Was Empress Josephine Bonaparte of mixed race



The love for an island is the most persistent passion: it pulsates beyond the blood, through roots and clay, it overflows the bedroom area and flows behind the fragile walls of the home ...

The birthplace of Empress Joséphine is located in the middle of a glittering archipelago, which is like a belt around the waist of both parts of the American continent. Today the island of Martinique is a bustling French department. It belongs to France as well as Loire-et-Cher or Pas-de-Calais, only that it is thousands of kilometers from the motherland in the turquoise-blue Caribbean. Its diverse population tells a complex story of slavery and settlement. The people who live there are descended from African and Caribbean Indians, white settlers, Chinese and Syrian traders, and contracted Indians who later replaced the slaves in the sugar cane fields.
The island's vegetation is just as varied and diverse as its population: rolling hills alternate with green, glowing valleys. Mangoes and pineapples thrive here without any human involvement. Banana trees stretch thick and yellow towards the sun, and lush green breadfruits hang heavily on the trees. In the north, the thick, lush forests are overgrown with ferns and orchids. This lavish abundance has its opposite pole in the vegetation of the south, which is typical of a dry zone: cacti and shrubbery. Yes, Martinique seems to unite two islands. One side, which faces the Atlantic, has a steep coast against which a violent surf rages. The other coast, which is lapped by the Caribbean Sea, is calm like an azure blue carpet.
Martinique has a dark, swashbuckling history. Lured by the legend of an island that "was populated entirely by women", Christopher Columbus anchored here in "Matinino" in 1502. The native population of the island, the Arawak Indians, had already been massacred by the warring Caribs, who now lived relatively peacefully with the first Europeans. West comers can be roughly divided into two categories: the desperate and the damned, people who fled justice, soldiers who were tired of fighting, and sailors who happened to dock and stay. The strangers had to discover with horror that this paradise was teeming with snakes.
When the French government claimed the island for themselves in the 1630s, immigration began on a large scale. Lured by the promises of the New World and the incredible wealth that was found there, settlers flocked from everywhere: mainly from France, but also from England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and later from Italy. Adventurers with newly bought or fake nobility titles and later sons who hoped to earn the fortune there that they could not inherit at home, met multiple delinquents, vagabonds, beggars and prostitutes who were referred to by the French authorities as so-called engagés on the island had been sent to work off their term there and in return to regain their freedom. All of these new immigrants were dreamers and gamblers, full of hope and blinded by the possibility of changing their lives.
However, the islands knew no law. Pirates and privateers, with their stories of murder, violence and shipwreck, dominated the economic and military life of the colonies. In their typical costume of leather doublet, gold earrings and well-sharpened machetes in hand, they terrorized everyday life in the region and stylized themselves as an indelible part of the multicolored Caribbean myth. This golden age of piracy was the most unsafe and dangerous time. The "coastal brothers" included men like the Englishman Stede Bonnet, who boasted that he had gone to sea to escape his nagging wife, and the French nobleman Michel de Grammont, who had killed his sister's seducer in a duel. They fought together with the supporters of Monbar, the "exterminator", and Sir Henry Morgan, the "emperor of buccaneers".
In the 18th century, Martinique turned into a wealthy colony due to the flourishing of trade, both legal and illegal. The Caribs were almost completely wiped out. Slavery, which had been introduced more than a hundred years earlier, was expanded to meet the demand for sugar, the "white gold". He helped the Caribbean islands to a wealth that exceeded all expectations. The geographical position as the gateway to North and Latin America secured Martinique military importance; it was nicknamed "Pearl of the Antilles". Its two largest cities, Saint-Pierre and Fort-Royal, were the most cosmopolitan of the Isles du Vent - the islands behind the wind - equally a playground and meeting place for traders, travelers and the military. It was not surprising that the French, faced with the choice of staying in Canada (which Voltaire in his famous phrase dismissed as "a few hectares of snow") or the economically and strategically important Sugar Islands like Martinique, Santo Domingo and Guadeloupe, should stay in a treaty they signed with Great Britain in 1763, decided in favor of the latter.

