Adam Albert von Neipperg, Lover of Napoleon’s wife

Adam Albert von Neipperg, circa 1820

Adam Albert von Neipperg, circa 1820

Adam Albert von Neipperg was an Austrian nobleman, soldier and diplomat who seduced Napoleon’s second wife, Marie Louise, while Napoleon was in exile on Elba. Charged with this task by Marie Louise’s father, Emperor Francis I of Austria, Neipperg discouraged Marie Louise from joining her husband and eventually erased any feelings of loyalty Marie Louise had towards Napoleon. Count von Neipperg had three children with Marie Louise. He then quietly married her after Napoleon’s death. Together they proved to be relatively popular governors of the Duchy of Parma.

Soldier and diplomat

Adam Adalbert (Albert or Albrecht) von Neipperg was born on April 8, 1775 in Vienna. He came from an old noble family whose fiefdom was centred in Schwaigern, in the Württemberg Valley. His father, Count Leopold von Neipperg, was a diplomat in Vienna who invented, in 1760, a letter-copying machine that is sometimes considered the first working typewriter.  His mother was his father’s third wife, Countess Marie von Hatzfeld-Wildenburg. Napoleon’s private secretary Baron Méneval claims that Neipperg was actually the product of a liaison between Marie and a French officer in Paris. (1)

Adam Albert von Neipperg was educated in Stuttgart and in Strasbourg. At the age of 15, he joined the army. Fighting against the French in the Austrian Netherlands (present day Belgium) in 1794, he was seriously wounded. A bayonet slash resulted in the loss of his right eye. Neipperg was left for dead on the battlefield. The French found him when they came to bury the bodies. Released in a prisoner exchange after his recovery, Neipperg participated in the assault on Mainz in 1795. From 1796 he served in Italy, where he fought against the French during the Battle of Marengo, among other engagements.

When Napoleon delivered the death blow to the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, he gave Neipperg further cause to dislike him. The County of Neipperg, which for 40 years had been a state of the Holy Roman Empire, was annexed to the Kingdom of Württemberg. That same year Neipperg married an Italian countess, Teresa von Pola (b. 1778-1815). It is sometimes claimed that he seduced her away from her husband, though that may be mixing her up with another Italian noblewoman, with whom he supposedly also had an affair. Neipperg and Teresa had four sons: Alfred (b. 1807), Ferdinand (1809), Gustav (1811) and Erwin (1813).

Napoleon’s valet Louis Étienne Saint-Denis writes that Count von Neipperg met Napoleon and Marie Louise in May 1812 at Dresden.

M. de Neipperg, the Emperor [Francis’s] aide-de-camp, came from his sovereign to inquire after Napoleon’s health. The Emperor [Napoleon] was at breakfast, and I think that the Empress was present. M. de Neipperg was a man in full manhood, and rather tall; he spoke French very well and appeared very distinguished. He was blind in one eye, over which he wore a bandage. He wore the uniform of a colonel of Hussars. (2)

Count von Neipperg soon became appreciated for his diplomatic talents. Appointed Austria’s ambassador to Sweden, he encouraged Crown Prince Carl John – otherwise known as Napoleon’s Marshal Jean Bernadotte – to join the new coalition against Napoleon. This Sweden did in 1813. Neipperg rejoined the Austrian army and was attached to the headquarters of Field Marshal Schwarzenberg in Bohemia. Neipperg’s skill in defending the Bohemian border, and during the siege of Leipzig, resulted in his promotion to lieutenant field marshal in October 1813.

Returning to diplomatic work, in January 1814 Neipperg negotiated the terms by which the King of Naples, Joachim Murat (husband of Napoleon’s sister Caroline), joined the anti-Napoleon forces. Though successful in this mission, Neipperg subsequently failed to convince Napoleon’s stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, to abandon the Emperor.

The seduction of Marie Louise

Notwithstanding his previous accomplishments, Adam Albert von Neipperg is best known for his next assignment. This came soon after Napoleon’s April 1814 abdication. Marie Louise had left Paris in March with her son, the King of Rome (Napoleon II), and arrived at her father’s court in Vienna. Intending to join Napoleon in exile on Elba, she requested permission to take the waters at Aix-en-Provence. Neipperg met Marie Louise outside Aix, ostensibly as her escort, but really as her father’s agent. He had been recommended for the task by Schwarzenberg. Austrian Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich provided the following instructions:

With all necessary tact, the Count von Neipperg must turn [Marie Louise] away from all ideas of a journey to Elba, a journey which would greatly upset the paternal feelings of His Majesty, who cherishes the most tender wishes for the well-being of his well-loved daughter. He must not fail, therefore, to try by any means whatsoever to dissuade her from such a project…and, if the worst comes to the worst and all his efforts prove vain, he will follow the Duchess to the island of Elba. (3)

