Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Enemy of Love?

"Time for Love?", Wallace Collection, London
"Have you got three minutes?"

Napoleon was an "Enemy to love" to his siblings as he forced his youngest brother Jerome to divorce his American wife and tried unsuccessfully to do the same with his brother Lucien (see earlier post, Napoleon and the Rebel,  Moreover, Napoleon sacrificed his own happiness as well divorcing the only woman that he ever loved, Josephine de Beauharnais, for "reasons of state".  He adored his wife Josephine de Beauharnais, but in order to perpetuate his dynasty the Empire required a fertile womb.  He divorced Josephine in order to marry the 19 year-old Hapsburg Princess Marie Louise in 1810.  When they first met on March 27, 1810 she is said to have remarked, "You are much better-looking than your portrait."  Napoleon's only legitimate offspring, Napoleon II or the King of Rome, was born to much imperial fanfare on March 20, 1811.  A 101- gun salute was fired to let Parisians know that the Emperor now had a son and heir!

Commander K. with Napoleonic Cannon, Holland and Holland, Northwood, England
Stendhal wrote one of the very first biographies of Napoleon in 1818, A Life of Napoleon, while the Emperor was still alive in exile on St. Helena.  Stendhal was a staunch Republican who viewed Napoleon sympathetically and regarded his Empire as a continuation of the ideals of the French Revolution.  Stendhal describes Napoleon "the lover" as follows:

Napoleon Cameo, Wallace Collection, London
"You look so much better than this, dear" Marie Louise

"When, in his youth, Napoleon had been poor and completely devoted to serious matters, he had nevertheless been very far from indifferent to women.  His extremely thin appearance, his smallness and his poverty were not likely to give him confidence or to gain him many successes.  It had required courage in small doses.  It would not surprise me to think of him as having been shy with women.  He feared their ridicule and this man to whom fear was unknown, revenged himself upon them in his heyday by constantly and crudely expressing a fine contempt for them to which he would not have referred had it been true.  Before his elevation to power, he wrote to his friend Director Rey, about a passionate love affair in which Lucien was entangled:

'Women are like muddy sticks: one cannot pick them up without being soiled.'  By means of this inelegant image he sought to point out the errors of conduct to which they led; it was a prophecy.  If he hated women it was because he had a supreme fear of the ridicule which they dispensed.  Finding himself at dinner with Madame de Stael, whom it would have been so easy to have won over. He said coarsely that he only liked women who attended to their children."

Napoleon and Josephine, Wallace Collection, London
Here is how Stendhal describes Napoleon's "close encounters" with members of the opposite sex:

"Seated at a small table, his sword by his side, the Emperor would be busy signing decrees.  The lady would enter the room.  Without moving he would tell her to get into bed.  Shortly after, carrying a candle he would show her out and would then return to reading his decrees, correcting and signing them.  The essential part of the interview had lasted no more than three minutes.  Frequently his Mameluke was behind a screen.  He had sixteen such interviews with Mademoiselle George, and at one of them gave her a fistful of banknotes: there were ninety-six in all.  This had been arranged by the valet Constant.  Sometimes the lady would take off her shift and then, without troubling to move, he would send her away.

Mademoiselle George, "Fistful of Francs"
Such conduct on the part of the Emperor drove the women of Paris to despair.  To send them away after two minutes so as to sign his decrees and frequently without even removing his sword, seemed to them frightful, as it amounted to making them eat dirt."

A Life of Napoleon, Stendhal, 1818

Countess Marie Walewska, 1786 1817
On January 25, 1814 Napoleon saw Empress Marie Louise and his son, the King of Rome, for the very last time.  She returned with her son to the Austrian Imperial family in Vienna.  On April 11, 1814 Napoleon abdicated and proceeded to exile on the island of Elba.  The Empress Josephine, ever a victim of fashion, died of pneumonia on May 29, 1814 after having caught a chill while walking dressed "a la mode" in the gardens of Malmaison with Tsar Alexander I.  Napoleon's beautiful Polish mistress, the Countess Marie Walewska, with whom he had an illegitimate son in 1810, visited him on Elba, but did not accompany him to St. Helena after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

Commander Kelly says, "Napoleon worshipped, not at the altar of Venus, but rather that of Mars;  he sacrificed private love for public power and ultimately ended his life with neither, haunted by memories of his faded grandeur on the barren rock of St. Helena."

Special Thanks to Holland and Holland in Northwood ( for use of their cannon!

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