“A colleague whose presence offended their gaze”

In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, Louise discusses the reconciliation between Murat and Napoleon, the political situation during the First Restoration which eventually led to her father breaking away from his new allies, and counters a number of criticisms of her father’s conduct in 1815.

Source: Louise Murat, Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, pages 196-206.

***

After this short digression meant to give you a glimpse of the shining appearance of Naples during this period of time called the First Restoration, I must inevitably return to politics.

These fêtes, these foreigners avidly seeking pleasures, lead one to believe in the inauguration of an era of tranquility and peace which, unfortunately, was far from the reality, and these appearances were quite misleading. Perhaps we were looking to drown our sorrows, to profit from these few moments of calm, as if we sensed that they should not be of long duration. And indeed the storm was rumbling dully and could not be long in bursting.

The French, discontent with their new king, and especially, with the emigrants who surrounded him and who, listening only to their caste prejudices, showed themselves hostile to all the new glories of France, the French, I say, hurt in their national pride, had recovered their love for their Emperor, after having gone so far, in a moment of error, as cursing his ambition and denying his greatness. They missed him already, and Napoleon, from the island of Elba, where he had been relegated, followed, though from afar, the impressions of these moveable people. Nothing that occurred in Europe escaped his eagle’s glance, and in silence and in secret, he prepared to act as soon as the moment seemed opportune to him. But, in order to act, the support of the King of Naples was necessary to him, and before all else it was necessary to ensure this by bringing about between himself and his brother-in-law, a sincere reconciliation. 

If you have read attentively the final letter from the King to the Emperor and the touching words that end it, you can easily understand that my father could hardly refuse it, and that his heart was always ready to listen to the voice of his old brother-in-arms. So it was not long before the reconciliation took place and, if we can affirm that, for his part, it was as complete as possible, I do not know if, after having read the sad pages which end this letter, we will be able to affirm likewise that all traces of the past were also erased from the Emperor’s mind.

It was via the mediation of some of the members of the Bonaparte family that the desired rapprochement between the two brothers-in-law took place, and Princess Pauline Borghese was the principal negotiator. Her light and frivolous habits inspired no mistrust, it was easy for her to come from Porto Ferraio to Naples to accomplish her pacific mission, without anyone ever suspecting what important messages she found herself charged with. 

But, like I’ve said, it did not suffice for Napoleon to have renewed friendly relations and good kinship with the King. Foreseeing the moment when it would be possible to reseize the power that force alone had made him abandon, he employed all appropriate means of detaching him from his new allies. I could not give circumstantial details on the negotiations which were then established between them; but what is certain, is that my father hesitated a long time before deciding, and that the Italian party which also pressed him to declare war on Austria, exercised a great influence on his determinations, as I will have to recount to you later.

In considering the general position of Europe at the time we are in with these memoirs, and in particular that of my father, we should be more indulgent for the uncertain course we have seen him follow. His hesitations, indeed quite natural, have been severely reproached, and his indecisive demeanor left, on the Neapolitan diplomacy of the time, an imprint of changeability, which history in a way has consecrated, but which I will nevertheless try to justify, at least in part, by putting before your eyes the countless difficulties which, on all sides, surrounded and threatened the royalty of Murat. 

The principal reproaches directed to him are: having broken alliances and solemn treaties, and this by virtue of personal ambition, lightly, without any point of support, and to have finally, by an inconsiderate haste, compromised, not only the cause of Italy which he had taken in hand, but again that of the Emperor Napoleon.

I am going to try to respond to these different accusations to the best of my ability.

I understand that by only looking at things superficially, the first judgement one feels disposed to formulate against my father is this one: if Joachim, in 1814, doing violence to all his affections, had thought, in order to save his throne and his people, to unite with the enemies of France, why, barely a year elapsed, did he declare himself against his new allies, thus losing the fruit of the sacrifice he had believed he must impose on himself? Why not remain faithful to his recent alliances? Rejecting all overtures from Napoleon and the Italian party, why did he not follow the example of Bernadotte? He would have ended up deserving, like him, the trust of the Holy Alliance, and, like him, would have died peacefully on the throne, leaving his children to inherit his kingdom. 

I would have nothing to say about the prudence of this discourse, if the circumstances had been the same in 1815 as in 1814, and if the position of Murat and that of Bernadotte had been identical. But far from it!

In 1814, the question was simple and clear: to fall with Napoleon, or look to save his people and his dynasty by uniting himself to the allies. The interest of Italy and reasons of State were tracing for him in advance the line which, as King of Naples, he was bound to follow… and indeed he followed it. But in 1815, this same Italian interest, this same reasons of state, did they indicate to him so clearly the part he should embrace? Of the two alliances presenting themselves to him, which one offered him the most chances of salvation, not only for himself particularly, but still and even more for Italy? It is that which we are going to examine, because it is that which is, in my opinion, the knot of the question.

