“Their farewells were full of sadness”

In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, we arrive at the final meeting between Napoleon and Murat, and Murat’s fateful decision to join the Allies–a decision which Louise argues was made for the good of Murat’s subjects, and very much against his own personal inclinations. But Louise doesn’t balk from assigning some blame for her father’s defection to Napoleon himself.

Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 129-132.


Everything would have suggested the impossibility of a reconciliation between the two brother-in-laws; but war, and a relentless war, was about to flare up again in Germany, and the attachment of my Father to the Emperor was too sincere for him to be able to keep a grudge against him in such circumstances. Read, my children, the letter that he wrote to him on 4 July 1813*, and you will be able to have an exact idea of the character of your grandfather and of the nobility of his feelings.

At the resumption of hostilities, forgetting the past, he departed, went to offer to the Emperor the support of his arms, and took part in this whole German campaign which, commenced by a victory under the walls of Dresden, came to an end, on the plains of Leipzig, by the most terrible of catastrophes. At Dresden, he had garnered his usual share of laurels, and even at Leipzig, among the other generals, he was perhaps the least rudely treated by adverse fortune.

At Erfurth, he took leave of the Emperor. Their farewells were full of sadness. It seemed that a secret premonition warned them both that they should not see each other again… and, indeed, they never did see each other again…

Before the disaster of Leipzig, which could leave no more doubts as to the imminent fall of Napoleon, two prospects presented themselves to Murat: either to stay loyal to the fortune of the Emperor and to perish with him, or to save his people and his crown separately with the allies.

The first prospect was the most chivalrous, I would even say the most heroic, and, if he should have acted as a private man, listening only to his own individual feelings, undoubtedly this would have been the one he would have embraced;… but it was not the private man who had to decide, it was the King… and on his decision depended the fate of the people over whom he had been called to reign, with whom he and his family were fully identified, and to whom, ultimately, duty and honor equally commanded him to devote himself.

To abandon his kingdom to the hostile hands of the English and Austrians, who would have immediately reinstalled Ferdinand and the absurd government from which the French had delivered it, was to lose his people and himself, without bringing help to either France or to Napoleon.

If, on the contrary, he treated with the allies, not only was he assured his personal position, but still he might flatter himself to obtain some real advantages for Italy, either for the present, or for the future.

Do not believe, however, my children, that your grandfather had abandoned the cause of the Emperor without hesitations, abruptly or unexpectedly, and without warning him of the embarrassment of his position. Very far from that! He wrote to him unceasingly, with a great liberty of language; he complained when he believed he had to complain; he begged him to change his feelings towards him, begged him more ardently still to renounce his too ambitious views, to think of the good of Italy… Everything was futile! Napoleon, full of defiance against him, merely gave him inexcusable orders and never wanted to respond to any of his reflections or to any of his projects. So it can well be said that it is Napoleon who, by his silence, had himself pushed him into the arms of Austria, with whom he finally had to conclude by accepting the propositions.

*This letter, and several others from the period leading up to Murat’s defection, are included in Louise’s book; I plan on translating and posting them in the near future.

3 thoughts on ““Their farewells were full of sadness”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    Murat did care for “his” Neapolitans. Just like other gouvernors (as none of them were actually allowed to be more than gouvernors, regardless of their titles) cared for their subjects. For Napoleon, far away in Paris, it was easy to subordinate eberything to French interests. It was a lot harder for those actually on the spot who had to look people in the face when they told them: “Sure, this will likely ruin you. But hey, it’s good for France.”

    There’s an anecdote from the Bavarian court. When in 1812 King Maximilian had to tell one of his courtiers about the death of this man’s brother, he said the usual stuff: brave, hero, never forgotten, died for the fatherland. The courtier exclaimed: “Well, if only he HAD died for the fatherland! The truth is, he died for French cotton and sugar!”

    It is not fair to accuse Murat simply of egotism or disloyalty when he tried to keep the throne of Naples instead of willingly go down together with Napoleon. I may have a very German attitude in this point but in my opinion, once your “dear leader” is leading you astray, you don’t only have the right but even the duty to oppose or at least get away from him. In my book, the Russian campaign and – even more so – Napoleon’s behaviour after it fall in the category of “astray”.

    And regarding Murat’s behaviour towards his subjects, he always seems to have cared for them, even as Grand Duke of Berg, despite his rather bad reputation in Germany. Haegele in his book quotes Napoleon in a way that truely stunned me on first reading, because I surely had not expected that. Murat had talked about public opinion in Westphalia in his last letter, and Napoleon answers: “I find it ridiculous that you confront me with the opinion of the people in Westphalia; what does the opinion of peasants have to do with politics?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He very much did care for them. He often referred to his subjects as his “children,” and took a very paternalistic outlook towards them as if they really were his own children. I think a part of it might stem from his background as a commoner + his youth during the Revolution when he was a very idealistic republican; as a king, he genuinely prioritized trying to improve the lives of his subjects rather than just using the title of king to live in splendor and to aggrandize himself. And he was very frustrated by Napoleon’s constant ignoring of his recommendations and ideas for ways to make the Napoleonic Code and the Continental System work better for his kingdom. Often, as Louise says, Napoleon would simply not reply to his letters at all. So it’s unsurprising that after a long enough time of being ignored, he decided to act as he felt best. Which then incurred the wrath of Napoleon. Overall, I’m left with the vivid impression of Murat—a man known by his contemporaries for his happy nature—being a very unhappy king. I think it’s in Rapp’s memoirs where he recounts Joachim grumbling to him one day that he’d rather be a captain of grenadiers than a king such as he is.

      I don’t think Napoleon ever visited Naples, or cared about the Neapolitans as anything other than a source of revenue for France.

      What’s also telling about Murat’s attitude towards his subjects is that, when everything starts falling down around them, his primary concerns are the well-being of his family and his subjects. He stops caring about what happens to himself at all. Here’s a particularly poignant excerpt from Cole’s “The Betrayers” on the aftermath of his defeat at Tolentino, when he knows he’s undoubtedly on the verge of losing everything as the Allies start closing in on him:

      “In this extremity of misfortune he managed to remain as calm as she [Caroline]. He had already sent word to Gallo not to approach Bianchi on his behalf. The following day he appointed Carascosa and Colletta to make the best terms possible but to insist on a guarantee of the reforms that had been made during his reign. Since the king had made no stipulations on his own account, Colletta asked exactly what he was to offer. ‘Everything, except the honour of the army and the interests of the people,’ Joachim replied. ‘I wish that all the burden of adverse fortune should fall on me alone.’”

      I’ve always been struck by the change in his demeanor in this situation. In earlier times of crisis he was prone to stress-induced illness, emotional outbursts etc, but here he’s just exhausted, beaten, and broken. He doesn’t try to deflect blame, he accepts total responsibility. It’s heartbreaking.

      Liked by 1 person

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