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Saturday, September 3, 2016
Empress Josephine’s Love Affair with Roses
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?
She was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la
Pagerie in 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique where her wealthy 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
beautiful, fragrant 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
Napoleon turned 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
Chateau de Malmaison
The fact that France was at war with England did
not stop her from looking at the enemy’s roses. 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 of a London nurseryman to
travel back and forth with her new plants.
During the period 1805-1810, she collected 260
roses for her gardens. 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 is
considered by many to the all time masterpiece of botanical illustration.
After Josephine died in 1814, Redoute published
his rose portraits in three volumes simply titled Les Roses (1817-24).
There were dedicated to Josephine’s memory. The book has continuously been in
publication ever since.
In my Regency story Racing with the Wind,
the first book in the 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 dance.
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 Redgrave, 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