“The only happy hours of my life…”

Continuing on with Part 5 of excerpts from General Pépé’s memoirs; here we see Pépé puzzling over whether Murat actually liked him or not. On the other hand, he has no doubt whatsoever as to how Caroline felt about him (an animus probably not improved by his disparaging comment about dancing, one of the royal couple’s favorite pastimes).

We are also treated to some candid comments made by Murat to Pépé, including an offhand remark by Murat which I think reveals quite a bit about his true feelings during this period: The only happy hours of my life are those I spend with my children. It isn’t the type of remark we are generally led to expect, coming from a man who is traditionally depicted as being always upbeat and cheerful no matter the situation.

Pépé follows up this scene with a lighter exchange between himself and Murat on one of Murat’s favorite subjects: women. And, lastly, we’ll close this excerpt with one of Pépé’s favorite subjects: Murat’s mishandling of the Neapolitan army.

[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]

Source: Memoirs of General Pépé, Vol 2 (London: 1846), pages 21-25.

***

The King had not behaved well towards Florestano [Pépé’s brother], who of all the Generals, was the one who had had the greatest opportunity of signalizing himself in war; and who of all the Generals was the only one neglected. Florestano had three great faults in the eyes of the King: first, he was in great favour with the French, and had been recommended both by Marshal Suchet and Napoleon; secondly, he had requested to march against the enemy in Poland, with his brigade of the horse guards, which suffered severely from the snow, having been almost annihilated; and lastly, he had shown the utmost indulgence to the Carbonari in the Abruzzi, which province he had pacified by granting them amnesty. They who are acquainted with the eccentricity of character of the King of Naples will scarcely credit my statement. 

One evening my brother was obliged to accept an invitation from the King. When his Majesty beheld him, he exclaimed aloud: “Peut on ne pas aimer une figure comme ça.” As to myself, I cannot even at the present day affirm positively whether the King liked me or not. Carascosa used to say that he could not bear, but that he esteemed me. It is certain that after my country I was most truly attached to Joachim, and I would have given my life for him. It is scarcely credible that a man so brave and frank by nature, should have acquired, after he ascended a throne, all the duplicity of Princes. I must admit, however, that very often his nature triumphed over his dissimulation. After the conversation we had held together, immediately after my return to Naples, he told the Princess of Caramanico that he should succeed in taming the savage; she replied that he would assuredly lose his time in the attempt. I was invited during a whole month to the select entertainments given by the Queen, who must have hated me most cordially. On one of these evenings somebody asked me if I felt much inclined to dance. Without heeding much what I said, I replied that I had never attempted to do so ridiculous a thing. The courtiers immediately hastened to impart my speech to the King and Queen, who were both fond of dancing. I was invited another time to go to the Villa Belvedere, situated on the Vomero, then occupied by the fascinating Pauline, Princess Borghese. There were so few persons there, that when the two sisters, the Queen and the Princess Borghese determined upon playing at petit paquet, I was obliged to take part in the game. I was likewise invited by the King to dine at this villa. The dinner was served in the beautiful garden overlooking the sea. We had scarcely risen from table when Prince Ischitelli, aide-de-camp to the King, arrived. Whilst I was conversing with some persons of the Court, Joachim called me and desired me to read a letter which Ischitelli had just brought from Lord William Bentinck. After perusing it, I said: “Lord Bentinck is not your friend, Sire!” The King exclaimed, “He may not have been once, but he is so now.” I alluded to the answer given by the English General to Filangieri, and perhaps the King likewise alluded to it. Had the King any knowledge of our intended conspiracy? I cannot answer the question. Had he really been aware of it, how would he have kept Carascosa, Ambrosio, and Filangieri in favour? On the other hand, with the numerous spies he was accustomed to employ, how could he have remained in ignorance of a conspiracy known to so many officers? There was a circle around the King composed of six or seven Generals, or Counsellors of State, one of whom moved by a momentary generous impulse, said to the Prince, “Notwithstanding his oppositions, General Pepe loves your Majesty.” “Certainly,” I exclaimed, “I love your Majesty, and I will prove my affection by now entreating you not to persecute the Carbonari.” “Not persecute them!” cried the King, “when in their meetings at Lanciano they declare me to be a tyrant.” “If you will allow me, Sire, I will express to you my opinion upon the matter.” The King drew back a few steps, and crossing his arms, looked at me and said: “Messieurs, vous allez voir que le General Pépé me croit un tyran.” I do not calumniate,” I replied, “and I am happy to make known all your excellent qualities; but I will continue to speak openly if you will grant me leave.” He made a gesture that I might proceed, and I continued: “Nobody knows better than myself how generous and humane is your nature. I recollect among other things, that when you sent me into the revolted provinces of Leece and Doria, you desired me to prevent the effusion of blood, when blood was called for by those of our own party; but if you are averse to shed the blood of the guilty, whilst one of your Generals in the Abruzzi, by means of a military commission, puts to death myriads of citizens, what name do you suppose the citizens can give you?” The King answered: “Assure yourself that I will recall the General in question from those provinces,” but he never did recall him.

