equally revealing were her further admissions: she had nothing to fear, she said, from calumny, but she must at all costs reach Bonaparte before his brothers did, since these men — 'who had always detested me' — could do her great harm. She told Gohier, moreover, that Bonaparte would be grateful to know she had always been welcome in this director's house.1

Thereupon Josephine and Hortense set out for a rendezvous with Napoleon, driving southward at top speed to the meeting that would enable Josephine to counteract the wagging tongues of Paris and make amends for the long silence that the breach in communications with Egypt had imposed. The wife of Napoleon's secretary, Bourrienne, had likewise been notified of her husband's return to France and drove northward towards Paris to await him there. In so doing she met the carriage of Josephine and Hortense, driving south. As mother and daughter were both asleep, Madame Bourrienne did not p184awaken them. One is left simply with a tiny vignette of urgent feminine traffic on the highroad to Paris.

Josephine's luck was against her. She took the easterly route through Burgundy, while Bonaparte, heading northward, branched off at Lyons and took the other highroad to Paris, one that lay somewhat farther to the west. It was impossible, therefore, for the pair to meet. At Lyons Josephine received definite information that her husband had already passed this point and would actually by then be in Paris. So she could nothing but turn back, with the gnawing realization that in addition to her long silence and to whatever rumours may have arisen about her behaviour, Bonaparte now could reproach her with the crushing fact that she was absent from Paris at the climactic moment of his homecoming.

Bonaparte's journey through France had been a triumphant progress. Crowds hailed him in the towns through which he passed; in some places torches illuminated the highways. Eugène, who was with him, described the reception at Lyons as delirious. Yet these were hollow triumphs. On 16 October Bonaparte reached his home on the rue de la Victoire, only to be devastated by anticlimax and disappointment. Josephine had gone, and two days were to elapse before his unlucky, unhappy, and exhausted wife could rejoin him.

Back in Paris, Josephine found no quick way to melt her husband's heart. The door of Bonaparte's bedroom remained locked, and no amount of appeals or protestations, no floods of tears, could open it. Madame Junot gives us a picture of a grief-stricken Josephine extended full length on a small back stairs, after hours of entreaty, 'suffering the acutest pangs of mental torture'. A maid, the faithful Agatha Rible, suggested that Josephine strengthen the assault by mobilizing the efforts of the two children. Hortense's tears we can easily imagine; yet it strains credulity, surely, to believe that Eugène, newly returned from Egypt and by now a veteran of desert battle who had been wounded in the head as he fought in Syria, could have joined in such an onslaught. In the end, predictably, Josephine was the victor. Napoleon received his wife in the bedroom, where his brother Lucien, p185making his visit late on the following day, still found them.

Josephine had won a victory over her husband and also over the entire Bonaparte clan.

Whatever might be his wife's errors [Madame Junot wrote], Bonaparte appeared entirely to forget them, and the reconciliation was complete. Of all the members of the family, Madame Leclerc [Pauline] was most vexed at the pardon which Napoleon had granted to his wife. Bonaparte's mother was also very ill‑pleased; but she said nothing. Madame Joseph Bonaparte [Julie Clary], who was always very amiable, took no part in these family quarrels; therefore she could easily determine what part to take when fortune smiled on Josephine. As to Madame Bacciocchiº [Elisa] she gave free vent to her ill‑humour and disdain; the consequence was that her sister-in‑law could never endure her . . . Caroline was so young that her opinion could have no weight in such an affair. As to Bonaparte's brothers, they were at open war with Josephine.2

Now reconciled with Napoleon, Josephine soon found herself involved in one of the great coups of history. In this late autumn of 1799 an elaborate plot was devised that was to make her husband master of France; one consequence of this was that Josephine would sit beside him in semi-regal state as mistress of the Tuileries. This Coup of Brumaire, carried out by a small group of ruthless men in the foggy November month of the Republican calendar, is a classic example of how a determined minority, backed by the bayonets of obedient soldiers, can overthrow a spineless régime.

Many politicians had thought of organizing such a coup, and Bonaparte was only one of several generals whom they had in mind to help them overthrow the outworn Directory. Among the five directors Barras had quite clearly outlived his usefulness. Three others were nonentities. The fifth, Siéyès, had considerable hopes that he could manoeuvre power into his own hands. Siéyès was an extraordinary character — a former priest and ex‑Jacobin, author of one of the most famous revolutionary pamphlets of 1789, and an inveterate phrase-maker. He had survived the storm of revolution for ten years, had recently been elected director, and now saw in General Bonaparte the man of the hour. To be certain of his own p186prominent role when the crisis came Siéyès quietly began to take riding lessons, for the day would arrive, he assumed, when he would be called on to ride triumphantly with Bonaparte's cavalcade through the streets of Paris.

