“I could have fallen at his feet and worshipped him”

Part 2 of Murat-related excerpts from the memoirs of Guglielmo Pépé. This part begins with Pépé’s recollection of his first meeting with Murat in Florence in 1802, continues with the crowning and general reception of Murat as King of Naples six years later (and their reaction to Napoleon naming Caroline his immediate heir), and ends with some snippets from the latter years of his reign.

(Part 1 can be found here.)

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Source: Memoirs of General Pépé, Vol I (London, 1846).

I returned to Florence, where Murat was Commander-in-chief of the French army, which extended itself from that part of Italy to Apulia. Just as I was introduced into his apartment, I met a grenadier coming out, who had been exercising the General in the accomplishment of fencing. Murat was then about thirty* years of age. He was handsome, of a martial aspect, and most elaborately elegant in his attire. I was but a poor Lieutenant at the time, and could not help fearing that I should not be permitted to speak to him. Nothing, however, could be more affable than his deportment, and on my requesting to be sent to Egypt, he inquired whether I had any relations in the kingdom of Naples, and why I did not avail myself of the pardon of the King, which was guaranteed by the French Government. I replied that my father was a man of large property, and that he wished me to return home, but that I preferred a military career, and that I hated the Government of Naples. Then I proceeded to relate to him my political and military vicissitudes, and placed in his hands a testimonial given me by General Lecchi laudatory of my conduct in the campaign of Marengo. My extreme youth evidently produced a great impression upon him, which was not lessened by the ardour of my speech and manner. He asked what he could do for me; I replied that my sole desire was to proceed to Egypt, and to be incorporated in the army stationed there.

Upon this, he gave me an order which would ensure my reception with the rank of Captain, and directed me to sail for Alexandria in the first French vessel will should quit Taranto. Who could then have foreseen that the vicissitudes of that brave warrior, those of my hapless country, and even my own, would one day be so closely connected, or would have terminated so disastrously! (pages 141-2)

*Pépé gives the year of this encounter as 1802 (the month is unclear), so Murat would be either 34 or 35.

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In the year 1808, the Emperor Napoleon created his brother Joseph King of Spain, appointing Joachim Murat his successor to the throne of Naples. Murat was undoubtedly far better fitted for government than his predecessor. As I shall have much to say respecting him later, I will merely observe here, that it was a great error to regard him merely in the light of a very valiant soldier. It is true that the feudal system, and several other Bourbonite laws were suppressed during the reign of King Joseph, and that he introduced several French laws as well as the “Code Napoleon;” but such useful changes were a part of the French system, and were put in execution in all the countries subjected to them, and governed by members of the same family. Under Joseph, the kingdom of Naples would never have possessed an army, or a good system of financial administration: during his reign everything was in a state of dissolution and ruin.

By a decree of the 15th of July, 1808, Napoleon invested Joachim Murat, then Grand Duke of Berg and of Cleves, with the Kingdom of Naples and of Sicily, just as if the population beyond the Straits had been subjected to him. By virtue of the same decree, and for the humiliation of the Neapolitans, Napoleon ordained that in the event of the death of Joachim, his widow, Caroline, should ascend the throne in preference to her son. This intelligence was deeply humiliating, for excepting the period of the two Giovanne, the Neapolitan sceptre had never been swayed by women. The weak and mischievous reign of Joseph, and the reputation for valour, added to the great personal advantages, for which Joachim was so celebrated, caused him to be received by the Neapolitans with excessive joy. To justify his high military reputation, he took the island of Capri from the English early in October of the same year. (pages 248-9)

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King Joachim immediately began to organize the different corps of the army with the utmost solicitude and activity. He promulgated the law of conscription, which did not meet general approbation, because the lower orders, upon whom it more particularly fell, had not entirely discarded their feelings of devotion to the Bourbon dynasty; besides which, the system of the new government was not sufficiently effective to inspire a sense of national patriotism. The prisons were filled with individuals charged with political offenses. 

