“The most injurious suspicions”

Part 2 of my translation of the introductory manuscript on Murat by his friend & former finance minister, Jean-Michel Agar, the Count of Mosbourg. In this part, Mosbourg discusses the relationship between Murat and Napoleon, and how it came to be disrupted–and permanently altered–by malicious rumors spread by Murat’s enemies. Translated from Murat: Lieutenant de l’Empereur en Espagne, 1808, published by Murat’s grandnephew, Joachim Joseph André, in 1897.

The introduction to this ongoing series can be found here.
Part 1 of the manuscript is here.

***

The intimacy which reigned between the two princes had often permitted Murat to be attributed with a great influence on the determinations of his brother-in-law, and for a long time a flattery very common among courtiers, a maneuver very familiar to the enemies of a powerful man, had diverted towards him, when circumstances permitted, reproaches which public opinion would perhaps have brought down upon the Emperor himself.

These combined efforts of adulation and jealousy would undoubtedly not have escaped Napoleon, and his severe justice would not have failed to repress them, if fatal prejudices had not constrained, perhaps without his knowing it, his natural generosity and the old susceptibilities of his friendship for Murat; but a first calumny had brought into this friendship a vague trouble, a painful mistrust which, without being able to destroy it, had altered the character of it forever. 

These last words require an explanation. From the day Bonaparte and Murat had met, they had become necessary to each other. The man of vast ideas, colossal conceptions, had recognized at the first glance the man of execution most capable of supporting his grand designs, and the latter finding in the genius of his general all the audacity which he himself had in his soul, all the audacity which tormented him because it was still uncertain and without direction, devoted himself with abandon to this impetuous guide who, perhaps alone, could command what perhaps Murat alone could undertake. There was something passionate in their reciprocated feelings. Soldiers, the one worshipped his leader as the god of war and accepted his words as oracles; the other was astonished with admiration to always see his projects so well understood and so faithfully translated into action; so all their feelings, all their tastes were in accord; their mutual trust was unbounded, and Murat was perhaps the only man who obtained from Bonaparte unreserved effusion.

Only a squadron leader when he was called to be aide-de-camp to his general in chief, Murat, in the course of one or two campaigns, obtained from this genius who had divined for him the grade of colonel, that of general of brigade, a mission of trust to the king of Sardinia in Turin, an illustrious mission to Paris where he solemnly handed over to the Directory twenty flags captured from the enemy, a military mission to Livorno from which he chased the English, and finally a mission of peace to Rome where so many great memories must have stirred his warlike imagination so vividly. Independently of these public testimonies, Napoleon lavished on Murat the most flattering marks of attachment, and Murat responded to them with an ardor which nothing could either shake nor weaken.

Envy and intrigue were to trouble this happy accord. Those who wanted to harm Murat or supplant him seized on the occasion of his journey to Paris to penetrate the most injurious suspicions into the mind of the general-in-chief in the Army of Italy. He soon recognized the injustice of them, and yet he never completely forgot the offensive rumors which had so cruelly wounded him.[1]

Murat had to struggle all his life against these dangerous memories, which would embitter his brother-in-law’s discontentments on the slightest subject of complaint.

During war, the Emperor saw only the services rendered by Murat, or those he was able to render, and delighted in praising his skill in command of the cavalry, his unstoppable valor, his ardent activity which left the enemy no rest.

During peace, friendship alone spoke also in the heart of Napoleon in his private interviews with his former aide-de-camp; so he liked to talk to him about everything he had done, about everything he wanted to do, delighting to astonish him by the extent of his plans, by the energy of his determinations, and sometimes by the independence of his political morality.

These intimacies much agitated the rivals of Murat and especially this very numerous party of the imperial court who were specially attached to the fortune of the Beauharnais. All their efforts were applied to weaken his credit and even to lose it, either with Napoleon, or with the public whose opinion had such a powerful reaction on that of the head of the state.

The absence of Murat when he became king of Naples greatly emboldened his adversaries. It was easy for them to multiply the subjects of misunderstanding between him and the Emperor, as well as to accredit at court, in the army, in the interior of France calumnies of which he was unaware or which he disdained to combat.[2]

This is how the most ill-founded prejudices were spread against Murat, and it was on the basis of these prejudices that writers, more passionate than skillful, often believed they could throw at him, despite even the testimony of the Emperor himself, all the reproaches from which they wanted to free the memory of Napoleon.

