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It was Josephine who took the precedence in solemn ceremonies, and to
whom, by Bonaparte's commands, they had to manifest respect. And
this woman, who by her eminence placed the sisters of Bonaparte in an
inferior position, was not of nobler or more distinguished blood than
they; she was not young, she was not beautiful, she was not even able to
give birth to a child, for which her husband so intensely longed.

The three sisters might have been submissive to the daughter of a
prince, they might have conceded to her the right of precedence, but the
widow of the Viscount de Beauharnais was not superior to them in rank
or birth; she was far inferior to them in beauty and youth - and yet they
had to give way to her, and see her take the first place!

From these sentiments of jealousy and envy sprang the enmity which the
three sisters of Bonaparte, Madame Elise Bacciocchi, Madame Pauline
Borghese, and Madame Caroline Murat, cherished against Josephine, and
which her gentle words and kind heart could never assuage.

Josephine was in their way - she must therefore fall. Such is the key to
the right understanding of the conduct of the three beautiful sisters
of Napoleon toward the wife of their brother. In their violence they
disregarded all propriety, and shrank from no calumny or malice to
accomplish their ends. It was a constant warfare with intrigues and
malicious suspicions. Every action of Josephine was observed, every step
was watched, in the hope of finding something to render her suspicious
to her husband. On every occasion the three sisters besieged him with
complaints concerning the lofty and proud demeanor of Josephine, and
ridiculed him about his old, childless wife, who stood in the way of
his growing fame! Though Bonaparte in these conflicts always sided with
Josephine against his sisters, yet there probably remained in his heart
a sting from the ridicule which they had directed against him.

This hostility of the Bonaparte family was not unknown to Josephine; her
soul suffered under these ceaseless attacks, her heart was agonized at
the thought that the efforts of her sisters-in-law might finally succeed
in withdrawing from her the love of her husband. She was persuaded that
even in the Bonaparte family she needed a protector, that she must
look for one among the brothers, so as to counteract the enmity of the
sisters; and she chose for this Louis Bonaparte. She entreated Napoleon
to give to his young, beloved brother the hand of her daughter Hortense.
It would be a new bond chaining Bonaparte to her - a new fortress for
her love - if he would but make her daughter his sister-in-law, and his
brother her son-in-law.

Napoleon did not oppose her wishes; he consented that Hortense should be
married to his brother. It is true the young people were not consulted;
for the first time, Josephine's selfishness got the better of her love
for her child - she sacrificed the welfare of her daughter to secure her
own happiness.

But Hortense loved another, yet she yielded to the entreaties and tears
of her mother, and became the wife of this laconic, timid young man,
whose meagre, unpretending appearance resembled so little the ideal
which her maidenly heart had pictured of her future husband.

Louis on his side had not the slightest inclination for Hortense; he
never would have chosen her for his wife, for their characters were too
different; their inclinations and wishes were not in sympathy with each
other. But through obedience to the wishes of his brother, he accepted
the proffered hand of Josephine's daughter, and became the husband of
the beautiful, blond-haired Hortense de Beauharnais.

In February, of the year 1802, the marriage of the young couple took
place, and this family event was celebrated with the most magnificent
festivities. Josephine's joy and happiness were complete - she had thrown
a bridge over the abyss, and was now secure against the hostilities of
her sisters-in-law, by giving up her own daughter.

Every thing was resplendent with beauty and joy at these festivities;
every thing wore an appearance of happiness; only the countenances of
the newly-married couple were grave and sad, and their deep melancholy
contrasted strikingly with the happiness of which they themselves were
the cause. Adorned with diamonds and flowers, Hortense appeared to be a
stranger to all the pomp which surrounded her, and to be occupied only
with her own sad communings. Louis Bonaparte was pale and grave, like
Hortense; he seldom addressed a word to the young wife that the orders
of his brother had given him; and she avoided her husband's looks,
perhaps to hinder him from reading there the indifference and dislike
she felt for him. [Footnote: "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine, la
Cour de Navarre," etc., par Mlle. Ducrest, vol. i., p. 49.]

