Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flower of the Bonapartes: Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense de Beauharnais,
Queen of Holland
Portrait by Anne Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, 1808
"My life has been so brilliant and so full of misfortune that the world has been forced to take notice of it."
- Hortense de Beauharnais

Hortense de Beauharnais, the future Queen of Holland, was the the daughter of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie or more popularly known as Josephine de Beauharnais. She was born on April 10, 1783 in Paris. Shortly after her birth, her parents separated. Her father was executed during the French Revolution when Hortense was 11 years old, and her mother was also imprisoned. She was later released in the summer of 1794.

The now widowed Rose took her two small children with her, but she was penniless. The Revolution greatly traumatized her, but she tried to forget its horrors and began embracing Parisian society. With her natural charm, aristocratic manners and sharp wit, she befriended many influential people. Hortense was sent to be educated at Madame Campan's school at St.-Germaine-en-Laye. Here she received an excellent education: she learned to compose music and, besides the usual skills such as learning languages, took dancing and acting lessons. She received painting and drawing lessons from the famous painter Jean Baptiste Isabey. Hortense excelled in everything and was loved by everyone at school. But her mother had no time to admire the accomplishments of her daughter. She was busy establishing herself and making a name in Parisian society.

Soon, Rose attracted the attention of a 28-year-old Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon became passionately in love with the charming 32-year-old Rose. When Hortense first met Napoleon, she admitted to her mother that she disliked him. Soon, Napoleon decided to marry Rose. He changed the name of his future bride into Josephine because he didn't like the name Rose. Rose was henceforth called and known as Josephine. Napoleon and Josephine quickly married, and began his rise to power. Hortense was angry towards Napoleon for stealing her mother's heart, but after writing her a letter which describes his devotion to her mother and his longing to be of a good father for her, Hortense slowly softened her attitude towards him. Now the husband of Josephine, Napoleon doted on his stepdaughter. He admired her talent for singing and composing that he called her "notre Terpsichore". He fondly said about her: "Hortense, so good, so generous, so devoted." He treated her as his own daughter and was fiercely proud of her talents. When Napoleon and Josephine were crowned as Emperor and Empress of France, Hortense was present during the coronation.

When Hortense was 17 years old, the ambitious Napoleon arranged the marriage of his brother Louis Bonaparte to Hortense. It was a match that neither of them wanted. But Louis and Hortense, both obedient to Napoleon, consented. They were married in January 1802. The couple's marriage was unhappy from the very beginning and even the birth of three children didn't change that. Eventually, Louis and Hortense were chosen as the King and Queen of Holland and they moved to The Hague. Hortense quickly became accustomed to life in the Netherlands and fell in love with the country. Much to the annoyance of her husband, the Dutch people liked her and was highly regarded. Louis and Hortense lived in different parts of the palace and avoided each other at every opportunity.

After the death of Louis Bonaparte, Hortense embarked in an affair with Colonel Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a handsome and sophisticated man. Hortense then gave birth secretly to a son.

Near the end of her life, Hortense was banished from France because of her support to Napoleon. She then purchased a house in Switzerland, which was named the Château of Arenenberg. She lived there until her death in October of 1817. She was buried next to her mother Josephine in a church in Malmaison.


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