[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 15

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 17

p234 Chapter 16
Coronation

For as masterly a showman as Napoleon the prospect of an imperial coronation was an exhilarating challenge. All his versatile energies, therefore, were now thrown into the complicated preparations. While still on his Rhineland tour he had written with typical vigour to Pope Pius VII, respectfully desiring him to come to France in order 'to give, in pre‑eminent measure, a reluctant character to the anointing and crowning of the First Emperor of the French'.1 Crisp introductions were sent concurrently to Napoleon's uncle, Cardinal Fesch, now French ambassador at Rome, requiring him to accompany the Pope to France. The route was to be over the Mont Cenis Pass. 'I desire the Pope to arrive by the 18th Brumaire [9 November],' Napoleon explained succinctly, for all the world as if he were detailing the movements of a French regiment. 'If he is beyond the Alps before the 12th Brumaire I shall be satisfied.'2 Plans for the ceremonial were pushed with very little regard for the convenience of the ageing Pontiff. Speed, above all, was essential. In order that there should be no delay in establishing an order of service, Napoleon sent to the arch-chancellor, Cambacérès, from Mainz a French translation derived from the Roman Pontifical of the ceremonies prescribed for coronation, asking Cambacérès to propose whatever modifications would seem suitable for French usage.

Reluctant at first, the sixty-four-year‑old Pius VIIa finally agreed to come. Earlier he had exchanged one or two letters with Josephine, having sent her a papal ring in return for a surplice she had made for him. On another occasion he had sent her his apostolic blessing. Though his relations with Josephine may thus have been cordial, they were hardly close. p235At all events, they had not reached the point where he could be sure of her name. Pius VII found it adequate to refer to the wife of Napoleon as Victoria. 'Dilectae in Christo Filiae Victoriae Bonaparte' he wrote in one letter, and Carissimae in Christo Filiae Nostrae Victoriae Gallorum Imperatrici,' he wrote in another.3

The likelihood of delay soon developed. Napoleon was indignant to learn from Talleyrand that the Pope might not arrive until 2 December instead of the November date originally set. This was annoying, but one deals with the papacy one cannot be utterly inflexible. 'I am willing to wait until 2 December in order to meet every delay,' Napoleon wrote sternly to Cardinal Fesch, 'but if the Pope hasn't arrived by that time the coronation will take place without him.'4 As it turned out, Pius VII had left Rome three days before Napoleon wrote his letter, departing amid an emotional farewell from his flock and passing through weeping crowds who loudly wondered whether they would ever see him again. The Pope was accompanied by an imposing cortège. Thirty coaches and wagons were needed to transport the six cardinals, the ten bishops, and more than a hundred other officials. Crossing the Alps in November was no easy business; the strains of the journey, indeed, brought death to the eldest cardinal in the party.

At Paris the perennial bickerings of the Bonaparte family continued, for the several members grew daily more indignant at the unique historical role that Josephine was to play in the coronation. One other queen of France, Marie de Medicis, had been anointed and crowned, as Napoleon now intended that Josephine should be, but none had ever held the title of empress. The Emperor had little patience with the jealousies of his brothers and sisters. 'My wife is a good woman,' he told his secretary, Roederer, at Saint-Cloud, 'who does them [the family] no harm. She is willing to play the empress up to a point, and to have diamonds and fine clothes — the trifles of her age! I have never loved her blindly, yet if I have made her an empress it is out of justice. I am above all a just man. If I had been thrown into prison instead of ascending a throne, she p236would have shared my misfortune. It is right for her to share my grandeur.'5