Although Bonaparte had deliberately worn civilian clothes on his return from Egypt, he neglected few dramatic effects. On occasions he wore a Turkish fez and carried a scimitar underneath his green civilian overcoat. He attended the meetings of the Institute where he spoke learnedly of the antiquities of Egypt. He subscribed to every newspaper in Paris, and constantly widened his circle of friends. The salon of the house in the rue de la Victoire saw a steady stream of soldiers and politicians — men interested, like him, in a change of régime. On these occasions, Josephine's role was that of the gracious hostess; she engaged one group after another with pleasant nothings while her husband's political discussions proceeded.

Gradually the plot crystallized. In addition to Siéyès, only one other director, Roger-Ducos, could be considered safe. If the remaining three, Barras, Gohier, and Moulin, could be compelled to resign, then an appeal (backed by bayonets) could be made to the legislative branch and a provisional new régime be appointed. This new régime, if Bonaparte were the head of it, would have an unrivalled opportunity to give France the leadership and discipline it so sorely needed. In addition to Bonaparte's loyal brother-officers a few prominent civilian figures were to be drawn in. Notable among these were Cambacérès, the distinguished minister of justice; Talleyrand, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Joseph Fouché, an ex‑terrorist who had become minister of police; and Napoleon's own brother, Lucien, now most fortunately serving as president of the Council of Five Hundred. The date of the coup was fixed for the 18th of Brumaire (9 November 1799).

On the day preceding the coup Josephine wrote to her good friend Gohier, one of the uncertain members of the Directory, in the following cordial terms:

Will you, my dear Gohier, and your wife have breakfast with me tomorrow at eight o'clock in the morning? Do not fail; I must p187speak to you about very interesting matters. Farewell, my dear Gohier, count always on my sincere friendship.3


[image ALT: A 10‑line handwritten note. It is a note by Josephine, inviting Gohier to breakfast on the morning of the 18th of Brumaire; it is transcribed and translated on this webpage.]

venez mon cher Gohier, et votre femme, déjeuner avec moi, demain à huit heures du matin, n'y manquer pas j'ai à causer avec vous sur des choses très interessantes. adieu mon cher Gohier, Comptez toujours sur ma sincère amitié

Lapagerie Bonaparte

Josephine the Conspirator

What Gohier could have counted on in addition to 'sincere friendship', had he accepted the invitation, would have been detention at the point of a bayonet followed by the loss of his job. He did not rise to the bait. Guarding his own immediate freedom of action, he sent his wife instead, who on arriving found, not breakfast, but a house crowded with soldiers. Gohier soon learned from her of this ominous gathering of military men and at once informed the other directors. For them, however, it was now too late. Siéyès, who was in the plot, had been up since dawn, taking his last riding lesson, for which, as it turned out, he would have absolutely no use.

Since seven o'clock on that fateful morning Josephine's salon had been so crowded with Napoleon's brother-officers that late arrivals were obliged to stand in the courtyard outside. By a very ingenious trick the members of the Council of Ancients had been summoned to meet at the Tuileries, but the instructions were so issued that unsympathetic members p188received their notices only after the others had met and the voting was over. Those who did assemble were informed by Bonaparte of an entirely fictitious Jacobin conspiracy and at once obligingly voted two decrees. One of them appointed Bonaparte commander of all the armed forces of the capital; the other required the two assemblies to adjourn and transfer their meetings next day from Paris to the suburban château of Saint-Cloud, ostensibly to be away from the dangers of the Paris mob.

The directors were quickly brought under control. Talleyrand, who turned up among the earliest at the rue de la Victoire, was sent by Bonaparte to obtain the resignation of Josephine's old friend, Barras. He was provided with ample funds which he was to use, if necessary, to speed Barras' resignation. The bribe was not needed, so that Talleyrand, true to form, ended the morning that much the richer. Realizing the situation, Barras had at once signed the letter Bonaparte prepared for him and retired to his country estate. Here this figure — 'unrestrained in his pleasures', 'rotten with vice', 'corrupt to the marrow' (some of the phrases that have been used to describe him) — built up his hostility to Napoleon and in good time produced those memoirs in which he spewed his venom against Josephine, adding to the little tale of scandal which he knew only too well many repulsive fabrications of his own. Josephine had lost a lover and patron and acquired her most vicious enemy. Of the other directors, Gohier and Moulin were simply bullied into submission, while Siéyès and Ducos, actually with little to do, were counted as supporters of the plot. Thus, when Bonaparte returned home to Josephine he was able to tell her, like a businessman at the end of a strenuous day, that things were going well.

