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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Empress Josephine

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 18

 p250  Chapter 17
War Once More

Coronation in Paris and coronation in Milan gave Josephine an unprecedented position in the new framework of French society. From the summer of 1805 to the summer of 1807 she proceeded to enjoy the fruits of her triumph. Even more than in the past she lived under the shadow of war, yet this was war so spectacular and so victorious that its tragic aspects affected her but little. As empress, Josephine took her part in the elaborate ceremonials of the Tuileries and Saint-Cloud; she also busied herself with the improvement and adornment of Malmaison; she concerned herself with the matrimonial affairs of Hortense and Eugène; she took the waters at Plombières; and she pestered Napoleon again and again to let her accompany him on his campaigns. At times he would relent, but only so far as to permit her to go with him on the first stages of his travels and to maintain a kind of informal court during her stay at Strasbourg, Mainz, or Munich. Inter arma silent uxores.

In this summer of 1805 Napoleon had not yet freed himself for the project of a cross-Channel invasion of the British Isles — on the contrary, it seemed for the first time that the long preparations at Boulogne might actually lead to success. Only the disastrous failure of Admiral Villeneuve to provide Napoleon with the naval support which he had planned led the Emperor late in August to turn from the Channel and fling his armies against the Austrians and the Russians.

Josephine, meanwhile, was little concerned with questions of high politics. Arriving in Paris from Milan in mid‑July, she bade farewell to her husband as he went off hopefully for a last inspection of the Channel ports. She greatly missed Eugène, now viceroy of Italy, whom she had just visited. The long  p251 journey from Milan had been tiring, and so she wrote from Saint-Cloud to Hortense in melancholy tones. 'My life proceeds sadly,' she complained, 'always distant from the person whom I love.'1 Still, there were compensations, for this was the month for her annual pilgrimage to Plombières. The prospect was pleasing, even though the ceremonies en route were by now becoming somewhat bothersome. Napoleon had explicitly ordered that no detail be neglected and thus, although her party passed through Toul after nightfall in the pouring rain and at full gallop, the entire town was illuminated. When she reached Nancy at the grim hour of three o'clock in the morning a brigade of soldiers paid her military honours, while the mayor and town council greeted her with music and addresses of welcome. Here she took a few hours' rest and then set forth on the road again. Another full day's travel brought her to Plombières.

Even in this rustic retreat amid the pine forests of the Vosges a new note of splendour had been introduced. A company of the Third Infantry of the Line had been sent from Nancy to guard the Empress. On her arrival Josephine passed beneath an archway of green leaves in order to accept the inevitable address of welcome and, later, to watch the equally inevitable fireworks and illuminations. Her household consisted of an 'esquire of honour', a prefect of the palace, a controller, two ladies-in‑waiting, five ladies-of‑the‑bedchamber, some footmen, coachmen, and stablemen. The costs of travelling amounted to 37,483 francs, and the costs of her one month's stay amounted to 134,482 francs. Clearly, an empress does not live in rustic simplicity.

Josephine did not altogether shed her cares amid her new glories. She wrote to Eugène saying that Napoleon was pleased with him as viceroy, but that he would wish Eugène to be firmer in his handling of Italian dissidents. Concerning Napoleon's family in Paris she told the old story of their hostility. 'If only they were well-disposed to us,' she wrote, 'they would have no better friends than ourselves.' To the son who had once written to her sternly from Egypt on the subject of her behaviour in Paris she reported that she was getting on well  p252 with Napoleon and did everything that she could to please him:

No more jealousy, my dear Eugène, I can truthfully tell you. Hence he is happier, and I am, too. I can say nothing of political news: it is all a mystery into which the Emperor never permits me to enter.2

Josephine heard from Napoleon while he was still at the great camp of Boulogne. His letter reveals him as a busy, yet warm-hearted and indeed devoted, husband.

I seldom have news of you. You forget your loved ones, and that is not good. I did not realize that the waters of Plombières have the same effect as the River Lethe.

It seems to me that in drinking these waters of Plombières you should say, Ah, Bonaparte! If I die, who is there who will love you? But things are far from that, aren't they? All passes — beauty, cleverness, affection, the sun itself; but that which will have no end is the good that I wish, the happiness — [illegible] the favour of my Josephine. But I shall no longer be so tender if you make jokes about me.3

Towards the end of August, after making gifts to the poor as befitted an empress, Josephine left Plombières. After facing the now inescapable round of official receptions en route, by the close of the month she was back at Malmaison.

