|By François Gérard, 1806|
In the past few days we've soared into the clouds, delved into some deep thoughts and fought on the front line of the resistance with a formidable mother. For today's story we're taking a trip back to the Palace of Versailles in the days of revolution, this time to meet a woman who married to secure a Napoleonic alliance.
Stéphanie de Beauharnais was born at Versailles as the storm clouds of revolution gathered above France. She was the daughter of Claude de Beauharnais, 2nd Count des Roches-Baritaud and Claudine Françoise de Lezay. Claudine succumbed to tuberculosis in 1791 and Stéphanie's father passed the responsibility for her care to Lady Bath, who devoted herself to ensuring the little girl had the best education possible. However, the French Revolution would touch Stéphanie personally and when her father's cousin, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, went to the guillotine on 23rd July 1794, the child's destiny was changed forever.
At his execution, Alexandre left behind a widow in the figure of a certain Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie, his wife of almost fifteen years. Never one to let events overtake her, within two years the widow was remarried, her new husband the near-legendary Napoléon Bonaparte. With Napoleon's profile increasing, Claude de Beauharnais was happy to capitalise on his influence and gladly let him assume the role of patron of the family, enjoying the prestige and wealth that came with such a connection.
Following Napoleon's coronation Stéphanie took up residence in the Tuileries. Beautiful, cultured and close to the most important man in France, Stéphanie enjoyed the best of everything. Her life was one of opulence and privilege, but political dealings were afoot that would decide the young lady's future for her.
|Charles, Grand Duke of Baden|
With an eye on securing his influence, Napoleon enthusiastically pursued an alliance with Charles Frederick, Elector of Baden and it was agreed between the two that this would be achieved via marriage. The elderly Elector produced Charles, his young, eligible grandson to satisfy his side of the match and Napoleon turned his eye on his extended, inherited family. With no legitimate children of his own, Napoleon decided that Stéphanie would more than fit the bill and swiftly adopted her, presenting her to the Elector and sealing the matrimonial deal.
Charles and Stéphanie were married in an elaborate ceremony in Paris on 8th April 1806 but for all its pomp, the marriage was destined to be an unhappy one. Utterly refusing to accept that he now had a wife, Charles promptly set up home alone in Karlsruhe and continued with his bachelor lifestyle, leaving his new bride to live alone in Mannheim. A furious Napoleon petitioned Charles Frederick to remedy the situation and he offered the couple the use of Schwetzingen Castle, but Stéphanie moved into the residence alone. Only the need to produce heirs finally drove the young man to reconcile with his bride, with the couple eventually having five children together.
|Statue in Mannheim, Germany|
In 1811 Karl became the Grand Duke of Baden with Stéphanie as his Grand Duchess; upon his death in 1818 the widow returned with her three surviving children to Mannheim. Here she enjoyed a new life as a highly popular society grand dame, devoting herself to her daughters and her love of intellectual pursuits. Finally able to live as she chose, Stéphanie held glittering salons and became a patroness of the arts, indulging this passion for the remainder of her life.