Josephine Bonaparte, A ‘Rags To Riches’ Story

By | November 3, 2019

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'Portrait of Josephine', 1801. Detail. Josephine de Beauharnais (1763-1814) married Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 and was crowned Empress of France in 1804. Source: (

Most widely known for her marriage to Napoleon, Josephine was more than just a trophy wife. Despite modest beginnings, she elevated herself from provincial life on a plantation to Empress of France, while also managing to escape the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Perhaps she was just lucky, or perhaps she had the cunning and charisma to make all the right connections at the right time.

She was born Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on June 23, 1763, to a noble but poor family on a plantation in Martinique. Her father, Joseph Tascher de La Pagerie, was an officer in the navy. In the hopes of securing an advantageous marriage, Josephine’s parents sent her to be educated at the Dames-de-la-providence convent in Fort-de-France at the age of ten. This seemed to pay off in 1779, when at the age of sixteen, Josephine married a wealthy army officer named Alexandre de Beauharnais, earning herself the title of Vicomtesse de Beauharnais., and moved with him to Paris.

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Alexandre de Beauharnais. Source: (

Her first marriage was unhappy, likely due to the Vicomte's reluctance to present his common wife at the royal court. Nevertheless, the couple had two children, Hortense and Eugene, before separating, though not divorcing, in 1785. At that time, Josephine took custody of Hortense and moved back to Martinique in 1788 due to financial troubles. After the French Revolution broke out, Josephine returned to her husband, whose political career was benefiting from the unrest. However, when the power shifted, Alexandre was guillotined, and Josephine imprisoned. Fortunately for her, the Reign of Terror ended before she met the same fate as her husband.