|Joséphine de Beauharnais with her children, Eugène and Hortense.|
When Emperor Napoleon dissolved his marriage with Joséphine de Beauharnais over her inability to sire an heir for his newly minted imperial throne, it was sufficient to say that her legacy would probably be a tarnished one. Though her beauty had been renowned and her charm was indisputable, she had been put aside by the most powerful man in all of Europe. She perhaps went to her grave four years later believing she had failed in her duty. Ironically, the lineage that Joséphine had felt such pressure to continue would die out prematurely, while her own descendants from her previous marriage made surprisingly advantageous marital alliances with various royal houses of Europe. As it stands today, Napoleon has no surviving legitimate descendants, while Joséphine’s descendants currently occupy the thrones of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Furthermore, two of her grandchildren were consorts to past monarchs of Brazil and Portugal. One of her grandsons even managed to follow in Napoléon’s footsteps to become Emperor of the French. So who were the Beauharnaises, the unexpected conquerors of royal Europe?
In 1779, a Caribbean-born French aristocrat, Alexandre de Beauharnais, Viscount de Beauharnais, married Rose Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie, who like her husband had also been born in the Caribbean to a prominent French family. Together they had two children: Eugène de Beauharnais and Hortense de Beauharnais. Alexandre lost his head at the guillotine in the Reign of Terror phase of the French Revolution, and his wife Rose would most likely have been sent to the guillotine herself had Maximilian Robespierre not been executed just five days later, bringing an end to the Terror.
Alive but widowed and destitute, Rose returned to her children and did what she could to navigate the murky waters of the precarious new world that had been created by the Revolution. After cultivating lovers from various corners of high French society, Rose married a young Corsican army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte. She was not particularly bowled over by him, but he was ambitious and helplessly in love with her. They married in 1796, at which point Napoleon insisted that she begin calling herself by her middle name, Joséphine. Though she was not passionately in love with Napoleon, Joséphine was happy to be settled financially and especially appreciated the devotion her new husband felt for her two children. Little could Joséphine have known at this time that this marriage would catapult her to a place she would never have imagined in her wildest dreams.
By 1799, Joséphine’s husband had become the most powerful man in France as “First Consul”, which he eventually turned into consul for life. Then, in 1804, Napoleon made the audacious move to proclaim the First French Empire and crowned himself as Emperor of the French. Joséphine, in turn, became Empress of the French. Yet Joséphine now faced the pressure of giving her husband an heir to inherit the throne, and her inability to sire any other children led Napoleon to serve her with a divorce. When Joséphine died four years later, Napoleon, by this time forced into his first exile on the island of Elba, fell into a depression after learning of her passing.
|Emperor Napoleon crowning Joséphine at their coronation, 1804.|
Even after his divorce from their mother, Napoleon continued to act as a paternal figure to his stepchildren, Eugène and Hortense, and always kept an affectionate relationship with both. Eugène was appointed viceroy of Italy after Napoleon invaded the region and crowned himself King of Italy, and has long been regarded as one of the most politically astute of Napoleon’s relatives. As for Hortense, she not only was Napoleon’s stepdaughter but eventually would be his sister-in-law. Hortense married Napoleon’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, who was created King of Holland after Napoleon’s armies invaded the territory that is nowadays the Netherlands. Louis and Hortense were the parents of Napoleon III, who followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become Emperor of the Second French Empire from 1852 to 1870. Napoleon III's only son died young without having married, and Hortense's royal lineage ends there.
|Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg|
Eugène de Beauharnais contracted a successful royal marriage of his own with Princess Augusta of Bavaria, daughter of King Maximilian I of Bavaria. Having received the hereditary title Duke of Leuchtenberg from his father-in-law, Eugène and Princess Augusta had seven children who ingratiated themselves into Europe’s royal menagerie. Their eldest daughter, Joséphine, named for her grandmother, married King Oscar of Sweden; their eldest son, Auguste, married Queen Maria II of Portugal, and their third daughter, Amelie, married Emperor Pedro I of Brazil. Two of their other daughters married minor German princes, while their youngest son, Maximilian, married one of the daughters of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
Through the children of Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, and Princess Augusta of Bavaria, the Beauharnais line traveled down primarily through Sweden’s royal lineage. In fact, the current royal family of Sweden, the House of Bernadotte, has a Napoleonic connection of its own. The dynasty’s founder was a French general named Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte who later served as one of Napoleon’s marshals and was also married to Desiree Clary, who was briefly Napoleon’s fiancé before he married Joséphine. Bernadotte was later chosen to become crown prince of Sweden and ascended the throne as King Carl XIV John. King Carl and Queen Desiree’s son, King Oscar I, married Eugène’s daughter, Joséphine of Leuchtenberg. Through the Swedish royal line, the current monarchs of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Luxembourg are descendants of King Oscar I and Joséphine of Leuchtenberg.
|Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland|
Ancestry from Eugéne de Beauharnais to the present Queen of Denmark: Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg à Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden à King Charles XV of Sweden à Louise of Sweden, Queen of Denmark à King Christian X of Denmark à King Frederick IX of Denmark à Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
Ancestry from Eugéne de Beauharnais to the present King of Sweden: Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg à Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden à King Oscar II of Sweden à King Gustaf V of Sweden à King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden à Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden à King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
Ancestry from Eugéne de Beauharnais to the present King of Norway: Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg à Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden à King Charles XV of Sweden à Louise of Sweden, Queen of Denmark à King Haakon VII of Norway à King Olav V of Norway à King Harald V of Norway
Ancestry from Eugéne de Beauharnais to the present King of Belgium: Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg à Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden à King Oscar II of Sweden à Prince Carl of Sweden à Princess Astrid of Sweden, Queen of the Belgians à King Albert II of Belgium à King Philippe of Belgium
Ancestry from Eugéne de Beauharnais to the present Grand Duke of Luxembourg: Eugéne de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg à Joséphine of Leuchtenberg, Queen of Sweden à King Oscar II of Sweden à Prince Carl of Sweden à Princess Astrid of Sweden, Queen of the Belgians à Princess Josephine-Charlotte of Belgium, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg à Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg