“He in no way feared death”

In the aftermath of Murat’s defeat at the battle of Tolentino, among those who accompanied him during his final months from Naples to France, Corsica, and ultimately to Pizzo, Calabria, was a valet by the name of Armand-Victor Blanchard. Armand left a brief but interesting account of Murat’s final days, which can be found today in the private Archives Murat in the French National Archives. I am extremely grateful to Napoleonic historian, Jonathan North (www.jpnorth.co.uk), author of Nelson at Naples: Revolution and Retribution in 1799 and many other books on the Napoleonic wars, for sending me his translation of Armand’s account to share here.

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Source: 31AP/21, Dossier 361–Relation manuscrite d’Armand : sur la tentative de débarquement de Murat au Pizzo et sur sa mort

Relating to the death of the king and to the events that followed.

Account of the death of King Joachim by Armand

“The king left Naples on 19 May 1815. When he reached Picola, by the battery, and at around midnight, His Majesty embarked on a little fishing boat and, after sailing for about an hour, a larger vessel was spied and this was in transit between Gaeta and Naples. The king climbed aboard and had it sail to Ischia, which it did during the 20th, so that any ship sailing from Naples to France might be observed. As there was nothing to be seen, the king disembarked at ten that evening and spent the night at the house of one of the island’s inhabitants. On the morning of the 21st, the king caught sight of a felucca sailing in the direction of France. His Majesty sent to know who was onboard and word came back that it was Prince Pignatelli and General Manhès so the king elected to embark with them and join them. His Majesty took with him his secretary and a valet and gave orders for those others in his entourage to join him in Toulon. The felucca remained becalmed for three hours but the wind then picked up such that they reached Cannes on the Gulf of Saint Juan after three days. The ship was permitted entry and the king came ashore to lodge in a bad little inn near the town. His Majesty waited in this establishment for some ten days or wo weeks, all the time awaiting the queen. His Majesty welcomed Marshal Brune there whilst the 14th Light Infantry Regiment and a squadron of the 14th Chasseurs came to shout ‘Long live the Emperor, long live Prince Murat!’ below his windows. The king also met Monsieur Baudare who had been sent by the emperor. However, as the queen still did not appear, he had a country house near Toulon rented and His Majesty remained there for several days after which His Majesty set off towards Lyon to take up residence in another house near there. On his way, and at the last inn on the route to Marseille, the king was obliged to turn back and return to his house near Toulon in order to wait for passports which would allow him to rejoin the queen and his children. During this time the king sent General Rossetti, his aide-de-camp, to see the English admiral who had taken up a position off Marseille in order to ask him whether he would convey him to England on certain conditions which the general was charged to propose to the English.

