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Chapter 4

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 6

p54 Chapter 5
Parting

The Venus sighted the towering mountain summits of Martinique late in January 1783. The crossing had been stormy. As the ship moved into the sparkling, tropical blue waters of the anchorage under the guns of the massive old stone fortress of Saint Louis, the passengers could see from the decks the heavy green foliage of this fragrant, indolent world. The Alexander who was now rowed ashore came as a stranger to an island that, as a boy of five, he had left seventeen years before.

A letter to Josephine gave details of the passage. He had been miserable during the voyage, partly because of the rough weather, partly because he smarted under the feeling of his wife's indifference and neglect. Gradually he got control of himself, deciding that he had no right to sulk and that Josephine may have had reasons for her actions. 'I tried to persuade myself that you loved me a little,' he wrote. 'This illusion gave me some contentment — with it I was happy.' He kept a diary, played lotto, and enjoyed the company aboard the ship, which included, so Alexander reported without elaboration, the Chevalier de Girardin and his niece, Madame de Longpré. These and other passengers made the voyage amusing.1 In such a letter to his wife the expression 'amusing', particularly with reference to Madame de Longpré, reached, if indeed it did not surpass, the limits of discretion.

Arriving at Fort-Royal, the worldly-wise young officer was astonished at the heedless, easy life of the inhabitants. 'Their morals,' he told Josephine, 'the multitude of coloured people in their indecent costumes, their way of living, their dwellings, the evidences of debauchery — all this has amazed me.'2 Thus did the cultivated product of the Enlightenment comment upon his first sight of the World of Nature.

p55 Since no one had been told of his coming to Martinique, Alexander went unannounced to the Tascher de la Pagerie plantation, where he received a warm welcome from Josephine's parents. Joseph-Gaspard had preceded him by several months from France, happy at last in the possession of the cross of the Order of Saint Louis and the promise of a pension. Alexander brought presents from Josephine for the family, most notably her portrait. He had to report to Josephine that her young sister, Manette, was ill of scurvy, and that he had strongly urged the family to make use of inoculation. Despite the cordiality of the welcome given him, one can detect in his letters a sense of shock at the run‑down, if not actually impecunious, condition of the Tascher household.

One interesting sidelight on the relations between Josephine and Alexander emerges at this time. He had hoped to arrange a marriage between her sister, Manette, and one of his close officer friends in the Sarre regiment. Now he had to explain to Josephine that such plans couldn't be realized. Because of her illness the parents did not wish to part with Manette; the family, moreover, had heavy debts and were in no position to arrange for a dowry. It is curious, in the light of Alexander's evident domestic troubles and disappointments, that he should have thus considered a marriage into the same family for one of his brother officers. Perhaps the quarrels between Alexander and Josephine so far were less serious than his letters would suggest. Conceivably Josephine had urged him to seek this arrangement in order to have her sister's companionship in France. The Taschers were a good family, and the plantations on the sugar islands did give an immediate impression of wealth. Alexander may have hoped that a better dowry than Josephine's would be forthcoming now. In all events he seems to have been willing, despite the omens, to encourage his brother officer to undertake a marriage arranged with as little thought for the compatibility or happiness of the participants as his own marriage had been.

The first impression that Alexander, the dashing young officer from France, made at Trois-Îlets was overwhelming. 'Ah, the charming boy!' wrote Josephine's aunt, the Baroness p56Tascher, 'God grant that Tascher [her son] may resemble him in every way. I ask nothing more from him and would be the happiest of women.'3 Despite his warm reception, Alexander chose to stay with his relatives only two days, returning quickly to Fort-Royal and to the post he had at last obtained as aide-de‑camp to the governor. Here he was soon informed that, since the American war was practically over, little prospect for a campaign now remained. The preliminaries of peace between France, Spain, the American colonies, and Britain were, in point of fact, submitted in the House of Commons on 27 January, a week after Alexander's arrival in Martinique. Should peace come, he wrote to Josephine with epigrammatic neatness, 'I would seek my consolation in the pleasure of seeing you again, and of returning to embrace you; love would indemnify me for being deprived of glory.'4