It is strange that even those who lauded the frankness of my speech were far from attempting to imitate it. I was one day with the King when his two young children, Achilles and Lucien were brought in. Turning towards me, he said: “The only happy hours of my life are those I spend with my children. You should marry; I would give you forty thousand ducats out of my private purse, and the Queen would select to be your wife one of the most estimable young ladies of the capital.” I replied: “My father likewise wishes me to marry; but shackled with a wife, there is an end to all independence; then indeed the Tribune would talk to you just like your own Counsellors of State.” The King invited me to all the reviews and to all the entertainments given at Court, and I could not conceive why I was not sent back to resume the command of my troops. A lady, the Marchesa di l’Inchiatura, sister of General d’Aquino, had been endeavouring for three years to get her two daughters admitted into the establishment of the Miracoli, where they would have been educated free of expense, which the State of her fortune rendered highly desirable. 

I spoke to the King upon the subject, and begged him to grant an audience to the Marchesa, who was a most lovely person. “The Queen does not much like my giving audiences to ladies,” was his reply; to which I rejoined, “I pity the Queen if she notices the gallantries of your Majesty.” The King demanded to see the Marchesa’s petition, as I had it about me. He immediately put his signature to it, and the request was granted. The poor mother was overwhelmed with joy. I likewise entreated the King to appoint the Marchese Mosca, of Pesaro, Chamberlain, and to grant him the Order of the Two Sicilies, which request was immediately complied with. I had not the least hesitation in asking favours in reason for persons who I knew deserved them, provided always that they were not related to myself.

The King occupied himself ceaselessly with increasing the numerical force of the army, and forming a National Guard in the provinces, which was denominated a Legion. Although Joachim was endowed with all the necessary talent for leading troops against an enemy, he had not the most distant notion of properly organizing them, or of keeping up the degree of discipline which is indispensable. The grand military axiom, that the quality of the troops is far preferable to their number was quite unknown to him; nor is this wonderful, for even napoleon used to say that large battalions alone gain battles. As to the National Guard, although the King had been most prodigal of his rewards in a thousand ways, not having shown much discrimination in bestowing them, the result was far from satisfactory. The King never called the chosen companies of the National Guard into the ranks of the army, either for their instruction, or to excite emulation among the troops. What would the Prince have said had he lived, when five years later, I, a mere General, unfavourably regarded by the King, unsupported by the Parliament, and with no other means than telegraphic orders, caused eighty battalions of the National Guard, armed and clothed at their own expense, to march towards the frontier? The King bestowed great attention upon the financial, interior, and judicial departments of his government; but his success was not great, owing in great part to the bad selection of his ministers and subordinates of every kind.

***

3 thoughts on ““The only happy hours of my life…”

  1. Pingback: “He wasted his hours…” – Project Murat

  2. Pingback: “Of what value were these men…?” – Project Murat

  3. Pingback: “The people perceived… the sad exchange they had made” – Project Murat

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