The history of Joséphine's family is intertwined with the history of Martinique. Pierre Bélain d’Esnambuc, the founder of French power in the Antilles, who ruled the island in 1635 on behalf of Louis XIII. took possession of was one of their ancestors. One of her ancestors was Guillaume d'Orange, a brave, daring leader who protected the colonialists from the attacks of the Caribs in 1640 and played a crucial role in defending Martinique against the attacks of the Dutch fleet that tried to conquer the island in 1674. Six generations later, a descendant of these two men - Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois, daughter of a wealthy plantation owner - married Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher de la Pagerie.
Her father, Joseph-François des Vergers de Sanois, is unlikely to have considered this wedding to be socially appropriate. The groom's father, Gaspard-Joseph, had come to the island in 1726, and the only thing that distinguished him was his title of nobility. But his line of ancestors was impressive: A Tascher had donated a monastery in 1142, another had distinguished himself as a crusader in 1190. However, Gaspard himself did not have an impressive background, and he did not come to particularly wealthy in Martinique. Although he had a promising marriage to a plantation heir, he did not succeed in consolidating his position. Eventually he ended up as an administrator on various estates and relied on the goodwill of powerful friends. On the island he was considered so poor - despite his unwavering bragging rights of his noble origins - that the father of an admirer of a daughter of Gaspard hesitated to consent to the marriage because of "the loose way of life of her father and the publicly known disorder of his business."
Monsieur des Vergers de Sanois, whose family came mostly from Brest, had an equally noble family tree, but his roots on the island were significantly older than those of the Taschers, going back to the early days of settlement. He was a real Creole, as the descendants of Europeans born in the colonies are called. (The slaves called them "békés", a word from the Ibo language derived from the expression "whites found under the leaves", a derogatory allusion to low or illegitimate birth.) The Sanois family owned numerous plantations in the entire region; Their possessions in Martinique alone were worth 60,000 livres, plus a considerable amount of cash. As the presumed head of one of the oldest and most recognized families on the island, he was a grand blanc and thus belonged to the elite of the dynasties of plantation owners, who were all related and connected by marriage and who ruled life on the island through their practically unlimited power. (Many of the petits blancs, the destitute white descendants of the engagés, mostly worked as sailors, small administrators and traders.)
Had it not been for Rose-Claire's precariously advanced age, Sanois might never have consented to this marriage. But at the age of twenty-five, according to the standards of the nobility on the island, she was practically no longer marriageable. Rose-Claire, who had never left her island, was undoubtedly impressed by the casual demeanor and the touch of smugness of the young Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher de la Pagerie, whom he would become in five years at the French court, where he was the page of Maria-Josepha from Saxony had grown. Rose-Claire's father wasn't. After all, the young man had earned a good reputation in the army; on his return to Martinique he was first lieutenant in the coastal artillery and excelled in minor military clashes on the island. This was little consolation for the Sanois family, but for fear of being left without an heir, the parents agreed to the wedding.
The couple's first child was born on June 23, 1763. Five weeks later, the stout little girl was baptized in the tiny white church of Les-Trois-Îlets, where her parents had been married two years earlier. The Capuchin monk who performed the rite wrote in his notes: "Today, July 27, 1763, I baptized a little five-week-old girl, the result of the legitimate marriage of Messire Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher and Madame Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sanois. " At the ceremony, the child was held by the maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, and it was named Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie. After the celebration, which was attended by a large group of family and friends, Rose - or Yeyette, as she was called by her mulatto nanny Marion - was traditionally brought to several neighboring plantations, where she was celebrated, kissed, her happiness and gave her numerous items for her baby equipment.
After the festivities, the little girl returned to the extraordinary place where she was born. The country estate or Habitation de la Pagerie, now a museum, is located in the southwest of Martinique in the small town of Les-Trois-Îlets, which takes its name from three islets in front of the bay. The place was ruled by the little white church where Rose was baptized until a hurricane destroyed it. To the west of Les-Trois-Îlets, the plantation nestled against a small plateau in the middle of a narrow, funnel-shaped gorge. Due to its location, wrote one Frenchman, it looked like "a peaceful oasis".
This area was also called "Little Guinea" because most of the slaves living here came from the African coast. The Habitation de la Pagerie is indeed a place of outstanding natural beauty. It's not difficult to relate the love that Rose's family had for this place. They knew that they had literally wrested their new life out of the wilderness. In order to cultivate this land, they had waged a never-ending battle against nature. Almost as quickly as their ancestors had cut trees and reclaimed the land, the lush vegetation of the island now threatened to destroy this work again: the wild growth penetrated walls, loosened stones and destroyed foundations. Every square meter of the 500-hectare plantation was a victory for Rose's family, a monument to their will, a symbol of their perseverance and their ability to assert themselves even under the most adverse circumstances.
The main house of La Pagerie was quite modest. According to tradition, it was built on a slight hill so that the plantation owner could always keep an eye on his goods. It was a simple one-story building, white, made of wood and airy, tiled and on a foundation of large stone blocks. The interior was decorated with an eclectic mix of traditional French furniture and items from both parts of America. The rooms were filled with the scent of the flowers that were grown on the property: night hyacinths, jasmine and immortelles. Three sides of the house were surrounded by a kind of roofed veranda with a slatted railing through which the little rose peered for hours.
Immediately around the house was a lovely shady garden with large tamarind, mango, and frangipani trees, the flowers and leaves of which almost darkened the house. To the right and left of the house stood the outbuildings, including the kitchen that cooked for the manor house, which was surrounded by a hedge of hibiscus, roses, immortelles and acacias. It is easy to imagine Rose as a baby who was carried up and down the palm alley that stretched to the right of the house by the nurse. This honor trellis of gigantic palm trees grew like Roman columns on either side of the street, and the bright green fronds united to form a huge canopy. This was one of Rose's favorite spots.