By this time it was clear to Napoleon that the Channel coast offered him no more promise of victories. Admiral Villeneuve, returning with his fleet from the West Indies, had put in at Cadiz instead of sailing for Brest as instructed. 'This is certainly treason,' the outraged Napoleon wrote, 'Villeneuve is a wretch who should be ignominiously dismissed. . . . He would sacrifice everything to save his skin.'4 In August, two months before the decisive battle of Trafalgar, the emperor abandoned his invasion plans and prepared for the lightning advance east of the Rhine which would bring the mass of his forces against the Austrians and the Russians. The great campaigns of Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland were beginning.

Leaving the Tuileries late in September, Josephine accompanied her husband as far as Strasbourg. After several days of receptions, complimentary visits, and the like he pushed forward into Germany. Although Josephine would gladly have  p253 accompanied Napoleon, he willed otherwise. It became her duty, therefore, to keep up the busy round of receptions, balls, theatres, operas and concerts. Strasbourg for a time seemed the crossroads of Europe, with delegation after delegation from Paris passing through, the men often accompanied by their ladies. Many of the princely rulers of Germany, now deeply impressed by the power of imperial France, likewise found Strasbourg a valuable centre for their affairs. Josephine played her role. She summoned, for example, the composer Spontini from Paris so that the society of Strasbourg could hear performances of La Vestale and his new religious composition, O Salutaris.º She made many expenditures: plants for her gardens at Malmaison, animals for her zoo, art objects, and bric-à‑brac. Josephine even presided when a Masonic lodge, the Orient de Strasbourg, held an initiation. This may have been a particular honour paid to the Empress; on the other hand it was not unknown in eighteenth-century France for some ladies to enter Freemasonic lodges. Napoleon was frequently honoured in Masonic circles, and one lodge in Paris was known as Sainte Joséphine.

Brief, soldierly notes came regularly from Josephine's warrior-husband. 'The weather is terrible,' he told her in one. 'It rains so much that I have to change my coat twice a day.'5 On 19 October Napoleon received the surrender of the Austrian commander, Mack, at Ulm. By a brilliant encirclement and with practically no losses he had shattered an Austrian army of eighty thousand men and taken at least thirty thousand prisoners — a number which in his exultant letter to his wife he expanded to seventy thousand. Josephine's recognition of this victory consisted in attending a Te Deum in the cathedral and giving a fête for the ladies of Strasbourg. Napoleon meanwhile was driving forward through Augsburg and Munich until on 14 November he reached Vienna. Amid the press of war he did not forget Josephine. Though his letters had been brief, we can count at least thirteen in the six weeks following his departure from Strasbourg.

In one of these letters Napoleon urged Josephine to bear the burden of their separation more cheerfully:

 p254  I see with regret that you are very unhappy. I have been given details which make clear all the tenderness which you have for me. But you must have more courage and more trust. I had already cautioned you that I would be unable to write for six days. . . . You must be gay, amuse yourself, and hope that before the end of the month we shall see one another. I am advancing against the Russians. In a few days I shall have crossed the Inn.6

Towards the end of November Josephine was authorized to leave Strasbourg for Munich, her route taking her through Stuttgart, Ulm, and Augsburg. She had heard, so she informed Eugène in Milan, that the elector of Bavaria was preparing a fête for her. Of more personal concern to her were the rumours now circulating in Germany that Talleyrand on Napoleon's instructions was negotiating a marriage between Eugène and the Princess Augusta, daughter of the Bavarian elector. The plan was supposedly most secret and still conjectural, so Josephine asserted in a subsequent letter to Hortense:

Assuredly, if it were really a question of the marriage of your brother you are the first person whom I would tell. I was indeed told while in Strasbourg that the German papers had spoken of it. I recall that at this time everyone believed in the marriage, and I found myself the only one not in the secret. You know very well, my dear, that the Emperor, who has never spoken to me about this, would not marry off Eugène without my knowledge.7

The letter is less than candid, for Talleyrand had already told Josephine what was afoot. Secret or not the proposed marriage was soon to be a fact. Meanwhile such matters were overshadowed by the news of one of Napoleon's greatest victories, the battle of Austerlitz on 2 December.

The Emperor wrote three times to Josephine in order to tell her of this spectacular triumph over the Austrians and the Russians. Exhausted as he must have been, he sent her word on the day following the battle as follows:

Austerlitz, 3 December 1805

I have sent Lebrun to you from the field of battle. I have beaten the Russian and Austrian armies commanded by the two emperors. I am somewhat fatigued, as I have bivouacked for a week in open air, on nights that are quite chilly. Tonight I sleep in the château  p255 of Prince Kaunitz, where I shall rest for two or three hours. The Russian army is not only beaten, it is destroyed. Je t'embrasse.8

On the 5th he wrote again:

I have concluded a truce. The Russians are going home. The Battle of Austerlitz is the finest of all that I have fought; 45 flags, more than 150 cannon, the standards of the Russian Guard, 20 generals, 30,000 prisoners, more than 50,000 slain: what a horrible spectacle!

