Picking back up with Louise Murat’s memoirs, we reach Murat’s fateful decision to abandon Napoleon and ally himself to Austria. Louise makes a compelling argument in defense of her father’s choice; she also contrasts her father’s visible torment over the decision with her mother’s stoicism.
Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 137-141.
You see, as long as my Father can foresee, I do not say the probability, but the possibility, that the Empire might escape the dangers which threaten it, he refuses the most seductive offers and, forgetting all his griefs, even the most recent ones, he runs to fight for Napoleon, as he would have done in his youth, at the beginning of his career. After Leipzig itself, he did not lose heart, and his correspondence is there to prove his ardent desire to see the Emperor vanquish his enemies by diplomacy as well as by his armies, and, by an honorable peace, to save his throne, France, and Italy.
It is only when all hope is lost, and he sees that the little strength which is available to him cannot be of any help to France, that, despair in his heart, he yields to the force of things and accepts the Austrian alliance.
He had to do it, and I say it with the most profound conviction. He had to do it, according to the law of high politics that wants a sovereign to sacrifice his dearest familial sentiments to the interest of the people he governs. Had this law not always directed the conduct of Napoleon? When he believed that the interest of France was at stake, had he not sacrificed everything: entire nations, friends, and relatives? Had he not treated many times for the cession of the throne of Naples, as if that throne had been vacant; and always without my Father’s knowledge? When he ordered the occupation of Holland, was he stopped by the idea that he was destroying the existence of his brother?
No, I said it at the beginning, and I believe to have proven it abundantly: Napoleon should never have created sovereigns, if he were then to demand of them, in order to settle their debt of gratitude to him, to renounce all personal dignity, as he did to Joseph, or to sacrifice the people entrusted to their honor, as he imperiously claimed of Louis.
My Father could not submit to the entirely passive role of the first, nor abdicate like the second: his position in Italy did not permit it. He thus had to adopt a line of conduct commanded of him equally by the reason of the State and the Emperor’s defiance of him.
If you have correctly understood the character that I have tried to trace for you of my Mother, you will have seen that she was much more “statesman” than pretty woman. She considered with sangfroid the situation that recent events had caused her husband, and, judging with a Napoleonic glance the new duties the title of King of Naples imposed on him, she did not hesitate to counsel him to abandon the cause of France, to rely on Austria, to thus save his kingdom and his family, to remain in Naples… And, who knows? Perhaps even one day, to be able to aid the Emperor and to be for him, later on, a more efficient help than the present conjuncture permitted him to be.
Once her determination was made, she followed it with strength, without deviating from her goal… and knew how to hide under a calm exterior the battles that the feeling of duty and the devotion that she had vowed to Napoleon waged in her heart.
It was not the same for my Father, who, in this, showed less firmness than the Queen. He also sacrificed his dearest affections to the duties of father and sovereign, but he could not entirely hide the torments and the rendings of his soul.
In some recent memoirs, written, according to the author (Mme Lenormand, legitimist) based on the inspirations and memories of Mme Récamier, the reader is made witness to a scene where the King, unable to master his emotion, gives himself over on this subject to the most violent despair. I find it in no way impossible that this scene took place, and in the presence of Mme Récamier, who was my Mother’s friend and admitted into her intimacy, but I protest against the perfidious insinuations of the benevolent author, who interprets it as an unworthy comedy played by my Father. I protest, not only because this little falsehood was in no way in keeping with his manners and his character, but also because there are childhood impressions that nothing can erase; how I remember still the sorrows, the agitations of this era, and having seen more than once, in the inner circle of the family, my Father abandon himself to his grief in the most touching manner. I do not believe, by recounting this detail, to do him wrong, quite the contrary. I have shown him to you, from the beginning of these memoirs, so good, and so tender, that there is nothing astonishing in seeing him feel so vividly the pain of separating himself from Napoleon, who had been, all at once, his general, his friend, his brother, his benefactor, and, yet more than anything, his idol!… No, the tears of my Father are in no way blamable. They are a proof of the magnitude of the sacrifice that was imposed on him, and of the strength of his attachment to Napoleon. The following year provided him the occasion to give some irrefutable proofs of his feelings for the Emperor… and you will see how he was cruelly recompensed… But I stop myself. These memories, for me so pulsing with interest, agitate me still, although a half-century has passed since the events of which I have just told you.
 Louise includes the following footnote here: “I transcribe a passage of a letter from the Queen to the King, the original of which is found among my papers: ‘…It is said that the Emperor is furious with me; you know my attachment for him, and surely his anger pains me, but with this, I am sure that, when he reflects, he will feel that I have only done my duty, that I could not have conducted myself otherwise. A woman who would have acted in another manner would not have merited his esteem. My conscience is calm and in no way reproaches me, so, even when you see printed in the journals disagreeable things on my account, do not worry, do not think that it is this that has made me ill. When one has done his duty, he is permitted to await with calm the end of the storm and to hope still for beautiful days.’“
5 thoughts on ““My Father… showed less firmness than the Queen””
Napoleon threw titles around but he had contempt for titles. They were just political strategies to him. But the beneficiaries took them seriously. This threw him for a loop because he was astonished at their naivete…then he felt betrayed when the title-holder had a little pride instead of groveling to him. Murat is such a pure, beautiful soul! I still love Napoleon….
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Oh I still like Napoleon a great deal as well, but I think he overestimated his own understanding of people in general, and even (or especially?) those closest to him. I would argue that it was naiveté on *his* part to grant those titles and then to not expect the title-holders to take a certain pride in them and not want to debase and degrade themselves and wholly subserviate themselves to him like mindless automatons (Louise brings this up in an earlier excerpt too). And he especially should’ve known better in regard to Murat, whom he had known since 1795 and whose entire military career is a pattern of Murat bristling and chafing under the command of his superiors, from Jean Landrieux in the 21st Chasseurs to Brune & Berthier in Italy up to Napoleon himself. (And then after he broke away from Napoleon he chafed at being pushed around by the Allies.) I think Murat’s ultimate decision to abandon him when he did would’ve been much more difficult, if not impossible, if Napoleon hadn’t worn him down over the years with so many insults and humiliations.
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Anyway, I don’t even hate Napoleon for his treatment of Murat, it just makes me sad more than anything. I reject the notion of some historians that the two men disliked each other, they seem to have been quite close early on, and then once Murat was far away and unable to defend himself, his enemies in Paris started poisoning Napoleon’s mind against him. It seems to have started while Murat was in Spain, and continued after Murat went to Naples.
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I have nothing to add except that I quite agree with Louise about the duties of a sovereign to his subjects, and also about Caroline’s assessment of the situation: Napoleon clearly would have preferred for Murat to keep his throne and to be a valuable ally to him later, than to act all honourable and be of no use to him anymore. He was quite pragmatic like that.
As for Murat’s enemies in Paris: I really wish we had some more Beauharnais correspondence. The letters of uncle François de Beauharnais as ambassador in Madrid would be particularly interesting.
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Savary seems to have done his fair share of influencing Napoleon against Murat too. His memoirs are exceedingly malicious towards him. They had been enemies since even prior to the d’Enghien incident I believe. And Napoleon had his own agents in Naples to make reports on Murat to him, and they all just happened to hate Murat. The odds were so stacked against him. From what I’ve seen, one of the very few to consistently defend poor Murat in Paris was Cambacérès.