Months later, Yeyette explored her family's plantation on unsteady legs. The real grandeur of La Pagerie was not in its architecture, but in the landscape. It lay in a valley with dramatic embankments and watercourses and huge Ceiba trees, which Rose would often think back to later, when she became Joséphine. Green meadows and savannahs lay between lush hills. Pastureland stretched here, on which herds of cows and sheep frolicked, which seemed to be feeding incessantly; Here fields lined up with green sugar cane, which rustled in the light breeze and whispered a never-ending song that surrounded the factory and the nearby buildings "like a sea". Gaps between the leaves revealed the shimmering blue of the Caribbean.
Since this area was originally built by the Caribs, there were already plenty of fruits and vegetables there when Rose's family settled down. Coffee, cocoa, cotton and cassava bushes grew on the gentle mountain slopes, while lush hardwood forests stretched up to the peaks on the steep mountain sides. At the edges of the plantation, which always threatened to be overgrown, bordered the dreamlike rainforest. Climbing plants crept here, and meandering lianas covered gorges and hung their garlands around the rampant vegetation. These plants were nourished by the La Pagerie river, which flowed through the area like a life-giving artery, sometimes sluggish and poisonous, sometimes writhing and tasting sweet, then again dangerous and raging with unpredictable currents. Actually, this river combines many different ones; today it is known as the "River with Five Names".

(From "The Rose of Martinique. The Many Lives
the Joséphine Bonaparte "by Andrea Stuart.
Translated from the English by Sabine Herting, Wieland Grommes.)

When Rose, daughter of an impoverished plantation owner in Martinique, was 14 years old, a fortune teller prophesied a great future for her in Europe: "You will first be married unhappily, then widow and finally become empress." This biography tells how the vision became reality and the Creoline Rose became that Joséphine, who later shaped an entire epoch as Empress of France and helped to establish a new image of women in public.
Andrea Stuart examines in detail how the slave revolts affected Rose's life. She was almost shot in one of the many armed conflicts between England and France over the island of the Antilles. In France, Rose lived a sad existence in the last days of the ancien régime, until her husband, an aristocrat and libertine woman, turned into a revolutionary. During Robespierre's reign of terror, she fought like a lioness for the lives of her two children, even in prison. Then she passionately savored the short period of anarchy and saw her debauchery immortalized in a novel that was long ascribed to the Marquis de Sade. And then Napoleon, five years her junior, entered her life ...
Andrea Stuart creates the portrait of a woman who mastered many roles on the big stage of life without ever losing her identity.
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