Wild Facts About Empress Josephine, The Woman Who Broke Napoleon's Heart (Copy)

June 18, 2024 | Sammy Tran

Wild Facts About Empress Josephine, The Woman Who Broke Napoleon's Heart (Copy)

Empress Josephine is one of history’s great enigmas. She went from outsider to one of the most powerful women in the nation—but was she a cunning genius, or a simple pawn in a game of thrones?

1. She Was A Force Of Nature

There are few love stories as passionate—or as twisted—as the one between Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine. Napoleon was easily as obsessed with her as he was with his tenuous grip on the French crown. But when it comes to Josephine, the drama began long before her relationship with him—and it didn’t stop after they separated.

In fact, Napoleon is really just one chapter in her roller-coaster of a story.

empress josephine

2. She Was A Rose By Any Other Name

Though the history books often refer to her to Empress Josephine or Josephine de Beauharnais, “Josephine” was only a name she took around the time she met Napoleon. Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie really just went by “Rose” most of the time. And, much like her name, Josephine ended up very, very far from where she started.

Empress Josephine FactsFrançois Gérard, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Came From Afar

Josephine was born thousands of miles away from the kingdom she would eventually come to rule over, on the island of Martinique in the West Indies. Though they had European roots, her family had been in the Caribbean for two generations and had made quite a fortune there. Sadly, there was a dark side to this success story. 

Empress Josephine FactsGuillaume Guillon-Lethière, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Was Part Of A Shameful Trade

Josephine and her two little sisters Catherine and Marie were mostly raised by a nurse named Marion—but she was not there voluntarily. Like many of the people who worked at the Tascher de La Pagerie home, Marion was enslaved. The family business was a sugarcane plantation that used slave labor.

Though they made a fortune from their business, you could say that they certainly ended up paying a karmic price.

Empress Josephine FactsAntoine-Jean Gros, Wikimedia Commons

5. They Were On The Brink

Sure, Josephine’s father Joseph-Gaspard had the sugar plantation, as well as a position as intendant of Martinique and a small pension from work he’d done for the French royal family. But it wasn’t enough. He was often ill and teetering toward bankruptcy. A series of hurricanes had damaged their property and they were struggling.

Josephine’s education suffered as a result of her family’s troubles. And as the eldest daughter of the family hit her teens—AKA, marrying age—the pressure was on for her to find a wealthy husband who might overlook their father’s inability to pay a dowry.

Empress Josephine FactsFirmin Massot, Wikimedia Commons

6. He Passed Over Her

Joseph-Gaspard’s sister Marie popped up and presented her brother with what she saw as the opportunity of a lifetime. She was the mistress to a rich Naval officer whose youngest son Alexandre was an eligible bachelor. Though Josephine was the eldest daughter, Alexandre passed her over—and the reason why was brutal.

Portrait of Alexandre de Beauharnais  in blue suitUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Was Too Old

Alexandre de Beauharnais, all of 17 years old, thought that 15-year-old Josephine was too old for him. As a result, he set his sights on Josephine’s 13-year-old sister Catherine. Ouch. They courted, and eventually, Alexandre’s father extended a proposal to her. However, both families were in for a major plot twist.

Alexandre de BeauharnaisGeorges Rouget, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Lost Her Sister

When Josephine’s family finally received the letter from Alexandre’s father containing the marriage proposal for Catherine, they didn’t celebrate. In fact, they were in mourning—as a dire tragedy had struck. Catherine had abruptly ceased to exist. Unperturbed, the de Beauharnais family asked Joseph-Gaspard for the hand of his youngest daughter, Marie.