The family remained stubborn and hostile. Joseph and Louis had been informed that their role in the coronation would be to appear as 'Grand Dignitaries of the Empire,' and not as 'Princes' — a subtle distinction which to them appeared humiliating. If they were required to serve thus, they said, then their wives could not possibly be expected to carry Josephine's train. After a week's deadlock Napoleon ended the impasse by conceding to his two the right to participate in the coronation as 'Princes'. Their wives, and also Napoleon's three sisters, Elisa, Caroline, and Pauline, could appear as 'Princesses', and by a baffling distinction they were told that their duty would be to 'hold up the robe' (soutenir le manteau) and not 'carry the train' (porter la queue) of the Empress. And with this promise the ladies for the time being were mollified. Not so formidable Madame Mère (Letizia Bonaparte), whose resentment was such that she chose to miss the coronation entirely and stay in Rome with her son, Lucien. This behaviour did not prevent the painter David later from putting her in a proud and central position in his historic canvas. Little wonder that with all these disagreements a visitor calling upon Josephine shortly before the great day found her in tears.

Napoleon's original plans to celebrate the coronation on 9 November — the anniversary of the coup of Brumaire — had to be postponed until 2 December. By this time the ancient royal palace of Fontainebleau, in whose environs Josephine had lived with Madame Renaudin and the Marquis de Beauharnais in those long-distant years following the breach with her first husband, had been refurbished as an imperial residence. Here Pius VII would be entertained on his first arrival. This plan involved tricky problems of protocol if Napoleon was to avoid taking second place to the Pope. The Emperor solved the difficulty by arranging to meet the Pontiff as if by accident in the royal forest near the palace. On the appointed day, therefore, the master of France, clad in simple green hunting costume, halted the papal cortège and dismounted to p237meet his elderly guest, who for his part descended diffidently in his white robs and silken shoes amid a sea of mud. After the mutual greetings an imperial carriage was quickly brought forward between the two men. Each thus entered the carriage simultaneously by a separate door, Napoleon having seen to it that he entered from the right side and thus gained the seat of honour. Having won this advantage, it was simple enough for him to keep it on all similar occasions during the papal visit.

Josephine's duty, which she performed gracefully, was to receive Pius VII on the steps of the palace of Fontainebleau. This was on 25 November. Three days later the papal party was escorted to Paris, where elaborate quarters had been prepared at the Tuileries in the Pavillon de Flore, overlooking the Seine. An antechamber, dining-room, salon, chapel, throne room, bedchamber, study, and bathroom were arranged for the Pope. Fifty‑six rooms were reserved for his suite on the floors above. They were well looked after. Although Pius VII had the appetite of a Christian ascetic, the same was not true of his staff. The record shows that staggering sums were expended daily on the elaborate foods consumed by his ravenous entourage.

The first plans, which were to have the coronation in the chapel of the Invalides, were quickly put aside in favour of the much grander setting of Notre Dame. To help with the planning, the painter Isabey was ordered to prepare seven elaborate drawings, each with more than a hundred figures, showing the various stages of the ceremony. Despairing of completing all this in the eight days that were allotted to him, Isabey chose instead to ransack the shops of Paris, buying up every toy figure that he could find. These he dressed in papal, imperial, and other costumes, placing them in a large model of the interior of the cathedral. With these figures Napoleon and his officials were able to perfect every elaborate detail of their plans.

Much had to be done if the general setting was to be worthy of the occasion, for like all religious edifices, Notre Dame and p238its environs had suffered much from neglect during the Revolution. Some old buildings on the south side of the cathedral were now demolished. The streets in the neighbourhood and the quays along the Seine were swept and sanded. A covered way, hung with fine Gobelin tapestries, was built from the archbishop's palace, which was to be used for the preliminary robings, to the great west entrance. Here, in front of the badly dilapidated doors, a huge, four-arched gothic porch of painted wood was erected. On it were thirty‑six statues representing the principal towns of France. On one side was a statue of Clovis and on the other, of Charlemagne, each sceptre in hand. A long mast, rising between the twin towers, carried the oriflamme — the ancient banner of Saint Denis — high aloft.

