Empress of France, Queen Consort of Italy, May 1804 to May 1814. She is best remembered as being the first wife of Emperor Napoleon I Bonaparte of France. Born Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie in Les Trois-Ilets, Martinique to a wealthy white Creole family, her father owned a sugar plantation. When their estate was destroyed by several hurricanes in 1766, the family struggled financially. In October 1779 she went to France with her father to become the bride of Alexandre, the son of French aristocrat Francois, Vicomte de Beauharnais, whom she married to bring financial stability to her father's family. The marriage was not happy but they had two children; a son, Eugenie and a daughter, Hortense, who would marry Napoleon Bonaparte's brother Louis in 1802. In March 1794, during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, her husband was arrested and jailed in the Carmes prison in Paris on the charge of having poorly defended French-occupied Mainz (now part of Germany) from Prussian troops in July 1793 and was therefore considered an aristocratic "suspect" and executed by guillotine in July 1794. She was also arrested in April 1794 for being too close to the counterrevolutionary financial circles and imprisoned at Carmes but was released following her husband's execution. She had affairs with several leading French political figures, including Paul Francois Jean Nicolas Barras, the main executive leader of the Directory regime following the French Revolution. In 1795 she met Napoleon Bonaparte who was six years younger than her and became his mistress. Napoleon proposed marriage to her in January 1796 and they were married on March 9, 1796. Known as "Rose" before meeting Napoleon, he preferred to call her "Josephine," the name she adopted from then on. Two days after their marriage, Napoleon left to lead the French army in Italy. While he was gone, she began an affair with a Hussar lieutenant and, after hearing about it, Napoleon's love for her changed completely and they were never the same. She had expensive tastes and her debts were a constant source of conflict between them. On Christmas Eve 1800 she was almost killed in an attempt on Napoleon's life when a bomb exploded near her carriage as she was en route to attend the Opera. On December 2, 1804 she and Napoleon were crowned Emperor and Empress of France at the Notre Dame de Paris that was officiated by Pope Pius VII. When after a few years it became evident that she could not conceive a child, coupled with the death of her grandson Napoleon Charles Bonaparte who had been declared Napoleon's heir to the throne, he informed her on November 30, 1809 that he needed to find a wife who could produce an heir and requested a divorce. The following day her servants moved her possessions to the Chateau de Malmaison, an estate that she had purchased when Napoleon was in Egypt, and remained there for the rest of her life. She agreed to the divorce and on January 10, 1810 it was finalized in an official ceremony. She retained the title of empress on Napoleon's insistence and they remained on good terms. She died of pneumonia at Malmaison at the age of 50 after catching a cold. When Napoleon learned of her death while in exile on the island of Elba, he locked himself in his room for two days and refused to see anyone.
Bio by: William Bjornstad