But of course, that’s not who Alexandre ended up with…

Empress Josephine portrait in blue dressPierre-Paul Prud'hon, Wikimedia Commons

9. She Was The Last One Standing

Though Joseph-Gaspard was happy to kowtow to the demands of the de Beauharnais family, his wife and the girl’s grandmother were aghast that he’d let his 11-year-old daughter marry a 17-year-old. That left one last option: Josephine. This was certainly not the fairy tale romance that a young girl dreams of—but she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Empress Josephine portrait wearing hair jewelsAndrea Appiani, Wikimedia Commons

10. She Said Goodbye To Everything She Knew

In 1779, Josephine left the only home she’d ever known to marry a stranger—albeit, one who’d been attempting to romance different members of her family for the past couple of years. She traveled to Europe with her father for the wedding and prepared to face a new life in France. 

Josephine was certainly plucky—but there was no way she could’ve prepared for married life with Alexandre de Beauharnais.

Empress Josephine A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

11. She Was In Way Over Her Head

Alexandre’s family was wealthy and he had the title of viscount. On paper, he looked like a great match on paper—but in real life, he was a complete terror. For one thing, that title? Alexandre had given it to himself, and King Louis XVI was none too happy about it. Josephine had just entered French society, and she was already persona non grata at court thanks to her husband’s blunder.

And inflating his own importance wasn’t his only vice…

Empress Josephine FactsA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

12. He Didn’t Care For Her

Though Josephine reportedly took her relationship seriously—at least, at first—her husband regarded her as a means to an end. He needed to marry someone to come into his family fortune, and the woman he actually wanted wasn’t available. Her name was Madame de Longpré, and she was already married. Of course, Alexandre didn’t let this stop him.

Empress Josephine in blue coatApple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

13. She Was Awkward

Though Alexandre had been born on Martinique just like Josephine, he’d spent way more time in France, and thus considered himself much more “sophisticated” than his unrefined wife. She had a hard time adjusting to the lofty expectations of French society, from the intellectual salons to the elaborate dresses.

It soon became clear that Alexandre found her embarrassing—and he went back to his old tricks.

Empress Josephine in coat and hat Apple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

14. She Did Her Duty

Madame de Longpré wasn’t Josephine’s only competition. Alexandre was also a regular customer at some of France’s seedier houses of ill repute. Still, Josephine soldiered on and did her best to put up with his antics. Despite their troubles, the couple did have a son, Eugene, in 1781.

Josephine may have hoped that giving her husband a legitimate heir might stem the tide of his bad behavior and the horrible way he treated her. Well, she was out of luck.

Empress Josephine in floral dress A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

15. He Got Worse

Despite their pretty much identical origins, Alexandre could not hold back his disgust toward Josephine—but then he took it to the next level. When she was pregnant with their second child, Hortense, he left her to travel to Martinique with Madame de Longpré. Then, when their child was born early in 1783, he had the nerve to question the baby’s parentage.

Josephine may not have been as witty or pretty as Alexandre wanted, but she still knew that it was far past time she had to stand up for herself.

Empress Josephine in red dressA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

16. She Couldn’t Take It Anymore

When Alexandre sent Madame de Longpré back to France to deliver a vitriolic letter accusing Josephine of infidelity and demanding she leave the family home, it was finally the last straw. Josephine packed up Eugene—sadly, she had to leave baby Hortense with the wet nurse—and the pair left for a convent.

It was a bold move, considering the era’s conventions about divorce…but it seemed worth it to get away from Alexandre.

Empress Josephine in red dressA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

17. She Had A Master Plan

Josephine made the separation official when she sought out support—and she had a trick up her sleeve. When court officials read the vile, abusive letters that Alexandre had written her, they took Josephine’s side and told him to make with the cash. He, of course, tried to get out of it. They may not have been able to get divorced—thanks, Catholicism--but hey, at least they were finally officially separated.

Considering the nightmare end of that union, it's a miracle that Josephine tied the knot ever again.

Empress Josephine in pink coatApple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

18. She Made A New Life For Herself

Josephine and the kids took up residence at the Pentemont Abbey in Paris—which happened to be a lucky choice. It was a popular spot for aristocratic types, and she learned how to better fit in in high society from them. Soon, she and the kids moved in with her aunt. Alexandre was still refusing to pay her, but luckily, staying with her aunt meant housing was covered.

