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Saturday, August 22, 2015
Empress Josephine’s Love Affair with Roses
Empress Josephine’s Love Affair with Roses
by Regan Walker
Many of us Regency authors and readers know that Napoleon’s
wife, the Empress Josephine contributed to establishing the slim,
high-waisted, chemise dress as the dominant fashion in Regency England,
but did you know that Josephine is also known for her passionate love of roses?
painting by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
She was born
Marie Josèphe Rose
Tascher de la Pagerie
in 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique where her family owned a sugar plantation. The island is a lush, tropical paradise with
beautiful flowering plants. Perhaps it was there she first developed a love for
colorful, sweet-smelling blossoms and exotic plants, for she was to introduce many to France.
After she married Napoleon and became Empress of
France, Josephine spent vast sums of money collecting new varieties of plants,
including roses, from all over the world for her garden at Chateau Malmaison outside
of Paris. Napoleon complained about the expense but he was off fighting the
British in various places, so Josephine pursued her love of roses and expanded
a blind eye when Josephine broke the law by asking that English seeds and
plants be brought to her from captured ships. Her informal plantings had
already been christened jardins à
l’anglaise (English Gardens) and her greenhouses were modeled on those at
Kew Gardens near London.
The fact that France was at war with England did
not stop her from looking for new roses in the backyard of the enemy. At the height of the war in the
early 1800's, Napoleon sent money to England to pay for his wife's rose plant
bills. And the British Admiralty allowed ships to pass through its naval
blockade to deliver those roses to Malmaison. War could wait while the rose
deliveries continued. She even obtained a passport for a London nurseryman to
travel back and forth with her new plants.
During the period 1805-1810, she collected 260
roses for her garden. But she did more than plant a beautiful rose garden. She
influenced the growing of roses. The
roses at that time bloomed once a season, and their blossoms faded quickly once
a flower was cut. By systematically hybridizing the western rose with varieties
from China, where the rose first developed, Josephine re-structured the way
roses developed their petals. The result was a rose that blossomed several
times a season, and looked splendid in a vase in the parlor for days.
Josephine elevated the stature of the rose by
commissioning artist Pierre-Joseph Redoute, a former court painter of Marie
Antoinette, to paint a series of rose portraits. Blush Noisette (pictured below) is considered by many to be the all time masterpiece of
After Josephine died in 1814, Redoute published
his rose portraits in three volumes simply titled Les Roses (1817-24), dedicated to Josephine’s memory. The book has continuously been in
publication ever since.
In Racing with the Wind, the first book in
my Agents of the Crown trilogy, much of which is set in Paris, Lady Mary, escapes
a heated ballroom into a garden where she encounters the mysterious Lord Ormond
who tells her of Josephine’s passion for roses:
The stone terrace was lit, and
the soft light on the balustrade from the outside lamps allowed her to see she
was alone for the moment. She welcomed the times she was alone. As an only
child, she had frequently been her only company.
There were gardens out here she
remembered from her prior visit, and with confidence she took the stairs that
led down to them. On the lawn she inhaled deeply the smell of clean earth,
grass and flowers. Gardens. It seemed she was always escaping into them. The
thought amused her, and she smiled.
A few quick turns and she found
her destination, or rather, more accurately, she smelled it. The fragrance of
roses was just what she needed to shake off the memory of that crowded
ballroom. She was just bending down to smell a pink blossom when she heard a
deep voice behind her.
“The Empress Josephine had a
passion for roses, too, you know.”
She started at the familiar
voice, stood up from the flower and turned. Lord Ormond loomed before her like
a terrible dark angel. Was he taller than she’d remembered? His dark brown hair
appeared ebony in the dim light, and tonight it was smoothed back from his
chiseled features. The pirate had dressed up for the evening, and he was so
ruggedly handsome he made her heart ache.
Before she could say a word, he
said, “I wanted to see you, but I didn’t want to announce it by asking you to
Racing with the Wind:
The intrepid daughter of an earl leaves
Regency London for the Parisian court of Louis XVIII, where she finds
adventure, mystery, and above all, love.
Hugh, Lord Ormond, had been warned.
Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no ordinary man could clip
her wings. She was a bluestocking hoyden, an ill-advised match by every
account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay on the continent, where he’d
become legend by stealing war secrets from Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady
Mary riding her black stallion were a thorn in his mind. He was the son of a
duke and in the service of the Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he
had won her hand.
It was unheard of for a Regency
debutante to postpone her first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far
more interested in politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or
frippery. Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to
return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black
stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would race