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 All In the Famiy 
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Post All In the Famiy
Once upon a time, a beautiful Austrian Arch-Duchess was selected for an arranged marriage with the Royal House of France. Her choice was controversial among some of the courtiers in France since there were other princesses available; the daughter of Czar Paul of Russia was one suggestion. But the one with an ‘imperial’ background was ultimately chosen as more suitable and of sufficient status to become the ruler’s consort. Austria and France had a long history of hostility and outright warfare; this marriage would, it was hoped, cement relations so that France and Austria could devote their political efforts elsewhere.

This Arch-Duchess had been brought up, as all German girls of rank were then brought up, in quiet simplicity and utter innocence. In person she was a tall blonde, with a wealth of light brown hair tumbling about a face which might be called attractive because it was so youthful and so gentle, but in which only poets and courtiers could see beauty. Her complexion was rosy, her blue eyes were clear and childish. Her figure was good, though already too full for a girl who was younger than her years. She had a large and generous mouth with full lips, the lower one being the true “Hapsburg lip,” slightly pendulous–a feature which has remained for generation after generation as a sure sign of Hapsburg blood. At last came the official marriage, by proxy, a splendid gathering. The various documents were signed, the dowry was arranged for. Gifts were scattered right and left. At the opera there were gala performances. Then the Arch-Duchess bade her family a sad farewell. Almost suffocated by sobs and with her eyes streaming with tears, she was led between two hedges of bayonets to her carriage, while cannon thundered and all the church-bells of Vienna rang a joyful peal. She set out for France accompanied by a long train of carriages filled with noblemen and noblewomen, with ladies-in-waiting and scores of attendants She was surrounded by unfamiliar faces and was compelled to meet at every town the chief men of the place, all of whom paid her honor, but stared at her with irrepressible curiosity. Day after day she went on and on. Each morning a courier on a foaming horse presented her with a great cluster of fresh flowers and a few lines scrawled by the unknown husband who was to meet her at her journey’s end.

At last she reached the frontier of France, and her carriage passed into a sort of triple structure, the first pavilion was Austrian, while the middle pavilion was neutral, and the farther one was French. Here she was received by those who were afterward to surround her–the representatives of the French court. The assemblage was a brilliant with comptes, comptesses, dukes, duchesses and other titled nobility in abundance. But to this frightened girl so woefully unprepared for the difficult , dangerous task before her, and to her Austrian attendants, they were all alike. They were French, they were strangers, and she shrank from them.


The familiar story of Austrian Arch-Duchess Maria Antonia who became Marie Antoinette , Queen of France and Navarre, right? Wrong. Well, right and wrong. It’s also the story of the beautiful Austrian Arch-Duchess Marie Louise, Marie Antoinette’s niece, who became the second wife of Napoleon. It was just sixteen years earlier that Marie Antoinette met her fate on the scaffold. Now the position of Queen no longer existed; it was elevated to Empress to Napoleon’s Emperor. Napoleon divorced the first Empress, Josephine, because of her failure to provide him with heirs (another uncanny connection to Marie Antoinette). Napoleon was forty at the time of his marriage; Marie Louise was just eighteen. Napoleon loved Marie Louise deeply and showered her with jewels, just as Louis XVI had done for Marie Antoinette. Here is where the similarities end

Empress Marie Louise is best remembered for her unfaithfulness to her husband, for abandoning Napoleon during his stay on Elba after his defeat; and producing what some French historians call “a brood of bastards.” Many are of the opinion that Marie Louise threw away her pride as a princess, her reputation as a wife and her honor as a woman. All for the Count of Neipperg, a minor and insignificant member of the nobility.

In 1809, Napoleon was at the height of his power and his wife was the first casualty of his massive ego. He had his marriage to Josephine annulled. Her charm was fading and she failed to produce an heir; Napoleon wanted to perpetuate the dynasty and Josephine was getting older. At times he found her repulsive as he did the stories of her youthful indiscretions. His decision was made—he would get married to someone suitable (an ordinary princess would not do); she must be fertile and of the correct imperial background.. He wasted no time; he married Marie Louise in 1810.
It was in June of 1813 that the French emperor held court at Dresden, This was the climax of his power, for there were gathered all the sovereigns and princes who were his allies and who furnished the levies that swelled his Grand Army to six hundred thousand men. Here Marie Louise, like her husband, felt to the full the intoxication of supreme power. By a sinister coincidence it was here that she first met the ‘other man’, the Count of Neipperg, then unnoticed and insignificant who was to cast upon her a fascination which in the end proved irresistible.. As a very young soldier he had been an Austrian officer in 1793. His command served in Belgium; and there, in a skirmish, he was overpowered by the French in superior numbers, but resisted desperately. In the melee a saber slashed him across the right side of his face, and he was made prisoner. The wound deprived him of his right eye, so that for the rest of his life he was compelled to wear a black bandage to conceal the mutilation. From that moment he conceived an undying hatred of the French.

