What’s in a name? What’s in a piece of paper? In this case of no ordinary paper, it’s two names, passionate love and an empire. And what a price!
Napoleon’s marriage licence to wed Josephine in 1796 has sold for €437,500 (with commission and fees) at auctioneers Maison Osenat, in Paris.
It was bought by the privately-owned Museum of Letters and Manuscripts (in the French capital), which harbours some 136,000 handwritten documents from history.
Such a collection it is hard to put a price on, from love poetry to the original scroll of Marquis de Sade’s ’120 days of Sodom’, for example — of authors, painters and visual artists, musicians and composers, scientists, engineers, royalty, soldiers and statesmen.
Thus the marriage licence of the future Napoleon I and his fiancee Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, or Josephine, the Viscomtesse de Beauharnais, enters the museum.
He was 26; she was 32. It was her second marriage. Her first husband, with whom she had borne two children, was executed in the revolution.
The wedding to Napoleon, at the time generalling France’s armies to conquests around Europe — he only became First Consul later, and then Emperor — took place March 9th, the day after the couple — him Corsican and her Martiniquaise — signed the contract.
It includes mention that neither would be “responsible for the debts and mortgages of the other”, and that they would share “no common property”.
It was one of history’s most famous love stories, however, but as they failed to conceive offspring, when she was 46, in 1810 for want of a male heir the marriage was annulled.
Napoleon was to produce a son in wedlock with the Archduchess of Austria Marie Louise and illegitimate others with mistresses.
Yet when he died in exile deposed and defeated and eaten away by cancer, on his death bed the last thing he said was, ‘Josephine’.