“The spectators roared with laughter”

In the aftermath of Murat’s treaty with Austria, Naples was soon swarming with eager travelers from all over Europe–particularly English aristocrats, who, prior to the Napoleonic wars, had been regular visitors to the area. Perhaps the most famous visitor received by King Joachim and Queen Caroline during this brief, idyllic period, was the controversial Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales and wife of the English Prince Regent (future King George IV).

My original plan was to only post Louise Murat’s recollection of the princess’s visit, but I’m going to include a second account–from the Countess of Boigne (née Charlotte Louise Eléonore Adélaide d’Osmond)–immediately after Louise’s, for the sake of contrast.

***

Source: Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, by Louise Murat, pages 192-196.

The end of 1814, and the beginning of 1815, was a most shining time for this capital. War had for so long suspended in Europe all social relation between the different populations, that it seemed that everyone was eager to compensate for this kind of forced sequestration, and sought, in their travels, a compensation for the boredom so prolonged by politics. Foreigners from the north, and especially the English who had regrettably interrupted their nomadic habits, flocked to Italy in droves. Their sojourn of predilection was Naples, because there they found what no other city of the Peninsula could offer them: a friendly court and sovereigns who received with grace and affability all who desired to deserved to be presented to them. I remember hearing pronounced then all the greatest names of the English aristocracy. It was especially at the excavations of Pompeii that we saw them gathered in great numbers. And, indeed, these excavations were worthy of exciting their curiosity to the highest point. They took place at times more or less close together, depending on whether one believed to be on the trail of some important discovery, and were done with a sort of solemnity, in the presence of the royal family and numerous guests. We lunched and dined in the midst of the ruins which, that day, after so many centuries, saw their solitude repeopled, and by the most elegant society. A little of every language could be heard there, and, the day finished, all the foreigners returned to Naples, enchanted by this artistic, one-of-a-kind celebration, and by the sovereigns who knew how to deploy, with so much grace, such royal hospitality.

Among the illustrious visitors received by the Court of Naples then, the most remarkable, and the one who left the most trace in my mind, is without a doubt the famous Princess of Wales. She arrived in the first days of 1815, and was received with all the honors due to her high rank. She already had her favorite, Bergami, with her, but he was then still only a courier, and, in an elegant suit, served his Royal Mistress at table. It is impossible to repeat all the extravagances of her conduct and her toilet. (It is, however, to be understood that it was not until much later that I learned about most of them.) I remember perfectly a dinner at the Queen’s, where she wore a dark green dress, on which were reproduced, richly embroidered in gold, and in large proportions, all the principal temples of Greece. She had on her head an immense blonde wig, the long corkscrews of which hung over her shoulders. She was delighted with this coiffure which, she claimed, gave her a great resemblance to my father! She was, moreover, a very good woman, and very kind to us, would have liked to see us often, but my mother was much too severe to permit it, and always knew how to find some pretext to keep us away. Only once, we found ourselves entrusted to her, and here is the occasion. It was at the Camp; we were witnessing a mock battle, in a closed carriage, with the Queen who was suffering on that day. The princess of Wales, who, in a caleche, was taking great pleasure in this spectacle, came to offer to take us with her, so that we might better enjoy the magnificent sight presented by the maneuvers and combats of more than thirty thousand men gathered at this moment on the Field of Mars. My mother consented, and we went with the princess to shut ourselves up in square of infantry that was being attached by several regiments of cavalry. She was quite right; nothing was more striking than this spectacle. The movement, the noise of the military music, of the fusillade around us, of the cannon at a short distance, and, as in a fantastic dream, of the brilliant squadrons of cavaliers whirling amid clouds of smoke and dust… it was something overwhelming, intoxicating, and which left in my young imagination an impression which the years have not been able to destroy. The princess, delighted with the pleasure she had procured for us, led us back, triumphantly, to our mother, more flattered, I think, from having had us for a few moments in her care, than from all the attentions that the Court never ceased to lavish upon her. Poor princess! Naples was the last city in which she showed herself surrounded by the splendor of the rank she had been called to occupy in the world. Upon leaving this capital, she announced to those around her that she had transformed her courier Bergami into a baron, and had chosen him for her Knight of Honor. At this declaration, her English court instantly abandoned her, and she departed nearly alone with her favorite, astonishing, by her innumerable follies, all the countries she then traversed in her fabulous course.