For obvious reasons, Alexander had nothing to say to his wife about certain of his associations at Fort-Royal. The gist of the story is simple. What began there as a gay pursuit of various island beauties quickly turned into an ardent affair with his old amour and recent sea‑companion, Madame de Longpré. Towards Josephine, despite her failures to write, Alexander professed to be all tenderness. He urged his wife to learn what she could about the direction of a household. 'You know that on my return we shall have to set up our own,' he wrote, 'and you will not forget how little suited I am to run one.' As usual, Alexander the pedagogue displayed the note of officiousness: 'I recommend you above all to keep busy; this will banish laziness which has always been the first cause of forgetting one's duties . . . Adieu, a hundred thousand times adieu!'5

By early April, Alexander's old indignation reappeared:

I recall, ma chère amie, that you once predicted that if ever you should be untrue to me I would perceive it either by your letters or by your conduct towards me. This moment has surely arrived, for during the three months that I have been here, vessels have arrived from every port and not one brings a single word from you. . . . I once promised not to write to you again. Vain promises! They are like those which you made to think of me . . . Kiss my p57dear son for me. Take care of his future, and may he cause you to think at least for a moment of a husband who will love you all his life. Adieu, a hundred times!6

Josephine, though not writing to her husband, had written to others, including her Aunt Rosette, an elderly spinster at Carbet with a reputation for temper. Aunt Rosette had shown the letter to Alexander, who was outraged that his wife found time to write to her rather than to him, and, even more, that this letter contained critical comments about himself. 'You spoke of me,' he protested tartly to Josephine, 'only to say that you have overcome those lively feelings that I once was able to inspire in you. Your tone when it concerns me is more than indifferent.' He vowed, consequently, that he would write no more and that Josephine would have to obtain news of him through his father.7

A daughter, Hortense, was born to Josephine in Paris on 10 April 1783. The happy tidings were sent immediately to the family at Martinique, but, most pointedly, not directly by Josephine to her husband. We must still account for Josephine's long silence. Such utter failure to reply to her husband's letters was something other than the delay she had demonstrated in earlier months. Explanations based on carelessness, petulance, self-indulgence, or even illness ring hollow, for her correspondence with others continued. Josephine's conduct at this juncture does become understandable in the light of what she must have known through island gossip of Alexander's scandalous actions in Martinique. She was deeply upset, and, having no other means of coping with the situation, took refuge in what Socrates called woman's crowning glory — her silence.

Alexander's letter of 10 May (penned in defiance of his recent pledge not to write) was a mixture of sentimentality, indignation, and mock despair. 'They speak of a forthcoming war against the Emperor [of Austria]. May God grant that it take place, that I may serve in it, and that I may find there the end of a life that has become a burden. Adieu!'8 In June Alexander had still further grievances to chronicle. An old valet of her father had just returned from France. Before p58leaving, this valet had written to Josephine's maid, offering to take letters to Alexander. The maid had replied most tactlessly that the time was too short to think of letters, seeing that the family was so busy with engagements at balls and suppers. 'I ask you,' demanded Alexander, professing outrage once more, 'what I am to think of all this?'9 He might well have paused to reflect upon the unreliability of third-hand information handed on by valets and ladies' maids, to remind himself that as recently as April Josephine had been delivered of a daughter, and to consider that news of his scandalous behaviour must by now have reached her.

While engaged in his gay affairs with the ladies of Fort-Royal, Alexander had also made frequent criticisms of his wife. He had spoken very bluntly to Josephine's aunt, the Baroness Tascher, deploring the great inadequacy of Josephine's education and most ungallantly blaming her mother and her grandmother for it. He had, unhappily, done much more than this. At the very time when he was denouncing his wife, he continued to scandalize Fort-Royal by his dissipated behaviour. This irresponsible conduct is clearly revealed in the indignant letters written to France by Josephine's family. 'I would never have thought,' Josephine's mother later wrote to the Marquis de Beauharnais about Alexander, 'that he would have let himself be led around by Mme de Longpré, his companion on the voyage.'10 She went on to say that he had neglected his relatives in the country and had lived a dissipated life in the town, enjoying the company of other young ladies besides Madame de Longpré.

