After months of negotiating, stalling, and vacillating, Murat very reluctantly put his pen to a treaty with the Austrians in January of 1814, officially aligning himself with the enemies of his brother-in-law Napoleon. The decision caused him great torment. Julie Récamier, temporarily staying in Naples as a guest of the king and queen, describes a scene in which, not knowing the treaty had already been signed, she told him that his first duty must be to France; “Then I’m a traitor!” Murat cried, gesturing in anguish out the window towards the British vessels already beginning to fill the Bay of Naples, and then bursting into tears.
On 15 January 1814, Murat wrote the following letter to Napoleon, not only to justify his actions, but to assure the Emperor of his continued friendship even in spite of “the short storm which separates us.” The tone of this remarkable letter makes it clear that Murat had every expectation of being reunited with Napoleon at some later date. Napoleon, in keeping with his long-standing tradition of refusing to respond to Murat directly when he was mad at him, never replied to this letter, and what little communication there was to Murat on his behalf during this period was conducted via Joseph Bonaparte.
Source: Murat, by Jean Tulard, 1983. Via the Archives Murat (A.N. 31 AP 20 300) (The translation is my own)
15 January 1814*
I have just concluded a treaty with Austria. The one who fought for so long beside you, your brother-in-law, your friend, has signed an act that appears to give him a hostile attitude against you. Your Majesty can therefore appreciate the necessity to which I yield and the heartbreak I suffer. It would be useless to recall the past. Your Majesty has all my letters under his eyes, those especially from 23 November and 25 December. I was then falsely persuaded that by acting in the direction that I had indicated, the independence of a great portion of Italy might be assured, perhaps the entirety of Italy.
In the hope of a precise and always awaited response, I had made my troops march and I was still acting in accordance with the proposed system. But Your Majesty was silent for two entire months, or what he wrote me could neither reassure or direct me.
However, events were pressing and by the very result of my movements I found myself in the presence of Austrian armies. There was nothing left to deliberate; it was necessary to fight or to accept, with the peace, the conditions that were placed upon it.
In the first option, I had to combat a superior enemy, whose forces could be augmented each day or losses easily replaced, disposing of all the resources of the occupied country by its arms, whose communications were assured by land and by sea, and who, above all, had for itself that moral force which knows no insurmountable obstacles, opinion; and I, I only had to oppose him an army still few in numbers and without experience, which, however, solely composed my military resources, which a defeat would have annihilated, and which even a victory would have uselessly weakened. Besides, I had nothing outside of my States; my request could at each step be met with refusal; to make matters worse, I had left all the coasts of my kingdom uncovered, and I could thus see myself enveloped by enemies and separated from everything that I held most dear in Naples. Finally, all my subjects loudly demanded peace; and my army would have fought regretfully, without energy, and therefore without success, those who offered us this peace so desired. So this extreme option of arms, fatal for myself, would have been without object for France herself since, alone, I could not hope to change the state of things; I would only have yet afflicted the heart of Your Majesty by offering him the spectacle of his work destroyed, and by coming to complicate still by my misfortune the difficulties of a general peace.
It was therefore necessary to resolve myself to treat and to consent despite myself to my conservation, to that of my family, to that of my crown, and yet, despite the evidence of all these considerations, I hesitated still when I received the report of the senatorial commission and the response of Your Majesty to the address of the Senate. I saw there that peace was the general wish of France as well as that of Your Majesty, that in order to give it to the world, you would consent to renounce all conquest. Italy was therefore no longer anything for Your Majesty. This warning that you had given me, undoubtedly by design, had been heard. I felt that there was no longer a moment to lose; my position would become more difficult every day and the Coalition more demanding. I was no longer given today what was offered to me yesterday, and my delays in concluding had cost me the sacrifice of many advantages. I do not regret them, since these are still testimonies of the attachment that I gave to France and to Your Majesty.
If neutrality had been possible, I would have accepted it with transport, but it was not permitted to me to stay spectator of a fight in which all the powers of Europe were taking an active part. It was therefore necessary to sign a treaty with those who are still your enemies. In the midst of this apparent change, my heart is still the same. No, I will not fight against France and against you. The field of this unfortunate and terrible war is vast enough that we can hope not to encounter each other on it; and this general peace, of which your very moderation gives us assurance, will come soon to remove from that which I’ve separately concluded everything that can have sadness and bitterness for me.
And nevertheless, Sire, this particular peace will have the good effect of consolidating my throne, of making me recognized by the entirety of Europe and of assuring my independence founded on the same interest of the other powers.
Either I am much mistaken or the result cannot be without some interest for Your Majesty himself. In the midst of the pretensions and the prejudices of all the old reigning dynasties, I treated with them as an equal; I knew how to take and hold my rank; among the debris which covers Europe, your pupil, your brother-in-law, has conserved the crown that you have given him, and, after the short storm which separates us, you will regain with pleasure the one who is eternally attached to you.
I cannot express to you how much this reflection I make to you, which still binds me to Your Majesty when I appear to be separating myself from you, softens the sorrows I suffer. I also come to think that it will trump in your heart the first movement that might rise against me. Restored thus to the calmest feelings, you would never consent, Sire, to consider me, to let me be treated as your personal enemy. Must the relations of friendship and of family be interrupted between Your Majesty and I because those of politics have momentarily been so? I need to hear occasionally that you still love me, because I will always love you. When these storms have been dissipated, it is necessary, for my heart, that I see you again as a friend, after a painful absence. Above all, nothing must happen during this forced separation that can leave sad memories.
Sire, permit me to finish by recommending to your sensibility the French who are in my Kingdom. I can respond that they are no less devoted heart and soul to Your Majesty. Their situation will be dreadful if you permit the rigors of our laws to be applied to them. Recalled to France, they will only find misery and will become an embarrassing charge for our government. Whereas, tolerating their stay in my States, they would continue to enjoy here the protection and the advantages which have always been assured and the effects of which I would like to make them feel more particularly in the painful circumstances in which we find ourselves.
*note–Tulard has this letter dated as 14 January; every other source I have ever seen has it as being dated the 15th, so I’ve decided to go with that date for the sake of consistency when I reference it in future posts here.