Neipperg reportedly said (probably apocryphally), “In six weeks, I will be her best friend, and in six months her lover.” (4) If he did say this, he underestimated his skills. Shortly after Neipperg joined her in July, Marie Louise wrote to Napoleon:

I am very satisfied with General Neipperg whom my father has put close to me. He speaks of you in an agreeable manner, such as my heart could desire, for I have need to talk of you during this cruel separation; when can I at last see you, embrace you? I very much desire it. (5)

She still wanted to join Napoleon on Elba, and he urged her to come. But Neipperg’s charms began to work their magic. By August he was writing to Metternich that “[t]he idea of the journey [to Elba] seems to inspire more fear than a desire to be reconciled with her husband.” (6)

Adam Albert von Neipperg was 16 years old than Marie Louise, and a charming, intelligent man. Méneval – who had accompanied Marie Louise on Napoleon’s behalf – wrote:

The behaviour of Count Neipperg was that of a circumspect man. His usual expression was kind, mixed with eagerness and gravity. His manners were polite, insinuating and flattering. He possessed pleasant talents; he was a good musician. Active, clever, unscrupulous, he knew how to conceal his guile under a guise of simplicity; he expressed himself well and also wrote well. He combined with much tact a very observant mind; he had the art of listening and of giving thoughtful attention to the words of his interlocutor. At one moment his face would assume a caressing expression, at another his glance sought to guess thoughts. He was as clever in penetrating the designs of others as he was prudent in managing his own. Combining an appearance of great modesty with a deep foundation of vanity and ambition, he never talked about himself. He was brave in war; his many wounds showed that he had not spared himself. (7)

On September 5 Marie Louise cheerfully left Aix to return to Vienna with Neipperg. They took a leisurely journey through Switzerland, during which they became lovers. To provide a public excuse for his constant presence at Marie Louise’s side, Neipperg was formally appointed as her chamberlain.

When Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France in March of 1815, Neipperg left Marie Louise to command an Austrian corps in Italy. He also briefly participated in the occupation of France. On his return, Marie Louise was delighted to see him. She wrote to a friend on December 18, 1815:

They celebrated my 24th birthday here with a charming concert, which was a surprise that I knew about for a fortnight; but what was a true surprise and what made me happy was the arrival of von Neipperg, who came in three days and three nights from Venice. I was pleased to see him again, because he is one of my good friends and they are few in this world. (8)

Grand Master of the Court of Parma

In structuring post-Napoleonic Europe, the Congress of Vienna made Marie Louise the Duchess of Parma. Leaving her son in Vienna, she moved to Parma in April 1816. Count von Neipperg became her chief advisor, particularly on foreign and military affairs. He ensured there was no chance of Marie Louise being exploited by the Bonapartists. Thus Louis Mailliard is stonewalled by Neipperg when he tries to visit Marie Louise on Napoleon’s behalf in Napoleon in America.

Marie Louise and Neipperg governed more liberally than most other rulers in Italy, though some suggest that this was due more to weakness of character than to deliberate policy. Passing through Parma in 1826, the Bonapartist Count d’Hérrison wrote:

M. Neipperg, generalissimo of the troops of the Duchy, and privy councillor, placed by Austria close to the daughter of its sovereign, in the interests of the happiness of Marie Louise, acquits himself equally well of his brilliant, as of his secret mission. He governs Marie Louise and the State to the satisfaction of the one and the indifference of the other. He is affable and very accessible. (9)

On May 1, 1817, Marie Louise gave birth to their daughter, Albertine Marie. On August 8, 1819, their son, Wilhelm Albrecht, was born. On August 15, 1821, they had a third child, Mathilde, who died in 1822. The births and baptisms were kept as secret as possible. Chateaubriand quipped that Neipperg “had dared to lay his eggs in the eagle’s nest.” (10) The Duke of Reichstadt (as Napoleon’s son was known in Austria) had no idea that he had young half-siblings. Marie Louise pretended even to her own father that the children were not born until after her marriage with Neipperg. That took place in a morganatic ceremony on September 7, 1821. Neipperg’s wife had died in 1815, and Napoleon died in May 1821, making the marriage possible, though it was not widely announced.

Although the Duke of Reichstadt did not learn about his mother’s second marriage until after Neipperg’s death, he did come to know Adam Albert von Neipperg as Grand Master of the Court of Parma. Neipperg joined Marie Louise on her visits to the imperial family every summer at the Château of Persenbeug. Franz became friends with Neipperg’s son Gustav (by all accounts a scamp) and played with him during vacations.

