Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Viscount Alexandre Francis Marie de Beauharnais, officer of the Royal Army, and of Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie was born at Paris on April 10, 1783.
After the separation of her parents, in 1785, Hortense sails to Martinique with her mother, while her elder brother Eugene stays in Paris with their father. She lives there until 1790.
The Viscount is guillotined in 1794, and her mother soon became mistress of French politician Paul Barras, main executive leader of the Directory regime. In September 1795 Hortense, twelve years old, enters the famous pension held by Madame Campan, located in the Hotel de Rohan at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
On March 8, 1796, her mother marries General Napoleon Bonaparte. The latter adopts Hortense and her brother Eugene.
She falls in love with General Geraud-Christophe Duroc, aide-de-camp of the First Consul, but is married on January 4, 1802, with Louis Bonaparte, younger brother of Napoleon. The wedding is celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Caprara, legate of Pope Pius VII.
Hortense gives her husband three sons: Napoleon Louis Charles Bonaparte on October 10, 1802 (who will be adopted by Napoleon but will only live for four years), Napoleon Louis on October 11, 1804, and Charles Louis Napoleon on April 20 1808, who will become President of the French Republic then Emperor Napoleon III.
The same year her mother is repudiated by the Emperor; however Hortense befriends new Empress Marie-Louise of Austria. She separates from Louis and falls in love with Colonel Charles de Flahaut, Charles de Talleyrand's natural son, aide-de-camp of Joachim Murat. She gives him a son named Charles, future Duke of Morny.
Having remained loyal to the Emperor during the Hundred-Days, she must leave France during the Second Restoration, and settles in Switzerland with her sons.
She moves to England in May 1831. On July 22 of the following year, the Duke of Reichstadt died in Vienna, so her son Charles Louis Napoleon became Pretendant to the Imperial Throne. However the latter must leave France in 1836 and take refuge in the United States of America.
Hortense de Beauharnais died on October 5, 1837 of uterus cancer, in her Arenenberg castle, on southern bank of the Lake Constance, in Switzerland. She is buried near her mother in the Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul Church of Rueil-Malmaison.