Julie Clary was born on 26 December 1771 as the daughter of François Clary and Françoise Rose Somis. She was known to be a simple and modest woman. Her sister Désirée Clary became Queen consort of Sweden and Norway.
On 1 August 1794, Julie married Joseph Bonaparte, who was the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was obsessed with money and acted as the family banker. She was described by the Duchess of Abrantes, “Madame Joseph Bonaparte is an angel of goodness. Pronounce her name, and the indigent, all the unfortunate in Paris, Naples and Madrid, will repeat it with blessings. Never did she hesitate a moment to set about what she conceived to be her duty. Accordingly, she is adored by all about her, and especially by her own household. Her unalterable kindness, her active charity, gain her the love of everybody.”1
They would go on to have three daughters, though the eldest – who was named for her mother – was stillborn or died shortly after birth. Their remaining daughters were Zénaïde and Charlotte. Their marriage quickly turned sour and he was often unfaithful to her.
In 1804, her brother-in-law became Emperor of the French and named his brother Imperial Prince, which made Julie an Imperial Princess. Julie was tasked with carrying the train of Empress Josephine with her other sisters-in-law.
In 1806, Joseph was made King of Naples and in 1808 King of Spain by his brother, which made Julie Queen. She did not join her husband until April 1808 but was received with great enthusiasm. Their daughters almost the most of their father’s reign in France, spending just three months in Naples. Joseph was forced to flee from Spain in 1813 and took the title Count of Survilliers. After Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Joseph escaped into exile to the United States. Julie remained in Paris with their two daughters until they were forced into exile in May 1816. They travelled to Frankfurt and then to Brussels. Julie never joined her husband in the United States.
Julie first settled in Brussels and then in Florence and was finally reunited with her husband in 1840. Joseph died on 28 July 1844, following by Julie herself on 7 April 1845. In the end, the couple who had spent so much of their life apart were buried side by side at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Also interred there was their daughter Charlotte, who had died in 1839 from complications of childbirth. Joseph was exhumed in 1862 and reburied next to his brother Napoleon.