Within the cathedral the transformation was equally elaborate. David was commissioned to redesign the interior as if for a vast theatrical spectacle. The choir screenb and two subsidiary altars were removed, and sloping tiers of woodedº seats covered with silk and velvet were built on either side of the nave. The whole interior was carpeted and the walls hung with gold-fringed crimson cloths, also of silk and velvet. On every pillar were elaborate candelabra with clusters of banners and winged victories in gilt. Twenty-four huge crystal chandeliers were hung from the lofty roof-vaults. On a platform to the left of the high altar a canopied throne bearing the papal arms was erected for Pius VII. Directly facing the high altar on a dais of four steps (conveniently and economically salvaged from the recent funeral of the archbishop of Paris)c were placed the two chairs of state where Napoleon and Josephine were to sit during the first part of the ceremonies. Towards the west end of the nave, and placed so as to obscure the main entrance, was built a towering dais of twenty-four steps. Surmounting this stood a miniature triumphal arch of eight gilded columns, within which was placed the great throne of Napoleon, with Josephine's one step below it.

To make up still further for the indignities of the revolutionary period, Napoleon had seen to it that the cathedral was now presented with a rich collection of sacred vessels and processional crosses, some enamelled and encrusted with p239precious stones. He likewise gave vestments of precious lace and returned those sacred relics, once part of the treasury of the Sainte-Chapelle, which had been sent in 1791 to the church of Saint-Denis and later had been displayed in the 'cabinet of curiosities' in the National Library.

A coronation implied regalia. The royal treasure of the kings of France had been dispersed during the Revolution. Though Napoleon liked to think of himself as the successor of Charlemagne, he could have little hope that the Hapsburg emperor would permit the famous relics of Charlemagne to be taken either from Aix-la‑Chapelle or from Nuremberg. Though one ancient weapon, purporting to be the sword of Charlemagne, was actually brought from Aix-la‑Chapelle, the other parts of the regalia — the orb, the sceptre, the 'hand of justice', the ceremony chains, the imperial rings, and the vessels for anointment — were either gathered from diverse sources or newly made. A crown of golden laurel leaves to be worn by Napoleon as he entered the cathedral was made by Paris jewellers, who also provided Josephine with her diadem, crown, and jewelled belt. In the days preceding the coronation, crowds were able to admire these articles in the windows of Biennais, the court jeweller.

All things considered, the cost of making the regalia was surprisingly moderate. The jewellers charged only 8,000 francs for Napoleon's crown of golden laurel leaves, 3,500 francs for his sceptre, and 1,350 for his orb. Josephine's diadem, crown, and belt were made at a cost of 15,000 francs. These, however, were trivial sums compared to the main expenditures. Josephine's magnificent robes of state cost nearly 75,000 francs. The imperial coach, specially built for the occasion, cost 114,000 francs, and 140 Spanish horses were bought at a cost of more than 1,300 francs apiece. The more than two thousand diamond and brilliants that the jewelers assembled for Josephine's adornment were valued at close to 900,000 francs. A great jewel such as the famous 'Regent' (once the Pitt Diamond), which Napoleon wore in the pommel of his sword, has to be described as priceless. The official totals assumed by the Treasury of the Crown in 1804 came to about 3,000,000 p240francs, and those assumed by the Treasury of the State to 1,500,000 francs. This supposedly official sum was revised upward in 1813 to give a total figure of 8,500,000 francs for the complete cost of the imperial coronation. It is possible to make a rough estimate that would have the franc of that time equal the U. S. dollar of our own day. We may note, too, that the coronation of George IV of England in 1820 is reported to have cost some £250,000, which again by rough estimate could be converted to six million dollars. But to ask what the total cost of Napoleon's coronation was, in terms of the burdens actually imposed upon French taxpayers or in terms of what a coronation should cost, is to put questions that defy any precise answer.

Josephine, so much the passive participant in these splendid preparations, scored one dramatic victory. Seeing that her marriage with Napoleon was childless and that apparently nothing could end the rancour of his family, she could never altogether rid herself of the gnawing fear that her marriage would some day end either in a divorce or an annulment. The re‑establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in France had cast a dangerous shadow over her civil marriage of 1796. Therefore, while the Pope was at Fontainebleau, Josephine had a private conversation with him during which she frankly told him of her 'secret' — that the bonds uniting the imperial pair were simply those of the civil ceremony. She begged the Pope to use his influence with Napoleon to change this state of affairs. Pius VII, who apparently had not realized the facts of the situation, assured Josephine that even at this late date he would insist, as a condition of his taking part in the coronation, on a prior religious marriage between the imperial couple.

