Sunday, April 14, 2013

Josephine's Engagement Ring Sells for $949,000

The engagement ring the young Napoleon gave to his fiancee Josephine shattered expectations at the Osenat auction house in France when it sold for close to $1 million two weeks ago.

The winning bidder, who chose to remain anonymous, paid $949,000, almost 50 times the $20,000 Osenat had expected it to bring in. 

The golden ring is in an 18th century setting called "toi et moi," "You and Me," with opposing tear-shaped jewels -- a blue sapphire and a diamond. The carat weight of each stone is a little less than a carat each. 

Osenat already had clues that it had a blockbuster on its hands several days before the auction.
In addition to a great deal of interest from bidders around the world, an Osenat spokesperson said there were also requests for private space on a floor above the salesroom, where wealthy buyers could watch and bid without being seen. 

The ring may seem unimpressive considering the names attached to it are an emperor and empress, but it actually illustrates Napoleon's passion for his future queen as at the time he was only a young and ambitious officer without substantial resources. 

The auction was also held on a unique day, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Josephine's birth, said historian David Chanteranne, the editor in chief of Napoleon I Magazine

According to the auction house, Napoleon met Josephine, (Rose Tascher de la Pagerie as she was known then) in September 1795. She was 32 years old, six years older than Bonaparte. At the time she was the rich and stylish widow of Alexandre de Beauharnais, an aristocrat who supported the French Revolution but died on the guillotine. Her first marriage produced two children, Eugene and Hortense, who Napoleon later adopted. 

According to Napoleon's memoirs written on St. Helena, he met Josephine when her son Eugene came to ask him for the right to keep his father's sword. Napoleon said yes, and Josephine invited him to her apartment in Paris to thank him. Napoleon was immediately smitten, and within the first few months of their relationship had fallen in love with her. He wrote about this in his memoirs: 

"Everyone knows the extreme grace of the Empress Josephine and her sweet and attractive manners. The acquaintance soon became intimate and tender, and it was not long before we married." 

The wedding day was March 9, 1796, but the honeymoon lasted only 36 hours. Napoleon left to lead the French army on a successful invasion of Italy, but during this absence he wrote frequently, sometimes twice a day. 

"Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed," one letter says. "My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude." 

"How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing," the Emperor writes, "the little firm white breast, the adorable face, the hair tied up in a scarf a la creole." 

Napoleon begged Josephine to join him while he was on his conquest in Milan, but Josephine preferred to remain in Paris where her children attended school. She was also motivated by her affair with Lt. Hippolyte Charles and possibly others. 

When Napoleon learned about Josephine's affair, his letters changed in tone: "I don't love you, not at all; on the contrary I detest you -- You're a naughty, gawky, foolish slut." 

The marriage didn't last, but according to the auction house, “Josephine continued to treasure the ring and gave it to her daughter Hortense, later Queen of Holland, through whom it came down to her son, Napoleon III and his wife Empress Eugenie to whose family this relic ring still belonged”. 

The ring had been on display alongside other historic treasures, including portraits of Napoleon's son and a sword given to the emperor by King Henry IV. 

However,  a French blog which questions the authenticity of this ring.You can see it here and it is possible to translate it into English: et-napoleon-le-vrai.html 

Further research into the story of Napoleon and Josephine suggests the following:. According to a number of sources Marie-Josèphe Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie was born on June 23, 1763 on the island of Martinique. She was the oldest of three daughters born to Joseph de Tascher de La Pagerie, an impoverished French aristocrat. 

At the age of fifteen she was promised in marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais, a young noble and officer who had spent his childhood with the La Pagerie family in Martinique. While the young Rose, arriving from the provinces to sophisticated Paris, anticipated the attentive romance of a new marriage, Alexandre had married for the social convenience it gave him to access his inheritance. He was in love with Laure de Longpré, the wife of another naval officer, who was pregnant with his child and whose husband died just months before Alexandre and Rose were married.

Rose and Alexandre’s marriage produced the aforementioned children, but from the outset Alexandre was emotionally absent, in addition to the protracted physical absences necessitated by his military assignments. In 1783, after three years of unhappy marriage, Rose applied for a legal separation and withdrew to the convent of Panthemont where gentlewomen disadvantaged by circumstance were able to find refuge. 

