Part 4 of Murat-related excerpts from General Pépé’s memoirs. When we last left off, Pépé and a number of his fellow generals had begun collaborating to push King Joachim to grant Naples a constitution. But the resolve of many of the generals began to waver, the collaboration soon unraveled, and word of the plan made its way to Murat. In this excerpt, Pépé recounts being ordered to Naples shortly afterwards to face a court martial, and the reception and audience he had with Joachim (and Caroline, who disliked Pépé) upon his arrival.
Source: Memoirs of General Pépé, Vol 2 (London: 1846), pages 15-20.
On reaching Ancona, Carascosa read me a letter which he had received from Macdonald, now no longer one of our partisans, in which he ordered in the King’s name, that I should depart for the Castle of St. Elmo at Naples, there to be brought before a court-martial. I did not hesitate a moment to declare my readiness to proceed thither, and to surrender myself a victim to the weak and vacillating conduct of my companions. I hoped that my perseverance, and the punishment which it had entailed upon me, being known in the kingdom, would tend to produce more beneficial results to my native land than I had been able to effect with the sword. By the depression I perceived in Carascosa, I was convinced that he had not taken any part in the present proceeding, as had been rumoured. It was Filangieri who had gone to the King, and Ambrosio was no less painfully impressed than Carascosa. I believe they anticipated, from the rigour with which the King would probably treat me, that disgrace might fall upon themselves.
As I proceeded on my journey… I reflected on these matters, and the more my mind dwelt upon them, the more I found difficulty in raising a reasonable conjecture why the King’s anger should vent itself on me alone. It is true, I had shown myself more zealous than the other Generals; but they, nevertheless, were my accomplices. It seemed to me impossible, that the King would inflict a capital punishment on me. His natural clemency, and the tottering condition of his throne, alike forbade that supposition. However, it was not safe to place too great a faith in the wisdom and benignity of crowned heads. My mind was engrossed with these various thoughts, till Carascosa wrote to me, requesting my return to Ancona. On my arrival, he hastened to impart to me the tidings he had received from Naples, which were to the effect, that I should run no risk by going thither. One letter mentioned, that Florestano, having been invited to a fête given by the Queen, her Majesty informed him that my punishment would have been limited to a few days’ confinement in the castle.
On reaching the capital, my brother Florestano informed me that the King’s anger had entirely passed away, and that instead of a court-martial and the castle of St. Elmo, every indulgence would be shown me. I presented myself to the Minister of War, by whom I was told that the King wished to see me, and a few minutes after, I found myself in the royal apartment. I there met the Prince of Strongoli, captain of the guards, and Filangieri the aide-de-camp on duty, so that the King was guarded by my accomplices.
The Chamberlain on duty ushered me into the King’s presence; he was with the Queen, whose beautiful head was covered by an immense hat, according to the fashion of the time. I know not whether her presence there was accidental, or whether I am to ascribe it to a curiosity to hear the justification of the savage, for such was the name she gave me, even when speaking of me to others. I had decided, in the event of the King mentioning the conspiracy, to say, that after having revealed to him the ardent desire of the nation to be ruled by a constitutional form of government, and the advantages to be derived by his granting their request, I regarded every means of destroying absolute power as warrantable. But instead of alluding to the address, of the existence of which he could not have been ignorant, he began by saying, “I treat all my subjects, and you in particular, like my children.” I replied that had he done otherwise, and followed the example of Ferdinand in 1799, when Cirillo, Mario Pagano, and other illustrious victims had been executed and had shown the greatest contempt for life: they would now find imitators. At this speech the King turned round and with some irritation, exclaimed: “Non, Monsieur, nous nous batterions plutôt dans la chambre à côté.” Sorry that I had said to him what he did not deserve to hear, I said, “I will not fight with your enemies, Sire, since you are not without them, and I will regard them as the enemies of my own country; it will then be seen whether your flatterers or myself act better in the field.” The King replied, “I have never had a doubt of this, and I convinced that had you been aware of all the evil your conduct has done me, you would have acted differently.” I answered, “I love your Majesty, and my grateful heart has never forgotten the kindness of your reception the first time I was in your presence. If your interests were opposed to those of my country, I should be the most miserable of men, but there would be no doubt of my choice. If your Majesty were to grant the Constitution we pray for, you would consolidate your throne for ever; you would be adored by the Neapolitans. You who so generously poured your private fortune into the public treasury; you, whose soul is so noble, why refuse to give us liberal institutions?” The Prince replied, “Can you suppose that I have forgotten that I have been a Republican? I should long since have granted a Constitution, had I not been aware that such a proceeding would draw down upon me the implacable animosity of Austria.” “Sire,” I exclaimed, “it is not the dubious friendship of Austria, but the six millions of Neapolitans with their natural strongholds that will best defend your throne. Your people excited by their love of country, and led by a warlike Prince, would show Europe what they are capable of.” “It suffices,” was his reply, “that we have the army on our side.” This answer put me beside myself, and I could not help exclaiming. “This false principle, Sire, makes me despair of our and of your salvation.” He held out his hand to me, which against my custom I offered to kiss, but he would not allow me to do so. After I had succeeded in calming myself, I continued, “The army is not a body of Janissaries, but is composed of men who feel and think like the people from whom they have sprung. Manfred who combined all your personal advantages, and who was endowed with the most dauntless valour, had the people against him and was forsaken by the army.” He replied, “You forget that I have a Council of State and wise ministers.” I resumed, “Call here the wisest amongst them, and I will maintain, in your presence, that they have declared they are fully of my opinion, only they have not the frankness to say so, because they wish to retain your favour.” I added a great deal more, to which he replied; and then after he had granted me leave to return to his presence whenever I pleased or required to see him, I withdrew.