But Josephine was happy, for she knew the noble, faithful, and generous
spirit of the man to whom she had given her daughter; and she trusted
that the two young hearts, now that they were linked together, would
soon love one another. She hoped much more from this alliance; she hoped
not only to find in it a shield against domestic animosities, but also
to give to her husband, even if indirectly, the children he so much
desired - for the offspring of his brother and the daughter of his
Josephine would be nearly the same as his own, and they could adopt
and love them as such. This was Josephine's hope, the dream of her
happiness, when she gave her daughter in marriage to the brother of her

The fact that the first consul was childless was not only a family
solicitude, it was also a political question. The people themselves had
changed the face of affairs, they had by solemn vote decided to confer
the consulate for life upon Napoleon, who had previously been elected
for ten years only. In other words, the French people had chosen
Bonaparte for their master and ruler, and he now lacked but the title
to be king. Every one felt and knew that this consulate for life was
but the prelude to royalty; that the golden laurel-wreath of the first
consul would soon be converted into a golden crown, so as to secure to
France an enduring peace, and to make firm its political situation.

With her keen political instinct, Josephine trembled at the thought
that the King or Emperor Bonaparte would have to establish for himself
a dynasty - that he would have to appease the apprehensions of France
by offering to the nation a son who would be his legitimate heir and
successor. Thus was the subject of divorce kept hanging over her head
until the conviction was forced upon her mind that some day Napoleon
would be led into sacrificing his love to politics. Josephine was
conscious of it, and consequently the hopes of Napoleon's future
greatness, which so pleased his brothers and sisters, only made her
sorrowful, and she therefore entreated Bonaparte with tender appeal to
remain content with the high dignity he already possessed, and not to
tempt fate, nor to allow it to bear him up to a dizzy height, from which
the stormy winds of adversity might the more easily prostrate him.

Bonaparte listened to her with a smile, and generally in silence. Once
only he replied to her: "Has not your prophetess in Martinique told you
that one day you would be more than a queen?"

"And the prophecy is already realized," exclaimed Josephine. "The wife
of the consul for life is more than a queen, for her husband is the
elect of thirty millions of hearts!" Bonaparte laughed, and said

Another time Josephine asked him - "Now, Bonaparte, when are you going to
make me Empress of the Gauls?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "What an idea," said he; "the little
Josephine an empress!"

Josephine answered him with the words of Corneille - "'Le premier qui fut
roi fut un soldat heureux'" (the first king was a successful soldier);
and she added, "The wife of this fortunate soldier shares his rank."

He placed his small, white hand, adorned with rings, under her chin, and
gazed at her with a deep, strange look.

"Now, Josephine," said he, after a short pause, "your successful soldier
is only, for the present, consul for life, and you are sharing his rank.
Be careful, then, that the wife of the first consul surrounds herself
with all the brilliancy and the pomp which beseem her dignity. No more
economy, no more modest simplicity! The industry of France is at a low
ebb - we must make it rise. We must give receptions; we must prove to
France that the court of a consul can be as splendid as that of a king.
You understand what pomp is - none better than you! Now show yourself
brilliant, magnificent, so that the other ladies may imitate you. But,
no foreign stuffs! Silk and velvet from the fabrics of Lyons!"

"Yes," said Josephine, with charming tenderness, "and when afterward my
bills become due, you cut them down - you find them too high."

"I only cut down what is too exorbitant," said Bonaparte, laughing. "I
have no objection for you to give to the manufacturers any amount
of work and profit, but I do not wish them to cheat you." [Footnote:
Abrantes, "Memoires" vol. iv.]

Henceforth, the consulate began gradually to exhibit a splendor and pomp
which were behind no princely court, and which relegated, amid the dark
legends of the fabulous past, the fraternity and the equality of the
republic. The absence of pretension, and the simplicity of Malmaison,
were now done away with; everywhere the consul for life was followed by
the splendors of his dignity, and everywhere Josephine was accompanied
by her court.

