The Monnaie de Paris have launched their latest releases in the current coin series entitled “Women of France,” which features some of the country’s most notable women who have shaped or influenced French history, culture, and society. The series commenced in 2016 with the first coin honouring Queen Clotilde (474–545). The latest coin highlights the life of Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), who is remembered in French history as the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the latter of which crowned himself emperor of the French in 1803 and, consequently, crowned Joséphine as Empress. Her influence on her husband was considered by many to have been a stabilising factor, while others at the time regarded her as a distraction to matters of the state. Ultimately, her time with Napoleon came to an unceremonious end when Napoleon, fearing he would not be able to leave his empire to the next generation of Bonapartes, divorced Josephine in order to remarry and produce an heir.
The coins are struck in gold and silver and share identical designs. The obverse side features a charming front-facing portrait of Joséphine de Beauharnais, surrounded by the years of her birth and death as well as her name. The background is based on a motif which is from one of the tapestries of the Chateau of Malmaison.
The reverse depicts the scene of the coronation of Empress Joséphine by Napoleon I in 1804. The design is based on the world-famous painting by Jacques-Louis David which is entitled, The Rite of Napoleon. The background includes a motif of bees which are reminiscent of the symbols of the first empire and Napoleon I.
|€10||.900 Silver||22.2 g||37 mm||Proof||5,000|
|€50||.999 Gold||7.78 g||22 mm||Proof||1,000|
The coin dedicated to the memory of Joséphine de Beauharnais is part of a three-coin issue for 2018 which is included in the series entitled “Women of France,” and additionally includes coins honouring Désirée Clary (1777-1860) and Georges Sand (1804-1876). Each coin is available as a separate purchase. The Proof-quality coin is encapsulated and housed in a branded Monnaie de Paris custom case along with a numbered certificate of authenticity. For additional information on these coins and others available from the Monnaie de Paris, please visit their website.
From Humble Beginnings to the Heights of Power: Empress Joséphine of France (1763–1814)
Born on the Island of Martinique on the 23rd June 1763, Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was the eldest daughter of Joseph Tascher de La Pagerie, who was a somewhat impoverished aristocrat with a commission in the navy. Joséphine grew into a beautiful young lady who spent an idyllic life on the Caribbean island until 1779 when she met and married a young and wealthy army officer, Alexandre Vicomte de Beauharnais (1760–1794), and moved to Paris. Soon after, they became the parents of two children, Eugene (1781–1824) and Hortense (1783–1837). As Joséphine, now vicomtesse de Beauharnais, was born into a family of very modest means, she was brought up with simple manners. As such, her etiquette and lack of sophistication were considered quite provincial and embarrassing for the time Due to social pressure, her new husband declined to present her to the court of Queen Marie Antionette. Alexandre’s attitude towards his wife eventually lead to a rift between the couple that, by 1785, Joséphine demanded a separation from her husband. She continued to live in Paris until 1788 when she returned to her home in Martinique with her children, but with the knowledge of a new way of life which included Parisian sophistication and a greater understanding of the privileged classes.
Political tension on Martinique prompted Joséphine to return to Paris in 1790, though the homeland was itself in the throes of revolution as well. Still being the wife of Count Alexandre, some doors into high society were open to her, but it also became a danger to her life and that of her children. Alexandre had joined the ranks of those supporting the French Revolution but he was himself denounced by its leaders. On the 23rd June 1994, he was sent to the guillotine. Joséphine, as the wife of Alexandre, came under suspicion of sympathy for the “Ancien Regime” and was arrested soon after the death of Alexandre. It was only the coup d’état in July 1794, which overthrew the so-called “reign of terror,” that spared her life as she was also scheduled to be executed as an enemy of the state. After the introduction of the new French administration known as the Directory, Joséphine was recognised as a leader of Parisian society both for her heroism in the face of imminent death and for her refinement and beauty. Joséphine became so well-respected that she soon attracted the attention of one particular member of the Directory, a young corporal whose family was from Corsica and who was rising fast in the ranks of the administration.
