On This Day in Napoleonic History – 19 October 1799

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9Napoleon confronts Josephine

Napoleon had a hero’s welcome on his return from Egypt and was celebrated as France’s saviour, with plays staged in his honour and cries of ‘Hurrah for Bonaparte, he will save the country’ resounding everywhere he went. But Napoleon was too unhappy about his wife’s very public affair with Hippolyte Charles, of which he became aware in Egypt. Josephine tried to end her affair in February, writing to her lover, ‘You can be assured after this interview, which will be the last, that you will no longer be tormented by my letters or my presence.’

Josephine didn’t want a divorce and nor did Napoleon, for all his promises to leave her as soon as he returned to Paris. Politically Josephine was very useful to him with her social skills and connections. When Napoleon arrived home, Josephine wasn’t there. Assuming she was with her lover, he was furious. Unbeknownst to him, she had set out to intercept him on the road but the couple missed each other. When she finally arrived, she found him locked in his bedroom and refusing to speak to her, no matter how much she cried. When nothing else seemed to work, Josephine, who knew Napoleon’s love for his step-children, recruited Hortense and Eugène to appeal to him. Her cunning plan worked and there was a dramatic reconciliation. ‘God did not give me a heart to see tears shed without feeling moved myself,’ said Napoleon. When Lucien arrived the next morning, he was shown into the bedroom where the couple were sitting up in bed together.  Afterwards, Josephine would remain faithful to Napoleon, despite his many affairs.

Although he was heartbroken over his wife’s infidelity, when Napoleon came to power, he made no attempt to punish Hippolyte Charles.

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