The Emperor Alexander is in despair. He is going to Russia. Yesterday I saw the Emperor of Austria at my bivouack; we chatted for two hours: we have agreed to make peace quickly.9

And on 8 December came still another letter, telling of the heavy Russian losses.

Josephine meanwhile was on the road to Munich, unaware of these great triumphs. She arrived on 15 December, soon to receive a further letter from her husband, written while he was preparing the definitive treaty with Austria and sounding a note unhappily different from that of its predecessors:

Great Empress [it began in sardonic tones], not a letter from you since your departure from Strasbourg. You have gone from Baden to Stuttgart and to Munich without writing a word. This is not very kind, nor is it very tender . . . Deign, from the height of your grandeur, to concern yourself a little with your slaves.10

On the following day he wrote again:

It is a very long time since I have had news of you. Do the elegant fêtes at Baden, Stuttgart, and Munich make you forget the poor soldiers who live covered with mud, rain, and blood?11

His reproaches were soon lost in the speedy march of events. On 27 December Napoleon made the Treaty of Pressburg with Austria, exacting a heavy indemnity and forcing the Hapsburgs to give up the last of their Italian lands, to turn over the Tyrol to Bavaria, and to recognize the rulers of Bavaria and Württemberg as kings. The days of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered, and Josephine's husband had, in fact, usurped the central position in Europe for so long held by the ancient line of the Hapsburgs. On the last day of  p256 the year and elated with his great triumphs, Napoleon — the new Charlemagne — rejoined his wife at Munich.

As the year 1806 opened, Josephine's principal concern was the marriage of Eugène to Augusta Amalia, eldest daughter of the ruler who, thanks to Napoleon, was now king of Bavaria. Napoleon's intentions were simple: for political reasons he wished to associate his dynasty with the venerable house of Wittelsbach. The first article of the proposed marriage contract — which had been drawn up early in January, unknown to Eugène and before he had caught so much as a glimpse of his intended bride — stipulated that as viceroy of Italy Eugène was to be called 'Imperial Highness' and 'Son of France'. He would take precedence over Napoleon's brothers, Joseph and Louis, he would sit at the Emperor's right hand, and be listed before the brothers in the Almanach Impérial. All was not plain sailing in this scheme, for Augusta Amelia, who most inconveniently was already betrothed to the hereditary prince of Baden, showed some unwillingness to obey her father's new orders. It was also important for France to remain on good terms with Baden and find a substitute bride for the hereditary prince. All these matters Talleyrand took in hand so quickly and expertly as to produce a double victory for the Beauharnais over the Bonapartes. Eugène's position in the imperial hierarchy was substantially advanced, and he would marry Augusta Amelia. The bride ultimately found for the disappointed prince of Baden was none other than Stephanie de Beauharnais, niece of Josephine and granddaughter of Aunt Fanny. When actually this second marriage took place in the following April, Napoleon outraged his brothers and sisters by generously referring to Stephanie in imperial terms as 'my daughter'.

The Emperor, meanwhile, had informed Eugène of the plans that were under way:

My Cousin [he wrote, the style of address indicating that Eugène was not yet an 'Imperial Highness'], I have arrived at Munich. I have arranged your marriage with the Princess Augusta. News has been published. This morning the Princess paid me a visit. She is very  p257 pretty. You will find her portrait on a teacup which I am sending you, but really she looks much better than that.12

Another letter in typical Napoleonic fashion gave Eugène his marching orders:

Twelve hours after the receipt of this letter you will set out with all speed for Munich . . . It is not necessary to bring much of a suite. Start promptly and incognito, as much to avoid danger as to avoid delays . . . One hour after receiving this, send me a courier to tell me the day when you expect to arrive.13

All went as planned. Eugène made the breathless journey from Padua in less than four days. On Napoleon's instructions he cut off his huge cavalry moustaches, which might, so the Emperor feared, be displeasing to his bride. The marriage contract was formally signed and the civil ceremony followed on 13 January 1806; the religious ceremony came on the following day. Splendid jewels had been ordered from Paris by Napoleon, who likewise issued strict instructions to all the Bonaparte brothers and sisters that each should send the bridal couple a present worth not less than fifteen or more than twenty thousand francs. Josephine was well pleased with this marriage, as she was quick to tell Hortense, who had been forbidden by her ever-suspicious husband to go to Munich:

I know all the regrets you must have had [Josephine added] at not being able to come and join us at Munich. I am not surprised at the sorrow which your husband's letter has caused you; but I realize that you do not have the strength to resist his firm demands.14

Back in Paris by the end of January, Josephine's next concern was the marriage of her niece, Stephanie de Beauharnais, to Prince Charles of Baden. This marriage, too, was a calculated affair of state, for Napoleon had now formally adopted Stephanie as his daughter. The civil ceremony and the signing of the marriage contract took place in the Gallery of Diana, while the religious ceremony followed in the chapel of the Tuileries. Great pomp and magnificent presents marked the occasion, while at night, as at the time of the coronation, Paris shone with brilliant illuminations.

These and other actions of Napoleon were all of a sort. He  p258 was in process of creating the Grand Empire — a magnificent area of client states fringing a greatly enlarged France. To govern these territories he began to make generous use of his family. Brother Louis, married to Hortense, was soon to be king of Holland. Brother Joseph was to be king of Naples and then of Spain. Brother Jérôme was forced to give up his American wife, to remarry, and become ruler of the newly created Kingdom of Westphalia. Murat, married to Napoleon's sister Caroline, was named grand duke of Berg and later king of Naples. Pauline, now Princess Borghese, received the Italian principality of Guastalla, while Elisa was granted the tiny state of Piombino. On the Beauharnais side Josephine was to see her daughter become queen of Holland. Her son was now viceroy of Italy and son-in‑law to the king of Bavaria. Her niece, Stephanie, was married to the heir to the grand duchy of Baden. Rarely if ever has a family been so rapidly established in such widespread splendour.

For his Beauharnais kin Napoleon showed a genuine affection. Time and again he wrote to Hortense during his campaigns, and he was quick to protest when he did not hear from her. Eugène he treated with mingled affection and pride, tempered by an occasional soldierly reproof. For Eugène's wife, Augusta, he soon developed the warmest feelings. Here, for example, is the letter which the childless Napoleon wrote to Augusta a few days after her wedding, while on his way to Paris:

My daughter, the letter you have sent me is as agreeable as you are. The kind feelings I have towards you will be sure to increase every day; I know this from the pleasure which I take in recalling your fine qualities and from the need which I feel to have you reassure me that you are satisfied with everyone and made happy by your husband. Among all my concerns none are dearer to me than those which will guarantee the happiness of my children. Believe, Augusta, that I love you as a father and that I expect from you all the tenderness of a daughter. Protect yourself during your journey, as well as in the new climate when you arrive, taking as much rest as is convenient. You have done much moving about for a month, and you must realize that I do not wish you to become ill.

I end, my daughter, by giving you my paternal blessing.15

 p259  A letter to Eugène written four months later is a document extraordinarily revealing of Napoleon as a husband and father. The eager Eugène had plunged so ardently into his work as viceroy that the Emperor, watching him closely, felt obliged to sound a few warnings:

My son, you work too hard; your life is too monotonous. This is good as far as you are concerned, for work to you is a means of refreshment; but you have a young wife who is pregnant. I think you should arrange to spend your evenings with her, and organize some social life. Why not go to the theatre once a week en grande loge? I think you should also have an establishment so that you can hunt at least once a week; I will gladly put a sum in the budget for this purpose. You must have more gaiety in your home; it is necessary for your wife's happiness and for your own health. Your work can be done in less time. I lead the life you do, but I have an older wife who does not need me to amuse her, and also I have more responsibilities; even so, it is true that I take more diversions and amusements than you do. A young wife needs to be entertained, above all in her present condition. You were once fond of pleasure; you must return to your old tastes.16

If only these happy marriage arrangements, which meant so much to Josephine, and the splendid triumphs of the spring of 1806 could have remained permanent! Yet, as the summer continued, dark shadows appeared. Russia had not made peace. England still ruled the ocean. Prussia, who had kept out of the Third Coalition, was now most bitter and resentful at the great changes taking place in Germany. True, the beautiful young Queen Louise of Prussia had written most warmly to Josephine in 1805, addressing her as 'my sister' and sending her fine gifts of porcelain from the royal factories:

I can only hope that this produce of our factories meets your approval, Madame, and that above all this modest souvenir will have value in your eyes because of the feeling of friendship I offer you and with which I am, Madame ma soeur, your Imperial Majesty's good sister,


Such good will was soon swept aside as Josephine found herself once again in a world of war. In August Prussia made  p260 preparations to join with Russia in a campaign against France. Napoleon decided to strike hard. In September he heard from Marshal Berthier in Germany. 'The Prussians no longer disguise their intention of making war on us,' Berthier wrote. 'Their armies are assembling on those points of Prussian territory which are near our advance posts.'18 By this time Napoleon's plans were completed. Accompanied by Josephine he left on the day following Berthier's warning. Three days later they were at Mainz, where once again Josephine was to be left alone while Napoleon paid his court to the God of War. He would not see her for ten months.

