Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

View of the relatively uncrowded Graben in Vienna around 1800. From the collections of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University

View of the relatively uncrowded Graben in Vienna around 1800. From the collections of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University

Pity the poor pedestrian in Vienna during the time in which Napoleon in America is set. Here’s what an English visitor had to say about the dangers of walking in Austria’s capital in the early 1820s.

‘The Art of walking the streets’ in London is an easy problem compared with the art of walking them in Vienna. In the former, there is some order and distinction, even in the crowd; two-legged and four-legged animals have their allotted places, and are compelled to keep them; in the latter, all this is otherwise. It is true, that in the principal streets a few feet on each side are paved with stones somewhat larger than those in the centre, and these side slips are intended for pedestrians; but the pedestrians have no exclusive right; the level of the street is uniform; there is nothing to prevent horses and carriages from encroaching on the domain, and, accordingly they are perpetually trespassing. The streets, even those in which there is the greatest bustle, the Karntherstrasse, for example, are generally narrow; carriages, hackney-coaches, and loaded wagons, observing no order, cross each other in all directions; and while they hurry past each other, or fill the street by coming from opposite quarters, the pedestrian is every moment in danger of being run up against the wall.

A provoking circumstance is that frequently a third part, or even a half of the street, is rendered useless by heaps of wood, the fuel of the inhabitants. The wood is brought into the city in large pieces, from three to four feet long. A wagon-load of these logs is laid down on the street, at the door of the purchaser, to be sawed and split into smaller pieces, before being deposited in his cellar. When this occurs, as it often does, at every third or fourth door, the street just loses so much of its breadth. Nothing remains but the centre, and that is constantly swarming with carriages, and carts, and barrows. The pedestrian must either wind himself through among their wheels, or clamber over successive piles of wood, or patiently wait till the centre of the street becomes passable for a few yards. To think of doubling the wooden promontory without this precaution is far from being safe. You have scarcely, by a sudden spring, saved your shoulders from the pole of a carriage, when a wheel-barrow makes a similar attack on your legs. You make spring, the second, and in all probability, your head comes in contact with the uplifted hatchet of a wood-cutter. The wheel-barrows seem to be best off. They fill such a middle rank between bipeds and quadrupeds that they lay claim to the privileges of both, and hold on their way rejoicing, commanding respect equally from men and horses.

To guide a carriage through these crowded, encumbered, disorderly, narrow streets, without either occasioning or sustaining damage is, perhaps, the highest achievement of the coach-driving art. Our own knights of the whip, with all their scientific and systematic excellencies, must here yield the palm to the practical superiority of their Austrian brethren. Nothing can equal the dexterity with which a Vienna coachman winds himself, and winds himself rapidly, through every little aperture, and, above all, at the sharp turns of the streets. People on foot, indeed, must look about them; and, from necessity, they have learned to look about them so well that accidents are wonderfully rare; and very seldom, indeed, does it happen that the Jehus [drivers] do not keep clear of each other’s wheels. The hackney-coachmen form as peculiar a corps as they do in London, with as much esprit de corps, but more humour, full of jokes and extortion. It is said that the most skilful coachman from any other country cannot drive in Vienna without a regular education. A few years ago a Hungarian nobleman brought out a coachman from London; but Tom was under the necessity of resigning the box, after a day’s driving pregnant with danger to his master’s limbs and carriage. (1)

The final illness of the Duke of Reichstadt (Napoleon’s son), who lived in Vienna from 1814 until his untimely death in 1832, worsened after a wheel of his carriage came off during an excursion to the Prater. He fell in the street on his walk home.

You might also enjoy:

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

The death of Napoleon’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt

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

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

  1. John Russell, A Tour in Germany, and Some of the Southern Provinces of the Austrian Empire, in the Years 1820, 1821, 1822 (Boston, 1825), pp. 363-365.

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

Napoleon and Marie Louise, detail of a painting by Georges Rouget of the wedding held in the Louvre on April 2, 1810

The marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise, detail of a painting by Georges Rouget of the wedding held in the Louvre on April 2, 1810

Fancy a royal wedding? Napoleon Bonaparte and his second wife Marie Louise – the “good Louise” to whom he writes about their son in Napoleon in America – had three of them. They were married in a religious ceremony on March 11, 1810, though Napoleon was not present for the occasion. They then had a civil wedding on April 1 and another religious wedding on April 2. Here’s a look at the festivities.

Napoleon’s second wife

In December 1809 Napoleon ended his marriage to his first wife Josephine because she could not provide him with an heir. He had already started to look for a new, fertile wife among the royal houses of Europe. He expressed interest in Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia, the youngest sister of Tsar Alexander I, but the Tsar and his mother opposed the marriage. Napoleon also considered Princess Maria Augusta of Saxony, but – at 27 – she was getting on in years. The French Emperor settled on Archduchess Marie Louise, the 18-year-old daughter of Emperor Francis I of Austria, head of the House of Habsburg.

Marie Louise was not keen on the idea. She had never met Napoleon, who was 22 years older than her and had recently been her country’s worst enemy. Also, her great-aunt Marie Antoinette had been guillotined when she was Queen of France. On January 10, 1810, Marie Louise wrote to a friend,

No one talks of anything but Napoleon’s divorce. I let them all talk and do not worry myself at all, only I pity the poor princess he chooses, for I am sure it will not be me who becomes the victim of politics. (1)

On learning that she had become that “poor princess,” Marie Louise submitted obediently to her father’s wishes (see my post about Francis I). Napoleon sent Marshal Berthier to Vienna to conclude the marriage on his behalf. On March 9, Berthier and Austrian Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich signed the marriage contract, which was modeled after that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Marie Louise’s dowry, the equivalent of 500,000 francs, was presented to Berthier in rolls of gold ducats. Marie Louise formally renounced her right of succession to the Austrian crown.

Wedding in Vienna

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise by proxy, Vienna, March 11, 1810, hand-coloured engraving by and after Johann Hieronymus Löschenkohl

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise by proxy, Vienna, March 11, 1810, hand-coloured engraving by and after Johann Hieronymus Löschenkohl

On March 11, 1810, Marie Louise married Napoleon by proxy at the Augustinian church in Vienna. Her uncle Charles stood in for Napoleon.

The procession set out through the rooms of the Palace, which were ornamented with hangings, chandeliers, and candelabra. Grenadiers were drawn up in a double line as far as the church. … The Archduke Charles, representing the Emperor Napoleon, and the Archduchess Marie Louise knelt on the prie-Dieu in front of the grand altar. The Archbishop having blessed the wedding ring, which was presented to him in a cup, the Archduke Charles and the bride advanced towards the altar, where the marriage was solemnised in the German language according to the Viennese rite. After the exchange of rings, the bride took that which it was her duty to present to her husband. A Te Deum was then sung, all present kneeling. Six pages bore flaming torches. Salvoes of artillery thundered, and all the bells of the city informed the population that the marriage was accomplished. (2)

The absence of the bridegroom did not dampen the festivities. The French ambassador wrote:

The marriage of H.M. the Emperor with the Archduchess Marie Louise has been celebrated with unsurpassable magnificence, to which the preceding fêtes bore no comparison. The crowd of spectators from all parts of the Monarchy and abroad filled the church, and lobbies, and rooms of the Palace to such an extent that the Emperor of Austria, as well as the Empress, was put to inconvenience several times. The truly prodigious quantity of diamonds and pearls, the richness of the costumes and uniforms, the innumerable quantity of lustres which illuminated all parts of the Castle, and the joy of those present imparted to the fête a brilliancy worthy of the great and majestic solemnity…. [E]very eye was fixed…on that adored Princess who will soon make the happiness of our Sovereign. …

In reply to my congratulations she said that she would use every endeavour to please H.M. the Emperor Napoleon and to contribute to the happiness of the French nation, which, from that moment, had become her own. (3)

Francis I held a grand banquet at the court. Free performances were given at all the theatres and there were illuminations through the city. Marie Louise was celebrated as the “new Iphigenia,” sacrificing her happiness for the good of her people.

There might have been a few satirical, or abusive placards stealthily displayed, but the police had taken care to remove them. Unfortunately the weather was sadly against the illuminations, and scarcely one out of every ten lamps remained lighted. (4)

Two days later, Marie Louise left Vienna for Paris. She was accompanied by an Austrian entourage to the border between Austria and Bavaria. There, at Braunau am Inn, she was formally handed over to a French entourage that included Napoleon’s sister Caroline.

