“I have fully acquitted my debt towards the Empire and towards Your Majesty”

Continuing on, after a long pause, with my translations of Murat’s final letters to Napoleon in 1813 leading up to his defection at the beginning of 1814. I’m including two letters in this post because the first one is too short to merit its own; but the second more than makes up for it, at slightly over 3,000 words. The letters are less than two weeks apart; in the first one we see Murat bristle over Napoleon having sent Fouché to Naples to ensure that Murat is staying the course (his tone changes regarding this visit in the second letter, and we now know that Fouché encouraged Murat to save his throne by accepting the Austrian overtures); the letter ends with Murat casually mentioning an offer he’s received from the English. The second letter is one of Murat’s longest and most fascinating I’ve come across so far. It is the third-to-last letter Murat will write to Napoleon before announcing to him, on 14 January 1814, that he has signed a treaty with Austria. Murat renews his pleas to Napoleon to make peace, while simultaneously insisting that Napoleon include him as an equal partner in peace negotiations; he lays out his vision of an Italy divided into two kingdoms (one of which would, of course, be run by himself); by the end of the letter, he is openly detailing the offers made to him by the allied powers, and stating that he regards his duties to Napoleon as fulfilled; that now it is time to fulfill those to his subjects and to his family.

Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 158-171.


To His Majesty the Emperor
Naples, 3 December 1813

Sire, I have received almost at the same time three letters from Your Majesty that all speak to me of the necessity of taking my army towards the Pô. He will have already seen that it was in motion as of the 21st of November. The first division has been in Rome for several days; the second will be in Ancona on the 7th; my guard is stopped on the Garigliano by the overflow of the river, as is my equipage. I have already sent the order to the first division to depart from Rome and go to Foligno; but I had to send a special courier to countermand its departure, having received a certain notice that Lord Bentinck was on the point of making an expedition against me, and that it was only the bad weather which kept him still in the ports of Sicily. I have sent a courier to General M… and I am awaiting his return to continue or suspend the movement of my army. It seems to be very difficult that Lord Bentinck wants to seriously attempt an expedition in this season; perhaps he only wants to make threats in order to prevent me from taking my army to the Pô.

The Duke of Otranto [Fouché] has arrived. Your Majesty could have dispensed with sending him: I will never need to be stimulated whenever it comes to being useful to France and agreeable to Your Majest, and I pray you to be persuaded once and for all that I will only separate my interests from yours when I will have been entirely forced to do so. I hope to be able to put myself en route from here in seven or eight days. 

General Miollis and the French authorities in the Roman States refuse to furnish me rations for the campaign; I beg Your Majest to give them orders in this regard; otherwise I will see myself forced to give rations, and I will be vexed to come to this extremity, because it is impossible that an army of thirty-five thousand men can live on bread and a road allowance, especially when it is impossible for me to make the payroll on time. The English give me much worry; there is no bad news that they don’t spread in the country, which is extremely alarmed by my departure anyway. We are truly on volcanoes here, you have no idea of the situation of this country, which is that of all of Italy. However, in the midst of all this, the English offer me peace or neutrality.

(Signed) Joachim NAPOLÉON


To His Majesty the Emperor
Naples, 16 December 1813

Sire, the Duke of Otranto has been in Naples for four days. I’ve regarded his mission with pleasure; I am persuaded that in crossing Italy, he will have made to you, Sire, true reports on the situation of this portion of your States. I also hope that, arrived in my kingdom, he will make known with the same exactitude to Your Majesty how animated the spirits of my subjects are, and what circumspection I must use in seconding your politics, so as not to openly offend general opinion. 

Italy is full of agitation; the events of Spain and Germany have made ideas of independence ferment in the heads of all, and to these ideas, various parties attach various projects, according to the passions or intrigues which stir them. Italian league, union of Italy, liberation from the foreign yoke; there you have the words to which everyone is rallying; but the numerous classes who have only to gain in the disorder would like revolutionary movements, and the proprietors, having an opposite interest, invoke combinations which prevent public disturbances. The former recognize the monarchical authority as their sole safeguard, and the latter have formed greatly multiplied societies which, under the name of Charbonniers, propagate ideas among the people of a Republic. The English excite them with promises and money.

