Part 3 of Murat-related excerpts from the memoirs of Neapolitan General Guglielmo Pépé. In this excerpt, Pépé discusses the first, ultimately unsuccessful attempt at pushing King Joachim to grant the Neapolitans a constitution in 1814; Lord William Bentinck’s personal dislike for Murat; and Murat’s inclination towards rewarding those of his generals whose politics (unlike Pépé’s) didn’t conflict with his own.
(Part 1 can be found here.)
(Part 2 can be found here.)
Source: Memoirs of General Pépé, Vol 2 (London: 1846), pages 1-6.
The least clear-sighted might foresee the misfortunes in store for us; no wonder, then, that those whose very Generals, who in the assembly of Reggio had evinced, though feeble, their interest for the national welfare, were now fully disposed to exert their best endeavours in behalf of our expiring country. Accordingly we assembled together at the residence of Carascosa at St. Donino, and, as at Reggio, we all agreed that it was necessary to force the King to grant us the Constitution so ardently desired. I had hoped that we should have deliberated at once upon the manner and method of bringing about instantly what we all agreed upon as indispensable and just. But there was no deliberation. Carascosa and Ambrosio, brave officers, but timid politicians, decided that it would be prudent to send a messenger to Lord William Bentinck, at Genoa, to inquire whether he would support us by his authority, and furnish us with men and money to sustain our attempt, should the obstinacy of the King drive us to a civil war. I was amazed at such a determination, and asked them from whence the opposition they feared should arise, whilst we had on our side the populace, the landholders and the army. They replied that the intrepid Joachim might present himself at the head of his royal guard before the different corps under our command, and that he might perhaps succeed in bringing them back to obedience to his will. It was in vain that I denied the possibility of such an event; in vain I offered to take upon myself the imaginary and dreaded encounter with the King; my wary colleagues were bent upon temporizing, and decided that General Filangieri should be sent to Genoa to confer with the British General.
(…) Lord William Bentinck, although honest and a liberal, was not a man of enlarged views. He promised to support us by money and arms to establish liberal institutions in our native land, but on the condition that we dethroned Joachim, and brought back the Bourbons. The aversion of his Lordship to the King proved how blind he was to the real interests of his own country, which would have found in Murat, a constitutional King unfettered by any connexions, an ally far more faithful to its interests than the Bourbons, who would naturally enough be always inclined to favour the Princes of their own blood occupying the thrones of France and Spain. The true interest of our own country and our honour, demanded that we should not dethrone Murat, unless he compelled us to such a step by his own folly; for although the Bourbon dynasty may be joined to a constitutional form of government in the fanciful brain of the poet, they cannot assuredly exist together in the more sober reality of political life.
The seductions of the King and the unfavourable answer from Bentinck, caused this first attempt to fail, and I remained, as was said by my faithful Calabrese, with my eyes full and my hands empty. About this period I received a letter from Carascosa, directed to the “General Baron Pépé,” its contents couched in the most friendly terms, informing me that the King had created me a Baron with the gift of a very fine estate in the immediate vicinity of Naples, a reward which it hardly became a tribune to accept.
Without moment’s hesitation I wrote and thanked the General for his kindness, but refused in the most positive manner to receive either the title or the estate, adding at the same time, that I would never accept anything from the King, until he granted us a Constitution. This determination on my part must have proved any thing but satisfactory to my fellow-conspirators, all of whom about the same time had received rewards from the King. Carascosa was promoted to the rank of General of the Guard, Ambrosio and Filangieri were made aides-de-camp. These three were excellent officers, but Colletta, who had never even seen the enemy, was likewise elevated to the post of State Counsellor. This officer, as well as the promotions bestowed upon the former Generals, produced considerable annuities. I was made aware from time after that Joachim, who had so often extolled me in his orders of the day, had not even mentioned my name whilst he was decreeing the above rewards. Carascosa, inspired by sentiments of equity and friendship, suggested to his Majesty that it was an act of injustice to overlook my services on such an occasion, to which the King replied that having already more Lieutenant-Generals than he required, it was quite impossible that he could promote me. But when Carascosa, ceasing to insist upon the promotion to which I was strictly entitled from the date of my services, spoke to him of the Barony, the King seized upon the idea with evident satisfaction, and immediately selected the best which he had at his disposal. The following is the decree by which it was awarded to me:
Bologna, April 14th, 1814.
Joachim Napoleon, King of the Two Sicilies. We have decreed, and do hereby decree:–Firstly: That Major-General William Pépé shall assume henceforth the title and rank of Baron. Secondly: That the annuity annexed to this said Barony, is to be taken from that heretofore appertaining to General Soye, now retired. Our Minister of Finance and President of the Council of the Maggiorati are entrusted with the execution of the present decree.
(Signed) Joachim Napoleon
(…) Even the best Princes prefer flattery to frankness and truth. Joachim professed great affection and esteem for me, notwithstanding my annoying opposition to his politics. Nevertheless, having on one occasion received from the Austrian Government three decorations of the order of St. Leopold, to be bestowed upon the Generals who had merited such a distinction by their conduct during the campaign, he gave them to Carascosa, Ambrosio and Macdonald. Carascosa was certainly entitled to one of the decorations, but Ambrosio and Macdonald although both excellent officers, by the fortune of war had never once chanced to encounter the enemy during the whole campaign. The injustice thus done to myself was so manifest, that Nugent conceived the idea of writing to his Government, that the order might be conferred upon me, and was only prevented by my telling him that I could not have accepted it.