I will begin by refuting the argument that wants to rely on the example of the royal prince of Sweden to blame the conduct of my father. 

The situation of Bernadotte and of Murat, although offering some points of apparent similarity, nevertheless presented notable differences. They were both Frenchmen, both children of the people, former generals of the Republic, who occupied the supreme rank, the one in the north, the other in the south of Europe; but there stops all the resemblance. The relations of the first with the Emperor had never existed on a very amicable footing, whereas the other, his pupil, was united to him by the ties of the closest kinship; and the consequence of this difference was that the allies felt quite disposed to grant the first support and confidence, and to refuse them entirely to the second. There was in addition between them another difference, more decisive, and which came from the very nature of the countries they governed. Sweden and its ice did not excite the covetousness of any potentate; it never had the power of interesting them strongly enough in its internal revolutions to be able to disturb or threaten the peace of Europe; whereas Italy, at all times, has had the sad privilege of seeing its lesser provinces ruthlessly disputed by the most powerful sovereigns, and thus to be the spark, the determining cause of the largest conflagrations. 

Indeed, in defiance of the treaties signed with the King, the Bourbons, and in their name, Louis XVIII as head of the family, claimed with force and insistence the throne of Naples for the younger branch of their house. Read attentively everything written on the First Restoration and the Congress of Vienna by different authors and, finally, by M. Thiers, and it will be easy for you to convince yourself how much it cost, to all these sovereigns by divine right, to admit among them this brother-in-law of Napoleon, this intruder who, the only one left standing in the midst of the general debacle, was all the more exposed to their hatred and their vengeance. At the Congress, frequent notes were presented against him, and although Austria and England still pretended to support Murat’s cause, it was therefore easy to predict that they were only waiting for a favorable moment to rid themselves of a colleague whose presence offended their gaze. 

It is true that, for his part, the King nourished little more sympathy for them than they for him; I cannot hide it, and I even believe that in the depths of his heart he desired that a defeat for the allies would return liberty to Italy, and France to the Emperor. This is so much in the nature of things that if I told you otherwise, you wouldn’t believe me. But, whatever his intimate feelings, one could have put them to sleep or at least prevented them from producing themselves in plain sight, by treating him in a completely different way, and if, being himself a scrupulous observer of treaties, he would thus have been forced, morally, to maintain the commitments which certainly cost him a great deal to respect. I said above that I wanted to attempt the justification of the Neapolitan diplomacy at this time, and I don’t believe I can do it better than by affirming that the reticences, the hesitations, the lack of good faith he is reproached for, were undoubtedly very serious wrongs, but made necessary by the bad will and the duplicity of all the sovereigns in his regard.

If there is a reproach to make to my father, it is not to have predicted, from the first days of 1814, the difficulties which came to assail him in 1815; to not have foreseen this reciprocal mistrust which must necessarily develop between them and might, at a given moment, lead them to a resounding rupture. To be able to justify him for this lack of foresight, it is necessary to refer to the discussion of spirits during the First Restoration. The whole of Europe (without even excluding France), fatigued from so many wars and agitations, asked only for rest. It seemed to all that the fall of Napoleon, considered as the sole obstacle to peace, must, in a single instant, assure it and for a long time. All the acts of this period, and even the quasi-liberty left to the sovereign of the island of Elba, despite the proximity of his former Empire, prove enough the blindness of the Emperor’s enemies and how powerless they thought him from then on to rekindle popular passions in his favor. Perhaps my father shared this false belief, which would the following year receive such a dazzling refutation, but which, then, was so generally admitted that one cannot really blame him for having put faith in it. In this case, and if events had followed this direction, if France had resigned itself to forget Napoleon, and to patiently bear the yoke of the Bourbons, it is more than probable that the wicked dispositions of the allies against Murat would have failed for lack of an opportunity to declare themselves, and he could easily have consolidated himself on the throne. Therefore one cannot reproach him for this lack of foresight, but one can find there the source of a multitude of reflections on the vanity of human judgements and on the instability of things in this world, which shows you today to be false what yesterday seemed to be the truth. 

So it was that after the fall of Napoleon, tranquility was far from being reestablished in people’s minds, and the dull agitation which troubled them, not being able to escape the perspicacity of the sovereigns, engendered between them, and between them and their people, this mistrust of which I spoke and of which my father was the first to feel the effects. 

