Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Napoleon's Second Marriage

After Josephine had left the Tuileries forever, Napoleon found the palace so lonely that he removed to the Trianon, where nothing reminded him of his divorced wife. Then the question arose, Whom should he marry? For a man in his position, a princess seemed the only suitable wife, and he first suggested a marriage with the sister of his friend Alexander, who asked for time to consider. Then the impatient Napoleon asked for the eldest daughter of the Austrian emperor, Maria Louisa, or Marie Louise, a girl of eighteen. The Austrian emperor and his minister Metternich, afraid to offend their former foe, and anxious, besides, to secure lasting peace by this alliance, soon consented, so a marriage by proxy was celebrated in Vienna, before the new empress set out for France to join the husband she had never seen.

Their first meeting was arranged to take place at the French castle where Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette had first met; but Napoleon rode on to meet the carriage, which he unexpectedly entered at the last relay. Thus the imperial couple arrived together at the castle, whence they went on to St. Cloud the next day, and then, in the gilded coronation carriage, to Paris. We are told that they paused to hear speeches under a temporary arch at the head of the Champs Elysees, before driving on to the Tuileries for a state marriage ceremony in the Square Hall in the Louvre. Here great pomp was displayed, the emperor's sisters and Hortense bearing Marie Louise's train; but the festive occasion was marred by Napoleon's wrath when he discovered that certain of the cardinals—who considered his divorce from Josephine invalid—were not present, as he had commanded. In his anger, the emperor banished these cardinals from court, and forbade them to wear their red robes in public until they had apologized; that is why these prelates, who upheld their principles with great dignity, are known in history as "the Black Cardinals."

Napoleon was more than double the age of the new empress, who was neither so graceful nor so gracious as her predecessor. To be sure, Marie Louise was only a girl at that time, but she never developed into so clever and charming a woman as Josephine, who had helped Napoleon in every way to reach his present position and success, while the new wife was, on the contrary, to hamper him before long. Still, at first, all proved rose-colored, and fetes were given everywhere to the imperial couple, who met nothing but cheers and adulation as they journeyed from place to place.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


This marriage took place in 1810. During the same year, finding his brother Louis too devoted to the good of the Dutch to force them to ruin themselves by respecting the Continental Blockade, Napoleon arbitrarily removed him from the throne, and united Holland to France, saying playfully that it belonged by right to that country, for it was formed of "the sediment of French rivers!"

That year, also, the Swedes persuaded their childless king to adopt Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's old lieutenants, who, like Louis, quickly became too loyal to his adopted country to sacrifice its welfare to the emperor's ambitions. The dynasty founded by Bernadotte still reigns in Sweden.

During this brief time of comparative peace,—war was still going on in Spain,—Napoleon was busy planning many new improvements, and visiting many factories, for he made it a point to encourage talent wherever he found it. To supply work for the various great artists of his day (David, Gros, Gerard, Guerin, Prudhon), the vain emperor had them picture his battles, coronation, and marriage; he and the two empresses sitting for the many portraits which now adorn the French picture galleries. Engineers, architects, and scientists, also, had all the work they could do; and literature was duly encouraged, although the two greatest French writers of the day, Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael, foes of the emperor, were living in exile, and thus some of their greatest works were written out of the country. That Napoleon regretted the dearth of great literary lights at his court, is proved by his saying, "Had Corneille lived in my day, I should have made a prince of him!" You see, Napoleon was so fond of tragedy,—then admirably played by Talma,—that nothing would have pleased him better than to have his reign marked by literary masterpieces as was that of Louis XIV.

Napoleon's child—so longed for—was born on the 10th of March, 1811. Everybody, of course, hoped for a boy to inherit the imperial crown, and it had been arranged to announce a birth in the Tuileries by firing twenty-one guns for a daughter and one hundred for a son. You can imagine, therefore, how breathlessly people counted the shots, and with what cheers they greeted the booming of the twenty-second gun! Then Napoleon himself appeared at a window, holding his newborn treasure for all to see, while the semaphores (signal telegraphs) spread the happy tidings, which were everywhere received with great rejoicings, no one being more glad, or congratulating Napoleon more cordially, than poor deserted Josephine.

The possession of this son, who received at birth the title of "King of Rome," seemed to fill Napoleon's cup of bliss and prosperity; feeling the future assured, he now began to plan far ahead, his care for the administration by of the empire proving, if anything, greater than ever. And it was a very large section of Europe that Napoleon thus governed, for France had annexed Belgium, Holland, and a large part of Italy, besides Germany as far as the Rhine, while many kingdoms and duchies elsewhere were also subject to her emperor.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Napoleon was the kind of man who had blindly enthusiastic friends, as well as bitter enemies; he was, besides, generally surrounded by flatterers, who fostered his vanity by making such remarks as this: "Sire, some say that you are a god, others that you are a devil, but all unite in agreeing that you are more than a man!" Can you wonder that after a few years of such adulation his head was somewhat turned, and that he learned to believe himself infallible? But Napoleon was to exemplify to the utmost the old saying that "pride goes before a fall."

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber