Behind every great man lies an even greater woman. The woman adds character to the man and also affects his actions and morals. The story of Napoleon Bonaparte would be incomplete without consideration of his first wife, Josephine. She contributed so much to his development and passion because of her influence. This greatly impacted his leadership, military victories, and and was an inspiration behind the Napoleonic Code. Therefore without Josephine’s influence, Napoleon would not have become who he was. To understand Napoleon one must first understand Josephine Bonaparte’s history.
Marie was the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.She was a popular Empress and had many defining characteristics which helped to shape her life. Josephine had a great impact on Napoleon’s emotions which affected the decisions and actions that he made directly and indirectly. (PBS; Napoleon and Josephine, http://www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/n_josephine/courtship/page_1.html) She made him feel secure, provided him with emotional support, and gave him confidence which ultimately had a bearing on his decisions and actions. (PBS; Napoleon and Josephine, http://www.pbs.org/empires/napoleon/n_josephine/emperor/page_1.html)
Another one of the ways in which Josephine helped Napoleon was through his military accomplishments. Prior to meeting Josephine, Napoleon was nothing more than a short, slight, shabby young artillery man, lacking real military victories. (Mossiker, 79) Josephine allowed Napoleon to strive for more than just a mistress but love. (Mossiker, 81) His fondness for her still remained with him even during his battles. After their wedding, he successfully conquered Italy in 1796-97. (Mossiker, 202) He continued his success conquering Egypt and this battle was significant because France gained a lot of gold and rare gems as well as the Rosetta stone; which was the key to hieroglyphic translations. (Mossiker, 134-139) While Napoleon was fighting his campaigns, Josephine used her connections to France’s political leaders to further Napoleon’s political career, hosting several parties that resulted in Napoleon quickly being promoted.
That resulted in Napoleon gaining national prestige. (Josephine’s Influence on Napoleon, http://sphseuro.blogspot.ca/2009/02josephines-influence-on-napoleon.html) However, Josephine was chronically unfaithful to Napoleon. Napoleon nearly ended his Italian Campaign early simply to return to France and confront his wife. (Josephine’s Influence on Napoleon, http://sphseuro.blogspot.ca/2009/02josephines-influence-on-napoleon.html) A letter written to Josephine from Napoleon on the subject of her infidelity was published in several English newspapers, which mocked France and its ruler.
Her several affairs almost led to their divorce, but Napoleon felt that a seemingly stable marriage would further his political aspirations and the two remained married. Josephine’s Influence on Napoleon, http://sphseuro.blogspot.ca/2009/02josephines-influence-on-napoleon.html) Therefore, even without her being present on the battle field, or even in the same country, it was Josephine’s inspirational spirit, that encouraged Napoleon throughout all of his major victories against Italy and Egypt. Napoleon created a code in which reflected his morals towards the family unit and marriage.
In 1803, Napoleon established his own code of laws in order to repeal previous laws that weakened marriage. (The Law Behind the Man, https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/jkr/napoleon.html) The 1792 divorce law was repealed and drastically changed. Before it was possible for either a husband or wife to petition for a divorce on numerous grounds, but Napoleon changed the laws so divorce could only be petitioned for under mutual consent and incompatibility. (The Law Behind the Man, https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/jkr/napoleon.html) There were criteria that had to be met before a husband or wife could petition for a divorce on either of those grounds; if it was because of incompatibility the petitioner had to show proof of cruelty, adultery, or objected to certain humiliating forms of punishment administered by her spouse (Phillips 1988, p. 185). This is significant because it helps strengthen the family by giving both husband and wife the power to separate.
The Napoleonic Code also emphasized the family as a functioning unit. The needs and desires of the individual had been put ahead of others in the eighteenth century. (The Law Behind the Man, https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/jkr/napoleon.html) Napoleon heightened parental authority by requiring their permission in divorce cases and a husband’s power by reducing the rights of his wife. “A wife….owed obedience to her husband, a husband protection to his wife, and that the wife was obliged by law to live with her husband and to follow him wherever he judged it convenient to live.” (Phillips 1988, p. 186) This law strengthened the family unit, giving each marriage partner specific duties and rules. Again, because of Josephine’s influence he created this law to protect his family by providing more structure in the family unit.
Even though it may seem that Josephine did not have a more profound impact on the world as Napoleon did, her relationship with Napoleon helped to motivate him to develop his military, personal, social achievements. Without Josephine, Napoleon would not have accomplished what he did and the world we know today would be drastically different.
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Empress Josephine. Cambridge: Knapton, 1964. Print.
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Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Thompson, 1952. Print.