Napoleon's first wife Josephine was a poor girl born in 1763 in Martinique, then a colony of France. She was a Creole, since both her parents - Joseph and Rose Tascher - were French. Her baptismal name was Marie-Rose, but her parents called her Yeyette. In 1776, the British navy blockaded Martinique's harbors and stopped exports of sugar to France. For Yeyette's family -she had two other sisters- that was a catastrophe. The only solution for the girls was to get married. But in 1777, Yeyette was only 14. However, a boy four years older named Alexandre de Beauharnais was selected by his father as a suitable husband for her. Also a Creole born in Martinique, Alexandre was an officer in the French army.
But he wasn't the suitable husband: he didn't want to marry Yeyette, he loved another woman - Laure de Girardin, who was already expecting a child. But though he had to get married in order to obtain his mother's inheritance -according to the terms of the will- he couldn't marry Laure since she was the wife of a naval officer. So he compromised with Yeyette. Late in 1779, Yeyette arrived in France and married Alexandre.
Yeyette was now renamed Rose -and soon Rose's marriage turned to tragedy. Alexandre started enjoying himself, spending his newfound inheritance and going out every evening without taking his wife with him. He would return home late at night, drunk, and slept until afternoon. In 1780 -after almost one year of marriage- he left Rose for months. And when their first child was born in 1781-a son named Eugene- quarrels erupted between the spouses. In 1782 the situation worsened. Alexandre abandoned his wife - who was pregnant again- and went to Martinique, with Laure.
Later, he sent Rose a letter demanding that she leave his house. When he returned to France in 1783, Rose was forced to leave the house and enter a convent that offered shelter to women suffering from marital problems. Their second child, daughter Hortence, was already born. She was penniless, and soon the situation became unbearable. The only way Rose could survive was to do the last thing she could imagine doing: to have affairs with men who could sustain her. She was 26.
But in 1794 a good season, a very good one, arrived in Rose's life. Her husband was executed by the French Revolution as a traitor. Rose now was free to remarry. And the opportunity arrived soon. In the summer of 1795, Rose met Napoleon Bonaparte, then a brigadier general in the French army. In January 1796, Napoleon proposed to her, and they were married three months later. She was 33; he was 27. Napoleon named her now Josephine.
Early in 1800, Napoleon became France's leading figure -and moved into the Tuileries palace, with Josephine. There, she stayed in the apartment of Queen Marie Antoinette -and she lived like a queen. She had several personal attendants and a large contingent of servants that ran the household. And in May 1804, the greatest moment arrived: Napoleon was named Emperor of France. From then on, Josephine was addressed as "Your Imperial Majesty." The coronation of the new emperor was to be held in December 1804. Napoleon had decided that Josephine would be named and crowned empress along with him. At the coronation ceremony, she knelt before her husband and received the circlet from his hands.
From now on, Josephine lived the life of an empress. There were hundreds of balls, of open-air festivals, of evenings at the theater and the opera. And she spent more and more. She spared no expense on jewelry, art, stylish clothing, and elegant household objects. She continued buying even after her wardrobes were full of the most expensive gowns and other fashionable items. As her biographer Carolly Erickson says, she bought everything she could imagine: plants, furniture, vases, and chandeliers. Her house, the château of Malmaison, was full of treasures. And though she had "more dresses than any woman could possibly wear, she ordered more and more." She had "nearly a thousand pairs of gloves, eight hundred pairs of shoes, several thousand pairs of silk stockings, hundreds of embroidered chemises, camisoles, and nightcaps." To see her guests' reactions to her wealth, she had displayed all her jewels on a large table. There were "diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and opals surpassing any other European collection."
But in 1809, this good season in Josephine's life would end. On the night of November 30, 1809, Napoleon invited his wife to dinner and gave her devastating news: he had decided to divorce her, because he had to find a wife who could provide him an heir. In fact, he had already found someone: Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria. Hearing the news, Josephine collapsed on the floor. Aided by a palace prefect, Napoleon carried her to her bedroom. In December 1809, the legal formalities for the divorce got under-way. Josephine went to live at Malmaison. And when in March 1814, Napoleon was defeated by the Russian and Austrian armies, Josephine was forced to leave Malmaison and go to Navarre. There, the woman who had accumulated mountains of dresses, shoes, gloves, and of everything else imaginable, had not now any money to eat.
Josephine's life teaches that we must not be imprudent during a happy season of our life, by accumulating, for example, lots of things we do not need, and not sparing any money for the future. We have to make provisions during our good seasons so that we can face successfully the bad seasons that will come.
On the subject of this article I have written a whole book titled The Seasons of Our Lives, in which I explain how our life's seasons alternate from good to bad ones --and vice versa-- based on the way the good and bad seasons have alternated in the lives of lots of famous men and women, whose the biographies I cite in he book. The moment you have finished reading this book, you will be able to know whether the years just ahead are good or bad for you, and how long this season will last. You will be able thus to act accordingly: if there is a storm on the horizon, you will take shelter in time, and you will make provisions for the winter that will come. You will not be that imprudent, that is, as Napoleon's wife Josephine was. To help as many people as possible to benefit from my book, I decided to offer it free on line (see my web site http://www.GeorgeKouloukis.com.)
George Pan Kouloukis is a Greek attorney-at-law, a barrister. As a member of the Athens Bar Association, he has provided legal services to the Ionian Bank of Greece, the Greek Electric Railways Company, and other corporations. Of course, his book The Seasons of Our Lives has nothing to do with law; it is the result of a series of observations that everybody could have made after extensive research, provided he/she had experienced the specific events and situations the author has experienced, described in the book.
George Kouloukis is married, with two daughters and three grandchildren, and lives in Athens, Greece. To contact the author, visit his above web site.
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