“My Father did not always tread this path with prudence”

In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, Louise describes the political factionalism of the Neapolitan court, and its effects on the relationship of the King and Queen, each of whom served as a figurehead for one of the rival factions. Louise also discusses a major political mistake made by Joachim in 1811 which precipitated a serious dispute with Napoleon and only further deteriorated their relationship.

Source: Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 120-126.

***

On the arrival of Murat in Naples, all or nearly all of the positions were occupied by the French who had followed either him or Joseph, or who had come searching for fortune in the shadow of their throne. This state of things irritated the Italians, and nothing is more natural. Seeing foreigners alone enjoying the favors of the court and alone having the right to occupy themselves for the interests of their country, must have wounded them profoundly. The King felt this, he understood that, mounting an Italian throne, he had to surround himself with all the national capacities. Little by little, the Neapolitan employees became more numerous, and already one could see the moment when they would occupy virtually all of the positions. This change, however, could not be effected without giving birth to a great animosity between the two nations.

Soon one saw two very distinct parties emerge: the French party and the Italian party. The Queen was considered as the natural protector of the first, and the second surrounded particularly the King and looked, by its eagerness, to prove to him its gratitude for the feelings that he demonstrated for his new subjects. It would not be exact to believe by the name that this party took from the beginning, that from then on it dreamed of the union and independence of Italy. These ideas only emerged in the latter years of my Father’s reign; but it had as a basis the most noble sentiments which can inspire a people: the desire of being something by themselves, and of leaving the tutelage, still humiliating, of a foreign power.

The Emperor, quite often, pushed his demands to every extremity; the French interest was everything to him, everything must be sacrificed to it. The Italian party grumbled, and my Father, already irritated himself, having the title of King, not being able to exercise the authority of it in all its scope, could draw from this party and its exaltation the strength, if not to openly resist Napoleon’s orders, at least to attenuate those which could be too hard for the Neapolitan interests and self-esteem.

To counter-balance the influence of their adversaries, the French, whose jealousy was strongly excited and who believed themselves to have exclusive rights to the King’s gratitude, highly criticized all who bore an Italian name and sought above all to secure the support of the Queen; but they could never succeed entirely in circumventing her, because the latter, although naturally bearing favor for them, looked to be useful to them individually, to calm the animosity of the two parties, but found it more political not to openly espouse the cause of one or the other.

Between these two parties, holding the scales with a strong and very confident hand, was a very difficult thing. The King had to tend directly and unceasingly to Italianizing his throne, but without jolts, without violence, and above all without hazarding any resounding action which, due to his position still so dependent on the Emperor, he would’ve then been obliged to retract. I must admit it, my Father did not always tread this path with prudence, and the decree by which, in 1811, he required the Neapolitan naturalization for all the French who remained in his service[1], is a painful proof of this. This decree, deeply desired and supported by the Italian party, served only to significantly embitter spirits.

As soon as Napoleon learned about it, he got carried away, threatened, and annulled it. I wouldn’t dare to determine if, by right, my Father could make such a resolution, but unable to support it, I believe that, out of prudence, he would have done better to not have raised this question. I possess a copy of the instructions by the Emperor, on this occasion, to M. Durand, his ambassador to Naples. They are curious to read and are a singular specimen of the diplomatic style of the time.

Whatever the exalted of the Italian party said and printed about it, the Queen was not in absolute contradiction to them. She had too much political sense not to understand that the future of her dynasty was in large part sustained by their opinions; but she blamed, and looked to contain, those who, by exaggerating the natural sentiment, would have wanted to influence the King and push him to inconsiderate actions.

In order to nullify her opposition, everything was done to excite the defiance of my Father against her, and some intriguers, at the head of whom was placed a French surgeon (M. Péborde), undertook against her an underhanded and continuous war.

I promised at the start to admit the faults that my Father might have had, I have already done so when I recognized that he had not used enough caution and prudence in the affair of the naturalization… I want to speak again her with the same frankness, desiring by my impartiality to deserve your entire confidence. We have seen how jealous my Father was of his authority. I must say that he pushed this feeling to exaggeration. He wanted to play neither the role of Joseph, King nearly without a kingdom, endlessly rattled by military authority, nor that of Louis, forced to abdicate in order to escape the necessity of ruining his own subjects; but he would have borne even less that of Felix Bacciochi, the very humble husband of Elisa, Grand Duchess of Tuscany! He feared, if he let Caroline take too much control over him, of soon being reduced to being only the husband of the Queen, Queen’s Consort, as the English say, and very little would suffice to overshadow him. In this, he was entirely wrong: he had too much personal merit to be assimilated as Felix and annulled. And, for her part, the Queen, although ambitious, had too much feeling for her own dignity to ever consent to making her husband play such a ridiculous role. The intriguers whom I mentioned above, seeing that, despite the susceptibility of the King, the political jealousy was still not sufficient to sow misunderstanding within the royal marriage, imagined to excite another sort of jealousy that the Queen’s youth and beauty could easily give birth to, and, not shrinking from the grossest calumnies[2], they managed to throw discord between the two spouses, but fortunately, for a very short time.