Busy as Napoleon was with the campaign in which he would defeat the Prussians at Jena, fight the savage battles of Eylau and Friedland with the Russians, and at last settle accounts with both powers in the Treaties of Tilsit, he kept regularly in touch with his wife. At least seven letters went to Josephine in October, nine in November, and nine in December. Josephine, too, kept up her side of the exchange. 'I have received several letters from you,' the Emperor told her on 23 October, and on six subsequent occasions he acknowledged her further missives.19 What Josephine wrote we can only infer. Quite clearly she was restless at Mainz, despite the pleasure she took in making gifts of chains, watches, necklaces, pearls, and snuff-boxes to her acquaintances in the old imperial capital — gifts for which the Parisian jewellers later submitted bills totalling 54,685 francs.

'I do not know why you weep,' Bonaparte told Josephine in one letter. 'Talleyrand has arrived and tells me that you do nothing but cry,' he wrote in another. 'But why? You have your daughter, you grandchildren, and good news [from me]; these are reasons for being contented and happy.'20 In still another letter from Berlin, influenced perhaps by the efforts of Queen Louise to moderate his treatment of Prussia, he comforted Josephine and gave her some of his views on women:

I have received your letter, in which you seem angry at the bad things I say about women. It is true that I hate intriguing women above all else. I am accustomed to women who are good, gentle, and conciliatory; those are the sort I like. If such ones have spoiled  p261 me, it's not my fault, but yours . . . I like women who are good, simple, and sweet — because only such ones resemble you.21

Josephine, nevertheless, could not banish the boredom of Mainz, nor could she drive away her unhappiness. She pestered her husband to let her join him.

Napoleon tried to cheer his wife. 'I see with satisfaction that my views please you,' he wrote, answering her letter. 'You are wrong to think that I am only flattering you; I spoke of you simply as I see you.'22 Arriving at Posen in December, he sought to allay Josephine's fears about the Polish ladies:

All these Polish ladies try to be French, but there is only one woman for me. Would you know her? I could easily describe her for you, but I would have to be so flattering that you would not recognize her; yet in truth my heart could say nothing but good about her. The nights are long here, alone.23

In another letter:

You say that you are not jealous. I have long noted that quick-tempered people always insist that they are not quick-tempered; those who are afraid often say that they are not; you, therefore, convicted of jealousy. I am delighted!24

In still another:

You must try to be calm. I have already told you that I am in Poland and that when winter quarters are established you can come; you must therefore wait for some days. . . . You beautiful women recognize no barriers at all; what you want must be. As for myself, I declare I am the most enslaved of men; my master has no human sympathies — this master is simply the nature of things.25

Throughout November and December 1806, Napoleon resisted as best he could Josephine's constant petitions to join him. Postponement, flattery, cajolery, and expressions of affection, along with blunt statements concerning the dangers and hardships of travel, were his weapons. 'Everything goes well,' he wrote from Berlin early in November, 'I only lack the pleasure of seeing you, but I hope that the time for this won't be too far distant.' Three weeks later he tried to reassure her: 'I shall decide in a few days,' he wrote, 'whether to  p262 summon you here or send you to Paris.' When, however, he had made the difficult journey into Poland his tone changed. 'You must wait a few days more,' he instructed Josephine from Posen on 9 December. A week later came the news that he was leaving for Warsaw. 'I shall be back in two weeks,' he wrote, 'I hope then to summon you.'26 Unhappily, the stay at Warsaw was prolonged. If he could have returned to Berlin, so he explained, then perhaps Josephine might have joined him. His affairs, however, were pressing, and the soldier was required once again to move northward against the enemy.

On 28 December Napoleon defeated the Russians at Pultusk.

I can only write you a word [he informed Josephine at five o'clock on the following morning]. I am in a wretched farm‑house. I have beaten the Russians, taken 30 cannon, their baggage train, and 6,000 prisoners. But the weather is terrible. It is raining, and we are in mud up to our knees.27

Such letters began to destroy Josephine's hopes. 'I am of the opinion you should return to Paris,' Napoleon wrote gingerly to her from Warsaw on the third day of the new year. 'Go to the Tuileries,' came the sterner message on 7 January, 'hold receptions and carry on the same life to which you were accustomed when I was there; such is my will.' The plaintive letters from Josephine continued to arrive, for on the morrow came the Emperor's decisive word:

The weather is too bad, the roads are unsure and atrocious, the distances are too great for me to permit you to come here where my business keeps me. It would take you a month to get her. You would arrive ill; possibly you would have to return at once; it would be folly. Your stay in Mainz is too depressing; Paris calls you; go there, such is my will. I am more put out than you, for I would have loved to share the long nights of this season with you; but one must obey circumstances.28

Reluctantly Josephine adjusted herself to the increasing evidence that her visit to Poland was impossible.