***

[1] Mosbourg refers here to the rumors of Murat having either had an affair, or at least been just a bit too flirtatious, with Napoleon’s wife Josephine during his brief return to Paris. While Napoleon supposedly came to believe the rumors were untrue, his attitude towards Murat noticeably changed from this point and, as Mosbourg points out, from this time forward there always seemed to be an extra touch of harshness in Napoleon’s displeasure with Murat that wasn’t necessarily present towards others.

[2] Mosbourg includes here a very lengthy account (which I’ll translate later on) of the rumors that reached Napoleon in Spain in 1809 of a plot between Talleyrand and Fouché to replace Napoleon with Murat in the event that the Emperor died without a direct heir. These rumors, in the long term, caused far more damage to the relationship between Murat and Napoleon than even the rumors of Murat and Josephine, and would figure largely into the Emperor’s increasingly harsh treatment of Murat from 1809 until Murat’s defection. “From that time,” writes Agar, “Napoleon’s distrust of Murat continually increased, often showing itself in outbursts that were very offensive to the King of Naples. The latter, whose pride was easily touched and who did not know the real cause of the criticisms that the emperor seemed to delight in showering on him, supposed that this was part of a set plan against him, and that the emperor was only looking for a pretext to take away his crown.”

11 thoughts on ““The most injurious suspicions”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I can’t begin to describe how intrigued I am ^_^.

    First of all, unlike Hortense, Josephine and to some degree even Eugène, who in their letters always accused Caroline and Joachim Murat directly of intriguing against them, Agar does not blame the three Beauharnais themselves of malevolence but people in their entourage. He even refers to “this very numerous party of the imperial court who were specially attached to the fortune of the Beauharnais”. That’s precisely the folks that I am looking for! Who were they? When this was such a big party at a court that, before 1810, still was comparably small, surely we should be able to identify some of them? (Bessières seems somewhat obvious, the Caulaincourt brothers as well. Ney quite probable… but I want to know! ^_^)

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    1. I wish he had named names, or at least done as so many memoirists did at the time and simply used the first letter of the name and then trailed it off with some asterisks to theoretically preserve the anonymity of the person being written of in a negative light.

      I find it very unlikely that either Bessières or Ney had any part in it, honestly. Bessières had been a close friend of Murat’s since the Revolution when they rode off from Lot together for a short stint in the Constitutional Guard in Paris. They remained friends for the remainder of Bessières’ life. Ney, while not a particular friend of Murat’s (and often involved in heated disputes with him while on campaign), was not known for involving himself in these kinds of schemes and intrigues. He wasn’t much a fan of court life in general. I can’t speak to the Caulaincourt brothers though, I don’t know their particular feelings towards Murat, although Armand de Caulaincourt was not, unlike many memoirists, entirely negative about Murat in his memoirs at least.

      Murat’s two biggest enemies seem to have been Savary, and Josephine herself. But yes, I see this reference to the Beauharnais faction and Murat’s enemies often but there have been so few names to put to it. Murat vaguely refers to his many enemies in numerous letters, but never names them! I used to think it was just raw paranoia–the poor man really was quite paranoid–but to have Agar talk about it in this manner makes me think there’s definitely more to it, and the alleged Talleyrand/Fouché scheme to have Murat succeed Napoleon, that Eugène apparently informed Napoleon of (the details on this whole thing are still very vague and none of the alleged correspondence from this affair seems to have survived, which is rather… odd), definitely looks like a set-up to damage Murat while he was too far away to do anything about it. And it worked. Agar has written elsewhere of this as a turning point in the relationship between Napoleon and Murat. Murat, meanwhile, genuinely didn’t seem to have a clue as to why Napoleon had gone so cold on him.

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      1. Josefa vom Jaaga

        Briefly, because I’m in the office and ought to be working, I’m told ^_^, here’s what made me come up with my suspects: I’ve recently read a biography of Bessières. He seems to have had a long-standing feud with Lannes (who was Murat’s buddy) and was suspected by both Lannes and Masséna of “spying” on his fellow Marshals for Napoleon. And of course, he and Duroc were best friends with Eugène. Bessières and Eugène had even shared a house in Paris after their return from Egypt.

