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Who was Joséphine de Beauharnais?


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Josephine was Napoleon's first wife. One year before getting married to the Empereur she travelled to Hamburg to meet the Banquiers MM. Matthiessen et Sillem as documented in her estate. She stayed in the city from October 25th to 30th, 1795. The reason? A few hints from the biography cited below make the guess easy. The future Empress lived a lavish life in the Parisian society and suffered from a permanent lack of adequate means. Why she undertook the cumbersome journey to Hamburg of all places the prolific novelist Louise Mühlbach tells us in the chapter quoted below. The gentleman Joséphine was to meet was Conrad Matthiessen, son of the company's founder Hieronymus Matthiessen. Conrad's sister Marie Louise was married to Garlieb Helwig Sillem whom Hieronymus had made a partner in his major company. At the time Joséphine de Beauharnais visited the banking company Garlieb Helwig's son Hieronymus Sillem (also known as Jerôme) and Conrad Matthiessen headed the company. While Hiernomyus was a full-blooded merchant and banker Conrad devoted his time more to an interest in the arts and in politics. Later he resigned from the partnership and spent his later years as a benefactor in Paris.


Joséphine in Hamburg

From the novel "The Empress Josephine" by Louise Mühlbach (1814-1873) 
She first, by the advice of M. Emery, undertook a journey to Hamburg, to make some arrangements with the rich and highly respectable banking-house of Matthiessen and Sillem. Conrad  Matthiessen, son of the founder Hieronymus M., who had married a niece of Madame de Genlis, had always shown the greatest hospitality to all Frenchmen  who had applied to him, and he had  assisted them with advice and deeds. To him Josephine appealed, at the request of M. Emery, so as to procure a safe opportunity to send letters to her mother in Martinique, and also to obtain from him funds on bills drawn upon her mother.
M. Matthiessen met her wishes with a generous pleasure, and through him Josephine received sufficient sums of money to protect her from further embarrassments and anxieties, at least until her mother, who was on the eve of selling a portion of her plantation, could send her some money.
On her return from her business-journey to Hamburg, as she was no longer a poor widow without means, she adopted the courageous resolution of leaving her asylum and returning to dangerous and deserted Paris, there to prepare for her son an honorable future, and endeavor to procure for her daughter an education suited to her rank and capacities.


About Joséphine de Beauharnais (Wikipedia)


©  Copyright 2012  Martin Sillem  -  Last update: 30 October 2007