They tell me that you cry constantly [Napoleon wrote]. Fie! how ugly that seems! Your letter of 7 January grieves me. Be worthy of me, and show more character. Undertake the appropriate  p263 social duties at Paris, and, above all, be content. I am well and I love you very much, but if you cry all the time I shall think you are without courage and without character. I don't like faint-hearted people; an empress must have courage!29

The struggle of words went on throughout January. 'I wish you to be gay, content with your lot,' Napoleon told her, 'and I wish you to obey, not moaning and weeping but with gaiety of heart, and a little happiness.' This was on 18 January. On the 23rd he wrote again:

I have received your letter of 15 January. It is impossible for me to permit women to make a journey such as this, with roads that are bad, unsafe, and muddy. . . . I laughed at what you said about taking a husband in order to be with him. I had thought, in my ignorance, that the wife was made for her husband, and the husband for country, family, and glory. Pardon my ignorance; one is always learning from our fine ladies.30

Soon came the news of the savage Battle of Eylau (8 February 1807), where the losses on both sides were appalling, and only a last minute Russian withdrawal enabled a badly shaken Napoleon to claim a victory. 'Don't be downcast,' Napoleon wrote to Josephine three days after the battle. 'All this will soon be over, and the happiness of seeing you will end all my fatigue.' On the next day he had a little more to say, 'My dear, I am still at Eylau. This countryside is covered with dead and wounded. It isn't the prettiest side of war: people suffer, and the spirit is oppressed to see so many victims.'31

Long before receiving this Josephine had accepted the inevitable. Leaving Mainz on 27 January, and being greeted en route by receptions at Strasbourg, Lunéville, and Nancy, she arrived in Paris on the last day of the month.

Napoleon's reasons for not having Josephine visit him in Poland did not arise entirely from matters of diplomacy, strategy, or travel. Two events occurring within a few days of each other and a third some months later powerfully affected the entire future course of his relations with his wife. At Pultusk, on the last day of the year 1806, he received news of the birth of a son, Léon, to Eléanore de la Plaigne, the divorced  p264 wife of a French cavalry captain. After two months of their marriage the captain had been imprisoned for forgery, and this Eléanore, a friend of Napoleon's sister, Caroline Murat, had been taken into her household as lectrice, or companion. Murat, it appears, had an affair with Eléanore and then in a fashion made standard over the centuries as a prerogative of royalty had early in 1806 passed her over to Napoleon for one of his transitory affairs. For these rendezvous she was ushered into the Tuileries where the Emperor on occasion worked late in his study. His busy day being regulated to the last minute, the following anecdote is at least credible. Beside the imperial couch was a clock, and Eléanore, whose pleasure in these meetings was less than total, found it possible on one occasion to reach forth and advance the hands stealthily by half an hour. Shortly afterwards the Emperor's eye caught a glimpse of the time, whereupon, uttering an astonished, 'So soon?' he returned forthwith to his desk and his papers.32

What gives this affair with Eléanore its importance is that Napoleon, learning that her child had been born on 13 December and having consulted his calendar, could make some strong claim to paternity — provided always that Murat's claims were not stronger. The infant, it was soon declared, bore a striking resemblance to the Emperor. Napoleon's present interest in Eléanore was not one of affection. Though she was well provided for, and her child was quickly and richly endowed from the imperial treasury, he refused to see her again. The significance lay elsewhere. Napoleon's marriage with Josephine had been childless; for years the problem of the succession had harassed him; yet thoughts of divorce and marriage were marred by the uncertainty as to whether he, rather than Josephine, was to blame for the lack of an heir. If he were to blame, remarriage would not help. If, however, Napoleon was truly the father of Léon, then divorce and remarriage took on a powerful new significance. Such was the ominous shadow soon to fall on the happiness of Josephine.

Precisely at the time when Napoleon heard the news of Eléanore and Léon, chance again affected his life. Leaving Pultusk for Warsaw, he stopped to change horses at the little  p265 post-station of Bronie. Here a small crowd of Poles had gathered to observe the conqueror of Europe. Among them was a young, dignified, blonde Polish lady of striking appearance, an ardent patriot who requested Duroc to present her to the prospective liberator of her country. She was Maria Walewska, the eighteen-year‑old wife of a seventy-year‑old twice-widowed Polish nobleman, and she was destined to be a burning flame in the life of Napoleon.

