“The fire of discord continually grew”

Anthony Boldewijn Gijsbert van Dedem, Baron van den Gelder, was a Dutch soldier and diplomat who would serve Louis Bonaparte, during his brief reign as King of Holland, as ambassador to Naples. Taking up his post in Naples in 1806, when Louis’s older brother Joseph was its King, Dedem would continue to serve in this capacity during the reign of Murat; when Louis was driven from his throne and Holland was annexed to France, Dedem joined the French army, eventually commanding a brigade under Murat during the 1812 campaign.

Dedem’s memoirs contain an abundance of information and anecdotes pertaining to Murat’s reign in Naples. I haven’t gotten very far into them yet, but my general impression so far is that his view of Caroline Murat seems to be higher than that of his view of her husband. According to Hubert Cole in The Betrayers, Dedem was believed at one point to be having an affair with one of Queen Caroline’s ladies in waiting. He spent a great deal of time around the Queen and his sympathy for and admiration of her is obvious in his memoirs, at least from what I’ve read up to this point.

In this excerpt, Dedem describes the arrival of King Joachim and Queen Caroline into Naples to take up their new thrones; the rift that soon develops between the royal couple, and the ensuing factionalism that results from it; and the evolution of the Neapolitan police under the oversight of Salicetti and Maghella.

Source: Un Général Hollandais sous le premier empire: Mémoires du Général Baron de Dedem de Gelder, 1774-1825; Paris, 1900. Pages 130-135.

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King Joachim was received in Naples with enthusiasm; his military reputation, his very figure, the hope for better, all contributed to win him support. The lazzaroni saw in him a warlike prince, compared him to one of their ancient heroes, Reinaldo; and, if they didn’t love him at first, certainly they respected him, perhaps more from fear than from any other sentiment. Kings want to be told that they are loved; in times of trouble and after revolutions, they must be content with making themselves feared and passing for righteous.

The Queen followed her august husband closely and made her entry into Naples with great pomp. No matter how hard one tries, it is impossible not to be captivated by an exterior as advantageous as that of this princess. Beauty, amenity, nobility in her features, and with those of spirit, a strong character, a great courage, control over herself (a quality so rare in a woman), that is what enchanted first of all. The people believed they recognized the special protection of the divinity towards a family, whose exterior alone was sufficient to win hearts, and whose brilliance was further enhanced by four children as beautiful as Cupids.

But the penetrating eye of the courtiers had already discovered a fatal secret that neither the King, nor perhaps the Queen, in the first moments, sought enough to hide. Jealousy is a powerful household disturbance when it comes from love, and yet this disturbance is nothing compared to that which can be produced by jealousy for power and the rivalry of self-esteem. These burst to the eyes from the first day. The King made the Queen remain against her will for two days at Capo-di-Monte, before her entry into Naples; she must have felt the consequence all the more keenly because on the way she had not hidden from her entourage what the politicians knew in advance, that Prince Murat owed his accession to the throne just as much, if not more, to the honor of being the Emperor’s brother-in-law, than to his valor.

The great secret once revealed, two parties naturally formed at court and even in the city. Then the King showed himself to be brittle and violent; the Queen finally gave in to the storm; she even quite visibly abandoned her partisans. It is claimed that particular motives obliged her to submission and exterior resignation, in order to preserve some liberty in his affections. She had badly understood her husband, and prejudged too much about her position of the Emperor’s sister against a man who believed himself to be everything by himself. The first firebrand once thrown, the fire of discord continually grew, and it became very difficult, not to say impossible, for all who approached their persons not to be offended in one or the other circumstance. Yet the court was gay and amiable during the first six months; the Queen received the household, the foreign ministers and some other chosen people at her place. The King always bore discomfort and etiquette there; but one was enchanted with the amiability and kindness of the Queen, to the point of leaving satisfied and filled with the desire to return. What ended up spoiling everything were the cackles, reports and jealous intrigues of a few courtiers.

Was it this state of silent and continuous hostilities which rendered the King discontent with the general police? For it was made too large to satisfy his curiosity relative to domestic details. M. de Salicetti represented to him in vain that he should have been too happy to ignore a thousand insignificant trifles, he believed that the sovereign’s security required an inquisition of all the houses of the city. There is never a lack of people base enough to lend themselves to such ministries. And soon it was in Naples as it was in Paris; everything that was said and done was not only reported to the King and the Queen, but was also made worse by the desire of the spies to make themselves more interesting. They made you say what often you did not even think.

There was no longer any security for letters; they were opened with an indecent publicity. The packages of the foreign ministers were pilfered, or sent after having been visibly opened. Complaining about it was a crime, and the King could hardly pardon such a complaint. I received some open, others re-closed with sealing wafers still moist; proof that they had not been opened and re-closed in Rome or Florence, as we were told.

The King had twelve bourgeois outfits made for some gendarmes, who, in this disguise, went in the cafes to spy on the speeches of the idle. Each of them was to receive one écu per day to drink at his ease. Some of them complained that their captain kept for himself the money meant for their chocolate and bavarois, and thus the secret was revealed. We cannot know to what extent these counter-police were developed. I will give only this example.

M. Maghella, brought to the prefecture of Naples at the insistence of M. Salicetti and against the will of the Emperor, who had recalled him, served the King and had the infamy of creating spies in the house of his benefactor, to then report what was said in abandon, among a few intimates.

If the arrival of Prince Murat had thrown division and trouble among friends, it imposed it on enemies. The Spanish war having augmented the hopes of the Sicilian party in Naples, and some fairly ostensible preparations in Sicily having, in July and August 1808, raised fears of an attack on the part of the English, the Emperor had sent Marshal Pérignon as his lieutenant to Naples. M. Salicetti, as minister of war and minister of the general police, could have prepared the military operations; but the Emperor had judged that the execution of them should be confided to an experienced soldier, coupled with enlightened politics; and minister Pérignon possessed these two qualities. In Calabria, the French troops were commanded by two men of merit who knew how to make themselves loved and feared, generals Partouneaux and Cavaignac, who repressed the brigands and restored many misguided people. General Partouneaux, especially, knew how to punish and pardon appropriately. It is no less true that the provinces were infested, there were continuous crimes committed; the roads were by no means safe, and several affiliations to Anglo-Sicilian conspirators were discovered. Despite the prestige of the new king, the brigandage raged with as much strength as before, thanks to the war with Austria and the departure of several regiments, both French and Neapolitan. It was necessary to redouble activity to suppress this civil war so disastrous to the country, particularly to the proprietors, and which undermined the government’s resources. Building everywhere, Napoleon did not have the means to sufficiently consolidate his attempts at distant occupations.

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One thought on ““The fire of discord continually grew”

  1. Pingback: “A king who takes care of them” – Project Murat

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