Empress Marie-Louise’s wedding gown

wedding napoleon marie-louise religious ceremony detail

Wedding of Napoleon and Marie-Louise: the religious ceremony

I discussed Queen Victoria’s in a prior post. Not that Victoria was the first bride to wear white, far from it, but she was a trend-setter in that regard. White fabrics, since the invention of chlorine bleach by Berthollet in the 1770s, had become affordable and consequently very popular with regular ladies, for both wedding gowns and everyday attire. But until Victoria’s decided otherwise in 1840, white was deemed too shabby for a royal wedding.

Cloth-of-silver, sometimes overlaid with silver netting or lace, had been the preferred choice of royal brides. For an astonishing 18th century example, see the wedding gown of Princess Edwige Elisabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp here (second from the bottom.) Likewise Princess Charlotte of Wales wore a gown of silver lamé over a silver slip, with a manteau (overcoat) of matching silver lamé, to her wedding in 1816. For a picture of that gown, fortunately preserved to this day, see this post at Jane Austen’s World.

What about Empress Marie-Louise of Austria, who married Napoléon on April 2, 1810, thirty years before Victoria’s wedding? First we must remember that she had not been allowed to bring any clothes, nor indeed any personal effects, with her.

Like her grand-aunt Marie-Antoinette, Marie-Louise had to strip off her Austrian clothes upon crossing the French border, and was presented with a new, splendid trousseau (complete set of clothing, shoes and undergarments for all occasions.) Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples and Napoléon’s sister, had been put in charge of greeting the bride at the border. Carried away by the zeal of the neophytes, or out of sheer nastiness, Caroline even demanded that Marie-Louise, already terrified at the idea of marrying the man she had been brought up to loathe and call The Ogre, send back her pet spaniel to Vienna.

So Marie-Louise wore the wedding clothes that had been chosen for her in France: a magnificent dress of silver tulle, embroidered with pearls and gold thread, and hemmed with gold fringe. A diamond tiara held a veil of Alençon lace over her blonde hair.

Marie-Louise wore white satin slippers, embroidered in silver thread. There was a minor, or not so minor from her standpoint, problem. Maybe due to a miscommunication between Vienna and Paris, the dainty shoes had been ordered too small and caused the new Empress a great deal of pain.

Over her silver gown, the Marie-Louise wore a long manteau of crimson velvet, lined with hermine and adorned in gold embroidery. I have read that the manteau was the same one previously worn by Joséphine to Napoléon’s coronation ceremony six years earlier, but I very much doubt it. If you look at this detail of Jacques-Louis David’s painting of the coronation, the deep red of the velvet may be similar, but the pattern of the gold embroidery is quite different, particularly around the hem. And Napoleon could afford a new manteau for this prestigious Habsburg bride, without having to recycle his first wife’s worn clothes.

The long train of the manteau was carried by no less than four Queens:

- the aforementioned Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples;

– Julie Clary, Queen of Spain, married to Napoléon’s brother Joseph;

- Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland, daughter of Josephine, and married to Napoléon’s brother Louis;

– Catharina of Württemberg, Queen of Westphalia, married to Napoléon’s brother Jérome.

Thus the four bridesmaids would become the bride’s sisters-in-law. From Marie-Louise’s standpoint, only Catharina would have qualified as true royalty, but to have four Queens, albeit newly minted ones, carry one’s bridal train is certainly an unusual honor. Can you recognize them on this painting? The blonde lady in the blue manteau must be Hortense. Then I would guess, left to right, Caroline, Julie and Catharina, but I am not sure for these.

The image above is a detail of a painting of the religious ceremony at the Louvre by Georges Rouget, a pupil of the great David. Unfortunately, the wedding gown is somewhat obscured by the figure of Napoleon. The fashion plate below, though less pleasing to the eye, gives a better idea of the wedding gown. The silver cloth looks white, but we have a good look at the gorgeous red manteau. Note that here the sleeves and bodice seem to be cut of matching red velvet. I suppose that the outfit included a spencer-like short jacket, not shown on the Rouget painting. Presumably the bride had removed it for the religious ceremony.

Marie-Louise wedding gown

Marie-Louise: the wedding gown

And what about the religious ceremony itself? See there…

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8 Comments to “Empress Marie-Louise’s wedding gown”

  1. Kate Warren says:

    Lovely and timely post, Catherine. I love weddings!

  2. Penny says:

    Beautiful. thank you for this posting it seems fitting for the season.

  3. You are most weldome, Penny!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Fascinating post! I had not seen this portrait before. Also, thanks for the links. The image of Princess Charlotte’s gown was stunning!

  5. Indeed! But my all-time favorite wedding gown remains that of Princess Edwige. Not very comfortable, though, I suspect… For elegance AND practicality, I’d go with Carolyn Bessette’s.

  6. Violet says:

    WOW! On the last picture of Marie Louise, her dress looks like Josephines coronation dress :(

  7. Gina says:

    Hello – I ran across your site while doing research on a particular artists’ rendering of Marie Louise. Do you know anything about this particular version of her?: http://www.ebay.com/itm/ANTIQUE-ORIGINAL-HANDPAINTED-PORTRAIT-PLATE-MEDALLION-MARIE-LOUISE-AUSTRIA-/170934118482?pt=Antiques_Decorative_Arts&hash=item27cc77a852

    Thanks!