9 March 1796

Napoléon Bonaparte marries Joséphine de Beauharnais, his first wife.

On March 9, 1796, French statesman and military leader Napoleon Bonaparte married his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais. He was only 26 years old at the time and she was much older than him—a widow at 32 years old. But the two would start one of the most notorious marriages of all time.

The great French emperor
Napoleon Bonaparte is a recognizable name in history, but how much do you really know about the French leader? Shortly after marrying Josephine, he was elected First Consul of France in 1802. He eventually crowned himself emperor of the French in 1804. This coronation brought the first Republic to an end.

During the 10 years of his reign, Bonaparte conquered Spain, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy. He instructed the French to follow his new civil code, known as the Code Napoleon. Citizens were required to follow a new set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, family life, and individual rights.

Meeting Josephine de Beauharnais
Josephine de Beauharnais was known as the “rose” before meeting Bonaparte. But once the pair met, Bonaparte disliked her name and insisted on formally changing it to “Josephine.” Her first marriage, to Alexandre de Beauharnais, ended abruptly when her husband was guillotined during the Reign of Terror.

Josephine had many lovers before meeting Bonaparte. She was in high demand as a suitable wife, but once Bonaparte set his eyes on the 32-year-old widow, the rest was history.

Their iconic marriage
Most people know about Bonaparte and de Beauharnais’s marriage, referring to them as Antony and Cleopatra. While Bonaparte was serving in the French Revolutionary War, he would often send her love letters while they were apart. But eventually, their marriage came to an unfortunate end.

Josephine failed to produce an heir. While Bonaparte adopted her children from her previous marriage, they weren’t heirs to his throne. With this in mind, Bonaparte divorced de Beauharnais in 1809 to remarry and produce an heir.

Despite the divorce, Bonaparte remained devoted to his first wife for the rest of his life. When he heard the news of her death in 1814, Bonaparte locked himself inside his bedroom for two days. On his deathbed in 1821, her name would be his final word—never forgetting his first love.