My kingdom armed, while the rest of Italy is stripped of troops; it is on the Neapolitans, it is on the King of Naples that almost all eyes are turned and that many hopes are fixed. Everywhere on my way while arriving from Germany, I saw wishes manifested which I feigned not to understand or which I sought to satisfy with vague words. These wishes have since been expressed with more force, because the news of our disasters has given more boldness; perhaps also because of the silence of the Bulletins and of the Moniteur on my departure from the army has given the impression that I had left it against the will of Your Majesty and that I was not on good terms with him.

The Neapolitans, proud to see themselves called from all sides, proud to think that their sovereign and they themselves might play a brilliant role in Italy, have exalted themselves to the highest degree, and they do not dissimulate either in their desires, nor their hopes of independence and aggrandizement. These hopes and their pretensions have fortified them, because they have been informed of the advantageous propositions that have been made to me by the English and by the sovereign coalitions of the north. The agents of these powers have taken care to make them known, as it seems that in Germany the conditions of peace offered to Your Majesty have been published, in order to arm against him the strength of opinion, if he refuses to accept them.

In such circumstances, Sire, Your Majesty had desired that my army march to the Pô, I hurried to order this movement; but, so as not to have concealed its true object at first, I must have feared for a moment that I would fail in my designs. It was spread that the Neapolitans were going to fight the Coalition again; the most regrettable conjectures were formed on the outcome of such a war; it was claimed that I would sacrifice to Your Majesty not only my troops, but the existence of my kingdom. The disquiet passed into the spirits of the soldiers, and desertions multiplied in a fearful manner. In vain some severe measures were employed to make them stop; they would have been insufficient if I had persisted in fighting against public opinion, so strongly pronounced; it was therefore necessary to flatter it. I indicated then that my plans might not be contrary to the views expressed. I vaguely pronounced the words of independence and aggrandizement. I feigned to conceal some deep designs under a great reserve, and I declared that my silence should be interpreted in the most favorable sense to the interests of the kingdom. 

This was enough to restore confidence everywhere and even to arouse enthusiasm. The troops requested to depart, and are outside of the kingdom, having only lost several men by desertion. If I had taken another part, I would not have led a single man to Bologna. So my army marches, and Italy sees it marching with sentiments that give me some uncertainty as to how I can employ it.

However the intentions of Your Majesty are fulfilled: news of the movement of my troops already stops the enemy. As long as I border the Pô, it is impossible for the Austrians to advance towards High Italy without leaving an army of forty thousand men to watch me; and they cannot former such a corps without calling numerous reinforcements from Germany, which would be a powerful diversion in favor of France. But, Sire, how with a scene end in which I have perhaps engaged with some imprudence in order to serve you? Would I want to make my army cross the Pô in order to lead it against the Austrians? Will it not accuse me of having deceived it, and would I not have to fear one of those brilliant defections of which Germany has given such a fatal example? Would I not have to fear seditions in my kingdom where I will be accused of sacrificing the dearest interests of my subjects? Will the English leave me in peace? Will such events not lead to the uprising of the whole of Italy, or at least all of meridional Italy against France? I cannot stop myself from shuddering at the thought of such a catastrophe, and yet there is perhaps only one sure way to prevent it.

This way, is peace. Yes, Sire, peace. The whole of Europe, and especially France and Italy ask it of Your Majesty. Peace is necessary to France as the ruin of its commerce and the enormous losses of the last two campaigns have plunged it into a state of distress. The complaints of the departments of the Midi, depopulated of all their youth, encumbered by taxes, tormented by the requisition of all specie, resound to Naples, and if it is not allowed to reach the throne of Your Majesty, he is betrayed, or what is worse or more dangerous perhaps, he is flattered with cowardice.