The Countess Walewska was no adventuress; on the contrary, she was modest, devoutly religious, and ardently patriotic. At a ball to which she was soon invited by the Emperor, which the Polish patriots finally prevailed upon her to attend, she rebuffed Napoleon's advances, as she did the insistent letters he wrote her. Her eventual yielding, after repeated refusals, came about only when her complacent husband had agreed to a separation, and when a delegation of some of Poland's leading political figures had lectured her about her duty to her country. She followed Napoleon to the East Prussian château of Finckenstein in the spring of 1807. Early in 1808 he prevailed upon her to come to Paris, and in the next year during the Austrian campaign she met him at Vienna where she was installed in an elegant mansion near Schoenbrunn. On 4 May 1810 she bore Napoleon a son, Alexandre-Florian-Joseph, who with his mother visited Napoleon at Elba in 1814 and much later, as count Walewski, played a considerable role in the political life of the Second Empire.

This affair with Maria Walewska was not what set the Emperor's thoughts along the path of divorce from Josephine, for the possibility was already in his mind. The young Polish countess swept Napoleon off his feet with a directness that in his case had nothing to do with questions of high policy. A woman strikingly different from the actresses, the singers, and the anonymous beauties who tiptoed late at night along the corridors of the imperial residences, she brought an immediate transformation into the hard life of the soldier. The fine castle of Finckenstein with its blazing log fires was another world from the draughty, miserable farm-houses and the mud of the  p266 Polish winter campaign. 'I have just established my headquarters in a fine chateau in the style of Bessières,' Napoleon wrote to Josephine in April with deceptive innocence. 'There are many fireplaces, which is very pleasant seeing that I rise often during the night. I love to see a fire.'33

Maria Walewska's presence at Finckenstein was sufficient reason for Napoleon to require Josephine to remain in Paris — as the Empress soon began to suspect. Her letters in the spring of 1807 were marked with jealousy and complaint. Time and again Josephine had found that no matter how scandalous and outrageous her behaviour, only her presence and charm were needed to win Napoleon back. Nothing ever had been unforgivable. Now her husband was a thousand miles away; she had not seen him for six months; she was forty-four, she wept constantly, and she was nervously upset; clearly her agonizing doubt was whether she could still maintain her spell over him.

Bonaparte tried to allay her debts by jests and evasion. 'Put no faith in the evil rumours which may be spread about,' he wrote. 'Never doubt my feelings towards you, and have no uneasiness.'34 In May he tried again:

I have received your letter. I don't understand what you say about women who are corresponding with me. I love only my little Josephine, kindly, sulky, and capricious, who can quarrel as gracefully as she does everything else; she is always adorable — except when she is suspicious; then she becomes a regular devil. But let's get back to these women. If I should occupy myself with one of them, I assure you it would have to be a genuine rosebud. Do those you speak about come in this class?35

While Napoleon thus interrupted his battles on the dreary plains of East Prussia with dalliance before the roaring fireplaces of Schloss Finckenstein, Josephine kept up the conventional routine of Paris, Malmaison, and Saint-Cloud. Within a few days of her arrival at the Tuileries she held a formidable reception for the senate, the legislature, the tribunate, the chapter of Notre Dame, and the prefect of the Seine — these notables all presenting her with addresses of welcome. She went to the Opéra in the rue de Richelieu, Napoleon having  p267 reminded her to attend in state, occupying the grandes loges, and not in the informal fashion she preferred. Nor should she attend the smaller theatres of which she was so fond. Her casual activities, indeed, though nothing like her reckless behaviour in the days of the Directory, were such as to reach the ears of her husband and led to stern warnings. 'I don't wish you ever to receive T[hiard], Napoleon wrote, 'he is a bad subject, and you will hurt me if you don't obey.'36 A few weeks later came another warning:

I hear, my dear, that the malicious talk which went on in your salon at Mainz is being renewed. I shall take it badly if you can't provide a remedy. You are letting yourself be hurt by the remarks of people who should be consoling you.37

In March he cautioned Josephine against any idea of travel during the summer:

You mustn't think of travelling this summer. You can't make the round of inns and encampments. I would like, as much as you, to see you and to live quietly. I could do other things than fight, but duty comes before all else. All my life I have sacrificed everything — tranquillity, my own desires, my happiness — to my destiny.

Good‑bye, my dear. See little of this Madame P***; she is a woman of poor associations — too common and utterly worthless.38

Such communications hardly enlivened the days of Josephine. She kept in touch, to be sure, with her mother at Martinique. She found some comfort in writing to her children, telling them how good a correspondent her husband was. In point of fact, one can count thirty-five letters from Napoleon to her in the four-month period ending in her return from Mainz to Paris, and fifty‑one letters in the ensuing six months of their separation — roughly two or three a week. 'The last week has passed very rapidly and agreeably,' she wrote Hortense in March. 'I spent it at Malmaison, in the midst of the work going on there, and this employment has restored my health.'39 Yet the tone of unhappiness, so evident in her letters to Napoleon, likewise appears in those to Hortense and Eugène, 'My health is fairly good, but my heart is very sad at the long absence of the Emperor.' Or, again, to Hortense, 'Sometimes  p268 I get two letters a day from him; it is a great comfort, but it doesn't replace him.'40 To Eugène went the same message, 'I get frequent letters from the Emperor. His health is always good, but his absence makes me very sad, and if this keeps on I don't know how I shall have the courage to bear it.' Still later she wrote: 'I expect to go immediately to Saint-Cloud; I need to for my health; I have been suffering from migraine, which I attribute to the season, or even more to the sorrow at being parted from those I love.'41

