Princess Joséphine Maximilienne Eugénie Napoléone de Beauharnais was the first child of Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson and adopted child of Napoleon I, and his wife, Princess Augusta of Bavaria. Born on March 14, 1807 in Milan Italy, she was named after her paternal grandmother, Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s beloved first wife. Augusta was the first of a total of seven children, of which six survived infancy. Her siblings included: Eugénie de Beauharnais, Princess of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Auguste de Beauharnais, Prince Consort of Portugal, Amélie of Leuchtenberg, Empress of Brazil, and Théodolinde de Beauharnais, Countess of Württemberg. Though her parents married for purely political reasons, they had an extremely successful marriage and were deeply in love.
|Joséphine of Leuchtenberg|
(Fredrik Westin, 1825)
When Joséphine was born, her father was Viceroy of Italy, so she spent her early childhood in Milan with her parents and siblings. When she was born, Napoleon created her the Princess of Bologna and later the Duchess of Galliera in her own right. Joséphine’s family mainly resided in their household of the Villa Bonaparte in the city but they also had a summer residence in Monza that they would occasionally flock to. When Joséphine was seven years old, her grandfather, Napoleon, was forced to abdicate his throne and Eugène lost his position of power in Italy. The family had no choice but to leave Milan for Augusta’s native home of Bavaria, where they were happily welcomed by her father, King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria. King Maximilian named his daughter and son-in-law the Duke and Duchess of Leuchtenberg and also granted them the principality of Eichstädt. Here in Bavaria, Joséphine had a very happy childhood with her loving and dedicated parents and received an excellent education. She learned how to speak French, Italian, and German and studied a wide range of subjects, such as history, geography, botany, natural science, math, physics, and astronomy.
|Oscar, Crown Prince of Sweden & Norway|
(Fredrik Westin, 1825)
When it became time for Joséphine to marry, her parents began to arrange a betrothal between her and Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and Norway. Oscar was part of a new royal dynasty – that of the House of Bernadotte – which had taken the Swedish and Norwegian thrones in 1818. However, as a new royal house, the Bernadotte’s had to back up their claim to the throne by endowing their family with legitimacy. Oscar set his eyes on the beautiful Joséphine, who was a descendent of King Gustav I of Sweden and King Charles IX of Sweden through her mother. If Oscar married Joséphine, their children (the heirs to the throne), would be part of the House of Bernadotte, but because of their mothers’ descent, they would also be descendants of the House of Vasa, which had ruled Sweden from 1523-1654.
Prince Oscar (born Joseph François Oscar Bernadotte) was the only child of King Charles XIV and III John of Sweden and Norway (also known as Jean Bernadotte) and Désirée Clary, the former fiancée of Napoleon, who was also named as his godfather. His father had been elected as the Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810 when Oscar was eleven years old and Oscar himself was given the title of Duke of Södermanland. Oscar quickly adapted to his new home and was soon able to learn the Swedish language and culture. His father succeeded to the throne in early 1818, making Oscar the new Crown Prince. It was after his accession that Oscar’s father began to search for a suitable spouse for his son and eventually, Joséphine was selected for the role.
|Joséphine, Crown Princess of Sweden & Norway|
(Fredrik Westin, 1837)
Oscar and his betrothed first met on August 23, 1822 when the Crown Prince traveled to Eichstädt. Just like Joséphine’s parents, the young couple reportedly fell in love at first sight and both were extremely pleased with each other’s appearances and character. Before the wedding took place, Joséphine received lessons in the Swedish language. Although Sweden was a Lutheran country and Joséphine was a devout Catholic, the Swedish government decided that she could keep her religion as long as she brought up any children she had with Oscar (who had converted from Catholicism himself) as Lutherans. On June 13, 1823, almost a year after she had first met Oscar, Joséphine arrived in Manilla (located outside of Stockholm) accompanied by her future mother-in-law, Queen Desirée. The couple officially wed six days later on June 19, 1823 in Stockholm when Joséphine was sixteen years old and Oscar was just a few weeks shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. Now the Crown Princess of Sweden, Joséphine was known by the Swedish form of her name: “Josefina” and had to remove her middle name of Napoléonne, as Sweden had been an enemy of the Emperor.
Crown Princess Josefina was beloved by the Swedish people almost immediately upon her arrival. She was extremely popular due to her charming personality, regal persona, and all-around beautiful features. Perhaps her most important quality in terms of her popularity was her descent from the old kings of Sweden. Her people were also impressed with how intelligent and talented their new Crown Princess was, as Josefina had been able to speak Swedish, which she had learned in less than year, as well as a native by the time of her wedding. She got along wonderfully with her father-in-law, who adored her immensely (he would hide sweets in his pockets for her to find), but during her first few years of marriage, she had trouble getting her mother-in-law to warm to her. Queen Desirée, who had never been much loved by the people, was jealous of her young daughter-in-law’s instant popularity with the Swedes but over time, Desirée was able to put her envy aside and befriend the delightful Josefina.