Napoleone Bonaparte (1769–1821) was born into a family of ancient Tuscan nobility that had emigrated to Corsica in the 16th century. After a somewhat undistinguished record in terms of his education, he re-joined his regiment of La Fère in 1788 — just in time for the start of the French Revolution. He saw active service during the war with Austria in 1792. With the overthrow of the reign of terror in 1794, Napoleon’s carer and future were on the ascent, which was something Joséphine noticed as well. After a brief courtship, the two were married in a civil ceremony on the 9th March 1796, and began what could be described as a tumultuous — but passionate — relationship.
Although Joséphine saw in her new husband a secure future which would mean position, prestige, and perhaps eventual wealth, she couldn’t have dreamed that someday she would be crowned empress of the newly founded French Empire. Initially, her relationship with her new husband was somewhat indifferent, since she declined to answer his letters declaring his undying love for her — written while he was on his famous Egyptian campaign from 1798 to 1799. She also caused a scandal when Napoleon was away. He made accusations that she was unfaithful with an army officer, and she was also known for accumulating large debts due to her indulgent lifestyle. Upon his return, Napoleon became so disillusioned with Joséphine that he threatened to divorce her and throw her out on the street. It was only with the intervention of his step-children Eugene and Hortense, whom he had grown to love, that he forgave her and honoured her debts in full.
With the commencement of the consulate government of France in 1799, of which Napoleon headed a consulate of three governors, it became abundantly clear that he was now the most influential authority of the land. This increased position of power meant that Joséphine, as the wife of the senior consul, would need to ensure that no more scandals were created by her exorbitant spending. She did, however, cleverly use her social position to further Napoleon’s standing and influence.
The popularity of Napoleon persuaded him to move closer to a government where he would be declared ruler for life and that all authority would be vested in this position. The consulate suggested to Bonaparte that the best way to discourage conspiracy against his rule would be to transform the life consulate into a hereditary empire, with himself as its founder. On the 28th May 1804, the empire was officially declared with the coronation of Napoleon to take place on the 2nd December the same year. In the presence of Pope Pius VII, who had consented to crown and consecrate Napoleon in Notre Dame Cathedral, and at what was to be the very moment the Pope was to place the new imperial crown onto Napoleon’s head, the emperor took the crown from the Pope and set it on his own head himself. Moments later, he placed a newly created crown upon the head of his wife, now officially Empress Joséphine. The previous day, she and Napoleon had married according to the rites of the Catholic Church, enabling her to attend her husband’s coronation as empress (as yet uncrowned).
In the scheme of things, Joséphine’s place in the world now seemed more secure than ever before. Her daughter Hortense became the wife of Napoleon’s younger brother Louis and her son Eugène was now married to the daughter of the king of Bavaria. With Joséphine as empress, she essentially headed French society and, for all intents and purposes, her position was inarguably secure. However, her continued extravagances of spending and the growing question of how Napoleon would provide an heir to the empire seemed to strain her marriage once again. By 1810, she was in her 40s and it seemed more unlikely that a child would be born to the imperial couple. As a result, Napoleon now looked to divorce his wife in order to produce an heir by marrying a woman both young enough to bear children as well as to secure a dynastic match for himself. He had his eye on the Archduchess Marie-Louise, a daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria, once a staunch enemy of France. In January 1810, Napoleon arranged for the annulment of his 1804 marriage on the grounds that a parish priest had not been present at the ceremony.
With this slight technicality, which may have been premeditated on the part of the emperor, Napoleon was able to leave a broken-hearted Joséphine without having to resort to a divorce — which would have been unacceptable to the Church and his potential father-in-law, the Austrian emperor. Powerless to prevent her husband from leaving her, she reluctantly retreated to her private residence at Malmaison, outside Paris, where she continued to entertain lavishly, but seemed despondent over her loss of Napoleon. Joséphine lived long enough to see her former husband lose his throne, his empire, and eventually his new wife and son, the baby Prince Napoleon (whom he conferred the title “King of Rome” upon). With the defeat of the French in Russia at the hands of Czar Alexander I, who entered Paris triumphantly in March 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate to which the Czar reluctantly accepted the restoration of the Bourbons. The Czar extended protection to Joséphine after Napoleon’s abdication, but she died soon after on the 29th May 1814. Her story, for some, is both fortuitous and tragic. For others, it is a story of empowerment and survival in the face of extenuating and dangerous circumstances. However, the name of Joséphine conjures up many opinions and impressions on her life which was experienced during one of the most unrestrained eras in French history.