Napoleon meets Marie Louise for the first time
Napoleon was pleased with his choice of a bride. Not only the marriage with Marie Louise would link his new dynasty with one of the oldest monarchies of Europe, but the Habsburg women were well-known for having many children. It was good news for Napoleon, who wanted an heir more than anything. ‘When I heard Marie Louise was fair, I was very glad,’ he recalled.
Unfortunately, his future wife’s sentiments couldn’t be more different. It was bad enough that she was only 18, while he was 40. But also, Austria had been at war with France for most of her life. As an Austrian princess, she had played with a ferocious effigy of Napoleon in her nursery when she was a child. At 14 and 15 she had been forced from her palace to escape Napoleon’s armies. ‘I pity the poor princess he chooses,’ she wrote to a friend before she had any suspicion that it might be her. Once she realised that it was her who was chosen for his future bride, she said, ‘I resign my fate to the hands of the Divine Providence.’
Napoleon and Marie-Louse married by proxy in the Capuchin chapel of Habsburg Palace in Vienna on March 11, with Arch-Duke Charles standing in for Marie Louise and Louis-Alexandre Berthier for Napoleon. Their first meeting was to take place after the proxy marriage but before the civil ceremony. Instead of meeting her at the arranged location, the impatient groom rode to intercept her carriage. ‘Madame,’ Napoleon told her on seeing her for the first time. ‘It gives me great pleasure to meet you.’
They traveled together in Napoleon’s coach to his Palace at Compiègne, where they arrived at 9.30 PM and defied protocol by not only dining together but also spending the night. ‘She liked it so much that she asked me to do it again,’ said Napoleon later. It started out as a happy marriage. They spent every night under the same roof from July 1810 until September 1811 and Napoleon even stopped seeing his Polish mistress Marie Walewska. Marie Louise was not the love of his life, however. ‘I think,’ he was to say years later, ‘although I loved Marie Louise very sincerely, that I loved Josephine better. That was natural. We have risen together and she was a true wife, the wife I have chosen.’