Marie Louise

Marie Louise Biography

Emperor, Duchess (1791–1847)
A member of the Austrian Habsburg royal family, Marie Louise married Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and became the mother of his son, Napoleon II.


Austrian archduchess Marie Louise was born on December 12, 1791. Upon her 1810 marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte, she became empress of the French; the following year, she gave birth to the heir he had craved. When Napoleon abdicated as emperor, Marie did not join him in exile, instead taking control of the duchies of Parma, Piacena and Guastalla. She was 56 when she died in Parma, Italy, on December 17, 1847.


Early Life

Marie Louise, archduchess of Austria and member of the Habsburg dynasty, was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 12, 1791. Her childhood was colored by conflict with France—not only had Marie Antoinette, her great-aunt, been guillotined in 1793, a defeat by Napoleon Bonaparte had caused her father, Francis II, to abdicate his title of Holy Roman emperor in 1806.

Wife to Napoleon

By 1809, Napoleon was looking for a royal wife (his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, had not been able to give him an heir). Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich felt that having Marie Louise marry the French emperor would be a wise tactical move. Marie Louise's father, now Francis I of Austria, agreed.

Napoleon had made overtures to the Russian royal family in search of a bride, but, when he did not receive a quick response, decided to go ahead with the Austrian match. Hearing that she had been selected to wed Napoleon Bonaparte was not welcome news to Marie Louise—she wrote that the mere sight of him "would be the worst form of torture"—but she accepted the proposal.

Marie Louise and Napoleon were married by proxy on March 11, 1810. After she traveled to France, they held another ceremony in April of that same year. Though she had been reluctant to marry the emperor, Marie Louise was happy in her role as empress, and with Napoleon. On March 20, 1811, she gave birth to a son, who was named the king of Rome.

Fall of the French Empire

Marie Louise had provided Napoleon with the heir he craved, but an unsuccessful Russian campaign and an alliance of European powers placed his rule in jeopardy. Napoleon continued to combat his enemies, naming Marie Louise regent—with limited powers—in his absence. He was away fighting in 1814 when Marie Louise, worried that Paris was in danger of being overtaken, left the city with their son.

In April 1814, a defeated Napoleon abdicated as emperor and was sent into exile on the island of Elba. Marie Louise initially wanted to join him, but first proceeded to Austria with their son. Francis opposed the idea of Marie Louise going to Elba, so Adam Adalbert, Count von Neipperg, was dispatched to his daughter's side. The combination of Neipperg's influence and the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which gave her the duchies of Parma, Piacena and Guastalla, made Marie Louise decide not to go to Napoleon.

Later Years

Marie Louise had no contact with Napoleon when he escaped from Elba in a last, unsuccessful bid to regain his empire in 1815 (following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, their son became the titular Napoleon II for a few days). When Marie Louise left for Parma in 1816, her son—whose right to inherit her duchies was removed in 1817—remained in Austria. She returned to visit him before his death in 1832.

Marie Louise was not alone in Parma, as Neipperg joined her there. They had two children together before marrying in 1821, following Napoleon's death. Neipperg died in 1829. An uprising in 1831 forced Marie Louise to leave Parma for a short time, but Austrian support permitted her return. Marie Louise wed Count Charles René de Bombelles in 1834. At the age of 56, she died on December 17, 1847, in Parma, Italy.

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