“He was our friend, I would almost say our playmate…”

I was lucky enough to be able to find a copy of this available from a seller on Amazon. Murat’s youngest daughter, Louise, wrote it for her children, not only to describe her childhood memories of her beloved father, but also to justify and explain his actions in 1814-1815, and defend his reputation. One of my goals for 2020 is to work my way through the entire book. Though my French reading has improved a great deal since I started translating Murat’s letters a couple years ago, I still have a lot of work to do, so it’s going to take a while but I think it’ll be well worth the effort.

I’m also planning to translate some excerpts as I go, and post them here. The excerpt below is from pages 15-17. Louise describes the living arrangements of the Royal Palace in Naples, the terrace which became such a precious place for the royal couple during their reign, and her father’s love of playing with his children at every available opportunity.

***

We were staying at the Royal Palace on the upper floor; our accommodation occupied half the facade, angled on the sea-side and terminating on a large terrace covered with arbors and flowers. The great apartments of the King were underneath ours, and his bedroom and the rooms where he usually stayed were underneath our terrace. The main building occupied by the Queen was far enough away from that occupied by the King, but united to that one by the famous terrace, unique, I believe, in its kind and that its position renders such a beauty… that even now that I have seen and traveled so much, I could not imagine anything more beautiful!… A long arbor of lemon trees planted in the open ground occupied the center, and as this terrace is located at the top of a multi-story building, it is with good reason that I’ve often heard it compared to the famous hanging gardens of antiquity! But I doubt that, from his gardens, Semiramis could enjoy a view as beautiful as that offered by the golf of Naples in all its splendor.

This great terrace served as communication between the apartments of the King and those of the Queen; they alone could traverse it, it was exclusively reserved to them. The magnificent climate of Naples permitted them to walk there at every hour, by day and by night, and it was quite rare that, in order to return from one place to the other, they resigned themselves to traversing the interminable interior detours of the Palace.

I said that we were lodged underneath our Father; a small hidden staircase led from his living room to our apartment. He alone had the key and came to see us at every moment of liberty left to him by his occupations.

You will find in all of the books of the time anecdotes that will speak to you of the bravery, of the generosity of Murat, of his chivalrous character… but what I alone can tell you, my children, is how good a father he was! My Mother also loved us, but she wasn’t effusive… we would sometimes remain for entire days without seeing her! He was our friend, I would almost say our playmate. He didn’t have a set time for his visits; sometimes he went up to our place barely awake… sometimes after a Council of Ministers; he came to relax, to unwind by making us jump upon his knees, and if a quarter of an hour interval separated an audience from his habitual walk, he took advantage of it to come embrace us before leaving. So what a welcome we gave him! What a celebration when we saw him open the door of the little staircase! How we ran into his arms!… We even went so far as to tutoyer* him… but this only when we were well alone with him!… The usage then was not allowed, like today, this familiar fashion of speaking to one’s parents, and in front of our Mother, we never would have dared.

*Tutoyer: to refer to someone with the familiar tu, rather than the formal vous generally used for one’s elders/superiors.

3 thoughts on ““He was our friend, I would almost say our playmate…”

  1. Thank you so much, I’m looking forward to reading more from this book! The saddest thing about studying this era is that you can never read half of what you would love to read…

    I love this “small”, anecdotal history. And funny enough, it was another story about Murat and a child that made me doubt the “Beauharnais version” of events (which portrays Murat mostly as intriguer and bad-guy). I think it’s in Constant’s memoirs: Hortense’s oldest son, little Napoléon, is brought to the Tuileries to say hello to the Emperor. On the way he encounters uncle Joachim, who, crazy about kids as usual, wants to give the boy a hug. To which the toddler replies that he cannot hug him now, he first has to bid a good morning to his other uncle, the Emperor. – That kid clearly had been told which side of his bread was buttered…

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    1. You are so right! I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface on my research of Murat. And not just from the sheer quantity of material, but also because of the language barrier–there are a lot of sources regarding his time as Grand Duke of Berg and as King of Naples that are in German and Italian respectively, and I’m not well versed in either language. I’ve started delving into Italian via Duolingo to give myself an introduction to the language at least, but it’ll be some time before I’m anywhere near being able to read anything substantial. But I’ve got a long list of English/French stuff I’m planning to go through this year, and I’m hoping to update the blog regularly.

      The small, anecdotal histories are my favorites. Constant’s memoirs have some gems, like the story about him and Murat accompanying Napoleon to pay a visit to one of Napoleon’s mistresses, and the two of them waiting outside in the coach throughout the night, and Murat starting to panic over long it was taking and thinking Napoleon might be in danger and leaping out to go see if everything was okay. Try as I might, I always get lost (and even bored) trying to study the minute details of the military campaigns, the tactics and troop movements and so on. What I love are learning about the people–their personalities, their personal lives, their relationships/friendships/rivalries with each other etc. The deeper I dig, the more I believe Murat has been grossly oversimplified over the years. He’s far more complex than he’s been made out to be. To some extent I blame Napoleon, who really bent over backwards to drum it into everyone’s head that Murat was just a brave idiot who wore outlandish clothing.

      The “Beauharnais version” always strikes me as a bit too suspicious. They always seem to come across as so pure and innocent, you’d get the impression they could all walk on water! Eugène was hardly a saint in his personal life, from what little I’ve come across. I won’t deny the the Murats were ambitious but I think so much of their malignant reputation comes from the bitterness people bore towards them after their defection from Napoleon. Caroline especially comes off very badly in Hortense’s memoirs. It’s unfortunate that we never get to hear Caroline’s side of things, or Joachim’s for that matter, as neither of them ever left any memoirs or diaries.

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  2. Pingback: "A very exact physical portrait" – Project Murat

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