Thursday 12 December 2013

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

In honour of the birthday of Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, today I thought we would do something just a little different and drop in on the marriage negotiations and numerous wedding ceremonies of Marie Louise and the Emperor Napoleon. We have already met Marie Louise's father and the child she bore her husband so let's gad across to the continent and see where it all began.

Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie Louise by Georges Rouget, 1810
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
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
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.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Sassy Countess said...

She really was a very interesting lady. I think that she is actually more interesting than Josephine. After Napoleon was sent to the island, she refused to visit him! She was allowed to keep the title of Duchess of Parma, and those lands after her husband's defeat. Also, she played a VERY interesting role in Congress of Vienna. So scandalous, and yet she was more important than most people realize!

Catherine Curzon said...

Do I sense a guest blog coming on?

Antonio Grillo said...

Maria Luisa was not a good mother. The empress left alone Aiglon in Vienna

Catherine Curzon said...

I shall be writing a longer piece about the Duchess!

sarah c said...

Her son later said that had his mother been Josephine he and his father would have been better looked after.

caroline Wrarfield said...

Please bring it on. Very interesting woman, if perhaps a bit cold blooded. "I wish only what my duty commands me to wish." Sheesh. The comments of her son (below) are pretty harsh.

Catherine Curzon said...

She was mostly absent from his upbringing, sadly!