“Pronounce my fate unsparingly”

Following his final defeat against Austria at the battle of Tolentino at the beginning of May 1815, Murat made a hasty retreat to Naples. Advised by Caroline to depart the kingdom, as the Austrians and English flat-out refused to deal with him, Murat left Naples the day after his return, and soon made his way to France, in hopes of re-entering Napoleon’s service and securing an asylum for his family, who were on the brink of being driven from Naples.

By now, Napoleon had a long-standing habit of ignoring Murat’s letters whenever he was angry at his brother-in-law, and he resumed this tradition now for the final time, not responding to Murat directly, but only through Baudus, former tutor of the Murat children, sent by Napoleon as an intermediary. Baudus told Murat that Napoleon would not receive him in Paris; he was also instructed to “make it clear to him that he ruined France in 1814; in 1815, he has compromised her and ruined himself.” Murat was left with no choice but to await the outcome of events; the final letter of this series was written the day after Waterloo. Over a week earlier, he learned that his family had fled Naples, but for the time being, was given no idea of their whereabouts or treatment. Having expected them to be given safe conduct to France, he was greatly disheartened to finally learn that they had been taken to Austria.

Louise Murat has included, in her memoirs, four of the last letters her father ever wrote to Napoleon. In her book, they are not in chronological order–the two from 7 and 8 June (which were from the private collection of her brother Lucien) are included after Murat’s letter of the 19th; she also includes a letter from Murat to Fouché, which I’ll translate for a later post. This post will just be for the four letters to Napoleon, in order by date.

Source: Louise Murat, Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, pages 225-237.

***

To the Emperor
In the bay of Cannes, in quarantine, 25 May [1815]

Sire,

I have read all Your Majesty’s letters. It is without doubt a great misfortune that a letter from Joseph, which I received at the time and that, speaking to me in your name, made me decide to commence the operations which were so important to combine with those of Your Majesty. But I was told to bring myself rapidly to the Alps. I had to believe the commencement of hostilities useful, I set my army in motion. Your Majesty has since been carefully informed of everything. The (?) and Madame Mère must have told you that I was lost… Yes, Sire, I had to abandon a kingdom that the desertion of twenty thousand men in twenty-four hours had just put at the mercy of my numerous enemies, in order to find asylum in some stronghold of the kingdom or in your States. I wanted to throw myself into Gaeta, but my efforts were in vain; twice, although in a fisherman’s barque, I had to renounce this enterprise in order not to fall into the power of the English who had tightly blocked this place. Forced to return to the island of Ischia, I had to resort to the first merchant vessel which passed through the channel, the Queen having told me that the English did not want to hear from me, and that the Austrians only wanted to treat on the condition that I abdicate and go to Austria as a prisoner of war with all my family. In this dreadful situation, I see a vessel cross from the island of Elba, I request a place for a French officer and, in three days, I am taken to this same bay which received you three months ago. I decided not to disembark and to await the orders of Your Majesty. It is not known in the country that I am here. If you are forced to make war, dispose of me, I offer you my services. If you have hope of keeping the peace, and my presence in the empire might upset your negotiations, I beg you to give asylum to my wife and children, and I am at your feet to beg you to reject me. I maintain all my courage, I feel capable of bearing anything, and the idea of being useful to you by a new misfortune will expand my soul and render it superior to that same misfortune. In this moment, consult only the interest of your subjects; I did so, one year ago, in the hope of better serving you one day. I will not love you less, and the wishes that I have for your happiness will be neither less sincere nor less ardent. I will still be happy by the thought that I have lost for you the throne that you have given me. It is very unfortunate that Prince Joseph wrote to me at the time. I would be much more useful to you today, and I would not have been so unfortunate. The Queen and my children have sought to be brought back to France, they believe me in Gaeta. The kingdom conducted itself marvelously, the soldiers abandoned me!

(Signed) JOACHIM

***

Cannes, 7 June [1815]

Sire,

I address to Your Majesty the writings that have been printed in Naples since my departure. I also address to Your Majesty a report very hastily, but very accurate, of my military operations since the beginning of my retreat. My chief of staff being in Naples and my registers being with the Queen, I could not cite either dates or affairs other than the battles of the 2nd and 3rd. It was all over for the Austrians, if I had had generals more accustomed to war, for I owe the highest praise to those same soldiers who, a few days later, cowardly abandoned me to return, it is true, to their families, for not one passed over to the enemy. 