The truly critical events remained for the morrow, since it was then necessary for Bonaparte to appear at Saint-Cloud, in his new capacity as military commander of Paris, to warn the Council of Ancients and the Council of Five Hundred of the 'Jacobin dangers' in the city, by this means obtaining their authorization to create a new provisional government. When the moment came, his appearance before the Ancients proved p189to be a near fiasco. The young soldier's oratory did not rise to the occasion; what should have been an eloquent harangue turned into an embarrassing business of question and answer in which he tried awkwardly to counter the charges and accusations the suspicious members flung at him. Bourrienne, who sat besides Bonaparte, truly described the episode as a confused conversation devoid both of dignity and sense. Tugging at the general's coat, he at last persuaded his master to withdraw.

At this critical moment of tension Bonaparte found time to have Bourrienne send off an express messenger to Josephine assuring her once again that all was going well. The immediate sequel disproved him. The encounter with the Council of Five Hundred at the orangerie of Saint-Cloud, despite the help of brother Lucien, proved even worse than in the Council of the Ancients. In the remodelled orangerie the legislators received him with a wild tumult of reproaches. Resplendent in their red togas — those classic garments by means of which they vainly sought to reproduce the ancient dignity of the Roman republic — the members flung charges of dictator and tyrant at Bonaparte. Unable to speak above the din, he was in actual danger of being mobbed, when his brother and a few guards at last managed to get him out of the hall.

Lucien, as much as Bonaparte, won the day, for he harangued the grenadiers stationed outside and urged them to go in and expel the deputies by force. General Murat and General Leclerc — the two brothers-in‑law of Napoleon — then led in their troops. The naked bayonets did the trick, and the deputies stayed no longer. They fled through the long casement windows of the orangerie, rushing across the lawns and scattering their red togas on the rose bushes of the park as they dispersed in the gathering gloom. Enough of the members were brought back to join with the Ancients in a feeble pretence at legality. They declared an end to the Directory and appointed Bonaparte, Siéyès, and Ducos as provisory consuls. These three were to govern during the crisis and to set to work upon a new constitution.

Towards midnight Eugène was instructed to carry the good p190news to Josephine. By the narrowest of margins and by the ruthless threat of force one of the great coups of history had succeeded. Bonaparte had become master of France.

Five days after the Coup of Brumaire Bonaparte and Josephine took their leave of the house that had been their home for nearly four years. The pink roses, the mirrors, and the cupids of the rue de la Victoire made up a décor singularly inappropriate for the new master of France. His official residence was now to be the Luxembourg, that splendid palace built nearly two centuries earlier by the order of Marie de Medicis, the Italian wife of Henry IV.

The Revolution, to be sure, had sadly dimmed the splendours of this royal residence. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been confined there in 1792 when monarchy fell. Under the Terror it had become a prison, counting among its inmates Camille Desmoulins, Danton, and the Englishman, Tom Paine. When it was turned over to the directors in 1795 it gave the impression of a vast, dilapidated barracks — chill, neglected, and almost empty of furniture. The directors were each allotted an apartment where they lived at first in Spartan simplicity. Barras, however, soon set the tone of ostentatious luxury, and so Josephine in the course of her visits to him and to Gohier had already found opportunity to familiarize herself with these new surroundings. She and her husband were now housed in the wing to the right of the main entrance known as the Petit Luxembourg, overlooking the rue Vaugirard. In taking up residence here, Josephine was not far from a building which held grim memories. Less than half a mile away, on the same rue Vaugirard, stood the former convent of the Carmelites, where only six years earlier Josephine and Alexander de Beauharnais had been imprisoned. From here her husband had gone forth to the guillotine and here she had sat in a reeking cell expecting death at any moment.

