“You will lose yourself, you will lose us all!”

As his negotiations with Austria and England continued, an indecisive Murat wrote his New Year’s greeting to Napoleon on 21 December 1813. Murat used this as an opportunity to once again urge Napoleon to make peace, as he had in his letter from five days earlier.

“Sire, a new year is about to commence. May I take advantage of the occasion to offer Your Majesty my very best wishes? Were they fulfilled, nothing could be wanting to complete Your Majesty’s happiness or the happiness of your family. May this present year see the end of war, with all the distress that follows in its train, and may the year which is about to dawn bring us more peaceful days. Long may you take your ease beneath the shade of the laurels you have won. Your Majesty’s glory is now complete, nothing remains to be wrought that could add to its lustre. Now therefore it behoves you to provide for your happiness. Give us now the blessings of peace, and win from Europe admiration of a new order by setting before all men the model of a perfect government. Sire, all my life long I shall love you. The affection which I entertain for Your Majesty can never be changed by political events.” (Source: Albert Espitalier, Napoleon and King Murat, 1998 edition, pages 312-313)

Murat followed this letter up four days later with the one featured below, containing yet another plea for his brother-in-law to make peace, as well as a renewal of his proposal for Napoleon to unite Italy into either two separate kingdoms sharing the river Po as a boundary, or one whole kingdom. At the time of this letter, Murat is still not fully committed to joining the allies, nevertheless he seems to feel that the breach must be inevitable if Napoleon will not make peace at once; he reiterates the sentiment from his letter from the 16th of considering his debts to Napoleon and France fulfilled, almost as if he is trying to convince himself as much as his brother-in-law.

Murat would find himself forced to pick a side once and for all by the end of the first week of the new year; at the end of December (sources differ as to whether it was the 30th or 31st), Lieutenant General Adam Albert, Count of Neipperg, arrived in Naples, bearing an ultimatum from Metternich: the allies were tired of Murat’s vacillations; he must either commit to entering an alliance with Austria, or the negotiations were to be broken off.

Napoleon never responded to the letter below, as he had not deigned to respond to Murat’s letter of the 16th. A subordinate asked the Emperor why this was so. “What,” Napoleon replied, “would you have me say to a madman?” (Espitalier, 376)

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Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 172-176.

To His Majesty the Emperor
Naples, 25 December 1813

Sire, I have received your letter from the 4th, in response to mine dated 23 November; you think me on the Pô, you suppose that at my appearance the enemy fled far from these shores, and you desire me to put myself in a position to cross this river and raise the siege of Venice. Sire, I am going to speak to you frankly and make known to you what the position of my kingdom permits me to undertake at this moment for France.

Thirty-five thousand men and a train of seventy pieces of artillery are on the march for Florence… This army is all the available strength of my kingdom; and I have not hesitated to take it beyond the Apennines, because, from Romagna, I exercise on my States the same influence as if I were in Naples; because, by a countermarch, I can bring myself in little time to the threatened points of my kingdom, because, from Bologna, I support all of southern Italy and I am strong against all foreign aggression and against all tentative revolutionary movements; because, finally, I serve you at the same time since I stop the movements of your enemies on Milan and Turin.

In effect, the first movement of my troops has suspended that of the enemy… The two armies are since that time in a sort of armistice. I have therefore fulfilled the goal that Your Majesty had first indicated to me; but today Your Majesty demands new sacrifices of me. He demands that my army cross the Pô and go towards the Piave; he undoubtedly forgets that I have left my kingdom without defense and that the Queen and my children have only the love of my subjects for security. Yet the English can, when they want, bring the war within my States, destroy the tranquility of my provinces, and come and throw bombs on my capital and on my own palace.

Sire, I cannot deceive Your Majesty. I have done for France and for him everything it was in my power to do; I have fulfilled the duties of gratitude as a Frenchman, as a friend, and as your brother-in-law. 

