Almost immediately after they were married, Napoleon’s wife Joséphine began affairs with other men. However, he already met his first major competitor on his wedding night. His name was Fortune – and he was a pug.
Napoleon complained about the beast to the playwright Antoine-Vincent Arnault. He noted in his memoirs that Fortune „ni beau ni bon ni aimable” was – neither beautiful, nor good, nor nice. Yet he had won the heart of his mistress, partly because he had once carried out secret missions for her.
When her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais was arrested in 1793, Joséphine also disappeared for a while in prison. She was allowed visitors and her children took Fortune with them when they came by. Under his collar were notes hidden with secret messages. Joséphine removed it and put her own messages back. Fortune didn’t make a sound and let the missionaries sit obediently.
This canine heroism made sure he couldn’t do anything wrong in the eyes of Joséphine and her children. Fortune was taken everywhere and slept in his boss’s bed.
There Napoleon found him on the evening of March 9, 1796, after he had said yes to his great love. The young general told Arnault how this meeting got out of hand when the playwright was a guest at the Bonapartetjes for dinner some time later. Josephine sat on the bench next to Fortune and Napoleon snapped: “Look at that gentleman over there, that’s my rival.”
Napoleon wanted to give the dog away on his wedding night, but he discovered that the kite was not going well. “Unsuccessful wish. I was told to either go to sleep somewhere else or share the bed. That annoyed me quite a bit, but it was swallow or choke. I just resigned myself to it, but the favorite was less accommodating. I have the scar on this leg to prove it.”
The spoiled Fortune not only snapped at his new owner, other courtiers and animals were also introduced to his jaws. He got away with it, until in 1797 he visited Napoleon with Joséphine in the castle of Mombello, near Milan. Fortune ran into the cook’s dog in the garden and bit it in the butt. The Italian four-legged friend was so displeased that he bit his attacker in the head. Fortune was killed instantly.
Joséphine was inconsolable, but after a few weeks was given a new pug (named Fox) to ease the distress—much to her husband’s horror. Not long after, Napoleon ran into Mobello’s cook. He exhausted himself in apologies, but Napoleon brushed them off. “Where’s your dog?” (“He won’t set foot in the garden anymore.” – „Just let him run free. Maybe he’ll help me get rid of that other one too.”
This plan failed; Fox lived happily ever after.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of October 4, 2021