All this was now a distant nightmare, almost lost in the past. Little question remained of Bonaparte's overwhelming powers. A new constitution, quickly completed under his direction, specifically named Bonaparte, Cambacérès, and Lebrun as p191consuls and placed all decisive authority in their hands. More precisely, it gave ultimate power to Bonaparte. The other two consuls had at best a consultative voice. They were to sign a register to indicate their presence, and could record in it, if they desire, their opinions on any issue; 'after which,' so ran Article 24, 'the decision of the first Consul shall suffice.'

In the Petit Luxembourg Bonaparte had his suite of rooms on the ground floor, where he immersed himself in a flood of public activities. Josephine's apartments were directly above his. Their stay in these once royal quarters proved short — a mere three months — for Bonaparte had much more splendid plans in mind. Even in these transient days, however, there was work for Josephine to do. Although he had no intention that his wife should play a political role, the first consul wished her to serve as his graceful hostess, one who could restore to France something of the dignity and polish the Revolution had so savagely destroyed. She did what she could in the face of difficulties, some of which Bonaparte himself created. When guests were invited to luncheon, they soon found that the first consul would not tolerate a long stay at the table. He was always served first, so that he would often finish a course before the last guest had unfolded his napkin. Guests had no chance to catch up, for the main dish would quickly be followed by a simple dessert. In fifteen or twenty minutes the first consul would be through with his mushrooms, pastry, and wine, and the guests, finished or not, would then have to leave the table with him.

Quite generally a new tone came over public life. The titles, monsieur and madame, replaced the Revolutionary terms, citoyen and citoyenne; the use of vous came back in place of the more familiar tu; and at the Luxembourg it became increasingly common to address the first consul as 'Your Highness'. Something was done, too, about women's dress. Bonaparte made it clear that domestic silks and satins were more desirable than the diaphanous imported fabrics of the scandalous Directory years. On one occasion when he disapproved of the extreme décolletage of some of his guests at a reception, he ostentatiously ordered the servants to throw more wood on p192the fires, loudly expressing his fears lest the 'half-naked' guests should freeze. In view of the rough, barrack-room manners of Bonaparte's brother-generals, such changes in dress and manners did not come easily — yet changes there were, and the effects were noticeable. 'It was not exactly a court,' the Princess Dolgoruki said of this society, 'but it was no longer a camp.'4

Josephine was breaking with her past and trying to heal recent wounds. Within a few weeks of moving into the Luxembourg she wrote to a certain Lagrange in Paris, a man who had been one of her financial agents. She told him that she was now terminating her interest in companies supplying equipment to the army, and asked him to wind up her affairs. He was, she warned him, to use 'all the discretion and delicacy' of which he was capable.5 As wife of the first consul it was now her business to contribute in what small ways she could to a general relaxation of tensions. She coaxed Gohier, the ex‑director, into accepting a position in the new régime, after his having been unceremoniously retired with the old. The Moniteur recounted that during his scuffle with the deputies in the orangerie at Saint-Cloud on the day of 19 Brumaire Napoleon had been shielded by a grenadier from the blow of a dagger, Thomas Thomé, had had the sleeve of his tunic torn. Thomas was therefore invited to breakfast and dinner at the Luxembourg, where the ever‑sympathetic Josephine embraced him and generously put on his finger a diamond ring worth two thousand crowns.

The haphazard, disreputable society that had flourished under the Directory no longer was tolerated. A letter of invitation was necessary before guests could be received at the Luxembourg. Josephine, once so self-indulgent, learned to accommodate herself rigorously to the wishes of her husband. She dressed to please him, and she managed somehow to be punctual, so that if on the spur of the moment Bonaparte decided to go to Malmaison, then Josephine, radiating charm, was invariably ready to accompany him. She was aware of the hostility of Napoleon's mother. Letizia Bonaparte was stubbornly determined to maintain her position as head of the p193family and consequently she resented Josephine's new prestige. Josephine managed at least to save the appearances. Especially in the presence of Napoleon she gave way to 'Madame Mère' as gracefully as she could.

Life at the Luxembourg Palace gave Josephine her first taste of what it meant to be married to the ruler of France. To dwell thus in royal surroundings was a novel experience for her. Yet the ceremonial routines Bonaparte introduced here had no more than a temporary importance in his plans, for the soldier who had now become master of nearly thirty million people would be satisfied with nothing less than to make the Tuileries his home and to sleep in the bedchamber of the former kings of France.

