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  • Writer's pictureMeg Grimm

The Reign of Violets: The Love Story of Napoleon and Josephine

My husband and I are in the process of fixing up a small house in the mountains, where we will raise our children and live out our days. I have named it “Sweet Violet Cottage” to honor several people or aspects of our lives.


First, the woman who built the house with her husband in the 1950's was a family member of mine from my father’s side, and her name was Viola, a form of Violet. Second, the color violet, or purple, signifies royalty and pays tribute to the Kingship of Jesus and our place in His kingdom. Finally, an old family legend on my mother’s side was that we were once able to trace our lineage back to a solider in Napoleon’s army. The violet would have been a special symbol to any French ancestor of ours loyal to the emperor.

A small patch of sweet violets

When researching the history of violets in relation to Napoleon, I found myself intrigued by the love story of Napoleon and Joséphine. Since the 2023 "Napoleon" film with Joaquin Phoenix just hit theaters, I thought I would share what I have documented. Max and I also plan to soon start sharing the story of “Sweet Violet Cottage” from beginning to end to inspire all those out there dreaming of having a cottage in the woods one day, like I have been doing for decades!


Enjoy this hopefully not too exaggerated historic love tale below! Love, Meg


The Love Story of Napoleon and Joséphine


The boy Napoleon loved the sweet-smelling violets that grew wild and abundant on the French island of Corsica, his home. Though fate would one day take him away from those craggy peaks and dense forests that he ruled as a child, the fleeting perfume of the violets would always bring his mind back to a time of peace.

One spring, several years later, the young general Napoleon attended a ball. To his surprise, he caught sight of violets. They were worn by the loveliest lady in the room as a garland for her hair and a posy on her shoulder. The lady’s modest outfit contrasted with the attire of the ladies of the republican high society. The beauty’s name was Joséphine, and from that time on, Napoleon’s heart belonged to no one else.

Napoleon and Joséphine were married in the town hall in Paris. The bride’s wedding gown was embroidered with violets. “I want to see and wear these flowers always on our anniversaries,” she told her new husband. Joséphine had a previous attachment to violets herself, for the flowers had served as a symbol of hope in her past. Napoleon would lovingly oblige.

As the years went by, Napoleon arose to become the emperor of France, and Joséphine his empress. However, Napoleon quickly became distracted by government affairs. When no children came of their marriage, Napolean eventually reached the political decision to divorce Joséphine and marry a woman of higher rank to secure a successor. But Joséphine would retain her title, income, and the Emperor’s favor.

Empress Josephine kneeling at Napoleon's Coronation
Coronation of Napoleon

Heartbroken and alone at her new home, the Château de Malmaison, Joséphine made the most of her time by creating and maintaining an extensive garden of many flowers. She filled it also with exotic animals. But her best comfort came each year on the anniversary of her wedding with her ex-husband when the bouquet of violets still faithfully arrived.

Four years after their divorce, Napoleon finally began to think of the past. He was facing great tension and impending defeat by foreign enemies. He longed for the peace that came only by violets, or rather, the woman who loved them, too.

One day at Malmaison, a three-year-old boy arrived to visit Joséphine. The boy presented the lady with a bouquet of violets, but when she glanced above his head, she locked eyes with his father. As Napoleon and Joséphine united again at last, the meeting was enough to reveal no love had been lost between them. But this meeting would be their last.

Soon after, Napoleon was forced to abdicate when Paris was captured. He was exiled to the island of Elba. On the small island so close to Corsica and with the violets in bloom around him, he could not help but reminisce about his boyhood and all life had brought, and of course Joséphine.

But one day while reading a French journal, Napoleon was stunned to learn of Joséphine’s untimely death. It had only been two months since he was in her presence. In anguish, he locked himself in his room and did not speak to anyone for two days.

Instead of fading into the past, the violets that the two lovers had cherished became Napoleon’s own symbol of hope and an emblem for his followers. He vowed, “I shall return with the violets in spring.” And when he did arrive in Paris the next March and declared himself Emperor again, the people who had waited for him were ready with new titles for him. Caporal Violette, or, Le Père de la Violette, they called him. The Father of Violets.

The streets and shops of Paris were adorned with violets. The people wore violets on their clothing. Any shades of the color violet symbolized loyalty to the Emperor.

But some violets meant more than any others. The restored Napoleon was only in Paris for two days before he found himself in Joséphine’s quiet, violet garden at Malmaison. He carefully selected two of the flowers – a perfect pair – to lie together in death in his locket, which he would always wear. There they were found six years later after his own death, along with a lock of hair. Napoleon’s final words had been: “France, the army, the head of the army, Joséphine.”

Young Napoleon riding horse in battle
Napoleon Bonaparte

Meg Grimm is a Christian writer on a mission to help women replace enemy lies, counterfeits and magic with God’s truth, beauty and wonder. A history, folklore and folk craft researcher, she has authored several books on biblical wisdom for natural healthcare.

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