        Ney was married to Aglaé Augié, niece of Madame Campan and close friend of Hortense, an excellent marriage he owed to Josephine. Napoleon seems to have disliked Aglaé a lot, apparently she was rather pretentious and a bad influence on her husband. From a biography on Soult I got the impression Ney could indeed be a huge intriguer. He definitely was _very_ deferential to Hortense when she visited the camp of Boulogne. He also was included in Hortense’s plans for the marriage of Aglaé’s sister Adèle. Wasn’t`one of his sons named after Eugène? Eugène is also the one to look for Ney in Russia.

        The Marquis de Caulaincourt, father to Armand and Auguste, was an old acquaintance of Josephine’s (even suspected to have been one of her alleged lovers during the days of the Directory). In 1796/7 Napoleon complains to Josephine because the latter had received young Armand while still in bed. So, the two families really must have been very close. Armand will later negotiate with the tsar for the three Beauharnais. Auguste was “grand ecuyer” for Louis and Hortense Bonaparte and, if I’m not mistaken, arranged her “escape” from Holland in 1810.

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      2. I know they had close ties to the Beauharnais—I wasn’t so much aware that Bessières was close to Eugène, but I did know about Ney being very good friends with him and naming his son after him—but that in and of itself is not a reason for them to devote themselves to hurting Murat. Especially Bessières, who was also Murat’s close friend. Eugène was well established as Viceroy at the time that these intrigues against Murat (namely the Talleyrand/Fouché scheme in 1808) were underway. Ney wouldn’t have profited either from taking part in anything of this sort. By the time Napoleon learned of this scheme, Murat had been King of Naples for months. Ney certainly had no designs on a throne of his own. I just don’t believe either Bessières or Ney—or any of the other marshals—were involved in any of this, neither the evidence nor motive is there. Again though, I don’t know enough about the Caulaincourts’ relationships with Murat to know if they would’ve been motivated to act against him. I haven’t read of any conflicts between him and either of them so far though.

        Napoleon allegedly learned about the Talleyrand/Fouché plot to make Murat his successor via a letter supposedly intercepted by Eugène, but I’ve never even found who this letter (of which no trace exists) was either from or to. The details of this whole thing are so ridiculously vague. Mosbourg has a long excerpt on it in his notes within one of the volumes of Murat’s correspondence, I’ll have to translate it sometime to see if there are any good details. (And also his extensive notes on the d’Enghien affair.)

        On an unrelated note, the Bessières/Lannes feud was apparently greatly exaggerated, largely by the memoirs of Marbot.

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      3. I’ll also add, that I think these intriguers against Murat were working more on Josephine’s behalf than they were on behalf of Eugène (or Hortense, who I don’t really think factors much into this at all; she actually seems to have liked Murat more than she liked Caroline!). By this point Josephine is starting to feel her position is in jeopardy, she knows (or at least suspects) that the Murats have both been urging Napoleon towards a divorce–Caroline even set up Napoleon’s affair with Eléonore just to give him a chance to prove his fertility, and Murat was, well, doing his part on that end of things as well. Joachim and Caroline had both initially had a good relationship with Josephine and it went badly downhill in the early 1800s and I’m still not entirely sure what exactly happened in that regard. But Josephine maintained an inveterate hatred of Murat for the rest of her life, though she was slightly more sympathetic towards Caroline. I think Josephine had as much of a vested interest as anyone in driving that wedge between Murat and Napoleon, and she would’ve had no shortage of sympathizers willing to help her out with it (and Murat seems to have had no shortage of enemies). These intrigues revolved around the Parisian court, involving people who regularly had Napoleon’s ear, and Eugène wasn’t really in that scene very often after becoming Viceroy.

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      4. Josefa vom Jaaga

        I guess the people in my list are more in the “pro-Beauharnais” camp than in the “anti-Murat” camp. Frankly, I’m not sure if these “parties” ever really existed in the way mostly the ladies in their letters imply. I agree with you; these court intrigues do not sound like something the marshals and generals would engage in. But who else did hold any influence at Napoleon’s court, particularly in the beginning?

        Do you happen to know if there is any correspondance between Murat and Bessières? This might be interesting. I do know that Eugène and Bessières were still close in 1809; they both write almost identical letters home to their wives about how thrilled they were to finally, after their last encounter in Munich, again have dinner together in Vienna ^_^. I have read about there being a close friendship between Murat and Bessières as well. But I’ve also read about Murat and Lannes being enemies when they clearly were friends, so I’ve started to become suspicious about that kind of remarks.

