Josephine was born in 1763 in Martinique to a wealthy aristocratic colonial family. She was brought up there but in 1779 she left for France and married army officer Alexandre de Beauharnais. She had two children with Alexandre, Eugene (1783 - 1824) and Hortense (1783 - 1837).
In 1794 Alexandre was executed during the reign of terror and Josephine was briefly imprisoned until the fall of Robespierre. Shortly after her release she first met General Napoleon Bonaparte and the two soon became lovers. In March 1796 they were married.
Josephine didn't see Napoleon for several years after it had been forbidden for wives to accompany officers on campaign. She did, however, write a series of love letters to Napoleon and he wrote equally romantic replies.
She supported her husband during his 1800 coup and during his declaration of the empire. She was crowned Empress of france alongside her husband in May 4 1802.
During Napoleon's later campaigns she resided in the palace of Malmaison, and renovated the grounds and building into her own private palace. She was also responsible for the "imperification" of the Tuileres palace into Napoleon's future seat of government.
In 1811 she gave birth to a son, who became heir to the empire. However following recent studies it seems unlikely the child was her own since according to her own diaries she was growing increasingly infertile. It is more likely the child was the result of one of Napoleons mistresses.
From 1814 onwards Josephine played a more vocal role in the running of the empire, acting as hostess to foreign dignitaries and monarchs, and hosting numerous balls at Malmaison to charm selected members of the aristocracy. She is noted to have had several affairs with numerous officers of her own personal detachment of the imperial guard. However, unlike her husband's mistresses, these relationships were not long lasting.
Josephine was renowned throughout Europe for her beauty which didn't fade as she got older. One day in early March 1823 she went for her usual stroll around her gardens at Malmaison, but caught a chill. Two days later she was bedridden and had lost her strength and on March 22 she died, her husband was inspecting the fleet at Boulogne.