Maria was born in 1826 in Granada to the count of Montijo. She was sent off to school in France in 1840. Her elder sister became countess of Montijo in 1839 and so Maria meerly inherited the coutesy title of countess.
She was invited to an imperial ball in 1846 and met emperor Napoleon III. When two years later the emperors wife, the empress Eugenie died, Maria was able to use her friendship with the emperor to persuade him to marry her as opposed to a princess from a major European family.
She was crowned empress in