“We would be driven to a state of barbarism”

Continuing with Louise Murat’s memoirs, we arrive at Murat’s decision, in 1815, to march in support of Napoleon following his brother-in-law’s triumphant return from Elba. Murat had been urged by Joseph Bonaparte to try to convince Emperor Francis of Austria to ally himself to Napoleon; but the letter Murat ends up sending Francis towards the end of March 1815 reads almost like a declaration of war. He expresses horror and outrage over the recent decision of the Congress of Vienna to declare Napoleon an outlaw (which he attributes to Talleyrand, without mentioning him by name), brings up his numerous grievances since joining the allies the previous year, and announces that he is marching his army to the Po.

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Source: Louise Murat, Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, pages 218-225.

We see, by the first two of these letters, that the relations between the two brothers-in-law had been reestablished on the most amicable footing, and that it was the same with their political relations. The Emperor had in Naples a chargé d’affaires, authorized to sign any convention that Your Majesty might desire relative to our affairs!… They were thus perfectly in accord and reciprocally instructed of everything that was being prepared… The Emperor said: I am counting on you and on the greatest celerity!… Joseph adds, in the third letter I just copied: March to the Alps! And my father, immediately, put his army in motion. 

We see, by several passages of this letter, that the Bonapartes still hoped, or at least pretended to hope, that the Emperor Francis would not want to take part in the ruin of the husband of his daughter, and, in this supposition, recommended the King try to detach Austria from her allies. But, whereas Joseph spoke of the possible formation of a triple alliance between imperial France, Murat, and Austria, the famous declaration of the Congress of Vienna, dated the 13th of March, placed Bonaparte outside the law, annihilating those hopes and coming to destroy the last peaceful illusion that could have still stopped my father. March to the Alps became thenceforth for him a peremptory order which he must follow, and, on the 27th of March, he wrote to Emperor Francis the letter Iattach a copy of here.

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To His Majesty the Emperor of Austria

Naples, 27 March 1815

Monsieur my brother, as soon as I was informed that the Emperor Napoleon had left the island of Elba, I charged my minister in Vienna with ascertaining the intentions of Your Majesty on the subject of this great event and of making known to you my desire to concert my policy with yours. 

Your Majesty finds himself, like me, united by ties of family to Emperor Napoleon, I knew that by waging war on him as the head of the coalition you never had the intention of dethroning him, but only that of determining him tomoderate conditions of peace, such as the circumstances of Europe seemed to prescribe. I knew that the Bourbons, not being able to forget either those dispositions of Your Majesty which all the cabinets had known, or the marriage which had placed on the imperial throne of France an Archduchess of Austria, would nourish against your House an implacable hatred and 

could scarcely hide it; I was consequently persuaded that the return of the Emperor to France might equally flatter your policy and your personal affections. 

I told myself, Sire, that if your engagements prevent you from arming yourself in favor of your son-in-law, at least you would not want to make war on him which could not have the same object as the last, since the state in which Emperor Napoleon was going to find France, permitted no more fear of this expanse of power which had worried and armed all the sovereigns of Europe. Finally, if I could have supposed that Your Majesty would declare himself the enemy of a prince who had been made so unfortunate and who could cease to be neither a great man, nor the husband of your daughter, nor the father of your grandson, I would have thought to offend Your Majesty by doubting that he would not shatter his determination, the character of grandeur and nobility which befits war between illustrious sovereigns, or even that he took care to mark it by the personal respect which must be expected by your close kinship with Emperor Napoleon. What must not have been my surprise, and what movements must not have stirred my soul, when I saw a declaration appear, signed by the ministers of His Majesty the Emperor of Austria, which treats as a criminal and devotes to public vindictiveness His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon, the son-in-law of Francis II, the spouse of Marie-Louise of Austria!

What painful feelings must I not have felt in seeing two Princesses, sisters of the Emperor Napoleon and my sisters-in-law, removed and transported as prisoners to the Austrian states. These acts, whose violence surpasses that of which the revolution of France gave the first examples, proved to me that your ministers, themselves deceived by a revolutionary and perverse minister*, had completely misled your policy, far from the paths that your righteousness and generosity always liked to follow. 

In recalling the last communications made to me by your cabinet, I had to recognize that, for a long time, the total ruin of the Imperial House of France had been resolved upon, and that mine was counted in this proscription.

Had I not indeed seen a complete abandonment of the faith of the treaties in the declaration made at last to my minister, after nearly an entire year of uncertainty and evasive explanations?

An enlargement of territory had been guaranteed to me, and I was demanded to return to the old borders of my kingdom without any indemnity. Your Majesty had pledged to provide sixty thousand men to defend my States if I was attacked, and the Bourbons having threatened to make an expedition against me, it was announced that one hundred fifty thousand of your troops were going to return to Italy, not in order to repulse such an expedition, but in order to prevent it from troubling the Italian possessions of Austria and those of the Princes of her family, so that I was delivered without aid to the efforts of my enemies, and at the same time, it was declared that the troops would be employed against me, if I made the movements that my system of defense might require. 

In such circumstances, I must think of preventing the misfortunes with which my kingdom would be threatened if the projects in which your ministers are engaged might obtain any success. I must provide for the guarantee which is refused me after having been promised to me, and I will add that I must fight, if necessary, for the dignity, for the surety of the sovereigns, threatened by the declaration that your ministers have signed. 

I have judged it appropriate to unite my army in the Marches in order to be in a state to act following the circumstances, and I would deeply desire that this be in concert with Your Majesty. But I learn that at the news of the movement of my troops, the Pope, despite the assurances that I had given him, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany whose territory none of my soldiers have touched, have left their States, driving with them the King of Spain Charles IV, the Queen his wife, the Queen of Etruria, and the King of Sardinia.

The determination of these sovereigns proves to me that they were warned of a war resolved upon against me. I must therefore sway no longer and, in order not to let myself be deterred, I am marching on the Pô. The occupation of the Legations which were in my power at the end of the war, and which I consented to provide on loan to the Austrian troops, on the promises which were not fulfilled, must not be contested, and it would be painful for me to see myself compelled to use force for an occupation to which I am manifestly entitled. 

The just idea I have of the power of Your Majesty imposes on me the necessity of neglecting no means of defense, and I am going to put to use everything that will be in my power, but I will nevertheless have the desire to firmly establish amicable relations with Your Majesty and he will always find me ready to make arrangements that might conciliate my duties and my interests with his policy; nothing will be more to my heart than to open, when Your Majesty will judge it convenient, negotiations, provided that they might obtain more efficiently than those which took place during the last war, and that Austria is left without any further action after having gathered all the fruit she had promised herself from my alliance. 

Whatever the events, I dare, Sire, to conjure Your Majesty in the name of his glory, in the name of his dearest interests, of those of thrones and humanity, to disavow an act signed undoubtedly by the ministers, and the idea of which could only be conceived by a man* whose remorse and fear had misled reason or excited all perverse faculties. This act must wound your heart, as a sovereign, as a father, and as an honest man, a title of which Your Majesty has so much reason to boast. If such acts are admitted among the sovereigns of Europe, it would no longer be war between them, but proscriptions and assassinations, and we would be driven to a state of barbarism of which the least civilized peoples never offered an example. 

By taking a determination which high interests command of me and of which I am well aware, I felt it my duty to offer Your Majesty the explanations this letter contains. I beg him to welcome them as an homage of high esteem and of the profound veneration with which his character inspires me.

(Signed) JOACHIM

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*The perverse minister in question is Talleyrand.

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