Today the Tuileries are only a name, perpetuated in the splendid gardens and walks lying between the Place de la Concorde and the vast buildings of the Louvre. Reaching out to the westward from either side of the central mass of the Louvre, like huge arms, are the long buildings which terminate in two elegant Renaissance pavilions — the Pavillon de Flore overlooking the Seine, and the Pavillon de Marsan overlooking the Rue de Rivoli. Such is the picture today. In the long empty space between these pavilions once stood the historic Palace of the Tuileries, begun by the architect Delorme for Catherine de Medicis 1563, enlarged by Henri IV and Louis XIV, and, along with the Louvre with which it was connected, a principal residence of every ruler of France until the fall of the Second Empire in 1870. Gutted by fire in the savage uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871, the melancholy ruins stood gauntly until the following decade when every blackened stone was removed and the Tuileries became a ghostly memory.

From the Tuileries Louis XVI and his family had tried to flee France in 1791.a Failing in their attempt, they were returned virtually as captives. Here, on 10 August 1792 monarchy fell, as the Paris mobs butchered the devoted Swiss guards in the courtyard and then surged inside to loot and sack the royal quarters. Under the Terror the Committee of Public Safety met for a time on the ground floor in what had been Marie p194Antoinette's apartments. The old royal theatre within the palace was converted into a meeting-place where the Convention sat until 1795, then making way for the Council of Ancients. Amid the hectic disorder of the republican years the whole palace had become a veritable maze of offices and whitewashed corridors. Bonaparte knew the building well, for on the fifth storey of the Pavillon de Flore was the topographical bureau of the Committee of Public Safety — the busy workshop to which he had climbed day after day in order to ready his plans for the Italian campaign of 1796. Amid the press of republican business all semblance of royal splendour had long since disappeared. To serve the crowds of hangers‑on within the palace there were stalls for lemonade alongside shops selling tobacco, pastries, and patriotic prints. The public could also patronize a barber's and a draper's shop. Jostling among the endless succession of men coming and going, professional beggars plied their trade. Clearly, to reconvert such a shambles to the dignified purposes that Bonaparte intended was a major undertaking. His plan was to employ the southern half of the Tuileries lying between the central entrance and the Seine as his official residence. The northern half, away from the river, could still harbour its army of officials.

Bonaparte first summoned his architect, Lecomte, to arrange for a thorough cleaning of the apartments. Everywhere the famous republican symbol, the red cap of liberty, was painted or stencilled on the whitewashed walls. 'Get rid of all these things,' Bonaparte told Lecomte, 'I don't like to see such rubbish.'6 In the long, upper gallery of the Tuileries he had the painter David place a fine antique bust of Brutus that had been brought from Italy. Then it occurred to him to select other busts so that he would have as a background a gallery of heroes. The choices were interesting: they included Demosthenes, Alexander, Scipio, Cicero, Cato, and Caesar. The representatives of modern times were largely soldiers: Gustavus Adolphus, Condé, Turenne, Marlborough, Prince Eugène, Marshal de Saxe, Frederick the Great, and Washington, as well as three of Bonaparte's own dead comrades, Dugommier, Dampierre, and Joubert.

p195 Moving day which came on 19 February 1800 was blessed by a singular tribute from the French people. On the preceding day the spectacular results of the plebiscite on Bonaparte's new constitution had been announced: 3,011,007 votes were in favour of it and only 1,526 against. Under the circumstances, Bonaparte had good reason for making his departure from the Luxembourg to the Tuileries the occasion for a splendid public parade. This was largely military in nature, with a fine display of brilliantly uniformed officers, well-disciplined troops, and martial music. The civilian contribution was distinctly less impressive. Since the fine carriages and coaches of the old régime had long since disappeared, the ministers, councillors of state, and other officials rode in nondescript hackney-carriages on which the licence numbers had economically been concealed by pasting pieces of brown paper over them. Bonaparte's private carriage, in contrast, was drawn by the six splendid white horses presented to him by the Austrian emperor after the Treaty of Campo Formio, and he wore the magnificent sabre given to him at the same time. No ladies, not even Josephine, rode in the procession. The new mistress of the Tuileries had preceded her husband to the palace where, elegantly dressed and surrounded by her attendants, she watched the spectacle from the upper windows of the Pavillon de Flore. When the troops and the carriages entered the great courtyard, Bonaparte changed from his carriage to horseback for a military inspection. Standing at the main entrance to the Tuileries and surrounded by his generals, he saluted the various regimental colours, some of them already faded by sun of Italy and Egypt, some blackened by gunpowder and torn by bullets. Then he greeted his wife within the palace where she was to make her official home for the next ten years.

