|Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie Louise by Georges Rouget, 1810|
By 1809 Napoleon had been married to Joséphine de Beauharnais for 13 years and could no longer contain his frustration that he had no heir. Seized by the need to ensure that his dynasty would continue, he began divorce proceedings against Joséphine and began a search for a woman whom he would deem worthy of making an empress. His first thought was that an ideal candidate might be the teenaged Grand Duchess Anna, sister of Tsar Alexander I, yet the Austrians took exception to the implications this might have on their nation, neatly sandwiched as it was between Russia and France. In addition, Alexander seemed lukewarm towards the prospect and as discussions dragged on, Napoleon began to seek his bride elsewhere.
With his thoughts turning towards the Austrian court, Napoleon was pleased to hear confirmation that Marie Louise, daughter of Francis II, might be an excellent candidate and even better, her father was open to discussions. Negotiations went on for some time but eventually, in early 1810, the deal was struck. As the discussions progressed, the 18 year old Marie Louise remained blissfully aware that her fate was being decided and when she was informed of the forthcoming nuptials in February 1810, she said simply, "I wish only what my duty commands me to wish."
|Empress Marie-Louise by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1810|
The marriage took place by proxy on 11th March 1810 at the Augustinian Church, Vienna and though the groom was not present, a huge celebration and ceremony was held to celebrate the nuptials. Now Empress of the French and Queen of Italy, Marie Louise left her home to travel to France two days later, finally meeting her husband for the first time on 27th March at Compiègne. With a civil wedding following at the Château de Saint-Cloud, the couple had one final ceremony to undertake and another lavish religious ceremony was held in the Louvre on 2nd April.
|The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David, 1812|
Marie Louise was unassuming and popular and quickly felt at home in her new surroundings. Her new husband lavished her with gifts and indulgences and it appears that the couple were indeed very fond of one another, whilst the marriage brought peace between the traditionally opposed nations of France and Austria. The Emperor and Empress finally shared the child Napoleon had so longed for and for a time, at least, there was happiness at the French court.