The BNP Paribas headquarters at 3 rue d’Antin in Paris was the scene of a historic event, the civil wedding of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais.
This came about because the mansion, which was built in the 1720s and originally known as the Hôtel de Mondragon, was confiscated and declared national property during the French Revolution. It was turned into the town hall of the Paris 2nd District, which was the official venue for wedding ceremonies, among them that of the future French Emperor. The building was later re-sold into private hands and when the Banque de Paris et de Pays-Bas (Paribas) was formed in 1872, the Bank set up its headquarters there.
On the evening of what the French Republican calendar called 19 ventôse (‘Windymonth’), Year IV’ – i.e. 9 March 1796 under our system – Citizen Charles Leclerq, an official of the Civil Authority, registered the announcement of the marriage of the young Corsican-born general Napoleon Bonaparte (then written in Corsican spelling as Napolione Buonaparte) and Marie-Joseph-Rose Detascher, ex-Viscountess de Beauharnais, the future Empress Josephine.
A marriage certificate riddled with irregularities
Firstly, Bonaparte is described as Chef de l’Armée de l’Intérieur (‘Head of the Home Army’), whereas in fact he had just been appointed Head of the Army of Italy. As a gallant gesture towards Josephine, his age was increased by 18 months.
As for Josephine, she was made four years younger, her birth year being entered as 1767 instead of 1763.
Among the witnesses there was Paul Barras, a member of the Directoire – the government of France during the penultimate stage of the French Revolution – Jean-Lambert Tallien and Etienne Calmelet. Captain Le Marois, who signed as a witness for the bridegroom, was in fact still under 21 and so had not yet reached the age of majority as required by the law.
Josephine and the witnesses arrived in time for the ceremony, set for 8pm, but were kept waiting for Bonaparte for over two long hours. On the eve of his departure for the campaign in Italy, the young general had a huge amount of work to do…