Shortly after Napoleon had resolved to marry the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise in the wake of his divorce from Josephine, he dispatched his youngest sister, Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples, to meet his bride-to-be in Munich. Caroline’s journey began early in March 1810. She was to accompany Marie-Louise to Soissons, where the archduchess was (in theory) to meet Napoleon for the first time. But the Emperor, accompanied by Murat and impatient to meet Marie-Louise, drove out ahead and intercepted the pair in Courcelles. The group then returned to Compiègne for the wedding.
The following three letters were written on 24 March, 1810—the day before Joachim and Caroline Murat’s mutual birthday, and shortly before the Emperor’s first encounter with the soon-to-be Empress. In the first one, Caroline complains of the exhausting and tedious journey (in an earlier letter, she tells her husband that they spend sixteen hours a day in the carriage), while trying to reassure her husband—who had argued against Napoleon marrying an Austrian—that Marie-Louise would be very pleasing to the Emperor. The second letter, from Murat to his eldest daughter Letitia, paints a deceptively rosy picture of affairs which is belied by the third letter, from Murat to Napoleon, in which the King of Naples protests a recent order from his brother-in-law that will effectively destroy Murat’s royal guard.
Murat’s relationship with Napoleon was increasingly strained at this point in time. Two years earlier, upon taking the throne of Naples, he had found the economy of his new kingdom in shambles, its treasury plundered by Napoleon’s older brother Joseph, who had briefly reigned there prior to being crowned King of Spain in 1808. Murat, who, like Napoleon’s brother Louis in Holland, had taken a legitimate interest in the affairs of his subjects, worked hard to try to repair his kingdom’s mangled economy, but his politics often placed him at odds with Napoleon. The Emperor, in turn, viewed all of the kings he had created as merely his viceroys, and found any political deviation from them to be completely unacceptable. Their relationship would continue to deteriorate over the next few years, culminating with Murat’s defection to the Allies in January 1814.
(All three letters are from Volume 8 of Lettres et documents pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat 1767-1815, which can be found on either Google Books or HathiTrust.org.)
Queen Caroline to her husband
Lunéville, 24 March 1810, at ten o’clock at night.
I am delighted that you are with the Emperor and that you have arrived in good health, I hope to see you again soon and to kiss you with all my heart. I have acquitted myself of your commission with the Empress who much desires to see you, she is charming and I like her more and more. The Empress really likes macaroni and we eat it whenever we find it, she has a great desire to go to Naples and to see a city she is told is so beautiful.
The Emperor finds that I am not writing him enough, but I’m not even given ten minutes to write him and I am so dizzy from visits, from noise, from shouting, that if only the couriers left the next day, I would write at night, but hardly have we descended from the carriage when the Prince of Neufchatel sends away his courier and it is necessary to write with a headache. Furthermore I listen to so much shouting from six o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock in the evening and all along the road, “Long live the Empress” that all night, while sleeping, I hear in my ears the cry “Long live the Empress”, and then I wake up with a start and as if I was forced to scream “Long live the Empress”, I start shouting the same thing too. I pray you warn Paulette and all the family that when they see me, at the first question they ask me, I will respond with “Long live the Empress”, because this is all I know how to say anymore and I am just like Agnelet.
All the fêtes are charming everywhere and the Empress is received with an enthusiasm that is delirious. Moreover, I cannot repeat it enough, she is sweet, spiritual, charming, and will bring, I am sure, the Emperor’s happiness. I have read in the newspaper of the Munich article, that the evening that I’d been at the show with the King and Queen of Bavaria, I had worn out of gallantry the colors of Bavaria, I feel this is an absurdity without parallel and that I would have been incapable of doing so. I had that evening a dress of green satin (which you know) with a white belt. So if the Emperor speaks to you of this, you will be able to instruct him of the fact. I would much like to know who it is who amuses himself by always writing such lies.
Farewell, my dear friend, I believe you are very happy to be with the Emperor, I hope soon to be as happy as you and doubly so, since I will have the happiness of kissing you.
Murat to his daughter Letitia
Compiègne, 24 March 1810
My dear Letitia, I’ve written to your brother and I’ve charged him to kiss you for me. I arrived here in good health, and that of the Emperor is perfect, I know that your good mama is doing well, she stayed at Strasbourg with the Empress, and I flatter myself that I will see her again on the 28th. I will give you her news right away. I hope, my dear Letitia, that you are still working a lot and that mama will be satisfied with your great progress. You know all the pleasure that it gives me myself. Farewell, my lovely Letitia, I kiss you from all my heart; and I will only be happy when I will be reunited with my dear and good children, to leave them no more. Kiss Achille, Lucien, and Louise for me.
Your tender and good father,
Murat to Napoleon
Compiègne, 24 March 1810
I just received a letter from Your Majesty that has considerably afflicted me. I must, indeed, be affected by this persistence and this sequence that is being employed with Your Majesty in order to succeed in making me lose his kindness, by rendering him unfaithful reports and by exaggerating the facts.
Your Majesty orders me to return to the French corps all the soldiers who have been pulled from it for my guard. If Your Majesty persists in wanting the execution of this order, he will have destroyed in an instant this guard which has cost me so much care to organize and which is my sole support, that of the Queen and of my family against a foreign population of five hundred thousand souls, in the midst of which my children remain at this moment without defense. Sire, such an order, can only have been provoked by some recent report which must have been made to you: that I continue to permit the admission of your soldiers into my guard. Since Your Majesty had permitted me to keep those who were incorporated there ten months ago, and those whom King Joseph had been authorized to admit, and Your Majesty, after the departure of half of this guard for Spain, had felt so well the necessity of completing it by the French of whom you had promised me four hundred conscripts to take of my choice in your departments.
Sire, I give my word of honor to Your Majesty that for six months not a single French soldier has been received into my guard and that prior to this period, only some soldiers from La Tour-d’Auvergne and from Isembourg had been received into it, destined principally to complete my cavalry. I also guarantee to Your Majesty that none from the line regiments had been admitted to it and that fifteen days before my departure from Naples, I returned to the corps of Your Majesty, on the demand of the colonels, fifteen or twenty French deserters who had been received there.
I have said, Sire, that my guard will be destroyed by the execution of this order of Your Majesty, because all the non-commissioned officers who form its cadres are French and that it will be impossible for me to replace them by the young Neapolitan recruits who will be able to offer me neither security nor guarantee.
Sire, Your Majesty cannot want to distress me this much; I beg you in the name of my young children to permit me to maintain the few French who are in my guard and to order that they be definitively stricken from the rosters of the regiments to which they belong.
Your Majesty would not want me to be the only one unhappy in a circumstance which assures his happiness and that of Europe [ed. note—Murat is referring to the Emperor’s upcoming wedding].
I am with respect…..