Louise of Orléans was born on 3 April 1812 in the Palazzo Santa Teresa in Palermo as the daughter of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French, and of his wife Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies. She had a strict Catholic upbringing and a carefree childhood as the eldest daughter of eight surviving siblings. She knew the man she would marry from an early age.
King Leopold I of Belgium had begun life as Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1790. He had been married once before, to Charlotte of Wales who would have become Queen of the United Kingdom had she not died in childbirth. He had been elected as King of the Belgians in 1831 after rebels in the southern provinces of the United Netherlands rose up against Dutch rule. Now he was in need of a wife.
His proposal of marriage was not well received by her father. Leopold was a known womaniser, and Louise’s own brother had also been a contender for the Belgian throne. In addition, Belgium was a brand new country and not quite so stable yet. It wasn’t until the summer of 1832 that Louis-Philippe finally agreed to the marriage. Louise was barely 20 years old while Leopold was nearly 42. They married on 9 August 1832, giving independent Belgium its first Queen. Louise remained a French woman and believed the small country to be cold and mundane. Everything in France was better. While Louise could be extrovert in private, she appeared to be quite introvert in public. She had no interest in Belgian politics but cared even more for French politics.
The sexual obligations that follow after the marriage scared Louise initially. Perhaps her education was lacking somewhat in this area. She wrote to her mother that if she had known what marriage was about, she would have preferred not to have married. In the early years of her marriage, she wrote to her mother almost daily. When Leopold was not around, Louise read. There was no clear role for a Queen in Belgium, except to produce heirs.
Their first son was born in 1833, and he was named after Louise’s father and Louise nicknamed her son “Babochon.” The young prince had a chronic cold, and Louise’s doted on him. The young Prince died before his first birthday, despite several doctors trying to save his life. Louise was devastated, and Leopold was reminded all too cruelly of the events surrounding the death of his first wife. On 9 April 1835, Louise gave birth to another son named Leopold, who would succeed his father as King. On 24 March 1837, a third son named Philippe was born, followed by a daughter named Charlotte on 7 June 1840. Despite the family happiness, Louise became obsessed with death, not in the least caused by her poor health. In her early thirties, she felt old and exhausted.
After a scandal broke out regarding Leopold’s relationship with Arcadie Claret, Louise moved to Ostend for health reasons. There she could breathe in the fresh sea air. While there, her health deteriorated even more. She was coughing and had constant diarrhoea. The Belgian people began to pray for her recovery. On 8 October 1850, Louise’s mother arrived and stayed by her side until Louise died on 11 October. She was still only 38 years old.
Her will mentioned how much she loved Leopold and that her soul would watch over him. Leopold decided to start building a new church to house a crypt for members of the royal family. Leopold and Louise are now buried together in the Church of Our Lady in Laeken.1