Marseilles, 1795. Broke and unemployed, Napoleon seeks the hand of Desiree, a relative of his sister-in-law, who possesses a substantial dowry. When her parents reject him, he leaves for Paris, where he secures an important position and meets Josephine.
While Napoleon wages a brilliant campaign in Italy, Josephine conducts an affair with a handsome captain in Paris. When Napoleon demands that she join him in Milan, she replies that she can't travel, but Napoleon's passion for her grows greater each day.
Campaigning in Egypt, Napoleon hears of Josephine's infidelity. Heartbroken, he embarks on an affair of his own with Pauline, the wife of a French lieutenant, and promises to marry her after divorcing Josephine.
Now first consul of France and on the brink of becoming emperor, Napoleon takes a series of mistresses. The greatest threat to Josephine is an ambitious young actress, Mademoiselle George, whom Napoleon calls Georgina.
Napoleon is the emperor of France but still has no heir. Is he infertile, or is Josephine too old? Napoleon's sister Caroline arranges a new mistress for him, Eleonore, who soon becomes pregnant. But is the child really his?
The Emperor frees Warsaw from the Russians and falls in love with Marie Walewska, who spurns his advances until Polish patriots convince her otherwise. If she becomes Napoleon's mistress, perhaps she can curry favor for Poland.
Napoleon needs a son and knows that Josephine can never give him one. Josephine's final desperate ploy--spreading rumors of Napoleon's impotence--fails. Napoleon divorces her and demands the hand of the Austrian emperor's daughter.
Napoleon weds Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, a young woman with large sexual appetites. Before long, she is pregnant. Following a difficult labor, she delivers a son and immediately wants another, but Napoleon has world domination on his mind.
When Napoleon's Russian expedition fails, he is forced to abdicate and retreat to Elba. Josephine takes ill and remains faithful to the end. Napoleon returns to France in triumph, but soon faces Waterloo and his ultimate destiny.