The Happy Days of the Empress Marie Louise by Imbert De Saint-Amand

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II. 1809































In 1814, while Napoleon was banished in the island of Elba, the Empress Marie Louise and her grandmother, Marie Caroline, Queen of Naples, happened to meet at Vienna. The one, who had been deprived of the French crown, was seeking to be put in possession of her new realm, the Duchy of Parma; the other, who had fled from Sicily to escape the yoke of her pretended protectors, the English, had come to demand the restitution of her kingdom of Naples, where Murat continued to rule with the connivance of Austria. This Queen, Marie Caroline, the daughter of the great Empress, Maria Theresa, and the sister of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, had passed her life in detestation of the French Revolution and of Napoleon, of whom she had been one of the most eminent victims. Well, at the very moment when the Austrian court was doing its best to make Marie Louise forget that she was Napoleon’s wife and to separate her from him forever, Marie Caroline was pained to see her granddaughter lend too ready an ear to their suggestions. She said to the Baron de Meneval, who had accompanied Marie Louise to Vienna: “I have had, in my time, very good cause for complaining of your Emperor; he has persecuted me and wounded my pride,–I was then at least fifteen years old,–but now I remember only one thing,–that he is unfortunate.” Then she went on to say that if they tried to keep husband and wife apart, Marie Louise would have to tie her bedclothes to her window and run away in disguise. “That,” she exclaimed, “that’s what I should do in her place; for when people are married, they are married for their whole life!”

If a woman like Queen Marie Caroline, a sister of Marie Antoinette, a queen driven from her throne by Napoleon, could feel in this way, it is easy to understand the severity with which those of the French who were devoted to the Emperor, regarded the conduct of his ungrateful wife. In the same way, Josephine, in spite of her occasionally frivolous conduct, has retained her popularity, because she was tender, kind, and devoted, even after she was divorced; while Marie Louise has been criticised, because after loving, or saying that she loved, the mighty Emperor, she deserted him when he was a prisoner. The contrast between her conduct and that of the wife of King Jerome, the noble and courageous Catherine of Wurtemberg, who endured every danger, and all sorts of persecutions, to share her husband’s exile and poverty, has set in an even clearer light the faults of Marie Louise. She has been blamed for not having joined Napoleon at Elba, for not having even tried to temper his sufferings at Saint Helena, for not consoling him in any way, for not even writing to him. The former Empress of the French has been also more severely condemned for her two morganatic marriages,–one with Count Neipperg, an Austrian general and a bitter enemy of Napoleon, the other with Count de Bombelles, a Frenchman who left France to enter the Austrian service. Certainly Marie Louise was neither a model wife nor a model widow, and there is nothing surprising in the severity with which her contemporaries judged her, a severity which doubtless history will not modify. But if this princess was guilty, more than one attenuating circumstance may be urged in her defence, and we should, in justice, remember that it was not without a struggle, without tears, distress, and many conscientious scruples, that she decided to obey her father’s rigid orders and become again what she had been before her marriage,–simply an Austrian princess.

It must not be forgotten that the Empress Marie Louise, who was in two ways the grandniece of Queen Marie Antoinette, through her mother Maria Theresa of Naples, daughter of Queen Marie Caroline, and through her father the Emperor Francis, son of the Emperor Leopold II., the brother of the martyred queen, had been brought up to abhor the French Revolution and the Empire which succeeded it. She had been taught from the moment she left the cradle, that France was the hereditary enemy, the savage and implacable foe, of her country. When she was a child, Napoleon appeared to her against a background of blood, like a fatal being, an evil genius, a satanic Corsican, a sort of Antichrist. The few Frenchmen whom she saw at the Austrian court were emigres, who saw in Napoleon nothing but the selfish revolutionist, the friend of the young Robespierre, the creature of Barras, the defender of the members of the Convention, the man of the 13th of Vendemiaire, the murderer of the Duke of Enghien, the enemy of all the thrones of Europe, the author of the treachery of Bayonne, the persecutor of the Pope, the excommunicated sovereign. Twice he had driven Austria to the brink of ruin, and it had even been said that he wished to destroy it altogether, like a second Poland. The young archduchess had never heard the hero of Austerlitz and Wagram spoken of, except in terms inspired by resentment, fear, and hatred. Could she, then, in a single day learn to love the man who always had been held up before her as a second Attila, as the scourge of God? Hence, when she came to contemplate the possibility of her marriage with him, she was overwhelmed with surprise, terror, and repulsion, and her first idea was to regard herself as a victim to be sacrificed to a vague Minotaur. We find this word “sacrifice” on the lips of the Austrian statesmen who most warmly favored the French alliance, even of those who had counselled and arranged the match. The Austrian ambassador in Paris, the Prince of Swartzenberg, wrote to Metternich, February 8, 1810, “I pity the princess; but let her remember that it is a fine thing to bring peace to such good people!” And Metternich wrote back, February 15, to the Prince of Swartzenberg, “The Archduchess Marie Louise sees in the suggestion made to her by her August father, that Napoleon may include her in his plans, only a means of proving to her beloved father the most absolute devotion. She feels the full force of the sacrifice, but her filial love will outweigh all other considerations.” Having been brought up in the habit of severe discipline and passive obedience, she belonged to a family in which the Austrian princesses are regarded as the docile instruments of the greatness of the Hapsburgs. Consequently, she resigned herself to following her father’s wishes without a murmur, but not without sadness. What Marie Louise thought at the time of her marriage she still thought in the last years of her life. General de Trobriand, the Frenchman who won distinction on the northern side in the American civil war, told me recently how painfully surprised he was when once at Venice he had heard Napoleon’s widow, then the wife of Count de Bombelles, say, in speaking of her marriage to the great Emperor, “I was sacrificed.”

Austria was covered with ruins, its hospitals were crowded with wounded French and Austrians, and in the ears of Viennese still echoed the cannon of Wagram, when salvos of artillery announced not war, but this marriage. The memories of an obstinate struggle, which both sides had regarded as one for life or death, was still too recent, too terrible to permit a complete reconciliation between the two nations. In fact, the peace was only a truce. To facilitate the formal entry of Napoleon’s ambassador into Vienna, it had been necessary hastily to build a bridge over the ruins of the walls which the French had blown up a few months earlier, as a farewell to the inhabitants. Marie Louise, who started with tears in her eyes, trembled as she drew near the French territory, which Marie Antoinette had found so fatal.

Soon this first impression wore off, and the young Empress was distinctly flattered by the amazing splendor of her throne, the most powerful in the world. And yet amid this Babylonian pomp, and all the splendor, the glory, the flattery, which could gratify a woman’s heart, she did not cease to think of her own country. One day when she was standing at a window of the palace of Saint Cloud, gazing thoughtfully at the view before her, M. de Meneval ventured to ask the cause of the deep revery in which she appeared to be sunk. She answered that as she was looking at the beautiful view, she was surprised to find herself regretting the neighborhood of Vienna, and wishing that some magic wand might let her see even a corner of it. At that time Marie Louise was afraid that she would never see her country again, and she sighed. What glory or greatness can wipe out the touching memories of infancy?

Doubtless Napoleon treated his wife with the utmost regard and consideration; but in the affection with which he inspired her there was, we fancy, more admiration than tenderness. He was too great for her. She was fascinated, but troubled by so great power and so great genius. She had the eyes of a dove, and she needed the eyes of an eagle, to be able to look at the Imperial Sun, of which the hot rays dazzled her. She would have preferred less glory, less majesty, fewer triumphs, with her simple and modest tastes, which were rather those of a respectable citizen’s wife than of a queen. Her husband, amid his courtiers, who flocked about him as priests flock about an idol, seemed to her a demi-god rather than a man, and she would far rather have been won by affection than overwhelmed by his superiority.

It is not to be supposed, however, that Marie Louise was unhappy before the catastrophes that accompanied the fall of the Empire. It was in perfect sincerity that she wrote to her father in praise of her husband, and her joy was great when she gave birth to a child, who seemed a pledge of peace and of general happiness. Let us add that the Emperor never had an occasion to find fault with her. Her gentleness, reserve, and obedience formed the combination of qualities which her husband desired. He had never imagined an Empress more exactly to his taste. When she deserted him, he was more ready to excuse and pity her than to cast blame upon her. He looked upon her as the slave and victim of the Viennese court. Moreover, he was in perfect ignorance of her love for the Count of Neipperg, and no shadow of jealousy tormented him at Saint Helena. “You may be sure,” he said a few days before his death, “that if the Empress makes no effort to ease my woes, it is because she is kept surrounded by spies, who never let my sufferings come to her ears; for Marie Louise is virtue itself.” A pleasant delusion, which consoled the final moments of the great man, whose last thoughts were for his wife and son.

We fancy that the Emperor of Austria was sincere in the protestations of affection and friendship which he made to Napoleon shortly after the wedding. He then entertained no thoughts of dethroning or fighting him. He had hopes of securing great advantage from the French alliance, and he would have been much surprised if any one had foretold to him how soon he would become one of the most active agents in the overthrow of this son-in-law to whom he expressed such affectionate feelings. In 1811 he was sincerely desirous that the King of Rome should one day succeed Napoleon on the throne of the vast empire. At that time hatred of France had almost died out in Austria; it was only renewed by the disastrous Russian campaign. The Austrians, who could not wholly forget the past, did not love Napoleon well enough to remain faithful to him in disaster. Had he been fortunate, the hero of Wagram would have preserved his father-in-law’s sympathy and the Austrian alliance; but being unfortunate, he lost both at once. Unlike the rulers of the old dynasties, he was condemned either to perpetual victory or to ruin. He needed triumphs instead of ancestors, and the slightest loss of glory was for him the token of irremediable decay; incessant victory was the only condition on which he could keep his throne, his wife, his son, himself. One day he asked Marie Louise what instructions she had received from her parents in regard to her conduct towards him. “To be wholly yours,” she answered, “and to obey you in everything.” Might she not have added, “So long as you are not unfortunate”?

But who at the beginning of that fatal year, 1812, could have foretold the catastrophes which were so near? When Marie Louise was with Napoleon at Dresden, did he not appear to her like the arbiter of the world, an invincible hero, an Agamemnon, the king of kings? Never before, possibly, had a man risen so high. Sovereigns seemed lost amid the crowd of courtiers. Among the aides-de-camp was the Crown Prince of Prussia, who was obliged to make special recommendations to those near him to pay a little attention to his father-in-law, the Emperor of Austria. What power, what pride, what faith in his star, when, drawing all Europe after him, he bade farewell to his wife May 29, 1812, to begin that gigantic war which he thought was destined to consolidate all his greatness and to crown all his glories! But he had not counted on the burning of Moscow: there is in the air a zone which the highest balloons cannot pierce; once there, ascent means death. This zone, which exists also in power, good fortune, glory, as well as in the atmosphere, Napoleon had reached. At the height of his prosperity he had forgotten that God was about to say to him: Thou shalt go no further.