The Pope carried out his promise, telling Napoleon that without such a legitimization he would refuse to take part in the coronation. However reluctantly, Napoleon was obliged to agree, and so, on the afternoon of 1 December, a private ceremony took place in the little chapel of the Tuileries. Cardinal Fesch officiated as grand almoner of France, Talleyrand and Berthier attended as witnesses (though they both subsequently sought to deny it), and thus, nearly nine years after the civil p241ceremony in the mayor's office of the second arrondissement, the religious marriage was solemnized. Taking no chances, Josephine two days later asked for, and obtained, a certificate of legality from Cardinal Fesch.

On the second day of December in the year 1804, Josephine was crowned and anointed Empress of the French. It was a freezing, wintry morning with overcast skies, flurries of snow in the air, and traces of white on the icy streets. The elaborate schedule made it necessary for some of the ladies of the palace to have their hair dressed for the great occasion long before daylight. As early as six o'clock the military contingents began to march to their appointed positions. At seven, the first guests were admitted to the freezing interior of Notre Dame. At this same hour of half-dawn the great officials set out on foot from the Palais de Justice, moving with slow dignity through the streets in their ceremonial robes and reaching their places by eight o'clock. Then the senators, the councillors of state, the members of the legislative body, and the tribunate began their march. They moved through sand-sprinkled streets on either side of which the houses were decorated with red, white, and blue bunting, tapestries, bunches of artificial flowers, and freshly cut green branches. Nine o'clock was the stipulated hour for the setting out of the diplomatic corps, as it was for the departure of the German princes who had come to the coronation and who had been given a sumptuous breakfast by Marshal Murat, governor of Paris.

At this same hour of nine, Pope Pius VII, clad in white, descended the steps of the Pavillon de Flore with his retinue and took his place in a state carriage drawn by eight grey horses. On its roof was a large papal tiara. By custom the carriage was preceded through the streets by a papal chamberlain riding astride a humble mule and carrying a large wooden cross. The strange presence of this unglamorous beast amid such a splendid pageant provoked considerable jocular comment from the less than devout Paris crowds who were, notwithstanding, soon moved to awed silence by the dignified and benign appearance of the Pope. His entrance into Notre Dame was p242spectacular: first was borne the apostolic cross, escorted by seven acolytes carrying golden candlesticks, then came one hundred bishops and archbishops, then the Pope, wearing his tiara and escorted by seven cardinals. As Pius proceeded to the papal throne near the high altar he was greeted by the singing of the Tu es Petrus. Once enthroned, he could settle down to a wait of nearly two hours in the bone-chilling cold of the cathedral for the arrival of the imperial couple.

Although Napoleon and Josephine were supposed to leave the Tuileries at ten, delays occurred. Thiard, the new chamberlain of the palace, has given a vivid picture of a half-dressed Napoleon rushing about his chambers in these last frantic minutes of preparation:

Had it not been for the solemnity of the occasion, I would have had difficulty in keeping my composure. Barefooted, he was already wearing white velvet pantaloons scattered over with golden bees, a lace ruff in the style of Henry IV, and over this his tunic of the mounted chasseurs — the only dressing-gown he ever had.6

Napoleon's costume for the procession before the coronation was the so‑called petit habillement: silk stockings and breeches, half-boots of white velvet with gold embroidery and golden buckles, a jacket of crimson velvet, a short velvet cloak lined with white satin and fastened on one shoulder with a diamond clasp, and a black velvet cap having two aigrettes fastened by a diamond clasp. The general effect of this costume and of the costumes of the other men was that of the style troubadour, a style in which the plumed velvet caps, the short velvet cloaks, the sashes, doublets, swords, and diamond buckles all gave more suggestion of the Renaissance court of a Francis I than the military splendours of the new Napoleonic era born of the French Revolution.

