I will forgive you if you have never heard of Rose Bonaparte. You must though have heard of Josephine Bonaparte. To be exact of Empress Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Emperor Napoléon and thus France’s first ever ‘empress’. So there must be something in a name, because I am sure if this Rose had remained […]


The Mansion of Malmaison

The Mansion of Malmaison (CC Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

I will forgive you if you have never heard of Rose Bonaparte.

You must though have heard of Josephine Bonaparte.

To be exact of Empress Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Emperor Napoléon and thus France’s first ever ‘empress’.



So there must be something in a name, because I am sure if this Rose had remained Rose, she would never have become an empress.

OK. Now that you know that Rose Bonaparte was the slim, alabaster-complexion, dark-haired beauty of the painting above,  know that she was from the Caribbean island of Martinique, and was a Creole, and as every history book will inform you, of a swarthy complexion. And know too that behind those cute little lips on the paintings was a mouth full of rotten teeth, her halitosis, unbearable.

Josephine died on Sunday, May 29, 1814 in the Chateau of Malmaison – the English for chateau is ‘castle’ or ‘palace’ if it is still inhabited, but for this particular chateau the English translation is ‘mansion’.

It was there that Josephine had chosen to live after her marriage to Napoléon had come to an end. (More about the end of her marriage in a moment.)

Napoleon in the park of Malmaison (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

Napoleon in the park of Malmaison (cc Marilyn Z.Tomlins)

This year of 2014, is, therefore, the 200th anniversary of her passing.

France remembered her by holding two Josephine-related expositions, both now over so I will not speak of them, and with a mass. The mass was celebrated in the 9th century church in the town of Rueil-Malmaison – the Église Saints Pierre et Paul. The mansion is, as you would have worked out, in the town of Rueil-Malmaison.

Church of the Saints Peter and Paul

Church of the Saints Peter and Paul

Josephine lies buried in the church, in a tomb of white marble.

Church of St Peter& St Paul, Rueil-Malmaison July 2014 (2)

Josephine’s tomb. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)


I went there (to Reuil-Malmaison and the mansion) this week, and if you live in or near Paris, or is planning to come to France for a holiday, you could spend a very interesting few hours walking through the rooms where Josephine had once walked. As the mansion is in a park of six hectares you can add a few relaxing hours walking through the park.

Do know though that the Mansion of Malmaison is not ‘on the tourist track’ which means that there is a plus and a few minuses to visiting it.

The minus is there is no café on the premises. So be warned: take something to drink with you and if you think you may become peckish while there, take something to eat too.

Another minus is that if you are going to the town of Rueil-Malmaison by train, take a bus from the station to the mansion, unless you do not mind a long walk. A long walk like one that will be close to an hour, and should you get lost, certainly longer.

The train you will take from Paris is the RER A1 of which the destination is St-Germain-en-Laye. You will have to descend at Rueil-Malmaison. The bus stop for the castle is right outside the station. It is bus No 27. It will take you up to the castle.

Or you can descend from the RER A1 at the station Grande Arche de la Défense and take Bus No 258 outside the station. This bus will take you up to the castle: the stop is Le Château.

The bus ticket in Reuil-Malmaison is the same as the Paris ticket. (€1.70 for a single trip.) For the train ticket, I recommend you buy a MOBILIS day ticket. This is a ticket priced according to zones. Rueil-Malmaison is in the 3rd zone and will cost you €9.05. You buy the ticket at your starting point  in Paris and it will be valid for 24 hours.

If you do want to walk from the station to the mansion because you ‘want to see the town’, know that there are no sign boards at the station to direct you towards the mansion. The castle lies south of the station. Indeed, only once you are in the centre of the town will there be sign boards directing you to the mansion.

At the end of your visit to the mansion you can walk (it will take just a few minutes) to the centre of the town where there are many restaurants and cafés and bakeries, ice-cream parlours and supermarkets. I recommend you sit on the terrace of one of the cafés on the square in front of the Saints Peter & Paul Church – Place de l’Eglise. Then when you have had your refreshments, pop into the church. Josephine’s tomb is on the right, and her daughter’s is on the left. Hortense was married off to Napoleon’s brother Louis who Napoleon had made King of Holland.

The tomb of Hortense, Josephine's daughter.

The tomb of Hortense, Josephine’s daughter.

You can also – I can almost say you *must* take a ride on the little tourist train which is free and will take you for a delightful, yet bumpy, ride of 1 hr15 mins around the town. For about 15 minutes the train drives (it is a road vehicle) along the River Seine – yes the river runs through the town. The little train also drives through the park where it even stops for five minutes.