These, however, were transient sorrows. The great blow came suddenly when Hortense's idolized elder child, Napoléon-Charles, died at The Hague on 5 May after suffering six days with the croup. Hortense was prostrate. She was reported to have been paralyzed for six hours, and for days afterwards lived and moved in a complete stupor. Josephine, too, was almost overcome with grief. She wrote at once to Napoleon in such agonized terms as to cause him to write back begging her to moderate her sorrow:

I wish I could be near you [he wrote at once] so that you could be moderate and understanding in your grief. You are lucky never to have lost a child; but this is one of the conditions and penalties going with our human misery. If only I could learn that you have become sensible, and that you are well! Would you wish to increase my sorrow?42

Again and again the soldier, to whom death was a commonplace, wrote to Josephine and Hortense sternly urging them to moderate their grief. A letter to Hortense, written from Finckenstein on 20 May, went as follows:

My daughter, all that I hear from The Hague informs me that you are not being sensible; however legitimate your grief, it must have limits. Do not injure your health; seek some distractions, and realize that life is strewn with so many dangers, and is the source of so many ills that death is not the greatest of them.43

Josephine arranged to meet Hortense at the castle of Laeken, near Brussels. At this convenient rendezvous (for neither could travel further without the express permission of the Emperor) the two women found some solace for their grief.

 p269  Death struck once again during the summer. Josephine's mother, who had lived almost in solitude at Trois-Îlets, rejecting her doctors and seeing only her confessors, died on 2 June in her seventy-first year. She was given the funeral a princess of the blood. Napoleon ordered the news to be kept temporarily from Josephine, fearing the effect upon her, already so deeply upset at the loss of her young grandson.

The death of Napoléon-Charles was the third ominous development for Josephine. He had always been much closer to the Emperor's heart than had Hortense's second child and thus his death, together with the implications of the birth of the infant Léon some months before, cruelly brought into focus the question of the divorce. While the summer of 1807 was to be a time of splendid achievement for Napoleon, it was not so for Josephine. Napoleon won the great victory of Friedland over the Russians in June and dictated a crushing peace treaty to Frederick William III of Prussia in July at Tilsit. While there the French Emperor embraced Tsar Alexander I of Russia on the famous raft in the middle of the River Niemen, and signed with him a treaty of alliance, recognizing Napoleon's new order in Europe. Few triumphs could have been greater. Yet for the Empress, awaiting in Paris her victorious husband's return and acting as guardian to Hortense's second infant, Napoléon-Louis, while his distraught mother took the waters at Bagnières,º anything but victory was in store.

On 21 July 1807 after an absence from the capital of ten months — the longest such absence in his career — Napoleon returned to Saint-Cloud.

The Author's Notes:

1 LNJ, II.238‑42.

2 Hanoteau, Empereur, pp5‑9.

3 Bourgeat, p92.

4 Corr., XI, no. 9179.

5 Bourgeat, p97.

6 Ibid., p99.

7 LNJ, II.246‑7.

8 Bourgeat, p103.

9 Ibid., pp103‑4.

10 Ibid., p105. Date should be December 9.

11 Ibid.

12 Corr., XI, no. 9636.

13 Ibid., no. 9638.

14 LNJ, II.252.

15 Corr., XI, no. 9683.

16 Ibid., XII, no. 10099.

17 Mauguin, L'Impératrice Joséphine, p83.

18 Cor., XI, no. 10841.

19 Bourgeat, p109.

20 Ibid., pp107, 110.

21 Ibid., p112.

22 Ibid., p113.

23 Ibid., p119.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., p120.

26 Ibid., pp112, 117, 121, 122.

27 Ibid., p123.

28 Ibid., pp125, 126.

29 Ibid., pp127‑8.

30 Ibid., p128.

31 Ibid., p132.

32 Masson, Napoléon et les femmes, p167.

33 Bourgeat, p141.

34 Ibid., p138.

35 Ibid., p145.

36 Ibid., p129.

37 Ibid., p137.

38 Ibid., p140.

39 LNJ, II.268‑9.

40 Hanoteau, Empereur, pp37‑8; LNJ, II.266.

41 Hanoteau, Empereur, pp38, 42.

42 Bourgeat, p146.

43 Ibid., p147.

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