Unfortunately, Josephine had picked up some expensive habits.

Empress Josephine in orange dress and a hat Warner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

19. She Messed Up

Josephine was getting over an ugly breakup with a man who’d treated her poorly. Her choice of therapy was of the retail variety. There was just one problem. With no money coming in, she was putting it all on credit. As the walls seemed to close in, Josephine started to put what she’d learned at the Abbey to use.

She began rubbing elbows with those in the king’s retinue—but she wasn’t just hoping that they had financial advice for her.

Empress Josephine at a mask party Apple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

20. She Had High Standards

Though divorce did not seem to be in the cards for Josephine, she didn’t consider herself completely out of the “hunting for a rich husband” game. As she ingratiated herself into the king’s posse, Josephine would research her romantic options, or rather, the thickness of their wallets. After all, she couldn’t quite rebound yet—but there were plenty of men who were all too happy to help her out with gifts and money.

Josephine didn’t know it yet, but the chance for new romance wasn’t as far out of reach as she thought.

Empress Josephine in white dress and jewelsApple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

21. She Sat It Out

Josephine returned to Martinique in 1788—and her timing was both terrible and fortuitous. Though she did end up in the middle of a slave rebellion back home, she also missed a whole lot of action in France. As in, the beginning of the French Revolution. Though they’d had some proximity to the royal family, Josephine’s ex (in name only, of course) Alexandre had done enough smack-talking about the king that neither he nor Josephine were in immediate danger.

At least…as first.

French Revolution imagesIsidore Stanislas Helman, Wikimedia Commons

22. He Was A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Josephine returned to France as the estranged wife of the new President of the National Assembly. Despite their separation, this meant she was once again in high demand in high society, who were now kind of cosplaying as the working class. But hey…what’s wrong with this picture?

There had been the beginnings of a revolution, and yet the old nobility were still in charge. And they couldn’t stay under the radar of the real working class forever.

Napoleon and JosephineFlickr

23. She Lied Through Her Teeth

The unrest reached a fever pitch, and people began turning on each other. It was the Reign of Terror. Josephine did her best to fly under the radar, getting her children apprenticeships in the trades and claiming to be American. Of course, this fooled no one. Alexandre was the first to fall.

Revolutionaries seized him, blaming his inadequate performance during the French Revolution. Of course, it was his aristocratic roots that were the real problem.

Hortense de Beauharnais as a child in tv show Napoleon and Josephine: A Love StoryWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

24. They Threw Her Behind Bars

After the arrest of Alexandre in March of 1794, Josephine met a terrifying fate herself. Like her doomed husband, she too was detained and imprisoned by French revolutionaries. Even though she and Alexandre were already separated, the rebels jailed Josephine because she was still financially tied to Alexandre.

Once again, her awful first husband had led Josephine into a brutal situation.

Empress JosephineWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

25. She Did Her Best

Both exes eventually found themselves confined within Les Carmes... where they starkly exemplified how old habits stubbornly persist. Alexandre soon found a mistress—but this time, Josephine met a lover of her own. She also made friends and, if you can believe it, received letters from her children by way of her very well-trained pug. They’d sneak notes under his collar, and he was tiny enough to slip through the gates at Les Carmes.

Unfortunately, the ruse was short-lived.

Painting  of   Joséphine de Beauharnais,  her husband and her childrenJean Louis Victor Viger de Vigneau, Wikimedia Commons

26. They Cut Her Off

It wasn’t all fun and games. Les Carmes was generally a filthy, miserable place. When the guards discovered the letters, they cut off Josephine's communications. Ultimately, she spent 100 days in Les Carmes—and when she got out, the world was an entirely different place.