Josephine's private apartments in the Tuileries were on the ground floor, lying to the left, or southern side, of the central entrance as one approached from the courtyard of the Carrousel and extending all the way to the Pavillon de Flore. Her windows did not overlook this courtyard, but faced westward in the other direction across the Tuileries gardens towards the Champs-Élysées. These gardens had become public areas p196and as Josephine's rooms were practically at ground level and there were no railings or protective balustrades, inquisitive Parisians could approach close enough to see and hear what was going on inside. Hence it was necessary for privacy to keep the windows closed or the curtains drawn.

Josephine occupied the ancient apartments of Marie Antoinette, rooms that were heavy with grim memories. 'I shall not be happy here,' this daughter of a Martinique planter told Hortense, 'I have dark misgivings . . . I feel as if the shadow of the queen is asking me what I am doing in her bed. There is an air of monarchy about this palace that one cannot breathe with impunity, and I am still disturbed by it.'7

There were even grimmer associations. Josephine's very bedroom had once served as the seat of the Committee of Public Safety — that all‑powerful committee of twelve, dominated by Robespierre, which had ruled France so ruthlessly under the Terror. The two adjoining salons had been crowded with secretaries of the Committee, and the large vaulted entrance hall adjoining the Pavillon de Flore had served as a vestibule for those coming on public business. This entrance hall had witnessed the end of the greatest of the Terrorists. Here, stretched out on a table throughout the night of 27‑8 July 1794 the half-conscious Robespierre had lain in ghastly agony, his roughly-bandaged jaw shattered by a pistol bullet, while the Committee within deliberated on his fate. From here he was carried to the guillotine. With such associations, the dark misgivings of Josephine are easy to understand.

Putting aside her uneasiness, Josephine undertook the congenial task of refurnishing her surroundings in a manner that soon would be known as le style Empire. She was not permitted to expend great sums on new creations from the cabinet-makers. Yet much could be done with upholstering and decorative details. The furniture in the first salon was covered with silk taffeta of a violet-blue colour, having honeysuckles of a chestnut colour embroidered upon it. On the wall hung a seventeenth-century painting of St Cecilia, by Domenichino. The larger, second salon was decorated with yellow and brown satin fringed with red, with which the mirrors were p197draped but not framed. Around the walls were console tables of porphyry and marble with vases, either of Sèvres porcelain or of rose-coloured granite with bronze decorations. The room was lighted by candles massed in crystal chandeliers. The bedroom next to it had blue-and‑white striped coverings, fringed with gold, on the furniture. The mahogany bed, standing in an alcove, was very heavy, with elaborate bronze-gilt ornaments. From an adjoining salle de bain a small staircase led to Bonaparte's study on the floor above. Also adjoining was a small library having grilled book-cases of inlaid rosewood. In this room hung a copy of Raphael's 'Madonna of the Chair'. The suite also included a low‑ceilinged, mirrored dressing-room with embroidered muslin curtains fringed with blue and white. Near by was a room for Hortense.

On the floor above Josephine's were the rooms of the first consul — a historic suite, much grander in scale, that included the famous cabinet de travail so minutely described for posterity by his secretaries. Here was the imposing Gallery of Diana, employed for ceremonial receptions, as well as other salons appropriate to the dignity of the new master of France. In such a setting Bonaparte was already assuming a semi-imperial air. Josephine, on the other hand, hesitated to accept the full burden of so much grandeur, and for this reason the Tuileries could never hold the place in her heart that the rustic beauty of Malmaison so easily commanded.


The Author's Notes:

1 L. J. Gohier, Mémoires (Paris, 1824), I.198‑9.

2 Abrantès, I.268.

3 Bourgeat, p71. Facsimile in Gohier, Mémoires, II, frontispiece.

4 Walter Geer, Napoleon and Josephine (New York, 1924), p94.

5 Masson, MB, p197.

6 Bourrienne, I.399.

7 G. Lenôtre, Les Tuileries (Paris, 1933), pp156‑7.


Thayer's Note:

a A contemporary account of the flight from the Tuileries, written by a member of the royal family party shortly after the event and illustrated with a plan of the Tuileries and the nearby buildings and gardens as they then were, is onsite: Narrative of the Journey to Varennes of Louis XVI and his Family in June, 1791.


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