“The softest and most compassionate of men”

Part 3 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 refutes past slanders against Murat, defending both his character and his accomplishments as a ruler. 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.
Part 2 is here.


Unfortunately, I must confess, the fatal alliance of the king of Naples with Austria in 1814 had greatly angered France, which knew neither the circumstances nor the reasons for it, and which could not appreciate the effects of it.

This natural animadversion opened a large career for the enemies of Murat, because it disposed minds to attribute to him all the faults and all the wrongs of which he could be accused. I will soon mention all the disasters, the catastrophes which have been charged to the memory of the king of Naples, and I will establish that the truth of all these fatal events is precisely the contrary of what his detractors have published; not only, in effect, was he not the cause of them, but still the gravest would have been prevented by his natural generosity and by his foresight, if he had succeeded in making his opinions and counsels prevail. This assertion will be justified by some irrecusable pieces, and I will establish with the same authenticity that, in order to deceive the public, they did not shrink from attributing to the Emperor Napoleon words that could never have escaped his mouth, as well as some audaciously fabricated letters that are disproven textually, as well as by his official correspondence and by his private correspondence. 

It is with no more exactitude that Joachim Murat has been painted as a bloodthirsty warrior, taking pleasure only in carnage and rushing incessantly, sword in hand, into the midst of the enemy ranks. With this violent character and this brutal valor, he could have been a good grenadier, but not a good general. Napoleon then would have judged him neither worthy to command, nor to govern, and it is by governing with calm as well as intrepidity, it is by governing with justice, as with love for his people, that he has deserved the glory attached to his name.

This prince was the softest and most compassionate of men: his kindness was often even to the point of weakness; outside of the battlefield, the sight of blood made him shudder. I do not believe that since the campaigns of Italy and Egypt, he had ever carried a saber, nor even a combat sword, as he knew that his duty was to direct the valor of the troops he commanded, and not to vainly display his own; his sole weapon, in the most terrible battles, was a very small and very short Roman sword which could serve neither for attack nor for defense, and of which the mother-of-pearl hilt was ornamented with the portrait of the Queen and his four children. A single time, in the course of the Austrian campaign of 1805, I saw him draw this epee from its scabbard, in a moment when, surprised and surrounded during a reconnaissance by a body of cavalry, he needed to obtain a strong effort from the feeble escort that accompanied him. At this unaccustomed sign of peril, his little troop threw itself at the enemy with furor, and a force ten times more numerous was dispersed in a moment.

A single trait can give a just idea of the character of Murat: a hundred times during our intimate conversations, he told me: “My deepest satisfaction, when I reflect on my military career, is to never have seen a man fall killed by my hand. It is undoubtedly not impossible that when firing a pistol shot at the enemies attacking me or who I was pursuing, I wounded someone, even mortally; but I was unaware of it. If a man was killed in front of me, under my blows, this image would be with me always; it would follow me to the tomb.” Such words will without doubt astonish from the mouth of a man who, all his life, made war with such impetuosity. The story of his youth will explain how the sentiment they express relates, alongside his heroic bravery and his chivalrous character, to the primary ideas, the primary education of his childhood.

To the injustice of their inaccurate or passionate assertions concerning the King of Naples, our writers have added that of their silence, by neglecting to make known the government of this prince either in the Grandy Duchy of Berg or in the kingdom of Naples; however, history will not judge him without appreciating the good that he was able to do those two rich States, the first of which is one of the most industrious and most enlightened in Germany; the other, the most beautiful as well as the most powerful kingdom of Italy.

Among the Germans first, and then among the Italians, he brought out all the lofty sentiments and great views which can recommend a sovereign to the love, to the gratitude, of his people. So on the banks of the Rhine, as as the foot of Vesuvius, was left the still vivid and dear memory of an affable, merciful, generous prince, who wanted the welfare of his subjects, who knew how to provide it, and who spared them, in the midst of the scourges of war with which Europe was devoured, all the means of prosperity which circumstances beyond his control did not render impossible.

It has been more than twenty years since he has ceased to reign, ceased to live, and his enemies have not been able to discover in his double reign, among conquered nations, either violence or injustice of which it is possible to accuse him.

In Dusseldorf and in Naples, he organized, without neglecting old habits, an administration founded in the same generous principles as those of France, and yet which was not a servile imitation. Finances occupied him greatly, and he solicitously endeavored to moderate public charges. His maxim was that it was not necessary to demand from the people everything it was possible to obtain, but that it was necessary to provide services to all while asking of the people only the taxes it was impossible to spare them. More than once, in order to maintain on this point the system he had made, he had to fight against the formal injunctions of Napoleon, who, he said, did not want conquered countries to be freed from burdens from which he himself did not exempt victorious France. In the midst of the enormous expenses required by war, he founded useful establishments. He encouraged industry and the arts, he constructed roads, he further embellished the city of Naples, already so beautiful, by giving it the most majestic avenue and the most magnificent promenade in the world, advantages of position which had, for so many centuries, neglected to be enjoyed in this capital. Yet no borrowing was done under his reign; taxes were not increased, they were only regulated and made common without distinction to all inhabitants of the kingdom. Order alone made the richness of the treasury, and on the debts amounting to five hundred million francs contracted by Joachim’s predecessors, there was nothing left to redeem, when he fell from the throne, than three or four million accrued annuities.

Such results are doubtless not unworthy of remembrance and praise, especially if one considers that they were obtained in a short space of seven years by a new prince, by a foreign prince, in a country whose conquest was not yet consolidated. Why have the authors who have written, or pretended to write, the history of Naples, under the reign of Joachim, or even the history of King Joachim, not made any mention of this?


5 thoughts on ““The softest and most compassionate of men”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I’d love to read up more on his short rule over the duchy of Berg. I’ve not seen much about it (besides snide remarks). But at least Herzog Wilhelm in Bavaria seems to have received some support from Murat (which, however, was probably rather kind than wise).


    1. I’ve seen next to nothing about it myself, even Hubert Cole’s “The Betrayers” has almost nothing on it. Really the only thing I can think of that I’ve seen regarding Murat’s rule over the Grand Duchy of Berg is when he got bent out of shape about Napoleon wanting to annex Wessel from him for some reason and put it under French control. Hortense brings it up in her memoirs and says it made her laugh to hear Murat complain that Napoleon had no right to take it away from him because he had obtained it via the King of Prussia, and Hortense writes “And who was it who had made that treaty? Who had given him his duchy, the town and everything else?” Of course if she had actually said that to him, Murat probably would’ve replied by pointing out that he had helped make Napoleon Emperor. 😛

      But yes, there is frustratingly little information on Murat’s rule of Berg, at least in either French or English. There seems to be only slightly more on his rule of Naples–at least the political squabbles between him and Napoleon are well covered in English and French, but the day to day affairs, the various acts he passed, what court life was like etc–I feel like I know so little. There are so many gaps in Murat’s story. I feel like I’d need to learn Italian and German to really round out my studies of him.


      1. Josefa vom Jaaga

        Regarding the matter of Wesel, Haegele in his book on Murat mentions it quite extensively. It seems to have been a lot more complicated than Hortense (knowingly or not) lets on. Apparently, Daru was involved – Napoleon’s man for the money. Murat may have been quite in his right in opposing Napoleon.

        (Hortense tends to offer stories sweet enough to hide the poison in them ^_^. In truth, she’s hardly in any position to belittle Murat’s intellectual capabilities. He’s not the one sitting in Amsterdam, mistaking a rattling window for cannon sounds and hoping to be kidnapped by “the English” from a horrible husband.)


  2. Pingback: “The sole object of my efforts is to obtain justice” – Project Murat

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