At the first defeat Marie Louise perceived that the brazen statue had feet of clay. Malet’s conspiracy filled her with gloomy thoughts. It became evident that the Empire was not a fixed institution, but a single man; in case this man died or lived defeated, everything was gone. December 12, 1812, the Empress went to her bed in the Tuileries, sad and ill. It was half-past eleven in the evening. The lady-in-waiting, who was to pass the night in a neighboring room, was about to lock all the doors when suddenly she heard voices in the drawing-room close by. Who could have come at that hour? Who except the Emperor? And, in fact, it was he, who, without word to any one, had just arrived unexpectedly in a wretched carriage, and had found great difficulty in getting the palace doors opened. He had travelled incognito from the Beresina, like a fugitive, like a criminal. As he passed through Warsaw he had exclaimed bitterly and in amazement at his defeat, “There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” When he burst into his wife’s bedroom in his long fur coat, Marie Louise could not believe her eyes. He kissed her affectionately, and promised her that all the disasters recounted in the twenty-ninth bulletin should be soon repaired; he added that he had been beaten, not by the Russians, but by the elements. Nevertheless, the decadence had begun; his glory was dimmed; Marie Louise began to have doubts of Napoleon. His courtiers continued to flatter him, but they ceased to worship him. A dark cloud lay over the Tuileries. The Empress had but a few days to pass with her husband. He had been away for nearly six months, from May 29 till December 12, 1812, and he was to leave again April 15, 1813, to return only November 9. The European sovereigns could not have continued in alliance with him even if they had wished it, so irresistible was the movement of their subjects against him. After Leipsic everything was lost; that was the signal of the death struggle, which was to be long, terrible, and full of anguish. Europe listened in terror to the cries of the dying Empire. But it was all over. The sacred soil of France was invaded. January 25, 1814, at three in the morning, the hero left the Tuileries to oppose the invaders. He kissed his wife and his son for the last time. He was never to see them again. In all, Napoleon had passed only two years and eight months with Marie Louise; she had had hardly time enough to become attached to him. Napoleon’s sword was broken; he arrived before Paris too late to save the city, which had just capitulated, and the foreigners were about to make their triumphal entrance. Could a woman of twenty-two be strong enough to withstand the tempest? Would she be brave enough, could she indeed remain in Paris without disobeying Napoleon? Was not flight a duty for the hapless sovereign? The Emperor had written to his brother, King Joseph: “In no case must you let the Empress and the King of Rome fall into the enemy’s hands. Do not abandon my son, and remember that I had rather see him in the Seine than in the hands of the enemies of France. The lot of Astyanax, a prisoner among the Greeks, has always seemed to me the unhappiest in history.” But, alas! in spite of the great Emperor’s precautions, the King of Rome was condemned by fate to be the modern Astyanax, and Marie Louise was not as constant as Andromache.

The allied forces drew near, and there was no more time for flight. March 29, 1814, horses and carriages had been stationed in the Carrousel since the morning. At seven o’clock Marie Louise was dressed and ready to leave, but they could not abandon hope; they wished still to await some possible bit of good news which should prevent their leaving,–an envoy from Napoleon, a messenger from King Joseph. The officers of the National Guard were anxious to have the Empress stay. “Remain,” they urged; “we swear to defend you.” Marie Louise thanked them through her tears, but the Emperor’s orders were positive; on no account were the Empress and the King of Rome to fall into the enemy’s hands. The peril grew. Ever since four o’clock Marie Louise had kept putting off the moment of leaving, in expectation that something would turn up. Eleven struck, and the Minister of War came, declaring there was not a moment to lose. One would have thought that the little King of Rome, who was just three years old, knew that he was about to go, never to return. “Don’t go to Rambouillet,” he cried to his mother; “that’s a gloomy castle; let us stay here.” And he clung to the banisters, struggling with the equerry who was carrying him, weeping and shouting, “I don’t want to leave my house; I don’t want to go away; since papa is away, I am the master.” Marie Louise was impressed by this childish opposition; a secret voice told her that her son was right; that by abandoning the capital, they surrendered it to the Royalists. But the lot was cast, and they had to leave. A mere handful of indifferent spectators, attracted by no other feeling than curiosity, watched the flight of the sovereign who, four years before, had made her formal entrance into this same palace of the Tuileries under a triumphal arch, amid noisy acclamations. There was not a tear in the eyes of the few spectators; they uttered no sound, they made no movement of sympathy or regret; there was only a sullen silence. But one person wept, and that was Marie Louise. When she had reached the Champs Elysees, she cast a last sad glance at the palace she was never to see again. It was not a flight, but a funeral.

The Empress and the King of Rome took refuge at Blois, where there appeared a faint shadow of Imperial government. On Good Friday, April 8, Count Shouvaloff reached Blois with a detachment of Cossacks, and carried Marie Louise and her son to Rambouillet, where the Emperor of Austria was to join them. What Napoleon had feared was soon realized.

April 16, the Emperor of Austria was at Blois. Marie Louise, who two years before had left her father, starting on her triumphal journey to Prague, amid all form of splendor and devotion, was much moved at seeing him again, and placed the King of Rome in his arms, as if to reproach him for deserting the child’s cause. The grandfather relented, but the monarch was stern: did he not soon say to Marie Louise: “As my daughter, everything that I have is yours, even my blood and my life; as a sovereign, I do not know you”? The Russian sentinels at the entrance of the castle of Rambouillet were relieved by Austrian grenadiers. The Empress of the French changed captors; she was the prisoner no longer of the Czar’s soldiers, but of her own father. Her conjugal affection was not yet wholly extinct, and she reproached herself with not having joined Napoleon at Fontainebleau; but her scruples were soon allayed by the promise that she should soon see her husband again at Elba. She was told that the treaty which had just been signed gave her, and after her, her son, the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla; that the King of Rome was henceforth the hereditary Duke of Parma; that if she had duties as a wife, she also had duties as a mother; that she ought to gain the good-will of the powers, and assure her child’s future. They added that she ought to give her husband time to establish himself at Elba, and that meanwhile she would find in Vienna, near her loving parents, a few weeks of moral and physical rest, which must be very necessary after so many emotions and sufferings. Marie Louise, who had been brought up to give her father strict obedience, regarded the advice of the Emperor of Austria as commands which were not to be questioned, and April 23 she left Rambouillet with her son for Vienna.

Did the dethroned Empress carry away with her a pleasant memory of France and the French people? We do not think so; and, to be frank, was what had just happened likely to give her a favorable idea of the country she was leaving? Could she have much love for the people who were fastening a rope to pull down the statue of the hero of Austerlitz from its pedestal, the Vendome column? When her father, the Emperor Francis I., had been defeated, driven from his capital, overwhelmed with the blows of fate, his misfortunes had only augmented his popularity; the more he suffered, the more he was loved. But for Napoleon, who was so adored in the day of triumph, how was he treated in adversity? What was the language of the Senate, lately so obsequious and servile? The men on whom the Emperor had literally showered favors, called him contemptuously Monsieur de Bonaparte. What did they do to save the crown of the King of Rome, whose cradle they had saluted with such noisy acclamations? Were not the Cossacks who went to Blois after the Empress rapturously applauded by the French, in Paris itself, upon the very boulevards? Did not the marshals of the Empire now serve as an escort to Louis XVIII.? Where were the eagles, the flags, and the tricolored cockades? When Napoleon was passing through Provence on his way to take possession of his ridiculous realm of Elba, he was compelled to wear an Austrian officer’s uniform to escape being put to death by Frenchmen; the imperial mantle was exchanged for a disguise. It is true that Marie Louise abandoned the French; but did not the French abandon her and her son after the abdication of Fontainebleau; and if this child did not become Napoleon II., is not the fault theirs? And did she not do all that could be demanded of her as regent? Can she be accused of intriguing with the Allies; and if at the last moment she left Paris, was it not in obedience to her husband’s express command? She might well have said what fifty-six years later the second Emperor said so sadly when he was a prisoner in Germany: “In France one must never be unfortunate.” What was then left for her to do in that volcano, that land which swallows all greatness and glory, amid that fickle people who change their opinions and passions as an actress changes her dress? Where Napoleon, with all his genius, had made a complete failure, could a young, ignorant woman be reasonably expected to succeed in the face of all Europe? Were her hands strong enough to rebuild the colossal edifice that lay in ruins upon the ground?

Such were the reflections of Marie Louise as she was leaving France. The moment she touched German soil, all the ideas, impressions, feelings of her girlhood, came back to her, and naturally enough; for were there not many instances in the last war, of German women, married to Frenchmen, who rejoiced in the German successes, and of French women, married to Germans, who deplored them? Marriage is but an incident; one’s nature is determined at one’s birth. In Austria, Marie Louise found again the same sympathy and affection that she had left there. There was a sort of conspiracy to make her forget France and love Germany. The Emperor Francis persuaded her that he was her sole protector, and controlled her with the twofold authority of a father and a sovereign. She who a few days before had been the Empress of the French, the Queen of Italy, the Regent of a vast empire, was in her father’s presence merely a humble and docile daughter, who told him everything, obeyed him in everything, who abdicated her own free will, and promised, even swore, to entertain no other ideas or wishes than such as agreed with his.

Nevertheless, when she arrived at Vienna, Marie Louise had by no means completely forgotten France and Napoleon. She still had Frenchmen in her suite; she wrote to her husband and imagined that she would be allowed to visit him at Elba, but she perfectly understood all the difficulties of the double part she was henceforth called upon to play. She felt that whatever she might do she would be severely criticised; that it would be almost impossible to secure the approval of both her father and her husband. Since she was intelligent enough to foresee that she would be blamed by her contemporaries and by posterity, was she not justified in lamenting her unhappy lot? She, who under any other conditions would have been an excellent wife and mother, was compelled by extraordinary circumstances to appear as a heartless wife and an indifferent mother. This thought distressed Marie Louise, who at heart was not thoroughly contented with herself. She wrote, under date of August 9, 1814: “I am in a very unhappy and critical position; I must be very prudent in my conduct. There are moments when that thought so distracts me that I think that the best thing I could do would be to die.”

When Napoleon returned from Elba, the situation of Marie Louise, so far from improving, became only more difficult. She had no illusions about the fate that awaited her audacious husband, who was unable to contend, single-handed, against all Europe. She knew better than any one, not only that he had nothing to hope from the Emperor of Austria, his father-in-law, but that in this sovereign he would find a bitter, implacable foe. As to the Emperor Alexander, he swore that he would sacrifice his last ruble, his last soldier, before he would consent to let Napoleon reign in France. Marie Louise knew too well the feeling that animated the Congress at Vienna, to imagine that her husband had the slightest chance of success. She was convinced that by returning from Elba, he was only preparing for France a new invasion, and for himself chains. Since she was a prisoner of the Coalition, she was condemned to widowhood, even in the lifetime of her husband. She cannot then be blamed for remaining at Vienna, whence escape was absolutely impossible.

Marie Louise committed one great error; that, namely, of writing that inasmuch as she was entirely without part in the plans of the Emperor Napoleon, she placed herself under the protection of the Allies,–Allies who at that very moment were urging the assassination of her husband, in the famous declaration of March 13, 1815, in which they said: “By breaking the convention, which established him on the island of Elba, Bonaparte has destroyed the only legal title on which his existence depended. By reappearing in France, with plans of disturbance and turmoil, he has, by his own act, forfeited the protection of the laws, and has shown to the world that there can be no peace or truce with him as a party. The Powers consequently declare that Napoleon Bonaparte has placed himself outside of all civil and social relations, and that as an enemy and disturber of the world’s peace, he exposes himself to public vengeance.” April 16, at the moment when the processions designed to pray for the success of the Austrian armies, were going through the streets of Vienna to visit the Cathedral and the principal churches, the Empress of Austria dared to ask the former Empress of the French to accompany the processions with the rest of the court; but Marie Louise rejected the insulting proposal. The 6th of May next, when M. de Meneval, who was about to return to France, came to bid farewell and to receive her commands, she spoke to this effect to the faithful subject who was soon to see Napoleon: “I am aware that all relations between me and France are coming to an end, but I shall always cherish the memory of my adopted home…. Convince the Emperor of all the good I wish him. I hope that he will understand the misery of my position…. I shall never assent to a divorce, but I flatter myself that he will not oppose an amicable separation, and that he will not bear any ill feeling towards me…. This separation has become imperative; it will in no way affect the feelings of esteem and gratitude that I preserve.” Then she gave to M. de Meneval a gold snuff-box, bearing his initials in diamonds, as a memento, and left him, to hide the emotion by which she was overcome. Her emotion was not very deep, and her tears soon dried. In 1814 she had met the man who was to make her forget her duty towards her illustrious husband. He was twenty years older than she, and always wore a large black band to hide the scar of a wound by which he had lost an eye. As diplomatist and as a soldier he had been one of the most persistent and one of the most skilful of Napoleon’s enemies. General the Count of Neipperg, as he called himself, had been especially active in persuading two Frenchmen, Bernadotte and Murat, to take up arms against France. Since 1814 he had been most devoted to Marie Louise, and he felt or pretended to feel for her an affection on which she did not fear to smile. She admitted him to her table; he became her chamberlain, her advocate at the Congress of Vienna, her prime minister in the Duchy of Parma, and after Napoleon’s death, her morganatic husband. He had three children by her,–two daughters (one of whom died young; the other married the son of the Count San Vitale, Grand Chamberlain of Parma) and one son (who took the title of Count of Montenuovo and served in the Austrian army). Until his death in 1829 the Count of Neipperg completely controlled Marie Louise, as Napoleon had never done.