My first care was to present myself to King Joachim, who was always easy of access, notwithstanding the self-important airs assumed by the chamberlains on duty. Whilst I was awaiting an interview in a saloon contiguous to that of the courtiers in waiting, the Duke Girella, Prefect of the Palace, related to me all the dirty intrigues which were practised by many to obtain employment at Court. On being admitted to the presence of King Joachim, I showed him the authorization he had himself given me in 1802 to proceed to Egypt. He likewise perused with attention my statement of service, which I handed hm, and the charge committed to my care by Massena of organizing a regiment of Calabrians. As soon as he had finished reading these documents, I said that I expected from his justice the rank of Colonel. The King replied, that in appointing me one of his officers of ordnance, he should give me a proof of the favourable opinion he held of me. I recollect that I was so engrossed by admiration of the elegance of his appearance, and the affability of his address, that I omitted expressing my thanks. He talked to me a great deal about the Neapolitan army, and manifested a confidence in us that even exceeded my own; and, God knows that was not small. His conversation filled me with such delight, that had it not been for the fear I entertained lest he should mistake my ardour of patriotism for courtier-like flatter, I could have fallen at his feet and worshipped him. It seemed to me that I beheld in him the Charles XII of the Neapolitans; and with my mind full of such ideas, I retired amidst the amiable salutations of the courtiers, who had not failed to remark the length of my interview with the King. (pages 250-251)

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I passed into the Abruzzi with my brigade, where I learned that the King was gone to Dresden to command Napoleon’s cavalry. Such was the eccentricity of Joachim, that a few days before quitting Naples, he had been in treaty with England to proclaim the independence of Italy, that nation engaging to furnish twenty thousand men, and a considerable sum of money for this purpose. The ratification of the treaty only reached Naples after the departure of the King*. I was informed of this fact two years later by the Duke of Campo Chiaro, Minister and Ambassador of King Joachim. (page 316)

*I’m not sure if Pépé is misremembering this, or if there were two entirely different documents sent to Joachim just as he was leaving for Dresden (he departed on 2 August 1813). From pages 195-6 of Hubert Cole’s The Betrayers: “He had scarcely gone when Mier presented Caroline with a dispatch from Metternich, who wanted Joachim to sign a secret agreement to remain neutral in the event of Austria joining the Coalition against France (if he preferred, to join the Coalition as an active partner). Metternich required an answer by August 10, and added: ‘The king’s only means of assuring his continued existence as a sovereign is to join forces with Austria. He cannot honestly fail to see that he has gone too far not to have exposed himself to the full measure of the emperor’s reprobation.’ It was too blunt a threat. Caroline promptly tore it up. Another copy enclosed in dispatches from Cariati which had to be decoded in Naples was sent on to Joachim, who reached Dresden at 5 p.m. on August 14.”

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If Joachim regarded and esteemed me, the Queen, his wife, who was proclaimed Regent during the King’s absence, hated me most cordially as an open adversary of the French party. It happened that Prince Strongoli was obliged to quit the command of the division in the Abruzzi, and to prevent my assuming the vacant command, as I was entitled to do, having been promoted prior to my colleague, General d’Aquino, the Queen sent thither a third Major-General older in rank than myself, who took the command of the division. This officer was General d’Ambrosio who behaved to me in a truly comrade-like manner. He told me he had taken no steps to persuade the Queen to so irregular, not to say unjust, a measure as that adopted by her. I replied, that had any other Major-General than himself been sent, I should not have submitted to such an act of injustice; but that I bore it for the sake of the high esteem in which I held him, and for the love of a cordial agreement between fellow-soldiers, which should reign amongst us during the King’s absence. (page 318)

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3 thoughts on ““I could have fallen at his feet and worshipped him”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I looked for Metternich’s letter in Helfert’s book, but it’s missing, unfortunately. The only letter by Metternich during that time period that is cited is from April, and it’s of course still in much more cautious terms. The date of the ultimatum is the same Metternich set to Caulaincourt/Napoleon during the negotiations in Prague.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: “My annoying opposition to his politics” – Project Murat

  3. Pingback: “He wasted his hours…” – Project Murat

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