Josephine Bonaparte was in prison for several months during the French Revolution. I am going to imagine what happened using total poetic license. Josephine had left her apartment that morning with her dog in a basket on her way to pinhole her landlord about the drafty salon window. The revolution was in full swing. The royal family were all under lock and key or dead. Her neighbor had given her now two year old daughter born on the cusp of the resurection the name Justine popularized by the new Republic. Fears of vandalism and a general breakdown of society had been talked about in the market square recently. Although none where evidenced as of yet.
Josephine had come to Paris husband hunting with a divorceé she had known from her childhood in the French Antibes. Armelle has better luck than her landing a widowed grocer in the neighborhood with three grown children and one lingering at home still a comfortable place above his storefront. Their marriage was planned in two weeks. Josephine was still looking for what she liked to refer to as the "big niche" as her marriage was over except in name only. They traveled in political circles as everyone did at the time had pooled thier slim resources having found themselves both single and in the strange circumstances of being experienced women without protectors for a short while. They had enjoyed this life in Paris together these last months. Josephine was not one who shied from risk. She saw the soldiers ahead and calmed her dog Fleur a small white floppy thing which was given to her by a suitor.
A soldier approached her and pointing his bayonette at her seemingly by random picked her out of the sidewalk crowd and menacingly gestered for her to join the group in the center of the square. She was half hopeful that this was a show of force to keep order during the transition and she would be soon released to continue her errand. Just in case she searched the crowd for a familiar face so that her friends would know she had been taken. Sure enough her dressmaker witnessed her capture and would be able to get news to Armelle. Josephine would later joke that she was noticed that morning because she looked so fetching in her red white and blue corset with streaming ribbons at the waist. More soberly there was a warrant for her arrest.
She was charged as a suspected radical political sympathizer. Josephine was surprised at this since she was more concerned about her window and finding a new suitor in these political meetings at that moment in time than the actual politics. After a brief appearance before a harried magistrate the group of both men and women were put in a local jail holding cell. She had been allowed to keep her dog, one woman had an infant boy. Several of the men had their wrists tightly bound until they door was locked and suffered after their ropes where untied since they had been on several hours. The floor was stone and covered with a light layer of clean straw. They all slept fitfully and some of the lesser charged people had money enough to bribe the gaurds for their release in the morning. At dawn they took four men to the outer courtyard and unceremoniously guillotined them.
What Josephine remembers is not the sound of the thud of the wood and metal device. What she recalls was the horror of the blood and something white on the jailor's boot when he came to take the women to another cell deeper inside the jail. The slight circus atmosphere gave way to total terror and the woman with the baby begged the jailor to be freed who galantly ignored her. They were put in a larger cell a former stable specially rigged up for the anticipated influx of new detanees down the hall with about 30 other women whom they learned had been there for several days who waited with stunned eyes. The soldiers had started rounding up people. This would begin a certain reign of terror under Robespierre.
Seeing a chance to get news of her whereabouts to Armelle, Josephine scribbled a hasty note and rolled it up and secured it inside her dogs collar with a bright red ribbon and gave the dog in the basket to the woman with the baby being called to the door by the jailer. Her waiting husband who had sold a good horse and with family connections had arranged for her escape. The neighbor who had needlessly denouced her out of fear for her own safety would need to flee to the countryside and her business and appartment looted. When Armelle untied the ribbon and unflured the slip of paper she was able to get money to Josephine for meals and a blanket. This would begin a four month prison stay with many close calls of execution.
Armelle was able to eventually secure her friends release by raising the money by selling Josephine's clothes and anything of value and borrowing a sum from her fiancé the grocer. This took a week of haggling and some of the prices she got were low. Many in their circle were also in jail or in hiding and could not help. Then it took Armelle several months to find Josephine again as she was moved several times around Paris. Josephine's estranged husband was killed in the purge making her a widow and officially free to marry. The unexpected downfall of Robespierre sparing her life.
By the time Josephine was located and the ransom paid a very different person emerged. When before she had been deeply feminine and a coquette. Now she was driven to take risks in a way she never had before. Once when someone had observed her dancing at fifteen and remarked about her in a journal entry it was said she was a soft and girlish as a lamb with the energy of a lion. The lamb and the lion. Now the lion was in play in her character. She would make a special first lady of this new Republic with learned political opinions ripened. Strength and compassion coming from a wellspring of suffering.
Soon she would marry the 21 year old Corsican officer she being 27 and a bit taller. He wore his unpressed though clean military uniform and a saber. She smiled demurely to cover her bad teeth due to chewing sugar cane on her father's far flung island plantation as a child. They celebrated by freeing some of her favorite personal effects from the money lender and dined on spring salad and mushrooms and were happy their first night together. Yes, it was a very different woman that emerged from the revolutionary jail cell. All she had thought of while being in danger of dying was her friends and family, her clothes, how to keep clean, and staying alive each day and began to reflect on the content of the political meetings she had attended and not just the handsome orators. She acknowledged how fortune had smiled on her annointing her a lucky lady liberty and who would henceforth take the lessons of the revolution to heart of the lamb and the lion.