After Waterloo, every day dimmed Marie Louise’s recollections of France. The four years of her reign–two spent in the splendor of perpetual adoration, two in the gloom of disasters culminating in final ruin–were like a distant dream, half a golden vision, half a hideous nightmare. It was all but a brief episode in her life. She thoroughly deserved the name of “the Austrian,” which had been given unjustly to Marie Antoinette; for Marie Antoinette really became a Frenchwoman. The Duchess of Parma–for that was the title of the woman who had worn the two crowns of France and of Italy–lived more in her principality than in Vienna, more interested in the Count of Neipperg than in the Duke of Reichstadt. While her son never left the Emperor Francis, she reigned in her little duchy. But the title was to expire at her death; for the Coalition had feared to permit a son of Napoleon to have an hereditary claim to rule over Parma. Yet Marie Louise cannot properly be called a bad mother. She went to close the eyes of her son, who died in his twenty-second year, of consumption and disappointment.

By this event was broken the last bond which attached Napoleon’s widow to the imperial traditions. In 1833 she was married, for the third time, to a Frenchman, the son of an emigre in the Austrian service. He was a M. de Bombelles, whose mother had been a Miss Mackan, an intimate friend of Madame Elisabeth, and had married the Count of Bombelles, ambassador of Louis XVI. in Portugal, and later in Venice, who took orders after his wife’s death and became Bishop of Amiens under the Restoration. Marie Louise, who died December 17, 1847, aged fifty-six, lived in surroundings directly hostile to Napoleon’s glory. Her ideas in her last years grew to resemble those of her childhood, and she was perpetually denouncing the principles of the French Revolution and of the liberalism which pursued her even in the Duchy of Parma. France has reproached her with abandoning Napoleon, and still more perhaps for having given two obscure successors to the most famous man of modern times.

If Marie Louise is not a very sympathetic figure, no story is more touching and more melancholy than that of her son’s life and death. It is a tale of hope deceived by reality; of youth and beauty cut down in their flower; of the innocent paying for the guilty; of the victim marked by fate as the expiation for others. One might say that he came into the world only to give a lasting example of the instability of human greatness. When he was at the point of death, worn out with suffering, he said sadly, “My birth and my death comprise my whole history.” But this short story is perhaps richer in instruction than the longest reigns. The Emperor’s son will be known for many ages by his three titles,–the King of Rome, Napoleon II., and the Duke of Reichstadt. He had already inspired great poets, and given to philosophers and Christians occasion for profound thoughts. His memory is indissolubly bound up with that of his father, and posterity will never forget him. Even those who are most virulent against Napoleon’s memory, feel their wrath melt when they think of his son; and when at the Church of the Capuchins, in Vienna, a monk lights with a flickering torch the dark tomb of the great captain’s son, who lies by the side of his grandfather, Francis II., who was at once his protector and his jailer, deep thoughts arise as one considers the vanity of political calculations, the emptiness of glory, of power, and of genius.

Poor boy! His birth was greeted with countless thanksgivings, celebrations, and joyous applause. Paris was beside itself when in the morning of March 20, 1811, there sounded the twenty-second report of a cannon, announcing that the Emperor had, not a daughter, but a son. He lay in a costly cradle of mother-of-pearl and gold, surmounted by a winged Victory which seemed to protect the slumbers of the King of Rome. The Imperial heir in his gilded baby-carriage drawn by two snow-white sheep beneath the trees at Saint Cloud was a charming object. He was but a year old when Gerard painted him in his cradle, playing with a cup and ball, as if the cup were a sceptre and the ball were the world, with which his childish hands were playing. When on the eve of the battle of Moskowa, Napoleon was giving his final orders for the tremendous struggle of the next day, a courier, M. de Bausset, arrived suddenly from Paris, bringing with him this masterpiece of Gerard’s; at once the General forgot his anxieties in his paternal joy. “Gentlemen,” said Napoleon to his officers, “if my son were fifteen years old, you may be sure that he would be here among this multitude of brave men, and not merely in a picture.” Then he had the portrait of the King of Rome set out in front of his tent, on a chair, that the sight of it might be an added excitement to victory. And the old grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, the veterans with their grizzly moustaches,–the men who were never to abandon their Emperor, who followed him to Elba, and died at Waterloo,–heroes, as kind as they were brave, actually cried with joy as they gazed at the portrait of this boy whose glorious future they hoped to make sure by their brave deeds.

But what a sad future it was! Within less than two years Cossacks were the escort of the King of Rome. When the Coalition made him a prisoner, he was forever torn from his father. Napoleon, March 20, 1815, on this return from Elba, re-entered triumphantly the Palace of the Tuileries as if by miracle, but his joy was incomplete. March 20 was his son’s birthday, the day he was four years old, and the boy was not there; his father never saw him again. At Vienna the little prince seemed the victim of an untimely gloom; he missed his young playmates. “Any one can see that I am not a king,” he said; “I haven’t any pages now.”

The King of Rome had lost the childish merriment and the talkativeness which had made him very captivating. So far from growing familiar with those among whom he was thrown, he seemed rather to be suspicious and distrustful of them. During the Hundred Days the private secretary of Marie Louise left her at Vienna to return to Napoleon in France. “Have you any message for your father?” he asked of the little prince. The boy thought for a moment, and then, as if he were watched, led the faithful officer up to the window and whispered to him, very low, “You will tell him that I always love him dearly.”

In spite of the many miles that separated them, the son was to be a consolation to his father. In 1816 the prisoner at Saint Helena received a lock of the young prince’s hair, and a letter which he had written with his hand held by some one else. Napoleon was filled with joy, and forgot his chains. It was a renewal of the happiness he had felt on the eve of Moskowa, when he had received the portrait of the son he loved so warmly. Once again he summoned those who were about him and, deeply moved, showed to them the lock of hair and the letter of his child.

For his part, the boy did not forget his father. In vain they gave him a German title and a German name, and removed the Imperial arms with their eagle; in vain they expunged the Napoleon from his name,–Napoleon, which was an object of terror to the enemies of France. His Highness, Prince Francis Charles Joseph, Duke of Reichstadt, knew very well that his title was the King of Rome and Napoleon II. He knew that in his veins there flowed the blood of the greatest warrior of modern times. He had scarcely left the cradle when he began to show military tastes. When only five, he said to Hummel, the artist, who was painting his portrait: “I want to be a soldier. I shall fight well. I shall be in the charge.” “But,” urged the artist, “you will find the bayonets of the grenadiers in your way, and they will kill you perhaps.” And the boy answered, “But shan’t I have a sword to beat down the bayonets?” Before he was seven he wore a uniform. He learned eagerly the manual of arms; and when he was rewarded by promotion to the grade of sergeant, he was as proud of his stripes as he would have been of a throne. His father’s career continually occupied his thoughts and filled his imagination with a sort of ecstasy.

At Paris the fickle multitude soon forgot the son of the Emperor. In 1820 the capital saluted the birth of the Duke of Bordeaux as it had saluted that of the King of Rome. A close relationship united the two children who represented two such distinct parties; their mothers were first-cousins on both their fathers’ and their mothers’ side. The Duchess of Berry, mother of the Duke of Bordeaux, was the daughter of the King of Naples, Francis I., son of King Ferdinand IV. and Queen Marie Caroline; and her mother was the Princess Marie Clementine, daughter of the Emperor Leopold II. The Emperor Francis, father of the Empress Marie Louise, was himself the son of Leopold II.; his wife was Princess Marie Therese of Naples, daughter of Queen Marie Caroline and aunt of the Duchess of Berry. The King of Rome and the Duke of Bordeaux were thus in two ways second-cousins. July 22, 1821, at Schoenbrunn, in the same room where, eleven years later, in the same month and on the same day of the month, he was to breathe his last, the child who had been the King of Rome learned that his father was dead. This news plunged him into deep grief. He had been forbidden the name of Bonaparte or Napoleon, but he was allowed to weep. The Duke of Reichstadt and his household were allowed to wear mourning for the exile of Saint Helena.

In justice to the Emperor Francis it must be said that he showed great affection for his grandson, whom he kept always near him, in his chamber and in his study, and that he hid from him neither Napoleon’s misfortunes nor his successes. “I desire,” he told Prince Metternich, “that the Duke of Reichstadt shall respect his father’s memory, that he shall take example from his firm qualities and learn to recognize his faults, in order to shun them and be on his guard against their influence. Speak to the prince about his father as you should like to be spoken about to your own son. Do not hide anything from him, but teach him to honor his father’s memory.” Military drill, manoeuvres, strategy, the study of great generals, especially of Napoleon, formed the young prince’s favorite occupations.

So long as the elder branch of the Bourbons reigned in France, the Duke of Reichstadt never thought of seizing his father’s crown and sceptre, but the Revolution of 1830 suddenly kindled all his hopes. When he learned that the tricolored flag had taken the place of the white one, and heard of the enthusiasm that had seized the French for the men and deeds of the Empire; when he heard the Austrian ministers continually saying that Louis Philippe was a mere usurper who could reign but a short time; when his grandfather, the Emperor Francis, who was the incarnation of prudence and wisdom, said to him one day, “If the French people should want you, and the Allies were to give their consent, I should not oppose your taking your place on the French throne,” and, at another time, “You have only to show yourself on the bridge at Strasbourg, and it is all up with the Orleans at Paris,”–the Duke was carried away by a feeling of ambition, patriotism, and exaltation. Born to glory, he imagined himself divinely summoned to a magnificent destiny; wide and brilliant horizons opened before him. His eager imagination was kindled by a hidden flame. In his youthful dreams he saw himself resuscitating Poland, restoring the glories of the Empire. He prepared for the part he was to play by studying with Marshal Marmont the campaigns of Napoleon. These lessons lasted three months, and at their end the Duke gave his portrait to his father’s fellow-soldier, and copied beneath it four lines from Racine’s _Phedre_, in which Hippolyte says to Theramene:–

“Having come to me with a sincere interest, You told to me my father’s story;
You know how my soul, attentive to your words, Kindled at the recital of his noble exploits.”

He was as enthusiastic for poetry as for the military profession. One day his physician, Dr. Malfatti, quoted to him two lines from the author of the _Meditations_:–

“Limited in his nature, infinite in his desires, Man is a fallen god who remembers heaven.”

“That’s a fine thought,” said the young prince; “it is as pleasing as it is striking. I am sorry that I don’t know Lamartine’s poetry.” The physician promised to send him the _Meditations_. The next day the Duke read the volume aloud; his eyes moistened and his voice broke when he came to these lines in which the poet seemed to be addressing him:–

“Courage, fallen scion of a divine race; You carry your celestial origin on your brow; Every one who sees you, sees in your eyes A darkened ray of heavenly splendor.”

And, indeed, every one recognized in him a really extraordinary being; his face, his gestures, his bearing, all had an imperial air. He seemed born to rule in a drawing-room as well as in a barracks. He was admired as well as loved; he was a true son of Caesar, born for success in love as well as for glory. When he appeared in the ball-room, his pale coloring, his lively expression, his military bearing, his proud but quiet manners, the mingled energy and gentleness of his face, attracted every woman’s eye. When he appeared before his soldiers, he filled them with the wildest enthusiasm. One day when he happened to be riding a fiery horse at the review of his battalion, his superb appearance made such an impression on the troops that, although they were accustomed to maintain a profound silence in the ranks, they suddenly broke out into shouts of admiration.

