While his wife remained in Paris attending Napoleon’s new empress well into the summer of 1810, Murat continued organizing his expedition against Sicily, which he hoped to reunite with Naples under one–his–crown. But unbeknownst to Murat, though his brother-in-law had given the expedition his approval–including a small force of French troops, commanded by French generals–Napoleon does not seem to have genuinely cared one way or the other if Murat’s expedition succeeded or not. Its most important use, in his estimation, was merely to serve as a distraction, to keep British troops tied up in Sicily as long as possible, to prevent them from reinforcing those in Spain. The Emperor will relay to Murat, through a visiting aide of Napoleon’s minister of war, a directive not to attempt the crossing to Sicily unless he is able to land 15,000 men simultaneously. Murat has the men, but not the transport needed to make such a crossing. Additionally, he will find himself stymied by the non-cooperation of General Grenier, sent by Napoleon to command the expedition’s French troops (and explicitly not required to follow Murat’s orders if they are viewed as contradictory to the Emperor’s).
As the expedition begins to go awry, Murat’s nerves begin to fray. His relationship with Napoleon has been tumultuous for the past year; the Emperor views his brother-in-law with increasing distrust in the wake of the exposed plot by Fouché and Talleyrand naming Murat as a potential successor to Napoleon. And Louis Bonaparte, who has likewise been increasingly at odds with Napoleon, will soon be evicted from his throne, a prospect which haunts Joachim and Caroline Murat endlessly and which Caroline is even then working hard during her stay in Paris to prevent.
The stress of the situation eventually leads to a bit of a meltdown on Murat’s part (not his last during this expedition), resulting in the following letter to Napoleon on 11 June 1810. It is one of Murat’s classic, typical rambling letters to his brother-in-law while in a state of high dudgeon, thoroughly disjointed and bristling with indignation and sarcasm.
Source: Lettres et documents pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat, Vol 8.
Joachim Murat to Napoleon
Scilla, 11 June 1810
I just received a letter from Your Majesty’s Minister of War, which announces to me your will relative to the expedition of Sicily. Your orders are going to be executed, and I regret not being in Naples in order to support the mission of the aide-de-camp of the minister whom you sent there to take secret information. Sire, no one will ever provide you truer information than me. The minister, speaking to me of the expedition, explains in these terms: “The Emperor orders that you only attempt the expedition with the certitude of success, and only if you can cross fifteen thousand men at the same time.” Sire, when I possessed your confidence; when I could count on your kindness, this double condition would not have stopped me, but today everything announces to me that everything is changed for me and I foresee what must await me, if Fortune were to abandon me in this circumstance.
Sire, the expedition will not be attempted, because there is always some uncertainty to face, and no maritime expedition especially is exempt from this. The plaza of Gaeta and the forts of Naples will be armed and provisioned. I think that there will be very little to do in this regard, Y.M. might have convinced himself of this, if the state of this place had been brought to your attention by your Minister of War. All the French soldiers that Y.M. order returned from my guard are going to receive the order to return to their former corps. The convention passed with Broadwent never had its effect, and this American was not able to introduce muslin into the Kingdom; it would be very cruel to have exposed such falsehoods. Would I have written to Y.M., if I had wanted to leave you unaware of what I might have done with this man? Everything that you ask for my navy will be executed, and, in a word, command in Naples and you will be obeyed, perhaps better than in Paris.
As to the secret mission of M. the colonel Leclerc, I regret not being in Naples in order to facilitate for him the means of fulfilling it, but I dare to assure that my ministers who know my sentiments for everything that comes from Y.M. will procure for this officer all the information he will need. May he consult public opinion, I don’t fear judgement!
At Compiègne, I begged Y.M. to tell me if he wanted me to make the Sicilian expedition; I presented it to him as necessary for the repose of Italy and to prevent English contraband, and a plan was given and approved, because the Duke of Feltre wrote me in these terms: “The Emperor approves your plan of operation against Sicily in all its extent.” I had thus to prepare the means of its execution, the paranzella barques* from nearly all the Kingdom were required, gathered at different points and loaded with everything that might contribute to the expedition, and the convoys have followed one another since 8 May, so that as I write, everything that should’ve been part of it has left Naples and is in the moorings of Pizzo, Tropea, Bagnara, and Scilla. The convoys of the siege artillery have not advanced, I think they are in the golfs of Policastro or at Palinuro; all the troops are cantoned or encamped from Monteleone to Reggio; all the batteries are armed to be able to protect them; and I await only my siege artillery in order to attempt the passage, the success of which no one doubts, not even the English. Such is my position, Sire, at the moment when I received the letter from the Duke of Feltre, and I am going to make arrangements accordingly.
