“A king who takes care of them”

Continuing with another excerpt from the memoirs of Baron Dedem van den Gelder, ambassdor to Naples from the Kingdom of Holland. Dedem, who was very critical of Murat, here gives credit to Murat for the good he did as King of Naples; he also discusses Queen Caroline’s contributions towards advancing female education, and her work on the excavations near Mount Vesuvius. 

Source: Un Général Hollandais sous le premier empire: Mémoires du Général Baron de Dedem de Gelder, 1774-1825; Paris, 1900. Pages 145-150.


By what I have just said, one can see that I am far from admiring the reign of Joachim, and history has furious reproaches to make towards this prince; but, if one wants to be just, one must admit that, first of all the Neapolitan kings, he had the intention of governing for the good of the kingdom and not for his own. Having been constantly the prey of conquerors or the object of compensations in the peace treaties that had delivered it successively to all the dynasties of Europe, the Neapolitan people were always the worst governed of all peoples. The Normands, the princes of the house of Swabia, those of Anjou, of Durazzo, of Aragon, the viceroys of the house of Austria; finally the Bourbons and, after them, King Joseph Napoleon, all had treated the kingdom as a land to exploit or as a domain in usufruct, and not as a patrimony to conserve and to ameliorate. Perhaps my judgement will be found too severe, and one will cite to me Charles III, who was missed in Naples when he was called to the throne of Spain in 1759. He was indeed a wise prince, gentle and disinterested; he did not vex the Neapolitans; he protected the arts and left after him some beautiful monuments [1]. He left the kingdom without taking anything, not even the antique ring he had worn on his finger; he returned it to the director of the Museum, on the eve of his departure; but it cannot be said that he had done anything to relieve the Neapolitan people. He had not sought to give them a national spirit; on the contrary, he had for military strength only Spanish regiments; he constantly forbade nobles and large landowners from leaving the capital; he did not want them to go visit their lands; he retained them in Naples, like his predecessors, as so many hostages, and by that made them strangers to their vassals and to their farmers, who soon no longer respected neither their authority nor their rights, and it is to this despotic maxim, followed until the expulsion of Ferdinand IV, that we owe the barbarism in which the Calabrians and the brigandage still live, which the French armies themselves have not succeeded in destroying.

It cannot be denied that Murat did more for this unfortunate kingdom than all his predecessors together; the professor Müller told me thus when I left Cassel to go to Naples: “I only ask of you a letter to find out what effect this novelty of seeing themselves governed by a king who takes care of them is producing on the Neapolitan people; because it has never happened to them.”

It is Murat who formed a regulated system of finances, a code of justice and of general police [2], unknown, or at least very defective before the ministry of M. Salicetti. The roads have been improved, rivers have been made navigable, and how many useful projects have been conceived of which no king had dreamed! The reports of General Campredon, a large part of which I possess, as well as the statistical tables of the kingdom and the detailed memoirs which were communicated to me by M. Salicetti, add faith to the truth of my assertions. 

Murat also cleared the large square in front of the castle and adorned it with beautiful buildings. He continued the garden of the Villa Reale [3], as far as the Pausilippe. Naples owes him the beautiful avenue, from the port of Capua to the street of Toledo, and it is certain that his reign was worth the many embellishments and useful establishments, which, according to all appearances, would not exist without the stay of the French in Italy.

The new avenue of Capo-di-Monte leads to the palace of this name, and it is on the plateau that Murat established his exercise plaza, which is of a very great extent. Formerly one was obliged to make a long detour; today one arrives in a straight line to the foot of the hill.

The Queen had the Studii embellished, specifically the Museum where I would go spend part of the morning to see again the magnificent antiques which are gathered there [4]. She occupied herself equally with excavations, which she encouraged and with which she assisted personally. She usually had the kindness to inform me when she ordered an excavation either at Pompeii or elsewhere; so I assisted in nearly all the excavations that were done in my time, and I saw unearthed several edifices and many curiosities [5]. 

Education, especially for women, was so neglected, that I saw the granddaughter of Mme the Duchess of Cassano leave from the convent in order to marry without having learned either to read or to write. The Queen formed two establishments for the education of young ladies, one of which is in Naples and the other in Averso. She took particular care of them and visited them often, in order to stimulate the ambition of the young pensioners. 

The Queen was less successful in trying to reconstitute Neapolitan society, which is to say the grand gatherings. The jealousy and despotism of the government had stifled the natural hospitality of the people of the Midi. It must be admitted that the methods of suspicious police created by Murat could only encourage the nobles to keep their houses even more closed. Under the pretext that they were ruined, none of the Neapolitan lords gave either balls or fêtes, joined to the habits adopted at the time of the old regime. It was therefore only at the theater, at the Casino or in an ambassador’s house that we spoke to each other. Personally, I had much to praise for the welcome I received in Naples; I lived there in the privacy of several of the first houses, I kept friends there, and it is not a complaint that I make, but a state of affairs that I describe. Be that as it may, all the reforms which the King and the Queen successfully applied contributed to improving the lot of the Neapolitans. In truth, the principal credit, at least for the essential improvements, must go to some of the ministers; but it is already a great deal when a king knows how to command the initiative and have it carried out.


Dedem’s footnotes:

[1] Notably the beautiful theater which bears his name and which is perhaps the greatest of those which plays in Europe in our day.

[2] Justice was null in Naples in the time of King Ferdinand; under King Joseph and under Joachim, it has often been revolutionary, but at least they occupied themselves with establishing a criminal and civil code according to which they could judge with equity, when peace was once restored to the kingdom. Under Ferdinand, it was thousands of lawyers who shared the booty of the unfortunate litigants; false testimonies were the order of the day and paid very little; a foreigner was sure to be condemned in advance, and the tribunal of commerce was especially reputed for its iniquity, which had done infinite damage to trade relations and had caused complete stagnation in this branch of prosperity so relevant to a state.

[3] The Villa Reale is the most beautiful promenade in Naples. It borders the sea; one has there a view of the entire Gulf, to Capri, to the coast of thePausilippe, and on the other side to the famous edges of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabia. Vesuvius, and behind it the ancient crater of the Somma, terminates the horizon. Portici, Torre del Greco and the beautiful coast of Sorrento take shape in the distance. In the midst of the Villa Reale one can see the famous Farnese Bull, admired as one of the masterpieces of art, and which has however been criticized. 

[4] It is in the Studii that work is constantly done to unroll the manuscripts that have been found in Herculaneum. The Queen had the kindness to give me some of those that had been translated. I have had the joy of making a present of them to the Museum of the Hague, where this sacrifice was not appreciated, because no one suspected how rare my gift was.

[5] in 1809, I assisted in an excavation ordered by the Queen in her presence, behind the palace of the Studii. We pierced a new street through ancient rubble, and everything announced that we were in some cemetery of ancient Parthenope. We dug the earth, and we were fortunate enough to discover several objects of curiosity, among them some Etruscan vases of an elegant form and a very particular design. Her Majesty gave me one of them, which I carefully preserve.


One thought on ““A king who takes care of them”

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s