“She rushed into the midst of the flames”

Towards the end of the months of festivities and celebrations following Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise, yet another ball was held in honor of the Emperor and his new Empress, on 1 July 1810, this time by the Austrian ambassador, the Prince of Schwarzenberg. A fire broke out, caused by a drooping candle setting one of the gauze curtains alight; it quickly spread out of control, the guests were forced to evacuate the building, and, by the time it was all over, more than a dozen people had been killed, including Schwarzenberg’s sister-in-law Pauline (for more details on the fire, see this article by Geri Walton).

Caroline Murat, who had attended the ball, wrote the following letter to her husband, the day after the fire.

Source: Lettres et documents pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat, Vol 8.

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Saint Cloud, 2 July 1810

My dear friend, 

I gave your letter to the Emperor who laughed a lot while reading it and told me: “Ah! He’s mad at me; what a silly-head, he gets mad at everything, I told him not to make the expedition[1] if he couldn’t cross 15,000 men, for the reason that I feared that he’d cross with too few men and that he’d expose himself. I told the officer[2] to examine Naples, in order to send him some help, if he needed it, but if the officer did his commission badly, it is not my fault and there’s no great harm in all this and there is no reason to be angry.”

I spoke to him a lot afterwards about the ambassador of Naples and of Monsieur Grosbois[3], that I hoped he would take him away from us; he promised me that he would give us a minister, but that he didn’t want to give us ambassadors anymore, because we had treated his too badly, but at the first complaint from the minister he would recall him and would treat us like Holland. I’m not telling you everything that he added, but I’m content that he gives us a minister and that he removes Grosbois, since he causes you such trouble. The Emperor was very kind, he urged me to stay longer in Paris, but I told him that it would be impossible and all is ready for my departure, and I’m only waiting for a letter from you that will tell me of your crossing, because the Emperor still counts on you making the expedition. 

Don’t be frightened if you learn from the journals of the disaster that occurred yesterday at the fête of the Austrian ambassador. Nothing happened to the Emperor and Empress, and I was carried out of the fire by the Grand Duke of Wurtzbourg, who saved me, because without him, I would have believed the danger so great, and I don’t know what would have happened. The fire caught by a candle that sank without being noticed, and the heat was so strong that all the glass broke. At the first indication of the fire, the Emperor carried away the Empress, and got into a coach, as did I, but he left us at the barrier and returned to the ambassador’s house to look for the people we feared had perished. The unfortunate sister-in-law of the Austrian ambassador was the victim of her love for one of her children, whom she believed in danger, she rushed into the midst of the flames, the ceiling collapsed on her, and it was only this morning a shapeless form was discovered under the rubble, recognized to be her by her diamonds. The ambassador has shown an admirable sangfroid, though worried for his family, he hasn’t left the Emperor for a single instant and follows him step-by-step. We don’t know the number of victims, one hopes the number is reduced to one only, but Prince Kurakin was injured as well as the Princess of Leyen. I am still seized by this terrible event, I write it to you without order, because I still don’t know all the details. 

Adieu, my friend, I will leave after your first letter, I kiss you very tenderly.

Your Caroline

***

[1] Murat’s ongoing, ultimately unsuccessful expedition to take Sicily, which would continue through the summer and into the early fall of 1810. 

[2] On 11 June 1810, Murat had received instructions from Colonel Leclerc, an aide-de-camp of Napoleon’s minister of war Clarke, that he was not to attempt the crossing to Sicily unless he was capable of sending 15,000 men across all at once; he was also informed that Leclerc was to give the Emperor “a personal account of the condition of the fortresses of Naples, of Gaëta and many details whose multiplicity prevents their incorporation in an ordinary written report.” (Quoted from Cole, The Betrayers, page 144) Murat was livid at the implications of this and humiliated at what he viewed as yet another sign of Napoleon’s distrust and disfavor.

[3] Grosbois had been secretary to the French ambassador in Naples, the Count d’Aubusson; Murat had grown to distrust and dislike him, more out of his connection to d’Aubusson than anything else. The ambassador had been in the habit of sending negative reports to Napoleon about Murat’s rule in Naples and his relationship with Caroline, which had played no small part in stirring up trouble between the royal couple. Once Aubusson was removed, the Murats’ relationship with Grosbois appears to have improved.

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One thought on ““She rushed into the midst of the flames”

  1. Pingback: “Perhaps you love me still in the depths of your heart.” – Project Murat

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