Napoleon was waiting impatiently for Marie Louise in Compiègne. When her party neared the city on March 27, he rode out to meet them. He spent the night with his bride and they continued together to Paris.

Wedding at Château de Saint-Cloud

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise – the civil wedding ceremony held at Château de Saint-Cloud, April 1, 1810. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise – the civil wedding ceremony held at Château de Saint-Cloud, April 1, 1810. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

Though the ceremony in Vienna was sufficient “to render the marriage complete and irrevocable,” Marie Louise and Napoleon had two further wedding ceremonies in Paris, “a formality due to the nation over which the new sovereign came to reign.” (5)

On Sunday, April 1, 1810, there was a civil wedding in the Apollo Gallery of the Château de Saint-Cloud. Imperial Arch-Chancellor Cambacérès presided. The entire court was present, filling the gallery and the Salon de Mars. Marie Louise was in full court dress and wore a crown set with diamonds. After the grand procession into the room, Napoleon and Marie Louise took their seats at the end of the gallery on two armchairs on a dais, surmounted by a canopy. At the foot of the dais, to one side, was a table covered with a rich cloth, on which were set an inkstand and the civil register. The vows (for which the couple stood) were straightforward.

Sire, does your Imperial and Royal Majesty declare that you take in marriage her Imperial and Royal Highness Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, here present?

Napoleon answered,

I declare that I take in marriage her Imperial and Royal Highness Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria, here present.

Marie Louise was posed the same question in respect of Napoleon, and gave the same response. Cambacérès said,

In the name of the Emperor and the Law, I declare that his Imperial and Royal Majesty Napoleon, Emperor of the French, King of Italy, and her Imperial and Royal Highness the Archduchess Marie Louise are united in marriage. (6)

The table was carried up to the royal couple so they could sign the register while seated. The marriage was announced with salvos of artillery at Saint-Cloud, repeated in Paris at the Invalides. After dinner, there was a theatre performance and the palace and park were illuminated.

Wedding in Paris

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise by Étienne-Barthélémy Garnier

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise by Étienne-Barthélémy Garnier

The next day, Monday, April 2, the imperial couple rode to Paris in a procession led by the cavalry of the Imperial Guard, followed by other horsemen and their bands, heralds of arms, and many carriages. Napoleon and Marie Louise were in his gilded coronation coach, drawn by eight horses. They paused for speeches at the Arc de Triomphe. The bases of the arch, still under construction, were only about 20 feet high, but a full wooden mock-up had been hastily assembled and dressed in canvas for the occasion.

The procession continued along the Champs-Élysées to the Tuileries Palace, where wedding guests had been kept waiting for about five hours in the Louvre. A chapel, complete with a silver-gilt altar, had been constructed in the Salon Carré. The Louvre’s director, Vivant Denon, protested in vain against the removal of paintings to make room for the seating. Napoleon’s uncle Cardinal Joseph Fesch presided over the religious ceremony.

Detail of the Wedding Procession of Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria through the Grande Galerie of the Louvre by Benjamin Zix

Detail of the Wedding Procession of Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria through the Grande Galerie of the Louvre by Benjamin Zix

A member of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard wrote:

It is impossible to give any idea of all the grand preparations. In the great gallery of the Louvre, leading from the old Louvre to the chapel which is at the end of the pavilion of the Tuileries on the side next the Pont-Royal (the length of it is immense), there were three rows of benches to seat ladies and gentlemen. In the fourth row were fifty decorated non-commissioned officers placed at certain distances from each other with an iron rail in front, so as not to be pushed aside by the crowd. General Dorsenne…told the ladies that we were to serve as their knights, and have refreshments brought to them…. We each had to take charge of twenty-four on each side of us (forty-eight to each non-commissioned officer), and attend to all their wants. Large niches had been made in the thick wall to hold ninety-six canteens of all sorts of pleasant refreshments. These little movable cafés did a good business.

The dresses of the ladies were as follows: low behind, down to the middle of their backs, and low in front so that you could see half of their breasts; their shoulders and arms bare. And such necklaces and bracelets and ear-rings! They were covered with rubies and pearls and diamonds. You could see every variety of skin: oily skins, skins like mulattoes, yellow skins, and skins like satin. The old women carried boxes containing a supply of perfumes. I must say that I had never before seen the ladies of Paris, half naked, so near. I did not like it.

The men were dressed in French fashion, all wearing the same costume: black coat, short breeches, steel buttons cut in the shape of a diamond. The trimming of their coats cost eighteen hundred francs. They could not present themselves at court without this costume. Cabs being forbidden that day, it is impossible to imagine the number of splendid equipages in front of the Tuileries. The magnificent procession started from the château, and moved on to the Louvre, then mounted the grand stairway of the Louvre, and entered the chapel of the Tuileries. The ceremony was very imposing. The whole assembly remained standing, and the most solemn silence prevailed. The procession moved slowly. As soon as it had passed by. General Dorsenne called us together, marched us into the chapel, and formed us into a circle. We saw the Emperor on the right, kneeling upon a cushion decorated with bees, and his wife kneeling beside him to receive the benediction. After having placed the crown on his own head and on that of his wife, he rose, and sat down with her on a settee. Then the celebration of mass was begun….

The new Empress looked beautiful with her splendid diadem. The wives of our marshals [actually Napoleon’s sisters and sisters-in-law] carried the train of her robe, which dragged eight or ten feet upon the ground. She ought to have been proud to have such maids of honour in her suite. But it must be said that she was a beautiful sultana, that the Emperor looked very well pleased, and that her countenance was gracious. (7)

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise - the religious wedding ceremony held at the Louvre, April 2, 1810, by Georges Rouget

Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise – the religious wedding ceremony held at the Louvre, April 2, 1810, by Georges Rouget

Marie Louise wore the same crimson velvet cloak that Josephine had worn for Napoleon’s coronation ceremony in 1804. Her wedding gown was made of silver tulle netting, embroidered with pearls and lamé. Her white satin slippers, embroidered with silver, were too small for her and hurt her feet (for more details, see “Marie-Louise’s Wedding Outfit” on Napoleon.org). She also found the diamond crown uncomfortably heavy.

Afterwards, Napoleon, taking Marie Louise’s hand, stood with her on the balcony of the Pavilion de l’Horloge, to watch the march past of the Imperial Guard. A banquet was given in the theatre of the Tuileries. Napoleon, Marie Louise and the imperial family sat at a horseshoe-shaped table. The rest of the court stood and watched them eat, in the style of the ancien regime’s grand couvert. A concert was held beneath the windows of the palace. This was followed by fireworks that extended the length of the Champs-Élysées (for more about the light display, see my article on illuminations and transparencies). Throughout the day, music, games, acrobatics and other entertainments were offered in the public squares, along with barrels of wine. Festivities continued until late in the night.

For Napoleon, the sole blot on the proceedings was that 13 of France’s 27 cardinals failed to attend the wedding. Their prominent empty seats drew attention to the cardinals’ doubt regarding the validity of the marriage, since Pope Pius VII had not declared Napoleon’s first marriage invalid. Napoleon stripped the offending cardinals of their robes, offices and estates, and told them to resume their attire as simple priests. They thus became known as the black cardinals. When they proved resistant to Cardinal Fesch’s efforts to reform their views, Napoleon had them imprisoned until the Pope was able to secure their release in January 1813.

After so many weddings, one might wish the royal couple a long and happy married life. Sadly, this was not to be. Napoleon and Marie Louise spent four years together, then never saw each other again. For more on that, see my article about Adam Albert von Neipperg, lover of Napoleon’s wife.

You might also enjoy:

What did Napoleon’s wives think of each other?

The perilous birth of the King of Rome

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

Celebrating with Light: Illuminations and Transparencies

Watching French Royals Eat: The Grand Couvert

When the Duke of Wellington met Napoleon’s wife

  1. Correspondance de Marie Louise, 1799-1847 (Vienna, 1887), p. 143.
  2. Imbert de Saint-Amand, The Memoirs of the Empress Marie Louise, 2nd Edition (London, 1886), pp. 143-145.
  3. Ibid., pp. 145-147.
  4. Ibid., p. 151.
  5. Louis Adolphe Thiers, History of the Consulate and the Empire of France Under Napoleon, translated by D. Forbes Campbell and John Stebbing, Vol. VII (Philadelphia, 1894), p. 68.
  6. Willem Lodewyk Van-Ess, The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, Vol. VIII (London, 1813), p. 430.
  7. Jean-Roch Coignet, The Note-Books of Captain Coignet, Soldier of the Empire, edited by Jean Fortescue (New York, 1929), pp. 192-194.

