Napoleon seeks a wife
The story of how the marriage came to be was not exactly romantic – the main factors in its arrangement were political and dynastic considerations.
Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796 remained childless, resulting in constant rumours that he would divorce her in order to found a new dynasty. However, it was only when his lover, Maria Walewska, fell pregnant during the occupation of Vienna in 1809 that he could be sure that the failure to produce children in wedlock was not in fact his fault. He then determined to divorce Josephine and a new bride was hurriedly sought behind the scenes. Since it seemed that only a princess from either the Russian or Austrian Imperial households was a fitting bride for the Emperor of France, the Minister of State of the defeated Austria, Clemens von Metternich, saw an opportunity to reduce the harsh terms of peace that had been imposed. He also attached great importance to preventing an alliance between France and Russia that would have been highly dangerous for his own country. The Tsar, on the other hand, showed no interest in marrying his 13-year-old sister to the French usurper.
When Marie Louise, who was barely 18, learned of Napoleon’s divorce at the end of 1809, the prospect of being forced to marry him seemed to her “an ordeal worse than any martyrdom imaginable”. However, even though she admitted to her father that she had fallen in love with a relative, Archduke Franz of Modena-Este, she was finally forced to bend to reasons of state and to accept the marriage with the “archenemy” which Metternich had engineered.