My Mother could easily justify herself, and this storm which loomed in such a menacing manner, was only temporary, of short duration, and such that there is hardly any family, noble or plebeian, villager or sovereign, that cannot be momentarily affected. The good harmony did not take long to be restored and was never again troubled; I have the proof of it in the confidential letters of the Queen to the King, which can be found between my hands and which, all, bear the imprint of the most cordial intimacy.

This incident not having any influence on the events of the time, I would not have spoken of it to you, my children, if the makers of Memoirs[3], and even some historians, had not seized on it and had not given it an importance that it was very far from having, but which had nonetheless caused great sorrows to my Mother. I remember–when, during my youth, I spent sometimes entire days reading with her the publications that every moment saw bloom relating to the Emperor and his family–I remember, I say, some tears of indignation which escaped from her eyes on the reading of so many false details, of so many cowardly lies. Ah! such a high rank intoxicates you with its luster, if all seems splendor around you, how many shadows in this brilliant picture! Your least words, your most innocent actions, are commented on, malignancy takes hold, and the mysteries even of the alcove (mysteries which are sacred in all households) are delivered, distorted by hatred, to the most outrageous publicity.

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[1] This political misstep on the part of Murat was a response to recent threats by Napoleon to annex Naples and unite it to France, as he had done a year earlier to Louis’s kingdom of Holland. Murat’s “intention,” writes his biographer Hubert Cole, “was quite clear: to force all Frenchmen in positions of authority to swear loyalty to him.” (Cole, The Betrayers, pg 163) The immediate result of this was multiple French officials in Naples, including Murat’s close friend and treasury minister Agar, the Count of Mosbourg, threatening to resign from their positions. The response from Paris which soon followed was even more alarming for Murat: through war minister Clarke, Napoleon ordered the Army of Naples disbanded, renamed, and turned entirely over to the command of General Grenier, who would answer directly to Clarke. Murat would continue to pay for this army, which would now be poised to invade him if Napoleon decided to take the step to annex Naples as he had Holland. He followed this up with a proclamation stating that “since the kingdom of Naples constitutes an integral part of the Grand Empire, and the prince who governs it is a Frenchman and a high dignitary of the empire, and he has been placed on the throne and maintained there only by the efforts of our people, we decree that: All French citizens are citizens of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies; the decree of the king of that country, dated June 14, is in no way applicable to them.” Hubert Cole describes Murat’s reaction thus: “For Joachim it was almost literally maddening. He tore the Legion of Honor from his tunic and snatched up a pistol, threatening to take his own life. Caroline kept his ministers away from him for two days ‘for fear somebody would see him in the state of frenzy into which he had fallen.’” (Cole, 164) He skipped the celebration of the Emperor’s birthday in August and did not meet with his Council of Ministers again until August 22. Napoleon ceased responding personally to Joachim’s correspondence for nearly a year, as the quarrel between the two men dragged on. Caroline, meanwhile, would return to Paris for several months (from September to May) to serve, once more, as a bridge between the two.
[2] In mid August of this same year, Minister of the Police Antonio Maghella (whom Caroline would later convince Napoleon to remove from office), allegedly gave King Joachim letters exchanged between Minister of War Daure and Queen Caroline, “which proved not only their intimacy, but also the attempts made to persuade Napoleon to withdraw the crown from his brother-in-law and give it to his sister.” (Cole, 165) Murat wrote to Napoleon around this time that he had removed Daure from office, saying that Daure “did not hesitate to attack me in my tenderest affections” but that “his efforts in that respect were far from obtaining the success that he dared hope for.” Louise’s impression of the abruptness with which this “storm” passed may be a bit too sanguine. Caroline was still writing to Joachim in anguish over his distrust of her into the fall of 1811.
[3] In her footnote here, Louise cites Laure Junot’s memoirs as being the worst of those in terms of slanders directed at Caroline.

One thought on ““My Father did not always tread this path with prudence”

  1. Pingback: “They led him to his doom.” – Project Murat

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