Living in exile in Trieste during the years immediately after her husband’s execution, Caroline Murat was frequently hounded to repay debts owed (or claimed to be owed) by Joachim. Not wanting his name to be tarnished any further, Caroline did her best to pay those whose claims she considered credible, while simultaneously scraping to pay for her children’s education. Most of her supplicants labored under the impression that, being a former monarch, she had surely absconded from Naples with considerable wealth. This was a reasonable impression–her brother Joseph, after losing his Spanish throne, had fled to America with around twenty million dollars–but it was not an accurate one. Although the Murats were quite wealthy upon their arrival in Naples in 1808, Joachim’s personal fortune was largely depleted over the next seven years. Caroline, who had once chided her mother for being such a miser and hoarding her money, would find herself struggling to make ends meet after 1815, forced even to sell most of the precious few items of Joachim’s that she had managed to bring with her. In this excerpt from Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, from pages 64-66, Louise Murat gives us a glimpse of how this situation came to be.
The palaces intended for the habitation of the sovereign both in and around Naples, are in large number and superb, so much so that it may be said that they are not proportionate to so small a kingdom; and, to give you an idea, I will cite only Caserta (residence of choice for the Bourbons) which has always deserved, by the vastness and the magnificence of its premises and its gardens, to be incessantly compared with Versailles.
The Bourbons, in 1806, forced by the French armies to retire to Sicily, had not only transported to this island all that belonged to them, but had also completely despoiled these palaces, these superb villeggiature* which, however, for centuries had been furnished and maintained at the expense of the State! With a rapacity unequaled, they left (literally) only the four walls; so King Joseph, coming to take possession of his kingdom, had to hastily make some installation expenses in order to be able to accommodate himself there more or less adequately.
These expenses, estimated at 16,000 francs, were reimbursed to him by my Father in 1808. My Father had, furthermore, brought to Naples a quantity of silverware, paintings, effects of all sorts, horses… in a word, all that he possessed and that wasn’t included in the peculiar cession that he had made to the Emperor Napoleon**. But the furniture left by Joseph, and everything that Joachim had brought from Paris and from Dusseldorf was not much to garnish and fill out the immense buildings meant for the service of the Crown, and he had to draw upon his private treasure in order to supplement everything that was still lacking in luxury and to the completion of the royal establishment. He likewise drew upon it, and on numerous occasions, to aid the finances of the State in the moments of hardship where they found themselves several times during the length of his reign, and ultimately he did so much that everything was spent on Naples and, at the time of reverse, this treasure was empty and he could hardly gather the necessary sum for himself and the Queen to separate themselves from a throne they had occupied in such a brilliant manner. A unique example, I believe, in history, of sovereigns showing such disinterestedness, and leaving poor the supreme rank, where yet it is so simple to enrich oneself. The Neapolitans have not forgotten it. The generosity, the disinterestedness of Murat remained there proverbially; the public esteem followed us into exile and has been our sole consolation.
*Villeggiature: a country residence mainly used for holidays
**Under the Treaty of Bayonne (15 July 1808) by which Napoleon replaced his brother Joseph with Murat as King of Naples, Murat was required to cede to Napoleon all of his lands and properties (furnishings included) in France.