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Rare Marriage Contract signed by Napoleon & Josephine tells the story of history’s most celebrated couple

Centuries before the fascination with celebrity relationships of today, Napoleon and Josephine were one of the 'it' couples of the late 18th century. Lion Heart Autographs is bringing an seldom-seen artifact bearing both of their signatures to The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show Feb. 10-16.
napoleon josephine marriage doc

First page of the Marriage Contract between General August Hulin (1758-1841) and Marie Jeanne-Louise Tiersonnier (1782-1826), as witnessed by Napoleon and Josephine. (Both photos courtesy of Lion Heart Autographs)

NEW YORK — Lion Heart Autographs, for nearly 40 years an internationally recognized dealer of autographs and manuscripts focusing on art, history, literature, music and science, has announced an extraordinary opportunity to acquire the finest marriage document ever signed by Napoleon and Josephine. This rare Valentine’s Day opportunity celebrates history’s most romantic and often controversial couple: Napoleon and Josephine.

Lion Heart’s rare and evocative marriage contract is not only signed by the historic couple, but by other French notables, including six of Napoleon’s original 18 marshals (the highest military rank during the Empire). The Valentine’s Day presentation of such a unique, historical document marks the first time Lion Heart Autographs has offered it for sale; it is one of only a handful known to exist in private hands. Lion Heart Autographs will display the document at The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show at the Palm Beach County Convention Center from February 10-16, 2016, where it will be offered for $20,000.

Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, known as Josephine, was one of the most celebrated women of the 19th century, playing a colorful and pivotal role in the life of her six-year-younger husband, Napoleon Bonaparte. She was one of the most important women in the salons of Paris and her tumultuous love affair with General Bonaparte is well documented. Glamorous and a well-connected socialite, Josephine engaged in several love affairs with highly placed political and military leaders after the failure of her first marriage. Bonaparte, immediately smitten by her upon their first meeting, wed Josephine on March 9, 1796, only a few days before he left on his Italian campaign. During his absence he sent the first of many love letters he would pen throughout their marriage.

Napoleon and Josephine’s marriage was opposed by many members of his family because she was an older widow with children. His mother and sister were especially upset, declaring that his new wife considered them well below her status. During Bonaparte’s 1799 Egyptian campaign, Josephine purchased the Chateau de Malmaison near Paris taking a special interest in gardens and becoming proficient in botany and horticulture.

Throughout history stories are told of Napoleon and Josephine’s constant separations and rumors of her interest in other lovers. Infidelities troubled the marriage from the start, although the couple renewed their marriage vows on December 1, 1804. The following day Napoleon was crowned Emperor and she Empress. The coronation became one of the most famous events of European history, but Josephine’s inability to give birth to a son strained their marriage, and in 1810, Napoleon had the marriage annulled on the pretext that a parish priest had not been present at the original ceremony. Nonetheless, Napoleon and Josephine remain one of history’s most famous couples. The former Emperor’s last words were reported to be “France, armee, tete d’ armee, Josephine.” (France, army, head of the army, Josephine).

The second page of the contract, bearing among other witness signatures, Napoleon and Josephine.

The second page of the contract, bearing among other witness signatures, Napoleon and Josephine.

The contract witnessed by Napoleon and Josephine celebrates the marriage between General August Hulin (1758-1841) and Marie Jeanne-Louise Tiersonnier (1782-1826). Hulin was an infantryman who rose through the ranks to join the Gardes Français. In the days leading to the storming of the Bastille in 1789, Hulin gave several inflammatory speeches, and on July 14, he organized a small band of armed men at the Hôtel de Ville, marched them to the Bastille where they opened fire and liberated the prisoners. It was this act that sparked the French Revolution. Though recognized as a hero, Hulin was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror. He later rejoined the army and served as an officer during the Napoleonic Wars and as military governor of Paris during Napoléon’s 1812 Russian campaign, where he suppressed a coup against the emperor.

“I am thrilled to share the evocative nature of this historical document on Valentine’s Day. It is assuredly the finest marriage contract signed by Emperor Napoleon and his Empress Josephine available in the world,” said David Lowenherz, founder and owner of Lion Heart Autographs in New York, noting, “Napoleon and Josephine’s own marriage contract is preserved in National Archives of France.”

Lowenherz adds, “I don’t think there is a person anywhere who isn’t fascinated by Napoleon and Josephine’s love story – a truly romantic couple joined together during a remarkable period in history. This contract, signed not just by them, but by family members and important military officers as well, all of whom gathered to celebrate the marriage of the man whose actions sparked the French Revolution, offers a rare glimpse into the splendid affairs of the royal household. I am thrilled at the opportunity to offer this precious document first at the Palm Beach Show during the week of Valentine’s Day. What could be more fitting?”

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