PrisonHeather Katsoulis, Flickr

27. Her Timing Couldn’t Have Been Better

Josephine had pretty much been next on the butcher’s block when the Reign of Terror came to its abrupt end, saving her hide. Unfortunately, her husband didn’t have the same luck. Alexandre was executed just days before Josephine was released, his sentence for treason.

Josephine finally had the freedom she never thought she’d get—but it was bittersweet.

Empress Josephine in pink dress Warner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

28. The Tides Turned

Alexandre and Josephine seemed to have squashed the beef just before he headed to the guillotine, and he’d lamented the fact that he’d never see her again, calling her “my friend” in a letter. And though he'd put her behind bars, after his departure from life, he gave her what he never did when he was alive. He was now regarded as a Revolutionary martyr—and as his widow, that made her pretty darn special.

Empress Josephine and her first husbandWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

29. She Rebounded

Josephine made the most of her time as a single lady and enjoyed flirting with hot-ticket bachelors at events for survivors and even a “victim’s ball”. It was at an event hosted by her Theresa, a fellow Les Carmes survivor, where she met Paul Barras. The two soon became lovers—but they hid some twisted secrets behind bedroom doors. 

Paul Barras in uniformPierre Alexandre Tardieu, Wikimedia Commons

30. She Went Wild

According to rumors, Josephine didn't just have intimate time with Barras. Apparently, the rebellious couple also invited Theresa and her new husband Jean-Lambert Tallien, who’d initiated the end to the Reign of Terror, into their bed as well. Hey, who can blame them—they had a lot to celebrate!

Of course, that wasn’t the only trouble this band of merry fools got into.

Jean Lambert Tallien portraitFrançois Bonneville, Wikimedia Commons

31. He Had A Plan For Her

When he wasn’t busy drinking and partying, Paul Barras was a canny politician who’d just happened to befriend a young commander named Napoleon Bonaparte. Barras saw the makings of a real leader in Napoleon—and he also saw the potential to manipulate the occasionally moody and disaffected young man. So, he used what he had at his disposal.

NapoleonA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

32. She Knew What To Do

Napoleon may have been adept at leading his men—but this didn’t really translate into charming the ladies. They rebuffed his every advance, and he did not take it well. Barras knew exactly what to do. He introduced Napoleon to Josephine, who actually gave him the time of day for once—and maybe even laid on the charm at her lover’s behest.

Well, after a lifetime of rejection, it didn’t take much for Napoleon to fall hard.

Empress Josephine and Napoleon hugging A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

33. She Played Her Cards Right

Napoleon began to go after Josephine full force. At the time, of course, Josephine was in a friends-with-benefits situation with Barras, but she played a different game with Napoleon. After all, she was at something of a disadvantage. Not only was she a widow with two kids to feed, she was also six years older than him.

When they began to spend more time together, the age gap made jaws drop—the first, but not the last, scandal that their romance caused.

Empress Josephine , Napoleon and Empress JosephineA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

34. She Thought He Was Too Much

Napoleon pursued Josephine ardently, showering her with attention and writing her a prolific amount of love letters. But this passion had a dark side. Josephine wrote that his intensity could be off-putting and that he had a terrifying penchant for jealousy. But, for all his flaws, Josephine had to consider his proposal seriously.

After all, his devotion was a far cry from the disgust that characterized her first marriage—and she had her future to think about.

Empress Josephine in white dressWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

35. She Couldn’t Read Him

As you may have guessed, Josephine eventually accepted his proposal and they planned a wedding for March of 1796. During their engagement, Napoleon's wild passion for Josephine only intensified—but he remained an unpredictable figure. Even on their wedding day, Napoleon's mixed signals went all out.

He showed up two hours late for the ceremony—only to give his bride an inscribed ring that read "Au Destin" ("To Destiny").

