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Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma

Marie Louise of Austria (Maria Luisa von Österreich; French: Marie Louise d'Autriche; Italian: Maria Luisa d'Austria; b. December 12, 1791 – d. December 17, 1847), born Archduchess Maria Luisa of Austria (Erzherzogin Maria Luisa von Österreich), became upon marriage Empress of the French (impératrice Marie Louise des Français), and in 1817 became Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla (Maria Luisa, Duchessa di Parma, Piacenza e Guastalla).
She was the second wife of Napoléon Bonaparte and thus Empress of the French. She was also a double grandniece of Marie Antoinette. She was the mother of Napoleon II, King of Rome.


Early life

Marie Louise (who was given the Latin baptismal name of Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Francisca Theresa Josepha Lucia) was born in Vienna, the daughter of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor (Francis I of Austria) and of his second wife, Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies. Marie Louise was also a double great-granddaughter of Maria Theresa of Austria, thus a double grandniece of Marie Antoinette, as she was a paternal granddaughter of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (Maria Theresa's son, Marie Antoinette's brother) and a maternal granddaughter of Marie Caroline of Austria, Queen of Naples and Sicily (Maria Theresa's daughter, Marie Antoinette's sister).

To make her more marriageable, her parents had her tutored in many languages. In addition to her native German, she became fluent in English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish .

Empress of the French

On March 11, 1810, the 18-year-old archduchess married French Emperor Napoléon I by proxy, with a subsequent ceremony taking place in the chapel of the Louvre on 1 April 1810. The bride's father intended the marriage to strengthen links between the Austrian Empire and the First French Empire. Napoleon sought the validation and legitimation of his Empire by marrying a member of the House of Habsburg, one of the oldest ruling families of Europe. He also hoped to cement his position by fathering a legitimate heir. Napoleon had previously tried to marry Grand Duchess Anna of the House of Romanov, younger sister of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, but his proposal had been refused.

When Marie Louise moved to France, she brought with her a number of Austrian recipes. She developed a recipe for roquefort-stuffed chopped beef that later became quite popular in restaurants.

On March 20, 1811, Marie Louise (as she was known in France) gave birth to a son, Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte, styled King of Rome and later Duke of Reichstadt. Marie Louise acted as Regent of France from April to December 1812 during the Russian campaign and again from April 1813 to January 1814 during her husband's absence in the German campaign. After Napoléon was forced to abdicate his throne in April 1814, he was exiled to the island of Elba. Marie Louise returned to Austria, never to see her husband again.

Napoléon claimed at one point to prefer Marie Louise to his first wife Joséphine de Beauharnais; while he had loved Joséphine, he claimed, he had not respected her, whereas with Marie Louise, there was "Never a lie, never a debt" — presumably a reference to Josephine's rumoured extramarital affairs and reputation as a spendthrift .

Duchess of Parma

After Napoleon's abdication in April 1814, Marie Louise and her son fled Paris to Blois, and then to Vienna. The Treaty of Fontainebleau of April 11, 1814 allowed her to retain her imperial rank and style (Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Marie Louise) and made her the ruler of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, with her son as heir. However, in 1815, the Congress of Vienna revised this arrangement and made her Duchess of Parma for her life only, with the details of who would become Duke of Parma after her death unspecified. In 1817, a treaty was signed which would leave the duchies to a member of the House of Bourbon. In 1844 it was determined that the duchy of Guastalla would be inherited by the Duke of Modena.

In 1821, four months after Napoleon's death, Marie Louise married morganatically her lover, Count Adam Albert von Neipperg (1775-1829). The couple had three children, the first two of whom were born before Marie Louise and Neipperg were married:

  • Albertine, Countess of Montenuovo (1817-1867), married Luigi Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato)
  • Wilhelm Albrecht, Count of Montenuovo, later created Prince of Montenuovo (1819-1895), married Countess Juliana Batthyány von Németújvár)
  • Mathilde, Countess of Montenuovo (born 1822)

On February 17, 1834 Marie Louise married, again morganatically, her grand chamberlain, Charles-René, Count of Bombelles (1785-1856).

By most accounts, Marie Louise was an able and intelligent ruler of Parma, introducing various reforms and working hard to benefit her new subjects. She died in 1847 at Parma.


Marie Louise held the following styles from birth to death:

  • Her Royal Highness Archduchess Maria Luisa of Austria, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia (1791-1804)
  • Her Imperial and Royal Highness Archduchess Maria Luisa of Austria, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia (1804-1810)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of the French (1810-1815)
  • Her Imperial Majesty Empress Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla (1815-1847)

Marie Louise also held, by marriage, the title Countess of Neipperg (1821-1834) and later Countess of Bombelles (1834-1847). She retained her imperial rank due to the 1814 Treaty of Paris.



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