|The Swedish Royal Family: Joséphine (in white) with her husband, Prince Oscar, the King and Queen, and Joséphine and Oscar's children|
(Fredrik Westin, 1837)
Oscar and Josefina got along wonderfully as well and the two were happy with each other, especially since they had the same interests and personality. The only stain upon the union was that Oscar was unfaithful to his wife, despite her love and loyalty to him. A few years into their marriage, Josefina discovered that her husband had been having an affair with a lady-in-waiting and even sired an illegitimate daughter. He also had a serious but brief affair with a famous actress, Emilie Högquist, who he had two sons with. Josefina was deeply jealous of her husband’s mistresses and was tortured by his lust for these other women. She found the belief that “a woman should suffer in silence” in regards to men’s extramarital affairs to be completely unreasonable. Also, Oscar became unpopular for his infidelities because Josefina was so well loved by the people. Luckily for Josefina, her husband stopped his affairs completely in 1844 when he became king. In their thirty-six years of marriage, Josefina and her husband had five children, four sons and one daughter:
- Charles XV of Sweden & IV of Norway (1826-1872) married: Princess Louise of the Netherlands – had issue
- Prince Gustaf, Duke of Uppland (1827-1852) died unmarried and without issue at the age of twenty-five from typhoid fever
- Oscar II of Sweden (1829-1907) married: Princess Sophia of Nassau – had issue
- Princess Eugenie (1830-1889) died unmarried and without issue
- Prince August, Duke of Dalarna (1831-1873) married: Princess Therese Amalie of Saxe-Altenburg – no issue
|Joséphine's only daughter - Princess Eugenie|
( F. Durck, 1849-50)
As the Crown Princess, Josefina became involved in art and gardening, as well as social reforms and charity. On March 8, 1844, Oscar’s father died at the age of eighty-one after he suffered a debilitating stroke in January. Oscar became King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway at the age of forty-four and Josefina became the Queen Consort at the age of thirty-five. Once the couple was crowned and Oscar stopped visiting his mistresses, the relationship between the two became much better, though one contemporary wrote that, “out of the two royal spouses, she [Josefina] is, without question, believed to be the stronger character”. It is said that Oscar depended on his wife for support and even sought her out for advice for some political matters. She was well involved with various political matters, including: diplomacy (she personally played a huge role in achieving peace in the First Schleswig War of 1848), equality for women, prison reforms, social care, and abolition of the guilds. The only thing that affected her popularity somewhat was her Catholicism, which was not very favorable with her Lutheran subjects. Josefina also had a strained relationship with her eldest son, Crown Prince Charles. The Queen thought her son was too impetuous, licentious, and careless with his money. But the main issue between Josefina and her son was the matter of his love life. In 1846, when arrangements were being made for his betrothal to Princess Louise of Prussia, he fell madly in love with his mother’s maid-of-honor, Sigrid Sparre. Josefina didn’t want her son to take after his father in regards to having an extramarital affair, so she separated the love-struck couple, much to Charles’s displeasure. In fact, he was so angry at his mother over the whole affair that he became extremely anti-Catholic because he pointed the finger at his mother’s Catholic confessor, who he thought had pushed her to make the decision of dismissing Sigrid.
|Joséphine, Queen of Sweden & Norway|
In 1857, when King Oscar fell ill and became incapable of ruling, Queen Josefina had to grudgingly accept the fact that Charles was appointed as regent. She probably didn’t believe he was well suited for the task of ruling but the public believed she was afraid that with Charles as regent, she would lose her political influence. Oscar remained in a serious state of sickness for the next two years and as he was too weak to move or even acknowledge what was going on around him, his wife devotedly cared for him until his death. King Oscar I died on July 8, 1859 at the age of sixty in Stockholm and was buried in Riddarholm Church, the traditional burial site for Swedish monarchs. An autopsy later revealed that the cause of the King’s death was a brain tumor.
Josefina, now Queen Dowager, seriously mourned her husband’s passing and wore violet (the traditional French mourning color) for the rest of her life. Now with Charles on the throne as King Charles XV, she lost any shred of political influence she had left and separated herself from government matters to focus on activities involving charity and the Catholic Church. Though she had a good relationship with her daughter-in-law, Queen Louise, she never reconciled with her son, King Charles, until their later years. The two simply did not share the same views on anything, especially politics, as Charles thought his mother was too archaic in her beliefs. Josefina, who had spent a long period of time nursing her husband, did the same for the various members of her family who fell ill, such as King Charles and Queen Louise in their final years.
|Joséphine's sons (left to right) - King Charles XV and IV of Sweden and Norway, |
King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway
In 1872, Charles died unexpectedly at the age of forty-two and as he only had a daughter with his late wife (who had died just a year before himself), Josefina’s third son, Oscar, succeeded to the Swedish and Norwegian thrones as King Oscar II. Josefina followed political events taking place throughout Europe until her death (although she no longer had any power), especially when it came to matters regarding the Church. On June 7, 1876, Queen Josefina died at the age of sixty-nine in her home of Stockholm and was buried alongside her husband and other members of Swedish royalty in Riddarholmen Church.
Only two of her children – Charles XV and Oscar II – had children. Charles had one surviving daughter, Princess Louise, who married King Frederick VIII of Denmark and had eight children, including: King Christian X of Denmark and King Haakon VII of Norway. Oscar II had four sons with his wife, Sophia of Nassau. Their eldest was King Gustaf V, who succeeded to the Swedish throne after his father’s death (Sweden and Norway had peacefully dissolved their union in 1905, so Josefina’s great-grandson, Haakon VII, took the Norwegian throne since he was descended from Norwegian royalty through his father).