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Marie Louise (Leopoldine-Francoise-Therese-Josephine-Lucie) (1791-1847)

Daughter of Francis I of Austria, second wife of Napoleon, empress of the French, archduchess of Austria, duchess of Parma, of Plaisance, and of Guastalla. Aged 19 years at the time of her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French.

In 1809 Napoleon invaded Austria and occupied Vienna. Emperor Francis I of Austria, beaten again, had to leave his capital. He left behind him his oldest daughter, Marie Louise, who was too sick to be moved. Through a window she could perceive the silhouette of the man who would become her husband some months later. Still, at that time she shared the resentment her father felt against Napoleon, who was, little by little, cutting up Austria.

After the Battle of Wagram and signing the peace treaty Napoleon, who had had proof he was not sterile by the birth of an illegitimate son, looked for a woman of the blood royal to give him an heir. He had his choice of two princesses, the sister of Czar Alexander I or Marie Louise who belonged to one of the oldest families of Europe, the Hapsburgs.

The Czar did not seem anxious to give a reply. On the other hand, Prince Schwarzenberg, of the court of Vienna, speeded up the negotiations. Perhaps Austria was having second thoughts that it was perhaps better to become the ally of an enemy that was invincible on the battlefield. Emperor Francis consented, provided his daughter agreed.

Would Marie Louise agree to become the bride of Napoleon and the empress of the French? Her great aunt Marie Antoinette had been queen of those people and ended up on the scaffold. Metternich asked her; she consented. She solemnly renounced her rights to the imperial Austrian succession.

The religious marriage was celebrated in Vienna on March 11, 1810, without the two spouses having ever been able to talk with each other. The next day she left to meet her husband. The Prince of Wagram (the site of Austria's most recent defeat), formerly called Marshal Louis Berthier, had been sent by the emperor to take her to her new country.

Napoleon and Marie in their wedding carriage

The French accepted Marie Louise, particularly after they learned she was expecting a baby. On March 20, 1811, the birth was difficult. The lives of both mother and child were both in danger; which should the doctor favor?  Napoleon chose the mother. At the end both were saved.

The people awaited the canon fire announcing the event: twenty-one shots if a daughter, one hundred one for a son. At the twenty second shot cheers burst out. Napoleon had a son, Napoleon Francois Joseph Charles, the King of Rome.  In 1814 Francois I made his daughter, who had fled from Paris to Blois, return with his grandson, whom he rebaptized duke of Reichstadt.

He accepted the principle of the restoration of the Bourbons. Marie Louise remained empress of the French but she also became duchess of Parma, Plaisance, and Guastalla. She was often seen in the company of the count of Neipperg.

She wrote some letters to Napoleon but does not seem to have decided to share his exile on the Island of Elba. When the emperor regained his throne in 1815 she did not reappear. The following year she left her son in the care of her father, Emperor Francis I, to return to her Duchy of Parma.

A superb portrait of Marie Louise by Gerard

On May 5, 1821, Marie found suddenly herself a widow. It was in reading the "Gazette de Piemont" in July that she learned of the death of Napoleon on Saint Helena. "I declare that I was quite shocked", she wrote on the nineteenth to her friend Victoria, daughter of the countess of Colloredo.

"Although I never had any sort of strong feeling for him, I cannot forget that he was the father of my son, and that far from mistreating me, as the world believes, he always showed me every regard, the only thing one can want in a political marriage. That's why I have been very affected, and although one may be happy that he has ended his miserable existence in a Christian manner, I would never the less have wished him many more years of happiness and of life, provided it was far away from me."

Marie governed as Duchess of Parma with wisdom and humanity, and was beloved by her subjects. After Napoleon's death she married her long-time lover, Count Neipperg and unfortunately became a widow a short time later, spending her final years cavorting with times with a certain Count Bombelles whom she married in 1834.

Both a daughter and a wife of Emperors, Marie Louise died rather young on 17 December 1847 and was buried, as was her wish, in Vienna in the famed Capuchin crypt of the Habsburg Dynasty where even today her "subjects" still bring her the sweet-smelling violets she loved so much and to which her name is forever linked.