Jacqueline Bisset as  Josephine de Beauharnais in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story in beige dressWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

36. Her Wedding Night Got Wild

Napoleon adored Josephine—and Josephine absolutely adored her pet dog Fortune. Fortune had famously been the one to help her kids smuggle in letters when she was behind bars. Well, Napoleon learned on his wedding night that he was going to have to vie for his new wife’s affections.

Fortune not only slept in the very same bed as Napoleon and Josephine on their wedding night—he also bit Napoleon in the leg.

Empress Josephine  holding a dogApple Studios, Napoleon (2023)

37. His Family Disapproved of Her

Napoleon’s family was horrified at his choice of bride—from the fact that she was a widow with two kids to the age gap, which they fudged the numbers to cover on their wedding day. There was nothing they could do about it once the couple had sealed the deal—but that didn’t stop them from doing their best to make Josephine feel unwelcome.

Armand Assante as  Napoleon Bonaparte in  Napoleon and Josephine: A Love StoryWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

38. Her In-Laws Didn't Like Her

Napoleon's mother and sister had heard all about Josephine's rumored dalliances with Barras and Tallien, and they were not impressed with their new in-law. As a result, Napoleon's sister Pauline took great pains to humiliate her new sister-in-law. She’d commissioning extravagant dresses to outdo Josephine at balls and calling her "the old lady."

Though Josephine tried to win Napoleon's family over, they never fully accepted her. Even so, all the family drama in the world could only pale in comparison to Josephine's later scandals.

Empress Josephine in red dressA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

39. Their Honeymoon Was Short

Napoleon and Josephine had precious little time together after the wedding, as he left for a campaign just days after the ceremony. Once again, his dark side reared its ugly head, and his letters to Josephine vacillate between declarations of devotion, disappointment, and jealousy. But then again, maybe he had good reason not to trust her…

Empress Josephine , Napoleon in uniform A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

40. She Cheated On Him…

The ink was barely dry on the marriage papers when Josephine began an affair with an officer named Hippolyte Charles. After all, this type of casual relationship was exactly what she was used to. She didn’t know she was making a horrible mistake. If Josephine thought she could get away with it—especially with the scrutiny of Napoleon’s family and high society focused on her—she was terribly wrong.

Hippolyte Charlesxiquinhosilva from Cacau, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

41. Everyone Knew

Infidelity was almost run of the mill in Josephine’s circles. When the rumors reached Napoleon, things reached a fever pitch. One of Napoleon’s letters to his brother—where he complained about Josephine’s affair with Hippolyte Charles—leaked to the press.

Now everyone knew their marriage is in deep trouble…and at a very crucial point in Napoleon’s career.

Empress Josephine , Napoleon in uniformA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

42. …And He Cheated On Her

Though they stayed together, the betrayal took a dark toll on him, and their relationship was never the same again. He also got revenge in his own way, taking up with a series of mistresses.

In a matter of months, Napoleon’s obsession with Josephine waned. All of a sudden, their relationship had far more in common with her first marriage than she liked.

 Empress Josephine in white top A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

43. She Saved Lives

In December 1800, Napoleon and Josephine set out to see one of Haydn's operas in Paris. It should have been a lovely night out, but instead, it turned into a horrific nightmare. A concealed explosive device was discreetly placed under a stationary vehicle near the opera house. The "Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise" was supposed to end Napoleon's life, and certainly would have…had it not been for Josephine.

Photo of Exterior of Paris Opera House - 1890Library of Congress , Picryl

44. She Survived an Attempt on Her Life

Josephine insisted on delaying the party so she could drape her silk shawl just right. At the time, Napoleon was annoyed with his bride's demands, but her fastidiousness ended up saving his life. The device went off too late to hurt Napoleon, whose carriage had already passed. The same, sadly, could not be said for the many bystanders who were injured or lost their lives in the blast.

