The Bonaparte Women: Hortense de Beauharnais (Part 1)




(public domain)

Hortense de Beauharnais was born on 10 April 1783 as the daughter of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie but by that time her parents’ marriage was in deep trouble. When her mother wrote to her father informing him of her birth, he wrote back, “If I had written to you during my first attack of anger, my pen would have scorched the paper.”1 He accused her of adultery and although he did not believe Hortense to be his daughter, he felt forced to accept it. He angrily wrote, “It is alien blood that flows in her veins.”2 We don’t know for sure if Hortense ever knew of these events as she always wrote of her father with respect. Her elder brother Eugène had been born in 1781.

A divorce was in the cards for her parents, and her mother anxiously awaited Alexandre’s return. At the end of November, Joséphine went to a convent where she would stay for 15 months as the political tensions in Paris rose up. The divorce was finalised in December and finally, Alexandre calmed down. In March 1785, he officially recognised Hortense as his daughter.3 At the age of 4, Hortense joined her mother on her travels to her homeland of Martinique. They returned to France to empty palaces. The French Revolution had begun. Her father decided that Hortense should go to boarding school, her education had been seriously lacking until then. Her mother visited her as often as she could.4 Nevertheless, Hortense was lonely and at the age of just 7, she was the youngest girl there.5

Two years later, her mother quickly pulled her out of boarding school. Paris had reached its breaking point. In January 1793, King Louis XVI was executed, followed by Marie Antoinette in October 1793. Then Hortense’s father was arrested and Joséphine did everything she could to get him released. By April, she too had been arrested. Hortense wrote, “It was the first great sadness in my life.”6 Every day, Hortense and her brother walked to the prison with clean clothes and letters. On 22 July 1794, her father was executed. His last letter was to Joséphine.7 Her mother escaped the guillotine as the reign of terror suddenly came to an end.

Young Hortense returned to school but the family’s finances were limited. Hortense excelled in school but she was pulled out often by her mother. Her mother introduced her to a general she had met, his name was Napoleon Bonaparte. Hortense was initially hostile to her future step-father. “If our mother marries him, she won’t love us as much!”, she wrote to her brother.8 Joséphine married Napoleon on 9 March 1796. During the time of Napoleon conquests in the army, Hortense remained mostly in school. She was kept informed by the head of the school to whom she confided, “Madame, I do not begrudge his conquests, but I will never forgive him for conquering my mother’s heart.”9

Hortense left school and lived with her mother in Paris as her step-father became Consul. She continued to study and even had a tutor teach her English poetry until the tutor was dismissed by Napoleon.10 Her mother’s thoughts turned to Hortense’s marriage. Joséphine’s marriage to Napoleon had not produced children but if Hortense were to marry his brother Louis, their bloodlines would still be united. However, the two had never shown the slightest inclination towards marriage.11 Hortense was astonished and it took eight days for her to decide to marry Louis. Her mother’s fate depended on it.12 Louis and Hortense married on 4 January 1802 and within two months, Hortense was pregnant.

(public domain)

Their marriage was off to a good start, or so it would appear. However, Louis’ behaviour was unpredictable, which made her insecure.13 Their first son was born on 10 October 1802 to cheers of “There is our Dauphin!” Hortense was horrified.14 For the first time, Louis and Hortense saw eye to eye, nothing else mattered anymore. Their initial happiness soon turned into marital troubles and Louis often accused her of not loving him. His mood was much altered by physical pains. In early 1804, Hortense realised she was again expecting a child. That same year, Napoleon became Emperor of the French and Hortense became Her Imperial Highness Princess Louis Bonaparte.15 During this time, she was also often seen with Charles de Flahaut. On 11 October, she gave birth to another son.

Napoleon soon had plans for his brother. He would become King of Holland and she would be his Queen. Holland would be an independent Kingdom, though under the supervision of France. On 15 June 1806, the new Queen left France with her husband. On the border, Louis insisted he be called “Lodewijk”, the Dutch version of his name, from then on. He also tried to master the Dutch language quickly.16 Hortense never bothered to learn Dutch.17 They arrived at Huis ten Bosch near The Hague where they were welcomed by the royal guards. Despite her initial reluctance, she quickly won the people’s hearts. Hortense also lived in the Binnenhof in The Hague, now the centre of government, but once a stadtholderly and royal residence.

In the spring of 1807, tragedy struck. The four-year-old crown prince came down with a cold and soon his fever began to rise. After hanging on for six days, the young prince died on 5 May. Hortense was numb with grief.18 She requested a lock of his hair and left Huis ten Bosch. She never returned there.19 She left Holland for Brussels where she met with her mother. They travelled further south, all the way to the Pyrenees and Spain.20 She would not return to Holland until August. Duty called and for the first time in two years, she and Louis shared a bed. She fell pregnant for the third time. A third son was born on 20 April 1808. The following year, Napoleon divorced Hortense’s mother to father an heir with a new wife, Marie Louise of Austria. Hortense held her train during the wedding ceremony.

Then as quickly as the Kingdom of Holland had been made, it had been unmade. Napoleon had been unhappy with his brother’s rule and angrily told him, “I will eat Holland whole!”21 Hortense had been absent for quite some time, which had led to rumours. Shortly before the Kingdom came to an end, she returned to Holland but she was not welcomed. At the Loo Palace, she wrote her husband a goodbye letter. She considered her marriage to be over. Holland had held nothing but bad memories for her. On 1 July 1810, Hortense left Holland and headed for France. That same day, her husband abdicated the throne in favour of their eldest surviving son, who became King Louis II. It lasted just 12 days. On 13 July 1810, Napoleon decreed, “Holland has reunited with the Empire.”

Read part two here.

  1. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.16
  2. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.16
  3. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.17
  4. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.29
  5. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.30
  6. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.37
  7. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.41
  8. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.57
  9. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.61
  10. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.104
  11. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.122
  12. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.126
  13. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.138
  14. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.147
  15. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.163
  16. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.209
  17. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.228
  18. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.243
  19. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.244
  20. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.245
  21. Thera Coppens – Hortense, de vergeten Koningin van Holland p.292






About Moniek 1389 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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