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.