Empress Josephine FactsAntoine Meunier, Wikimedia Commons

45. She Needed To Step Up

Though there was certainly more disdain in their relationship than before, there was still something of a push-pull between Josephine and Napoleon. But that wasn’t the only pressure in the relationship. As Napoleon’s career progressed, it became clear that he needed an heir. Josephine was 32 when they got married, but she hadn’t gotten pregnant yet—and not for lack of trying.

It was clear that other factors were at play.

Wedding of Napoleon and Josephine in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love StoryWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

46. The Prognosis Was Dire

Despite her many other affairs, Josephine had never had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. In those days, particularly strong feminine hygiene products were used as a sort of “Plan B,” if you catch my drift. It looked like Josephine was paying a cruel price for sowing her wild oats. It’s possible that these “treatments”—along with the poor conditions she’d suffered at Les Carmes—had left her infertile.

Sadly, the worst was yet to come.

Empress Josephine in blue dressMichel Garnier, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Lost All Hope

Josephine headed to a spa town in hopes that a little R&R would help her chances of getting pregnant. Instead, a brutal accident made things worse when a balcony she was standing on collapsed, leaving her injured. As the likelihood increased that Napoleon would become ruler of France, they knew they’d have to face the truth about the necessity of an heir eventually—they just weren’t ready to yet.

Empress Josephine in red dress and a hatJean-Antoine Laurent, Wikimedia Commons

48. Her Family Tree Was Twisted

In the absence of a pregnancy, Josephine focused on the children she already had. Hortense, her daughter by her first husband, was old enough to get married—but the choice they made for a husband was truly twisted. She ended up tying the knot with Napoleon's brother Louis. Yup, mother and daughter could go on double dates with their husband-brothers.

Portrait of Hortense de Beauharnais in white dressFrançois Gérard, Wikimedia Commons

49. She Became An Empress

Despite their many, many, many problems, Josephine played a pivotal role in Napoleon’s political career, glad-handing things for her notoriously charmless husband behind the scenes. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French at the hands of Pope Pius VII in 1804, he officially had Josephine proclaimed Empress as well. Talk about marrying up...

Empress Josephine in white dress A+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

50. Her Coronation Was A Disaster

The coronation ceremony was almost ruined, however, as Empress Josephine had walked in on a terrible sight: She saw her husband Napoleon "visiting" her lady-in-waiting Élisabeth de Vaudey...in her bedroom. This led to such a serious spat that in the end, their little daughter Hortense had to step in and smooth over things over so that the coronation could go on.

Jacques-Louis David - The Coronation Of Napoleon (1805-1807)Jacques-Louis David, Wikimedia Commons

51. She Was Pushed Out Of The Palace

Now that he was finally Emperor, Napoleon had even more harshness awaiting his wife. He repeatedly threatened Empress Josephine with divorce because he believed that she couldn't give him one crucial thing: a male heir. The already disintegrating marriage would crumble in 1807, when a massive tragedy rocked the Bonaparte family.

Napoleon Empress Josephine looking at each otherA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

52. She Was Humiliated

Napoleon's heir presumptive, his nephew Napoleon Charles, tragically perished of croup, leaving the Emperor without any successor. That's when Napoleon made a brutal choice. He needed an heir, and to get that, he needed a new wife. On December 14, 1809, Napoleon made history by divorcing his great love, Empress Josephine.

Napoleon Urbain GuérinJean-Urbain Guérin, Wikimedia Commons

53. She Didn't Take The Breakup Well

When Napoleon told Empress Josephine that he planned on divorcing her, her reaction was disturbing. The devastated wife immediately fell to the palace's floors. She was literally paralyzed by shock, forcing Napoleon to carry her to her bedroom so that she could recover in privacy.

But even in her chambers, Josephine couldn't hide her pain. Her wails echoed throughout the Tuileries.

Empress Josephine in brown dress and jewelsA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

54. Her Divorce Was Disturbing

Napoleon and Josephine's breakup was completely scandalous, and their chilling divorce ceremony didn't make things any more palatable. Even though the breakup had to happen, the couple was so distraught that they read statements of devotion aloud to each other as they signed the divorce paperwork. Josephine was so distraught that she couldn't finish her statement and needed someone else to step in on her behalf.

