MARIE LOUISE (1791-1847), second wife of Napoleon I., was the daughter of Francis L, emperor of Austria, and of the princess Theresa of Naples, and was born on the 12th of December 1791. Her disposition, fresh and natural but lacking the qualities that make for distinction, gave no promise of eminence until reasons of state brought Napoleon shortly after his divorce of Josephine to sue for her hand (see NAPOLEON and JOSEPHINE). It is probable, though not quite certain, that the first suggestions as to this marriage alliance emanated secretly from the Austrian chancellor, Metternich. The prince de Ligne claimed to have been instrumental in arranging it. In any case the proposal was well received at Paris both by Napoleon and by his ministers; and though there were difficulties respecting the divorce, of Josephine, yet these were surmounted in a way satisfactory to the emperor and the prelates of Austria. The marriage took place by proxy in the church of St Augustine, Vienna, on the nth of March 1810. The new empress was escorted into France by Queen Caroline Murat, for whom she soon conceived a feeling of distrust. The civil and religious contracts took place at Paris early in April, and during the honeymoon, spent at the palace of Compiegne, the emperor showed the greatest regard for his wife. " He is so evidently in love with her," wrote Metternich " that he cannot conceal his feelings, and all his customary ways of life are subordinate to her wishes." His joy was complete when on the 20th of March 1811 she bore him a son who was destined to bear the empty titles of " king of Rome " and " Napoleon II." The regard of Napoleon for his consort was evidenced shortly before the birth of this prince, when he bade the physicians, if the lives of the mother and of the child could not both be saved, to spare her life. Under Marie Louise the etiquette of the court of France became more stately and the ritual of religious ceremonies more elaborate. Before the campaign of 1812 she accompanied the emperor to Dresden; but after that scene of splendour misfortunes crowded upon Napoleon. In January 1814 he appointed her to act as regent of France (with Joseph Bonaparte as lieutenant-general) during his absence in the field.
At the time of Napoleon's first abdication (April n, 1814), Joseph and Jerome Bonaparte tried to keep the empress under some measure of restraint at Blois; but she succeeded in reaching her father the emperor Francis while Napoleon was on his way to Elba. She, along with her son, was escorted into Austria by Count von Neipperg, and refused to comply with the entreaties and commands of Napoleon to proceed to Elba; and her alienation from him was completed when he ventured to threaten her with a forcible abduction if she did not obey. During the Hundred Days she remained in Austria and manifested no desire for the success of Napoleon in France. At the Congress of Vienna the Powers awarded to her and her son the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, in conformity with the terms of the treaty of Fontainebleau (March, 1814) ; in spite of the determined opposition of Louis XVIII. she gained this right for herself owing largely to the support of the emperor Alexander, but she failed to make good the claims of her son to the inheritance (see NAPOLEON II.). She proceeded alone to Parma, where she fell more and more under the influence of the count von Neipperg, and had to acquiesce in the title " duke of Reichstadt " accorded to her son. Long before the tidings of the death of Napoleon at St Helena reached her she was living in intimate relations with Neipperg at Parma, and bore a son to him not long after that event. Napoleon on the other hand spoke of her in his will with marked tenderness, and both excused and forgave her infidelity to him. Thereafter Neipperg became her morganatic husband; and they had other children. In 1832, at the time of the last illness of the duke of Reichstadt, she visited him at Vienna and was there at the time of his death; but in other respects she shook off all association with Napoleon. Her rule in Parma, conjointly with Neipperg, was characterized by a clemency and moderation which were lacking in the other Italian states in that time of reaction. She preserved some of the Napoleonic laws and institutions; in 1817 she established the equality of women in heritage, and ordered the compilation of a civil code which was promulgated in January 1820. The penal code of November 1821 abolished many odious customs and punishments of the old code, and allowed publicity in criminal trials. On the death of Neipperg in 1829 his place was taken by Baron Werklein, whose influence was hostile to popular liberty. During the popular movements of 1831 Marie Louise had to take refuge with the Austrian garrison at Piacenza; on the restoration of her rule by the Austrians its character deteriorated, Parma becoming an outwork of the Austrian empire. She died at Vienna on the 18th of December 1847.
See Correspondence de Marie Louise ijQQ-iSq? (Vienna, 1887) ; J. A. Baron von Helfert, Marie Louise (Vienna, 1873) ; E. Wertheimer, Die Heirath der Erzherzogin Marie Louise mil Napoleon I. (Vienna, 1882); and The Duke of Reichstadt (Eng. ed., London, 1905). See also the Memoirs of Bausset, Mme Durand M6neval and Metternich ; and Max Billard, The Marriage Ventures of Marie Louise, English version by Evelyn duchess of Wellington (1910).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)