Peace is necessary to Italy, which experiences a great portion of France’s ills and which, moreover, can be delivered, from one moment to another, to agitations which can only be prevented by finally fixing its political state. Why, Sire, would Your Majesty refuse to treat on terms which reconcile both the honor and the interests of France? The coalition will not offer you any others: it has no right to do so; you have suffered misfortunes but not defeats. Undoubtedly, your genius conceived and nearly realized a great plan that it will be painful for you to abandon. You wanted to dominate Europe; it was in order to pacify it, to organize it on new bases and to provide it with centuries of happiness. Such a plan was worthy of Your Majesty and you have the glory of having done, in order to execute it, what no monarch had before you. You have the glory of not having ceded to your enemies, but only to a plague, to events which it was not in the power of men to prevent or combat. 

I know that your soul, strong and which no setback can shake, can commit itself to the idea of recommencing the execution of a project so vast and overturned so close to its accomplishment; but your foresight will compare, I do not doubt it, the probability of success with the certitude of the misfortunes attached to all the wars that must be sustained, and with the possibility of new disasters to which Your Majesty would be exposed. France has served you with the most generous devotion in enterprises which most interested your glory, and perhaps the happiness of other peoples, more than her own happiness. Today, Sire, dedicate your genius and attach your glory to the felicity of France by announcing to Europe this noble plan, this great change of system, while you still have great power; you will disarm your enemies, and you will command a new type of admiration from them. You will obtain the gratitude and love of all the French; you will enjoy the happiness of returning in a few years to this beautiful France the prosperity of which so many wars have despoiled it; you will offer to contemporaries and to posterity a model of government, and you will obtain more real and solid power than a century of victories could have given you. Pardon me, Sire, these motions which could only have been inspired in me by my devotion to Your Majesty, by my attachment to France.

The news coming to Naples from Paris can give me some hope to see my wishes accomplished. All the letters announce a congress and speak of peace… However, must I believe that if Your Majesty treats, he would leave me in ignorance on the subject so important for my kingdom and for me? I am the only ally remaining to you; would you want to pay with humiliations my constant fidelity and all the efforts I made in Germany, under your eyes, for the common cause? 

If negotiations are open are must open, I desire to intervene in them and have the interests of my kingdom directly stipulated by a Minister plenipotentiary. I dare to think that my position and my services in the war give me the right to such an advantage and I believe I owe it to my nation as well as to the dignity of my crown to claim it. Many overtures have been made to me by the coalition powers; I have not rejected them, but I have not accepted them; and I have not profited from them because I have not wanted to separate my cause from yours. If now Your Majesty treats without me, if he seeks to make his peace without informing me of it, would I not be in the necessity of attaching myself to some particular negotiations?

The Neapolitans have penetration; they have not forgotten that Your Majesty, in his latest negotiations with England, offered to abandon Sicily. They are frightened by the idea that Your Majesty can treat today without the concurrence of the King of Naples, and I cannot, I admit, defend myself from some disquiet. The King, they say, who took such a part in the war, will he remain a stranger to the peace negotiations? Will he remain in ignorance of the political combinations, will we remain in fear of being sacrificed, when all the powers offer us independence and aggrandizement, when the wishes of Italy call the King to the head of the Italians who want union and independence? 

I hope, Sire, that you will judge it convenient as well as just to accede to the wish of the nation and to mine. I pray Your Majesty to give me the necessary communications between the sovereign allies, concerning the negotiations or the plans of negotiation for peace so that I can designate a minister as soon as the circumstances require it. He will always act in concert with the French ministers, and it will not be, perhaps, without utility for them to always find a voice favorable to their proposals in the conferences where they will have to fight to many diverse interests united against them.

I flatter myself, on the other hand, that the French ministers will attached themselves to the cause of the King of Naples in everything that will in no way be opposed to the interests of France. I would like to be able to hope that Your Majesty will make peace by keeping all the provinces of Italy which have become French; then without doubt I must oppose myself to the hopes of aggrandizement that the Neapolitans entertain to the ideas of union which ferment in southern Italy. God forbid that I ever keep an eye of ambition on the least of the possessions that France might keep, although I don’t think that it is in its interests to possess provinces as far away as those of the ancient Roman states and Tuscany. But if these provinces must be detached from France, if, as I have reason to fear, Your Majesty cannot make peace without renouncing them, I must flatter myself that he would like them to be remitted to his faithful ally, to the child of France, to him who can only ever have French feelings, rather than to another Prince.

