“The fall of this colossus”

In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, Louise turns away from reminiscing about her daily life growing up as a royal princess in Naples, and embarks on a more serious subject: the fall of Napoleon in 1814, and her father’s actions which many–including Napoleon–believed directly contributed to the Emperor’s dethronement. Here we see Louise combining, in her observations of Napoleon’s politics, the astute political mind of her mother, with the blunt frankness of her father.

Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 100-105.

***

The first months of 1814 had seen Napoleon fall! This is the first political event that left a profound impression on me.

I remember perfectly the terrible effect that this catastrophe produced on us [ed. note: by “us” she is referring to herself and her sister Letitia throughout this section] and above all our surprise on hearing of these Bourbons, of this Louis XVIII, of whose existence we were unaware only yesterday and who we saw today, I will say almost with terror, arise and mount this throne from which we had never believed it possible for Napoleon to descend. This is because, although living far from Paris, and reigning over a part of the Italian nation, for which, therefore, we were taught to nurture the feelings that we owe to our country, the great figure of the Emperor seemed always to hover over us, and to preside, despite his remoteness, over all our actions, even the most indifferent. In our education, everything revolved around him, and to flattering his tastes. If we were made to learn by heart the stanzas of Tasso, it was because that poet was one of his favorite authors. If Letizia learned to play chess, it was in the hope of showing him her game one day. I repeat to you, everything revolved around him, and you must understand what influence his name exercised on our young imaginations and to what extent we must have been sensitive to the fall of this colossus who unceasingly occupied our thoughts.

I haven’t related to you here everything that preceded and followed the first abdication. You know these events as well as me [ed. note: these memoirs derive from a series of letters to Louise’s children], but they have been the occasion of so many false interpretations, of so many calumnies touching on the conduct of my Father, that I feel the need to defend it for your own eyes. I cannot do it, however, without accusing in some way the Emperor and his politics; and perhaps to you it will seem impudent of me to dare to judge him so freely; but there is no such great man who is not subject to error, and, whatever admiration I profess for Napoleon, whatever superiority I like to recognize in him over the most brilliant geniuses who, from time to time, come to dazzle the earth with their splendor, I cannot however refuse to myself and to the independence of my character, the right to discuss the acts of his government and his politics. If it was only me, overcome by the feeling of affection that carried me, from my earliest childhood, to cherish, to venerate him as the head of our family, I would be silent; but it is a question of the honor of my Father, and my duty is to pursue with care everything which can contribute to defending his memory so cruelly outraged.

In order to arrive at this end, I will begin by affirming–and I think I will hardly find contradictors–that one of the greatest mistakes of Napoleon was to want each of the members of his family to occupy a throne in Europe. This mistake, in my eyes, not only consists of the spirit of ambition or pride which may have inspired this desire, but I find proof of it in consideration of an entirely different order.

Napoleon had undertaken against England an absolutely gigantic struggle. In order to secure this contest, he wanted allies; and he had them, but couldn’t keep them, because this struggle, in which he placed so much importance and for the success of which was attached the realization of vast projects that such a genius as he alone was capable of birthing and which, according to the dreams of an ambitious patriotism, must assure the supremacy of France over all of Europe, this struggle, I say, offended the feelings of all the old potentates as much as the material interests of the people. So in order to put them into execution, it was not so much allies that he needed as it was blind, docile instruments, ready to satisfy his slightest wishes without murmur.

He thought these would be assured by surrounding himself with sovereigns either French-born, or linked to him by the closest relative. He made no secret of what he required of them, and we find in a letter addressed to my Father such expressions as this:

Don’t forget that your kingdom, which has cost so much of the blood of France, belongs to you only for the interest of those who have given it to you… Remember that I have only made you King for my system.

Habituated to seeing everything bend to his desires, he didn’t understand, that is to say he didn’t want to understand, that the feelings of the most sincere devotion, of the most felt gratitude, could not authorize a King to betray the interests of the people he governs, even if in favor of the country where he was born.

So Napoleon, tramping under his feet the other nations and their rights, wanted them to serve the grandeur of France exclusively, it is not kingdoms that he should have created or preserved, but, like Ancient Rome, he should have entrusted the fate of the conquered provinces to military prefects, to proconsuls charged with governing them for the greatest glory of the People. And this is so true, that the only one of the countries submitted by him that had followed his politics blindly, without any skirmishing, is the kingdom of Italy. Eugène, in his capacity of Viceroy, had only to carry out the orders he received. He didn’t have to preoccupy himself with French or Italian interests, to conciliate or to sacrifice; he owed obedience to his King; that was his sole duty, and he fulfilled it in good conscience.

2 thoughts on ““The fall of this colossus”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    Eugène seems to have partially agreed with Louise’s last statement. This is from the relation of Maximilian von Thurn und Taxis, ADC of king Maximilian of Bavaria, who was sent to see Eugène by the end of November 1813 in order to make him join the Allies and who was met with a refusal: »And when finally, as a last argument and in accordance with my orders, I began to tell him about King Joachim’s rather clear dispositions to treat with the allied sovereigns […], the prince replied: ‘I like to believe that you are mistaken; if however it really was like that, I certainly would be last to approve of this behaviour by the king of Naples; but still, the situation would not quite be the same: he is a sovereign, whereas I, here, am nothing but the emeror’s lieutenant.’«

    So, even Eugène, while considering it morally wrong, thinks that Murat is quite in his right to act the way he does. Whereas he, as a mere viceroy, does not have that right, even if he secretely may have wished to do the same.

    As for the »docile instrument« of Napoleon’s will, the funny part is that Napoleon often seems to have been quite unhappy with Eugène and the way he did – or not – follow orders. »Eugène did all on his own« is what he says on Saint Helena about the administration of Italy. Particularly when it was about stuff like shooting bishops, Eugène apparently could be quite opinionated ^_^. The difference between him and Murat seems to have been that Eugène usually said: »Yes, Sire, of course, Sire, immediately, Sire« – and then did what he wanted.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that, I’d never seen those remarks from Eugène before and it’s very interesting indeed to see that he actually viewed Murat as being within his rights to pursue those negotiations–even with their potential end result–as a sovereign. I wonder though what, if any, difference there would have been in regard to Murat’s conduct in 1814 had he been merely the viceroy of Naples instead of its king.

      Were there any of Napoleon’s vassals whose administration he was ever actually happy with? Nobody seems to have been capable of pleasing him, at least not for very long. I think I’ve mentioned to you before that I think a big part of the problem was the disconnect between the situations in the various kingdoms as Napoleon perceived them from Paris, and the situations in those kingdoms as they actually were. And a lot of the time, his expectations/demands of his vassals, whether Murat, Eugène, Joseph, Jerome, or Louis, simply weren’t realistic.

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