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Our first stop as we get introduced to Napoleon Bonaparte is his country estate at Malmaison. This is where he lived with Josephine during the period called The Consulate, a time of rebuilding after the French Revolution that took place from 1789-1799. Periods of the French Revolution were referred to as The Reign of Terror which was filled with stories of torture, beheadings, corruption and gross negligence on the part of the government. When Napoleon took over as Consul he passed what is known as the Code Napoleon “which guaranteed every French citizen an education, equality before the law, and freedom of religion, as well as opening all careers to talent and transforming palaces, including the Louvre, into museums for the people.”

I found Napoleon’s house at Malmaison to be completely charming, a far more reasonably sized residence than those we find at Versailles, Fontainebleau or our next stop (and Napoleon’s next home) the Chateau at Compiegne. This home actually gives, to me anyway, Napoleon Bonaparte a far more human aspect than the Napoleon we come to know after he crowns himself emperor. This is a place where you can actually visualize people that you could and would want to talk to rather than the complete opulence and decadence of the larger chateaux of the monarchs. You can see from the pictures that several of the rooms at Malmaison, particularly those for Napoleon’s sole use, are outfitted to look like a tent he would have used during one of his many military campaigns. The tent of the commander was usually fairly grand and these rooms are no exception but it is interesting still to feel that you are inside a tent during one of Napoleon’s battles.

Napoleon lived seemingly happily with Josephine and her two children at Malmaison until he became emperor in 1804. Josephine’s first husband was beheaded as part of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. For a little bit of complicated family history Napoleon’s brother, Louis, married Josephine’s daughter, Hortense. Their son, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte would become Napoleon III. Serious doubts have been raised about his paternity because by all accounts his “father” Louis was gay. Nonetheless Napoleon III reigned from 1852-1870 and is responsible for cleaning up Paris, better aligning its streets, bringing in more modern health standards, commissioning the building of three large parks for the use of anyone and tearing down buildings deemed unsafe. It is also thanks to Napoleon III that we have been able to go on these great adventures as he is responsible for the intricate and amazing railway system in France. So, Napoleon III was therefore in fact Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew and his ex-wife Josephine’s grandson.

After Napoleon and Josephine divorced she returned to Malmaison and lived there until her death in 1814. Josephine is responsible for bringing several new types of rose species to France along with other exotic plants and flowers. After Napoleon’s death and before his exile he returned to Malmaison for a brief period, perhaps recalling happier times.

Napoleon lived at Malmaison for a rather short period of time and this house really is more the home of Josephine. I think, knowing Napoleon’s self indulgence, arrogance and desire to be seen as royalty he would actually not want us to imagine his life at Malmaison but rather the royal lifestyle he built and became accustomed to at Fontainebleu and Compiegne.

Next Stop – Compiegne

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