In 1810 Napoléon was freshly divorced from Joséphine, who had been unable to produce an heir. He was intent on founding a dynasty. This prestigious union with a Habsburg princess was also designed to comfort his legitimacy in the eyes of the French and indeed all of Europe. His new bride was twice, though her father, Emperor Francis II and her mother, Maria Teresa of Naples, grand-niece of Marie-Antoinette.
And in 1770 a fourteen-year Archduchess Marie-Antoinette had been greeted at Compiègne by Louis XV and her fiancé, the Dauphin Louis-Auguste, future Louis XVI. Now, forty years later, Napoléon wanted to proclaim himself the equal of the Bourbons by meeting a bride of the same bloodline in the same palace.
No expense or effort had been spared to impress Marie-Louise and make her stay delightful. The palace of Compiègne had been extensively redecorated for the occasion, works of art, chosen for their themes of love and fecundity, brought in from the Louvre, and furniture made to order for the arrival of the new Empress.
Napoléon is reported to have said that he was marrying un ventre, “a belly.” Marshall Berthier, dispatched to Vienna to bring the Archduchess to France, wrote his master, anxious to hear about her allurements, that Marie-Louise, “without being a pretty woman,” had “everything needed to make Your Majesty happy."
As for Marie-Louise, she had been terrified and repulsed at the idea of marrying the boogieman of Europe, and considered herself a sacrifice. But Napoléon was immediately charmed by her, and would know in turn how to charm her. One of the secrets of his grip on power was his personal charisma. (Read More.)Share