Josephine, crowned Empress of France in 1804, was a complex lady living in complex circumstances. Born in 1763, of the poverty stricken but titled Tascher family in the French Isle of Martinique, she was raised far from Paris and the courtly schools for girls of distinction. Although she was very sweet tempered and kind, her stance and mannerisms evoked life in plantation America rather than the noble social circles of Paris. Another legacy of her birthplace: her blackened and rotting teeth were a direct result of the sugar saturated cuisine consumed during her childhood. In spite of her noble family heritage, her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais in 1779 undoubtedly suffered because of her husband's repulsion of her "provincial ways."Eventually finding herself abandoned with two children, and without family assistance, she lived for a while in a convent with other outcast ladies of high birth. This friendly contact exposed her to the social graces of the day, where she absorbed the rigid guidlines of behavior like a sponge in water. Here is where she also learned the detailed rules of extramarital interaction in Paris.
Buoyed by her "apprenticeship" with women she had known in the convent, she would lead a successful life when ultimately forced to leave. She entered the delicate world of political and financial liaisons as the only means available to her for maintaining a life style suitable of her noble birth and married name. This forced lifestyle has contributed unfairly to her lasting reputation as a tarnished and immoral woman. In addition to her physical charm (as long as she kept her lips sealed), her goodness of heart and willingness to help those in need won her many friends and connections. She became known as a woman who helped solve difficult family problems.
When the French Revolution broke out, she and her husband were reunited in prison in 1794. He went to the guillotine; she came out of it alive, but barely so. Her prison experience was concentration camp like, during which she endured unimaginable hardships as well as faced the daily possibility of public execution.
It is probable that her former contacts had something do with her survival, and her ordeal only served to strengthened her convictions in her selected life style. After her release, and without any other source of income, she continued to attach herself socially to wealthy and influential men of her day. She began involving herself in questionable but profitable businesses as well. She was very happy during this time, having finally achieved semi-financial stability, independence, a renewal of her health and a life reunited with her children. She soon had money enough to live a very affluent life style, which attracted the attention of numerous men.
She met Napoleon during this time. He was looking for a woman of wealth and position. She became attracted to him as he began rising in rank and reputation within the new French government. Napoleon fell in love with her most passionately, and it was not long before they were married. At the time of marriage, she, however, was neither in love with him, nor ready to relinquish her sharpened survival techniques to a second husband of unknown future.
Almost immediately after her marriage, she continued with her adulterous behavior, making money and maintaining her social connections. Napoleon, on the other hand, came from a large family with strong familial loyalties. When his family met her, there was an immediate clash of life styles. His brother Joseph began urging his brother to leave her as soon as he met Josephine.
Napoleon eventually realized he had to force isolation on Josephine to ensure her total loyalty to him. When the time approached for him to become crowned emperor, their marriage was in a shambles. Marital strife and the threat of divorce in isolation backed her into a corner of submissiveness as she was crowned Empress.
As Empress, her time was filled with many state functions and duties which she performed with great skill and she was loved throughout Paris. She traveled all over Europe and her charm and social graces were universally appreciated. It was at this time, in 1805 that Napoleon gave Josephine the clock which has become known as the "Empress Josephine Clock."
However, Napoleon had made clear to her that it was a matter of time before he would ask her to step aside. Having lost many of her previous contacts, she feared for her future and was at the mercy of Napoleon. She performed all official duties flawlessly and with feeling. Their marriage was probably extended beyond what it might have been because Napoleon seems to have deeply loved his wife in spite of her lack of loyalty.
Josephine was finally pushed out of the marriage by Napoleon in 1809. He wanted a royal heir, and soon married Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria in 1810. Josephine's life after that was in retirement, but was never secure. Without her former connections, she was completely dependant on Napoleon for an annual allowance. His remarriage, the birth of his heir, his fall and the invasion of foreign powers were all stressful times where her future and personal safety were in doubt.
Finally, in 1814, Josephine caught an infection and quickly died. Her adult life had been almost completely without peace or lasting security. The one source of happiness, her children, was a legacy she was to leave Napoleon. Her son, Eugene served Napoleon faithfully like a son, and her daughter, Hortense, married into the Bonaparte family herself. Her numerous grandchildren all loved Josephine dearly at the time of her death. She had shown them the total, treasured love that only a special grandparent could. They were the chief mourners at Josephine's huge funeral, which was also filled by the many other people touched by her life of giving, helping and kindness.