On the 18th of May, of the year 1804, the plan that had been so long and carefully prepared was carried into execution. On the 18th of May, the Senate repaired to St. Cloud, to entreat Bonaparte, in the name of the people and army, to accept the imperial dignity, and exchange the Roman chair of a consul for the French throne of an emperor.
Cambaceres, the late second consul of the republic, stood at the head of the Senate, and upon him devolved the duty of imparting to Bonaparte the wishes of the French people. Cambaceres—who, as a member of the Convention, had voted for the condemnation of Louis XVI., in order that royalty should be forever banished from French soil—this same Cambaceres, was now the first to salute Bonaparte with “imperial majesty,” and with the little word, so full of significance, “sire.” He rewarded Cambaceres, for this by writing to him on the game day, and appointing him high constable of the empire, as the first act of his imperial rule. In this letter, the first document in which Bonaparte signed himself merely Napoleon, the emperor retained the republican style of writing. He addressed Cambaceres, as “citizen consul,” and followed the revolutionary method of reckoning time, his letter being dated “the 20th Floreal, of the year 12.”
The second act of the emperor, on the first day of his new dignity, was to invest the members of his family also with new dignities, and to confer upon them the rank of Princes of France, with the title “imperial highness.” Moreover, he made his brother Joseph prince elector, and his brother Louis connetable. On the same day it devolved upon Louis, in his new dignity, to present the generals and staff officers to the emperor, and then to conduct them to the empress—the Empress Josephine.
The prophecy of the negress of Martinique was now fulfilled. Josephine was “more than a queen.” But Josephine, in the midst of the splendor of her new dignity, could only think, with an anxious heart, of the prophecy of the clairvoyante of Paris, who had told her, “You will wear a crown, but only for a short time.” She felt that this wondrous fortune could not last long—that the new emperor would have to do as the kings or old had done, and sacrifice his dearest possession to Fate, in order to appease the hungry demons of vengeance and envy; and that he would, therefore, sacrifice her, in order to secure the perpetuity of his fortune and dynasty.
It was this that weighed down the heart of the new empress, and made her shrink in alarm from her new grandeur. It was, therefore, with a feeling of deep anxiety that she took possession of the new titles and honors that Fate had showered upon her, as from an inexhaustible horn of plenty. With a degree of alarm, and almost with shame, she heard herself addressed with the titles with which she had addressed the Queen of France years before, in these same halls, when she came to the Tuileries as Marquise de Beauharnais, to do homage to the beautiful Marie Antoinette. She had died on the scaffold and now Josephine was the “majesty” that sat enthroned in the Tuileries, her brilliant court assembled around her, while in a retired nook of England the legitimate King of France was leading a lonely and gloomy life.