When the great struggle of 1814 neared its close, and Napoleon, fighting with his back to the wall, was about to succumb to the united armies of Europe, it was evident that the Austrian emperor would soon be able to separate his daughter from her husband. In fact, when Napoleon was sent to Elba, Marie Louise returned to Vienna. The cynical Austrian diplomats resolved that she should never again meet her imperial husband. She was made Duchess of Parma in Italy, and set out for her new possessions; and the man with the black band across his sightless eye was chosen to be her escort and companion.
He took up his post as chief escort of Marie Louise, and they journeyed slowly to Munich and Baden and Geneva,. Amid the great events which were shaking Europe this couple attracted slight attention. Napoleon, in Elba, longed for his wife and for his little son, the King of Rome. He sent countless messages and many couriers; but every message was intercepted, and no courier reached his destination. Meanwhile Marie Louise was lingering agreeably in Switzerland. She was happy to have escaped from the whirlpool of politics and war. Amid the romantic scenery through which she passed Neipperg was always by her side, attentive, devoted, trying in everything to please her.

One would have said that Marie Louise, the daughter of an imperial line, would have been proof against the fascinations of a person so far inferior to herself in rank, and who, beside the great emperor, was less than nothing. Even granting that she had never really loved Napoleon, she might still have preferred to maintain her dignity, to share his fate, and to go down in history as the empress of the great emperor. From that moment he was bound to her by the closest ties and lived with her at the court of Parma. Napoleon died, and after this Marie Louise and Neipperg were united in a morganatic marriage. Three children were born to them before his death in 1829.

It is interesting to note how much of an impression was made upon her by the final exile of her imperial husband to St. Helena. When the news was brought her she observed, casually: “Thanks. By the way, I should like to ride this morning to Markenstein. Do you think the weather is good enough to risk it?” Napoleon, on his side, passed through agonies of doubt and longing when no letters came to him from Marie Louise. She was constantly in his thoughts during his exile at St. Helena.:“Should you see, some day, my wife and son, embrace them. For two years I have, neither directly nor indirectly, heard from them. There has been on this island for six months a German botanist, who has seen them in the garden of Schoenbrunn a few months before his departure. The barbarians (meaning the English authorities at St. Helena) have carefully prevented him from coming to give me any news respecting them.”

At last the truth was told him, and he received it with that high magnanimity, or it may be fatalism, which at times he was capable of showing. Never in all his days of exile did he say one word against her. Possibly in searching his own soul he found excuses such as we may find. In his will he spoke of her with great affection, and shortly before his death he said to his physician, Antommarchi: “After my death, I desire that you will take my heart, put it in the spirits of wine, and that you carry it to Parma to my dear Marie Louise. You will please tell her that I tenderly loved her– that I never ceased to love her. You will relate to her all that you have seen, and every particular respecting my situation and death.”

How pathetic – how sad. This tragic story has as its base a powerful and corageous general and leader who’s ego spoke:

“Women are nothing but machines for producing children.”

But whose heart said something quite different::

“I must see her and press her to my heart. I love her to the point of madness, and I cannot continue to be separated from her. If she no longer loved me, I would have nothing left to do on earth.”

I can’t help but wonder what the French people’s reaction would have been had Marie Antoinette displayed the behavior that her niece and some of the off color pamphlets circulated during her reign accused her of. A mere sixteen years separated Marie Antoinette’s decapitation and Marie Louise’s rise.to power and her insensitive and unfeeling treatment of her husband.

What do you think?


Thu Apr 29, 2010 3:49 pm
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Post Re: All In the Famiy
This is a fascinating story, Artois, and you write with a style that is pleasant to read.


Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:42 pm
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