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.

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, 1827

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, 1827

Though he merits only a sentence in Napoleon in America, Archduke Franz Karl of Austria loomed large in the brief life of Napoleon’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt.

A dull fellow

Born on December 17, 1802, in Vienna, Franz Karl was the 10th child of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (Francis 1 of Austria). His mother was Francis’s second wife, Prince Maria Theresa, a member of the Naples branch of the House of Bourbon. She died when Franz Karl was four.

As his parents were first cousins on both sides, Franz Karl was not particularly favoured in the intellectual department. Neither was he physically strong. He was generally regarded as rather odd and dull.

Uncle of Napoleon II

When he was 11, Franz Karl’s oldest sister, Marie Louise, arrived in Vienna from Paris with her three-year-old son, Napoleon II. With Napoleon in exile, and Marie Louise off to become Duchess of Parma, the boy was left to be raised in his grandfather’s court. He became known as Franz and was given the title of Duke of Reichstadt.

Because Franz Karl was the youngest prince in the family (his younger brother Johann had died in 1809, and he had two younger sisters, one of whom was mentally disabled), young Franz became his habitual companion. They played together, went riding together, accompanied each other on family holidays, and sat together at the imperial table. One gathers that the boy’s governor, Maurice Dietrichstein, did not entirely approve of the distractions and penchant for exaggeration encouraged by “dear Uncle Franz.” (1)

Husband of Princess Sophie

On November 4, 1824 in Vienna, Franz Karl married Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the younger half-sister of his father’s fourth wife, Caroline Augusta. Strong-willed and intelligent, Sophie was initially disappointed with the husband chosen for her. She may have been swayed by the opinion of her mother, Queen Caroline of Bavaria:

He is a good fellow and wants to do well. He asks everyone for advice, but he’s really terrible…. He would bore me to death. Every now and then I would want to hit him. (2)

Sophie was also ambitious. She realized that her husband was not first in line to the throne. This position fell to Franz Karl’s older brother, Ferdinand. However, as Ferdinand was disabled, it was not out of the question that her husband might someday become emperor. She gradually warmed to Franz Karl, especially as he showered her with gifts of clothes and jewellery.

Sophie also became very fond of Franz, the Duke of Reichstadt, six years her junior. The two greatly enjoyed each other’s company and there were rumours, most likely untrue, that they had an affair. Sophie called Franz her “dear, good old fellow.” (3)

After five miscarriages during their first five years of marriage, Sophie and Franz Karl eventually had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood: Franz Joseph (b. 1830), Ferdinand Maximilian (1832), Karl Ludwig (1833) and Ludwig Viktor (1842).

Both Sophie and Franz Karl kept Franz company during his final illness. Franz Karl was one of the people at his bedside when Franz died. Sophie, who had just given birth to Ferdinand Maximilian, was deeply affected by Franz’s death.

Kaiserhaus by Leopold Fertbauer, 1826. From left to right: Empress Caroline Augusta; Emperor Francis I; Napoleon II of France, Duke of Reichstadt; Princess Sophie of Bavaria; Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma; Archduke Ferdinand; and Archduke Franz Karl.

Kaiserhaus by Leopold Fertbauer, 1826. From left to right: Empress Caroline Augusta; Emperor Francis I; Napoleon II of France, Duke of Reichstadt; Princess Sophie of Bavaria; Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma; Archduke Ferdinand; and Archduke Franz Karl.

Father of two emperors

After Francis I died in March 1835, Franz Karl served as a not particularly active member of the governing council that ruled the Austrian Empire on behalf of his brother Ferdinand.

In September 1835, the Duke of Nassau wrote from Silesia to Austrian Chancellor and Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich:

I can assure you in all sincerity that the Archduke Franz Karl obtained here a complete triumph; I see him often, and I really don’t believe an accomplished man of the world could better conduct himself. (4)

In December 1848, when Ferdinand resigned, Sophie urged Franz Karl to give up his claim to the throne in favour of their eldest son, Franz Joseph. This he did, somewhat reluctantly. In 1864, their second son also became an emperor: Maximilian I of Mexico, as a result of the French conquest of that country by Napoleon III, the son of Napoleon’s brother Louis. Poor Maximilian’s reign was much shorter than that of his brother, who ruled Austria until 1916. Maximilian was executed in Mexico in 1867.

Sophie died on May 28, 1872. Franz Karl died on March 8, 1878, age 75. He buried in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. In 1914, the assassination of their grandson, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparked the outbreak of World War I.

For more about Franz Karl, see the article by Martin Mutschlechner on “The World of the Habsburgs – a virtual exhibition.”

You might also enjoy:

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

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

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria

Maurice Dietrichstein, governor of Napoleon’s son

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

  1. Jean de Bourgoing, Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt (Paris, 1927), p. 17.
  2. Gordon Brook-Shepherd, Royal Sunset: The Dynasties of Europe and the Great War (Garden City, 1987), p. 118.
  3. Edward de Wertheimer, The Duke of Reichstadt (London, 1906), p. 410.
  4. Richard Metternich, ed., Mémoires, Documents et Écrits Divers laissées par le Prince de Metternich, Vol. 6 (Paris, 1884), p. 61.

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria

Caroline Augusta, Princess of Bavaria, Empress of Austria, around 1816

Caroline Augusta, Princess of Bavaria, Empress of Austria, around 1816

Caroline Augusta was a Bavarian princess who, in 1816, became Empress of Austria thanks to an arranged marriage with Emperor Francis I. Much younger than her husband, she became a “second mother” to Francis’s grandson, Franz, who happened to be Napoleon’s son, Napoleon II. Pious, well-educated and good-hearted, Caroline tried to bring warmth and enlightenment to the boy’s life in the Viennese court.

Victim of politics

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria, was born in Mannheim to a German noble family on February 8, 1792. Her mother, Princess Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt, died when Caroline was four years old. Her father Maximilian, a member of the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach and a general in the Austrian army, remarried. In 1806, due to an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte, he became King of Bavaria.

The elevation of Bavaria to a kingdom was part of a bargain in which Caroline’s older sister Augusta married Napoleon’s stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, the son of Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine.

Caroline Augusta’s marriage was also arranged, at age 16, to 26-year old Prince William of Württemberg. They wed on June 8, 1808 in Munich. Her husband regarded it as a purely political match and reportedly told Caroline that they were victims of politics. He avoided her as much as possible, and the marriage was never consummated. In 1814, once Napoleon’s abdication rendered the reason for the union moot, the marriage was annulled. This left Caroline, a devout Catholic, free to marry again without threat of excommunication.

Empress of Austria

Caroline Augusta’s second match was also a political marriage, but a step up. On October 29, 1816, at the Church of St. Augustin in Vienna, she married Francis 1, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and Bohemia. She was Francis’s fourth wife, and 24 years his junior. Having three times become a widower, Francis thought he deserved a younger wife. His brother, Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany was also vying for her hand.

Britain’s ambassador to Austria, Charles Stewart, described Caroline Augusta to British Foreign Minister Lord Castlereagh as follows:

The Empress is only twenty four years of age, although her appearance denotes her at least past thirty. Every one gives her the highest character for her amiable temper, and manners, and innumerable good qualities; but her Imperial Majesty’s appearance is certainly not prepossessing, after her predecessor, whose peculiar grace and affability were so very striking. (1)

Another English diplomat, Frederick Lamb, said she was “ugly, clever and amiable, and as the Emperor expresses it: ‘She can stand a push, the other was nothing but air.’” (2)

The new Empress was popular with the Austrians and took an interest in their welfare, founding several hospitals and residences for the poor. Under the influence of her religiosity, a devotional air pervaded the court.

Napoleon II’s second mother

In the absence of children of her own, Caroline Augusta became attached to Francis’s grandson, Napoleon II, known in Austria as Franz, the Duke of Reichstadt. The son of Napoleon and Francis’s daughter Marie Louise, the boy had been moved to the Viennese court in 1814, at age 3. Caroline adored young Franz, whom she nicknamed Fränzchen, as she calls him in Napoleon in America. In a letter to the boy’s governor, Maurice Dietrichstein, dated July 17, 1821, the tutor Mathias de Collin described the Empress as the boy’s “protectress.” (3) Marie Louise wrote that same year: “He [Franz] is the idol of my father and of the Empress, who is like a second mother to him.” (4) In letters, Caroline Augusta addressed him as “Dearest Frankie” and “my dear little son,” and signed herself “Your very loving grandmother.” (5)

Caroline Augusta took a keen interest in Franz’s education and – with her husband – liked to sit in on his exams.

