Marriage to Josephine


The subjects are Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine at their wedding ceremony. Josephine is wearing a white wedding gown with a scarlet red train while Napoleon dons the blue jacket and white pants he wears throughout the remainder of the book. The two are kneeling facing each other while a priest stands in between them holding a book, presumably the Bible. Additionally, there are two men carrying large candles, three guests, and another religious figure.

Primary Works: 

The Life of Napoleon: A Hudibrastic Poem in Fifteen Cantos

Accession Number: 

CA 8938

Height (in centimeters): 


Width (in centimeters): 

In the book The Life of Napoleon: A Hudibrastic Poem in Fifteen Cantos by William Combe (Dr. Syntax).
The events preceding the matrimony of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais were complicated by Napoleon’s political career. When the courtship began, Napoleon was planning an invasion of Italy and securing Paris through increased military presence. He had little time to consider Josephine’s scandalous reputation, which stemmed from her alleged promiscuous behavior following the death of her first husband. Moreover, she was accused of using her sexuality as a means to climb the social ladder. This reputation followed her all the way through their marriage; there is documentation that a mere two weeks before the ceremony, Napoleon accused her of infidelity. Furthermore, her deception pertained not only to infidelity, but also to her age. Napoleon, too, however, was guilty of this lie, and he added a few years to his own age while she subtracted several. Josephine, then, was not alone in her (alleged) strategic scheming, as can be seen from the events surrounding her marriage to Napoleon. Her lover prior to Napoleon, Paul Barras, grew tired of her and agreed to appoint Napoleon commander in chief of the Army of Italy in exchange for Napoleon's marriage (R. Asprey, Rise and Fall 140).

There are obvious historical inaccuracies in the print. In reality, the two never had a religious ceremony for the wedding. Moreover, the only guest present at the wedding was Barras, who coordinated the union.
Art historians frequently debate George Cruikshank’s legitimacy as a caricaturist of the Romantic period. Some argue a caricaturist should adhere to a single political stance (his own). Cruikshank, however, created images for rival political camps, and this has problematized scholars' attempts to interpret him and his work. However, “There is no reason to suppose that George was merely the acquiescent exponent of others’ opinions” (H. and M. Evans, Man Who Drew 5). Although his universal “acquiescence” was controversial and is partly attributable to his mercenary concern with personal, economic gain, "Beneath the superficial switches of loyalty which appear in his work there is an underlying consistency which explains why he was at one time attacking the establishment, the crown and its ministers, and the next taking a swipe at the radicals with whom he had just been allied” (H. Evans, Man Who Drew 5). This “underlying consistency” refers to a resolute desire to maintain peace in Great Britain. “While the war against France was in progress, he cheerfully used his etching needle in the service of patriotism, but now that the war was over, he used it to oppose anyone who threatened the public good, whether the threat came from entrenched authority or maverick dissidents” (H. Evans, Man Who Drew 5). Cruikshank's primary concern, then, was a patriotic concern that his country remain unified.
Both Gillray and Rowlandson referred to Napoleon Bonaparte as “Boney, the carcase butcher,” a nickname that carries through Combe’s work (H. Evans, Man Who Drew 12).

Text from within the book, explanation relating to the image:

She was a condescending Countess.
The lady was, as it appears,
Older than nap by twenty years;
But, for a man, who corn’d to prove
The votary or slave of love—
Whispering, soft nonsense, and such stuff,--
She certainly was good enough.
Short, like himself, and rather bulky,
But not so insolent and sulky…
Brave Boney and fair Josephine

. . .

Now Boney was disliked, I ken
By all the officers and men;
As a terrorist he was rated,
And as a Corsican was hated.
Besides, they doubted his abilities
As a conductor of hostilities.
(W. Combe, Life of Napoleon 37-38)
This image depicts the marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais. It is, however, a fictional representation, as Napoleon and Josephine never had a religious ceremony.
Referring to Josephine’s promiscuous reputation, the scarlet train is symbolic of her adultery. Additionally, the text of the book hyperbolizes her weight and minimizes his height, an exaggeration which is reflected in the image. The primary religious figure in the picture, presumably intended to be a bishop or even the Pope (although the two had a civil ceremony), indicates a disdain for the Catholic church. In the image, his mitre comes to two points rather than one (as is correct), connoting a sense of devilishness and sinfulness. Keeping in line with his British patriotism and the associated Church of England, Cruikshank strove to depict the Catholic Church, via this priest, as sinful.
In 1819, George Cruikshank was at the height of his career. Fortunately for Cruikshank, 1819 was a year of massive political upheaval. Radical working class organizations reached their peak: “Many felt it was the closest England had come to revolution since 1640” (A. Cross, “What a World We Make” 171). Cruikshank aligned himself with the reform; however, the political ideology(ies) conveyed by his engravings is by no means straightforwardly reformist. “Cruikshank, in fact, produced cartoons for both the reformist and loyalist causes; scholars have been unsuccessful in pinning down his politics further than to say he was a moderate concerned about the possible violence of radical reform” (A. Cross, “What a World We Make” 169).

Because the government felt threatened by the dissent, laws that threatened to silence the opposition flourished. Unfortunately for the government, this “led only to an increased journalistic representation producing a cycle of representation, prosecution, and accelerated representation” (A. Cross, “What a World We Make” 172). Since subsequent punishment was, in any case, inevitable, caricaturists’ not only attempted to produce material more quickly, but they also worked to make the caricatures more extreme.They wished to cause as great a stir as possible, as they did not know how much longer they would be permitted to publish. The government’s attempts to repress public feelings of resistance were, as a result, counterproductive (G. Everitt, English Caricaturists 115). In 1820, Cruikshank gained much popularity due to Life in London, and subsequently switched to making book illustrations rather than solely political cartoons (G. Everitt, English Caricaturists 123).
Political caricature functioned as a source of newsworthy information, though it was necessarily one-sided. Even at the time, the marriage of Josephine and Napoleon was regarded as disfunctional. As a result, it was frequently targeted by political cartoonists. Both Napoleon and Josephine had made valiant attempts to outwit the other; ultimately, however, both were duped by the other’s cunning.
Ashbee, C.R. Caricature. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd., 1928.

Asprey, Robert. The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Cross, Ashley J. “What a World We Make the Oppressor and the Oppressed: George Cruikshank, Percy Shelley, and the Gendering of Revolution in 1819.” English Literary History 71 (2004): 167-207.

Combe, William. The Life of Napoleon: A Hudibrastic Poem in Fifteen Cantos. London: T. Tegg III, 1815.

Evans, Hilary and Mary. The Man who Drew the Drunkard’s Daughter: The Life and Art of George Cruikshank (1792-1878). London: Frederick Muller Limited, 1978.

Everitt, Graham. English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century: How They Illustrated and Interpreted Their Times. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1893.
4 v. : col. fold. plates, fold. ports. ; 22 cm.




Image Date: 

28 October 1814


William Hone

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