Josephine wore a dress and train of silver brocade scattered with golden bees. Though her shoulders and neck were bare, her arms were covered by long sleeves. The tight-fitting dress, which had a delicate lace ruff with golden spangles fastened at the back, was in the new mode which had no waist except for a thin golden ribbon encrusted with precious stones. Her p243bracelets, clasps, and necklace were all of gold, set with jewels and with the antique cameos of which she was so fond. Her graceful diadem held four rows of pearls interlaced with diamond leaves; it rested upon her chestnut hair, which the coiffeurs had transformed into a mass of tiny curls so skilfully that, according to Madame de Rémusat, Josephine gave the impression of being twenty-five. As the splendid pair were about to leave, Napoleon, unable to contain himself, turned to his brother and exclaimed, 'Ah, Joseph, if only father could see us now!'7

The imperial procession made its delayed departure from the Tuileries at ten‑thirty, to the sound of cannon. The coach, specially designed for the occasion and drawn by eight splendid horses, was generously designed with large glass windows so as to give a good view of its occupants. Joseph and Louis were also to ride in the imperial coach, and in the confusion of departure Napoleon and Josephine seated themselves on the wrong side and at the last moment had to make an embarrassing rearrangement. Twenty squadrons of cavalry escorted them through streets lined with troops. Arriving at the archiepiscopal palace, they changed to their coronation robes. Thus, when all preparations were completed, it was within a quarter of an hour of noon.

For the actual coronation Napoleon and Josephine appeared in robes which suggested the splendours of imperial Rome. The Emperor wore a long satin gown embroidered with gold, reaching to his ankles and held by a silken sash. Over this he wore the imperial mantle of crimson velvet, lavishly strewn with golden bees and bordered with an intricate pattern of olive, laurel, and oak leaves. Lined with ermine, it weighed over eighty pounds, so that four bearers, Joseph, Louis, Lebrun, and Cambacérès, were required to carry it. In the splendid profile that appears in David's painting the finely chiselled features of the Emperor, surmounted by the laurel crown, suggest some exquisite antique cameo. Throughout the ceremony, save for the actual moment of coronation, Napoleon wore on his head the simple golden ring of laurel p244leaves. Josephine's robe, likewise of crimson velvet and heavily sewn with golden bees, replaced the purple mantle that she had worn in the procession through the streets. This robe was carried (albeit reluctantly) by five princesses: Josephine's daughter, Napoleon's three sisters, and Julie Clary, the wife of Joseph.

While Napoleon clearly wished a religious sanction for his marriage, he had no intention of making the acquisition of an imperial crown dependent upon the will of the Papacy. He would be anointed, but he would not be crowned, by the Pope. Nor would he make his confession and take communion at the Mass that followed the coronation ceremony and was an essential part of it. Pius VII, for his part, would not be present while Napoleon was taking the constitutional oath to respect the laws of the Concordat, for these guaranteed liberty of worship and recognized as irrevocable the government's sale of former Church lands. All these compromises had been agreed upon in advance, so that the stories of sudden surprises sprung during the ceremony simply are not true.

As Napoleon and Josephine entered Notre Dame, the blaze of lights from the candelabra and the crystal chandeliers, the rich colour of the hangings, the splendid costumes of the guests crowded in the tiers of seats, and the flash of jewels and decorations combined to make a spectacle of almost unbelievable brilliance. Against this setting the congregation saw a solemn procession moving forward to the music of an orchestra of 460 pieces. Pius VII and his retinue stood waiting in the chancel to receive the imperial couple. First came the ceremonial officers, then Marshal Murat carrying the imperial crown. Josephine followed, escorted by her chamberlains and the five princesses. Then came the 'regalia of Charlemagne', followed by Napoleon, wearing the wreath of golden laurel, and carrying in one hand a silver sceptre capped by an eagle, and in the other a rod tipped with the hand of justice. As he and Josephine received holy water from a cardinal, the Pope approached the altar and began the Veni Creator. Napoleon then divested himself of his crown, sceptre, sword, ring, hand of justice, and imperial robe, all of which were placed on the high p245altar. Josephine's robe, ring, and crown were placed beside them.

