We have come, at long last, to the final letter Murat wrote to Napoleon before signing his treaty with Austria. In the final of days of 1813, General Adam Albert, the Count of Neipperg, arrived in Naples carrying an ultimatum from Metternich; either Murat was to finally commit himself, after months of vacillating, to the alliance with Austria, or the Austrians were to break off negotiations with the King of Naples. Queen Caroline, who was far more devoted to the prospective alliance than her husband, “toiled and plotted with redoubled vigour” upon Neipperg’s arrival, (in the words of historian Albert Espitalier). Caroline seems to have taken the reins quite eagerly at this point. Espitalier writes that “During the negotiations that took place between the 1st and the 8th January, Caroline’s attitude could not have been more characteristic. While she extended to Neipperg the most gracious of welcomes and did everything in her power to please him, she was present at all her husband’s ministerial councils.” French ambassador Durant would remark in a letter written on 9 January 1814 that “The Queen is even more decided in the matter of the Austrian alliance than the King himself. She looks on it as her own particular handiwork.” (Espitalier, Napoleon and King Murat, 1998 facsimile edition, pages 367-9)
The negotiations were not fully concluded when Murat wrote the following letter, but he all but announces the imminence of his defection. It is a particularly extraordinary letter even among the numerous extraordinary letters Murat wrote to his brother-in-law. Murat alternates between indulging in bitter lamentations of Napoleon’s past and ongoing treatment of him, remorse over what he makes clear he feels he is being compelled to do, reassurances of his love and eternal devotion, and yet more renewed pleas for Napoleon to make peace. Espitalier, whose book is extremely hostile to Murat, writes bizarrely that Murat was “trembling with delight” in the midst of these negotiations and as he prepared to write this letter, which he describes as “so much play-acting,” but provides no evidence to support these assertions and I personally don’t buy them, or Espitalier’s interpretation of Murat’s character. If anyone was “trembling with delight” at this stage, it seems to have been Caroline.
Napoleon, upon reading Murat’s letter from the 3rd, remarked to Caulaincourt that “It seems that the King of Naples has almost concluded his treaty. The Austrian General Neipperg has been the intermediary in the matter, and a British colonel with whom the King has negotiated though he had no powers and did not recognize him as a King. These gentlemen, observing the importance publicly attached to their presence in Naples, imposed very severe restrictions on the King, and he is apparently still struggling against them.” (Espitalier, 377-8) The Emperor, seeing the writing on the wall, began ordering the recall of all French troops in Naples, even before receiving Murat’s letter from 15 January formally announcing his treaty with Austria (which was signed on 8 January 1814).
Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 176-182.
To His Majesty the Emperor
Naples, 3 January 1814
Here I am at the most sorrowful day of my life. Here I am delivered to the most painful feelings that have ever stirred my soul. It comes down to choosing; and I see on one side the inevitable loss of my States, of my family, of my glory perhaps; on the other, commitments contrary to my eternal attachment for Your Majesty, to my unalterable devotion to France. For four days, an Austrian plenipotentiary, the Count of Neipperg, has been in Naples, to propose to me, in the name of his sovereign, a treaty of alliance. He has presented to me an infinitely obliging letter from the Emperor of Austria, the most advantageous offers for my kingdom; and this morning, while he was in conference with my minister of foreign affairs, an English frigate, under flag of truce, brought an officer carrying the authorization of Lord Bentinck to sign an armistice while awaiting the peace that the latter is authorized to conclude before the Count of Neipperg’s departure. These bold approaches, made in the midst of the general upheaval of Europe, by two great powers who triumph and who, in the most prosperous times of the old monarchy, demanded such deference from the Court of Naples, have intoxicated the inhabitants of my capital with a hope which is perhaps accompanied by a bit of pride. They see that I am the master of giving them peace, and from all sides they ask for it. The strength of opinion is so powerful on this point that it could not be braved without imprudence by a prince whose authority is wholly based on the opinion and love of his subjects. Yet, Sire, I have temporized… I temporize still. I wanted to await and am awaiting a response from Your Majesty to the propositions, to the entreaties that I made to him to obtain from him the means to serve him, to defend Italy, to defend my kingdom some hope of success. Deign to reread my letter from the 14th and 25th of December. I was speaking to you with all the loyalty that belongs to my character, with all the frankness that the circumstances commanded so imperiously, and what Your Majesty has written to me so far could only have the unfortunate result of increasing my uncertainties and my embarrassments. You told me to march my army to the Pô, and I had advanced it; but you didn’t give me any power in the countries that I had to traverse… that I had to cover, and where, necessarily, I had to have my depots, my supply stores… all my resources… so that everywhere I encountered difficulties, obstacles, oppositions… everywhere I have seen royal authority and service compromised.
