“One is not a king to obey.”

Hardly any letters from Murat to his wife Caroline still exist; Caroline was in the habit of destroying most of her received correspondence, and Murat rarely kept copies of the letters he sent her. In the eight volumes of his correspondence published by Paul Le Brethon, there is not a single letter from Murat to Caroline. Several exist in the private Archives Murat in the French National Archives–which I don’t ever expect to have access to, although it’s a dream of mine–but I recently came across Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples (1808-1812), which reproduces not only the full text of one of Murat’s letters to Caroline–translated below–but also some of Caroline’s to Murat from the period after which Le Brethon’s volumes leave off.

First, some background/context on the letter below: it is written while Murat is in the middle of his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to take Sicily; Napoleon has been breathing down his neck and interfering in the affairs of Naples lately; their relationship has been a mess for the past year and is steadily getting worse (and in April, in their final meeting/quarrel before Murat left Paris, the Emperor snarled at Murat that he’d have his head); his mortal enemy Savary has recently replaced Fouché so Murat can feel the deck being stacked against him; and Louis Bonaparte has recently been evicted from his throne in Holland after finding himself at odds with Napoleon one time too many. Murat feels his own dethronement rapidly approaching.

I’ve seen this particular letter quoted partially in previous biographies, but Vandal’s book is the first time I’ve been able to read the entire thing. It’s a fascinating and eye-opening letter. We have a very fed-up, stressed-out Murat here, ranting at length about how awful Napoleon is treating him, while assuring his wife at the end that he’s going to be good and do what the Emperor wants and he’s fine, everything’s fine, thank you very much. 

Vandal sums it up: Under the appearances of resignation his letter breathes only revolt.

Source: Albert Vandal, Le Roi et la Reine de Naples (1808-1812), pages 47-9.


[Undated, August 1810]

I will try to respond to your letter of the 3rd, my kind Caroline; you are perfectly right in everything you write to me, and I assure you that you have not thought anything about it which would not have greatly and seriously occupied me, and my system of conduct in accordance with my sentiments have always proven that I saw as you, but, without blinding us, I foresaw differently. But I am wrong, you foresee the same events as I do, but with courage and wise conduct, we must await with resignation and prepare in advance for events that are not in our power to prevent.

The Emperor accuses me of not doing what he wants, of not consulting him. You know the contrary, and I think I can dispense with responding in this regard; I have constantly strived to do his will. The Emperor blames me for what I did for Lucien*, I applaud myself for it and, if I were to do so, despite His Majesty’s defense, I would do it again; I cried for his fate as for that of good Louis.

How could the Emperor take the language he has towards the young Grand Duke of Berg, or at least how could he make it public? That was the most pitiful thing that could come out of his mouth. Louis is dethroned, wandering, sick, and the journals assail him with invectives!… He [the Emperor] thinks he is paying court to the French, he is far from succeeding by showing himself so ungenerous. What a report from Champagny! Holland is ruined for France, by France, and the Emperor has united it to France, and the motive is given her that she can no longer exist independently, because she can no longer pay her debts. This is the height of impudence. Today, he imposes onerous conditions on me, he makes me sign an unjust treaty and recognizes an even more unjust debt; he diminishes my revenues, crushes my commerce, paralyzes my factories, orders me to make a ruinous expedition, asks me for a navy, prevents exports, in short, he makes it impossible for me to bear all this enormous burden he imposes on me. He makes decrees as master, prescribes regulations in Naples as in Paris, and when the moment will have arrived and his policy or his caprice will have counseled him to make me descend from the throne, the Duke of Cadore will make another pompous report on the King of Naples, like he did on that of Holland. 

There it is, there it is, my friend, what I will force myself to avoid out of love for you, for my poor children, but what will happen, if the Emperor continues to indulge in his false politics and always listens to the perfidious counsel of Savary [names rendered illegible] etc. You know it, you know the depths of my mind. Who loved the Emperor more, who served him better, and yet without cause he threatened to take off my head, and since, despite all that I have been able to write him, despite my sacrifices, despite everything I do here, he has not responded to me a single time, he remains silent and makes his will known to me by his ministers, sends me medals by his grand chamberlain and lessons by the Monitor. You know that all of this did nothing to me when I was sure of his heart. He sought, for example, to excuse the mission of Clarke’s aide-de-camp to Naples with the defense that the crossing be attempted with at least 15,000 men, but this order has not been revoked, it still exists; but his minister wrote to mine that the Emperor had deprived me of command of the army, he wrote it to the chief of staff, he wrote it to Marshal Perignon; would he have done so, if he had not wanted to bring me into disrepute, would he not have been content with writing it to me or having it written to me, if he had had his old feelings for me? What need did he have to make my subordinates know such hostile intentions? Finally, what is the King of Spain doing for him? Did he not guarantee him the totality of his kingdom; did he not guarantee it to the Spaniards? By what right are new troops sent to Westphalia? By what right does he want to introduce French goods to Naples for nothing and to tax those from Naples that are imported to France? I understand the reason for it, it is that of the strongest, if not that of the most just. I understand that he must be the master of wanting us to march in his system and that we must consult him for political or important measures that we have to take; he must be our Mentor and not our master; one is not a king to obey. Then, how could he tell the people that he had entrusted to the princes of his family that these princes must occupy themselves with the interests of the French before occupying themselves with those of their people? In truth, one cannot conceive of the motives or the purpose of such a maxim.

My dear Caroline, I would not finish if I wanted to find wrongs, but this would not achieve anything. Let us take patience, let us conduct ourselves in such a way as never to have any justified wrong and wait with resignation what it will please Providence to decide for our destiny. I am decided to do everything the Emperor wants and will want, and when I can no longer bear the burden, I will beg him to take charge of it. So, be without worry, I am by no means affected, I am calm, and it is only on him and for him, I say, that I may have fears, if he does not change the system.

–Joachim Murat


*The reference to Lucien Bonaparte is in regard to Murat sending a vessel to help Lucien escape from Italy and go to the United States; the vessel was captured by the English and Lucien sent to England. Murat had granted Lucien the ship without Napoleon’s knowledge or permission, and Napoleon was furious about the affair.


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