        Regarding the Talleyrand/Fouché scheme, I’m not sure I’d see it as a setup. But I’m convinced Eugène and Lavalette (IF things even happened the way it is usually described) blew it vastly out of proportion, and probably on purpose. At this time, Eugène must already have known (or at least strongly suspected) that the divorce was coming. Talleyrand and Fouché rooting for Murat as Napoleon’s successor must have felt like the final confirmation. Particularly as the Murats had apparently pushed Napoleon towards the divorce. So he and Lavalette may have exaggerated the importance of this letter just to hurt Murat, in retaliation for what he (in their minds) had done to Josephine. (And btw, I’d LOVE to read that letter. Whenever you find the time – I’m thrilled to hear that there are actually excerpts from it!)

        If indeed it was a setup, it may actually have been a little more complicated. Talleyrand was clearly on the “anti-Josephine” side (at least, that was always her assumption). And she had been close to Fouché. Whereas Talleyrand was close to Murat. The only one who got out of this quagmire in a weaker position was Talleyrand, right? – So, there you have the plot for a court novel ^_^. Did Fouché foment this “conspiracy” on Josephine’s behalf in order to weaken Talleyrand? Were both Eugène and Murat merely pawns in a chess match?

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      5. I honestly have no idea regarding who else might’ve been in this anti-Murat cabal, but clearly someone was acting to turn Napoleon against him first while he was in Spain and then later in Naples. Savary is generally named as one of his primary enemies, and he places a close friend of Murat’s (Aymé) under arrest for spurious reasons in either 1810 or 1811 while Murat is in the middle of one of his many spats with Napoleon; in this particular instance, it appears to have stemmed from Napoleon thinking Murat was to blame for the theft of the Spanish Crown Jewels (but it was apparently Joseph Bonaparte). Murat also doesn’t seem to have gotten on well with Clarke, Napoleon’s Minister of War. Perhaps there were other ministers and courtiers as well. During Murat’s stint as governor of Paris (which is when the d’Enghien affair took place) it’s possible he made plenty of enemies. He certainly seemed to think so himself.

        There are letters between Murat & Bessières in the 8 volumes of his published correspondence, and Caroline wrote some to Bessières and his wife as well. I’ve never seen any reason to believe they were ever anything other than good friends. Murat’s supposedly hostile relationship with Lannes was definitely over exaggerated (thanks to memoirs like Laure Junot’s, whose anecdotes of Lannes raging at/about Murat then seeped into the general Napoleonic narrative as fact). I did a bit of analysis on their relationship, using their available correspondence, on my Tumblr, but I never got around to posting it here. Here’s a link to the post though if you’re interested:

        https://joachimnapoleon.tumblr.com/post/612270736313352192/on-the-muratlannes-relationship

        To be honest I’m not overly familiar with Talleyrand’s relationship with Josephine, but Fouché was actually closer to Murat than Talleyrand was, and remained so until the end of Murat’s life. He actually went to great lengths to get passports for Murat from Austria to try to save him in the aftermath of Waterloo. Caroline wrote him a letter years after Murat’s death to thank him for all the help he had given Joachim. Talleyrand actually worked behind the scenes during the Congress of Vienna to try to help bring Murat down though; apparently he held a grudge over some of his land in Naples Murat had confiscated, or so I’ve read. So the various dynamics here make this episode setting up Murat as Napoleon’s heir all the more confusing. Talleyrand definitely paid for it, but Murat’s relationship with Napoleon never recovered and I think Napoleon’s increasingly ill treatment of Murat in the years after this affair probably made it much easier for Murat to ultimately defect from Napoleon than if he had actually continued to have a close relationship with him. Maybe Eugène was a pawn in it–I don’t really see him as the sort to plot something like this–but if anyone “won,” it was those who wanted to do Murat harm. Fouché probably would’ve been sacked too in the aftermath if Napoleon hadn’t thought he was too important (for the time being).

        The letter that Eugène allegedly intercepted implicating Murat in the plot doesn’t exist, to my knowledge. I’ve never found any trace of it anywhere, or even what happened to it. Which is why the whole thing looks so suspicious to me, you’d think such a damning letter would’ve been kept and published somewhere. I’ll try to get around to translating Mosbourg’s write-up of this episode sometime over my four-day weekend, because I’m definitely interested in learning more about this mysterious affair that had such a great impact on Murat’s and Napoleon’s relationship.

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  2. Josefa vom Jaaga

    Man, this is fascinating! Thank you so much for all these details! You’re sure you don’t want to write a novel about this? It seems like the perfect plot!

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