L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 36 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 36 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Napoleon - the triumph that the empire by the people's grace should be
converted and exalted into the empire by God's grace. Pope Pius VII.,
full of thankfulness that Napoleon had re-established the Church in
France, and restored to the clergy their rights, had consented to come
to Paris for the sake of giving to the empire, created by the will
of the French people, the benediction of the Church, and in solemn
coronation to place the imperial crown on the head anointed by the hands
of God's vice-gerent.

Bonaparte received this news with the lofty composure of an emperor who
finds it quite natural that the whole world should bow to his wishes,
and Josephine received it with the modesty and joyous humility of a
pious Christian. She desired above all things the blessing of God and of
the Church to rest upon this crown, whose possession had seemed to her
until now a spoliation, a sacrilege, and about which her conscience so
often reproached her. But when God's vicegerent, when the Holy Father of
Christendom should himself have blessed her husband's crown, and should
have made fast on Josephine's brow the imperial diadem, then all blame
was removed, then the empress could hope that Heaven's blessing would
accompany the new emperor and his wife!

But was it really Napoleon's wish that Josephine should take part in
this grand ceremony of coronation? Did he wish that, like him, she
should receive from the hands of the pope the consecrated crown?

Such was the deep, important question which occupied, at the approaching
arrival of the pope, the young imperial court; a question, too,
which occupied Josephine's mind, and also the whole family, and more
especially the sisters of Bonaparte.

Josephine naturally desired that it should be so, for this solemn
coronation would be a new bond uniting her to her husband, a new
guaranty against the evil which the empress's foreboding spirit still
dreaded. But for the very same reasons her enemies prepared their
weapons to prevent Josephine from obtaining this new consecration and
this new glory, and harsh and bitter conflicts took place within the
inner circles of the imperial family on account of it, which on both
sides were carried on with the deepest animosity and obstinacy, but
finally to a complete triumph for Josephine.

Thiers, in his "History of the Consulate and of the Empire," relates the
last scenes in this family quarrel:

"Napoleon vacillated between his affection for his wife and the secret
presentiments of his policy, when an occurrence took place which nearly
caused the sudden ruin of the unfortunate Josephine. Every one was in a
state of agitation about the new monarch - brothers, sisters, and allies!
In the solemnity which seemed to give to each a blessing, all desired to
perform parts adequate to their actual pretensions, and to their hopes
of the future. At the sight of this restlessness, and witnessing the
pretensions and claims to which Napoleon was exposed from one of his
sisters, Josephine, carried away by anxiety and jealousy, gave utterance
to an insulting suspicion against his sister and against Napoleon, a
suspicion which agreed with the most bitter calumnies of the royalist
emigrants. Napoleon grew violently angry, and, as his wrath mastered his
better feelings, he declared to Josephine that he wanted to be divorced
from her; that he would have to be, sooner or later, and that it was
therefore better to announce it on the spot, before other bonds should
unite them still closer together. He sent for his two adopted children,
communicated to them this decision, and thus produced on them a most
painful impression. Hortense and Eugene de Beauharnais declared with
a sad but unwavering determination that they would follow their mother
into the exile which was being prepared for her. Josephine manifested
a resigned and dignified sorrow. The contrast of their sorrow with the
satisfaction which the other portion of the imperial family manifested,
deeply lacerated Napoleon's heart, and he relented; for he could not
consent to see the companion of his youth and her children, who had been
the objects of his deserved affection, made so unhappy by being forced
into exile. He took Josephine in his arms, told her with emotion that
he could never have the strength to part from her, even if policy itself
should dictate it; and he then promised her that she should be crowned
with him, and at his side should receive from the pope the divine
blessing." [Footnote: Thiers, "Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire."
vol. v., p. 249.]

Josephine, therefore, had won a victory over the hostile sisters, but
this defeat made them still more embittered, and though they were now
compelled to recognize Josephine as the imperial wife of their brother,
yet they would retreat only step by step, and at "least secure a place
near the imperial throne, and not be compelled by the empress to stand
behind. Yet this was exactly what was to take place according to the
programme, which prescribed for the festivity in Notre Dame that on the
day of coronation the brothers of the emperor should carry the trail of
his mantle, and that his sisters should at the same time carry the trail
of the empress's mantle. But the sisters of Napoleon decidedly opposed
this arrangement.