The Pope charged Napoleon in Latin to see that law, justice, and peace would prevail among his people, to which Napoleon gave his pledge with the single word, Profiteor ('I promise'). Then, after the litany, Napoleon and Josephine were conducted to the altar where, kneeling, each was anointed with the triple unction on the head and on both hands. In the course of the Mass that followed, Napoleon and Josephine proceeded again to the high altar and knelt while the Pope blessed the regalia and passed them one by one to the Emperor. When Pius VII had bestowed all save the crowns, Napoleon took his and placed it upon his own head, Josephine then knelt before him with clasped hands in the position immortalized by David's painting. Taking her crown from the altar, Napoleon held it briefly over his own head, then placed it upon the head of the Empress. When, a year later, David planned the canvas depicting this scene he wisely put aside his first sketch, which had shown Napoleon with his left hand upon his sword-hilt, very awkwardly and ostentatiously crowning himself with his right while the Pope drooped forlornly behind him. Too much is too much, and so the painting as the world knows it was redesigned to have Josephine kneeling in the very centre of the canvas. After the event it seemed proper, too, to make other alterations. Napoleon had so dominated the proceedings that Pius VII ran the risk of losing all importance. Napoleon therefore ordered David to emphasize the Pope's role by painting Pius VII with his right hand slightly raised as if in the act of benediction. A careful observer will note, too, that Hortense and the three sisters of Napoleon are all depicted standing proudly erect, well away from Josephine's train, which is held by ladies-in‑waiting. Thus art inaccurately records what had been the subject of so much argument and discontent during the preliminaries of the coronation.


[image ALT: A large painting, vivid and crowded with detail, of a ceremony in which a man is placing a crown on a woman kneeling a few steps below him, with onlookers in front of, behind, and all around them. The participants and attendees are all in very ornate jeweled dress; it is a scene from the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine as Emperor and Empress of the French, as reconstructed by David: many of the details are discussed in the text of this webpage.]

David's Sacre de Napoléon.

Painting, and photograph of it, in the public domain.

Once anointed and crowned, the imperial pair proceeded slowly in solemn procession to the western end of the nave where they were to ascend the twenty-four steps to the great throne. This stage of the proceedings was marred by an p246altercation among the five princesses as to the proper method of carrying the Empress's robe — an altercation ended by brusque, angry orders from the Emperor. Other difficulties arose, for the great weight of his robes and the clumsy handling on the part of his attendants almost caused Napoleon to fall backward as he began the ascent of the dais. Once safely enthroned, he was joined by Josephine and by the princes, princesses, great dignitaries, and court officials grouped in a splendid tableau below him. Then, mounting to the top of the dais, Pius VII raised his hands aloft and blessed the pair: 'In hoc solio confirmetd vos Deus, et in regno aeterno secum regnare faciat Christus' — 'May God confirm you upon this throne, and may Christ cause you to reign with Him in His eternal kingdom.' Kissing Napoleon upon the cheek, Pius then intoned the famous words that Leo III had used a thousand years before when crowning Charlemagne at Rome in the ancient basilica of St Peter: 'Vivat Imperator in aeternum' — 'May the Emperor live for ever!'

After this acclamation the assembly returned to the choir for the completion of the Mass. At its conclusion the Pope retired to the sacristy to avoid the embarrassment of being present while Napoleon took the constitutional oath, administered to him by the presiding officers of the legislative bodies. By three o'clock in the afternoon the elaborate ceremony was over, which, considering that many had started out before dawn, was long enough. By the time the imperial cortège reached the Tuileries, night had fallen and Paris was illuminated.