For now she had a court, and an anteroom, with all its intrigues and
flatteries; and its conspiracies already wove their chains around the
consul and his wife. It was not suddenly, it was not spontaneously, that
this court of the first consul was formed; two years were required
for its organization - two years of unceasing labor on the new code of
regulations, which etiquette dictated from the remembrances of the past
to the palace-officers of the Consul Bonaparte. "How was this in times
past? What was the practice?" Such were the constant questions in the
interior of the Tuileries, and for the answers they appealed to Madame
de Montesson, to the old courtiers, the servants and adherents of
royalty. Instead of creating every thing new, they turned by degrees
to the usages and manners of the past. Always and in all countries
have there been seen at courts caricatures and persons of ill-mannered
awkwardness; at the opening of the court of the first consul it is
probable that these existed, and appeared still more strange to those
who had been used to the manners, traditions, and language of the
ancient court of Versailles. Their awkwardness, however, was soon
overcome; and Josephine understood so well the rare art of presiding at
a court establishment - she was such an accomplished mistress of refined
manners and of noble deportment - she united to the perfect manners of
the old nobility the most exquisite adroitness, and she knew so well how
to adapt all these advantages to every new circumstance - that soon every
one bowed to her sovereignty and submitted to her laws.

From the glittering halls of the Tuileries there soon disappeared the
sword and the uniform, to be replaced by the gold-embroidered dress, the
silk stockings, and the chapeau bras; and on the glassy floors of
the Tuileries generals and marshals appeared as fine cavaliers, who,
submitting to the rules of etiquette, left behind with their regiments
the coarse language of the camp. Many of these young generals and heroes
had married the beautiful but impoverished daughters of the
aristocrats of old monarchical France. These young women, who were the
representatives of the ancient noblesse, brought to the Tuileries the
traditions of their mothers, and distinguished themselves by the ease
of their courtly deportment and their graceful manners; and they thus
unconsciously became the teachers of the other young women, who, like
their husbands, owed their aristocratic name only to the sword and to
their fresh laurels, and not to ancient escutcheons.

In the Tuileries and in St. Cloud there were reception-days,
audience-days, and great and small levees, at which were assembled all
that France possessed of rank, name, and fame, and where the ambassadors
of all the powers accredited at the court of the consul, where all the
higher clergy and the pope's nuncio, appeared in full dress.

Bonaparte ventured to remove still further from the landmarks of the
revolution, and from its so-called conquests. He restored to France the
church; he reopened the temples of religion, and he also gave back to
the people their priests.

Just as in the days of old monarchical France, every Sunday, and at
every festival, a solemn mass was said at St. Cloud; and in the glass
gallery on the way to the chapel, Bonaparte received petitions
and granted short audiences. France, with the instinct of its old
inclinations and habits, readily returned to this new order of things;
and even those who once had with enthusiasm saluted the Goddess of
Reason, went now, with hands joined in prayer and eyes bent low, to
Notre Dame, to offer again their supplications to the God of Love.

Every thing seemed to return to the old track, every thing was as in the
days preceding the revolution - the re-establishment of the throne, the
national, willing approbation that the republic had become a monarchy,
was, however, still wanting.

Finally, on the 18th of May, 1804, France spoke out the decisive word,
and, by the voice of its representatives the senators, it offered to
Bonaparte the crown, and requested him to ascend as emperor the throne
of France.

Napoleon acceded to these wishes, and, as the senate, in a ceremonious
procession, marshalled by Cambaceres, came to St. Cloud to communicate
to Bonaparte the wish of France, and to offer to him and to Josephine
the dignities of an empire, he accepted it without surprise, and
apparently without joy, and allowed himself to be proclaimed NAPOLEON,

On this memorable day, after Cambaceres, in the name of the senate and
of France, had addressed the first consul as the actual emperor, he
turned to Josephine, who, with that unparalleled admixture of grandeur,
grace, and tender womanly beauty, which were all so especially her own,
was present at this audience at Napoleon's side.

