I answer a question about yesterday’s installment of the Napoleon Memoir Series.


To D Walker:


He never told her to leave specifically. This whole thing is very fraught with conflict. It was damned if you don’t, damned if you do. Hortense’s mother Josephine was a fairly messed up person who had severe PTSD from almost being guillotined during the revolution. She ended up surviving by becoming a “courtesan” - essentially a high class prostitute. I’m being a bit harsh but it’s True. When Napoleon came along, Josephine’s “protector” (if you catch my drift) handed Josephine over to Napoleon. I do seriously wonder if they put a spell on Napoleon. He was so crazy about Josephine who was six years older - and had two children.


Napoleon’s family were furious with him for marrying this person. After they married, Josephine carried on with her whorish ways.


Napoleon was devastated and he stayed married, in part, because Josephine had her children beg him not to leave them. So in a way, Napoleon stayed in this marriage to not leave Hortense. As Hortense grew up, she had the graciousness and beauty and style of Josephine BUT Hortense was also an artistic and musical and all round cultural genius. She was celebrated in her own right. Hortense also had remarkable integrity.


When Napoleon couldn’t produce an heir with Josephine, Napoleon jerryrigged a situation to make Hortense the heir’s mother and everyone believed Napoleon and Hortense had produced her child who really was fathered by Napoleon’s brother, her husband.


Once Napoleon was thoroughly disappointed in Josephine for various reasons, he wanted a divorce. He felt he needed a real heir because they were always trying to kill him.


Once Napoleon was kind of emotionally disengaged from her, Josephine became madly in love with him. Josephine managed to keep the marriage intact for 15 years. Hortense was always being obligated to emotionally support her mother who suffered terribly from Napoleon’s affairs and his attempts to prove to himself that the infertility problem wasn’t on his end (if you catch my drift).

When Napoleon finally divorced her, Josephine was truly devastated and obsessed with Napoleon. Hortense tried to leave Napoleon when he divorced Josephine but Napoleon broke down and cried and asked if she was going to abandon him too. Hortense was in between a rock and a hard place. You’ll see in Hortense’s Memoirs that Napoleon was probably always secretly in love with her.


There was no way Hortense was going to leave her mother once Napoleon was exiled to Elba. Indeed, Josephine was dying from heartbreak. Because Josephine was still kind of that desperate to survive courtesan she pushed Tzar Alexander on Hortense for “protection”. Tzar Alexander used all of his very considerable charm to ATTEMPT to win Hortense away from Napoleon. Josephine dies from a cold incurred during Josephine’s attempts to curry favor with Alexander. You’ll see all this in Hortense’s Memoirs.

I think Napoleon knew that Hortense would have supported her mother and of course wanted her to do so. BUT, Napoleon had a lot of hidden passion when it came to her. AND he was perhaps a bit jealous of Alexander. AND I’m CERTAIN he was very upset about her not coming to Elba.


He was also very eager to get Marie Louise back. Marie Louise could’ve really helped him get leverage over Austria. Marie Louise never came back. He never saw his son again.

When Napoleon saw Hortense in Paris, I think Napoleon showed his genuine hurt that she hadn’t shared his exile but he probably let it out in a calculated way. He really needed Hortense and he needed her to help him get her brother Eugene back. Eugene never came back.

Josephine was Napoleon’s consort during his days of glory. Hortense’s support during his return to power would invoke this glory. Napoleon did know how to play Hortense but she sort of resented his attempts to control her and she resisted them.

It really was COMPLICATED. I believe they were always in love with each other but far too noble to get together given their relationship status (stepfather/stepdaughter brother-in-law/sister-in-law).

Napoleon really did put France first and marrying his stepdaughter was not going to work for that.


He also said that he promised to be Hortense’s father and he wouldn’t violate that. But once Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise was really over and he was cut out of France, I believe he was very sad that Hortense didn’t try to make it work with him. Napoleon really did sacrifice EVERYTHING for France.

To be fair, Hortense filled her exile home in art devoted to the Emperor. She dedicated her life to defending his name and she raised her son, Napoleon’s nephew, to rise up and take back France to vindicate her stepfather - which he did as Napoleon III. Hortense’s devotion to Napoleon was not in question - except maybe to Napoleon himself.