Friday, May 29, 2009

Remembering the "Good Empress Josephine" on this May 29th

On May 29th, 1814 at around noon, Josephine Bonaparte passed away in her Chateau Malmaison. She was given the last rites at 11:00 and shortly after, reached out her arms to embrace her children, Hortense and Eugene. She died in her son’s arms where ‘he held her thus for a time, feeling her spirit like a brilliant light all around me.

Josephine had been suffering from fever and le malaise-she was very weak and her body covered in rash- near the very end she could no longer speak. Things had gotten worse after having caught a chill from riding in an open calèche on her short journey to Hortense’s chateau in Saint-Leu…‘a fatal infection of the throat.’

To the very end, Josephine’s concern and consuming love was reserved for her children and the great love of her life, her Bonaparte. She was determined to see that her children’s’ fate be set and their lives saved from the remnants of the disaster that now befell them. She had kept on entertaining and planning until she was sure that the future of her children would be safe and secure. Her legacy remains intact in the memoirs that she wrote up until the time of her death.

The most touching letter written by a son to his father- about his mother, is the letter that Eugene wrote to Napoleon after his beloved mother, Josephine, passed away.

Here is a passage from this beautiful letter (taken from Sandra Gulland’s The Last Great Dance on Earth)

‘Sire, Emperor (Papa),

…As you can imagine, the citizens of this nation are overwhelmed with grief at the news that their “Good Empress Josephine” is no longer with them. I was told by old Gontier that the gate could not be opened for the mountain of bouquets piled high there, that the long road from Paris to Malmaison has been thronged with people with tears in their eyes- peasants and aristocrats alike.

She was placed in a double casket. Over twenty thousand people came all the way out to Malmaison to pay their last respects. Astonishing. Even the gate here at Saint-Leu is covered with bouquets and letters of sympathy. Really, Papa, it touches us deeply to see such an outpouring of love.

“Tell him I am waiting,” Maman told Hortense a few days before her death. Fever talk, we thought at the time, but now it all seems so clear. Mimi, who was with her through that last feverish night, says her last words were of you.

Did she know how much we loved her? If Maman’s death has taught me anything Sire, it is that one must speak one’s heart when one can…

Bon courage…May God be with you. I know her spirit will be.

Your faithful and devoted son, Eugène’

Josephine was buried in the Church of Saint Pierre-Saint Paul, in Rueil.

Source: The Last Great Dance on Earth by Sandra Gulland



oiasantorini said...

we should all be so lucky as to receive respectful letters like that from our children Lucy...
Lovely post ;-)

ceecee said...

Such an eloquent and moving letter. A wonderful first substantial read for my morning. I will think of Josephine all day long.
Love to you -

Passages to the Past said...

Love this post! I really have to get to Gulland's trilogy, I've never read anything about her and she sounds like quite a remarkable woman.

May said...

Very touching. Thank you.

Barb Davis said...

Love your blog!

Please visit me at

Unknown said...

Hi Lucy, what a touching post. Thak you for such beautiful words today.

Arleigh said...

20,000 people? Wow, I really need to read the last book of the trilogy. I've only read the first two.

sallymandy said...

Hi Ms L: I loved reading this tonight. It's so touching, what Eugene wrote about his mother. I'm catching up on my blog reading, and needed something heartfelt about a beautiful person tonight. Thank you!

Viola said...

Ms.Lucy, This beautiful letter brought tears to my eyes. I hope that the Empress knew how much people loved her!

Barbara, I am glad that you wrote a comment. I am going to look at your blog.

Ambrosia @ The Purple Booker said...

Very touching thoughts.

A present for you..

Kirsten Steen said...

What a beautiful letter! I love what I learn about her from your blog. Like the thousands lining the road from Paris to pay their respects. And the mounds of flowers at the gate. Reminds me of Di's farewell.
And thanks to you for sharing!
Happy Weekend!

Jenny Girl said...

This is the perfect remembrance post. Josephine was truly beloved by the people.

BurtonReview said...

How bittersweet! Thanks for the post!

Barb Davis said...

Congratulations! You are the winner of the Victorian Teapot bracelet. Come and see!

BurtonReview said...

Lucy, Thanks for commenting on my Mailbox.
As far as when I get to reading more on Marie Antoinette, what would you say would be a good intro to her out of these that I own:
To The Scaffold by C.Erickson, Abundance by S. Naslund, or Marie Antoinette : The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever?

Is there another book about her that you wound recommend? Is there a Jean Plaidy book on this era? (odds are that I have it but do not know it)
Thanks :)
Feel free to email me at marieburton2004 at yahoo dot com

Tudor Daughter said...

Ms.Lucy~you have two awards over at my blog

Ingrid Mida said...

Do they know what Josephine died of? From your post, it sounds like she had scarlet fever which is a complication of untreated strep throat. It is characterized by fevers, sore throat and a red rash.

MyLittleSaloon said...

This letter is so moving. Eugene eas so sweet...
R.I.P Good Empress Josephine!

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