"The emperor, tired of these constant wranglings and domestic strifes,
decided as judge, and declared he would no longer listen to these
unheard-of and unjustifiable pretensions.

"'Truly,' said he, to the beautiful Pauline, who, as Princess Borghese,
considered herself justified in making opposition, 'truly, one would
think, after listening to you, that I have despoiled you of the
inheritance of the most blessed king our father.'" [Footnote: "Histoire
du Consulat," vol. v., p. 251.]

The ambitious sisters, kept within bounds by the angry voice of their
brother, who now for the first time showed himself their ruling emperor,
had to fall into their places, and abide by the regulations of the

Nothing was wanted now to perfect the sacred celebration which was
to crown all the triumphs and victories of Napoleon, nothing but the
arrival of the pope: the whole imperial family, as well as France,
awaited his advent with impatience.

At last the couriers brought the news that the pope had touched the
French soil, and that the people were streaming toward him to manifest
their respect, and to implore his blessing on their knees; the same
people who precisely ten years before had closed the churches, driven
the priests into exile, and consecrated their bacchanalian worship to
the Goddess of Reason!

At last, on the 25th day of November, the pope entered Fontainebleau,
where the emperor and the empress had hastened to receive him. No sooner
was the pope's approach announced, than Napoleon mounted his horse and
rode to meet him some distance on the way. In the centre of the road
took place the first interview between the representative of Christendom
and the youngest son of the Church, a son who now sat on the throne of
those who in former times had enjoyed the privilege of being called the
elder sons of the Church.

The pope alighted from his carriage as soon as the emperor was in
sight; Napoleon dismounted and hastened to meet and embrace tenderly
his holiness, and then to ascend with him the carriage, the question of
precedence remaining undecided, as the pope and the emperor entered the
carriage at the same time from opposite sides.

Josephine, surrounded by the official dignitaries, the ministers of
state, and all the generals, received the pope under the peristyle of
the palace of Fontainebleau; and then, after Napoleon had led him into
his room, Josephine, accompanied by her ladies, went to welcome Pius,
not as empress, but as an humble, devout daughter of the Church, who
wished to implore a blessing from the Holy Father of Christendom.
Josephine was deeply moved; her whole being was agitated and exalted at
once by this greatest of all the privileges which destiny had reserved
for her, and by this consecration which she was to receive at the hands
of the vicar of Christ.

As the pope, agreeably affected by this respect and emotion of the
empress, offered her his hand with a genial smile, Josephine, humble as
a little girl, sank down on her knees before him, kissed his hand, and
with streaming eyes implored his benediction. Pius, in his soft, winning
manner, promised to love her as a daughter, and that she should ever
find in him a father.

The empress, deeply moved by this affectionate condescension of the
pope, and impressed by the importance and solemnity of the moment,
bade her ladies withdraw, whilst she, in solitude and silence, as a
confessing child before the priest, should unveil her innermost heart
to the Holy Father. She then sank down upon her knees, and, stammering,
ashamed, with her voice broken by her sobs, acknowledged to the pope
that her marriage to Napoleon had never received, the consecration of
the Church; that, contracted amid the stormy days of the revolution, it
still lacked the blessing hand of the priest, and that her own husband
was to be blamed for this neglect. In vain had she often besought him
that, since he had restored the Church to Prance, he should himself give
to the world a striking example of his own return by having his marriage
blessed by it. But Napoleon refused, although he had been the cause of
Cardinal Caprera giving to the marriage of his sister Caroline Murat,
long after it had been contracted, the blessing of the Church.

Pius heard this confession of his imperial penitent with holy
resentment, and he promised her his aid and protection, assuring her he
would refuse the act of coronation if the ecclesiastical marriage did
not precede it.