Who could, in the supposition I’ve made, blame in me the thought of forming a monarchy less precarious than the old Neapolitan monarchy, less dependent on the English who abused its weakness; more capable of being useful to France, whose alliance will always be necessary for her? 

It seems to me, Sire, that these views should conciliate themselves perfectly with your policy, and even with the policy of Europe, if it is true that we want, at last, to put an end to the evils of war and prevent their return through permanent institutions. Austria speaks of reestablishing the Pope and the little sovereignties in Italy. What would result from such an organization, or rather such a disorganization of Italy? That Austria, having an outlet always open to the center of the peninsula, would enter it when she saw fit; that France should oppose the invasions of this power, and that Italian territory would still be the battlefield where the two Empires would come to bring desolation by each exhausting their own forces. 

Two Italian monarchies having their borders of separation on the Pô, as Your Majesty explained the idea to me in Germany, would prevent forever these bloody struggles. Neither of the two would be powerful enough to form ambitious designs, and each would be enough to poser a nearly invincible obstacle to ambitious foreigners. It would be, in effect, impossible for Austria to advance against France, and for France to advance against Austria via Italy, without an alliance with the two Italian sovereigns who would have the most evident interest in preventing such wars, all the horrors of which they would suffer, without being able to receive any advantage from them.

Deign, Sire, to grant a serious attention to everything I have just presented to you. The facts are exact. The Duke of Otranto will leave you in doubt on this subject if, as I think, he has the courage to tell you the truth; and the views that I submit to you appear to me worthy of your approbation, since they are for the object of conserving to France all that the force of circumstances would not take from her and since, on the other hand, they tend to assure me of the means of supporting the policy of France, if she sees herself forced to renunciations. 

My first request reaching to intervene, via a minister plenipotentiary, in the negotiations, could not be rejected by Your Majesty without a sort of offense to my crown, to which I must be very sensitive, and by which my subjects would be profoundly wounded. I would lose, in their eyes, by remaining an outsider to the policy of Europe, the consideration that makes all my strength. It is by opinion alone, Sire, that I have any power in my kingdom, and in Italy, since I am not supported there by any foreign troop. Destroying this power, by affecting to not count me for anything, and asking me to make useful efforts for France, these are two things which are contradictory and which Your Majesty will certainly judge as irreconcilable. If my subjects cease to have affection for me or to respect me, I could no more serve you in Italy, in moments of crisis, than the King of Westphalia could serve you in Germany; and the King of Westphalia, I have no doubt of it, if he had previously been treated as a king; if, governing his subjects with a just independence, he would have been able to make them feel that they formed a nation, and animate them with a national spirit. 

My second request, which is only prospective, and which I subordinate entirely to the stipulations that Your Majesty might make for Europe, must find you favorable. Don’t let my subjects believe, don’t let me believe, that the enemies that I have fought with Your Majesty might be more generous towards me than he is. At the beginning of the last campaign, they offered me everything that I would like to seize in Italy. My response was to go join you in Dresden and to lead your soldiers in actions that were not without glory. Today they offer to guarantee my States, to give me the renunciation of the Kingdom of Naples already signed by Ferdinand, to assure me, lastly, an indemnity for Sicily, and my response is to march my army towards the Pô.

Yet it is said of me unceasingly, and it is said loudly in my capital, in Italy, even in France and in the whole of Europe, perhaps, that I have done for France everything it was in my power to do, that I have fully acquitted my debt towards the Empire and towards Your Majesty, that I have perhaps passed the limit of gratitude since obviously, I compromised, by exposing myself so often as a soldier, both my family and my kingdom. It is said that, now, I have duties to fulfill to my subjects, towards my children, towards myself, and I cannot help but recognize that there is truth in this language. Give me, Sire, I beg you, the means of according my feelings for you and for France with my obligations as King towards my subjects; because such a title, if it gives great rights, also imposes great duties. 