Yet in spite of all his ardor it was only at intervals that Napoleon’s son felt hopeful. If at one time he had confidence in his star, this feeling soon yielded to deep depression. The brilliant prospects evoked by the events in Poland and in France shone for but a moment, and then vanished. The court of Vienna recognized the monarchy of July. One day some one was urging him to go to a ball given by Marshal Maison, the French minister at the Austrian court. “What should I do,” he asked, “at the house of Louis Philippe’s ambassador? Has not his government exiled and outlawed me? No one there could see me without blushing; and then, too, what would my feelings be?” He became restless and silent, and distrusted even his best friends. “Answer me, my friend,” he said to his confidant, Count Prokesch-Osten, “answer me this question,–which is one of great importance to me just now: What do people think of me? Do they see in me any justification for the caricatures which are forever presenting me as a creature of the feeblest intelligence?” Count Prokesch answered him: “Don’t worry. Don’t you appear in public every day? Can even the most ignorant see you and place the slightest confidence in such fables, which are invented by charlatans without the least care for truth?” But the young Duke was not consoled, and every day he lost confidence in his future. Once Count Prokesch-Osten found him meditating upon his father’s will. “The fourth paragraph of the first article,” he said, “contains the guiding principle of my life. There my father bids me not to forget that I was born a French prince.” And we may be sure that he never forgot it; and if he was so uneasy, if he suffered keenly, and grief drove him with startling rapidity to the tomb, it was because he felt that fate condemned him to live and die an Austrian prince.

His overwrought mind and body soon made him ill. He sought by violent emotions and excessive fatigue to escape from the thoughts which were persecuting him like spectres, and driving him to his death. In vain the physicians commanded rest and quiet. When attacked by an incurable lung trouble, he required absolute repose: but repose was torture; he preferred death as a deliverance. Dr. Malfatti, who took the keenest interest in him, and who was much disturbed by his many imprudences, entreated him not to throw away wantonly a life which might be so well and usefully employed. “It is a great pity, sir, that Your Highness,” he said, “can’t change bodies as you change horses, when they are tired. I beg of you to notice that you have a soul of steel in a crystal body, and that the abuse of your will can only be pernicious to you.”

The young invalid did not listen to him: he scarcely slept; his appetite failed him; he made no account of the weather; he rode the wildest horses the longest distances. His chest and throat became seriously affected, but it made no difference; he still wanted to command at the reviews. His voice was lost: soon he could not even speak; but his illness did not depress, it only annoyed him. His energetic character could not accustom itself to the idea of abandoning the struggle. He fought against suffering as he had fought against fate. “Oh!” he said, “how I despise this wretched body which cannot obey my soul!” Dr. Malfatti said, “There seems to be in this unfortunate young man an active principle impelling him to a sort of suicide; reasoning and precaution are of no avail against the fatality which urges him on.”

The end drew near; the completion of the sacrifice approached. The victim did not pray that the cup might pass from his lips. He ceased to struggle against the inevitable, and submitted to his fate, becoming as gentle and peaceful as a child. As the earth left him, he turned to heaven. “I understood and felt,” said Count Prokesch-Osten, “all the sublimity there is in religion, which alone could throw a light on this man’s path, through the uncertainty and darkness that surrounded him…. Religion is our staff. We can find no surer support in our journey through the darkness of our life on earth.” He had received from the Emperor and Empress of Austria a book of prayers, called _Divine Harmonies_, which he read over and over on his bed of suffering. It contained these words written by his grandfather’s hand: “In every incident of your life, in every struggle of your soul, may God aid you with His light and strength; this is the most ardent wish of your loving grandparents.” “This book is very dear to me,” the prince said to his friend, after a serious talk on religious matters; “those words, written by relatives whom I sincerely respect and thoroughly love, have an inestimable value for me, and yet I give it to you. I want what I most value to go to you, in memory of what seems to me the most important of our conversations.”

When he was dying, he wanted to gaze at the crucifix, in order not to complain of his sad lot, dying thus at the very threshold of a career which promised to be brilliant and glorious; to go down so early to the gloomy tomb of the Hapsburgs! To exchange his glowing visions for this untimely end; to find an Austrian tomb instead of the throne of France! He accepted his fate, but he wished as few witnesses as possible of his last sufferings. He did not want to show to the world a son of Napoleon so weak and broken. He could scarcely lift the weak, worn hand which should have wielded Charlemagne’s sword and sceptre. “I am so weak,” he said; “I beg of you not to let any one see me in my misery!” His sumptuous cradle he had given to the Imperial Treasury of Vienna, which is near the Church of the Capuchins, where he was to be buried. “My cradle and my grave will be near each other,” he said. “My birth and my death–that’s my whole story.” In the overthrow, by lightning, of one of the eagles surmounting the palace of Schoenbrunn, the populace saw a prophecy of the death there of Napoleon’s son, and in fact it was there that he died, in the room which his father had occupied in 1809, when possibly for the first time he thought of this Austrian marriage, which should–such at least was his dream–guarantee to the Napoleonic dynasty unlimited power and glory. The prince desired only one thing,–to see his mother. She came, and he greeted her with tenderness. He had also near him his young and beautiful relative, the Archduchess Sophia, the mother of the present Emperor of Austria. This charming princess, who was very fond of the young man who was approaching his end, told him that the time had come for him to receive the last sacraments. “We will pray together,” she said; “I will pray for you, and you shall pray for me and for my unborn child.” The prince, consoled and strengthened by the aid of religion, died in the enjoyment of a firm faith and thorough piety. “Mother, mother!” were his last words. General Hartmann said: “Having passed my life on battle-fields, I have often seen death, but I never saw a soldier die more bravely.” The 22d of July was a very momentous date in the career of this young prince. It was July 22, 1818, that the title of Duke of Reichstadt was substituted for his name of Napoleon Bonaparte; July 22, 1821, he heard of his father’s death; and July 22, 1832, he died at the age of twenty-one years four months and two days.

We desire to make five studies of the second wife and the son of Napoleon I. The first, which we are now beginning, covers a period of brilliancy of infatuation, of fairy-like splendor, which in all its glow forms a striking contrast with the dreadful shadows that follow. With the aid of eye-witnesses whose memoirs abound with most valuable recollections–such as Prince Metternich, who had the principal charge of the Archduchess’s marriage; M. de Bausset and General de Segur, both attached to the Emperor Napoleon’s household, so that they saw him nearly every day; Madame Durand, the Empress’s first lady-in-waiting; Baron de Meneval, his private secretary–with their aid we shall try to recall the brilliant past, taking for our motto that phrase of Michelet: “History is a resurrection.” An excellent work, which deserves translation, Von Helfert’s _Marie Louise, Empress of the French_, throws a great deal of light on the early years of the mother of the King of Rome. In the archives of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs–thanks to the intelligent and liberal control which facilitates historic research–we have found a great number of curious documents which had never been published, such as letters written to Napoleon by the Emperor and Empress of Austria, and despatches from his ambassador at Vienna, Count Otto. This first study will carry us to the beginning of the Russian campaign, that glorious period when the unheard-of prosperity promised to be eternal. No darker night was ever preceded by a more brilliant sun. Napoleon said on the rock of Saint Helena: “Marie Louise had a short reign; but she must have enjoyed it; the world was at her feet.”



Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, Empress of the French, Queen of Italy, afterwards Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, was born in Vienna, December 12, 1791, the daughter of Archduke Francis, Prince Imperial, who a year later became Emperor of Germany under the name of Francis II., and of Marie Therese, Princess of Naples, daughter of King Ferdinand IV. and Queen Marie Caroline.

Marie Louise’s father was born February 12, 1768, a year and a half earlier than the Emperor Napoleon. He was the grandson of the great Empress Marie Therese, and son of the Emperor Leopold II., who was the brother of the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, and whom he succeeded March 1, 1792; his mother was a Spanish princess, a daughter of Charles III. of Spain. He had four wives. He was an excellent husband, but his family affections were so strong that he could not remain a widower. In 1788 he married his first wife, Princess Elizabeth Wilhelmina Louisa of Wurtemberg, who died February 17, 1790, in giving birth to a daughter who lived but six months. The same year he married by proxy at Naples, August 15, and September 19 in person at Vienna, the young Neapolitan princess Marie Therese, daughter of Ferdinand IV. and of Marie Caroline, who ruled over the Two Sicilies.

The young princess, who was born June 6, 1772, was then eighteen years old. She was kind, virtuous, and well educated, and her influence at the court of Vienna was most excellent. Her mother, who during her reign of thirty-six years endured many trials and exhibited great qualities as well as great faults, was a remarkable woman.

Marie Caroline, the Queen of Naples, was energetic to excess, courageous to the point of heroism; she believed that severity and sometimes even cruelty was demanded of a sovereign; her religion amounted to superstition, her love of authority to despotism; she alternated between passionate devotion to pleasure and earnest zeal for her duty; she was ardent in her affections and implacable in resentment, intense in her joys and in her sorrows; she was often an unwise queen, but as a mother she was beyond reproach. Like the matrons of antiquity and her illustrious mother, the Empress Marie Therese, she was proud of her large family; she had no fewer than seventeen children, and political cares never prevented her actively and intelligently caring for their moral and physical welfare. If she had not the happiness of seeing them all grow up, those who survived were yet the constant object of her tender solicitude. She took a prominent part in the education of her two sons, the Duke of Calabria and the Prince of Salerno, and still more in that of her five daughters: Marie Therese, the wife of the Emperor Francis II.; Marie Louise, who married the Archduke Ferdinand, Grand Duke of Tuscany; Marie Christine, wife of Charles Felix, Duke of Genoa, later King of Sardinia; Marie Amelie, Duchess of Orleans, then Queen of France; Marie Antoinette, first wife of the Prince of Asturias, later Ferdinand VII., King of Spain.

Marie Caroline was very fond of her eldest daughter, Marie Therese; and when the princess had, in 1790, married the Archduke Francis, two years later Emperor of Germany, the mother and daughter kept up an active and affectionate correspondence in French. They were forever consulting each other about their babies, which were born at about the same time. When the daughter had given birth to her first child, the future French Empress, the Queen congratulated her most warmly: “I congratulate you on your courage. I am sure that when you look at your baby, which I hear is large, sturdy, and strong, that you forget all that you have been through.” Scarcely was this child born than the Queen, who was most anxious to have a number of descendants, besought her daughter to give the Archduchess Marie Louise a little brother. April 17, 1793, there was born an Archduke Ferdinand, later Emperor of Germany; and his grandmother, Queen Marie Caroline, wrote: “I wept for joy! Thank Heaven for the birth of this boy!” Indeed, the wife of the Emperor Francis II. followed her mother’s example with regard to her own children. Her eldest daughter, the Archduchess Marie Louise, she educated most carefully. The little princess, who had a most amiable disposition, was an eager student, and acquired a good knowledge of French, English, Italian, drawing, and music. She was brought up to respect religion and to detest revolutionary ideas.

Her grandmother, Queen Marie Caroline, who in 1800 came to visit the Austrian court and stayed there two years, had many conversations with Marie Louise, which certainly were unlikely to inspire her with any taste for the French Revolution or for General Bonaparte. It is easy to understand how extremely the high-spirited and haughty Queen of the Two Sicilies must have been distressed and revolted by the sufferings and death of her sister, Marie Antoinette. There was something very solemn in the way in which she told her children what took place in Paris October 16, 1793. She had them all summoned. They found her dressed in deep black, with tears in her eyes; and she led them without a word to the chapel in the royal palace of Naples, and there, before the altar, she told them that the people of regicides had just put their aunt to death upon the scaffold. Then she bade them all to pray together for the peace of the victim’s soul, and probably there mingled with Marie Caroline’s prayer thoughts of wrath and vengeance. From that time she waged against the principles and the spread of the Revolution a relentless, implacable war, of varying result, which filled her more and more with detestation of the new France. On the occasion of Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt, she deemed the time ripe for a general uprising in Italy against the French. But Championnet had taken possession of Naples when the Parthenopean Republic had been proclaimed, and the Queen had been obliged, with her family, to take refuge at Palermo.