Reuil-Malmaison July 2014 little train
In the mansion – and you can take photographs but without using a flash – you will see the sitting room, the dining room, a music room, a billiards room, several rooms in which Napoléon met with his generals, his private apartment and Josephine’s private apartment. Note that not all the furniture in the mansion is from the Napoléon/Josephine residency.

What to me is the most interesting and memorable room in the mansion is Josephine’s red bedroom with the red bed in which she had died. If you study the bed on the picture below you will see that there are rather large cracks in the wood part of the bed. There is, in fact, a notice in the bedroom that Josephine’s bed needs restoration and a request is made for donations.

Malmaison July 2014 (Josephine bed)

The bed in which Josephine had died (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)


What to me is most interesting and indeed most memorable in the park is a Cyprus tree which Napoléon and Josephine had planted there in 1800. It is here below. Napoléon had brought the tree, then ‘no higher than two apples’, as the French say about someone/something which is not very tall, from Egypt, and together the two had planted it. And just think that was 214 years ago.

The tree (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The tree (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

But who was Rose Napoléon, and how did she manage to marry Napoléon?

She was born on Thursday, June 23, 1763, the daughter of Joseph-Gaspard Tascher, Lord of La Pagerie and of Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois. Joseph-Gaspard was a sugar estate owner on the French island of Martinique. Having lost all his money, he had come to Paris in October 1779, bringing his daughter Marie-Joseph-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie, 16, with him.

Two months later, in other words in December 1779 (on the 13th) Rose was married off to Alexandre de Beauharnais, a nobleman and officer in the army. The couple had two children – Eugène born in 1781 and Hortense born in 1783. In 1794, the French Revolution raging, both Rose and Alexandre were arrested and he was guillotined. Three months later Rose was released and the following year (1795), the young and merry widow met Napoléon, six years her junior. He fell madly in love with this woman:  in a letter to her in December that year he wrote: “I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures have left no rest to my senses.” (Wow!)

A marble bust of Napoleon on a staircase in the mansion (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

A marble bust of Napoleon on a staircase in the mansion (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

That Napoléon was not Rose’s only lover mattered in no way and neither did the fact that he did not like the name Rose and called her Joséphine. What he did not know was that his bride, then 33 years old was already in menopause.

The menopausal Joséphine could therefore not have more children, and Napoléon, born a commoner on the Mediterranean island of Corsica but who had become France’s first Emperor on December 2, 1804, needed a male heir.

For 15 years the marriage, childless as it was, continued, both partners having affairs, and finally in 1810 Napoléon had the marriage annulled. First the French Senate had annulled it and then the Catholic Church. Napoléon was free to remarry religiously and this he did: he married the Austrian Grand Duchess Marie Louise who quickly – in 1811 – gave him a son. I wrote about the son here.

Joséphine continued to live in the mansion after the end of her marriage to Napoléon. She gardened and entertained her friends and lovers.

She died after having caught a cold when walking in the park with Russia’s Czar Alexander 1. She was 51 years old. Known for a woman who always went for a man who had something to offer her (status and wealth) I wonder if she was not having an affair with Alexander. (I must research this.)

It has been recorded by those who witnessed Napoléon’s death in 1821 on the island of Saint Helena to where the English had exiled him after the Battle of Waterloo, that the last word to pass his lips was ‘Joséphine’. He said: “France, the Army, The Head of the Army, Joséphine”, and then he was dead. France, l’armee, tête d’armée, Joséphine. She had died seven years previously.

All in all, the life of Joséphine was a great success story. I say this because from the marriages of her children by her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais – Eugéne and Hortense – come the monarchies of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg ,Greece, Brazil and the granducal House of Baden.

I will accordingly end by saying: Queen Victoria, cry your eyes out because you are not the ‘grand old great great grandmother’ of Europe’s Royal Houses. It is Rose Bonaparte.

Another view of the Cyprus Tree planted by Napoleon and Josephine in 1800. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Another view of the Cyprus Tree planted by Napoleon and Josephine in 1800. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

In this head was the brain of a military genius: Napoleon. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

In this head was the brain of a military genius: Napoleon. (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

8-4-2014 at 03:00:37

I went to Malmaison, many years ago, by car. I absolutely loved it because unlike so many places it was furnished and looked like a home.

8-4-2014 at 10:59:54

Josephine Wake,

You weren’t born a ‘Rose’ where you?

8-4-2014 at 11:51:37

A rose by any other name is still a rose. 🙂

That’s such an interesting article, Marilyn. To think, under different circumstances la belle France could have had a coloured Emperor. I wonder how they would have reacted to that?

Sad that he had to cast her off because of the need for an heir.

From the bust, Boney was a handsome man, even if he was rather tiddly.

If you wish not to miss one of my blogs, do subscribe.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com