Our Empress was as distinguished by her education as by her cast of mind and the nobility of her sentiments; her affection for our young prince was extremely useful to his progress; she often kept him near her, liked to talk with him, to cultivate his reason through enlightened conversation. She often made him her reader; he thus went through works in which she taught him to discuss composition and judge its merits, while commenting with tact and finesse. (6)

Whether Franz enjoyed this attention is hard to say. We catch glimpses of Caroline in his diary, as in this entry of August 23, 1823:

After lunch we went on horseback to Kleehof. My grandmother again rode ‘Little Regent,’ who, the other day on the way to Mariataferl, suddenly balked and would not go forward…. Behind my grandfather came Uncle Anton, and behind him Uncle Ludwig, then my mother and I behind [Marie Louise’s lady in waiting]. As it was beginning to grow cool, Colonel Eckard trotted up with my grandfather’s overcoat. Grandmother told the postilion who was riding beside her to help grandfather put it on, and as she pulled her horse up too sharply, he reared and stumbled. … I pulled up my horse and jumped to the ground. We all ran to my grandmother. Fortunately she had not hurt herself, having only skinned her arms a little, and she immediately mounted another horse. (7)

Caroline Augusta and Emperor Francis gave Franz a Catholic book of prayers, Saintes Harmonies by Joseph Stanislaus Albach, in which they wrote this inscription, followed by their names:

In every event of your life, in each inner struggle of your soul, may God give you His light and His strength. That is the ardent prayer of two who love you. (8)

Franz told his friend, Anton von Prokesch-Osten:

This book is very dear to me. These lines, written by parents whom I respect and cherish, are priceless to me. (9)

Neither Caroline Augusta, nor the Emperor, were with their grandson when he died in 1832 at the age of 21.

Empress Dowager

Emperor Francis died three years later, leaving Caroline Augusta a widow at the age of 43. Melanie Metternich, the wife of Austrian Chancellor and Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich, described visiting the bereaved Empress on April 7, 1835:

She was pale and haggard. She spoke to me in touching terms of our adored Emperor… She told me that she almost died the night he was carried to his room in the chapel where he was to be exposed. She talked much about the Emperor’s last moments. … The courage she displayed gives strength. (10)

Caroline Augusta became the Empress Dowager of Austria and remained close to the imperial household, especially as her half-sister, Sophie, was married to Francis’s son, the Archduke Franz Karl. Their son, Franz Joseph, ascended the imperial throne in 1848.

Caroline Augusta died on February 9, 1873, one day after her 81st birthday. She is buried in the Imperial crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna.  

You might also enjoy:

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

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

Maurice Dietrichstein, governor of Napoleon’s son

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria

Adam Albert von Neipperg, Lover of Napoleon’s wife

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

  1. Sabine Freitag and Peter Wende, eds., British Envoys to Germany, 1816-1866, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, 2000), p. 470.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Augusta_of_Bavaria Accessed Oct. 31, 2014.
  3. Edward de Wertheimer, The Duke of Reichstadt (London, 1906), p. 291.
  4. Ibid., p. 410.
  5. Ibid., p. 410.
  6. Guillaume-Isidore de Montbel, Le Duc de Reichstadt (Paris, 1836), p. 130.
  7. Ibid., p. 238.
  8. Jean de Bourgoing, Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt (Paris, 1927), pp. 61-62.
  9. Montbel, Le Duc de Reichstadt, p. 238.
  10. Richard Metternich, ed., Mémoires, Documents et Écrits Divers laissés par le Prince de Metternich, Vol. 6 (Paris, 1884), p. 11.

Maurice Dietrichstein, governor of Napoleon’s son

Maurice Dietrichstein (Moritz von Dietrichstein) by Joseph Kriehuber, 1828

Maurice Dietrichstein (Moritz von Dietrichstein) by Joseph Kriehuber, 1828

Little did Napoleon realize, when releasing Major Maurice Dietrichstein from a French prison in 1800, that the Austrian nobleman would one day be responsible for the education of his son, Napoleon II. More a musical connoisseur than a military man, Dietrichstein became the child’s governor after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat and remained in that capacity until the boy’s death in 1832. Though Dietrichstein was a strict taskmaster with impossibly high expectations, Franz (as Napoleon II was called in Austria) was grateful for the pains his governor took with his education.

An Austrian soldier

Count Maurice Dietrichstein (Moritz Joseph von Dietrichstein) was born on February 19, 1775 in Vienna to a Bohemian noble family. His father was Prince Karl Johann von Dietrichstein-Proskau-Leslie. His mother, Princess Maria Christina, was a friend of Empress Maria Theresa.

In 1791, Dietrichstein joined the Austrian army. He took part in the campaigns of 1793-97 against Revolutionary France. In 1798 he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Karl Mack, who had been put in command of the Neapolitan army. When Mack – fleeing from his own mutinous troops – was taken prisoner by the French, Dietrichstein shared the general’s captivity in Paris. Upon Mack’s escape in April 1800, the French released Dietrichstein. It is said, perhaps apocryphally, that Dietrichstein went to the Palace of Saint-Cloud to thank First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte in person. (1)

Connoisseur and composer

This marked the end of Maurice Dietrichstein’s military career, for which he was probably not suited in the first place. He returned to Vienna where, on September 22, 1800, he married Countess Thérèse von Gilleis (b. 1779). They had five children, three of whom lived past infancy: Maurice (b. 1801), Ida (1804) and Julie (1807).

The Dietrichsteins’ home became a centre for Vienna’s intelligentsia and beau monde. A cultured and well-educated man, Dietrichstein himself was an able composer. He studied with the Abbé Stadler and composed vocal music, both sacred and secular, as well as a number of dances. In 1811, he published 16 settings of Goethe’s poems to music, dedicating them to the poet, who praised their “charm” and “original character.” (2) Dietrichstein organized concerts for Beethoven, whom he revered. He was also a patron of Schubert, who dedicated his Opus 1 (D. 328), Erlkönig, to Dietrichstein.

A frustrated (and frustrating) governor

It is not surprising that this high-minded, learned gentleman was recommended by Baron von Hager, head of the Hapsburg secret police, as governor for the grandson of Emperor Francis I. When three-year-old Napoleon II, the King of Rome (later Duke of Reichstadt), arrived in Vienna with Marie Louise in 1814, he was accompanied by a suite of French caregivers. Fearing that these women exercised too much French influence on the boy, and that they might be party to a kidnapping attempt, Francis I had them dismissed. The Countess de Montesquiou (the boy’s governess) left in March 1815, Madame Soufflot (the under-governess) and her daughter Fanny in October 1815, and Madame Marchand (the boy’s nurse, and the mother of Napoleon’s valet, Louis-Joseph Marchand) in 1816.

“They talked to him of nothing but Paris, of his Court, his bedroom as a child,” complained Dietrichstein, who took up his post in June 1815. (3) Maurice Dietrichstein would make no such mistake. His task was to raise the child as an Austrian prince, though he held in the back of his mind that he might also be educating a future ruler of France. Dietrichstein undertook this job with the utmost diligence. Whether his temperament was ideal for the position is questionable. One has the sense that boy and man exasperated each other. Franz was bored by the things Dietrichstein most valued, the study of Latin and literature and music. He preferred dreaming of being a soldier, as when Dietrichstein finds him doodling in Napoleon in America.

In December 1817 Dietrichstein wrote to Marie Louise, who was living in Italy as the Duchess of Parma:

Indifference, frivolity and heedlessness are his main faults. They are a hard test for our patience, which we do not lose, but they often make our efforts useless. (4)

In 1819 Dietrichstein forwarded to Marie Louise a letter young Franz had written to her, with the comment:

Thank Heaven, he has written this letter all by himself, after a great many quarrels with me, all of which, of course, end in my victories; though I would willingly forgo them if only I could observe that the prince were winning over his mistakes…but he is still too much ruled by a spirit of contradiction. (5)

Dietrichstein was assisted by tutors, primarily Jean-Baptiste Foresti, a former military officer, and Mathias de Collin, a professor of history and philosophy. Though they, too, commented on Franz’s idleness and obstinacy, they recognized the boy’s good qualities. Forestri wrote to Dietrichstein in 1823:

Your Excellency generally finds all strange children good and amiable; other people who see ours for the moment only extol him as an angel, yes an angel… So I should advise you to examine the matter more closely. (6)

Perhaps taking this advice to heart, Dietrichstein did find moments of pride. In November 1824 he wrote to Marie Louise of his then 13-year-old charge:

Everyone admires his appearance, his demeanour, in a word all his movements. His politeness is exquisite. For example, during a waltz with Princess Liechtenstein, he learned that Prince Schonberg had previously engaged her but had yielded to him. He at once begged the prince to take the second half of his dance. … After the ball I had the honour of dining with him at the table of the Queen [of Bavaria], who talked with me at length and her one topic was the prince, who delights her. In brief, it is the general opinion that he has the making of an accomplished prince. He sparkles with wit, his conversation is finesse itself, and the consideration he has for everyone…give him an ease that is far beyond his age. Just before going to bed, he threw his arms about me and said, ‘Well, were you satisfied with me?’… Precisely because he is so lovable in society everyone thinks that he must be perfect in all respects. (7)

Dietrichstein saw Franz for an hour every day. He had other tasks. In 1819 he was appointed the musical director of the imperial court. In 1821 he also became director of the court theatres. He relinquished both posts in 1826 when he was appointed director of the court library.

