Happy Birthday to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma

The second wife of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia, was born 12 December 1791, the first child of Emperor Francis II of Austria by his second wife, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily. Her name was revised to the more Francophone form, Maria Louise, when she wed Napoleon in 1810.

Marie Louise of Parma

It was quite a scandal when Napoleon married her, because everyone knew he was still in love with his first wife, Josephine. However, the Emperor needed an heir, and for that he needed a younger, still-fertile wife. Marie Louise would provide him the son he longed for, but was too weak and docile to fight for her child after Napoleon’s final exile to Elba.

The Crawfords, the chief protagonists of the forthcoming Mansfield Parsonage, discussed her briefly in my first draft of the book while they were at breakfast with their sister, Mrs Grant, and their brother-in-law, Dr Grant. There would have been quite a bit of talk about the war during these years, since it had been dragging on for what would have felt like an eternity and would have been the most harped upon subject in any newspaper. Naturally, and event as significant as Austria entering the war would have caused a stir.

When I rewrote the draft, I started the book in the summer of 1812, and I had to cut this scene because Austria entered the war again in 1813. Which is a shame, because I had fun writing it and I thought it illuminated Mary’s keen mind. However, I can offer it up here, even if it didn’t make it into the final copy of the book.

Hope you like it!


When Mary came down for breakfast Tuesday morning, having spent a leisurely hour in her room reading a novel when she should have been writing letters, she could tell immediately that something of import had happened. Her brother and Dr Grant were speaking in an earnest, yet agitated, manner and Mrs Grant was listening with more than average attention.

“What on earth is the matter?” Mary called out.

Henry and Dr Grant looked up when they heard her, and stood up while she seated herself before Henry told her there had been splendid news. Did she care to guess what it was?

“Oh, for shame! Do not tease her, Henry,” Mrs Grant scolded him affectionately.

“For your sake, Mrs Grant, I shan’t.” Henry gave his elder sister a roguish smile before addressing his youngest sibling. “Austria declared war on France last week, Mary! It is in every paper. Can there be better news?”

“What?” Mary was deeply happy but very surprised. “Didn’t Napoleon’s marriage to Maria Louise of Austria guarantee his alliance with her father and her nation? Why else would he have divorced Josephine? All the world knows he still loved her.”

“Could he have still loved her, after her affair with Lieutenant Charles?” Dr Grant interjected sceptically.

“Napoleon’s love, or lack thereof, for his first wife is not the important thing here,” Henry reminded them. “The facts are that he married Emperor Francis’s daughter but his father-in-law has declared war upon him regardless.”

“But why?” Mary asked. “What caused the rupture? His grandson is to inherit Napoleon’s throne; why would Francis turn on the frogs now?”

“The Austrian wolf sees that the stag is bleeding,” Dr Grant said. “He wishes to join the Coalition so he may claim some of the spoils.”

“I cannot entirely agree with you, sir,” Henry was polite but impassioned. “The Battle of Lutzen in May is proof that the stag may be bloodied by he is still strong. Napoleon trounced the combined Russo-Prussian armies and was only prevented from pursuing them because his Calvary had been weakened in Russia. If he had not agreed to the truce on June fourth, then he would have had them. Why else would England have sent Russia and Prussia eight million pounds we cannot afford if the crown were not afraid of Napoleon’s potential victory in the Germanic theatre? I believe it is Napoleon’s arrogance that has lost him his allies.”

Dr Grant shook his head. “I must disagree, Henry. Austria sees that Napoleon falters and Napoleon’s arrogance is but the thing that keeps him from retaining Emperor Francis’s goodwill in spite of the wobbly legs France stands on. Here, let me read this section of the paper to Mary, and we’ll ask her opinion of it.” Clearing his throat, Dr Grant read out:

When Austria’s ambassador, the vainglorious but brave Clemens Furst Von Metternich, called upon Napoleon to make a treaty between France and Austria, he was repulsed by the haughty Emperor of the Frogs. Austria was willing to remain in an alliance with France only if Boney would agree to return several territories France had taken from Austria early in the war. Old Puss in Boots was inflamed, and told Metternich that “I will give you nothing because you have not defeated me. So it’s war you want? Then you shall have it and I will beat you.” Such bluster on the part of General Violet did not perturb Metternich, who rejoined that the Little Corsican’s troops were merely old men and boys and that the French cause was lost.

Dr Grant looked over the paper at his sister-in-law. “What say you, Mary? Do the Austrian turn on Napoleon because he is weak, or because he is arrogant?”