I will await with a vivid impatience your response; deign to explain yourself frankly; make your intentions clearly known to me. The moments are dear; the force of opinion which presses me is powerful; I feel that I am in a false position, contrary perhaps to the interests of France as to my own. A free and noble march agreed upon between Your Majesty and me can alone reconcile these interests which I aspire never to separate.

(Signed) Joachim NAPOLÉON


8 thoughts on ““I have fully acquitted my debt towards the Empire and towards Your Majesty”

    1. If he did, I haven’t found it. I’d be surprised if he did reply, honestly. These were the sort of letters from Murat that he almost never answered. At any rate, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference at that point, since Napoleon had no intention of heeding Murat’s advice and making peace on the allies’ terms. Then on 31 December Neipperg shows up in Naples under instructions from Metternich to give Murat an ultimatum: officially ally himself to Austria, or the negotiations were over (along with Murat’s hopes of his throne being safeguarded by the allies). So the next two letters—the last ones before the letter announcing his defection—are 25 December 1813–before Neipperg arrives—and 3 January 1814–where Murat informs Napoleon of the “offer” made to him by Austria.


      1. Josefa vom Jaaga

        I am not sure if Napoleon still could have followed Murat’s advice at this point. Time was already running short. This was already after the “Francfurt proposals”, when Metternich made one final, rather timid attempt at coming to peace with Napoleon on the basis ot France’s natural borders. But this seems to have been mostly Metternich’s doing and was a highly informal request, brought to Caulaincourt privately by his brother-in-law. It was apparently blocked by the “hawks” at Napoleon’s court (Maret, mostly), and by the time Caulaincourt finally became minister of foreign affairs in Maret’s place, it was already too late. The decision to cross the Rhine had already been made. And from now on, Austria would be just as eager to get rid of Napoleon as all the others, maybe more.

        And even the Francfurt proposals did already strip France of her possessions in Italy. So, What Murat hopes for here was probably not an option anymore.


      2. It looks like Napoleon might have had a good chance to negotiate a peace that might have kept him on the throne in February of 1814 while his campaign to defend France was going fairly well, but he was adamant that France not be pushed back to its pre-revolutionary borders, “as he would be breaking his coronation oath and giving his enemies grounds to dethrone him.” But he seems to have been at least as concerned with the blow to his reputation (or rather, his glory); Molé quotes him as saying that “If I sacrifice that” but yielding French territory, “I am nothing, it is from her that I hold all my rights.” (I took both quotes from Zamoyski’s Napoleon biography.)

        I’m fairly convinced that Murat was just desperately hoping for some miracle that would enable him to avoid having to make this decision–or, at the very least, to prevent himself from possibly having to take the field against Napoleon’s troops once the decision was made. But it would’ve been incredibly naive for him to think he’d be safe on his throne if Napoleon yielded to the allies before Murat had committed to them; and if Napoleon had made peace, the allies wouldn’t really have needed him to commit anymore. It was his military assistance they wanted at that point more than anything, and Lord Aberdeen (English ambassador to Austria) even writes to Castlereagh in November of 1813 that “I have never failed to impress upon P.M. [Metternich] the conviction that as the assistance of Murat becomes less indispensable, the claims of the Sicilian family rise in proportion.” Honestly, it’s hard to really even fathom what Murat truly expected at this point. I think he was having a significantly harder time dealing with this situation than Caroline, who seemed eager to wrap up the Austrian treaty and doesn’t seem to have been losing one minute of sleep over it. I posted a pretty fascinating look at Caroline from multiple viewpoints, taken from Espitalier’s “Napoleon and King Murat,” on my Tumblr over the weekend:



  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    There’s so much I would love to say to this letter, but one thing really stands out: that wish for peace. This is echoed in pretty much every letter of that time. When Eugène writes to his wife, every second word is “peace”. We need to hold out until Napoleon makes peace, that’s the overall message. It’s also what Caulaincourt wants and what Berthier wants and what even Joseph Bonaparte wants…

    Why did these people trust each other so little? If they had all stuck together and talked some sense into Napoleon…


  2. Pingback: “They led him to his doom.” – Project Murat

  3. Pingback: “His eyes… were very similar to those of cats” – Project Murat

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