Napoleon Part Two: The Lover, The Exiled Estate Planner

Our last post discussed Napoleon’s military and political life which figured very importantly in his will.  This post considers Napoleon the man – his loves and  his final days on St. Helena.

The Lover

Napoleon died on St. Helena in May, 1821.  There were many people in attendance at his deathbed and there are different versions of Napoleon’s last words, but they were likely something along the lines of “France, My Son, Army, Head of the Army, Josephine”.

Josephine de Beauharnais was Napoleon’s cougar-esque first wife and true love.

Josephine

Napoleon did have a love life before Josephine though.  While he was climbing the ranks in the French government, Napoleon became engaged to a rich young woman, Desiree Clary. Desiree’s sister was married to Napoleon’s older brother, Joseph.

But then, after some military exploits advanced his career, Napoleon ditched Desiree and married the love of his life, Josephine de Beauharnais (Desiree, the spurned fiancée, married one of Napoleon’s rivals.  The rival became the king of Sweden and proceeded to ally Sweden with Napoleon’s enemies! How’s that for payback?)

Josephine wasn’t a blushing young flower when she met Napoleon – she was the mistress of several men including Napoleon’s superior in the government.  She was also a widow with two kids.  Josephine and her first husband had been imprisoned during the Reign of Terror and her husband was executed by guillotine!  Not only was she older than Napoleon, she had bad teeth that are never shown in any painting of her. 

Josephine hiding her teeth.  Image from Wikipedia

Nonetheless, Josephine must have been really alluring because Napoleon was smitten.

Napoleon was 26 when he married Josephine. She was 32.

Josephine, Napoleon (at left) and some other  guy who appears to be making the moves on Josephine. Image from Wikipedia via http://ladyreading.forumfree.it/?t=13827783

Two days after their wedding, Napoleon took off to another war. While he did send love letters, Napoleon was away a lot. Ultimately, both spouses sought the company of others and Napoleon had several non-marital children during the marriage.

Although they remained married for 14 years, Josephine didn’t conceive a child with Napoleon.

Napoleon wanted a legitimate heir, so he divorced Josephine and married Archdutchess Marie Louise of Austria (a relative of Marie Antoinette.). She bore a son, Napoleon II,(aka the “little eagle” and the “king of Rome”) within a year.

Marie-Louise, wife number two and son. Image from her Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=168221239872700

After the divorce, Jospehine made out swell.  She kept the title of “Empress” and a big house called “Malmaison” in the outskirts of Paris.

Malmaison was crammed full of beautiful theengs that remain there today as a tourist attraction.

Here is Napoleon’s bedroom at Malmaison – it resembled a tent so that Napoleon would feel comfortable since he was accustomed to living in tents during all of those wars.

This was Josephine’s “formal” bedroom.  She had another, more comfy one for sleeping. Josephine was uber-acquisitive, a real spendthrift!

Josephine died of pneumonia at age 51 when Napoleon was on Elba. He locked himself in his room for two days, grieving. And seven years later, when Napoleon died at age 51 as well, he spoke her name with one of his last breaths.

St. Helena – Estate Planning in Exile

Napoleon on St. Helena. Image from Wikipedia

After Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena, one of the most isolated islands in the world. Napoleon hated it there even though they provided him with a 23 room house called Longwood. Napoleon was allowed to bring servants, physicians, clergy and loyal followers (and their wives) along to the exile and to replenish them when some left. But still, Napoleon was miserable.

His British captors may not have treated him so well during his six years there.  He detested the governor of the island, Hudson Lowe (and vice versa).

Hudson Lowe.
Image from http://napoleononline.ca/2011/03/exile-on-st-helena/

For the first few years of the exile, Napoleon held out hope that he would be permitted to return to Europe, but in early 1819, he learned that the allied powers had met and essentially decided that he was to remain on St. Helena for good.  According to Brian Unwin in his wonderful book, Terrible Exile: The Last Days of Napoleon on St. Helena,” Napoleon began the first draft of his will soon after he realized he was stuck there.

Napoleon’s health deteriorated over the next two years. According to Norwood Young and Alexander Meyrick Broadley’s excellent book, “Napoleon in Exile: St. Helena 1815-1821”,  during his last days Napoleon spoke about his concept of heaven – his dead generals would come to meet him and they would talk of what they did together. “On seeing me they will once again become intoxicated with enthusiasm.  We will talk of our wars with Scipio, Hannibal, Caesar and Frederick”.  Imagine, a war-talk heaven!

Napoleon died on May 5, 1821.  His private physician, Dr. Antonio Antommarchi, performed an autopsy and determined that Napoleon died of stomach cancer (which had also killed Napoleon’s father).  Napoleon had little respect for Antommarchi (he may have been the only person at Longwood who didn’t get a gift in Napoleon’s will). Napoleon said he “wouldn’t trust him to cure his own foot”. On the other hand, Antommarchi had an excellent reputation as a “dissector” and most experts agree with his cancer determination. Others believe that Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic added to his private stash of wine.

Death of Napoleon by Steuben. Image from Wikipedia

According to Young and Broadley, less than a month before his death, Napoleon dictated the final version of his Last Will and Testament to one of his most dedicated generals, Count Charles Montholon. He read the will, made some changes and then copied it over in his own hand. Napoleon also dictated (and/or handwrote) seven codicils. The codicils are wonderful in that they dispose of “mythical” money that Napoleon didn’t own and they make gifts to scores of people from every stage in Napoleon’s life.  It took them at least ten days to complete the drafting.

Count Charles Monthonlon.
Image from Wikipedia.

Montholon received the single largest bequest in the will and was named as chief co-executor as well.  Wow, consider the conflicts of interest/potential for undue influence in that scenario!  Would Napoleon’s will be valid under modern New York law?

Was Napoleon’s will deemed valid when it was submitted to a French court?  Our next post analyzes Napoleon’s incredibly detailed and fascinating estate plan and reveals what actually became of his estate.

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1 Response to “Napoleon Part Two: The Lover, The Exiled Estate Planner”


  1. 1 Liza August 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    I think I learned more about the General than another history class I’ve ever taken. Cheers, Great research!


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