Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams

Author:Kate Williams [Williams, Kate]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Nonfiction, France, Biography & Autobiography, History, Royalty, Women's Studies, 18th Century, 19th Century
ISBN: 978-0-7710-8861-2
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Published: 2014-11-03T16:00:00+00:00

AS WELL AS bringing in civil reform and reminding everyone of his great military victories, Napoleon announced the return of the Catholic Church, abolished in the Revolution, but this time subordinate to the first consul. “Society cannot exist without inequality of wealth and inequality of wealth cannot exist without religion,” he had told Roederer. “Religion is a kind of inoculation … The people must have a religion and that religion must be in the hands of the government.” 28 Only the Church could make inequality seem natural and death in war seem less senseless. “It is not we nobles who need religion,” Napoleon said loftily, “but it is necessary for the masses and I shall establish it.”

Those who had fought for the Revolution were infuriated by the idea of reinstalling religion, but the ordinary people craved the old ways, with women in particular practicing their religion in secret. Even the most cynical could see the benefits of resting every seventh day rather than every tenth.

On Easter Sunday 1801, the populace heard the bells of Paris ringing for the first time in ten years. Most churches were missing a few, as Napoleon had requisitioned them for the war effort. At seven in the morning, in his carriage escorted by dragoons, hussars, grenadiers, and Mamelukes, he essayed forth. Josephine followed behind and seated herself by her husband in the front pew of Notre-Dame. The ceremony itself was lacking in dignity: Both Josephine and Napoleon had forgotten the rituals of worship; in fact, the only members of the congregation who seemed to remember were the ex-bishop Talleyrand and the former priest Fouché. Everybody else stumbled, knelt at the wrong times, and stood openmouthed through the prayers.

Still, the point had been made. Loire peasants, Lyon market stall owners, Breton farmers, and Dijon housewives poured into the churches. As in the old days, church became a place for the rich to show off their wealth. At some of the churches in the more fashionable areas of Paris, there was barely a free seat on Sundays as the rich elites jostled for the front pews, eager to show off their fine clothes and jewels. After a grand ceremony to celebrate the return of Catholicism, Napoleon turned to General Bernadotte, now married to his jilted fiancée, Désirée Clary. “Well, now everything was just as it had been before,” he said. “Yes,” said General Bernadotte, “except for two million men who died for liberty and who are no more.”29


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