The frustrations associated with his primary appointment did not go away. In August 1826 Dietrichstein wrote to Franz, in reply to a letter he had received from the boy:

If you really regard me as your greatest benefactor, and this I am, in so far that for eleven years I have devoted to your education, in every respect, an attention which should have already borne splendid fruits, if you would respond to it in some degree – if you give me such an honourable title and at the same time really feel it, how is it possible that your words and actions, your conduct in and outside your household, is daily at variance with such sentiments? How can you, at fifteen!!! – for the pleasure of astonishing me, which was no doubt your object, write me a letter full of corrections and proofs of habitual carelessness, of bombastic notions, disregarding all commonly accepted forms, extending even to your signature? (8)

The two quarrelled in June 1830 when Franz expressed his desire not to be a decorative prince, but a real officer. Dietrichstein objected he was too immature and not well enough educated. They soon made up. In his diary Franz wrote:

I was in perfect agreement with the Count, and in the course of the journey [from Schönbrunn to Graz] I acquired an absolute conviction as to his affection for me and the soundness of his views as to my future. (9)

Dietrichstein did have an eye on the future of his prince, especially in light of the 1830 July Revolution in France. He wrote to Emperor Francis warning that the transfer of the Duke of Reichstadt to a provincial garrison involved a risk of “lessening his importance in the eyes of the French.” (10) In this, he was at odds with Austrian Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich, who wanted to keep the boy’s profile as low as possible.

For all his time and care with the young man, Maurice Dietrichstein was not present at Schönbrunn Palace when the Duke died on July 22, 1832, at the age of 21. He had gone to Würzburg to be present for the birth of his daughter Julie’s first child. Despite their clashes, Franz seemed to have fond feelings for his governor. In September 1831, Franz wrote to Dietrichstein:

My heart’s gratitude is as imperishable as the pains you took with my education. (11)

Coda

Maurice Dietrichstein continued as court librarian until 1845. In this capacity he succeeded in acquiring the original score of Mozart’s Requiem, among other things. He was also the director of the imperial cabinet of medals and antiquities from 1833 to 1848.

Count Maurice Dietrichstein died on August 27, 1864 in Vienna, age 89. He was predeceased by his daughter Ida in 1822, his son Maurice in 1852, and his wife Thérèse in 1860. Dietrichstein was buried in the Hietzinger cemetery in Vienna.

For a list of some of Dietrichstein’s compositions, see LiederNet.

You might also enjoy:

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

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

Adam Albert von Neipperg, lover of Napoleon’s wife

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

  1. Répertoire des Connaissances Usuelles: Dictionnaire de la Conversation et de la Lecture, Vol. 36 (Paris, 1837), p. 276.
  2. Otto Biba, “Goethe’s Presence in the Vienna Music Scene of his Era,” in Lorraine Byrne, ed., Goethe: Musical Poet, Musical Catalyst (Dublin, 2004), p. 20. Dietrichstein was one of the founding members of the Gesellschaft der Muskifreunde in Vienna.
  3. Dorothy Julia Baynes [Dormer Creston], In Search of Two Characters: Some Intimate Aspects of Napoleon and His Son (London, 1945), p. 229.
  4. Jean de Bourgoing, Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt (Paris, 1927), p. 16.
  5. Ibid., p. 18.
  6. Edward de Wertheimer, The Duke of Reichstadt (London, 1906), p. 292.
  7. Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt, pp. 27-28.
  8. The Duke of Reichstadt, pp. 296-297.
  9. Papiers Intimes et Journal du Duc de Reichstadt, p. 166.
  10. Octave Aubry, Napoleon II: The King of Rome, translated by Elisabeth Abbott (London, 1933), p. 240.
  11. The Duke of Reichstadt, p. 454.

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

Clemens von Metternich by Thomas Lawrence, 1815

Clemens von Metternich by Thomas Lawrence, 1815

As Austrian foreign minister from 1809 to 1848, Clemens von Metternich was a major player in European affairs for twice as long as Napoleon Bonaparte. A closet admirer of the French Emperor, he was concerned to show himself as the man who had outwitted him.

Ambassador to France

Clemens (or Klemens) von Metternich was born in Coblenz on May 15, 1773. He came from an old aristocratic family whose members had held many high offices in the Holy Roman Empire. After studying philosophy, law and diplomacy, he followed his father into a diplomatic career.

Metternich was appointed Austrian ambassador to France in 1806, after Austria’s humiliating defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz and considerable loss of territory in the Treaty of Pressburg.

My position was a peculiar one. I was placed at the most prominent post for observing the movement of which the Emperor of the French was the centre. I represented at his court a great monarch, whose kingdom had yielded under the force of circumstances, but which was ready to rise on the first opportunity. I was penetrated with the feeling of danger to my country, if it entered on a new war with France without having more probable chances of success; and I conceived that my task consisted in playing the part of a quiet and impartial spectator – impartial, so far as this might be possible to a man of feeling, at a an epoch when the world was passing through a social transformation…. My impartial attitude gained me the confidence of the most prominent men of different parties, beginning with Napoleon himself. (1)

Metternich saw Napoleon frequently. He wrote in detail about these encounters in his memoirs. In Metternich’s view, France needed discipline and Napoleon was the man to provide it.

There is no more useless labour than to point out that Bonaparte was an excellent man. He is in no wise wicked as this word is understood in common life. He has too much practical understanding for that. He is a very strong man, and in the different setting of another age, he would have become a very great man. (2)

Napoleon was less impressed with Metternich. At one gathering he reportedly unloaded him onto his sister Caroline (who became one of Metternich’s lovers) with the remark:

Entertain this simpleton, we are wanted elsewhere. (3)

When war resumed between France and Austria in early 1809, Metternich was arrested and briefly confined as a reprisal for the Austrian detention of two French diplomats. Napoleon defeated Austria at the Battle of Wagram (July 1809). He took more territory and money from her in the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

It was while Napoleon was at Schönbrunn Palace to negotiate the treaty that a 17-year-old German patriot named Friedrich Staps was caught planning to assassinate him with a kitchen knife – an encounter to which Napoleon refers in Napoleon in America. Staps was arrested and executed.

Metternich as Foreign Minister

In October 1809 Clemens von Metternich became Austria’s foreign minister. His goal was to keep Austria afloat until Napoleon could be thwarted.

I foresaw that neither [Napoleon] nor his undertakings would escape the consequence of rashness and extravagance. The when and the how I could not pretend to determine. Thus my reason pointed out to me the direction I had to take in order not to interfere with the natural development of the situation and to keep open for Austria the chances which the greatest of all powers – the power of circumstances – might offer, sooner or later, under the strong government of its monarch, for the much-threatened prosperity of the Empire. (4)

Metternich attempted to erode Napoleon’s power. He arranged the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise, the daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis I. Though Metternich credits the French with initiating the marriage, the French chargé d’affaires in Vienna said it was Metternich who first raised the prospect.

Metternich successfully duped Napoleon into thinking that Austria supported France’s 1812 invasion of Russia. Meanwhile, Austria secretly encouraged a Russian victory (you can read the details of Metternich’s machinations on the Age of the Sage website). After the French retreat, Metternich dropped the cover of neutrality. He led Austria into outright alliance with the coalition against Napoleon. In a famous encounter described on the Past Now website, Metternich and Napoleon met for the last time on June 26, 1813 in Dresden. According to Metternich, he told Napoleon that he was finished.

