Napoleon and Josephine
Their Rose Legacy


The Story of Josephine's
Passion For Roses

This is the story about Napoleon and Josephine and their rose legacy, and how without them the modern repeat-blooming roses that we grow today, might never have come to be.

Josephine was the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte of France.

When Josephine died in 1814, she left behind a floral legacy, and a love of roses, that lives on in gardens around the world.

Empress Josephine's passion for roses has greatly influenced the way we know the rose flower today.

Josephines's role in the development of the modern roses is indeed significant.

The 19th century was a very important era in the history of horticulture: the birth of the modern roses was under way.


Josephine and Napoleon
With Ladies In Waiting

In the late 18th century, repeat-blooming, or remontant, roses from southern China and central Asia had just been introduced into Europe.

Up until that time, few European roses flowered more than once in a blooming season.

Empress Josephine's passion for these new rose arrivals from Asia and China gave the roses an imperial allure that heightened their popularity and helped drive demand.

While Napoleon was waging war against Britain, Josephine was spending vast sums of money collecting new varieties of roses for her garden at Chateau Malmaison ouside Paris.

She even enlisted her husband's aid in the pursuit of her hobby.

At the height of the war in the early 1800's, Napoleon was sending money to England to pay for his wife's rose plant bills.

The British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockade to deliver new roses to Malmaison.

chateau malmasion

Painting of Chateau Malmasion

Josephine further elevated the stature of the rose by commissioning Pierre-Joseph Redoute, a former court painter of Marie Antoinette, to paint a series of rose portraits.

These were later published, after Josephines's death, in Les Roses, which the artist dedicated in her memory.

Redoute's collection of 170 stipple-engraved, colored plates is universially acknowledged as one of the most beautiful and important books ever produced.

les rose book

Redoute's Rose Book

You can buy Redoute's The Roses: The Complete Plates Here , it's a fabulous book featuring his renditions of Josephine's garden roses at Malmaison, that I personally own.

Spurred by the intense demand for new roses that Josephine and Redoute had helped to create, 19th-century hybridizers began crossing repeat-blooming Asian varieties with the hardier, and more fragrant European native roses.

Between 1840 and 1900, over 4,000 hybrid repeat-flowering roses were introduced.

Although Josephine didn't live to see and enjoy them, they became the natural legacy of her great passion: roses.

I think this is a fascinating story about Napoleon and Josephine that all rose gardeners should know, and that's why I wrote this page for you, my vistors, who all love roses.


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