Happy Birthday, Empress Josephine!

Napoleon’s first wife Josephine was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie in Martinique on June 23, 1763. If you could ask her, however, she’d probably lie and tell you her birth year was 1767, which was what she wrote on her marriage documents. Napoleon also lied on those documents, saying he, too, had been born in 1767 instead of the actual 1769 date. We’ll never know if he was trying to save her face or his own by claiming to be as old as his wife-to-be.

Like Napoleon himself, Josephine was a study of contrasts. Her teeth had turned black at an early age so she learned to talk and smile without showing them. Despite this drawback, she was renowned for her grace and style. Indeed, she is responsible for the elegant Empire style that permeated fashion, furniture, art, and architecture. Today, you can find wonderful examples of that style in our own White House.

Unfortunately, she was unable to give Napoleon the heir he craved. In 1810, he divorced her to (in his words) “marry a womb,” Princess Marie Louise of Austria. Josephine must have taken satisfaction that her eighteen-year-old rival arrived in the high-waist, puffed sleeve fashions she herself had devised.


  • Victor Blair
    June 27, 2012 - 7:34 am | Permalink

    One of Napoleon’s favourite quotes was, “The pursuit of detail is the religion of perfection.’
    And the most recent quote of his that I came across that I like is: “A woman of wit often compromises her husband, a witless one compromises only herself.”

  • mrodenberg
    June 27, 2012 - 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Victor. I love Napoleon quotes. I don’t know if anyone else has ever been so adept at expressing his thoughts succinctly.


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