Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
The Divorce - A New Wife - An Heir To The Crown
To further the universal peace he desired, to prevent plots among his
subordinates who would aspire to his crown in case of his sudden death,
and to assure a succession, Napoleon now decided to take a step long in
mind - to divorce Josephine, by whom he no longer hoped to have heirs.
In considering Napoleon's divorce of Josephine, it must be remembered
that stability of government was of vital necessity to the permanency of
the Napoleonic institutions. Napoleon had turned into practical realities
most of the reforms demanded in 1789. True, he had done it by the
exercise of despotism, but nothing but the courage, the will, the audacity
of a despot could have aroused the nation in 1799. Napoleon felt that
these institutions had been so short a time in operation that in case of
his death they would easily topple over, and his kingdom go to pieces as
Alexander's had. If he could leave an heir, this disaster would, he
believed, be averted.
Then, would not a marriage with a foreign princess calm the fears of
his Continental enemies? Would they not see in such an alliance an effort
on the part of new, liberal France to adjust herself harmoniously to the
system of government which prevailed on the Continent?
Thus, by a new marriage, he hoped to prevent at his death a series of
fresh revolutions, save the splendid organization he had created, and put
France in greater harmony with her environment. It is to misunderstand
Napoleon's scheme, to attribute this divorce simply to a gigantic egotism.
To assure his dynasty, was to assure France of liberal institutions. His
glorification was his country's. In reality there were the same reasons
for divorcing Josephine that there had been for taking the crown in 1804.
Josephine had long feared a separation. The Bonapartes had never
cared for her, and even so far back as the Egyptian campaign had urged
Napoleon to seek a divorce. Unwisely, she had not sought in her early
married life to win their affection any more than she had to keep
Napoleon's; and when the emperor was crowned, they had done their best to
prevent her coronation. When, for state reasons, the divorce seemed
necessary, Josephine had no supporters where she might have had many.
Her grief was more poignant because she had come to love her husband
with a real ardor. The jealousy from which he had once suffered she now
felt, and Napoleon certainly gave her ample cause for it. Her anxiety was
well known to all the court, the secretaries Bourrienne and Meneval, and
Madame de Remusat being her special confidants. Since 1807 it had been
intense, for it was in that year that Fouche, probably at Napoleon's
instigation, tried to persuade the empress to suggest the divorce herself
as her sacrifice to the country.
After Wagram it became evident to her that at last her fate was
sealed; but though she beset Meneval and all the members of her household
for information, it was only a fortnight before the public divorce that
she knew her fate. It was Josephine's own son and daughter, Eugene and
Hortense, who broke the news to her; and it was on the former that the
cruel task fell of indorsing the divorce in the Senate in the name of
himself and his sister.
Josephine was terribly broken by her disgrace, but she bore it with a
sweetness and dignity which does much to make posterity forget her earlier
frivolity and insincerity.
"I can never forget [says Pasquier] the evening on which the
discarded empress did the honors of her court for the last time. It was
the day before the official dissolution. A great throng was present, and
supper was served, according to custom, in the gallery of Diana, on a
number of little tables. Josephine sat at the centre one, and the men
went around her, waiting for that particularly graceful nod which she was
in the habit of bestowing on those with whom she was acquainted. I stood
at a short distance from her for a few minutes, and I could not help being
struck with the perfection of her attitude in the presence of all these
people who still did her homage, while knowing full well that it was for
the last time; that in an hour she would descend from the throne, and
leave the palace never to reenter it. Only women can rise superior to
such a situation, but I have my doubts as to whether a second one could
have been found to do it with such perfect grace and composure. Napoleon
did not show so bold a front as did his victim."
There is no doubt but that Napoleon suffered deeply over the
separation. If his love had lost its illusion, he was genuinely attached
to Josephine, and in a way she was necessary to his happiness. After the
ceremony of separation, he was to go to Saint Cloud, she to Malmaison.
While waiting for his carriage, he returned to his study in the palace.
For a long time he sat silent and depressed, his head on his hand. When
he was summoned he rose, his face distorted with pain, and went into the
empress's apartment. Josephine was alone.