***

9 thoughts on ““A colleague whose presence offended their gaze”

    1. It’s hard to say. I tend to lean towards agreeing with Louise that it was probably much more sincere on Murat’s part than on Napoleon’s. But it’s hard to tell how much of Napoleon’s anger towards Murat in 1815 & subsequent refusal to let him come to Paris, stems from Murat’s failed attempt against the Austrians (which Napoleon then conveniently latches onto when he needs someone to blame for his final downfall) and how much of it was residual from Murat’s defection in 1814. But it’s mentioned in the notes of one of the volumes of Bertrand’s Saint Helena cahiers that Napoleon doesn’t seem to have ever really forgiven Murat for 1814, which, while understandable, is still sad.

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      1. Josefa vom Jaaga

        I agree but I would not read too much into it, either. In the end, Napoleon was pretty pragmatic. Murat’s decision in 1814 meant that Napoleon now had a ruling sovereign as an ally in 1815. It had been the correct decision as it had allowed Murat to keep his crown. I think to some degree, Napoleon respected that.

        As for his decision in 1815, I guess that’s Gascon logic? “All these people are just waiting for an excuse to go to war against me – let’s givem them one!” ^_^

        Totally different question: Did Murat ever think about attending the Congress of Vienna himself, in person? I guess I’m thinking about it because I’ve read about the Tabor bridges so much over the last couple of days. This might have been another occasion to waltz in (literally) and prove his social skills.

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      2. He might’ve grudgingly respected it, I wouldn’t doubt it. Caroline at least seemed to think something along those lines; at one point she stated that Napoleon would’ve been disappointed in her if she’d acted otherwise.

        I still need to get a better handle on the 1814/1815 timelines better, but it seems like the allies were pretty much on the brink of turning on Murat anyway, and he just beat them to the punch. What’s interesting is that there’s an excerpt in General Guglielmo Pépé’s memoirs where he says that he had it on good authority from a fellow general that the allies been just about to guarantee Murat his throne in exchange for him remaining faithful to the alliance (they were panicking in the aftermath of Napoleon leaving Elba). But it was too late, Murat had already taken the field by that point. His hastiness got the better of him; Caroline does say to Agar that it was one of his only real flaws. If he’d just waited maybe a few more days or a week or so things might’ve been very different.

        I haven’t found anything so far regarding Murat’s decision to not go to the Congress of Vienna in person. Tsar Alexander was there but he seems to have been the only monarch from any of the major powers, the rest just seem to have sent their diplomats. Oh and I’m reading that apparently Frederick William of Prussia was in Vienna but was working “behind the scenes” so I don’t think he actually attended the Congress personally? But maybe you can correct me.

        I’m not sure if Murat attending in person would’ve changed anything other than causing him humiliation directly rather than indirectly. The Neapolitan delegation was pretty much shunned, and the British and Austrian delegations were plotting to have Joachim removed from his throne throughout the proceedings (Talleyrand wanted him gone too). Maybe he should’ve thrown them all off guard by sending Caroline instead. 😛

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      3. Josefa vom Jaaga

        I don’t think either of the monarchs had any say in the matter during the congress, except for the tsar – to everybody else’s chagrin ^_^. With the exception of Napoleon – Mister Micromanagement – the sovereigns in general seem to have left policies to their appointed ministers, so they did not join the panels where the actual work was done. But the highnesses all showed up for public occasions, and that’s where you could try to gain some favour.

        The Bavarians attended the congress (King Max Joseph and Crown Prince Ludwig), that much I know, also the King of Württemberg and son (the latter almost coming to blows with Ludwig), the Grand Duke of Baden (having orgies which baffled even the police spies), the King of Prussia and I believe the King of Denmark, too. The most prominent Austrian arch-dukes of course, other than the Kaiser himself. The King of Saxony was held prisoner, otherwise he surely would have gone. Bernadotte stayed away, interestingly, and so did Louis XVIII, of course. Those who had carried him INTO the Tuileries palace were probably still too exhausted to move him out again. (A good thing Napoleon would allow them some breath until 1815.)

        I merely thought about it because Kerautret mentions in his book that Eugène was the only one from the defeated side who went to the congress in person. Maybe, if Joachim had gone, too, it would have been harder for the other monarchs to question his right to rule. At the very least, they would have needed to make a decision immediately: Do we allow him among us and treat him like a king or not? By letting him attend the congress they to some degree would have already recognized him.

        But yes, it would have been humiliating. Bloody humilitating. Arch-duke Johann, his former enemy in 1809, even pitied him (“now he has to go begging”) in his diary. Eugène barely got through this ordeal with the tsar’s help. And as soon as he lost that, he also lost his chance at his own sovereign principality.

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