All About History
Empress Joséphine & rose
An unlikely companionship in Napoleonic France
Empress Joséphine, the first wife of Napoleon, had a menagerie full of exotic animals that she loved, but none more so than her orangutan, Rose. Most likely named after Joséphine’s favourite flower, Rose was presented to the empress by General Charles Decaen, governor of Pondicherry. She was the first of her species to arrive in France and quickly demonstrated what an intelligent creature she was.
Rose was known to wear white cotton chemises and exhibit good manners, greeting guests of the empress in a dignified manner. She would normally eat turnips, her favourite food, for dinner and would sit “at the table with a knife and fork.” To top it off, it was reported that Rose actually slept in the same bed alongside Joséphine and Napoleon, which by itself indicates how important she was to the empress.
Although Joséphine loved her dearly, Rose did not adjust well to a life in captivity. Just five months after her arrival, she passed away, leaving the empress devastated. Having an interest in biology herself, Joséphine sent Rose’s body to Georges-frédéric Cuvier, head keeper of the menagerie at the Natural History Museum in Paris, for him to study.
“Rose was known to wear white cotton chemises and exhibit good manners”