With Austria on their side, Russia, Prussia and Britain were able to overthrow Napoleon in 1814. As a reward for his success, Francis I made Metternich a hereditary Prince of the Austrian Empire. Metternich would have liked to see France governed by a regency under Marie Louise, but the Bourbon restoration proposed by Russia, England and the French diplomat Talleyrand won the day.

The post-Napoleonic world

The victors gathered at the Congress of Vienna, where Clemens von Metternich exercised considerable influence on the proceedings. The Congress was interrupted by Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his subsequent defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

Metternich believed Europe’s stability depended on a balance of power among the great powers. His aim (and that of Francis 1 – the two operated in tandem) was to preserve Austria’s internal peace and external power. Metternich got the allies to endorse Austrian hegemony in central Europe and Italy.

Clemens von Metternich had an aristocratic view of the international order. Kings were meant to govern and people to be governed. He dreaded revolution, liberalism and nationalism. The 1815 peace settlement was designed to contain the restlessness of the masses. Talleyrand quipped that

Austria is the House of Lords of Europe; as long as she remains undissolved, she will keep down the Commons. (5)

Metternich established a system of periodic Congresses, in which the great powers could meet to consider how to suppress revolution. The 1822 Congress of Verona appears as a setting in Napoleon in America. Metternich was a diplomat, not a strategist. He operated a on a day-to-day basis, rather than according to some grand scheme. Underlying all of his negotiations was a belief in the virtue of balance between governments, and between classes within society.

In 1821, Clemens von Metternich became the Austrian Court Chancellor and Chancellor of State (essentially the Austrian Prime Minister). He oversaw the detention of Napoleon’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt. He is said to have forbidden the Duke’s wintering in Naples, which could possibly have cured the young man’s fatal tuberculosis.

Although Metternich’s system was tested by revolutions in 1830-31, he remained the arbiter of continental European politics until March of 1848, when he was compelled to resign owing to a revolution in Vienna. Metternich and his family went into exile. They visited England, where the Duke of Wellington tried to keep Metternich entertained. They then moved to Brussels. In 1851, Clemens von Metternich was allowed to return to Vienna. He died there on June 11, 1859 at the age of 86.

Metternich the man

It is generally thought that Metternich’s finest days were as an adversary to Napoleon. Metternich himself looked fondly back on the Napoleonic period. On August 15, 1820, Napoleon’s birthday, he wrote:

Today is the Feast of the great exile. If he were still on the throne and there was only he in the world, how happy it would make me. (6)

Metternich had a very high opinion of himself, an estimation he did not hesitate to share with others. Descriptions of Metternich by his contemporaries include “pompous pedant,” “infatuated with his own merit,” “a clever manipulator of diplomatic trickery,” and “mad with love, pride, and selfishness.” (7)

He possessed elegance, a ready wit, expensive habits, and a love for parties and salons. Married three times, he also had many lovers, including Napoleon’s sister Caroline, as well as Dorothea von Lieven, the wife of the Russian ambassador to England. Wilhelm von Humboldt complained:

All that interests Metternich is arranging entertainments and tableaux vivants for the Court. He is quite capable of keeping a couple of ambassadors waiting, while he watches his daughter dance and chats amiably with the ladies. Only trifles are serious for him; and serious business he treats as a trifle. (8)

Metternich was very fond of his many children, who reciprocated his affection. He was no stranger to tragedy, losing two of his daughters to tuberculosis in the space of three months in 1820. His first wife and eldest son also died from the disease.

Clemens von Metternich wrote voluminously. His memoirs were edited and published by his son Richard, who served as Austrian ambassador to the court of Napoleon III. They contain considerable self-justification. In the end, Metternich wanted to be seen as the man who masterminded Napoleon’s downfall.

I do not think it was a good inspiration of Napoleon’s which called me to functions which gave me the opportunity of appreciating his excellences, but also the possibility of discovering the faults which at last led him to ruin and freed Europe from the oppression under which it languished. (9)

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

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria

Adam Albert von Neipperg: Lover of Napoleon’s wife

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

  1. Richard Metternich, ed., Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1773-1815, Volume 1 (New York, 1881), p. 46.
  2. Richard Metternich, ed., Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1773-1815, Volume 4 (London, 1880), p. 6. He wrote this in 1823, upon reading the Count de Las Cases’s admiring memoirs of Napoleon.
  3. G.A.C. Sandeman, Metternich (New York, 1911), p. 45.
  4. George Bruce Malleson, Life of Prince Metternich (Philadelphia, 1888), p. 63.
  5. M.G. Pallain, ed., The Correspondence of Prince Talleyrand and King Louis XVIII During the Congress of Vienna, Volume 1 (London, 1881), p. xvi.
  6. Alan Palmer, Metternich (London, 1972), p. 192.
  7. Tom Holmberg, Review of Metternich: the Autobiography, 1773-1815, on the Napoleon Series website, April 2005, http://www.napoleon-series.org/reviews/biographies/c_metternich.html, accessed January 19, 2014.
  8. Palmer, Ibid., p. 132.
  9. Clemens von Metternich, The Autobiography, 1773-1815 (Welwyn Garden City, 2004), p. 67.

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

Napoleon II, styled King of Rome, later Duke of Reichstadt, by Thomas Lawrence, 1818-1819

Napoleon II, styled King of Rome, later Duke of Reichstadt, by Thomas Lawrence, 1818-1819

Napoleon had at least two illegitimate children and two stepchildren (Josephine’s offspring Eugène and Hortense), but only one legitimate child: Napoleon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, also known as the King of Rome, Napoleon II, the Prince of Parma and the Duke of Reichstadt. He did not hold all of those titles at the same time, and you can tell whether someone was a supporter of Napoleon based on how they referred to the boy after 1815. His nickname was l’Aiglon, or the Eaglet (one of Napoleon’s symbols was the eagle).

The son of Napoleon and his second wife, Marie Louise, Napoleon II was born at the Tuileries Palace on March 20, 1811 to all the splendour of the Imperial Court. (See my post about the King of Rome’s perilous birth.) A salvo of one hundred cannons broke the news to the city of Paris. Cheers erupted at the 22nd retort – 21 shots would have meant the baby was a girl. The balloonist Sophie Blanchard ascended to drop leaflets announcing the birth. The baby’s public baptism at Notre Dame Cathedral in June entailed the most sumptuous procession the Empire had yet produced, apparently to the grumblings of some poverty-stricken Parisians. Napoleon pronounced the boy the King of Rome, a title that had belonged to the House of Habsburg (Marie Louise’s family) until Napoleon broke up the Holy Roman Empire.

A gilded life in France

Expensive gifts were lavished upon the little king (including this cradle, from the city of Paris) and he had a large retinue of servants. Napoleon doted on the boy and enjoyed being with him, in contrast to Marie Louise, who loved her son but seemed afraid to handle him. The valet Saint-Denis recounts:

One day the Emperor took the little king in his arms after his breakfast, as was his custom, caressed him, played some little tricks on him, and said to the Empress, turning toward her, ‘Here! Kiss your son!’ I do not remember now whether the Empress kissed the prince, but she replied in a tone almost of repugnance and disgust, ‘I do not see how anybody can kiss a child.’ The father was very different; he never stopped kissing and caressing his beloved son. (1)

Baron de Méneval writes:

Whether the Emperor was sitting in his favourite love seat…reading an important report, or whether he was going to his desk…to sign a dispatch, every word of which had to be carefully weighed, his son, either seated on his knees or pressed close to his breath, never left his arms…. Sometimes, dismissing the great thoughts that occupied his mind, he would lie down on the floor beside his cherished son, playing with him like another child. (2)

Napoleon’s idea of play was not necessarily fun for Napoleon junior. As Count de Las Cases records:

[Napoleon] would sometimes take his son in his arms, and embrace him with the most ardent demonstrations of paternal love. But most frequently his affection would manifest itself by playing teasing or whimsical tricks. If he met his son in the gardens, for instance, he would throw him down or upset his toys. The child was brought to him every morning at breakfast time, and he then seldom failed to besmear him with everything within his reach on the table. (3)

A biographer of Napoleon II adds:

[Napoleon] would place his Majesty the King of Rome in front of a looking-glass and make faces at him. If the little fellow – frightened at the sight – cried, Napoleon would pretend to scold him: ‘How, sir, you are crying! What, a king, and crying! Fie, fie, how shocking!’ Once he thrust his hat on the child’s head so that it came down over his nose and also buckled his sword round him. He laughed heartily when the little feet got into difficulties with the long sword and the baby tottered comically from side to side. (4)

The child’s favourite toys were flags, trumpets, drums and a large toy horse with a red velvet saddle. Napoleon’s sister Caroline sent the boy a small caleche driven by two lambs, which he drove along the walks at the Tuileries. Napoleon had him fitted with a Mameluke costume and a uniform of the National Guard. Napoleon planned to build an elaborate palace for the King of Rome, across the river from where the Eiffel Tower now stands.