You ordered me to go to the Piave, although I had declared to Your Majesty, and which he perfectly well knew, that I could not cross the Pô without exposing my family and my States to the most imminent dangers, since they were threatened by several naval expeditions. But by manifesting this intention, you did not determine who would be in command when my army was united with that of the Viceroy. Such a silence obviously renders inexecutable missions in which success, if it were possible, would have to be linked to the most perfect assembly, to the most perfect combination of movements. You had informed me, upon my repeated requests, that you would have accepted the preliminaries of peace, and that a Congress was to convene, but you did not deign to tell me on what bases they it was going to treat… You did not even speak to me of the guarantee of my States… You never responded to the entreaties I made, and that I had made by my ministers, to participate in the negotiations by sending a Neapolitan plenipotentiary to the Congress. I am forced to add that I was assured that Your Majesty had proposed some stipulations contrary to the interests of the King of Naples, but I would’ve believed myself very guilty if, for a single instant, I had been able to believe it. I could not help being struck by the contrast presented between these relations with me from the Sovereign to whom I have devoted my entire life, and from those princes whom I have never ceased to combat. The first shows me a distrust which twenty years of services and attachments should have removed forever; the others lavish on me, with the least equivocal testimonies of consideration, esteem, and benevolence, the most flattering offers. Nevertheless, I would not sway, if Your Majesty had given me, if he could still me the means to be useful to him and to be useful to this France, my first homeland, whose glory and prosperity will be so dear to me for as long as I breathe!
Yes, Sire, if Your Majesty had put at my disposition the resources that I could find in southern Italy, I would have fifty thousand men ready to fight for him, and I believe that such an army would leave no doubt in the chances of the war in Italy, or rather I believe it would have ended for France the disasters of war, by determining her enemies to an honorable peace for all the powers… Again today, I declare it, if I believed, by the sacrifice of my interests, if I believed, by losing myself personally, it would save France from the misfortunes that threaten it, I would consent to every loss. But should I likewise sacrifice every object and every hope, the interests of the people that Providence has entrusted to me and who show me so much affection? Should I lose the inheritance of my children? Should I lose without return so many men who are dedicated to me with such noble and total devotion? Events are pressing and becoming more threatening every moment… Certainly I know how to brave the dangers!… but it is in the duties of a king to know how to calculate his forces. I have the certitude that Austria is sending large numbers of troops into Italy. All the letters which come to me from France inform me that the allies, after having crossed Switzerland, inundated the French provinces, and are going towards Savoy.
What can I do, thus threatened from all parts and unable to count on any support? If I commanded a French army, I would hazard everything… I would fight everywhere I found the enemy and, in every event, I would seek to open for myself a retreat, which would however be very difficult, by the Seine river… But, Sire, do you think that I could act thus with Neapolitan troops? Do you believe that I should flatter myself to lead them beyond the Alps? Do you believe that, whatever their attachment for me, they would not abandon a sovereign who, himself, would abandon their country?
Such circumstances may make it a duty for me to embrace a part contrary to the dearest, to the most constant affections of my heart. If so, may Your Majesty pity me. I will have made for my subjects, for my children, for my crown, the most painful sacrifice that could ever be torn from me!… But perhaps there is still time…
Ah! if there is time, prevent the effects of these cruel circumstances! I beg you anew, in the name of what you hold most dear… in the name of France… in the name of all of Europe… and by all the sorrows that torment me at this terrible moment, make peace!
Deign to recall that I made you this prayer before the battle of Dresden, that I made it to you after the battle, that I made it to you before separating myself from Your Majesty in Germany, and that have not ceased to address it to you since your return to Paris. I renew it to you today with entreaties all the stronger as I see myself on the eve of finding myself without communication with Your Majesty and in the impossibility of fighting for him again… Whatever determination fate imposes on me, believe, Sire, that my heart will always be French, everywhere I will be, every Frenchman will find in me an affectionate protector, and myself, I will find my sole consolation in the services that I will be able to render them. Sire, believe also that your pupil, your brother-in-law, your most devoted friend will always show himself worthy of you; believe that the attachment that he holds for you is unalterable, and speaks to his heart with all the more force as he sees you struggling with the misfortune that your genius has mastered for so long. Do not deprive him of your friendship! You know what he has done for twenty years in order to conquer and preserve it… He will know, do not doubt it, how to find ways of making himself worthy of it still, as well as of the esteem of France.
Sire, if hard necessity draws me along, as I have reason to fear it does, into relations contrary in appearance to your interests, but which will perhaps be useful to Your Majesty and to France by giving me some influence in the peace negotiations; I dare to hope that you will judge me with calm and with impartiality, with the reason of State, and in considering everything that I have done, everything that I have tried to do in order to prevent such a misfortune.
(Signed) Joachim NAPOLÉON