Born in Romans in 1772, Hippolyte Charles joined the French army as a volunteer. In 1796, While Napoleon Bonaparte was busy winning his first victories in Italy, Hippolyte Charles, a lieutenant in a Hussar regiment and deputy to General Leclerc, Bonaparte's brother-in-law, first met Josephine in Paris. They began an affair immediately, although she was nine years his elder. Hippolyte Charles was a Southerner and made up for his short stature with a very handsome face with a dark complexion and long black whiskers and moustache. According to the Duchess of Abrantes, "Charles spoke only puns and was the buffoon," but she adds, "he was what is called a strange boy, he made people laugh, it was impossible to find a funnier man." Charles was attracted to Josephine for her confidence, power and sexual experience. She was known to have many lovers and was reputedly well practiced in the arts of lovemaking.
June 24, 1796 Josephine decides to rejoin Napoleon accompanied by her lover Hippolyte, her brother-in-law Joseph Bonaparte and Colonel Junot. On 13 July, She finds Napoleon at the gates of Milan, but she continued her affair with Hippolyte soon afterwards on the way back to Paris. It is rumoured that the two lovers were involved in some illicit business dealings in addition to their illicit liaisons. The recently promoted captain enriched through these dubious business transactions was able to leave the army. March 17, 1798, the two lovers are denounced to Napoleon and he enters into a great rage. However, Josephine is able to soothe the rage and convince him that the rumours are untrue. Again in July 1798, when Bonaparte was in Egypt, the infidelities of his wife were once again reported to him. He wrote to his brother Joseph to prepare for divorce. Bonaparte's letter was intercepted by Admiral Nelson and the loss of the French fleet prevented any correspondence. Learning of the landing of Napoleon at Fréjus, Josephine rushes to meet her husband to try with all her charm, to dissuade his intention to divorce. She realises that she must break up with Hippolyte Charles if she is to enjoy all the advantages of being married to Napoleon at the height of his glory. She becomes the first lady of the country and resides at the palais du Luxembourg in Paris.
In November 1804, Hippolyte Charles bought the estate of Cassan from Francois-Denis Courtillier. The source of the funds for this purchase is rumoured to have originated from his dubious business deals with Josephine. In 1808, during the Peninsular war and under the protection of his old Hussar regiment, Hippolyte Charles travelled to Spain. The journey proved fortuitous and added considerably to his wealth as he was able to acquire from a Spanish Officer and French soldiers looted treasures much of it itself looted from South America and Incan in origin. He befriended the Spanish officer, originally from Buenos Aires, after recognising his peculiar secret society handshake.
Having lost those who have brought him glory and love, Hippolyte Charles sold the Cassan estate in 1828 to Jacques-Honoré Recappé, a former notary public and general counsel of the Seine and Oise region. He decided to retire to his native land where he bought an even more expensive castle in Génissieux in the Drôme.
Hippolyte Charles died there in 1837.
In popular culture
In the novel Les Paysans, the author, Honoré de Balzac bases his character the General Comte de Montcornet on Hippolyte Charles. The same character also appears in the book La Muse du département by the same author where Montcornet serves in the Peninsular war.
- Balteau, J. et al. (1933) Dictionnaire de biographie française. vol. 8. Letouzey et Ané.
- Delorme, Eleanor P. (2002). Josephine: Napoleon's Incomparable Empress. (1st ed.) Harry N. Abrams. pp. 248. ISBN 0-8109-1229-5.
- Gulland, Sandra (1999). Tales Of Passion Tales Of Woe. (1st ed.) Scribner. pp. 370. ISBN 0-684-85607-7.
- Fallou, Louis (2008). Nos Hussards 1692-1902. (2nd ed.) Lavauzelle. 352 pp. ISBN 2-7025-1019-1.
- Joséphine de Beauharnais (de Tascher de la Pagerie) Site published by the current members of the family Tascher de la Pagerie. (French)