20.01.2024 - 00:33
/ Frederick Leeth
Valentine’s Day has just passed, and if you were lucky, someone you love gave you roses to celebrate the occasion. All the romance and fragrance in the air bring to mind one of history’s great love stories-that of Napoleon and Josephine. Naturally the whole tale is full of roses.
It is fitting that Josephine began life with a rose in her name. Born on the flowery island of Martinique in 1763, she was christened Marie Josephine Rose Tascher de la Pagerie. At the tender age of 16 she married a French nobleman, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, and sailed off to France. Josephine had two children by Beauharnais, Eugene and Hortense. The latter was also named after a flower; the hortensia, known more familiarly as the “mophead” hydrangea.
Life was not easy for Josephine during the French Revolution. The Vicomte de Beauharnais was executed during the Reign of Terror, and she was imprisoned, barely escaping with her head. In 1796, two years after her husband’s death, Josephine married Napoleon Bonaparte, the great love of her life. He crowned himself Emperor in 1804, crowning Josephine immediately thereafter.
Rose lovers everywhere know about Josephine’s famous garden at Malmaison, her country house. She bought the dwelling in 1798, while Napoleon was campaigning in Egypt, presumably so he wouldn’t fret about the cost until his victorious and euphoric return. Once the house was purchased, Josephine did what any gardener would have done in her place-she began filling the grounds with all the rare and expensive flowering plants that she could get her hands on. As she acquired plants, she also acquired an artist to immortalize them. Joseph Pierre Redouté, the greatest botanical artist of his day (and one of the greatest of all
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