Even then Napoleon refused to pay a bill of hers for sixty-two francs, while he allowed her only two hundred and forty francs for the maintenance of her horses. But she, with a generosity of which one would have thought her quite incapable, gave to her brother a great part of her fortune. When he escaped from Elba and began the campaign of 1815 she presented him with all the Borghese diamonds. In fact, he had them with him in his carriage at Waterloo, where they were captured by the English. Contrast this with the meanness and ingratitude of her sisters and her brothers, and one may well believe that she was sincerely proud of what it meant to be la soeur de Bonaparte.
When he was sent to St. Helena she was ill in bed and could not accompany him. Nevertheless, she tried to sell all her trinkets, of which she was so proud, in order that she might give him help. When he died she received the news with bitter tears “on hearing all the particulars of that long agony.”
As for herself, she did not long survive. At the age of forty-four her last moments came. Knowing that she was to die, she sent for Prince Borghese and sought a reconciliation. But, after all, she died as she had lived—“the queen of trinkets” (la reine des colifichets). She asked the servant to bring a mirror. She gazed into it with her dying eyes; and then, as she sank back, it was with a smile of deep content.
“I am not afraid to die,” she said. “I am still beautiful!”
There is one famous woman whom history condems while at the same time it partly hides the facts which might mitigate the harshness of the judgment that is passed upon her. This woman is Marie Louise, Empress of France, consort of the great Napoleon, and archduchess of imperial Austria. When the most brilliant figure in all history, after his overthrow in 1814, was in tawdry exile on the petty island of Elba, the empress was already about to become a mother; and the father of her unborn child was not Napoleon, but another man. This is almost all that is usually remembered of her —that she was unfaithful to Napoleon, that she abandoned him in the hour of his defeat, and that she gave herself with readiness to one inferior in rank, yet with whom she lived for years, and to whom she bore what a French writer styled “a brood of bastards.”
Naturally enough, the Austrian and German historians do not have much to say of Marie Louise, because in her own disgrace she also brought disgrace upon the proudest reigning family in Europe. Naturally, also, French writers, even those who are hostile to Napoleon, do not care to dwell upon the story; since France itself was humiliated when its greatest genius and most splendid soldier was deceived by his Austrian wife. Therefore there are still many who know little beyond the bare fact that the Empress Marie Louise threw away her pride as a princess, her reputation as a wife, and her honor as a woman. Her figure seems to crouch in a sort of murky byway, and those who pass over the highroad of history ignore it with averted eyes.