No sooner had Josephine left him, than the pope asked for an interview
with the emperor, to whom he declared, with all the zeal of a true
servant of the Church, and the conviction of a devout, God-fearing man,
that he was willing to crown him, and to grant him the blessing of
the Church, for the state of the conscience of emperors had never been
examined before their anointment; but if his wife was to be crowned with
him, he must refuse his co-operation, because in crowning Josephine he
dare not grant the divine sanction to concubinage.

Napoleon, though inwardly much irritated at Josephine, who, as he at
once supposed, had made this confession to the pope in her own interest,
was still willing to abide by the circumstances. He did not wish to
irritate the pope, who as was well known was unyielding in all matters
pertaining to faith; moreover, he could not change any thing in the
already published ceremonial of the day, and thus he consented to have
the ecclesiastical marriage. After this conversation with the pope,
Napoleon went at once to Josephine, and the whole strength of his anger
was spent in violent reproaches against her untimely indiscretion.

Josephine endured these silently, and full of inward satisfaction; she
did not listen to Napoleon's angry words; she only heard that he was
decided to have his marriage sanctioned by the Church, and now she would
be his wife before God, as she had been before men for the last
ten years. Now at last her fate was decided, and her marriage made
irrevocable; now she would no longer dread that Napoleon would punish
her childlessness by a divorce.

During the night which preceded the day of the coronation, the night
of the 1st of December, the ecclesiastical marriage of Napoleon and
Josephine took place in the chapel of the Tuileries. The only witnesses
were Talleyrand and Berthier, from both of whom the emperor had exacted
an oath of profound silence. Cardinal Fesch, the emperor's uncle,
performed the ceremony, and pronounced the benediction of the Church
over this marriage, which Bonaparte's love for Josephine had induced him
to consent to, and which her love endeavored to make indissoluble.

This marriage, which she desired both as a loving woman and as a devout
Christian, was the most glorious triumph which Josephine had ever
obtained over the enmity of her husband's sisters, for it was a new
proof of the love and faithfulness of this man, whom neither expediency,
nor family, nor state reasons, could remove from her, and who, with
the hand of love, had guided her away from all the dangers which had
surrounded her.



At last, on the 2d of December, came the day which Napoleon had during
many years past longed for within the recesses of his heart; the day
which his ambition had hoped for, the day of his solemn coronation.
And now the victorious soldier was to see all his laurels woven into an
imperial crown - that which Julius Caesar had tried to win, and for which
the republic punished him with death.

But now the republicans were silent: before this new Julius Caesar they
dare not lift up their swords, for the power belonged to him, and that
he knew how to punish had been seen by trembling France not long ago
at the execution of George Cadoudal and his associates, the people
sanctioning those executions.

There was no Brutus there to plunge the dagger into the breast of the
new Cassar. His was the victory, the throne, the crown; and all France
was in joyous excitement at this new triumph, that the pope himself
should come from Rome to Paris so as to place the crown on the head of
an emperor by the grace of the people, and to make of the elect of the
people an elect of God.

The day had scarcely begun to dawn when all the streets of Paris through
which the imperial as well as the papal procession had to move toward
Notre Dame were filled with wave-like masses of human beings, who soon
occupied not only the streets but all the windows and all the roofs of
the houses. Those who were fortunate enough to be provided with cards
of admission into Notre Dame, went at six o'clock in the morning to the
cathedral, for whose adorning during the last fourteen days more than a
thousand workmen had been busy, and who had not yet quite finished their
work, retiring only when the approach of the pope and of his suite was
announced. In the interior of the Tuileries began from the commencement
of the day, on three different sides, a lively movement.

Here, in the apartments which the pope occupied, gathered together the
cardinals, the clergy, and all the church dignitaries who in the pope's
suite were to proceed to Notre Dame.

There, in the apartments of the emperor, a host of courtiers and
officers waited from early dawn for the moment when the toilet of the
emperor should be completed, and he should go to the great throne-room,
where the empress and the imperial family would await him.

