Napoleon’s Toxic Love Letters to Josephine That Show the Emperor’s Sick Obsession

Napoleon fell madly in love with Josephine, who never loved him back. His hundreds of letters show how her contempt pushed him into obsession.

Isabel Cara

Napoleon Bonaparte contemplated his last sunsets on the Island of St. Helena, remembering the mistakes made at Waterloo and writing letters to his old love, and great friend, Josephine. They met in 1795, at a time when the political and social ferment of the French Revolution brought with it opportunities and curses alike.

At 26, Napoleon had no money and no access to Parisian salons. Josephine, on the other hand, saw her husband die at the guillotine, and with two children to take care of, thought of making flirtation her method of survival. Two characters who could have been lost in history arranged their marriage, and with it, secured a future, but Napoleon fell in love. Against all foreseen strategies, the Corsican experienced the fire in his heart for a woman who showed little interest in his feelings and who, on the contrary, preferred to enjoy the aristocratic life.

“I awake full of you. Your image and the intoxicating pleasures of last night do not allow my senses to rest. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, in what strange way do you work in my heart? Are you angry with me? Are you sad? Are you disappointed? My soul is broken by pain, and my love for you forbids me to rest. But how can I rest when I surrender to the sensation that commands my soul when I drink from your lips and from your heart like a burning flame? […] In three hours, I will see her again; until then, a thousand kisses, my sweet love, but do not return any, for they make my blood burn like fire.”

Napoleons bonaparte love letters josephine 1 - napoleon's toxic love letters to josephine that show the emperor's sick obsession

The couple married in 1796, and a few days later, Napoleon was commissioned as general of the armies in Italy, which he led in the invasion of that country. The distance between the lovers increased the correspondence on the part of Napoleon, who after the glare of the battles, wrote emotional missives of love, squandering the nostalgia for the warmth of his wife’s love and multiple moments of anger after the apparent indifference of his beloved.

″I have received all your letters, but none has made such an impression on me as the last. How, my beloved, can you write to me in that way? Don’t you think my position is cruel enough without adding my own sufferings and breaking my spirit? What a style. What feelings you show! They are fire and burn my poor heart. My Josephine and only Josephine, besides you, there is no joy; away from you, the world is a desert, and when I am alone and cannot open my heart. You have taken more than my soul; you are the only thought of my life. When I am tired of work, when men make me despair, when I am about to curse being alive, I put my hand on my heart; your portrait hangs on it, I look at it, and love brings me perfect happiness. With what art did you captivate me to concentrate my whole being on you? To live for Josephine, that is the story of my life.”

Josephine wrote little, and those letters in her handwriting lacked all emotion. The general’s heart was fed by the idea of his wife, who even refused to visit him, arguing hundreds of pretexts, including a false pregnancy. It was not until his return from the Egyptian campaign in 1798 that Napoleon discovered his wife’s lover, and far from destroying his marriage and the opportunity to strengthen his social climbing, he kept up appearances but returned the slap with his own mistress.

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“Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I relive in my memory your caresses, your tears, and your affectionate requests. The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle, continually, an ardor and a flame that shines brightly in my heart. When free from all solicitude, from all harassing attention, will I be able to spend all my time with you, having you only to love you and to think of the happiness of saying it and showing it to you?”

“I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without clasping you in my arms; I have not had a cup of tea without cursing the glory and ambition that have kept me away from the soul of my life. Amid the tasks, at the head of the troops, as I walk through the fields, my adorable Josephine is alone in my heart, occupies my spirit, and absorbs my thoughts. If I go away from you with the rapidity of the current of the Rhone, it is to see you again sooner. If, in the middle of the night, I get up to work, it is because it may bring forward by a few days the arrival of my sweet friend, and yet, in your letter of the 23rd, of the 26th, you treat me as you. You yourself treat me as you! You wicked woman! How could you write such a letter? How cold you are! What will happen in a fortnight? Farewell, woman, torment, happiness, hope, and soul of my life, which I love, which I fear, which inspires me with tender feelings that call me to Nature and impetuous movements as volcanic as thunder. I do not ask you for eternal love nor fidelity, but only… truth, and frankness without limits. The day you say I love you less will be the last of my love or the last of my life. If my heart were vile enough to love unrequited I would tear it to pieces with my teeth. Josefine! Josefine! Remember what I have sometimes told you: Nature has given me a strong and resolute soul. She has made you of lace and gauze, have you ceased to love me?”

Josephine resisted Napoleon’s humiliations because she knew that she could not live in misery, far from the lineage and respect she had as the general’s wife. However, the great love, already shattered by the deception, ended when the heirs did not arrive. The marriage was divorced in 1810, and the emperor sought love and his first-born son in the arms of Marie Louise of Austria.

Despite the breakup, Napoleon did not abandon his companion, to whom he continued to write and support her financially for the rest of his life. After Waterloo and exile in St. Helena, Napoleon said goodbye to Josephine before she died of pneumonia: “Farewell, my dear Josephine, resign yourself as I did, and do not fail to remember the one who never forgot you.”

Story originally written in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva