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A New Life

A New Life

Napoleon marries again

The search for a new Empress began in earnest. The premiere candidate in Napoleon’s mind was the fifteen-year-old sister of the Russian Tsar, but that hope was dashed when his proposal was met with delays and excuses. He turned his eyes to Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, daughter of his old enemy, Emperor Francis I of Austria. A marriage would align France with one of the oldest ruling families in Europe, and further legitimize Napoleon’s leadership of France. In a bold move Napoleon sent an emissary to the Austrian Embassy to demand Marie Louise’s hand, and further demanding that the contract be signed immediately, without consultation with the Austrian court. The Ambassador was forced to accept, and the emissary reported that Napoleon "was filled with mad, impetuous joy" upon hearing the news.

Marie Louise, only nineteen years old, was terrified. She wrote in her diary "[Just] to see the man would be the worst form of torture." France had not been kind to her great-aunt Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon was far older, and an enemy of Austria. Nevertheless she bowed to the will of her father, and prepared for marriage.

They were married by proxy in a civil ceremony on March 11, 1810, and Marie Louise began her journey to France. Napoleon met her at Compeigne, and immediately rushed her into bed — even before the religious ceremony. Later, Napoleon claimed that his new empress had just one thing to say: "Do it again."

Despite their inauspicious engagement and rushed marriage, the couple seemed happy. After their wedding she wrote her father: "He loves me very much. I respond to his love sincerely. There is something very fetching and very eager about him that is impossible to resist."

"The Emperor is much taken with his wife," Austrian ambassador Clemens Fürst Von Metternich noted. "He is so evidently in love with her that all his habits are subordinated to her wishes."

In March 1811 Marie Louise delivered a long-awaited heir, to whom Napoleon gave the title "King of Rome." Two years later Napoleon arranged for Josephine to meet the young prince "who had cost her so many tears."

In 1814 the Allies invaded France, and Napoleon left for war on January 25. Defeated in the Spring, Napoleon abdicated his throne and was forced into exile on the island of Elba. He would never see his wife or son again.

Josephine caught a cold in mid-May 1814, and despite a doctor’s care she grew steadily worse. She died on May 29, in the arms of her son Eugene. Napoleon learned of her death via a French journal while in exile on Elba, and stayed locked in his room for two days, refusing to see anyone.

Throughout her life Josephine had surrounded herself with the sight and scent of violets. Two days after his return from exile on Elba Napoleon visited Malmaison and collected violets from Josephine’s garden. He would wear them in a locket until his death, a reminder of their tumultuous love.

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