Marie Louise of Austria was born on 12 December 1791 as the daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily at the Hofburg in Vienna. As she grew up, she was taught to resent all things French. Her grandmother Maria Carolina was the sister of Marie Antoinette, the French Queen who was guillotined. The French forces led by Napoleon brought Austria to the brink of ruin and the family, including 14-year-old Marie Louise, were forced to flee from Vienna for a year. A devasted Marie Louise wrote in her diary that “the French ogre was said to be the Beast of the Apocalypse, that his death that year was predicted, and ‘how happy I would be if this were true.'”1
Despite the horrors of war, from which Marie Louise was relatively far removed, her education continued, and she was taught several languages. In 1807, Marie lost her mother and a year later; her father remarried to Maria Ludovika Beatrix of Austria-Este, who was only four years older than Marie Louise. In 1809, the family was once again forced to flee when war broke out between France and Austria. By then, Napoleon was in need of an heir and marrying a member of one of the oldest royal families of Europe would validate his own Empire. He was married to Joséphine de Beauharnais, who was older than him and had not given him any children. While negotiations went on, Marie Louise was kept in the dark. In their place of refuge, Marie Louise wrote in her diary, “To see the man would be the worst form of torture.”2 Little did she know she would soon be married to him. When finally informed of the marriage, Marie Louise commented, “I wish only what my duty commands me to wish.” To a friend, she wrote she was making “a painful sacrifice” for the good of the state.3
Upon her arrival in France, Napoleon joined her in her bed immediately and later wrote of that night, “She asked me to do it again.”4 Perhaps the Beast of the Apocalypse was not so bad. It may seem a little strange, but in this way, he spared her from a lot of the formalities. The next week they were married civilly and religiously (they had already been married by proxy). Napoleon, too was not disappointed. “The Emperor is much taken with his wife… and if the Empress continues to dominate him, she could render very great services to herself and to all of Europe.”5
By the summer, it was clear that Marie Louise was pregnant. Napoleon was convinced that it would be a son and had already begun to organise the household of the future King of Rome. As Marie Louise went into labour, the bedroom was filled with courtiers, doctors and a lot of the Bonapartes. Napoleon too was there, and he was quite distressed by the labour pains. The doctors warned him that the baby was in a breech position. Napoleon told the doctors, “Save the mother. It’s her right. We will have another child.”6 Both mother and son survived the birth, the King of Rome had been born. Napoleon wrote to his former wife, “My son is plump and well… I hope he will fulfil his destiny.”7
But soon the Empire began to collapse around them. Napoleon appointed Marie Louise regent as he went off to war. Once again, Marie Louise was forced to flee, though this she was fleeing from Austria’s troops. Napoleon abdicated the throne on 11 April 1814, and he was exiled to Elba. Marie Louise was allowed to retain her imperial rank and style and was made the ruler of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, with her son as her heir. She met with her father, and he persuaded her to come to Vienna with her son. Her father told her as she placed her son in his arms, “As my daughter, everything that I have is yours, even my blood and my life; as a sovereign, I do not know you.”8
In 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba, but he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. He was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena, where he would die six years later.
By then Marie Louise had already met the man who would become her second husband. Adam Albert, Count von Neipperg was 20 years older than her, and he always wore a large black to hide an empty eye socket. He became her chamberlain and her lover. Marie Louise left her son behind in Vienna and left to rule her Italian lands with Count von Neipperg. They had two daughters and a son together, though one daughter died in infancy. Her relationship with the Count had been an open secret and had not caused any kind of scandal until the birth of her first child, which became the subject of jests and puns.9 She married the Count in 1820, while she was pregnant with their second child. However, this marriage is considered invalid as Napoleon was still alive.10 Shortly after Napoleon’s death in 1821, she married the Count again. She was devastated when he died in 1829. She had lost “the best husband, the most faithful friend, and all her worldly happiness.”11
Her son by Napoleon was known as the Duke of Reichstadt in Austria, where he lived. He commented on his mother, “If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna. My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved; Josephine was .” Despite this, she was present when he died at the age of 21 in 1832.12 She had to be carried from his room.13
In 1833, her daughter Albertine was 17 and ready for marriage. She married Luigi Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato on 26 October 1833. Perhaps Marie Louise too began to long for another marriage and on 17 February 1834, she remarried to Charles-René de Bombelles, who was part of her household. Upon meeting him, she wrote, “I am quite enchanted with the Comte de Bombelles of whom I was so afraid; that is as far as I can judge in so short a time. He has all the qualities one could wish for and is, at the same time, firm and gentle in his manner. He is such a worthy man that I am indeed fortunate to have secured his services.” 14
Her third marriage was followed by a period relatively free from drama. The Comte de Bombelles was often away to do his duty in other parts of the duchies. Marie Louise may have taken fancy to a tenor named Jules LeComte, and it was certainly gossiped about.15
On 9 December 1847, Marie Louise suddenly fell ill. “Mark my words, I shall never rise again, and in a week’s time, I shall be carried away from here.” Leeches were applied to a painful spot on her side. On 12 December, she sent for the Bishop of Parma, who listened to her confession and declared, “I forgive all who, under my peaceful government, have filled my heart with pain and caused me so much grief and anxiety. I hope that God, in His mercy, will pardon and enlighten them and that they will serve their new sovereign with obedience, respect and fidelity.”16 On the 13th, her fever increased, and she suffered from pains in her chest, and she did not sleep much that night. She managed to hold on until 17 December. She called her daughter’s four children to her and gave them her blessing. “I feel very ill, my dear children, and I have just taken the Holy Communion. I wished to see you again in order to embrace and bless you. If the Almighty decreed that I should die, I will pray that He may make you happy. Think of me in your prayers, respect my memory, and prove it by being religious, good, obedient to your parents and doing your duty. Always remember what I say to you now. If God grants that I may recover, I trust that the blessing I gave you today, while recommending you to His care, may not be in vain, and that He will give heed to the prayers of a dying woman. I bless you, my dear children, respect my memory and do not forget your grandmother.”17
She died just after midday. Upon her request, no post-mortem was carried out. The funeral took palace on 24 December, and after the ceremony, her body was conveyed to Vienna, where she was buried with the Habsburgs.
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 380-381
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 439
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 449
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 453
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 456
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 458
- Evangeline Bruce – Napoleon and Josephine p. 458
- Imbert de Saint-Amand – The Happy Days of the Empress Marie Louise p.14
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 119
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 127
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 169
- Imbert de Saint-Amand – The Happy Days of the Empress Marie Louise p.22
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 209
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 228
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 247
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 262
- Max Billard – The marriage ventures of Marie-Louise p. 269-270
Thank you, Moniek! I really enjoyed reading this. If History in Middle Schools and High Schools could contain such informative and personable information about people who have gone on before us, it would not be so boring and dry…
Have you ever thought about compiling your articles in book form???
Sara Christy in US
Thanks and perhaps in the future!
Monique, I enjoy your writing very much.
I m quite sure, thought, that Napoleon s son was killed in Africa, buwhere he fought valiantly, buried there, and later his remains taken back to Europe.
His mother couldn’t have been there.
I believe you are thinking of Napoleon III’s and Empress Eugénie’s son who indeed died in Africa.
It sounds as if Marie Louise died as a result of pleurisy/pneumonia—-of course antibiotics were not available at that time.