Joséphine de Beauharnais (23 June 1763 – 29 May 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and thus the first Empress of the French. Her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she had been imprisoned in the Carmes prison until her release five days after Alexandre's execution.
Through her daughter, Hortense, she was the maternal grandmother of Napoléon III. Through her son, Eugène, she was the great-grandmother of later Swedish and Danish kings and queens, as well as the last Queen of Greece. The current reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg also descend from her.
She did not bear Napoleon any children; who as a result divorced her in 1810 to marry Marie Louise of Austria.
Joséphine was the recipient of numerous love letters written by Napoleon, many of which still exist.
Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was born in Les Trois-Îlets, Martinique to a wealthy white Creole family that owned a sugar plantation. She was a daughter of Joseph-Gaspard Tascher (1735–1790), chevalier, Seigneur de la Pagerie, lieutenant of Troupes de Marine, and his wife, the former Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois (1736–1807), whose maternal grandfather, Anthony Brown, was Irish.
The family struggled financially after hurricanes destroyed their estate in 1766. Edmée, Joséphine's paternal aunt, had been the mistress of François, Vicomte de Beauharnais, a French aristocrat. When François's health began to fail, Edmée arranged the advantageous marriage of her niece, Catherine-Désirée, to François's son Alexandre. This marriage would be highly beneficial for the Tascher family, because it would keep the Beauharnais money in their hands; however, twelve-year old Catherine died on 16 October 1777, before leaving Martinique for France. In service to their aunt Edmée's goals, Catherine was replaced by her older sister, Joséphine.
In October 1779, Joséphine went to France with her father. She married Alexandre on 13 December 1779, in Noisy-le-Grand. Although their marriage was not happy, they had two children: a son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781–1824), and a daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais (1783–1837), who married Napoléon's brother Louis Bonaparte in 1802.
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