When she saw the emperor, she threw herself on his neck, sobbing
aloud. He pressed her to his bosom, kissed her again and again, until
overpowered with emotion, she fainted. Leaving her to her women, he
hurried to his carriage.
Meneval, who saw this sad parting, remained with Josephine until she
became conscious. When he left, she begged him not to let the emperor
forget her, and to see that he wrote her often.
"I left her," that naive admirer and apologist of Napoleon goes on,
"grieved at so deep a sorrow and so sincere an affection. I felt very
miserable all along my route, and I could not help deploring that the
rigorous exactions of politics should violently break the bonds of an
affection which had stood the test of time, to impose another union full
Josephine returned to Malmaison to live, but Napoleon took care that
she should have, in addition, another home, giving her Navarre, a chateau
near Evreux, some fifty miles from Paris. She had an income of some four
hundred thousand dollars a year, and the emperor showed rare
thoughtfulness in providing her with everything she could want. She was
to deny herself nothing, take care of her health, pay no attention to the
gossip she heard, and never doubt of his love. Such were the
recommendations of the frequent letters he wrote her. Sometimes he went
to see her, and he told her all the details of his life. It is certain
that he neglected no opportunity of comforting her, and that she, on her
side, finally accepted her lot with resignation and kindliness.
Over two years before the divorce a list of the marriageable
princesses of Europe had been drawn up for Napoleon. This list included
eighteen names in all, the two most prominent being Marie Louise of
Austria, and Anna Paulowna, sister of Alexander of Russia. At the Erfurt
conference the project of a marriage with a Russian princess had been
discussed, and Alexander had favored it; but now that an attempt was made
to negotiate the affair, there were numerous delays, and a general
lukewarmness which angered Napoleon. Without waiting for the completion
of the Russian negotiations, he decided on Marie Louise.
The marriage ceremony was performed in Vienna on March 12, 1810, the
Archduke Charles acting for Napoleon. The emperor first saw his new wife
some days later on the road between Soissons and Compiegne, where he had
gone to meet her in most unimperial haste, and in contradiction to the
pompous and complicated ceremony which had been arranged for their first
interview. From the beginning he was frankly delighted with Marie Louise.
In fact, the new empress was a most attractive girl, young, fresh, modest
well-bred, and innocent. She entirely filled Napoleon's ideal of a wife,
and he certainly was happy with her.
Marie Louise in marrying Napoleon had felt that she was a kind of
sacrificial offering, for she had naturally a deep horror of the man who
had caused her country so much woe; but her dread was soon dispelled, and
she became very fond of her husband. Outside of the court the two led an
amusingly simple life, riding together informally early in the morning, in
a gay Bohemian way; sitting together alone in the empress's little salon,
she at her needlework, he with a book. They even indulged now and then in
quiet little larks of their own, as one day when Marie Louise attempted to
make an omelet in her apartments. Just as she was completely engrossed in
her work, the emperor came in. The empress tried to conceal her culinary
operations, but Napoleon detected the odor.
"What is going on here? There is a singular smell, as if something
was being fried. What, you are making an omelet! Bah! you don't know
how to do it. I will show you how it is done."
And he set to work to instruct her. They got on very well until it
came to tossing it, an operation Napoleon insisted on performing himself,
with the result that he landed it on the floor.
On March 20, 1811, the long-desired heir to the French throne was
born. It had been arranged that the birth of the child should be
announced to the people by cannon shot; twenty-one if it were a princess,
one hundred and one if a prince. The people who thronged the quays and
streets about the Tuileries waited with inexpressible anxiety as the
cannon boomed forth; one - two - three. As twenty-one died away the city
held its breath; then came twenty-two. the thundering peals which
followed it were drowned in the wild enthusiasm of the people. For days
afterward, enervated by joy and the endless fetes given them, the French
drank and sang to the King of Rome.
In all these rejoicings none were so touching as at Navarre, where
Josephine, on hearing the cannon, called together her friends and said,
"We, too, must have a fete. I shall give you a ball, and the whole city
of Evreux must come and rejoice with us."
Napoleon was the happiest of men, and he devoted himself to his son
with pride. Reports of the boy's condition appear frequently in his
letters; he even allowed him to be taken without the empress's knowledge
to Josephine, who had begged to see him.