Clearly Alexander had now decided to obtain some kind of separation from his wife. In order to make a case against Josephine, he had undertaken to question several of her former slaves about her alleged youthful goings‑on. Here, again, he was egged on by Madame de Longpré, who at this time had apparently put into his mind the thought that he could not be the father of Josephine's second child.

Failing in his first effort to put the words he desired into the mouth of simple slaves, Alexander had descended to the level, so her mother indignantly told Josephine, of offering money to p59'little Sylvester', a slave who was only five when Josephine had left Martinique. We have an interesting sidelight on eighteenth-century methods of punishment in her mother's report concerning another slave who evidently had been induced to say what Alexander wanted: 'Your husband twice gave him fifteen pistoles . . . I still have him chained up, but he is being well fed.'11

Amidst all this domestic uproar Alexander fell seriously ill with 'putrid fever', or typhus. On convalescing, he was taken into the home of a Madame Turon, described to Josephine by her mother as 'another of your calumniators'. Here the incorrigible convalescent carried on an affair with Madame Turon behind her husband's back. Josephine's aunt informed Madame Renaudin of this, adding that the ailing Alexander was indignant because she had not visited him, or even sent her servant to inquire of his health. 'I would,' she declared acidly, 'have found myself very much out of place in such society.'12 Letters from Josephine's uncle, the Baron Tascher, conveyed much the same tale, and her father, too, added his story.

Six months had now passed since Alexander's arrival at Martinique. The war was over. On the very eve of his departure for France he wrote Josephine a staggering letter in language so violent and for reasons so outrageous as to change the entire course of their two lives. Having previously contented himself with single cannon shots, he now let go with a full broadside. Clearly, this document is a major landmark in the career of Josephine.

Alexander's letter of 12 July 1783, begins with a savage attack on 'the abominable conduct' of Josephine in the years of her girlhood:

If I had written to you in the first moment of my rage, my pen would have burned the paper and you would have thought from hearing all my invectives that I had seized a moment of temper or of jealousy to write to you. But I have known what I am going to say to you, at least in part, for more than three weeks. Despite, therefore, the despair of my soul, despite the fury which suffocates me, I shall know how to contain myself; I shall know how to tell you p60coldly that in my eyes you are the vilest of creatures, and that my stay in this country has revealed to me your abominable conduct.

Alexander then proceeds to itemize what he claims to have been Josephine's clandestine intrigues with men during her youth in Martinique:

I know in the greatest details about your intrigue with M. de Be. . . ., officer of the Martinique regiment, also about that with M. d'H. . . . who has sailed on board the Caesar. I am not unaware, either, of the means you took to gratify your desires or of the people you employed to help you. I know that Brigitte has been given her liberty only to guarantee her silence; I know that Louis, who is since dead, was also in the secret; I know, lastly, the contents of your letters and I shall bring with me one of the presents you made. There is, consequently, no more occasion to pretend, and since I am not ignorant of any details you have no other alternative than to be truthful.

The letter goes on to characterize Josephine, whom Alexander called 'beneath all the sluts in the world', as incapable of repentance and a disgrace to her family:

As for repentance, I do not ask this; you are incapable of it. A person who, on the eve of her departure, could receive her lover in her arms at the time when she knew she was destined for another, has no soul; she is beneath all the sluts in the world. If you had the boldness to take advantage of the slumbers of your mother and grandmother it is not surprising that you would also deceive your father at Santo Domingo. I do justice to them all and look upon only you as guilty. You alone have abused an entire family and carried disgrace and ignominy to another, distant family of which you are unworthy.

This savage résumé of Josephine's alleged girlhood behaviour was followed by an attack upon her newborn daughter, about whom Alexander had written with such tender anticipation only a few months before. He now claimed the infant to be illegitimate:

After so many offences and outrages, what is one to think of the clouds and conflicts which have arisen in our own family? What am I to think of this last infant, born eight months and several p61days after my return from Italy? I am forced to take her, but I swear by the heavens that she is by another, and that a stranger's blood flows in her veins. She will never know my shame, and I here vow that she will never learn, either in the arrangements for her education or in those of the household, that she owes her life to an adulterer.

