“A very cruel blow to the self-esteem of my Father”

In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, Louise continues to discuss the accumulating circumstances which eventually led to her father’s defection from Napoleon, focusing now on the way in which the Emperor undermined King Joachim during his campaign against Sicily in 1810. If there can be said to be a pivotal moment in the deteriorating relationship between Murat and Napoleon, the Sicilian expedition may well be it. It was not the sort of humiliation a man as proud as Murat could have borne lightly, and the knowledge of his brother-in-law’s contribution to it only increased this humiliation tenfold.

Source: Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 117-120.

***

The preceding pages[1] may have given you an idea of the manner in which the Emperor intended to treat the Kings of his family. My father was far from being more favored than the others.[2] I could not recount in order and in detail all the skirmishes of every sort which, each day, had taken place between the two governments. The Emperor sometimes insisted meticulously on the strict execution of all the clauses of the treaty of Bayonne[3], and, sometimes, he forgot them entirely.

The King, for his part, seeing what an enormous burden the creation of a national army and flotilla was on his people, attached to the already considerable costs of the French military occupation[4], searched for every possible means to lighten a load so heavy, and which his subjects had so much difficulty in bearing.

Everything that he proposed for this purpose was most often rejected by the Emperor.

Several times, these discussions relating to material interests gave way to disagreements of another kind and of a much higher gravity. Such was, in 1810, the expedition of Sicily, the failure of which came to strike a very cruel blow to the self-esteem of my Father as King and as a soldier.

This expedition had been proposed by the Emperor and the entire plan had been consolidated between him and my Father, in an interview they had together at Compiègne. The French and Neapolitan troops intended to take part in it were to act under the direct command of the King. Entire months were devoted to preparing for it; it devoured enormous sums and was the cause of great losses as much in men as in munitions and in vessels employed to transport them. But when, after so many pains and troubles, the camp at Piale was finally established, my Father saw under his feet that Sicily, object of envy and covetousness for every Neapolitan sovereign, and believed himself assured of success; but when he was going to give the order to attack, this order could not be carried out!

Contrary orders, coming directly from Paris, arrived to impede them, and nothing could overcome this obstacle. My Father, despair in his heart, had to return to his capital, under the blow of a humiliation all the stronger as the victory had appeared to him so certain.

He didn’t take long to find out the mysterious cause of Napoleon’s counter-order; and you will easily understand what just indignation he must have been animated with when he learned that Caroline of Austria, thanks to her intrigues, knew how to ward off the storm that threatened her, and obtained from the Emperor, by means of secret negotiations, the inaction of the French troops of the expedition, inaction which decided the retreat of the King and left Caroline, the most mortal enemy of the French name, to peacefully occupy the throne of Sicily, the possession of which had been solemnly promised by Napoleon to both Joseph and Murat… I shall abstain from all reflection on this fact. It speaks enough for itself and is not one of those things which can be justified. You will find in my papers a draft of a letter which contains some interesting details on the preparations of this expedition so disastrous to the Neapolitan finances but which, in the intimate thinking of Napoleon, was only a simple comedy without any possible result other than the humiliation of a King of his family and of his creation and who, in this duel capacity, he should have been required to protect.[5]

***

[1] In the previous dozen pages, Louise details the misadventures of Joseph, Louis, and Jerome on their respective thrones, and Napoleon’s often harsh and unsympathetic treatment of them.
[2] Louise’s claim here is borne out by Napoleon’s own correspondence. On April 2, 1811, in a letter to Champagny, the Emperor said that “Whenever the Continental System has been departed from I have not spared even my own brothers, and I should be still less inclined to spare him.”
[3] The treaty in which Napoleon made Murat the King of Naples.
[4] As a cost-saving measure to the French treasury, Napoleon saw fit to keep large numbers of French troops stationed within the kingdoms of his vassal-kings, who were required to pay them out of their kingdom’s treasuries, and to provision them, while exercising no authority over them.
[5] In the aftermath of this disastrous enterprise, King Joachim, trying to save face as best he could, drafted a proclamation to the Neapolitan people in which he declared that the Emperor’s object had been met. Discovering this, Napoleon ranted to a subordinate that “My object was to make an expedition against Sicily. Sicily not having been conquered my object has not been attained. I consider it extraordinary that he speaks of me in this incorrect way.” Years later on Saint Helena, Napoleon admitted that his object had not been to take Sicily, that he would have devoted considerably more resources to the task if it had been, and that the real purpose of the expedition had been to serve as a distraction to British forces, to prevent the reinforcement of those in Spain.

3 thoughts on ““A very cruel blow to the self-esteem of my Father”

  1. Pingback: "I owe it to myself not to deviate" – Project Murat

  2. Pingback: “You can never know how attached to you I am” – Project Murat

  3. Pingback: “Napoleon… had prepared the future defection” – Project Murat

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