***

Source: Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne, Vol. 2, 1908, pages 44-46

The next day we saw in the streets of Genoa a sight which I shall never forget. There was a kind of phaeton constructed like a sea shell, covered with gilding and mother-of-pearl, coloured outside, lined with blue velvet and decorated with silver fringes; this was drawn by two very small piebald horses driven by a child who was dressed like an operatic cherub with spangles and flesh-coloured tights, and within it lounged a fat woman of fifty years of age, short, plump, and high-coloured. She wore a pink hat with seven or eight pink feathers floating in the wind, a pink bodice cut very low, and a short white skirt which hardly came below her knees, showing two stout legs with pink top-boots; a rose-coloured sash which she was continually draping completed this costume. 

The carriage was preceded by a tall and handsome man, mounted upon a little horse like those which drew the carriage; he was dressed precisely like King Murat, whose gestures and attitude he attempted to imitate. The carriage was followed by two grooms in English livery and upon horses of the same kind.

This Neapolitan turn-out was a gift from Murat to the Princess of Wales, who exhibited herself in this ridiculous costume and in this strange carriage. She appeared in the streets of Genoa on this and the following mornings.

The Princess was then in the full fury of her passion for Murat, and would have wished to accompany him to the camps. He had been obliged to insist on her departure with some sternness. She only consented to leave because she hoped to induce Lord William Bentinck to unite the English forces with the Neapolitan arms. On this subject she spared neither demands, supplications, nor threats. The influence of these upon Lord William can easily be imagined, and he moreover, went away two days after her arrival. 

(…) During the previous carnival, which she had just spent at Naples, she had conceived the idea of inducing the resident English to give a subscription ball to Murat. The scene took place in a public hall. At the moment of Murat’s arrival a group of the prettiest Englishwomen, dressed like goddesses from Olympus, advanced to receive him. Minerva and Themis then took possession of him and conducted him to a platform where the curtains opened and showed the spectators a group of symbolic figures including Renown, a character sustained by one of the pretty Harley ladies. Glory, who was represented by the Princess, even more ridiculously dressed than the others, tripped forward, took a feather from the wing of Renown, and wrote in large golden letters upon a panel which she held, the names of the different battles in which Murat had distinguished himself.

The spectators roared with laughter and applauded, while the Queen of Naples shrugged her shoulders. Murat had sufficient good sense to feel vexed, but the Princess took this masquerade seriously, as a glorious ovation for the object of her affections and for herself, who was so well able to do him honour. (…)

It was to console the grief of which she felt at her separation from Murat that the Princess of Wales had conceived the idea of dressing one of her men who slightly resembled him in precisely similar fashion. This living portrait was Bergami, who afterwards became famous, and who even then, according to the captain of the ship which had brought him from Livorno, assumed the rights of Murat over his royal mistress as well as his costume. This, however, was regarded as nothing more than a sailor’s bad joke.

3 thoughts on ““The spectators roared with laughter”

  1. Karen Ronan

    The description of being in the infantry square is fantastic. The second description of the Princess of Wales was posted before (probably by you) and it is HILARIOUS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I put the second excerpt up on Tumblr awhile ago. I came across Louise’s today and thought they went together nicely. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love the part about her taking the children to experience the mock battle too. It’s nice to know that the girls got to experience something like this and get the tiniest glimpse of their father’s experience as a soldier. She wrote this over fifty years later so the experience must have stayed with her quite vividly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I remember the princesse of Wales came through Munich at one point and stayed a couple of days. She caused quite a sensation there as well. Auguste in her diary made some stinging remarks about her outfit and her singing talent (or lack thereof) – and she also suspected her of being a little too friendly with her husband.

    Like

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