On this evening of their most splendid day, Napoleon and Josephine dined modestly tête‑à‑tête in the Tuileries. After the meal the Emperor chatted gaily with the ladies of the court, who were still wearing the elegant costumes of the day. Through the great windows of the palace they looked out on a veritable fairyland — the illuminated gardens of the Tuileries. The grande allée was lined with brightly shining columns, reflecting the light from thousands of coloured lamps that hung from the branches of the trees, sparkling in the night. In the distance, high above what is now the Place de la Concorde and there only ten years before one could have descried the black p247tip of the guillotine, shone symbolically in the night an immense white star.

In addition to becoming Empress, Josephine was also to become Queen. The sequel to the coronation in Paris was a coronation at Milan, for the leaders of the Italian Republic that Napoleon had created as a successor to the old Cisalpine Republic were canny enough to see that monarchy was now the fashionable pattern of the hour. Early in 1805, therefore, a delegation of the principal citizens of Lombardy was received by Napoleon in the throne room of the Tuileries. Here these delegates informed him of their recently passed 'Constitutional Statute', which asked Napoleon to become their king. Napoleon's first plan had been to make his brother king of Lombardy, but the ever suspicious Joseph was unwilling to accept this crown at the expense of having to forfeit his rights of succession, such as they were, in France. Hence Napoleon now accepted, was proclaimed ruler of the Kingdom of Italy, and announced that he would guarantee the freedom of the kingdom and go to Milan to be crowned.

Josephine consequently found herself involved in further elaborate plans and preparations. A letter to her mother in Martinique gave the news. Pius VII, she wrote, was about to leave and would celebrate Easter at Lyons. She and her husband were also about to depart. On 2 April the imperial party left Paris, reaching Lyons eight days later, where for a week they were busy with ceremonies and public affairs of all kinds. Then, in what must still have been wintry weather, they made the arduous crossing of the Mont Cenis Pass on muleback, reaching Turin by the 24th. Here they had a formal meeting with Pius VII and his party, now returning to Rome. On 8 May Napoleon made his impressive entry into Milan, welcomed by the firing of cannon and the pealing of church bells. He made his residence at the Monza Palace, directly across from the gleaming marble cathedral where his second coronation was to take place.

This coronation was a splendid ceremony, echoing the earlier rituals at Paris. There were the same cheering crowds, p248the same splendid décor within the cathedral, the same brilliant uniforms and dresses, the same regalia. On the high altar of the cathedral rested the ancient iron crown of Lombardy. Pius VII did not officiate, his duties being performed by Cardinal Caprara, archbishop of Milan. Another difference was that Josephine attended, not as a participant, but as a spectator. She watched the elaborate ritual of the Mass, and she watched her husband place the old iron crown on his head, exclaiming as he did so, 'Dio me l'ha data, guai a chi la toccherà.' ('God has given me this; woe to him who would touch it!')

On the following day a programme of games and races, resembling those of antiquity, was presented in a huge circus. In sharp contrast, and as if in tribute to the new age, a balloon ascent followed. The wife of the celebrated aeronaut, Garnerin, rose aloft, scattering flowers upon Napoleon and Josephine. 'In one day and in a single spectacle,' reported the Moniteur, 'the Italians combined what to the ancients was most spectacular and what to modern science was most daring, in the presence of a hero who surpasses both the ancients and the moderns.'8

The royal pair attended a brilliant fête at La Scala. On 7 June Eugène, who earlier had been made arch-chancellor of France, was proclaimed viceroy of Italy. Shortly afterwards, Napoleon left Josephine to go on an inspection tour that took him through all the chief fortified cities of northern Italy. At Genoa he slept in the bed once occupied by the Hapsburg emperor, Charles V. While Josephine paid a visit to the lovely Italian lakes, Napoleon wrote to her from Brescia as follows:

I have received your letter, my good little Josephine, and I learn with pleasure that bathing is doing you good. I advised you to do this a week ago. Lake Como will be good for you. The weather here is very warm . . . Tomorrow I shall have 40,000 troops on the battlefield of Castiglione. I shall be at Verona on Saturday and at Mantua on Monday. Adieu, my dear. Be sensible, gay, and happy. Such is my will.9