The greatest excitement, however, naturally prevailed in the apartments
of the empress, whose toilet occupied a host of chambermaids and ladies
of the court, and which had already been for months the subject of
thought, labor, and art, for painter and embroiderer, and for all
manner of professions, as well as for the master of ceremonies. For this
imperial toilet-ceremonial was to be in accordance with the traditions
of ancient France, but was not, at the same time, to be a mere imitation
of the coronation-toilet of the Bourbons, whom the revolution had
dethroned, the same revolution which had opened for Napoleon the way to
the throne.

For this important ceremony, therefore, special costumes, somewhat
resembling those of former centuries, had been found. The painter Ingres
had furnished the designs for these costumes, and also plans for the
procession and for the groupings in Notre Dame; he had prepared all this
in pictures of great effect for the emperor's inspection. But in order
to show to advantage the several costumes, as well as the train of
personages, and the subdivisions of the different groups of the imperial
dignitaries, Ingres had caused small puppets to be dressed in similar
costumes, and arrayed in the order of the procession according to the
prescribed ceremonies for that day; and for weeks the imperial court had
been studying these costumes, and every one's duty had been to impress
on his mind the position assigned to him for the day of coronation.
[Footnote: Constant, "Memoires," vol. iii., p. 111.]

The pope's toilet was the first completed; and at nine o'clock, all
dressed in white, he entered a carriage drawn by eight grays; over it in
gilt bronze were the tiara and the attributes of papacy. In front of the
carriage rode one of his chamberlains upon a white ass, bearing a large
silver cross before God's vicegerent. Behind it in new carriages came
the cardinals, the prelates, and the Italian officers of the pope's

While the papal train was moving slowly on the quays of the Seine toward
the cathedral, amid the sounds of bells, and the unceasing, joyful
shouts of the people, all was yet in motion within the apartments of
the emperor and empress. On all sides hurried along the dignitaries and
officers who were to form a part of the imperial procession.

For this day, Napoleon had been obliged to cast off his plain uniform
and substitute the splendid theatrical costume of imperial magnificence.
The stockings were of silk, wrought with gold, embroidered round the
edge with imperial crowns; the shoes were of white velvet, worked and
embroidered with gold; short breeches of white velvet, embroidered with
gold at the hips, and with buttons and buckles of diamonds in the shape
of garters; the vest also was of white velvet, embroidered with gold and
having diamond buttons; the coat was of crimson velvet, with facings of
white velvet along all the seams above and around, and sparkling with
gold; the half-mantle was also crimson, lined with white satin, and
hanging over the left shoulder, while on the right shoulder and upon
the breast it was fastened with a pair of diamond clasps. Sleeves of the
most costly lace fell about the arms; the cravat was of Indian muslin,
the collar likewise of lace; the cap, of black velvet, was adorned with
two plumes and surrounded by a coronet of diamonds, which "the regent"
used as a clasp. Such was the costume which the emperor wore in the
procession from the Tuileries to Notre Dame. In the vestry of the
cathedral he put on the ample state-robes, that is to say, the robe and
mantle of emperor. [Footnote: Constant, "Memoires," vol. ii., p. 212.]

The toilet of the empress was no less splendid and brilliant. It
consisted of an elaborate robe with a long train; this robe was of
silver brocade, with gold bees scattered all over; in front it was
embroidered into a maze of gold-leaves; at the lower edge was a gold
fringe; the shoulders alone were bare; long armlets of wrought gold, and
adorned at the upper part with diamonds, enclosed the arm and covered
one-half of the hand. It required all the art and grace of Josephine
to carry this robe, it being without any waist, and, according to the
fashion of the times, extremely narrow, and yet in wearing it to lose
naught of her elegance or condescending dignity. At the upper part of
the dress rose a collar a la Medicis of lace worked in with gold, and
which Josephine had been constrained to wear, so as at least, through
some historic details, to make her toilet correspond to the costume
of the renaissance worn by Napoleon. A gold girdle, adorned with
thirty-nine diamond rosettes, fastened under the breast her tunic-like
dress. In her fondness for the antique, Josephine, instead of diamonds
and pearls, had preferred for bracelets, ear-rings, and necklace,
some choice stones of rare workmanship. Her beautiful thick hair was
encircled and held together by a splendid diadem, a masterpiece of
modern art. This toilet was to be completed, like that of Napoleon,
before the solemn entrance into the cathedral, by putting on the
imperial mantle, which was fastened on the shoulders with gold buckles
and diamond clasps.