The solution for this alleged state of affairs was for Alexander to order Josephine to a convent. On returning to France he would see her only once, and never would he live with her again:

You must know, however, how essential it is for me to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future. Make your arrangements, then; never, never will I allow myself to be abused again; and, as you would be the kind of woman to deceive the public if we were to live under the same roof, have the goodness to go a convent as soon as you receive my letter. This is my last word, and nothing in the world is capable of making me change.

When I return to Paris I shall see you once only; I wish to have a conversation with you and return you something. But, I repeat, no tears, no protestations! I am already on guard against all your efforts, and my care will always be to arm myself further against vile promises which would be as contemptible as they are false. In spite of all the slanders which your fury will spread about me, you know me, Madame, you know that I am kind and sympathetic; and I know that in your heart you will do me justice. You will persist in denying this, because from your earliest age you have made a habit of falsehood, but you will none the less be inwardly convinced that you are getting only what you deserve.

In conclusion Alexander indicates guardedly the means he had taken to unearth his evidence against Josephine. This evidence, he insists, is decisive:

Probably you do not know the means I have taken to expose so many horrors, but I will tell them only to my father and to your aunt. It will be sufficient for you to know that people are very indiscreet, all the more when they have reason to complain; moreover, you have written; moreover, you have given up the letters of M. de B. . . . to the one who succeeded him; finally, you have employed coloured people whom money can make to talk. Behold the shame with which you and I, as well as your children, are going p62to be covered, like a punishment from heaven which you have deserved but which should obtain for me your pity and the pity of all decent people!

Adieu, Madame! I will write to you in duplicate, and both will be the last letters you will receive from your desperate and unfortunate husband.

P. S. I leave today for Santo Domingo and I expect to be in Paris in September or in October, if my health does not yield to the fatigue of the voyage in my present frightful condition. I expect that after this letter I shall not find you at my house, and I must warn you that you will find me a tyrant if you do not follow precisely what I have told you.13

What are we to make of this outraged letter — this torrent of savage denunciation, which in the gravity of its charges and the violence of its feeling far exceeds anything Alexander had ever written before? His alleged grievances can be simply stated: since coming to Martinique he claims to have uncovered shocking evidence of Josephine's immoral conduct on the very eve of her marriage. Moreover, the news from France of Hortense's birth compels him, on the evidence of dates, to ascribe the infant's paternity to another. Life together is henceforth impossible. Josephine must immediately make arrangements to take up residence in a convent. Like Hamlet to Ophelia, Alexander cries, 'Get thee to a nunnery.'14

These elaborate charges of Josephine's infidelity cannot be answered, obviously, in one sentence. At this point one may simply note that not a single piece of corroborative evidence was supplied either by Alexander or by any responsible person in Martinique, and that Josephine's relatives, Tascher and Beauharnais alike, rallied as one in her support. She unhesitatingly submitted the complete text of Alexander's accusing letters as evidence on her own behalf when she eventually brought suit against him in Paris. As for the imputation concerning the paternity of Hortense, the dates are against Alexander, to say nothing of his repeated letters of 1782 expressing his delight in looking forward to the infant's birth. Further argument remains unnecessary when one realizes that in 1785 Alexander himself was brought to admit the complete baselessness p63of every single one of his charges, inspired, as he then conceded, 'by the passions and anger of youth'.

A final touch of the preposterous is added to this entire episode by the fact that Alexander arranged to have his long tirade against Josephine delivered to Paris by none other than Madame de Longpré. While she seems to have been willing enough to oblige, Madame de Longpré's interest in Alexander was now nearly at an end. Before leaving Martinique, this instigator of so much trouble had forsaken him for Count Arthur Dillon, an Irishman in the service of France who held the post of governor of the island of Saint Christopher. Dillon followed her to Paris, where she established herself in a fine town house on the rue de la Chaise. Two years later, when she married him, the impressive wedding contract bore the signature of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The sequel is illuminating. Dillon, like Alexander, was elected to the Estates-General in 1789, and like him was guillotined during the Reign of Terror. After becoming empress, Josephine showed no bitterness towards the woman who had helped to ruin her first marriage. True to her kindly instincts, she even arranged a pension for Dillon's widow, saying simply in the note accompanying the request, 'This lady is now very infirm.'