In September 1827 the Duke of Reichstadt wrote to Neipperg, who apparently encouraged the boy to keep up his French:

I thank you, General, for your advice relative to the French language. Rest assured that you have not sown such seed on fallow soil. There is every conceivable reason to encourage me to perfect myself….in the language in which my father delivered his commands in all his battles, in which he glorified his name, and left us most instructive recollections in his incomparable Memoirs on the art of war. It was his will, furthermore, expressed in his dying moments, that I should never be lacking in gratitude toward the nation in which I was born. (11)

Alphonse de Lamartine chronicled his impressions of the Court of Parma in 1827:

[Marie Louise] speaks of the past as of an historical epoch, which has no concern with herself, or with the present. The Empress and the Duchess of Parma are two beings absolutely separated in her; she is far from regretting anything, for she is happy in her new relations…. Neipperg, favourite and husband of the Duchess, is at the head of the whole Government. A man with wit, a man with sense, he rules the Court and the little states of the Duchess with much ability. Though he is a foreigner, and an all-powerful favourite, he is popular and esteemed. (12)

Adam Albert von Neipperg died in Parma on February 22, 1829 (many 19th century sources say December 22, 1828), after a period of illness following a trip to Vienna with Marie Louise. He was 53 years old.

Four years later, in February 1834, Marie Louise married her new chamberlain, Count Charles René de Bombelles. She died on December 17, 1847, at the age of 56. Marie Louise is buried in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna, along with other Habsburg family members. The Duchy of Parma returned to the rule of the House of Bourbon-Parma, leaving the way open for Louise d’Artois, granddaughter of Charles X of France, to become Duchess of Parma.

Neipperg’s and Marie Louise’s daughter Albertine, the Countess of Montenuovo (Italian for Neipperg) married Luigi Sanvitale, an Italian nobleman in 1833. She died in 1867. Her brother Wilhelm, the Count (later Prince) of Montenuovo, joined the Austrian army. He participated in the counterinsurgency battles of 1848 in Italy and Hungary, earning – like his father – the rank of lieutenant field marshal. He married Countess Juliane Batthyány-Strattmann and died in 1895.

You might also enjoy:

Francis I of Austria: Napoleon’s father-in-law

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

Napoleon II: Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome

What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?

How did Napoleon escape from Elba?

  1. Claude François Méneval, Napoleon et Marie-Louise, Vol. III (Paris, 1845), p. 389.
  2. Louis Étienne Saint-Denis, Napoleon from the Tuileries to St. Helena, translated by Frank Hunter Potter (New York and London, 1922), pp. 16-17.
  3. Norman Mackenzie, The Escape From Elba: The Fall & Flight of Napoleon, 1814-1815 (London, 2007), p. 131.
  4. Napoleon from the Tuileries to St. Helena, p. 17.
  5. The Escape From Elba, p. 132.
  6. Ibid., p. 132.
  7. Napoleon et Marie-Louise, Vol. II, pp. 166-167.
  8. Correspondance de Marie Louise, 1799-1847 (Vienna, 1887) p. 181.
  9. Edith E. Cuthell, An Imperial Victim, Marie Louise, Vol. II (London, 1911), p. 249.
  10. Napoleon from the Tuileries to St. Helena, p. 17.
  11. Octave Aubry, Napoleon II: The King of Rome, translated by Elisabeth Abbott (London, 1933), pp. 159-160.
  12. An Imperial Victim, Marie Louise, Vol. II, pp. 251-252.

2 commments on “Adam Albert von Neipperg, Lover of Napoleon’s wife”

  • Irene Hartlmayr says:

    Dear Shannon,
    I enjoy your articles very much,they are always researched exactly and precisely.The things that you write about Austrian involvement in this period of History are completely true. Why don’t you come to Vienna someday,I would be pleased to show you all the Napoleonic sites ( and lots more besides, I am a licenced Tourist guide in Vienna).?!

    I would like to state the fact that Austria behaved shabbily in a lot of ways during this period,the psychological “highlight”in this respect being the episode that you have described in the above article. And in the way that ( in some respects ) Napoleons son was psychologically ” bullied ” as concerns the relationship to his father.

    By the way, Neipperg seems to have had a heart complaint and that was the cause of his early death,not something he contracted in Vienna or on the way back to Parma. Marie- Louise and other members of the Habsburg family are buried in the VAULT of the Capuchin church,not in the Church itself.

    Austria itself contributed a lot to the so- called “Napoleonic Wars” for which Napoleon is usually considered to have been mainly responsible. It’s a lot more complicated and intricate than that…..

    Regards,
    IRENE.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Irene. I’m glad you’re enjoying the articles, and thank you for the corrections about Neipperg, which I’ve added to the article. Thank you also for your kind invitation for a tour of Vienna. I visited the city as a teenager and very much enjoyed it. I’d love to go back someday and see the Napoleonic sites with you.

Join the discussion

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Active, clever, unscrupulous, he knew how to conceal his guile under a guise of simplicity.... He was as clever in penetrating the designs of others as he was prudent in managing his own.

Baron Méneval