Marie Louise d'Orléans was born at the Palais Royal in Paris. She was the eldest daughter of Philippe, Duke of Orléans, the younger brother of Louis XIV of France and of his first wife, Henrietta Anne of England. As a petite-fille de France she was entitled to the attribute of Royal Highness, although, as was customary at court at the palace of Versailles, her style, Mademoiselle d'Orléans, was more often used.
Charming, pretty and graceful, Marie Louise, who was her father's favourite child, had a happy childhood, residing most of the time in the Palais-Royal, and at the château de Saint-Cloud situated a few kilometres west of Paris. Marie Louise spent a lot of time with both her paternal and maternal grandmothers—Anne of Austria, who doted on her and left the bulk of her fortune to her when she died in 1666; and Henrietta Maria, who lived in Colombes.
Marie Louise's mother died in 1670. The following year, her father married Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate. All her life, Marie Louise would maintain an affectionate correspondence with her stepmother.
It has been said[by whom?] that she wanted to marry her cousin Louis, Dauphin of France; however, the surviving letters of her stepmother suggest that Marie Louise and the Dauphin were never in love. Her marriage to Charles II was seen as a way to induce better relations between France and Spain; the two nations had been on bad terms because of her uncle's battles in the Spanish Netherlands.
The proxy marriage took place at the Palace of Fontainebleau on 30 August 1679; standing for the groom was Mademoiselle d'Orléans' distant cousin Louis Armand I, Prince of Conti. Until mid-September there were a series of formal events held in honor of the new Queen of Spain. Marie Louise went to the convent of Val-de-Grâce, before her departure, where the heart of her mother was kept. She would never return to France.
On 19 November 1679, Marie Louise married Charles in person in Quintanapalla, near Burgos, Spain. This was the start of a lonely existence at the Spanish court. Her new husband had fallen in love with her and remained so until the end of his life. However, the confining etiquette of the Spanish Court (e.g., touching the Queen was forbidden), the King's mental and physical infirmities and her unsuccessful attempts to bear a child caused her distress.
Her French attendants were accused of plotting against the King and his family and, as a result, one of her personal maids was tortured. Riots occurred outside the palace in Madrid. Unlike the fashionable palaces at Versailles, Saint-Cloud and Paris, her new residences were the forbidding Real Alcázar de Madrid and the even more stark Palacio del Buen Retiro—a country palace where Marie Louise was allowed to stable her French horses. She also spent time in the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, south of Madrid.