I learned yesterday that the Calabrians were in full revolt, and that the Austrians had been obliged to send their best troops there. Sire, it is a fact that the Austrians will never maintain themselves in the kingdom, anymore than the government of Ferdinand; and that Naples will drive out the enemy at the first appearance of your troops in Italy; this is why everyone begged me to go to France rather than shut myself up in Gaeta, which I tried however, but in vain. 

I have read the English papers with indignation; I thank Your Majesty for permitting the falsehoods of the English ministers to be pointed out, but, Sire, there is one which I must point out myself, it is the one about me leaving behind the name of Napoleon; it will suffice for me to quote all the acts published in Naples. And how would I have been able to commit this cowardice, I who blamed others for it. When all my papers have arrived, I will reply to all the insolences of Lord Castlereagh. I attach to this letter a memoir addressed to General Pignatelli.

I am, Sire, Your Majesty’s very affectionate brother,

(Signed) Joachim NAPOLEON

***

Cannes, 8 June [1815]

Sire,

I await with the greatest impatience a response from Your Majesty; my position is no longer tenable; it is dreadful. I learn from the officers arrived yesterday evening from Naples, that the Queen departed from there three days before, and yet she is still not here, nor in Toulon, and her delay, which must have been caused by having been to Gaeta, where she had to take my children, could not have been considerable enough to have prevented her from having already arrived. I must fear that the English have not executed the Convention by virtue of which she must be conducted to France with my family. She is thus, either in Germany where the Austrians wanted to see us prisoners, or in England where the English wanted to have the Queen and my children. 

Sire, I thought I had to beg Your Majesty not to receive me if my presence in France might interfere with your negotiations, but I admit that today as everything announces to me an inevitable war, I am pained by the silence of Your Majesty. Sire, I am unhappy and I would like to become even more so for the same cause, but I would not want anyone to misunderstand this same cause. In coming to France, I had to hope to find an asylum for my family, and, in case of war, I had to offer to fight for Your Majesty and to thus continue to serve him, but I did not have the intention of being dependent on him. 

I will await to find out the fate of the Queen and my children in order to make a decision myself. It will still be guided by honor and by that inviolable attachment that I had sworn to you for life. I have seen Marshal Brune this morning, he offered to pass this letter to you for me. I am sure that it will reach you. Italy only awaits the presence of your troops in the Alps to rise, but armies must be sent there.

I am, Sire, Your Majesty’s very good brother.

(Signed): Joachim NAPOLEON

(This letter and the one preceding it were both sent by an estafette of Marshal Brune, who will be murdered by a royalist mob less than two months later during the “White Terror” which accompanies the second Bourbon restoration after Waterloo.)

***

Plaisance, 19 June [1815]

Sire,

I cannot doubt my new misfortune with regard to the solemn treaties signed six days before my departure from Naples. My family, who should have been transported to France, have been conducted as prisoners to Austria. I have nothing more to ask of Your Majesty, he can pronounce my fate unsparingly; your wishes, whatever they may be, will be carried out. Glad to be lost for you, no complaints will be heard from my mouth, but you can dispense with sending me in the future what they want to call consolations by people named as my friends: may your ministers make positively known to me the place of my exile; I will go there without a murmur. I will go to await your orders at […]

I am, Sire, Your Majesty’s very affectionate brother.

(Signed): JOACHIM

***

It seems fitting to end the post with Louise’s comments following this last, uncharacteristically brief letter from her father:

This letter seems so beautiful in its laconism that I would fear, in adding my own reflections to it, to weaken the impression that it cannot fail to produce. But, while admiring the noble pride of my father, I regret it, because it was fatal to him. He should have left immediately, braving Napoleon’s wrath, the envy and jealousy of those who wanted at all costs to distance him from his former general… and the French army, at Waterloo, would have had only to applaud to count him among its leaders. The Emperor said several times since: “If I had had Murat at Waterloo, the battle would have been won!”

It is on this word of Napoleon’s that I will terminate this long letter. It puts a bit of balm on a wound that still bleeds! and helps me to forget that Napoleon had repulsed and thrown back into the abyss the brother who held out his arms to him and asked only to die for him. 

But I don’t want to insist too much on the reproaches that I think I have a right to make. This harshness must be blamed on politics. He was punished enough for it, and his ordeal at Saint Helena, for having been slower than that of my father, was no less horrible!

***

One thought on ““Pronounce my fate unsparingly”

  1. Pingback: “I have enough strength of soul to bear anything” – Project Murat

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