The story now moves from the West Indies to France. After a month's crossing, Alexander arrived at Rochefort in September. Before reaching Paris, having learned that Josephine was still with his family, he sent her the following letter, dated 20 October:

On my arrival in France I learned with astonishment through the letters of my father that you were not yet in a convent, as I had ordered you in my letter dated from Martinique. I imagine that you have chosen to await my arrival in order to submit to this necessity, and that this delay is not to be considered as a refusal . . . I am unshakeable in the decision I have taken, and I engage you to tell my father and your aunt that their efforts will be useless and will only add to my sorrow . . .15

The last reference is most significant. It is understandable that Josephine's family at Martinique should have rallied to her p64side. Her uncle, for example, had even offered to go to France to help her. What is really striking is the unwillingness of a single one of Alexander's relatives to come to his support. His father, his uncle, his aunt, his brother, and his sister-in‑law — all stood by Josephine. Devoted to her cause, they seem to have struggled for a month to persuade Alexander, albeit unavailingly, to seek a reconciliation with his wife.

Josephine's kindly mother in Martinique attempted a few sympathetic words to the old marquis:

I will do justice to the viscount. He has let himself be carried away without reflecting, without thinking of what he has done. He has good qualities and a good heart . . . So much pettiness is not compatible with an elevated and sympathetic nature. When he last came to the plantation to bid us good‑bye I saw that he was troubled and moved. He seemed to be anxious to get away from me speedily, to avoid my presence. His heart was already reproaching him for such mistaken conduct.

These were the words of an understanding woman, conscious of family ties and anxious not to close all doors to reconciliation. Yet, however well meant, they seemed to carry little conviction that the marriage could be saved.

It is hardly possible [she went on] for my daughter to remain with him unless he gives sincere proof of a genuine desire to return, and a perfect forgetting of what has happened . . . O, my poor daughter, all your sorrows are in my breast — they leave me without rest both night and day! Come, mingle your tears with those of a tender mother! All your friends do you justice, they love you always and will console you! Return her, Monsieur, to me and you will give me a new existence!16

Joseph-Gaspard likewise wrote, begging his daughter to return to her family, where she could forget, as he put it, 'the behaviour of a husband who is not worthy of you'. Josephine however, proved to have other plans. Domestic troubles or no, her life was henceforth to be lived in France.

Avoiding his wife and relatives, Alexander took up residence in the town house of the La Rochefoucaulds and most inconsiderately proceeded to sell the furniture in the Beauharnais home on the rue Saint-Charles, with the consequence p65that Madame Renaudin and the marquis were obliged to move to the country at Noisy-le‑Grand. Pressed, apparently, for funds, Alexander referred to his father a jeweller's bill that demand payment for what he had bought four years earlier at the time of his wedding. He was determined that the breach with his wife should be decisive.

Josephine at length agreed to accept her husband's stipulation that she enter a convent. Accompanied by Madame Renaudin and Eugène, but leaving her new baby at Noisy-le‑Grand, she moved towards the end of November into a house of retreat at the convent of Pentemont, renting at the very modest cost of three hundred livres per year one of the apartments maintained by the order. Josephine 'entered a convent' only in the most literal and limited sense of the expression. Her new home, in a fashionable part of Paris, was a place where women of the very best society, many of them in domestic difficulties similar to hers, could compare notes while finding pleasant company, cheap living, and mutual sympathy.

Within two weeks of her arrival Josephine had started legal proceedings against her husband. However much she may have been encouraged and supported by her relatives in this decision, her prompt action demonstrated a conviction of innocence, a sense of outrage, and a courage worthy of notice in a young woman not yet twenty‑one. Her decision was furthered by the complete failure of all family efforts to bring about a reconciliation, and by the unyielding attitude of her husband. Alexander was now chiefly concerned to renew his military career, hoping to secure a captain's commission in the Royal-Champagne cavalry regiment and to become an aide-de‑camp to his old patron, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld. He did, nevertheless, continue to show an interest in his infant daughter. The village curé at Noisy-le‑Grand wrote to Madame Renaudin as follows:

M. le vicomte has come to see Mademoiselle his daughter . . . He did not call on me, because of his travelling companions, but sent his apologies. He paid the wet‑nurse for two months, gave his daughter jewellery from the fair, and left, seeming very satisfied. It is said that he is amusing himself greatly in Paris.17

p66 On a December morning in 1783, at about eleven o'clock, Louis Joron, counsellor of the king and commissioner at the Châtelet in Paris, paid a formal visit to the convent of Pentemont on the rue de Grenelle. He was shown into parlour number three, on the second floor, overlooking the courtyard. Here, according to his official report, he met 'Dame Marie-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, aged twenty years, creole of Martinique, wife of Alexandre-François, Vicomte de Beauharnais'. She had summoned him to make official record of a complaint against her husband.

The documents concerning Josephine's suit for separation can still be seen in the archives at Paris. We can read her long statement, taken down by Joron in his precise, legal hand. On each page there is her signature of approval — 'Tascher de la Pagerie'. We have Alexander's savage letter of 12 July, with the blank spaces carefully ruled over by Joron so that nothing subsequently could be added, and with Josephine's authenticating signature. We have the second letter of 20 October, likewise authenticated. Together, these papers give the simple outline of the failure of four years of married life.18

Josephine told how she had been brought by her father to France in 1779 and how, after marrying Alexander, she had lived in the home of the Marquis de Beauharnais. Because of 'the great dissipation' of her husband, his long absences, and his indifference towards her, clouds soon appeared. The birth of a son in 1781 temporarily improved matters, yet shortly afterwards, in November, Alexander went to Italy, not returning until the following July. Although he seemed enchanted to find himself with her again, he soon left for America, knowing that his wife was pregnant. Until the time of the birth of her second child, her husband's letters 'breathed nothing but tenderness and affection', but this news, strangely enough, 'served as a pretext to heap her with unjust reproaches' concerning her early life in Martinique.

Josephine submitted as evidence Alexander's two letters of 1783: 'The said letters contain the most atrocious imputations and, not content with accusing the petitioner of adultery, he treats her with infamy, saying that he has too great a contempt p67for her ever to live with her again.' Consequently he has ordered her to a convent and threatened her if she refused to go. Although he returned to Paris in October, he would not even visit his wife at the Beauharnais home. Josephine calculated that in their four years of married life her husband had not spent more than ten months in her company. 'It is not possible,' the document continued, 'for the petitioner to suffer patiently so my affronts. To do this would be lacking in what she owed to herself and to her children, and to expose herself to the most terrible fate.' Consequently, she has submitted this complaint, desiring a legal separation 'of body and habitation'.

If any confirmation were needed for what Josephine here described as 'the great dissipation' of her husband, it could be found in the memoirs of a young brother-officer, Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Bouillé. This officer describes Alexander as not striking in appearance, but a remarkable dancer. He was generally graceful and attractive, particularly to women, with whom he had numerous brilliant successes.

This kind of merit, for so it was considered at the time [Bouillé wrote], flattered his self-esteem and occupied him almost exclusively . . . He regaled me almost incessantly with his successes, even submitting the documentary evidence which he kept and classified as another would have done the record of his military glories. He included with his confidences advice about the way to behave with women which certainly was not dictated by good sense or morality and which, illustrated by very striking examples, was bound at this period to impress my inexperienced nature.19

The first result of Josephine's complaint was that on 3 February 1784 the Prévôt of Paris issued an order authorizing her to stay at Pentemont until a court decision was reached. Alexander, meanwhile, was to provide food and maintenance for his children, wages and food for the servant attending the three-year‑old, and money for educational costs hitherto assumed by the petitioner. For some time matters rested thus. Alexander struck back by appealing to the authorities to make his father pay the large arrears due to him as an inheritance from his mother. Because his father had failed to pay these p68sums, Alexander claimed that he had been obliged to sell his furniture.

