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Empress Josephine

Josephine’s name will always be synonymous with roses.

empress josephine

Photo: public domain (pharos at Wikimedia Commons)

Detail from a painting by François Gérard (1770–1837), titled Madame Bonaparte dans son salon de Malmaison, 1801.

The Empress Josephine Bonaparte was born in the West Indies in 1763 and was named Marie Josephe Rose, but she was always called Rose by her family. At 16 years of age, after an arranged marriage, she arrived in Paris with her husband and then had two children.

During the Reign of Terror she escaped the guillotine, unlike her husband, but did spend some time in prison. After the revolution, friends introduced her to Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1799 she bought the Chateau at Malmaison, about 10miles from Paris.

She hired the Scottish gardener Alexander Howatson, and he hired the botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redoute to paint the flowers in her garden.

It was a man named Andre Du Pont who ignited her passion for growing roses. She was crowned Empress Josephine in 1804, and Du Pont expanded her rose collection to include all the roses then known in the Western World.

In 1809 Napoleon reluctantly divorced Josephine, who had borne him no children, and remarried. However, he allowed her to retain her title and home and garden. After she died in 1814 the property was sold, and the roses and all of the garden documentation were lost.

But Josephine’s name will always be synonymous with roses, even though as she climbed the social ladder, the little West Indian “Rose” morphed through marriage into an Empress of another name.

Reference: A Rose by Any Name: The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names by Douglas Brenner and Stephen Scanniello, 2009.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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