At last the imperial toilets were completed; all the dignitaries, as
well as the imperial family, gathered together in the throne-room,
ready for the procession. Holding Josephine by the hand, her countenance
expressing deep emotion, and her eye obscured by the tears shed as a
price for the solemn marriage of that night, Napoleon appeared in
the midst of his brilliant courtiers, and received the impressive,
heart-felt wishes of his family, his brothers and sisters, who pressed
around him and the empress, and who at this moment, forgetting all envy
and jealousy, had only words of thankfulness and assurances of love,
devotedness, and loyalty.

Napoleon replied to them all in the short, comprehensive words which he
addressed to his brother Joseph, whilst with his naming eyes he examined
his brothers and sisters in the brilliant costumes of their dignity and

"Joseph," said he, "could our father see us now!" [Footnote: Meneval,
"Souvenirs," vol. i., p. 204.]

From the pomp and solemnity of this important moment the thoughts of the
emperor, for whom the pope was waiting in Notre Dame, wandered far
away to the gloomy, quiet death-bed of his father, whose last hour was
embittered by the tormenting thought of leaving his family unprotected
and with but little means.

The thundering roar of cannon and the chimes of bells proclaimed that
the emperor and empress, with their train, were now leaving the palace
to ascend into the wonderful carriage made of gold and glass, and which
was waiting for them at the Pavilion de l'Horloge to proceed toward the

This carriage, prepared expressly for this day's celebration, was of
enormous size and breadth, with windows on all sides, and entirely alike
in its front and back seats. It therefore happened that their imperial
majesties, on entering the carriage, not thinking of the direction to be
taken, sat down on the front instead of the back seat.

The empress noticed the mistake, and when she laughingly called the
emperor's attention to it, they both took the back seat without a
suspicion that this little error was a bad omen.

Another little mishap occurred before they entered Notre Dame, which
threw a gloom of sad forebodings and fear over the heart of the empress.

Whilst alighting out of the carriage, the empress, whose hand was
occupied in the holding and carrying her robe and mantle, let slip
from her fingers the imperial ring which the pope had brought her for a
present, and which before the coronation he was to bless, according to
the accustomed ceremonial, and then place it on her finger as a token of
remembrance of the holy consecration. This made Josephine tremble, and
her cheeks turned pale, especially as the ring could nowhere be found.
It had rolled a considerable distance from the carriage, and only after
some minutes did Eugene Beauharnais find it and bring it to his mother,
to her great delight and satisfaction. [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. ii., p. 283.]

At last the procession entered Notre Dame, and the brilliant solemnity
began. It is not our purpose to describe here again the ceremony which
has been in all its details portrayed in so many works, and to repeat
the solemn addresses and the different events of this great and
memorable day. It is with Josephine we have to do, and with what
concerns her individual destiny - that alone claims our attentive

One event, however, is to be mentioned. At the moment the emperor took
from the altar the so-called crown of Charles the Great, and with firm
hand placed it on his head - at the moment when he assumed the place of
the ancient Kings of France, a small stone, which had detached itself
from the cupola, fell down, touched his head, leaped on his shoulder,
slipped down his imperial mantle, and rolled over the altar-steps near
to the pope's throne, where it remained still until an Italian priest
picked it up. [Footnote: Abrantes. "Memoires," vol. vii., p. 258.]

At the moment of his loftiest grandeur the destiny of his future aimed
its first stone at him, and marked him as the one upon whom its anger
was to fall.

This was the third evil omen of the day; but fortunately Josephine had
not noticed it. Her whole soul was absorbed in the sacred rites; and,
after the emperor had crowned himself, her heart trembled with deep
emotion and agitation, for now the moment had come when she was to take
her part in the solemnity.

The Duchess d'Abrantes, who was quite near Josephine, and an immediate
witness of the whole celebration, depicts the next scene in the
following words: "The moment when the greatest number of eyes were fixed
upon the altar-steps where the emperor stood, was when Josephine was

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 36 of 40)