Marie-Josephe-Rose de Beauharnais was a 32-year-old Paris socialite and widowed mother of two when she first met 26-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 18th century [source: Amo Life]. Beauharnais had no interest at all in Napoleon, but Bonaparte -- a young, ambitious soldier -- was immediately drawn to Josephine. Part of the reason was her own charm, although he was also hoping to marry an older, wealthier woman to boost his social status. Beauharnais' lover at the time wanted to leave her for another woman, so he persuaded her to marry Napoleon. With no other means of support for herself and her kids, she reluctantly agreed [source: Schneider].
By the time they married in 1796, Napoleon was deeply in love with Josephine, as he called Beauharnais [sources: Boykin, Schneider]. But as soon as he left to wage war in Italy, Josephine began hooking up with men left and right. Napoleon was totally oblivious. Eventually he discovered the truth and was crushed -- then began his own string of affairs. Oddly, Josephine suddenly fell in love with Napoleon and became faithful [source: Schneider].
In 1804, Napoleon was crowned emperor of France. Driven to sire an heir because of this, yet married to Josephine -- who was by that point apparently infertile -- he divorced her in 1809 and married Austrian Archduchess Maria-Louise, who did bear him a son. Napoleon subsequently suffered numerous military losses, then was exiled to Elba Island in 1814. Maria-Louise fled back to Austria with their son, and he never saw them again. Josephine, still in love with Napoleon, wanted to join him on Elba, but she died -- of a broken heart, according to her doctor -- before she got the chance. Napoleon eventually escaped back to Paris, where he picked violets from Josephine's garden and wore them in a locket until he died in 1821 [sources: Schneider, Boykin].