Mary accepted a cup of tea from Mrs Grant and thanked her, before sipping the brew with a pensive air. “Cannot it not be both, sir? Wouldn’t the Emperor be willing to accept enough sauce from Napoleon to make a good gravy, if he thought his son-in-law could match his actions to his boasting, yet now feels free to take offense because there is a good chance Napoleon cannot make good on his threats? Perhaps Austria is wagering that France will waddle away from the battlefield like a lame duck, unable to cash its vowels?”

“Now there is a politic answer, Mary,” Henry said with admiration. “’Tis a pure pity that you are not an ambassador’s wife, for you are a fine diplomat.”

“Whatever the reason, this is a boon for England,” Mrs Grant pointed out.

“It is a bigger boon for Prussia,” Dr Grant replied, spreading butter thickly on a piece of pound cake. “Scharnhorst died of his wounds from the Battle of Lutzen and he was the only able Prussian commander to my mind.”

“Do you discount Blucher, sir?” Henry asked.

“He is brave enough and an able soldier, I’ll grant you. But when has he ever stood against Napoleon himself in battle? Occasionally Blucher can best one of Boney’s commanders, but never the General himself.”

“Didn’t Blucher lead the Coalition forces safely from Bautzen?” Mary frowned. “Or do I misremember?”

“The answer to both your questions is ‘no’, Mary,” Dr Grant smiled at her. “You are remembering Bautzen correctly, but are giving Blucher credit where it is not due. If that damn fool (beg your pardon) Ney had held the lines like Napoleon had ordered him to, Blucher would have been lost. Blucher’s victories are more French blunders than anything else. “

“I don’t think Ney can be dismissed so easily,” Henry argued. “Ney was the victor at the River Coa, and the bane of Major-General Wellesley’s — pardon me, he is Field Marshal Wellington now — campaign at Torres Vedras. Those were no small matters.”

“Ney is a very good commander in his own way,” Dr Grant agreed, “but he is not Napoleon.”

“Joseph Bonaparte discovered that he is not Napoleon either,” Mary put of dollop of orange marmalade on her roll. “Since Wellington soundly spanked him and ran him out of Spain.”

“I do wonder if Wellington was too harsh on the common fighting man, when he called them the scum of the earth after Vitoria. Surely the abandoned French wagons were too great a temptation for the poor foot-soldier to resist?” Mrs Grant saw poverty daily, and was sympathetic to the plight of the vulgar.

“They broke the ranks and were completely without discipline, my dear,” Her husband explained. “If the French retreat had been a ruse, they could have fallen upon our forces like a terrier on an unsuspecting rat. Wellington is so very staunch himself, he has little patience for any being who is less than stalwart.”

Mrs Grant could not quite agree with her husband, so she remained silent.

“Is Joseph Bonaparte still styling himself as Jose I, King of Spain and the Indies,” Mary asked, “or has he quite given that up for the farce that it is?”

“Reports are that he would be willing to abdicate but his brother is not willing for him to do so,” Henry informed her. “Wellington must take enough of Spain that Napoleon Bonaparte understands Joseph Bonaparte is no longer a king.”

“I, for one, am amazed.” Mrs Grant handed her husband another cup of chocolate. “This time last year such a reversal in Napoleon’s fortunes — and such an ascendance of our own — seemed but a distant dream; almost too much to hope for.”

“My dear sister, I understand you perfectly,” Henry nodded. “If it had not been the battle of Vitoria, we might even now be suing France for peace. We may still have to, if we are rational. Napoleon has led his army across the Neman River, and is marching through Russia as we speak. The Little General has called it the Second Polish War, claiming he’ll forevermore keep Poland safe from Russian control, and he has the full support of the Poles. What do you think of Czar Alexander’s chances, sir?”

Dr Grant swallowed the piece of ham he’d been chewing. “I have no speculation except that England is a fool if we trust him. He was attacking our navy this time last year. Now that he has peace with the Turks, he is free to stir up more trouble for us.”

“Provided that Czar Alexander, unlike the rest of the continent, can repel a French invasion.” Henry reminded his brother-in-law. “I doubt he will, but a man who could murder his own father for the crown may have such a depraved mind that his warfare is commensurate with battling Old Nick himself.”

Mary spread cream cheese on her toast. “The czar is clearly the heir to his grandmother’s ferocity.”

“Yes, but the Russians call her Catherine the Great. I do not think they will refer to Czar Alexander as such,” Mrs Grant remarked. “He has done nothing noteworthy as to engender the name ‘great’ among his subjects.”

“Well, they called the first Peter ‘great’ and he was mad as a hatter, so there is no accounting for the Slavs,” Mary shrugged. “The entire line of their czars is tainted. The Russians should emulate the French and start fresh with a madman of their own choosing.”

“You call Napoleon a madman? I would rather call him a genius,” Henry protested.

Mary raised an eyebrow. “There is a difference?”

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