In the next year, 1799, the conditions of things changed; and while Milan was recovered by Austria, and the Russian army, led by Suwarow, completed the expulsion of the French from Northern and Southern Italy, the Parthenopean Republic expired, and the Bourbon flag waved once more over the walls of Naples.

Early in 1800 the French cause seemed forever lost in Italy; General Massena alone held out at Genoa. Queen Marie Caroline had triumphed; and she conceived the plan of going to Austria to visit her daughter, the Empress, and to make the acquaintance of her grandchildren, whom she had never seen, and at the same time to demand an enlargement of her territory in return for the sacrifices of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in behalf of the common cause of the crowned heads and the Pope. She set sail from Palermo, June 9, 1800, with her second son, the Prince of Salerno, and her three unmarried daughters, Marie Christine, Marie Amelie, and Marie Antoinette.

The ideas, the feelings, the principles, the prejudices, the hates, the hopes, the interests, of Queen Marie Caroline were the same as those of her son-in-law, the Emperor, of her daughter, the Empress, and of her other daughter, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. At Vienna she found the same political feelings as at Naples. On her way thither she had a great joy,–the news of the surrender of the French at Genoa, which caused her to utter cries of delight; and a great sorrow,–the tidings of the Austrian defeat at Marengo, which was such a blow that she fell unconscious and narrowly escaped dying of apoplexy. We may readily understand the influence which a woman of this character must have had on the mind of her daughter, the Empress of Germany, and of her granddaughter, the future Empress of the French. Doubtless the young Marie Louise would have been much astonished if any one had prophesied to her that she would marry this Bonaparte who was represented to her as a monster. Marie Caroline did not leave Schoenbrunn to return to her own kingdom until July 29, 1802. For two years she had worked persistently and not without success, to augment, if that was possible, the detestation which the court, the aristocracy, and the whole Austrian people felt for France and French ideas. When Marie Louise was a child, and with her little brothers and sisters used to play with toy-soldiers, the ugliest, blackest, and most repulsive of them was always picked out and called Bonaparte, and this one they used to prick with pins and denounce in every way.

The war of 1805, which brought Austria to the brink of ruin, added to the Archduchess’s instinctive repulsion for Napoleon. At Vienna the panic was extreme; the Imperial family was obliged to flee in different directions. Marie Louise was only fourteen years old, and she was already learning bitter lessons at the school of experience. Seeking shelter in Hungary, and afterwards in Galicia, she prayed most warmly for the success of the Austrians. She wrote: “Papa must be finally successful, and the time must come when the usurper will lose heart. Perhaps God has let him go so far to make his ruin more complete when He shall have abandoned him.” November 21, 1805, a few days before the battle of Austerlitz, she wrote a letter to her governess’s husband, Count Colloredo, in which she said: “God must be very wroth with us, since He punishes us so sorely. Perhaps at this very moment there is living in one of our rooms at Schoenbrunn one of those generals who are as treacherous as cats. Our family is all scattered: my dear parents are at Olmuetz; we are at Kaschan; there is a third colony at Ofen.”

Every sort of misfortune combined to smite this suffering family. While the Emperor Francis was losing the battle of Austerlitz, his wife, who was in Silesia, with only one of her children, the little Archduchess Leopoldine, who was born in 1797 and was not yet eight years old, fell seriously ill with the measles, and dreaded giving the disease to her little girl. “The only thing which would make death terrible,” she wrote to her husband, “would be to die without seeing you again…. Do not take a step that will injure you or the country. Only don’t let me be taken to France.” Nothing disturbed her so much as the dread of falling into the hands of the enemy. The details which her husband wrote to her about his interview with Napoleon did not allay her uneasiness. “I have been as happy,” he wrote, “as I could hope to be with a conqueror who holds possession of a large part of my kingdom. With regard to his treatment of me and mine, he has been very kind. It is easy to see that he is not a Frenchman.” Thus the Emperor Francis ascribed to Napoleon’s Italian birth the politeness with which the hero of Austerlitz treated him. Does not this simple statement suffice to show in what esteem the German sovereign held France and the French character?

The Imperial family was at last reunited in Vienna, after many vicissitudes, early in 1806. But a new misfortune awaited them the following year. The Empress, whose health was already delicate, had a miscarriage April 9, 1807, and a pleurisy which seized her carried her off in four days, in due odor of sanctity, after she had given her blessing to Marie Louise and the rest of her children. She was only thirty-five. The untimely death of the amiable and virtuous princess, whose gayety and kindness had been the life and delight of the court, plunged her whole family into deep grief.

The Emperor Francis was an excellent husband, but he was not an inconsolable widower. April 13, 1807, he lost his second wife; but less than nine months afterwards, January 6, 1808, he married his young cousin, Marie Louise Beatrice of Este, daughter of the late Archduke Ferdinand of Modena. This princess, who was born December 14, 1787, was very short, but attractive in appearance and of an excellent character. Her disposition was pleasant and her intelligence acute, but she was not the woman to give Marie Louise any taste for France or the French; for if in all Europe there was a princess who utterly detested the French Revolution and all its works, it was the third wife of Francis II.

The new Empress was but four years older than her step-daughter, Marie Louise, and at the age of twenty-one, she looked much more like the sister than the step-mother of the young Archduchess, who was then in her seventeenth year. Nevertheless, the Empress took hold of the princess’s education with a high hand, and displayed as much solicitude as if she had been her real mother.



The Emperor Francis was not without distractions during his honeymoon with his third wife, the young Empress, Marie Louise Beatrice. It was evident to every one that the Peace of Presbourg, like that of Luneville, could be nothing more than a truce. Austria could never be reconciled to its loss, between 1792 and 1806, of the Low Countries, Suabia, Milan, the Venetian States, Tyrol, Dalmatia, and finally of the Imperial crown of Germany; for the heir of the Germanic Caesars now styled himself simply the Emperor of Austria, and a great part of Germany had become the humble vassal of Napoleon. Of all the Austrians, it was perhaps the Emperor who felt the least hatred of France. His whole family and his whole people–nobles, priests, the middle classes, and the peasantry–nourished an angry resentment against the nation that was overturning Europe. The new Empress, whose family had been deprived of the Duchy of Modena, was conspicuous for the bitterness of her indignation and of her political feelings. In the eyes of all the Austrians, great or small, poor or rich, the French were the hereditary enemies, the invaders, the destroyers of the throne and the Church, impious, sacrilegious, revolutionary,–the authors of every evil. It was they who, for years, destroyed the harvests, shed torrents of blood, smote with the sword or the axe of the guillotine, crowded war upon war, heaped ruins upon ruins, bringing misery and disgrace to all mankind. The old nobility, once so proud of its coats-of-arms and of its sovereign rights, now enslaved, humiliated, shorn of its independence, knew no limit to its abuse of the “Corsican savage,” who had cut the roots of the old Germanic tree, previously so majestic. The priests denounced the nation which had dared to confiscate the patrimony of Saint Peter, and they cursed in Napoleon the persecutor of the Holy Vicar of Christ. Women who had lost their husbands or sons in the war held France responsible for their afflictions. The Frenchmen, overthrowing and despoiling everything, foes of the human race, the enemies of morality and religion, brought suffering to princes in their palaces, to workmen in their factories, to tradespeople in their shops, to the priests in their churches, to the soldiers in their camps, to the peasants in their huts. The war of wrath was irresistible. Every one lamented the mistake that had been made in abandoning the struggle; all felt that they should have fought to the end, at the cost of every man and every florin; that a mistake had been made in not assisting Prussia at the time of the campaign of Jena; and that the moment had come for all the powers to combine against the common foe and to crush him. Did he make any pretence of concealing his intention to overthrow every throne, and to make himself the oldest sovereign? Had he not had the insolence to say at Milan in 1805, to the Prince of Cardito, the Neapolitan envoy extraordinary, “Tell your Queen that I shall leave to her and her family only enough land for their graves”? Had he not recently, under the walls of Madrid, uttered these significant words to the Spaniards, “If you don’t want my brother Joseph for king, I shall not force him upon you. I have another throne for him; and as for you, I shall treat you as a conquered country”? This other throne, it was said at Vienna, this throne which Napoleon did not name, must be the throne of the Emperor Francis II. himself. Already the Imperial crown of Germany had been lost, and the Austrian crown was threatened. But, added all the archdukes and officers, that would not be so easy as the French imagined, and they would get a good lesson. The Hapsburgs were not so compliant as the Spanish Bourbons, and the Bayonne ambush could not be repeated. All Europe was thrilling with indignation; only a signal was needed for it to rise, and this signal Austria would give. This time there was every chance of success. Their cry was “Victory or Death!” but victory was certain. The French army, scattered from the Oder to the Tagus, from the mountains of Bohemia to the Sierra Morena, would not be able to withstand so many people eager to break their yoke. Were not Russia and Prussia as desirous as Austria of revenge? Was not the whole of Germany ready for the fray? Napoleon boasted that he was the Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine; but if the Confederate Princes were under his command, in his pay, the people, more patriotic, more truly German than their rulers, burned with a longing to expel the French. Let Napoleon suffer but a single defeat, and then on which one of his vassals would he be able to count? Could he even rely on his own subjects? Were there not already in his overgrown Empire many germs of decay and death? In Vienna in 1809 the same things were said as in Berlin in 1806; the same feelings prevailed. The military ardor had grown so intense that the greatest soldier of Austria, the Archduke Charles, was looked upon as too cool, too moderate, and those who were eager to begin the fight called this bold warrior, this famous general, the “Prince of Peace.” Even if he had wished it, the Emperor Francis would not have been able to calm the warlike fever of his army and his people.

The musketry and the cannon would have fired themselves without waiting for war to be declared. The Landwehr, which had been organized only a few months, was impatient to cross swords with the veterans of the French army. Volunteers enlisted in crowds; patriotic gifts abounded. A story was told of a cobbler who, in despair at not being permitted to join the army, blew out his brains. Youths wished to leave school in order to serve. All classes of society rivalled one another in zeal, courage, and self-sacrifice. When it was known that the Archduke Charles had been appointed commander-in-chief, February 20, 1809, there was an outburst of confidence from one end of the Empire to the other. March 9, the Archbishop of Vienna solemnly blessed in the Cathedral the flags of the Viennese Landwehr. Together with the other members of the Imperial family, the young Archduchess Marie Louise was present at this patriotic and religious ceremony. Could she have imagined that one year later, to the delight of the vast majority of this same populace of Vienna, she was to become the wife of this Napoleon who then was calling forth such violent wrath and deep hatred?

Never was there such a terrible war; never perhaps had the world seen such slaughter. April 8, 1809, the Emperor Francis left his capital, leaving there his wife and children, who were not able to stay there after the fifth of May. From Vienna the Archduchess Marie Louise wrote frequently to her father. A rumor had spread that the battle of Eckmuehl had been a brilliant victory for the Austrians, and Marie Louise wrote to her father, April 25: “We have heard with delight that Napoleon was present at the great battle which the French lost. May he lose his head as well! There are a great many prophecies about his speedy end, and people say that the Apocalypse applies to him. They maintain that he is going to die this year at Cologne, in an inn called the ‘Red Crawfish.’ I do not attach much importance to these prophecies, but how glad I should be to see them come true!” These sentiments, it must be confessed, are a singular preparation for the next year’s wedding.

When the Empress of Austria was compelled to leave Vienna with her children at the approach of the enemy, she had more the appearance of an exile than of a sovereign. She was very ill at the time, and scarcely able to support the jolting of her carriage, and she groaned continually, as much from her moral as from her physical sufferings. “It is horrible,” said Marie Louise, “to see her suffer so.” It rained in torrents, and the thunder roared as if to foretell all the misfortunes which were about to overwhelm the country. The roads, made still worse by the bad weather, were abominable. When the fugitives reached Buda, after a long and difficult journey, they were wet through, and nearly worn out with fatigue.

