Like his brother-in-law Napoleon, Murat maintained a life-long abhorrence of both corporal and capital punishment. He sought every possible means of avoiding them, and resorted to them only when he felt he had no other choice (such as his response to the Madrid uprising in 1808, or the unleashing of General Manhès to sort out the Calabrian brigandage after years of Murat’s clemency had failed to do so). General Guglielmo Pépé’s memoirs recall Murat’s propensity for dispensing mercy on multiple occasions (see here for one example). His desire to see condemned men spared led him even to (unsuccessfully) beg Napoleon to spare royalist conspirator Georges Cadoudal, who had taken part in a plot to assassinate the First Consul. Occasionally Murat’s penchant for mercy backfired; the Marquis de Rivière, whose life was spared by Napoleon as a result of Murat’s pleas, ended up repaying Murat’s kindness by putting a bounty on him during the so-called “White Terror” in the aftermath of Waterloo.
In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat (from pages 28-31), we see that Murat’s mercy extended, for better or worse, even towards those bent on the destruction of his own family. We also see that Murat was not at all exaggerating the danger his family faced in Naples as stated in his letter to Napoleon from 24 March 1810.
Vast conspiracies had been hatched against our family; the conspirators from the capital were in contact with the brigands from the province who, for their part, received inspirations from Sicily, where reigned the Bourbons. They wanted to destroy the entire dynasty and in a single blow. To this end, the conspirators distributed the roles and the victims. We fell in the share of the domestics of Mlle de Mirvaux: Carlo, her valet, was part of the conspiracy and brought into it Rosa, her chambermaid… that very one whose nocturnal promenades, torch in hand, had been noticed from the outside and had been considered by the ill-intentioned as likely to favor their designs. In effect, Rosa, an old gray-haired harridan whose sinister physiognomy I have never forgotten, was charged with my sister and me…; that is to say with killing both of us, the day, or rather the night, that would be indicated to her, assuring that, the murder accomplished, it would be very easy for her to escape without exciting suspicions, thanks to her habit of being seen roaming the palace at every hour of the evening. By good fortune, the conspiracy was discovered a few days before that when it would have been put into execution. Rosa and her accomplice were thrown into prison. I remember perfectly the morning when this mystery of iniquity was divulged to us… I remember the profound impression we felt, the terror and the despair of our poor Mirvautine (such was the name of friendship that we commonly gave her), but what I don’t remember at all are the names of the other conspirators, nor the final result of the trial that followed. It seems to me that, condemned to death, they were pardoned, but I can’t answer to that.
I cannot specify the date of this fact, I write from memory and without the aid of any book or newspaper from the time… but I can guarantee it as historical.
[Louise wrote the above in 1862–three years later, compiling these letters to her children into book form, she tacked on the following footnote, letting the historian Colletta fill in the gaps in her memory as to the aftermath of this affair. The incident had occurred in 1811.]
Excerpt from Colletta’s history:
The conspirators were arrested, their arms and papers gotten hold of, the judgment was ordered, but in ordinary forms of liberty, as if it had not been a lèse-majesté* trial. Witnesses, exhibits and confessions demonstrated the guilt in the course of a public debate, and the King’s prosecutor requested the condemnation of seven of the conspirators, and the galleys for the twenty-one others. The defense advocates spoke without great hope, when the President interrupted their plea in order to read to the public a leaflet that had just reached him and came from the King. He said in it: “I hoped that those accused of plotting against my person were innocent, but I just learned with pain that the general prosecutor has requested very grave sentences for all. Their guilt is perhaps true, but, wanting to conserve still a ray of hope for their innocence, I prevent the vote of the tribunal, I pardon the accused, and I order that upon the arrival of this leaflet, the judgment be annulled and that the unfortunates be put at liberty. As it was a senseless offense against me and that the sentence still has not been pronounced, I do not offend the laws of the State, without listening to the Council of mercy; I make usage of the greatest and best right of sovereignty. –JOACHIM”
*an offense against the sovereign