However, Sire, who was able to bring about a change that makes me so unhappy? What have I done to be able to lose in an instant so many rights to your kindness? How did my enemies, who still number more than yours, manage to break an instrument that has never ceased to loyally serve you, and what are my wrongs? I am unaware of them and you will only ever find in me the one whom you have cherished like a father, like my benefactor. Am I not your creation, your pupil, are you not the author of my elevation? Have they hoped, my enemies, to make me revolt against Y.M. and to succeed in making of Italy a new Spain and in reversing your vast projects? Ah! sooner perish my fortune and my happiness, and your brilliant destinies be accomplished! Sire, there, there are my feelings; they are immutable, they are sincere, and you would have no trouble believing them, if only you would recall all my past conduct. Have you ever seen me change? Have I not heard you say: Murat is the only one of my family who has never given me cause to complain of him? Hasn’t general opinion always shown me to be your minion, and do I not still have that reputation? And which of my actions could have bred suspicions about my loyalty? About my gratitude? There is only one: my opinion on your marriage; yet this was dictated by my attachment, I could be mistaken, but my heart alone was culpable, because it thought it was acting in your interests. What was it to me if Y.M. married a Russian or an Austrian? What did I want? Your happiness and some children, and I hope and I am sure that the current Empress shall give you the one and the other; so I was fully reassured when I was able to to appreciate her brilliant qualities. So I had nothing more to desire than the conservation of your kindness and some occasions to be able to prove to you my zeal, and I’ve lost these, and I have no more hope of being happy, since a letter from an ambassador who wanted to pay court to his master has rendered me suspect and has made me lose your friendship forever. Yet you loved me, I am sure of it, and perhaps you love me still in the depths of your heart. Sire, was it not in spite of myself that I came and returned to Naples? Did I not write you in Vienna that if you wanted to reunite the Kingdom of Naples, I would demand it and work for it accordingly? Didn’t I beg you in grace during my second-to-last journey to keep me with you? And why is Naples not reunited today? Recall me to you. You spoke to me at Compiègne of a dignity of general of the cavalry of the Empire; create that for me; Sire, at the first battle, under your eyes, I will justify such a kindness, I will regain your friendship, your affection of which I am still worthy. Sire, why do you want to dishonor me in the eyes of the people you have destined me to command? Why do you send junior officers to my capital where it has begun to be said: “The Emperor doesn’t want the expedition.” Some particular letters are soon going to tell this to the army and to Sicily, and Stuart, whom I see very embarrassed from here, will resume his original attitude. How to palliate the abandonment of the enterprise? Since I can wait a while longer in my position and no one is master of the secret, I will see later what it will be better to do. Yet a great result has been obtained: Corfu is free and resupplied and I have the certitude that the English troops who occupy the islands of Cephalonia, Zakinthos, and Saint Maure, have returned to Messina. Yesterday still around 400 arrived, among other the cannoneers, all the batteries of the coasts have been rearmed and I could bring from Puglia all the oil, without fearing the crossing of the strait, which I am going to secure and complete its armament. The provinces of Calabria will be purged of the brigandage and I will ensure the progress of their administration. There is work night and day on the opposite shore, there are movements every instant; we are assured that Stuart has lost his head, since three days ago, that is to say since he was convinced by his attempt on Bagnara that he would neither be able to prevent the union of my resources, nor destroy them. This morning I saw the raising of some tents and the arrival of new troops in Faro. Since the taking of the gunboat, the removal of all the Neapolitans from the command by the English is assured, because they don’t trust them, and I know they are not wrong. The Duke d’Orleans left on the 23rd of May for Spain where he has been called to command; the Sicilian troops aren’t moving, they are still in Palermo. Yesterday I saw a vessel, three frigates, and a corvette enter into the port of Messina, later two empty transports, and today another. In several days I will know positively what is happening. I am assured that the Sicilians desire us very much; a pound of meat sells for fifteen sols in Messina and bread in proportion.
I just wrote at great length to Your Majesty. I wish that he may read me, I wish above all that he will give me his kindness and friendship. I present my homages to Her Majesty the Empress.