The illusions of the Imperial family were speedily destroyed by the harsh reality. Vienna surrendered May 12, after suffering severely. In a few hours eighteen hundred shells had fallen in the city. The streets were narrow, the houses high, and the populace crowded within the narrow fortifications were terrified and infuriated at the sight of the damage caused by the shells, which started fires in every direction. Who would have said to the Viennese who were then hurling all manner of imprecations at Napoleon, the author of their woes, that in ten months later they would be singing the praise of this detested Emperor, and would be voluntarily setting French flags in their windows as symbols of friendship? May 13, 1809, the French, under the command of General Oudinot, entered Vienna, amid the curses and execrations of the populace beside itself with grief; and ten months later to a day, March 13, 1810, the same populace, joyous and peaceful, with bells ringing and cannon saluting, blessed and applauded an archduchess who was leaving Vienna to share this same Napoleon’s throne!

But meanwhile there were many horrors, and much blood was shed. The artillery duel was most formidable; there was no limit to the fury and obstinacy of the two combatants. It was a war of giants in which all the infernal powers appeared to be let loose at once. Napoleon himself, familiar as he was with scenes of carnage, was surprised by the bitterness of the struggle. Never had he defied fortune with such audacity. Neglecting the usual laws of military science, he fought for twenty-four hours without cessation, on a line only three leagues long, having in his rear one of the largest rivers in Europe. Wagram was a victory, but a victory hotly disputed. When at the opening of the campaign it was thought that events would take a turn favorable to Austria, a thrill of hope, a movement of joy, ran through all the European nations, which showed the conqueror what would have happened if he had been beaten. He began to long for peace as ardently as he had longed for war. He no longer thought of making Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia three separate kingdoms, or of dethroning the Emperor Francis, and putting in his place his brother, the Grand Duke of Wuerzburg, formerly the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Austrians, for whom he had felt a certain contempt, now inspired him with profound esteem; he admired their bravery, and especially the fidelity, of which they had given many touching proofs, to their unfortunate ruler. The hero of Wagram said to himself that if instead of gaining this battle he had lost it, he would not have gone back to the Tuileries as easily as Francis was going back to his palace in Vienna. An Emperor of Austria could be beaten and retain his popularity; but he, the great Napoleon, could not. That was the reflection which was made one day by his successor, himself a prisoner of Prussia, “In France one cannot be unfortunate.”

When the negotiations began to arrange peace, Napoleon treated the two distinguished officers, Prince John of Lichtenstein and General von Bubna, with the utmost courtesy. He spared no pains to show his personal esteem and to flatter their national pride; he spoke in the highest terms of the Austrian army and of the bravery it had displayed in the last campaign. He said to them: “You will always remain the first continental power, after France; you are deucedly strong. Allied as I was with Russia, I never expected to have on my hands a serious continental war, and what a war!” Then to console them for the conditions imposed on mutilated Austria, he added: “Why distress yourselves about a few scraps of territory which must come back to you some day? All this can only last during my lifetime. France ought never to fight beyond the Rhine. I have been able to; but when I’m gone, it’s all over.” Perhaps he was thinking of marrying Marie Louise; at any rate, he showed a consideration for Prince John of Lichtenstein and General Bubna which amazed all who saw it. M. de Bausset, who accompanied him as a gentleman-in-waiting, says in his Memoirs: “I watched attentively the two Austrian commissioners while they were breakfasting with the Emperor: I tried to read their expressions, and I fancied that I saw harmony and a good understanding growing day by day…. Napoleon’s politeness and graciousness towards these gentlemen never relaxed for a moment. He seemed anxious to give them a favorable idea of his manners and his person.” Nevertheless there were many patriotic men and women in Austria who were inconsolable. Princess Charles of Schwarzenberg–the wife of the brilliant general who had just fought like a hero, and, in the next year, as Austrian ambassador at the court of the Tuileries Avas to negotiate the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise–wrote a most despairing letter to her husband, in which she said: “I shall bury myself in the past in order to escape the present and the future. I have heard that you were to be chosen to negotiate this so-called peace; it was a heavenly grace by which you escaped sullying your name. To conclude, I have only one earthly wish: it is that the ruin which we are cowardly enough to call a peace, may become complete, that our political existence may end. I pray for the calm of death.”

Napoleon was about leaving Schoenbrunn, to return to France, when, October 12, 1809, just as he was about to review his troops, he saw approaching him a young German, of suspicious appearance, who was at once arrested. This young man, whose name was Staaps, was the son of a Protestant pastor at Erfurt, and under his coat was found a large, sharp dagger, with which he said he had intended to kill the Emperor, in order to deliver Germany. The cool, calm replies of this determined fanatic, whom Napoleon himself examined, made a deep impression upon him. Might not this young German be the forerunner of numberless volunteers who were about to organize against France what they would consider a holy war? At the sight of this youth, who gave calm expression to unrelenting hatred, Napoleon–who did not venture to spare his life, although no criminal act had been committed–was moved by a painful feeling in which pity was mingled with surprise. He who had cost Germany such torrents of blood and tears was singularly astonished when at last he saw that Germany did not love him. Nothing is so repugnant to the great of the earth, and especially to conquerors, as the thought of death,–death, the only unconquerable foe! What, the first comer, a fool, a vulgar fanatic, can with a kitchen knife lay low the greatest hero, the most illustrious warrior, the mightiest king! At Regensberg, when he was wounded for the first time since he had begun his military career, the hero of so many battles perceived, and not without a pang, that he was not invulnerable. Before the corpse of the brave Marshal Lannes, who had had his two legs carried off by a cannon-ball at Esoling, he wrote very sadly to the Empress Josephine: “So everything ends!” And now he might himself have fallen by the hand of a poor, unknown student! As the Duchess of Abrantes wrote: “Death, which was always prowling about the Emperor in various forms, yet never daring to seize him, but always appearing to say, Take care! … was a prophecy, and a prophecy of evil.” Napoleon began to reflect seriously. To audacity and the spirit of adventure there suddenly succeeded prudence and the need of self-preservation. The all-powerful Emperor said to himself at the moment of his triumph, that if he were to die without a direct heir, his vast Empire would fall to pieces, like that of Alexander the Great, and the unrivalled edifice, built at the price of so much toil and sacrifice, would be shattered.

The national historian has said: “In proportion as he lost the support of the public, Napoleon took pleasure in thinking that it was the lack of a future and not his own misdeeds that threatened his proud throne with premature fragility. The desire to make firm what he felt trembling beneath his feet, became his dominant passion, as if, with a new wife in the Tuileries, the mother of a male heir, the faults which had armed the whole world against him would be only causes without effects.” And Thiers adds this reflection: “It would doubtless have been to his advantage to have had an undoubted heir; it would have been better, a hundred times better, to have been prudent and wise. Napoleon, who, despite his need of a son, could not, after Tilsit, at the very climax of his power and glory, make up his mind to sacrifice Josephine, at last came to a decision because he felt the Empire threatened, and he tried in a new marriage to secure the solidity which he should have tried to obtain by wise and moderate conduct.”

Possibly even when at Schoenbrunn the conqueror already thought of asking for the hand of the young archduchess whose home this palace was. At any rate, it never crossed his mind that in the very room where he wove such proud visions, such far-reaching plans, his heir would die so sadly, the heir whom the daughter of the Germanic Caesars was to give to him. When he reappeared crowned with victory at Fontainebleau, October 26, 1809, Josephine felt that her fate was sealed. The immediate result of the battle of Wagram was the divorce.



Austria had known terrible fears during the campaign of Wagram; it had asked anxiously, whether the Hapsburgs might not disappear from the list of crowned heads, like the Spanish Bourbons, or might not, like the Neapolitan Bourbons, be left to enjoy only part of their States. The peace which was signed at Vienna, October 14, 1809, had somewhat allayed these serious apprehensions, but the situation of Austria remained no less anxious and painful. As Prince Metternich has said in his curious Memoirs: “The so-called Peace of Vienna had enclosed the Empire in an iron circle, cutting off its communication with the Adriatic, and surrounding it from Brody, on the extreme northeast, towards Russia, to the southeastern frontiers toward the Ottoman Empire, with a row of states under Napoleon’s rule, or under his direct influence. The Empire, as if caught in a vice, was not free to move in any direction; moreover, the conqueror had done all he could to prevent the defeated nation from renewing its strength; a secret article of the treaty of peace established one hundred and fifty thousand men as the maximum force of the Austrian army.”

A still darker danger threatened the throne of the Hapsburgs; namely, the marriage, which was thought very probable and very near, of Napoleon with the sister of the Czar. Thus imprisoned between two vast empires, between that of the East and that of the West, as if between hammer and anvil, what would become of Austria, shorn of its territory and its strength?

There was but one chance, and a very faint one, of any defence against the dangers that threatened Austria, and that was, that the Viennese court might make the match which the Russian court was contemplating. Already, its matrimonial alliances had brought the country good fortune more than once, and it could not forget the famous maxim expressed in a Latin line–

“_Bella gerant alii; tu felix Austria, nube!_” “Let others wage war; do you, happy Austria, marry!”

The last campaigns had been unfavorable to the Hapsburg dynasty; a marriage would set things to right.

At Vienna a party which may be called the peace party had come to power. Mr. von Stadion, a statesman of warlike tendencies, had been succeeded in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by a young and brilliant diplomatist, Count Metternich. The new minister had been ambassador to Paris before the campaign of Wagram, and, while he had been unable to prevent the war, he had left a very favorable impression at Napoleon’s court, where his success as a man of the world, as a great nobleman, had been very brilliant. He then, in the lifetime of his father, Prince Metternich, bore only the title of Count. In his desire to attest his belief in the possibility of a reconciliation between Austria and Napoleon, he had left his wife, Countess Metternich, in France during the war. When he came to power, he conceived a political plan which was founded, temporarily at least, if not finally, on a French alliance. But to secure all the benefits which he hoped to get from it, Napoleon’s marriage with an Austrian princess was necessary; and Metternich, who was aware of the negotiations between the French and Russian courts, was not inclined to believe in the possibility of a marriage between an Austrian Archduchess and the hero of Wagram. Neither before nor after the conclusion of the Treaty of Vienna was a word spoken about this plan, either by Napoleon or by the Austrian court.

The Emperor of the French had absolutely decided on a divorce; but he still thought that it was the Grand Duchess Anne, sister of the Emperor Alexander of Russia, who was going to succeed Josephine. On the occasion of the interview at Erfurt he had spoken of this marriage, and the Czar appeared to be most favorable to the plan. November 22, 1809, the Duke of Cadore, Minister of Foreign Affairs, forwarded this despatch to the Duke of Vicenza, French Ambassador at Saint Petersburg: “Rumors of the divorce reached the ears of the Emperor Alexander at Erfurt, and he spoke to the Emperor on the subject, saying that his, sister Anne was at his disposition. His Majesty desires you to broach the subject frankly and simply with the Emperor Alexander, and to address him in these terms: ‘Sire, I have reason to think that the Emperor, urged by the whole of France, is making ready for a divorce. May I ask what may be counted on in regard of your sister? Will not Your Majesty consider the question for two days and then give me a frank reply, not as to the French Ambassador, but as to a person interested in the two families? I am not making a formal demand, but rather requesting the expression of your intentions. I venture, Sire, upon this step, because I am so accustomed to say what I think to Your Majesty that I have no fear of compromising myself.’

“You will not mention the subject to M. de Romanzoff on any pretext whatsoever, and when you shall have had this conversation with the Emperor Alexander, and shall have received his answer two days later, you will entirely forget this communication that I am making. You will, in addition, inform me concerning the qualities of the young Princess, and especially when she may be expected to become a mother; for in the present state of affairs, six months’ difference is of great importance. I need not recommend to Your Excellency the most complete secrecy; you know what you owe to the Emperor in this respect.”