At the end of June the pair were together in Genoa, the ancient republic that now was destined to be incorporated into p249France. A brilliant evening in the finest traditions of Italian showmanship was prepared for them at the harbour front. Before an enormous crowd Napoleon and Josephine embarked upon a barge designed as a floating temple, which then was rowed out to the middle of the bay. Four huge rafts, covered with trees, flowers, statuary, and even fountains, were moved alongside them. From this vantage point they could see that the whole town was illuminated, with magnificent fireworks bursting over the huge assembly of boats moving about on the water.

When Napoleon and Josephine reached Turin they received news of impending threats from the newly forming European coalition. It was necessary, therefore, to return at once to Paris. Travelling incognito and at top speed, the Emperor made the journey over the Mont Cenis Pass and to Fontainebleau in the astonishing time of eighty-five hours. Josephine followed. The splendours and triumphs of the Italian journey would soon give place to still another period of war.


The Author's Notes:

1 Corr., IX, no. 8020.

2 Ibid., no. 8027.

3 Bibliothèque Thiers, Paris, Fonds Masson, no. 28.

4 Corr., X, no. 8161.

5 P. L. Roederer, Journal (Paris, 1909), p214.

6 A. T. M. de Thiard, Souvenirs diplomatiques et militaires (Paris, 1900), p5.

7 L. F. J. de Bausset, Mémoires anecdotiques (2nd edn, Paris, 1827), I.24.

8 A. L. Imbert de Saint-Amand, La Cour de l'impératrice Joséphine (Paris, n. d.), p176.

9 Savant, p182. Not in Bourgeat.


Thayer's Notes:

a Pope Pius was born in 1742 (entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia) and was thus in fact sixty-two.

b According to the official website of Notre-Dame Cathedral, the rood screen had been demolished early in the 18c, to be replaced by a grillwork that was in turn destroyed during the Revolution. Viollet-le‑Duc, Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle (Paris, 1868), VI.149‑150, writes that substantial fragments of the 14c rood screen were found under a choir pavement laid by order of Louis XIV.

c Yet another garble. The list of archbishops of Paris, found on several independent websites and in printed works reproduced online, is undisputed:

Tenure as archbishop of Paris Year of death
Christophe de Beaumont 1746‑1781 1781
Antoine Leclerc de Juigné 1781‑1802 1811
Jean-Baptiste Gobel 1791‑1793 (constitutional) 1794
[vacant] 1793‑1798
Jean-Baptiste Royer 1798‑1801 (constitutional) 1807
Jean-Baptiste de Belloy 1802‑1808 1808

and makes it clear that in 1804 the most recent death of an archbishop of Paris had been that of Gobel in 1794. He was guillotined and was not given a ceremonial funeral. The last funeral of an archbishop of Paris must therefore have been that of Beaumont in 1781.

My own guess is that the funeral in question was that of Jean-Baptiste-Marie de Maillé de La Tour-Landry, bishop not of Paris but of Rennes, who happened to be in Paris with the many other French bishops arriving for the coronation, and died there on November 27, his funeral being celebrated "a few days" after.

d The printed text has the solecism "confirmare vos Deus", which remains a mistake despite having been uncritically repeated by Knapton and by others in dozens of secondary works. It seems to have first appeared in Imbert de Saint-Amand's La Cour de l'impératrice Joséphine (n. d.; Imbert died in 1900); it certainly appears in the English translation of that work (1918), p61.

The correct — and grammatical — formula, as reported by several contemporary books, among which I find online J. Dusaulchoy de Bergemont, Histoire du couronnement ou relation des cérémonies religieuses, politiques et militaires . . . (Paris, 1805 — a work dedicated to Prince Murat), p182, was: In hoc imperii solio confirmet vos Deus, et in regno aeterno secum regnare faciat Jesus Christus Dominus noster. . . .


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 25 Jul 12