In this excerpt from Louise Murat’s memoirs, Louise discusses how her father became drawn into the cause of Italian unification, why he broke away from the Allies in 1815, and his final, disastrous campaign against Austria.
Source: Louise Murat, Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, pages 206-213.
It was thus that after fall of Napoleon, tranquility was far from being restored in people’s minds, and the silent agitation which belabored them, unable to escape the perspicacity of of the sovereigns, engendered between them, and between them and their people, this distrust of which I spoke above and of which my father was the first to feel the effects.
France was discontent… Italy was still more so, and especially, conspired more than she did.
It is at this time that it is appropriate, I believe, to fix, if not the origin, at least the development that these magic words then gained: UNITY and ITALIAN INDEPENDENCE. But it must not be believed that they had, from the beginning, either the power or the impact that they have had since. This idea of the independence of Italy was born in the breast of some patriots and was still understood and appreciated only by the most chosen and enlightened part of the nation; it is only slowly, little by little, step by step, that during sixty years we have seen it advance, grow, and finally farsi gigante [become gigantic]! These patriots, intimately tied with the Italian party in Naples (a party of which I’ve had occasion to speak on several occasions) were put, by its means, in communication with my father. Profiting from the discord of the Allies, of the war or any other circumstance which might have arisen in order to proclaim the independence of Italy, such was their project. King Joachim would have been entrusted with the management of the government, and the Crown of Italy would have been the reward justly due for his noble and courageous efforts.
It was a beautiful project, well made to seduce and entice a spirit as chivalrous and adventurous as that of my father, and this all the more so since it accorded perfectly with the sentiments with which he had shown himself to be animated since his accession to the throne of Naples. Indeed, you have see by the letters from the King to the Emperor (which I have previously copied) how much the fate of Italy was in his heart; he was preoccupied with its future when no one else thought about it and when it was only considered a conquered province that a viceroy governed in Emperor’s name. We have seen that, during the whole time of his reign, he had constantly fought against the good imperial pleasure, seeking to free himself as much as possible from French domination, in order to establish and strengthen in Naples a royalty which, although born abroad, might, by his feelings and his desire to do good, be regarded by his subjects as truly national. Imbued with these ideas, identified thus with his people, a fraction of the great Italian homeland, he could not, separating the particular interests of the Neapolitans from those of the Italians in general, refuse his support to the latter.
If a little ambition had perhaps had some part in his determination, I can find nothing in it condemnable. Without ambition, has anything ever been undertaken in the world? And does ambition not carry justification in itself when it is directed towards a goal as noble as that of reviving Italy from its ashes and giving it, with existence, independence and glory? So my father warmly embraced the cause of his country of adoption.
Numerous addresses signed by the nobles of the main towns of the peninsula, were sent unceasingly to the King. All expressed the same wishes and promised him the moon and stars… to hear them, all of Italy was waiting for him, would rise en masse at his approach and, to the cry of Vive l’Independance! his campaign against the Austrians should transform into a triumphal march!… History is there to tell us how much reality was underneath all these deceptive promises, in which my father did a great wrong (and this is perhaps the only one that he can be seriously reproached for) by giving them credence. They led him to his doom.
But let us stop for a bit and, without anticipating events, seek in the reflections and the facts exposed so far the solution to the question I posed above. Of the two paths to follow, which offered to my father the most favorable chances, either for himself or for Italy?
One, by reinforcing the ties which had recently united him to the allies, offended all the feelings of his soul. To merit their trust, he would have had to be ready to battle Napoleon personally in the fight which he knew must soon be engaged; and do you think that this sacrifice would suffice to appease the lust of the Bourbons for Naples and the hatred they bore for Bonaparte and all his relatives? As for Italy, which had trusted in him and implored him, he would have handed her over, bound hand a foot, to Austria, who would certainly not have forgiven her for having, although in vain, sought his support.
The other, on the contrary, in accord with his feelings and his affections, opened to him the most beautiful perspectives: the Emperor returned to the Tuileries leaning on his arm, and Italy free, and freed by him. In a word: on one side, humiliation, servitude, and little to no chance of salvation; on the other, in case of success, personal surety, glory and independence for Italy. It is easy to understand, his choice could not remain doubtful for long.
I think, by these few lines, to have sufficiently explained the motives which, in 1815, had decided my father to break the treaties of 1814. And as to the reproach addressed to him for having done so lightly and without any point of support, I will answer only by asking how one cannot consider as a very serious point of support the projects which were then nourished by the Emperor, and how one can fail to see what strength the simultaneous uprisings of France and Italy lent to each other, each having at their head names such as those of Napoleon and Murat!
Events have deceived my father’s hopes and those who judge him only by appearances and results have concluded that his plans had no solid basis, and hastened to throw stones at him. This manner of judging is very easy and above all quite common, but the serious minds who will want to read me attentively, will see that it is not on him alone that should fall the responsibility for circumstances and misunderstandings which had the most disastrous consequences for him and for the entire imperial dynasty.
I have already said that Italy only responded coldly to the name of Murat. She only rose up partially at his approach, and barely a few hundred young men, inexperienced in the trade of arms, came, without being of any help to him, to join his army.
This deception threw discouragement and disunion among his troops who, despite some isolated traits of bravery and some glorious battles, could not hold for long against the Austrians and were finally definitively beaten at Tolentino. Desertion dispersed in a few days this beautiful army which he had formed with so much care, and my unfortunate father, despair in his heart, having no more soldiers to command, only returned to his capital to say an eternal farewell! He entrusted to the Queen the government of the kingdom, giving her the so honorable mission, in these supreme moments, of treating with the enemies who were advancing towards the capital, and of safeguarding the interests of this people whom he was leaving with so many regrets… and then departed secretly and in haste.
Do not be surprised at the haste of this departure. It was not to escape the terrible difficulties of the moment that he abandoned Naples so suddenly, but he understood that his presence would only make more difficult the negotiations with which the Queen was charged; and he knew, moreover (history has well proven that he was not mistaken), that the Queen, worthy sister of Napoleon, possessed the firmness and energy of character which were indispensable in such perilous circumstances. Calm for his part, he embarked with the intention of throwing himself into Gaeta, a stronghold which still held for him, where he would have found his children, and from where he hoped to still be able to fight and prolong the struggle. His hope was dashed: he could not penetrate into this fortress which the English were besieging, had to take refuse on Ischia and, at last, embarked on a small vessel that transported him to the coasts of France.