At that time couriers took two weeks to go from Paris to Saint Petersburg, and the answer to the despatch of November 22 had not yet arrived when Napoleon, who did not yet know who his second wife was to be, announced to Josephine, November 30, that divorce was inevitable. The unhappy Empress received for the last time at the Tuileries, which she was to leave forever, in the morning of December 16. The reception was drawing to an end. Among those who were waiting on the grand staircase or in the vestibule for their carriages to be announced, there happened to be standing together M. de Semonville, a young man of some prominence in the court, and M. de Floret, a young secretary of the Austrian legation. Everybody imagined then that the marriage with the Grand Duchess of Russia was settled. Suddenly, in this crowd of great personages, M. de Semonville began the following conversation with the Austrian diplomatist:–

“Well, that’s fixed. Why didn’t _you_ do it?”

“Who says that we didn’t want to?”

“People think so. Are they wrong?”


“What? It would be possible? You may think so; but the Ambassador?”

“I will answer for Prince Schwarzenberg.”

“But Count Metternich?”

“There is no difficulty about him.”

“But the Emperor?”

“Or about him, either.”

“And the Empress, who hates us?”

“You don’t know her; she is ambitious, and could be persuaded.”

M. de Semonville started at once to report this curious conversation to his friend, the Duke of Bassano, who at once hastened to speak of it to the Emperor. Napoleon appeared pleased, but not astonished. He said that he had just heard the same thing from Vienna.

This is what had happened in the Austrian capital: the Count of Narbonne had been passing through before going to Munich, where he was to represent France as Minister Plenipotentiary. This amiable and distinguished man, of whom M. Villemain has written an excellent life, had succeeded in attracting Napoleon’s favor, and after receiving an appointment as general in the French army, he had been made ambassador and one of the Emperor’s aides-de-camp. M. de Narbonne, who was a model of refinement and bravery, had been one of the ornaments of the court of Versailles and of the Constituent Assembly. He had been a Knight of Honor of Madame Adelaide, the daughter of Louis XV.; Minister of War under Louis XVI., in 1792; a friend of Madame de Stael; an emigre in England, Switzerland, and Germany; and in 1809, thanks to Napoleon’s good-will, he had once more resumed his military career, after an interruption of seventeen years. Towards the end of the campaign the Emperor had sent him as governor to Raab, to keep an eye on Hungary and Bohemia, and in case Austria should refuse to accept the conditions imposed by her conqueror, to proclaim the independence of those two countries. The peace once signed, General the Count of Narbonne went to Vienna, where he met two of his best friends,–the Prince of Ligne, who had been one of the favorites of Marie Antoinette, and the Count of Lamarck, who had been a confidant of Mirabeau. One day when he was dining with them, and Prince Metternich and a few other intimate friends, the conversation turned to politics. The Austrian Minister congratulated himself on the peace, which, he said, made the future sure, and cut short all danger of trouble and anarchy. The Prince of Ligne expressed similar views. Then M. de Narbonne spoke out somewhat as follows: “Gentlemen, I am surprised by your recent astonishment and your present confidence. Is it possible that you are too blind to see that every peace, easy or hard, is nothing more than a brief truce? that for a long time we are hastening to one conclusion, of which peace is but one of the stations? This conclusion is the subjugation of the whole of Europe under two mighty empires. You have seen the swift growth and progress of one of these empires since 1800. As to the other, it is not yet determined. It will be either Austria or Russia, according to the results of the Peace of Vienna; for this peace is a danger if it is not the foundation of a closer alliance, of a family alliance, and does not finally restore more than its beginning took away; in a word, you are ill advised if you hesitate in your leaning towards France.”

The next morning the Count of Narbonne was summoned to the Emperor Francis II., and the Austrian monarch indicated the possibility of a marriage between Napoleon and the Archduchess Marie Louise. The Count of Narbonne approved, and eloquently expressed his conviction that such a happy result as confiding once more an Archduchess to France would at last decide Napoleon to remain at peace, instead of forever hazarding his glory, and to work for the welfare of the people in harmony with the wise and virtuous monarch whose adopted son he would become. M. de Narbonne sent a note of this conversation to Fouche, to be shown to the Emperor, who thus had knowledge of the secret plans of the Viennese court six weeks before the meeting over which he presided at the Tuileries, to ask his councillors their opinion on the choice of an Empress.

Since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two powers, the Austrian Ambassador in Paris had been Prince Charles of Schwarzenberg, the warrior and statesman who later, as commander-in-chief of the Austrian forces, was to deal such heavy blows to France. In 1810 he was all for peace, and his sole aim was to undermine, for the good of his country, the influence of his Russian colleague, Prince Kourakine. The Austrian Ambassador was very anxious that the Archduchess Marie Louise should become Empress of the French; for he was convinced that such an event would be of as much benefit to him as to his country. Yet he was still afraid to hope for the realization of his dream, when one of his friends, Count Alexandra de Laborde–who, after serving as an emigre, in the Austrian army, had returned to France and been appointed Master of Requests in the Council of State, encouraged him in his ideas which might at first have seemed fanciful, M. de Laborde, whose father had been court-banker before the Revolution, and had most generously aided Marie Antoinette, was well known and much liked in Vienna. In this matter of the marriage of Marie Louise he was the secret agent between Napoleon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prince of Schwarzenberg, in whom he kindled so much zeal in behalf of the French alliance that the Ambassador, as we shall soon see, signed the marriage contract of the Archduchess with Napoleon, even before he had received the authorization of his government.

December 17, 1809, nothing had been decided. Indeed, what seemed probable, if not certain, was the Russian marriage. That day–the day when there appeared in the _Moniteur_ the decree of the Senate relative to the divorce–a new despatch had been sent from Paris to Saint Petersburg by the Duke of Cadore, to demand a speedy reply from the Russian court, yes or no. The answer of the Duke of Vicenza to the first despatch, that of November 22, 1809, did not reach Paris until December 28. The Ambassador said that the Czar had received his overtures very amiably, but that the affair needed much discretion and a little patience. The Emperor Alexander, he went on to say, was personally favorable; but his mother, whom he did not wish to offend, refused her consent, and the Czar asked for a few days before giving a final answer. This delay vexed Napoleon, who nevertheless resolved to wait, although waiting suited neither his tastes nor his character.

In short, at the beginning of 1810, the matrimonial alliance with Austria was not settled. The initiative steps had not been taken by the monarch, the ministers of Foreign Affairs, or by the ambassadors. It is a curious and characteristic detail, that it was the divorced Empress, Josephine, who gave the signal. She summoned the Countess Metternich to Malmaison, January 2, 1810, and said to her: “I have a plan which interests me to the exclusion of everything else, and nothing but its success can make me feel that the sacrifice I have just made is not wholly thrown away: it is that the Emperor shall marry your Archduchess; I spoke to him about it yesterday, and he said that his choice was not yet made. But I think it would be made, if he were sure of being accepted by you.” Madame de Metternich was much surprised by this overture, which she hastened to communicate to her husband in a letter dated January 3, 1810, which began thus: “To-day I have some very extraordinary things to tell you, and I am almost sure that my letter will make a very important part of your despatches. In the first place, I must tell you that I was presented to the Emperor last Sunday. I had only mentioned the matter in conversation with Champagny when I received a letter from M. de Segur, telling me that the Emperor had appointed Sunday, and that I was to choose a lady-in-waiting to present me. In my wisdom I selected the Duchess of Bassano, and after waiting in company with twenty other women, among whom were the Princess of Isenburg, Madame de Tyskiewitz and others, from two till half-past six in the evening, I was introduced first, and the Emperor received me in a way I could not have expected. He seemed really glad to see me again, and glad that I had stayed here during the war; he spoke about you and said, ‘M. de Metternich holds the first place in the Empire; he knows the country well and can be of service to it.'”

Then the Countess went on to narrate what the Empress Josephine and Queen Hortense had said the evening before at Malmaison. She had been received by Hortense while waiting in the drawing-room for Josephine to come down, and she had been much astounded to hear the Queen of Holland say with much warmth: “You know that we are all Austrians at heart, but you would never guess that my brother has had the courage to advise the Emperor to ask for the hand of your Archduchess.” Josephine frequently referred to this projected marriage, on which she seemed to have set her heart. “Yes,” she said, “we must try to arrange it.” Then she expressed her regret that M. de Metternich was not in Paris; for if he had been, doubtless he would bring the affair to a happy conclusion. “Your Emperor must be made to see,” she went on, “that his ruin and the ruin of his country are certain if he does not give his consent to this marriage. It is perhaps the only way of preventing Napoleon from breaking with the Holy See.”

The letter of the Countess Metternich ended thus: “I have not seen the Queen of Holland again, because she is ill. Hence I have nothing positive to tell you concerning the matter in question; but if I wanted to tell you all the honors that have been showered upon me, I should not stop so soon. At the last levee I played with the Emperor; you may imagine that it was a serious matter for me, but I managed to come off with glory. He began by praising my diamond headband, and that everlasting gold dress, then he asked me a number of questions about my family and all my relatives; he insisted, in spite of all I could say, that Louis von Kaunitz was my brother. You can’t imagine what effect that little game of cards had. When it was over, I was surrounded and paid court to by all the great dignitaries, marshals, ministers, etc. I had abundant material for philosophical reflections on the vicissitude of human affairs.”

Nevertheless, in spite of the overtures which Josephine had made to the Countess Metternich, Napoleon had come to no decision about his new wife. One day when he had been working with M. Daru, whom he highly esteemed, he had the following conversation with him:–

“In your opinion which would be the better for me, to marry the Russian or the Austrian?”


“The devil! You are very hard to please.”

“Neither, I say, but a Frenchwoman; and provided the new Empress does not have too many relatives who will have to be made princes and given a large fortune, France will approve your choice. The throne you occupy is like no other; you have erected it with your own hands. You are at the head of a generous nation; your glory and its glory ought to be shared in common. It is not by imitating other monarchs, it is by distinguishing yourself, that you find your real greatness. You do not rule by the same title that they do; you ought not to marry as they do. The nation would be flattered by your looking at home for an Empress, and it would always see in your line a thoroughly French family.”

“Come, come! that’s nonsense! If M. de Talleyrand should hear you, he would form a very poor idea of your political sagacity. You don’t treat this question like a statesman. I must unite in defence of my crown those at home and abroad who are still hostile to it; and my marriage furnishes a chance. Do you imagine that monarchs’ marriages are matters of sentiment? No; they are matters of politics. Mine cannot be decided by motives of internal policy; I must try to establish my influence outside, and to extend it by a close alliance with a powerful neighbor.”

No answer had come from Russia, no official overture had been made to or by Austria; still Napoleon continued to believe, or at least pretended to believe, that his only difficulty was to make the best choice. The idea that two emperors and a king–without counting the other sovereigns on whom he did not deign to cast a glance–were simultaneously disputing the honor of allying their family with him, greatly flattered his pride. In fact, what he desired was the Austrian marriage; but he was anxious to keep his preferences secret, in order to prolong in the eyes of his principal councillors, an uncertainty in which his pride did not suffer. He convoked them to an extraordinary session, at the Tuileries, after mass, Sunday, January 21, 1810. The great dignitaries of the Empire,– Champagny, Minister of Foreign Affairs; the Duke of Cadore; Maret, the Secretary of State; the Duke of Bassano; M. Gamier, the President of the Senate; and M. de Fontanes, President of the Corps Legislatif,–all took part in this solemn council. The relative advantages and disadvantages of the Russian, the Saxon, and the Austrian marriage were considered at great length. The Archtreasurer Lebrun and M. Gamier favored the daughter of the King of Saxony; the Archchancellor Cambaceres and King Murat, the Grand Duchess of Russia; M. de Champagny, Prince Talleyrand, Prince Eugene, the Prince of Neufchatel and the Duke of Bassano, the Archduchess Marie Louise. Murat especially distinguished himself by his violent opposition to the Austrian alliance. Doubtless he was averse to the selection for Empress of the French of the granddaughter of Queen Marie Caroline of Naples, whose throne he was occupying. Napoleon remained calm and impassive. When the meeting was over, he dismissed the councillors, simply saying: “I shall weigh in my mind the arguments that you have submitted to me. In any case, I remain convinced that whatever difference may exist in your views, each one has formed his opinion only from a desire for the good of the country and devotion to my person.” Thus it was that seventeen years to a day after a king of France who had married an Austrian archduchess had died on the scaffold, there was discussed the alliance of a new French ruler with another archduchess, the grandniece of the other.