"Madame," said Cambaceres, "there remains yet to the senate a pleasant
duty to perform: to bring to your imperial majesty the homage of its
respect and the expression of gratitude of the French people. Yes,
madame, the public sentiment acknowledges the good which you are ever
performing; that you are always accessible to the unfortunate; that you
use your influence with the chief magistrate only to diminish evil, and
to procure a hearing to those who seek it; and that your majesty
with this well-doing combines the most amiable tenderness, rendering
thankfulness a pleasant duty. These noble qualities of your majesty
foretell that the name of the Empress Josephine will be a watchword
of trust and hope; and, as the virtues of Napoleon will ever be to his
followers an example to teach them the difficult art of government,
so also, the lively remembrance of your goodness will teach to their
honorable wives that to strive to dry the tear is the surest means of
ruling the heart. The senate deems itself happy in being the first
to congratulate your imperial majesty, and he who has the honor of
addressing you these sentiments in the name of the senate, dares trust
that you will ever number him among your most faithful servants."

It was, then, decided! France had accepted her master, and Cambaceres in
his solemn address had already marked out the situation of France and of
her rulers. Bonaparte and Josephine were now their imperial majesties,
the senators were their most faithful servants. What remained to the
people but to call themselves "faithful subjects?"

The people, however, had made known their wishes only through the voice
of the senate; it was the senators who had converted Bonaparte into the
Emperor Napoleon; but the people were also to make their will known in a
solemn manner; they were, through a universal public suffrage, to decide
whether the imperial dignity should be given only for life to Napoleon
the First, Emperor of the French, or whether it should be hereditary in
his family.

France, wearied with storms and divisions, decided with her five
millions of votes for the hereditary imperial dignity in Bonaparte's
family, and thus the people of France created their fourth dynasty.

Meanwhile Josephine received this new decision of the nation, not with
that disquietude and care which she had formerly experienced.
Bonaparte had given her the deepest and strongest proof of his love
and faithfulness. He had not only withstood the pressure of his whole
family, which had conjured him before his election to the empire to be
divorced from his childless wife, but he had in the generosity of his
love appointed his heirs and successors, and these were to be the sons
of Hortense. The senate had decreed that the imperial dignity should be
transmitted as a heritage to Napoleon's two brothers Joseph and
Louis, and moreover they had given to Napoleon the right to choose his
successors and heirs from the families of the two brothers.

Napoleon had given to Josephine the strongest proof of affection - he had
declared the son of her daughter Hortense and of his brother Louis, the
little Napoleon Louis, to be his successor and heir, and the idea of
a divorce no longer caused apprehensions before which Josephine need

Bonaparte had appointed the sons of his brother and of Josephine's
daughter as his heirs, and the heir of the new imperial throne was
already born. Hortense's youth made it hopeful that she would add to the
new branch of the Napoleonic dynasty new leaves and new boughs.

Josephine could now rejoice in her happiness and her glory; she could
abandon herself to the new splendors of her life with all the enjoyment
of her sensitive and excitable nature. She could now receive with smiles
and with affable condescension the homage of France, for she was not
only empress by a nation's vote, but she was also empress by the choice
of Napoleon her husband.

The brilliancy of this new and glorious horizon was soon overhung by a
sombre cloud. The execution of the Duke d'Enghien threw its dark shadows
from the last days of the consulate upon the truly royalist heart of
Josephine; and now that heart was to receive fresh wounds through the
royalists, to whom she had remained true with all the memories of
youth, and in whose behalf she had so often, so zealously, and so warmly
interceded with her husband.

A new conspiracy against Napoleon's life was discovered, and this time
it was the men of the highest ranks of the old aristocracy who were
implicated in it. George Cadoudal, the unwearied conspirator, had, while
in England, planned with the leaders of the monarchical party residing
in France, or who were away from it, a new conspiracy, whose object was
to destroy Bonaparte and to re-establish the monarchy.