In 1788, with Eugène living with his father, Rose and Hortense returned to Martinique. It was there that they heard the news of the events of July 14, 1789. The tremors of the Revolution did not take long to affect the colonies and soon Josephine was fleeing back to France for refuge. 

Alexandre was a vocal supporter of the ideals of the Revolution and an active member of the Jacobin party. As acting president of the Constituent Assembly, it was he that gave the order for the arrest of the royal family during their attempt at flight to Varennes in 1791. Despite this, he was imprisoned during the Terror for dereliction of duty in his command of the Army of the Rhine (which led to the loss of the French held city of Mainz). He was executed as an enemy of the Revolution and Rose was imprisoned. Only the beheading of Robespierre in the days before her execution saved Rose from the same fate as her husband. 

In the chaotic times that followed the Terror, Rose’s social network grew and she pursued a number of liaisons with powerful and well connected people such as Paul Barras (one of France’s five Directors after the fall of the National Convention), using her acquaintances to generate income to support herself and her children. It is said that Barras was also her lover. 

In 1795, up and coming artillery officer Napoleon Bonaparte came into the orbit of Barras and his circle. He was entranced by Rose’s exotic femininity and her social position, thinking that she could gain him entrée to France's higher social circles. He also mistakenly believed that she could secure the financial situation of his own family with her income from Martinique. Rose did little to dispel this myth, although in truth, she labored under many debts and struggled to pay for her extravagant lifestyle. Her spending would always be a source of conflict between them. 

In 1795, when extremist Parisians, opposed to the new constitution of the Convention, threatened to attack government offices in the Tuileries, Barras called on Napoleon to suppress the uprising. His success in quelling the insurgence led to promotion and prominence as a new star of the Directory. Rose, perhaps at the prompting of Barras, began to show interest in Napoleon and he became infatuated with her. Napoleon called Rose ‘Josephine’ and she adopted this name. They were married 
in March 1796. Some writers/historians say Barras had of tired her so he pushed her to entice Napoleon. 
The Bonaparte family were hostile to the union and to Rose from the outset. While the ideal Corsican woman was diligent, frugal, passionate and dedicated to family, Josephine was immodest, a spendthrift and easy-going but emotional. At thirty-two she was considered already old and the two children from her first marriage were seen as an encumbrance. It is said that she lied to Napoleon about her age. Her grace and ease in society contrasted with the awkward manners of the Bonapartes. They conspired to be rid of her and made her life uncomfortable with acts of hostility. 

Josephine was described as dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a clear complexion and delicate figure – not beautiful, but truly graceful and charming, generous and good-hearted.

When Napoleon’s quest for power and control took him to Egypt, Josephine purchased the estate of Malmaison. Josephine developed Malmaison, about twelve kilometers west of Paris, into a magnificent property with a garden cultivated with botanical specimens from around the world. It was here that she was to reside until her death. 

As Napoleon’s power grew, he installed his family members in positions of power throughout the Empire. Josephine’s daughter, Hortense, married Napoleon’s brother Louis, who became King of Holland and Eugène became Bonaparte’s loyal deputy and later French Prince, Prince of Venice and Viceroy of Italy, among other titles. 

On December 2, 1804, Napoleon crowned Josephine Empress. She performed the role of ambassador and hostess, organizing receptions, entertaining visiting dignitaries, representing the Emperor at official functions and reviving something of the ceremony of the royal court. Despite her capability in the role of first lady, Josephine failed to provide Bonaparte with the heir he so desperately needed to maintain his line. 

In 1810, Josephine’s marriage with Napoleon was annulled and he married Marie-Louise of Austria in a union intended to deliver France both an heir and an ally. Napoleon provided for Josephine with a generous settlement that included the property at Malmaison. 

When Napoleon was sent into exile on Elba, and Louis XVIII returned to take the throne in Paris, Josephine was again called on to play hostess to visiting royals and dignitaries for the new regime. By this time her health was failing. She died on May 29, 1814, her last words purportedly were: ‘Bonaparte ... Elba ... the King of Rome’.