Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Josephine Divorced

The gayeties of Erfurt once over, Napoleon proceeded to Spain, and began his campaign by a few victories which replaced Joseph on the throne at Madrid. But before the conquest of Spain could be completed, he received such alarming news from home that he hastily departed, leaving behind him some of his best generals and troops, with instructions to "drive the English into the sea." The French in Spain had to contend with English armies under Sir John Moore and Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) in a number of pitched battles, and to wrest from the Spaniards themselves several towns by costly sieges; they were, besides, constantly worried by a species of guerrilla warfare, which the mountainous nature of the country made easy for the natives. The constant drain of men and money demanded by this war, proved, in time, Napoleon's ruin, he himself saying, later on, "It divided my strength, opened a way for the English, and injured my reputation throughout Europe." But he saw all this too late, although Talleyrand had predicted that it would prove "the beginning of the end."

Having left Spain,—never to return there,—Napoleon posted northwards; but whereas he generally traveled rapidly in a coach ingeniously fitted out so he could work even while journeying, on this occasion he rode horseback, eighty-five miles in five hours, using, of course, a number of horses, which he changed at various points on the route, for his only fast gait was a mad gallop. Napoleon's haste was due to the fact that Austria, deeming him safely occupied elsewhere, had suddenly thought this a fine opportunity to take her revenge. She was encouraged in this view by England,—Napoleon's inveterate foe—so a Fifth Coalition had been planned; but when she now invaded Bavaria, it was only to be confronted and beaten, to her intense surprise and dismay, in five battles on five successive days, by Napoleon and his allies of the Confederation of the Rhine. At Ratisbon, on the fifth day, Napoleon was wounded in the foot by a spent ball. The news of this injury caused such excitement and despair among the men that the emperor hardly waited until the bandage was fastened, before he remounted and reappeared among the troops, by whom he was madly cheered.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


The road now being clear, Napoleon marched on to Vienna, which he entered for the second time in triumph. Then, on the way to attack the main Austrian army, the French troops distinguished themselves greatly at the crossing of the Danube, where bridges had to be built under great difficulties, and where was fought a bloody battle (Aspern). Finally came another famous victory at Wagram, after which Napoleon took up his abode at Schonbrunn, where he barely escaped the dagger of an assassin, and where he little suspected his son would spend his last days more than a score of years later.

Meanwhile, the Tyrol, which Napoleon had wrested from Austria and bestowed upon Bavaria, was in revolt against her new rulers. Under Andreas Hofer and a few other brave peasant leaders, these mountaineers expelled the Bavarians and heroically defended their beloved country step by step. Army after army sent against them met defeat, but in the end the Tyrolians were overcome. Hofer himself was taken and slain (1810) with some thirty other patriots, whose fame will endure forever in that picturesque region.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


The war between Austria and France was ended by the peace of Vienna (1809), confirming previous treaties, but giving the Illyrian Provinces (Istria, Dalmatia, etc.) to France, and some smaller territories to Napoleon's allies. Such was the fame Napoleon won by these repeated triumphs, that we are told "he looked like one walking in a halo of glory," and he became such a popular idol, that

France gave herself to him, absorbed herself in him, and seemed at one time no longer to think save through him!"

Napoleon, like his admirers, now began to believe that he was the only man who could make and keep France great and prosperous, and the thought that the time would surely come when he would die, filled his own and many other hearts with nameless fears. As he and Josephine had no children, the Senate had conferred upon Napoleon, with the title of emperor, the right to adopt a successor; if Napoleon had no son, and adopted none, the throne was to go to certain of his brothers and their sons.

The succession was a delicate matter, for while Napoleon would have liked to name his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, he knew perfectly well that his family would never countenance such a choice. For a brief time, therefore, Napoleon thought of adopting and training a nephew,—the son of his brother Louis and stepdaughter Hortense,—but this child died young, and the emperor's affections never seemed to center upon any of his other nephews in the same way. Meantime, many people did not scruple to suggest that he divorce Josephine and marry again to secure an heir—a suggestion which Napoleon repudiated indignantly at first, but decided to adopt shortly after signing the treaty of Vienna.

When told at Fontainebleau what sacrifice she was expected to make for the sake of France, poor Josephine swooned from grief; but she was so brave and unselfish that, in spite of the fact that her heart was breaking, she finally consented to all Napoleon asked. Knowing that the captive Pope would never grant the desired divorce, the Senate and an ecclesiastical council were asked to pronounce it; and, in the presence of Napoleon, of her two children, and of a few of the great dignitaries, Josephine signed the paper by which she consented to this separation from the man she loved.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Then, still escorted by her devoted children, Josephine withdrew to Malmaison,—a country house she had bought while Napoleon was in Egypt,—where, honored and admired as much as ever, still bearing the title of empress, and provided with a fine pension, she quietly spent her few remaining years. Napoleon called there to see her sometimes, but such interviews proved too painful for both to be frequent at first, and, after his second marriage, roused such jealous feelings in the breast of the new empress that they had to be discontinued. Until his divorce, Napoleon had been wonderfully successful, and because his luck turned shortly after his second marriage, and because the repudiation of Josephine was not viewed with favor by the people in general, it was later said, "When Napoleon divorced himself from Josephine, he seemed to have divorced himself from his good genius."