This golden world came crashing down in 1814. The last time little Napoleon saw his father was on January 24 of that year; he was not yet three years old. When Napoleon abdicated on April 4, he named his son the new Emperor of the French. The child in theory gained the title Napoleon II. However, the coalition partners who defeated Napoleon refused to allow junior to become his father’s successor. On April 11, Napoleon was compelled to abdicate unconditionally, renouncing his and his descendants’ rights to the French throne.

From a Frenchman to a German

Upon Napoleon’s exile to Elba, Marie Louise and her son went to her father’s court in Austria. When Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France in 1815, they did not join him. After losing the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon again abdicated in favour of Napoleon II, who was theoretically Emperor of the French from June 22 to July 7, until the Allies entered Paris and restored Louis XVIII to the throne.

The Congress of Vienna made Marie Louise the Duchess of Parma. Her son assumed the title of Prince of Parma, though the Treaty of Paris (1817) made sure that he could never succeed her. He did not accompany her to Parma to live. He was not even allowed to visit her there, for fear that his appearance might revive hope in the adherents of Napoleon’s fallen dynasty. Marie Louise, meanwhile (unbeknownst to her son), started a family with her Austrian lover, Count von Neipperg, and rarely visited Vienna. Napoleon II saw Marie Louise only four times from the time she left for Parma through June of 1826.

Instead, he was brought up under the watchful eye of his grandfather, Francis 1 of Austria. Francis decided the boy should be called Franz, after himself, and aimed to turn him into a German. The French caregivers who had come with the child from Paris (including the mother of Napoleon’s valet Louis Marchand) were gradually dismissed; it was thought they exerted too strong a French influence on him. On leaving, Baron de Méneval asked the boy if he had any messages for his father. The four-year-old said,

You will tell him that I still love him very much. (5)

Francis had to deal with the very real threats of the boy’s abduction or assassination. It was reported that Napoleon had offered a considerable sum to anyone who would bring his son to him. The Austrians feared the child’s French attendants might disguise him as a girl (he had beautiful blond curls) and spirit him away. Meanwhile French ultra-royalists proclaimed that a rope should be kept in readiness for the child, and offered a sizeable reward to anyone who would assassinate him.

Francis worked hard to try to prevent Franz from becoming the focus of Bonapartist hopes. This was expected of him by the other courts of Europe, but also reflected Francis’s personal distaste for Napoleon. Franz was not brought up to hate his father, but was taught to think of him as a soldier of fortune who had ravaged Europe and brought ruin to his country. Franz was naturally curious about Napoleon, but was not given a lot of details about his father’s career until after Napoleon’s death in 1821. Still, even at an early age, Franz managed to glean a fair amount. It is said that one day a visiting Austrian military commander named three illustrious persons as the greatest military leaders of the time. The young Franz listened attentively, then interrupted with vigour, “I know a fourth that you haven’t mentioned.” “Who is that?” asked the general. “My father,” Franz shouted, before running away. (6)

The tutor who was tasked with telling Franz that Napoleon had died wrote,

I chose the quiet hour of evening, and saw more tears wept than I should have expected from a child who had never seen or known his father. (7)

As becomes clear in Napoleon in America, Napoleon thought often about his son while in exile, and regretted that neither Marie Louise nor Francis sent any news of him. Before leaving the boy’s service, Marchand’s mother sent a lock of the child’s hair to Marchand on St. Helena, which Napoleon asked Marchand to place in his travel kit. Later, when sent a bust of the boy by a sculptor from Livorno, Napoleon said,

For me, this bust is worth more than millions. Put it on the table in the drawing room, so that I may see it every day. (8)

Though lonely, Franz was by no means deprived. He was much loved by the Austrian imperial family, including by Francis and his fourth wife, Caroline Augusta, who treated him as a son. At meals, Franz would sit next to the Emperor, and often visited him in his study. In 1818 Francis gave Franz the title of Duke of Reichstadt. He ensured that the boy received a first-rate education, under the supervision of his governor, Maurice Dietrichstein. Though not the most diligent of students, Franz was intelligent, inquisitive and lively, and by all accounts charming, when he chose to be. Dietrichstein wrote,

Nothing is more seductive than his face and his talk when he wants to be agreeable. (9)

Franz became very close to Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the wife of his uncle Franz Karl (their oldest son, Franz Joseph, became Emperor of Austria, and their second son, Maximilian, became Emperor of Mexico; the assassination of their grandson, Franz Ferdinand, led to World War I). Franz and Sophie spent hours in each other’s company, and there were rumours that they had an affair, though this is unlikely.

Franz took an interest in soldiering from a very young age and, once old enough, began a military career, as detailed by Tom Vance (author of the fascinating non-fiction book, Napoleon in America: Essays in Biography and Popular Culture) in “The Eaglet in Uniform: the Military Service of Napoleon II” on the Napoleon Series website.

An early death

This career, sadly, was cut short when Franz contracted an illness that turned out to be tuberculosis. In his last days he reportedly said,

Must I end so young a life that is useless and without a name? My birth and my death – that is my whole story. (10)

Napoleon II died at Schönbrunn Palace on July 22, 1832, age 21. Marie Louise was with him. Francis was not. (See my post about Napoleon’s son’s death.) Prompted by the desire to secure souvenirs of their beloved Duke of Reichstadt, the Viennese crowded into his room and carried off whatever they could lay hands on, including his hair.

On December 15, 1940 Franz’s remains were transferred from Vienna to Les Invalides in Paris, as a gift to France from Adolf Hitler. They rested for a while beside those of Napoleon, then were moved to the lower church. His heart and intestines remained in Vienna, where they reside respectively in urns at the Habsburg Heart Crypt (Hofburg Palace) and the Ducal Crypt (St. Stephen’s Cathedral).

For information about Napoleon’s stepchildren, see my post on Napoleon’s Children, Part 1. If you’re interested in his illegitimate children, see Napoleon’s Children, Part 2.

You might also enjoy:

The marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

The perilous birth of the King of Rome

The death of Napoleon’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt

The Palace of the King of Rome

A tomb for Napoleon’s son in Canada

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

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria

Adam Albert von Neipperg, Lover of Napoleon’s wife

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

Maurice Dietrichstein, governor of Napoleon’s son

  1. Louis Étienne Saint-Denis, Napoleon from the Tuileries to St. Helena; Personal Recollections of the Emperor’s Second Mamluke and Valet, Louis Etienne St. Denis (known as Ali), translated by Frank Hunter Potter (New York and London, 1922), p. 6.
  2. Claude François de Méneval, Napoléon et Marie-Louise, Vol. 1 (Paris, 1844), pp. 446-47.
  3. Emmanuel Auguste Dieudonné de Las Cases, Memoirs of the Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon, Vol. 3 (New York, 1855), pp. 316-17.
  4. Edward de Wertheimer, The Duke of Reichstadt (London, 1906), p. 47.
  5. Claude François de Méneval, Napoléon et Marie-Louise, Vol. 3 (Paris, 1845), p. 205.
  6. Guillaume-Isidore de Montbel, Le Duc de Reichstadt (Paris, 1836), p. 122.
  7. Wertheimer, Ibid., p. 286.
  8. Louis-Joseph Marchand (Proctor Jones, ed.), In Napoleon’s Shadow: Being the First English Language Edition of the Complete Memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, Valet and Friend of the Emperor, 1811-1821 (San Francisco, 1998), p. 495.
  9. Dorothy Julia Baynes [Dormer Creston], In Search of Two Characters: Some Intimate Aspects of Napoleon and His Son (London, 1945), p. 323.
  10. Octave Aubry, Napoleon II: The King of Rome, translated by Elisabeth Abbott (London, 1933), p. 256.

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

Francis I of Austria (Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor)

Francis I of Austria (Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor)

When you marry into the Austrian royal family, you might expect some benefits from the situation – say, perhaps, that Austria will not attack you. But no such luck, as Napoleon discovered in 1813, when Francis I of Austria joined the leaders of Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Sweden in their coalition against France. But then Napoleon had a history of fighting Austria, and had already divested his father-in-law of a good portion of his kingdom.