I determined myself to march my army to the Pô, to stop the progress of the enemy on Milan and Turin, to make a diversion in favor of your armies, to cover my States, to facilitate peace negotiations thereby; but if my approach did not achieve the main goal I have in view, that of peace, would Your Majesty not think that that, having fulfilled my obligations towards him, I would be forced to fulfill my duties towards my people, by thinking seriously of my own defense and the preservation of my kingdom? Then Your Majesty should renounce the hope he conceived of seeing me cross the Pô, because, in putting this river between my army and my subjects, how could I oppose the efforts the enemy now makes in Tuscany, in Romagna, and in my own States? … By dividing my army? … But by dividing it, I render it impotent. I have risked my political existence and I am becoming the fable of the world and of the army. I had indicated to Your Majesty the only way left to take; he disdained it, or at least he has kept silent, and this silence should have warned me that my plan did not enter into your combinations. Sire, believe me, the proclamation of the independence of Italy, by forming a single power or two powers having the Pô as a boundary, would save Italy; without this she is lost without resource, she will be dismembered anew, and the goal of your sublime thinking of liberating Italy after having covered it with glory, is destroyed. Put the provinces below the Pô at my disposal now, and I guarantee Your Majesty that Austria shall not cross the Adige; you will be, in the general peace negotiations, the arbiter of Italy, and you will have created in me a strong and powerful ally. I can do with one word what the English and Austrians have tried in vain in Livorno, in Lucca, in Ravenna… Reflect, Sire?… The enemy exhorts the Italians to the independence which it offers them. They hope they place in my army renders them indifferent to these propositions; but will they continue to remain deaf to their offers, if the King of Naples does not realize their hope and contributes, on the contrary, to consolidate foreign domination at home? No, no, it is an error to think so. The Italians are ready to deliver themselves to him who would want to make them independent… This is the truth, the exact truth. May Your Majesty respond and deign to explain himself on a point so important for him. Time presses, the enemy reinforces himself; I am reduced to silence, and the moment cannot be far when I will be forced for my part towards my nation and towards the enemy. A longer silence from me, following the one you keep, will make me lose public opinion, and public opinion is my only power… once lost, I can do nothing more… either for you, or for myself… Respond, respond, I positively beg you… I will draw from these countries all the resources they contain, they are ready to make any sacrifices, the French authorities would obtain none. For Heaven’s sake, support noble sentiments! I tell you again, this noble determination is worth of Your Majesty. May Italy, which owes you her first emancipation, owe you furthermore her political existence and her independence. You know my heart, my feelings for you will make me undertake anything, and connected to more countries, I will have more resources to aid and support you… Respond… respond… I will be able to receive your response in Florence or in Bologna. I depart tomorrow to go put myself at the head of my army. 

P.S. –Sire, in the name of all that you hold most dear in the world, in the name of your glory, do not persist any longer. Make peace, make it at all costs; win time and you will have won everything. Your genius and time will do the rest. If you refuse the wishes of your friends, of your subjects, you will lose yourself, you will lose us all!… Believe me, Italy is still faithful, because she believes she sees a better future; but she will not be for long if her hopes are disappointed; in a word, she can be brought to all sacrifices, but these good dispositions are conditional. You can still save her in your interests, but the moments are dear and precious. If you don’t take advantage of them, expect to have her as an enemy… The Italians, once unleashed, are capable of the greatest excesses, as they still are of the greatest sacrifices. Believe me for once. Put aside all passion; there is still time to save Italy, but explain yourself.

(Signed) Joachim NAPOLÉON

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4 thoughts on ““You will lose yourself, you will lose us all!”

    1. Josefa vom Jaaga

      It’s true, but to be fair – he did not listen to anyone else either.

      And by this time, it was probably already too late in any case.

      The interesting part is, that at the very end, when it did not matter anymore, Napoleon actually did get back to this proposal and ordered Eugène to start negotiations about a possible division of Italy. I’m not sure about the exact date but he basically tells Eugène to promise Murat whatever he wants, just so he will join the French cause again; we’ll not keep our word anyway. Eugène or his representatives however are so full of distrust that they break off the negotiations.

      Another interesting thing is that the idea of Italian independence actually does rise its head even in Eugène´s domain from time to time. It might be Darnay who speaks about how the Italians in Milan did not really celebrate the birth of Eugène´s son in 1810 the same way they probably would have in 1809, because before Napoleon´s divorce from Josephine, they would have seen in this boy their future monarch. An Italian monarch, independent from France.

      There’s also the incident of a book that was published in Milan about Eugène and the Army of Italy in the War of the Fifth Coalition and that praised Eugène (admittedly in an unbearable way ^_^) basically as the Italian commander-in-chief, with Napoleon as the French one. Napoleon, in one of his letters, casually asks about it, and Eugène reacts almost panicked: “It was seized immediately, I had nothing to do with it, I promise it’s gone…” Apparently he assumed Napoleon would react really badly to such expressions of Italian national pride.

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      1. The endnote in “The Betrayers” has that letter from Napoleon to Eugène as being from 12 March 1814. Of course by that point Murat was being strong-armed by his new allies into attacking Eugène as soon as possible *or else* and finally, reluctantly took the field in early April. So yeah, Napoleon was a bit too late trying to pull him back into the fold by then.

        An excerpt in “The Betrayers” gives the idea that Murat clung to the bitter end against fully committing to the Austrian treaty:

        “On January 21 he had assured Eugène that he would not attack him without warning, and he had not done so (although the mere presence of his troops on the Po forced Eugène to withdraw from the Adige to the Mincio). The revised treaty that he had been tricked into signing had now gone back to the kaiser for ratification. He was not fully committed until he received Francis’s assent. Caroline was so alarmed by a letter from Bologna, in which he seemed to be convincing himself that he could rouse the Italians to support France and throw out the Austrians in the cause of their freedom, that she wrote to him on February 8, 1814, ‘Your letter drives me to despair… Oh, my dear! … You are walking on the edge of a precipice… I feel it, I believe it, and I cannot convince you.’ Possibly in order to force his hand, she issued instructions as Regent on February 1 for ‘the seizure of all French warships and merchant vessels in our ports’ and ‘the breaking off of all communications between the kingdom of Naples and the French Empire.'”

        Louise Murat really doesn’t seem to have been exaggerating at all when she says her mother was much more firm in her commitment to this alliance than Joachim was.

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

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