To have and to hold

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Paris museum acquires Napoleon and Josephine’s marriage contract for €437,500

For all the romance attached to the couple, they chose a pragmatic arrangement known as a “Separation des Biens”

A piece of French history was acquired by Paris’s Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits this weekend. On Sunday, 21 September, the museum bought Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine Beauharnais’s marriage contract for €437,500 at auction, including buyer’s premium. The sale was held by Osenat, the Fontainebleau-based specialist in Napoleonic memorabilia, in the grounds of the Chateau de Malmaison, Josephine’s favourite retreat a few miles west of Paris.

Dated 9 March 1796, the four-page document was signed by the couple the day before their nuptials. Two days later, Bonaparte left Paris to take command of the French revolutionary army in Italy. He was 26, while Josephine was 32; both lied about their ages. For all the romance attached to the couple, they chose a pragmatic arrangement known as a “Separation des Biens”, meaning there was no sharing of property and a mutual repudiation of debts and property liens.

The contract, sold by an unnamed private collector, prompted a telephone bidding battle. It was ultimately secured for more than five times its €80,000-€100,000 presale estimate by the museum, founded in 2004 by the French businessman and manuscript collector Gérard Lhéritier. In a neat bookend, it now joins the couple’s 1809 divorce agreement, also acquired by the museum through Osenat in 2007, for €120,000.

Dated 9 March 1796, the four-page document was signed by the couple the day before their nuptials. He was 26, while Josephine was 32; both lied about their ages

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