Some time later, Cambacere’s, in the course of a conversation with M. Pasquier, then Counsellor of State, gave utterance to his regret at having failed to impress upon his hearers the superior advantages of the Russian alliance. “I am not surprised,” he said; “when a man has only one argument to give, and it is impossible to give it, he must expect to be beaten…. And you will see that my argument is so good that a single sentence will show you all its weight. I am morally sure that in less than two years we shall be at war with the Emperor whose relative we do not marry. Now war with Austria causes me no anxiety; but I dread war with Russia; its consequences are incalculable. I know that the Emperor is familiar with the road to Vienna, but I am not so sure that he will find the road to St. Petersburg.”

After quoting this conversation between Cambaceres and M. Pasquier in his admirable book, _The Church of Rome and the First Empire_, the Count d’Haussonville indulges in some philosophic reflections: “If it is curious to come upon this profound and accurate summary, compressed into a few clear and precise words by a man of remarkable sagacity dealing with a future still completely hidden, it is no less strange to think that the prospect of the Austrian marriage, destined to be so fatal to the Empire, should be suddenly discussed in a five minutes’ talk between two men who met by chance on the steps of the Tuileries, at the very moment when the unhappy Josephine was about to leave this spot which had been so long her home. When we reflect on the course of all the following events, we may perhaps say that the fate of the Empire was settled in this eventful quarter of an hour; for if the Emperor had married the Grand Duchess instead of Marie Louise, probably the campaign of 1812, which Cambaceres foresaw, would not have taken place, and Heaven knows what part this unhappy expedition played in the fall of the First Empire!”

How insufficient is human wisdom, how false its calculations! This Austrian marriage which discouraged the bitterest enemies of the hero of Austerlitz, of Jena, of Wagram, this magnificent marriage which was to have been the safeguard of the Empire, proved its ruin. This great event which called forth abundant congratulations and outbursts of noisy delight was the main cause of the most tremendous and most disastrous war of modern times. If he had not blindly counted on his father-in-law’s friendship, would Napoleon, in spite of all his audacity, have ventured to march to the Russian steppes, without even taking the precaution of reviving Poland? He himself has said it: his marriage with the Austrian Archduchess was an abyss covered with flowers.

January was drawing to a close; and while in Paris many people were beginning to regard Napoleon’s marriage with Marie Louise as very probable, the young princess herself had no suspicion of his intentions. Count Metternich who, like his sovereign, had maintained secrecy about this delicate matter, wrote to his wife, January 27, 1810: “The Archduchess is still ignorant, as indeed is proper, of the plans concerning her, and it is not from the Empress Josephine, who gives us so many proofs of her confidence, who with so many noble qualities combines those of a tender mother, that I shall conceal the many considerations which necessarily present themselves to the Archduchess Marie Louise when the matter is laid before her. But our princesses are little accustomed to choose their husbands according to their own inclinations, and the respect which so fond and so well-trained a daughter feels for her father’s wishes, makes me confident that she will make no opposition.”

The same day, January 27, 1810, the Count Metternich wrote to Prince Charles of Schwarzenberg, the Austrian Ambassador in Paris, a despatch which proves that the negotiations concerning the marriage had not yet begun: “It is with great interest that his Imperial Majesty has heard the details which Your Highness has communicated to him in his last despatches, on the question of the marriage of the Emperor of the French. It would be difficult to form any definite conclusion from the different data that reach us. It is impossible not to see a certain official character in the explanations, vague as they are, which the Minister of Foreign Affairs has had with Your Highness. M. de Laborde’s uninterrupted zeal, the remarks of so many persons connected with the government, all tending in one direction, and especially the very direct overtures made by the Empress and the Queen of Holland to Madame de Metternich, would incline us to suppose that Napoleon’s mind was made up, as the Emperor said, if our August master should consent to give him Madame the Archduchess. On the other hand, the demands commonly reported to have been addressed to Russia conflict with this supposition. The question must, at any rate, become clearer shortly after the arrival of the next courier, if indeed not before then. So much has been said, that it is impossible to deny that an alliance with the Imperial House of Austria has entered into the designs of the French court. By following a very simple calculation and comparing the great publicity given to the alleged demand on Russia with the secrecy exercised towards us in this matter, we may possibly be authorized to suppose that at present their views tend in our direction; but probability is of very little account in a transaction of this sort to which Napoleon is a party, and we can only go on in our usual course, and the result, in one way or another, must inure to our advantage.”

While the court of Vienna thus maintained a position of prudent and dignified reserve, Napoleon, annoyed by the delays of the Russian court, and now only anxious to have nothing more to do with it, impatiently awaited the despatches from Saint Petersburg. These arrived February 6, but they brought no satisfactory news. The first delay of ten days which the Czar had asked of the Duke of Vicenza came to an end January 6, but on the 2lst the Emperor Alexander had not yet replied. He said, to be sure, that his mother had withdrawn her opposition; but he combined the affairs of the marriage with the political negotiations concerning Poland, and doubtless in the desire of affecting Napoleon’s decision, he let the matter drag, as if he wanted to be urged. The Duke of Vicenza also said in his despatches that, according to the physicians, the Grand Duchess was yet too young to bear children, and that since she was averse to changing her religion, she insisted on having a Greek chapel and Greek priests at the Tuileries.

Napoleon hesitated no longer. That same day he sent word to the Russian Ambassador, Prince Kourakine, that, being unable to accept a longer delay, he broke off the negotiation; and that evening he had the Austrian Ambassador, Prince Schwarzenberg, asked if the contract of his marriage with the Archduchess Marie Louise could be signed the next day.

The Austrian diplomatist had never expected that events were going to move at any such speed. He knew the favorable disposition of his court, but he had received no authorization to conclude the business. The general instructions which had been sent to him regarding the marriage were dated December 25, 1809, and they had not since been modified. These left the Ambassador free to discuss the question only in accordance with the restrictions which Count Metternich had thus formulated.

“1. Every overture is to be received by you in an unofficial capacity. Your Highness must take cognizance of it only by expressing your personal willingness to see how the land lies here.

“2. You will then make it clear, as if it were a remark of your own, that if no secondary consideration, no prejudice, influence the Emperor’s decision, there are laws which he will always obey. His Majesty will never force a beloved daughter to a marriage which she might abhor, and will never consent to a marriage not in conformity with the principles of our religion.

“3. You will endeavor, moreover, to get a definite statement of the advantages which France would offer to Austria in the case of a family alliance.”

When, in the evening of February 6, 1810, Napoleon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs asked Prince Schwarzenberg if he was ready to sign the marriage contract at the Tuileries the next morning, the Ambassador was delighted, but surprised, and perhaps, for a moment, perplexed. If he regarded the instructions conveyed in the despatch of December 25, 1809, he certainly had no authority to sign anything. In fact, not merely did he not know whether the Archduchess had given her consent, he did not know whether she had ever been informed of the projected marriage. Besides, he had no information as to the way in which the Austrian court looked on the annulment of the religious marriage of Napoleon and Josephine by the officials of the diocese of Paris, who had acted independently of the Pope. Finally, he was not in condition to stipulate for any political advantage to his government as the price of the alliance. A timid diplomatist would have hesitated. But might not there arrive the next moment a courier from Saint Petersburg, bringing a definite answer from the Czar? Would Napoleon, impatient as he was and unused to delay–would he accept the slightest postponement on the part of Austria? Prince Schwarzenberg burned his ships; he said to himself that if his action were disavowed, he could go and raise cabbages on his estate; but if it were approved, he would be at the top of the wave. Abandoning then the customary slowness and scruples of diplomacy, he answered without hesitation that he was ready, and made an engagement with the Duke of Cadore, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the next day, at the Tuileries, to sign the marriage contract of the Emperor of the French, King of Italy, and of Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria. IV.


February 7, 1810, M. Champagny, Duke of Cadore, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Prince Charles of Schwarzenberg, met at the Tuileries, and signed, without the slightest hitch, the marriage contract of Napoleon and the Archduchess Marie Louise. The text was a copy almost word for word of Marie Antoinette’s marriage contract, which had been signed forty years before.

On leaving the Tuileries, Prince Schwarzenberg despatched a messenger to Vienna to announce the momentous news, which possibly would arouse more surprise than delight. “Count,” he wrote to M. de Metternich, “in signing the marriage contract, while protesting that I was in no way clothed with power _ad hoc_, I believe that I have merely signed a paper which can guarantee to the Emperor Napoleon the determination already formed by my August Sovereign of meeting him half-way in negotiation on this subject. The despatches with which you have honored me made the course that I was to follow perfectly clear. His Majesty, as Your Excellency assures me, approves of my conduct by bidding me follow the same course; hence the marriage is an affair which my government naturally regards as one of the greatest interest, and one which it desires to see arranged. It will be evident to those who know the character of Emperor Napoleon that if I had shown the slightest hesitation, he would have abandoned this plan and have formed another. If this affair was hurried, it was because that is the way in which Napoleon acts, and it seemed to me best to seize the favorable moment. I have the most profound conviction of having been of service to my sovereign on this occasion; and if by any possibility I have had the misfortune to displease him by the course that I took in perfect sincerity, His Majesty can disavow it, but in that case I shall instantly demand my recall.”

The next day Prince Schwarzenberg sent to Vienna one of his secretaries, M. de Floret, with this letter to M. de Metternich: “Paris, February 8, 1810. I send to you, dear Count, M. de Floret, who will give you an account of everything that has happened. You will soon see that I could not have acted otherwise without spoiling the whole business. If I had insisted on not signing, he would have broken the affair off, to treat with Russia or Saxony. I formally declared that I had full power to give the most positive assurances that the propositions of marriage would be favorably received by my court; but that if I was not ready to sign a contract, it was only on account of the impossibility in which my minister found himself of supposing that a matter scarcely touched upon should so soon come to a head. I beg of you, my dear friend, to arrange that there shall be no obstacle to this important business, and that it be arranged with a good grace…. I pity the Princess, it is true; but yet she must not forget that it is a noble deed to give peace to such good nations, and to give a guarantee of general peace and tranquillity. Floret will give you our records, and will explain it to you by word of mouth; we have not had time to have it copied. You will not object to this, inasmuch as we wish Floret to leave at once. Conclude this matter nobly, and you will render an incalculable service to our country.”

At the diplomatic reception which was held at the Tuileries, February 8, Napoleon walked up to the Austrian Ambassador and said to him, in the most friendly way, “You have been very busy lately, and I think you have done a good piece of work.” Prince Kourakine, the Russian Ambassador, was much annoyed at the turn events had taken, and did not attend the reception, under the pretext that he was not well. The evening before Prince Schwarzenberg had dined at the house of Napoleon’s mother with the King of Holland, Louis Bonaparte, who was loudspoken in his praise of the Emperor Francis and the Imperial house of Austria. At the court of the Tuileries there was general satisfaction. Napoleon thought that he had never achieved a greater triumph. The messenger whom Prince Schwarzenberg had despatched on the day he had signed the contract, reached Vienna February 14. The populace had not the faintest idea of the possibility of a marriage between the Archduchess Marie Louise and the Emperor of the French; the Austrian monarch and M. de Metternich, in their anxiety to keep their secret, lest some opposition should manifest itself, had not breathed a word about the overtures made at Vienna by Count Alexandre de Laborde, and at Malmaison by the Empress Josephine. Neither the Viennese nor the Diplomatic Body suspected anything. As M. de Metternich put it, Count Shouvaloff, the Russian Ambassador at the Austrian court, was literally petrified. The English breathed fire and flame. The sudden outburst of a volcano would not have been more startling than this piece of news which came from a clear sky. The