I received a question from our Napoleon subreddit: reddit.com/r/napoleon
What were the reasons they both wanted this?
Josephine cheated on Napoleon early in their marriage and she lost his passionate love for her. He really wanted children and she couldn’t produce any.
Based on my research, I have come to the conclusion that Napoleon developed an extremely strong affection for Josephine’s daughter Hortense. Hortense was basically everything that appealed to Napoleon in a woman. She was brilliant, pleasing, vivacious and she was probably capable of bearing children.
Josephine wanted Hortense to marry Napoleon’s brother Louis to strengthen their ties so it would be more difficult for Napoleon to divorce her.
Napoleon, who I believe was highly attached to Hortense, wanted her to marry Louis so she would take Napoleon’s last name and count as a member of his family. Napoleon could almost pass off her children as his own - as they’d be his nephews.
Before this marriage took place Napoleon had somewhat weak ties to Josephine. They had only been married civilly and they couldn’t produce children. If Napoleon discarded Josephine - obviously Hortense would have to leave him with her mother.
Josephine pressured Hortense to marry Louis to keep Napoleon. Napoleon pressured Hortense to marry Louis so he could keep her.
Something that backs this theory up is that when Napoleon finally divorced Josephine, he broke down and cried and begged Hortense to not leave him.
He also demanded she couldn’t leave him because she was mother to his nephews. Napoleon kept Hortense at court after his marriage to second wife Marie Louise.
Neither Hortense nor Marie Louise were particularly happy with this arrangement but Napoleon insisted on it.
This was after Hortense’s estrangement with Louis so Hortense had little reason to be at the palace.
Once Napoleon had returned from Elba and he saw Hortense again, Napoleon was furious at her for not leaving France (and joining him).
Hortense was Napoleon’s hostess during the hundred days and she protected him to the best of her ability during some of his last days in France.
The memoirs are here.
In these memoirs below, Méneval claims that Napoleon sat next to Hortense at meals (something Hortense corroborates).
Méneval also states that Napoleon made such a fuss over Hortense’s son (who resembled Napoleon) that it only strengthened the rumors that Napoleon and Hortense were secretly a couple.
Méneval’s memoirs are here.
In other words, whether it was Napoleon’s intention or not, through his behavior, Napoleon actually exacerbated tension in Hortense and Louis’ marriage by almost encouraging the appearance that Louis was being cuckolded by Napoleon.
This infuriated Louis. Louis exacted his revenge on Hortense. Hurting Hortense hurt Napoleon. We see this dynamic play out throughout these memoirs.
What happened is clear to anyone listening to these congruent memoirs. Many are available here.
The motivation is for you to decide.