But the mixed signals only get murkier...

Napoleon in uniformA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

55. She Was A Hard Act To Follow

To prove that he was only remarrying to produce a legitimate heir, Napoleon said something so disturbing that it's impossible to forget. He claimed his next wedding would be to “a womb.” Let's hope Napoleon didn't tell his second wife, the archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, about that ice-cold disclaimer.

Napoleon BonaparteUnknown author ,Wikimedia Commons

56. Her Past Came Back To Haunt Her

Over the course of Napoleon and Josephine's divorce, the couple's dirty laundry aired out in the most public way. It turned out that their original wedding was full of lies, letting Napoleon claim that the marriage itself didn't count. The person who wed Napoleon and Josephine wasn't officially allowed to do so, Josephine lied on the paperwork by claiming to be significantly younger than she really was.

 Napoleon himself wrote down a fake birthday and address!

Napoleon Bonaparte FactsHenri Frédéric Schopin, Wikimedia Commons

57. Absence Made The Heart Grow Fonder

After their divorce, Napoleon was still smitten with his ex. He even allowed Josephine to retain the title of Empress of the French. In his own words: "It is my will that she retain the rank and title of empress, and especially that she never doubt my sentiments, and that she ever hold me as her best and dearest friend". It really seemed as though Napoleon was more obsessed with Empress Josephine than ever.

Empress Josephine FactsAntoine Jean Gros, Wikimedia Commons

58. She Was Part Of A Major Heist

Josephine was the original material girl. She loved gems and jewels so much that when Napoleon needed to make nice with his wife, he'd give her lavish jewelry. His grandest gift came just before the couple's divorce, when he bestowed extravagant emerald jewelry on his soon-to-be-ex. Thrilled, Josephine hired an artist to paint her in the beautiful green gems. She didn't know it at the time, but this was a huge mistake.

Empress Josephine FactsFrançois Gérard, Wikimedia Commons

59. Her Gems Were Stolen

After Napoleon and Josephine split, the new divorcée lived in the country, away from the spotlight...or so it seemed. Josephine's name quickly re-entered the newspapers when she claimed that her precious emerald jewelry had been stolen. Napoleon tried desperately to retrieve the jewels, but not for chivalry. Instead he had far darker reasons to get the emeralds back to their owner.

Jacqueline Bisset as  Josephine de Beauharnais in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story in red dressWarner Bros., Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

60. France Was On Her Side

Then as now, when a major couple breaks up, people take sides. When it came to the split between Josephine and Napoleon, France was firmly for the abandoned Empress. Napoleon worried that his enemies would use the jewel theft as an excuse to make up dark stories that he'd planned the heist. He was desperate to stop the bad press in its tracks, but Napoleon's men simply couldn't find the culprit.

With no other option available, Napoleon hired the infamous thief François Eugène Vidocq .

Napoleon in uniform, Empress JosephineA+E Networks, Napoleon (2002)

61. She Made Literary History

In a wild twist, Vidocq managed to do what no one else could. He tracked down not only the Empress' stolen emeralds, but the men who took them and the people who bought them! Utilizing this achievement as an advantage, Vidocq managed to get the Emperor to absolve his offenses and even transform this former mastermind of illicit activities into an official law enforcement officer.

But some historians have questions about Vidocq's miraculous solve...

Empress Josephine FactsMarie Gabrielle Coignet, Wikimedia Commons

62. She May Have Been A Mastermind Of Illicit Activities

Some historians believe that the true culprit behind the jewel heist wasn't a regular con man. Instead, they suspect a far more disturbing option: Empress Josephine herself. Certain scholars think the Empress could have orchestrated the whole scheme to turn the public against her ex Napoleon. If so, Josephine was utterly diabolical.

