Napoleon’s "divorce": Cardinal Fesch’s testimony

Author(s) : CARDINAL Fesch
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The annulment of the civil marriage of Napoleon and Josephine on 15 December, 1809, was the first stage in the process that has become known as the “divorce”. The second stage, which was to prove far more complicated, involved ensuring the religious annulment of the bond. This in turn required two religious tribunals assembled to pronounce on the validity of the marriage ceremony performed by Cardinal Fesch on 1 December, 1804. The following text is Cardinal Fesch’s testimony to the Diocesan tribunal, in which he outlines the steps he took in order to perform the marriage ceremony on the eve of the coronation.

This text forms part of our close-up on: Napoleon’s “divorce”.

Fesch’s testimony

“It was but the eve of the coronation that the Emperor, in summoning me at around one or two o’clock in the afternoon, told me that the Empress was insistent on receiving the marriage blessing and that, to reassure her, he had decided to call me. But he maintained that he wanted no witnesses and he demanded that the affair remain as secret as any confession. I had to reply: “No witnesses, no marriage.” But, in seeing that he was constant in his desire for no witnesses, I told him that I had no other alternative than to obtain the dispensations and, appearing before the Pope, I explained to him that I would often need to appeal to him for dispensations, and I requested that he grant me all those that would be occasionally essential for me to fulfill my duties as Grand Aumonier; the Holy Father acquiescing to my request, I returned immediately to his Majesty the Emperor with a rite to pronounce the marriage blessing for Their Majesties, which was done towards four o’clock in the afternoon.”

Testimony quoted in Mgr Ricard, Le Cardinal Fesch, 1893, p. 251 (tr. H.D.W.)

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