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Courtship and Marriage

Josephine in green

Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher was born to Joseph and Rose-Marie Tascher in 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique, and was known as Rose or Yeyette as a child. Her family owned the plantation Trois-Ilets, but hurricanes destroyed their estate in 1766 and left them struggling financially.

The Tascher family had three daughters, and it was hoped that they might make successful marriages to help their family's financial situation. The girls, however, were hampered by both a limited dowry, and a lack of a sophisticated Paris education.

Joseph's sister Edmee, who lived in France, was the mistress of Francois de Beauharnais — a man of rank and money. When his health began to fail, Edmee arranged a marriage between Francois’ son Alexandre and Joseph's twelve-year-old daughter Catherine, to ensure that Francois’ money would continue to support her and help the struggling Tascher family as well. Unfortunately, while the letter announcing the arrangement was en route to Martinique, Catherine died. Joseph, eager to seize the marriage opportunity regardless of Catherine's death, instead accompanied his older daughter Rose to France to marry Alexandre.

GULLAND: When she came into the room, you'd probably be really drawn to her. She had great charisma, long eyelashes and big eyes. She wasn't a beauty, but she was really striking …She had a wonderful walk, very elegant, an indolent walk that really was enchanting. And she had a beautiful voice, what we would call a really sexy voice, very low and musical. So there was something about her aura that just enchanted people.

The substitution of brides was a shock to Alexandre, but nevertheless the ceremony took place in 1779. Theirs was not a happy marriage. Although they had two children, they spent the majority of their time living separate lives. The terror of the Revolution swept through France in 1789, and like most French nobility, Alexandre met his fate at the guillotine. Although Rose was also imprisoned and sentenced to death, she escaped death through sheer luck — Robespierre was overthrown before her day of execution arrived, and the Revolution was over.

Life after the Revolution was difficult for Rose and her two children. To survive, she became the mistress of men who were in a position to help support her. It was during this time that she met Napoleon.

CHEVALLIER: Josephine is a woman who is very good and who knows how to draw attention on to her. She’s simple. She’s not complicated. She’s not someone who makes up schemes, and she’s very gracious. Has a lot of charm and may not be very beautiful but has a very flexible gait... someone that draws attention. She’s a real woman and that’s what Napoleon said always about her, and that she’s someone who doesn’t leave people indifferent.

Napoleon was a Major-General in the French Army — a man with lofty ambition. To achieve his goals, though, he needed a rich wife. Josephine in turn saw him as a possible patron, and cultivated his friendship. They became lovers in 1795.

December 1795:

I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.

Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart. Are you angry? Do I see you sad? Are you worried? My soul breaks with grief, and there is no rest for your lover; but how much the more when I yield to this passion that rules me and drink a burning flame from your lips and your heart? Oh! This night has shown me that your portrait is not you!

You leave at midday; in three hours I shall see you.

Meanwhile, my sweet love, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they set my blood on fire.


He proposed in January 1796, and they wed on March 9, 1796, just prior to his taking command of the army in Italy. She was hesistant at first to marry him, because he was "silent and awkward with women, was passionate and lively, though altogether strange in all his person."

GULLAND: Oh, he's a scruffy guy, you know, that everyone was embarrassed about. He was so serious and he had no sense of humor and he was skinny. He was poorly clothed. His boots smelled. His hair was kind of hanging and he was unkempt. He was a sorry sight.

Napoleon had great dreams for their future, and his wedding present to Rose — whom he had renamed Josephine — was a gold medallion inscribed with the words "To Destiny."

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