zaterdag 10 maart 2012

March 9, 1796. "To Destiny."

When Napoleon married Josephine, she wore violets, and on each anniversary Josephine received a bouquet of violets. 

Falling in love

Napoleon fell madly in love with Josephine. His passion is reflected in the many love letters that have survived. One classic example, written in Paris in December 1795, appears to follow an amusing evening, perhaps their first sexual encounter, and can be found in a 1931 edition of their letters:
I awake full of you. Your image and last evening's intoxication have left my senses no repose whatever. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect do you produce upon my heart! Are you vexed? Do I see you sad? Are you troubled? . . . My soul is crushed with grief, and there is no repose for your lover; but is there any the more when, abandoning myself to the profound emotion which masters me, I draw from your lips, from your heart, a flame which consumes me? Ah! It was last night I really understood that your portrait was not you! You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours. Meanwhile, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but do not give me any, for they burn my blood.

Napoleon was deeply in love, but Josephine wasn't so sure. She had a pretty good deal going — she was involved in a number of business and other affairs and was maintaining a, ahem, close relationship with Paul Barras. Barras, on the other hand, may well have been anxious to move his rather expensive plaything on to someone else. Indeed, it seems that he arranged for Napoleon to be appointed commander of the French army in Italy in exchange for Napoleon's marrying Josephine.
It's a bit hard to understand why Josephine was interested in Napoleon at all. Sure, he was a young hero, but he was also penniless and fairly lacking in social graces. Josephine, on the other hand, had pretty much made it by the time she met him. She had climbed to the very top of the social ladder and was involved in all sorts of interesting things.
And then there was the little matter of Napoleon's family. Josephine was 32 years old, 6 years older than Napoleon. She was previously married, had two half-grown children, and had little in the way of money, plus her connections were dubious in their nature. Napoleon's siblings and mother were convinced that he could do far better and that Josephine would be a disaster for him. They did everything they could to discourage the marriage. Had Napoleon's mother, Leticia, been on hand in Paris, she likely would have exerted her influence, and the marriage would not have taken place.

Questioning her future

Josephine was also not convinced that marrying this young general was the best decision she could make. Marrying a general may sound like a good deal, but generals have a tendency to be sent to far-away places where they can end up being killed. In addition, generals were still very political, and if they fell out of favor they could find themselves at the very least out of a job. Napoleon had already discovered how easy it was to suddenly be on half pay. Josephine, who was involved in military supply dealings, was well aware of the downside to military careers.
Josephine's friends counseled against the marriage. Of greater importance was the opposition of her daughter, Hortense. But Josephine may well have figured that any daughter would fear losing her mother to a man who would not be her real father. As it happened, Napoleon was an excellent stepfather to both of Josephine's children.
And then there was the little matter of General Hoche, whom Josephine had met, so to speak, while in prison (see the earlier section "Facing the guillotine"). Not only was Josephine not in love with Napoleon; she had hoped that General Hoche would leave his wife and marry her. (She finally realized that he would never do so, which may be why she eventually agreed to marry Napoleon.)
Not in love and faced with the opposition of friends and his family, Josephine stalled when Napoleon asked her to marry him. His passion worried her, as she was unable to match it. Besides, any fire can cool quickly, so Josephine made Napoleon wait through the winter of 1795-1796. Finally, faced with her increasing age, diminishing prospects, and Napoleon's persistence, Josephine relented and agreed to marry him.

Marrying their future

Napoleon and Josephine agreed to a civil ceremony at 8:00 p.m. on March 9, 1796. Josephine was there early, wearing Napoleon's famous gift to her, an enameled medallion engraved "To Destiny." (They could not have possibly imagined how significant those words would be.) Barras, serving as a witness, was on time, as were other members of the wedding party. Only one person was missing: the groom!
Anyone can be a little late, even to his own wedding, but as the minutes dragged on into first one hour and then two, emotions must have been on edge. The official who was to marry them left, and an underling was on hand for the ceremony, even if the groom was not. You can only imagine what thoughts were going through the various minds there assembled.
If any of them had known Napoleon well, none of this would have been all that big a surprise. As general in chief of the Army of France in Italy, Napoleon had been planning a campaign and had become so engrossed in his maps that he had completely lost track of time. Clearly, his priorities were not those expected of a typical groom. Then again, Napoleon was not a typical groom.
Nothing about the wedding was normal. Josephine lied about her age on the marriage certificate, claiming to be 4 years younger, and Napoleon added 18 months to his age. The end result was that they appeared to be roughly the same age.
Josephine's children had been apprehensive about their mother's marriage to this young general. True, Napoleon had treated her son with kindness in the matter of his father's sword (if that story is really true), but like any children, they worried about how their stepfather would relate to them.
The day after the wedding, the newlyweds went to visit her children. Napoleon was at his most charming and generous. He arranged to send his own younger brother Jérôme to go to school with Eugène, visited their school, and generally did whatever he could to make them feel comfortable with him. By the end of the visit, Josephine's children knew that they had a new father they could trust — and love.
Napoleon and Josephine were married. One of the greatest love stories in history had begun. But it didn't start out very promising. Within a couple days, Napoleon was off to Italy and glory, while Josephine was to stay home.

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