Saturday, August 10, 2013

Empress Maria Ludovica of Austria

Queen Louise of Prussia was not the only female sovereign to intensely dislike Napoleon Bonaparte. The Empress Maria Ludovica of Austria was also one of his sworn enemies. She had enough political influence to encourage her husband and Austria to go to war against France.

Maria Ludovica of Austria-Este,
Empress of Austria.

The beautiful and gentle Empress was the third wife of Emperor Franz I of Austria. Born on December 14, 1784 in Monza, Italy, she was the youngest daughter Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (a son of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria) and Maria Beatrice d'Este. Having brought up in a strict atmosphere, Maria Ludovica received a good education. She inherited her parents' talent for organizing and appreciation for the arts.

Since her father was Governor of the Duchy of Milan, Maria Ludovica and her family resided in Milan in the beautiful Royal Villa of Monza. But they were forced to flee from Italy to Austria when Napoleon finally conquered Milan in 1796. This event deeply etched in young Maria Ludovica's mind that from then on, she became averse and harbored lifelong hostile feelings for Napoleon.

As exiles, Maria Ludovica and her family resided in Wiener Neustadt, living in a rather spartan existence. In 1803, the family moved to the Baroque Palais Lobkowitz where Archduke Ferdinand died there in 1806. A year later, the 39 year-old Emperor Franz I of Austria, visited his aunt, Maria Beatrice. He had just become a widower for the second time, and his visit to his favorite aunt was a great consolation for him. While on this visit, he met the 19-year-old Maria Ludovica. She was beautiful, intelligent and soft-spoken and the Emperor was quite taken with her. Despite their age gap, Maria Ludovica did not seem to mind. They were married on January 6, 1808 in Vienna and writers and observers were all praises for the grace of the young bride. Of course, not all at the Austrian court approved of the Emperor's choice of bride. She and her family were well-known for their hatred of Napoleon. Austria had just been in a disastrous war against France and its position now in Europe was vulnerable. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Klemens Metternich was in favor of a French-Austrian alliance, but his policies were severely criticized by Maria Ludovica.

Maria Ludovica was a devoted consort and a kind stepmother to her husband's children. Franz greatly relied in her judgment as she was a good judge of character and events. But she had no intention of limiting herself to her duty as a consort. Possessing a determined character, as opposed to her peace-loving and irresolute husband, she had a flair for politics. She exercised considerable political influence and openly approved another war against Napoleon. At her coronation as Queen of Hungary she impressed the Hungarians with her dignity that they were ready to support the monarchy if a war broke out. It was only after the Spanish Uprising that Maria Ludovica had sufficient reasons to openly convince Franz to go to war. As the war broke out, Maria Ludovica proved to be quite adept at inspiring Austrian patriotism she herself embroidered flags for the army. She encouraged and supported her husband and was tireless in the war efforts.

Faced with the advance of Napoleon's army in Vienna, Franz deemed the situation to be too dangerous for Maria Ludovica and the children. He arranged for them to stay in Ofen, Hungary for a couple of months for their safety. She constantly wrote to her husband to persevere and not to give up. The cold climate in Ofen intensified her chronic lung problem and her cough and fever caused grave concerns that the court physician had to write to the Emperor that the Empress did not allow herself to take enough rest. Once the war was over and the Treaty of Schonbrunn was signed, Franz rushed to Ofen be with his wife. Maria Ludovica's health improved but her mind was filled with concerns and mistrust of Napoleon.

Maria Ludovica did not bear the Emperor any children but she got along very well with her stepchildren. She became best friends with her stepdaughter, Marie Louise, who was only four years younger than her, and when it was proposed that Marie Louise should marry Napoleon to guarantee peace with France, Maria Ludovica was appalled. During Marie Louise's marriage in 1809, Maria Ludovica had to muster all of her will power and self-control to disguise her ill feelings towards Napoleon.

In 1812 at Dresden, she was a reluctant guest to the assembly of German sovereigns gathered by Napoleon to celebrate his victory in the war against Russia. At this time also, Maria Ludovica was increasingly suffering from poor health and seek for a cure in Carlsbad. There she met the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The well-read Empress made a charming impression to the sensitive Goethe. He thought her  to be extremely cheerful and sprightly and he was filled with overwhelming feelings for meeting such a "wonderful creature" as he described her in a letter to his friend.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, Maria Ludovica proved to be a gracious and charming hostess. Despite these very strenuous task that further strained her health, she fulfilled her official duties and entertained the numerous guests. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand greatly admired her for her grace and charm despite her persistent cough and anorexia.

After the final defeat of Napoleon, Maria Ludovica confided to her mother that she had no more hatred for him. She made a journey back to Italy to visit her childhood home but her health steadily declined. She was too weak to go back to Austria, and on April 7, 1816, in Verona, Maria Ludovica finally succumbed to tuberculosis. She was only 28 years old. She was buried in Imperial Crypt of the Hapsburgs. Six months later, her husband married for the fourth time.

Goethe greatly admired the Empress Maria Ludovica and he saw her as an archetype of humanity. He described his encounter with her: "Such an experience toward the end of one's days gives one an agreeable sensation, as though one were dying of sunrise, and yet we're thoroughly convinced that nature is eternally productive, divine to its very core, alive, true to type and not subject to age".


Thea said...

How fascinating! I didn't even know about her. Thanks for this post Gem!

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