While in Pentemont, Josephine had written to a friend, complaining that in her husband's absence she had been without money. This, written in March 1784, is the earliest of her letters that have survived, and money is its theme. When Hortense was born, the improvident Alexander was in Martinique, and Josephine's own father had been unable to send even the costs of baptism. She had been compelled, therefore, to sell some jewellery to find the necessary funds. Now, she explained bitterly, 'M. de Beauharnais must know that I have nothing and need everything, but since money is not my God, this is not what concerns me the most.'20 Still later she wrote to a creditor, who was pressing her for money, with more complaints about Alexander:

Since his return from Martinique he has rejected nearly all the bills submitted to him, promising to pay them if I would recognize that these bills were correct. I would not have refused if the merchant had actually delivered the merchandise and the worker had done his work; but all these things did not remain in my possession; M. de Beauharnais sold everything as soon as he arrived in Paris. He should know better than anyone what has become of this furniture.21

Even further trouble developed early in 1785, when Alexander, whose affection for his children was real, used open force to take his son Eugène away from Josephine. She wrote at once to the Prévôt of Paris, asking that the authorities compel Alexander to restore the child. This request brought matters to a head, for the two were required to appear at the Châtelet. A month later, on 5 March 1785 the long conflict terminated in the study of Maître Trutat, notary of Paris. An out-of‑court settlement made unnecessary the costs, complications, and embarrassments of further legal action.

The victory was all to Josephine. In the preamble to the agreement Alexander made an abject surrender:

The said Vicomte de Beauharnais recognizes that the Vicomtesse, his wife, has pleaded with just cause; that he was wrong to write to the said lady the letters of 12 July and 20 October of which p69she complains, and which were inspired by the passions and anger of youth. He regrets all the more having given way to these passions because on his return to France the testimony of the public and of her father[-in‑law] was all to her advantage . . . He realizes that his conduct would secure for the lady Vicomtesse de Beauharnais the separation which she desires. Seeking to avoid the publicity of a legal plea, he has offered to consent voluntarily to what his wife would have been able to obtain judicially, and his wife, wishing to avoid disagreeable publicity and to give the strongest proof to her two children of her maternal love, has consented . . . to accept the offer which has been made to her.22

The terms of the 'amicable agreement' were as follows: Josephine was free to live wherever she chose and to enjoy the revenues from her dowry and whatever else might fall to her. Alexander would further provide her with an annual income of five thousand livres. Hortense was to remain entirely with her mother, Alexander providing one thousand livres annually for her until she was seven, and fifteen hundred livres annually thereafter. Eugène was to go to his father, although remaining until the age of five with his mother and visiting her thereafter during the summers. All his expenses would be assumed by his father. Alexander agreed to give his wife whatever legal powers became necessary and to defray all the costs of the suit.

With this sweeping vindication, the conflicts of five years were at an end. A financial agreement had been reached, arrangements had been made for the two children, and married life together was legally terminated. Josephine was now twenty‑one.


The Author's Notes:

1 Hanoteau, Ménage, pp150‑1.

2 Ibid., p151.

3 Ibid., pp156‑7.

4 Ibid., p155.

5 Ibid., pp155‑6.

6 Ibid., pp157‑9.

7 Ibid., pp159‑60.

8 Ibid., p162.

9 Ibid., pp164‑5.

10 Ibid., p175.

11 Ibid., p173.

12 Ibid., p185.

13 Masson, JB, pp138‑41, where it is wrongly dated, as are the extracts in Hanoteau, Ménage, pp167‑9. Original in AN, Y, 13,975.

14 Hanoteau, Ménage, p218.

15 Masson, JB, pp141‑3.

16 Hanoteau, Ménage, pp176‑8.

17 Ibid., p201.

18 AN, Y, 13,975. Printed in C. d'Arjuzon, Joséphine contre Beauharnais (Paris, 1906), pp6‑12. Extracts in Hanoteau, Ménage, pp192‑4.

19 L. J. A. de Bouillé, Souvenirs et fragments (Paris, 1906‑11), I.52‑3.

20 Hanoteau, Ménage, pp196‑7.

21 Ibid., p205‑6.

22 BN, Nouv. acq. fr., 4689, fols. 1‑6. Printed in Arjuzon, Joséphine contre Beauharnais, pp13‑19. Extracts in Hanoteau, Ménage, pp198‑200.


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