But Fate was again on the side of the hero of Arcola. His good star
still protected him. The conspiracy was discovered, and all those
concerned in it were arrested. Among them were the Generals Pichegru and
Moreau, the Counts de Polignac, Riviere, Saint Coster, Charles d'Hozier,
and many others of the leading and most distinguished royalists. They
were now under the avenging sword of justice, and the tribunal had
condemned twenty of the accused to death, among whom were the above
named. The emperor alone had the power to save them and to extend mercy.
But he was this time determined to exhibit a merciless severity, so as
to put an end to the royalists, and to prove to them that he was the
ruler of France, and that the people without a murmur had given him the
power to punish, as guilty of high-treason, those who dared touch their

Josephine's heart, however, remained true to her memories and her piety;
and, according to her judgment, those who, with so much heroic loyalty,
remained true to the exiled monarchy, were criminals only as they had
imperilled her husband's life, but criminals who, since their plans were
destroyed, deserved pardon, because they had sinned through devotion to
sacred principles.

Josephine, therefore, opposed Bonaparte's anger, and begged for pardon
for the son of the former friend of Queen Marie Antoinette, the Count
Jules de Polignac. Bonaparte, however, remained inexorable; he repelled
Josephine with vehemence, reproaching her for asking for the life of
those who threatened his. But she would not be deterred; since Bonaparte
had turned her away with her petitions and prayers, she wanted at least
to give to the wife of the Count de Polignac an opportunity to ask
pardon for her condemned husband. Despite Bonaparte's wrath, Josephine
led the Countess de Polignac into a corridor through which the emperor
had to pass, when he went from the council-room into his cabinet, and by
this means the countess was fortunate enough, by her tears and prayers,
to save her husband's life. The Count de Polignac was pardoned; and now
that Bonaparte's heart had once been opened to mercy, he also granted to
Josephine the lives of Count Riviere and of General Lajolais, in behalf
of whom Hortense had appealed to the emperor. More than twenty of the
conspirators were accused and sentenced, some to death and some to
severe punishment, but one-half of the accused were, thanks to the
prayers of Josephine and of her daughter, pardoned; a few were put to
death, and the rest transported. Pichegru committed suicide in prison;
Moreau received permission to emigrate to America; George Cadoudal
perished on the scaffold.

After this last fruitless attempt to re-establish in France the throne
of the Bourbons, the royalists, wearied and terrified, had at least
for a time to withdraw into obscurity and solitude, and the
newly-established empire appeared in still more striking magnificence.
The monarchy by God's grace had been conquered by the empire by the
people's grace, and Napoleon wanted now to show himself to astonished
Europe in all the glory of his new dignity. He therefore undertook a
journey with his wife through the conquered German provinces; he went
to Aix-la-Chapelle, to the city of coronation of the ancient German
emperors, and which now belonged to imperial France; he went to Mayence,
the golden Mayence of the old Roman days, and which now, after so many
streams of bloodshed, had been transferred to France.

This journey of the emperor and empress was one uninterrupted triumphal
procession; the population of the old German city applauded, in
dishonorable faithlessness, the new foreign ruler; all the clergy
received their imperial majesties at the door of the cathedral, where
Germany's first emperor, Charlemagne, was buried; and, to flatter the
Empress Josephine, the clergy caused a miracle to be performed by her
hand. There existed in the sacred treasury of the cathedral a casket of
gold, containing the most precious relics, but which was never opened to
the eyes of mortals, and whose lock no key fitted. Only once a year was
this precious, sacred casket of relics shown to the worshipping crowd,
and then locked up in the holy shrine. But for Josephine this treasury
was condescendingly opened, and to the empress was presented this casket
of relics, and behold, the miracle took place! At the touch of the
empress the lid of the casket sprang up, and in it were seen the
most precious jewels of royalty, amongst which was the seal-ring of
Charlemagne. [Footnote: Constant, "Memoires," vol. iii.] No one was more
surprised at this miracle than the clergy!

The neighboring German princes came to ancient Mayence to do homage to
Josephine, and to win the favor of the sovereign of France toward their
little principalities, and to assure him of their devotedness. Bonaparte
already understood how to receive the humble, flattering German princes
with the mien of a gracious protector, and to look upon them with the
eye of an emperor, to whom not only the nations but also the princes
must bow; and Josephine also excited the admiration of genuine princes
and legitimate princesses, by the graciousness and grandeur, by the
unaffected dignity and ease with which she knew how to represent the
sovereign and the empress.


Fate had reserved another triumph for the ruler of France, the Emperor

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 35 of 40)