Francis I of Austria started out as Emperor Francis II (Franz II), the head of the Habsburg monarchy and ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. He led Austria into the French Revolutionary Wars, and later joined the Second and Third Coalitions against Napoleon. Napoleon defeated the Third Coalition at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. He then reorganized a chunk of Francis’s territory into the French-controlled Confederation of the Rhine. With little left of the Holy Roman Empire, Francis dissolved it and was reduced to being Emperor Francis I of Austria. As such, he continued to oppose Napoleonic France, losing more battles and more territory.

Marie Louise marries the enemy

In 1809 Napoleon decided to divorce his first wife, Josephine, because she was incapable of providing him with an heir. In casting about for a suitable replacement from one of Europe’s royal houses, he settled on Francis I’s 18-year-old eldest child, Marie Louise. On January 10, 1810, the date of Napoleon’s divorce, Marie Louise wrote to a friend:

I see talk of Napoleon’s separation from his wife, I think I even hear that I am named to replace her, but in that one is mistaken, because Napoleon is too afraid of being refused and too intent on doing us more harm to make such a demand, and Papa is too good to force me on a point of such importance. (1)

She was mistaken. According to Austrian Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich, he and Francis saw in the marriage the prospect of “an interval of quiet for the recruiting of our forces.” (2) Francis asked Metternich to ask Marie Louise what she wanted. Marie Louise replied, “What does my father wish?” When told that her father wanted to know what she wished, Marie Louise said,

I wish only what it is my duty to wish…. Ask my father to consult his duty as a ruler, and to subordinate to that any interests connected with my person.

When he heard this, Francis said,

I am not surprised at what you tell me from my daughter; I know she is too good for me to expect her to do otherwise…. My consent to the marriage would secure to the Empire some years of political peace, which I can devote to the healing of its wounds. All my powers are devoted to the welfare of my people. I cannot, therefore, hesitate in my decision. Send a courier to Paris and say that I accept the offer for the hand of my daughter, but with the express reservation that on neither side shall any condition be attached to it; there are sacrifices which must not be contaminated with anything approaching to a bargain. (3)

Having never met each other, Napoleon and Marie Louise were married by proxy in Vienna on March 11, 1810. This was followed by civil and religious ceremonies in Paris on April 1 and 2. For details about the weddings, see my article about the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise.

Francis was surprised that Marie Louise seemed happy with Napoleon. He said,

Whatever she says, I cannot stomach that creature. (4)

More war against Napoleon

Things were cozy for a few years. Marie Louise produced a son, Napoleon François, born March 20, 1811. Napoleon doted on the boy and Francis grew very fond of his grandson. But strategic interests reigned supreme. In 1813, Austria joined Britain, Russia and Prussia and other members of the Sixth Coalition in the war against Napoleon. When Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814, Marie Louise hoped that she and her son could join him. Francis refused, citing his need to accede to the wishes of the Allied sovereigns. Meanwhile Napoleon had sent Marie Louise to Vienna, hoping she could prevail upon her father to secure leniency for him. Instead Francis placed her in the care of Count von Neipperg. Neipperg seduced Marie Louise (see my post about that here). When Napoleon escaped from Elba, Marie Louise wrote to the Congress of Vienna protesting that she was in no way complicit with her husband. She placed herself under the protection of France’s enemies.

In recognition of the role Austria played in Napoleon’s defeat, Francis, represented by Metternich, presided over the Congress of Vienna. This meeting of European leaders was convened to restore traditional rulers to the lands Napoleon had conquered. It aimed at achieving long-term peace through creation of a balance of power in Europe. With the rulers of Russia and Prussia, Francis I of Austria established the Holy Alliance. The ostensible aim was to instill Christian values in European political life. In practice the Alliance opposed democratic, revolutionary and secularist tendencies across the continent.

Francis’s family

Francis was born on February 12, 1768, in Florence, the eldest son of Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany and future Holy Roman Emperor, and Archduchess Maria Louisa of Spain. He had 15 siblings. Marie Antoinette was his father’s younger sister. This made Francis a cousin of the Duchess of Angoulême. In 1784, Francis joined his uncle, Emperor Joseph II, in Vienna. With no surviving children, Joseph knew that Francis would eventually inherit the imperial throne. He took charge of Francis’s development, providing him with a strict routine and a disciplined education. Francis worked diligently and studied hard. Sent to join an army regiment in Hungary, he enjoyed the military routine and became a seasoned soldier.

In 1788, Joseph II arranged Francis’s marriage to Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg. She died in childbirth in 1790; the baby died 16 months later. Francis was married again, this time to his cousin, Maria Theresa of Naples. She bore him 12 children, of whom 7 reached adulthood. After her death in 1808, he married another cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, who died childless in 1815. The following year Francis married Caroline Augusta of Bavaria. The English diplomat Frederick Lamb said she was “ugly, clever and amiable, and as the Emperor expresses it: ‘She can stand a push, the other was nothing but air.’” (5)

Francis was a devoted family man and an affectionate father and grandfather. A key point in the “Political Testament” he left for his son and heir Ferdinand was:

Preserve unity in the family and regard it as one of the highest goods. (6)

Francis’s will also insisted that Ferdinand, once he became emperor, had to consult Archduke Louis – Francis’s brother and Ferdinand’s uncle – on every aspect of internal policy. On foreign policy, he had to consult Metternich. Probably because of his parents’ genetic closeness – double first cousins – Ferdinand suffered from a variety of debilitating conditions, including hydrocephalus and epilepsy. The Mad Monarchist has done a touching post on him.

Francis as monarch

Francis inherited the imperial throne on March 1, 1792, at the age of 24. As a monarch, Francis was an unwavering absolutist. He believed his authority was granted by God. He opposed the ideology behind the French Revolution. He feared calls for liberty and equality, and strongly opposed the influence of revolutionary thought in Austria. European liberals deemed him a tyrant.

To govern his vast, multiethnic lands, Francis relied on extreme centralization and the most extensive bureaucracy in Europe. One of Metternich’s colleagues said “administration has taken the place of government.” (7) The press was heavily censored. Secret police were rife. Foreigners, intellectuals and even members of Francis’s own family were spied upon. Cultural life was overshadowed by political control. Francis was by nature suspicious and did not delegate much. He conducted policy on the basis of his own decisions, consulting with whomever he thought necessary. He believed that all his subjects needed was material well-being and good laws.

A blockhead vs. strength of character

Napoleon said Francis I of Austria was

a child governed by his ministers, a weak and false prince, and a good and religious man, but a blockhead occupied only with botany and gardening. (8)

Metternich speaks of his “immovable strength of character.”

[R]ipened by nature in the school of experience, ever dispassionate in his conclusions, never withholding a calm judgment, always acknowledged and respected the reasons for and against everything: holding his army well in hand, this monarch was always raised above inferior ends and the play of passion. (9)

Francis was unimaginative, unpretentious and commonsensical, with a sardonic sense of humour. He had simple tastes and preferred a quiet life. He rode in an old-fashioned green calèche. He dressed in a shabby brown coat and hat. He had a conservatory full of plants, where he liked to garden. His idiosyncrasies included cooking toffee on the royal stove and greeting his subjects affably in the Prater in a broad Viennese dialect. (10) Though Metternich smoothed his utterances in print, Francis suffered from verbal tics, of which I have tried to capture a slight sense in Napoleon in America.

Francis I of Austria died on March 2, 1835 of a sudden fever. He was 67 years old. His tomb is in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

You might also enjoy:

Clemens von Metternich: The man who outwitted Napoleon?

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

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

Adam Albert von Neipperg: Lover of Napoleon’s wife

Caroline Augusta, Empress of Austria

Archduke Franz Karl of Austria

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

  1. Correspondance de Marie Louise, 1799-1847 (Vienna, 1887), p. 141.
  2. Dorothy Julia Baynes (Dormer Creston), In Search of Two Characters: Some Intimate Aspects of Napoleon and His Son (London, 1945), p. 151.
  3. Richard Metternich, ed., Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1773-1815, Vol. 1 (New York, 1881), pp. 73-74.
  4. Alan Palmer, Metternich (London, 1972), p. 86.
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Augusta_of_Bavaria
  6. Andrew Wheatcroft, The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire (London, 1996), p. 254.
  7. A.J.P. Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy 1809-1918 (London, 1990), p. 44.
  8. Edith E. Cuthell, An Imperial Victim: Marie Louise, Vol. II (London, 1912), p. 15.
  9. Memoirs of Prince Metternich, p. 127.
  10. Palmer, Metternich, p. 81.