Empress Josephine in white dressAndrea Appiani, Wikimedia Commons

63. She Had To Turn Her Back On Him

Though Napoleon finally got the heir he so desired with his new wife, he continued to hold a torch for Josephine. They were on friendly terms until his exile—and Josephine had to make a heartbreaking choice. Tsar Alexander I, who’d humiliated her ex in the defeat that led to his exile, wanted to visit her at her home of Malmaison.

She knew that her future hung in the balance, and that she could pay a brutal price for displaying any loyalty to Napoleon. Only, this was a lose-lose situation.

Painting of Hortense de Beauharnais and family  and Tsar Aleksandr I of RussiaUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

64. Her Loss Destroyed Napoleon

Empress Josephine received Alexander as a visitor, but while they were out walking one day, she caught a chill. Soon, she was fighting for her life. Within two weeks, her life ended at just 50 years old. After learning of Josephine's tragic fate, her ex-husband Napoleon responded with a heartbreaking gesture. 

Mad with grief, he locked himself in his room for two full days and refused to see anyone.

War Of 1812 factsJacques-Louis David, Wikimedia Commons

65. She Had A Strange Guest

Before Josephine passed on, Napoleon brought a strange guest to visit his ex-wife on her deathbed: His child and legitimate heir, Napoleon II, from his second marriage. Apparently, he brought the little boy to visit Josephine so she could meet the child “who had cost her so many tears.” Um, thanks?

Napoleon Bonaparte FactsBillet, Wikimedia Commons

66. His Obsession Was Serious

When you look back at the evidence of the passion Napoleon had for Empress Josephine, his obsession was undeniable. But there was a strange twist to their relationship. Though she definitely showed she loved him in her own way, Josephine was something of a cold fish. While he would write his wife elaborate love letters about the "intoxicating pleasures" she gave him, Josephine was known to rarely even read Napoleon's missives.

When he cooed over a portrait of his bride and constantly kept it safe in his pocket, apparently Empress Josephine never bothered to look at paintings of her husband.

Napoleon Bonapartemidjourney, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

67. She Inspired Scandalous Letters

Many of these letters still exist today in all their romantic glory, though reading through them now may make Napoleon seem like a weirdoIn one of his passionate letters to Empress Josephine, he refers to her nether regions as "the little black forest." In another tale—perhaps apocryphal—he wrote to her that he’d been home from a campaign in three days…requesting that she not wash before then. Alright, man.

Napoleon Paul DelarochePaul Delaroche, Wikimedia Commons

68. Her Ignorance Went Down In History

Napoleon often dictated his letters to secretaries, however, he wrote letters to his lovers by hand. As we’ve seen, these letters were pretty legendary—but it turns out his efforts were pretty much futile. Empress Josephine simply could not understand much of what her beau wrote. When people asked her about Napoleon's well-being, she would resort to saying that Napoleon was “fine”. Ouch.

Napoleon On His Imperial ThroneJean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Wikimedia Commons

69. Napoleon’s Last Words Were About Her

Napoleon came to understand how much he loved Empress Josephine only later in his life, or to be exact, at the very end of his life. On his deathbed, Empress Josephine appeared in her ex's final words. As Napoleon perished, he said, "France, l'armée, tête d'armée, Josephine." ("France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Josephine."). 

Napoleon Bonaparte FactsPaul Delaroche, Wikimedia Commons

70. She Had An Ugly Secret

In recent years, historians noticed that every portrait of Empress Josephine contains an utterly heartbreaking detail. Empress Josephine never shows her teeth when she smiles—and we now know that she did so for a dark reason. Josephine’s teeth were pitch black due to cavities and decay.

She hid them for her entire life, teaching herself to laugh with her mouth closed and speaking behind a handkerchief when she entered the public eye.

Empress Josephine in white dress, crownHenri-François Riesener, Wikimedia Commons

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