“The king left Ajaccio on 28 September 1815 in order to go to the kingdom of Naples and caught sight of land off Paola on the night of 6 to 7 October. There was a tremendous storm, which nearly overturned the boat but which also dispersed the four vessels which were accompanying the king. The king ordered that we wait for the other vessels, and, after two hours, we saw one and it was the one with Monsieur Courant, three other officers and around 30 soldiers most of whom had served in the king’s Guard. Captain Perniche and Lieutenant Maltedo, who were also on this boat, came over to the king’s vessel at eight that evening and shared their suspicion that the king might be being betrayed. The vessels continued onwards, with Courant’s vessel trailing behind. At midnight, however, it was clear that Courant’s vessel was no longer following but had sailed off. The king then determined to abandon his planned scheme and he had the proclamations placed in a sack with two weights and had them sent to the bottom. That was in the night of 7 to 8 October. The king now intended to head to Trieste with the passport the Emperor of Austria had provided to him, and which His Majesty had received on the very day he had departed from Ajaccio. As the boat had been damaged by the bad weather, and as supplies and water were starting to run short, the king suggested to Monsieur Barbara, frigate captain, that it would be necessary to procure another boat if they were to cross the Adriatic, and that it was also important to collect supplies, and the captain replied that this might be done at Pizzo (Calabria Ulterior) as it had everything that might be needed and was, moreover the nearest port and that he had contacts there. On the 8th, coming before this aforementioned port, the captain asked the king to supply him with his passport but His Majesty replied that he did not wish to give him it as it would lead to him being recognised and arrested. The king added that he had chartered the boat and the crew and that if the captain did not now wish to obey him he would seek out another. The captain absolutely refused to obey the king’s orders so the king, growing angry, said this was intolerable and that, as he was so despicable as to refuse to go onshore then the king himself would land even if he should be killed doing so or would do so rather than suffer this any longer. Before disembarking he told Barbara to remain offshore and, should he hear any disturbances or even the shooting of muskets, then he was to return to collect him at once. He immediately went onshore accompanied by 29 people including General Franceschetti and Natali. It was noon on a Sunday and there were many people gathered just then when the king landed and a few cried out ‘long live King Joachim’ when the king reached the town. There he encountered a former medical officer in the king’s service and this man greeted the king and offered to accompany him to the square where His Majesty saw a company of coastal gunners and their sergeant had them present arms to the king and he informed him they easily recognised him. The king ordered them to follow him and the king took the road towards Monteleone. Having gone down it a little way he was stopped by a party of gendarmes commanded by a certain captain who prepared to fire on him. As the way forward was barred, and the local peasants were preparing to ambush them from the hedges by the road, they would have to return the way they had come. However, General Franceschetti ran at the captain and pushed a pistol against his throat, telling him that if he fired he would blow his brains out and then he told the king that he should make for the shore and embark while the captain was in their power. The king reached the beach and summoned the boats then offshore but then the mass of people came and seven of those who were with the king were wounded and Captain Perniche was killed. They captured the king and the others and brought them to the prison in the fortress. There the king was abused by the captain of gendarmes and his property was seized and this included his passport, 22 diamonds of 100 Louis each. Everything was sent to Ferdinand. No sooner had the king reached the prison than he wrote a little note asking to have his things returned, and to have a man sent to the boat that was still offshore and that man managed to reach the boat but those onboard would not approach the shore. General Nunziante in Ferdinand’s service arrived on the night of the 8th coming from Monteleone. He expressed his keen regret at seeing the king in such a deplorable position and promised His Majesty to do all in his power to improve his situation. One known as Francesco Dalcala, steward of the properties of the Duke d’Infanta did not fear compromising himself in the eyes of the mob and came forward with linen and clothes for the king, and food and bedding for his suite. On the 9th the general transferred the king to a private chamber where the king was treated more properly by the general and his officers. On the 11th and 12th the king begged the general to have him placed onboard a ship bearing the English flag, although at that time in Ferdinand’s service, on the pretext that he would be much better off onboard a ship than in that insalubrious room (although the king intended it so that once he was under the protection of the English flag he would be protected from that revenge Ferdinand was certainly planning against him). The general told him he would consider it and that if by tomorrow, it was on the 12th at dinner that this conversation took place (the king always invited the general to lunch and dine with him), nothing had been heard, then they could embark. Nine hours after that meal the general came to see the king and as he looked most perturbed, the king asked him the reason and the general replied that the telegraph had just brought him instructions to hold the king but that the weather had prevented further instructions. The king said, doubtless, they intended to order him to be held in the citadel of Messina, but the general said it was impossible for him to guess and that he would have to wait for the following day. The king had previously written to the ambassadors of Austria and England but these letters were sent to Ferdinand. On the 13th, General Franceschetti, Natali and the valet were brought out from the king’s chamber so that, with those persons removed, they said there would be an interrogation. But, during the night of the 12th to 13th, a courier had arrived bringing orders for the general to have the king tried by a court martial and, 15 minutes after sentencing, to be brought out and executed.

“The king did not wish to appear before this court. His Majesty ate his final meal at three during which he was served some bouillon, a flavourless pigeon and some meagre slices of bread. On seeing this, the king said that he had before been uncertain whether he would be killed but here, now, was the proof. On that day His Majesty was being guarded by four officers. The members of the commission had retired and then came and handed out their sentence to the king. His Majesty asked for some paper so he could write to the queen and say farewell to her and to his children. He cut off a lock of his hair and charged the captain on duty to deliver the letter, the hair and the watch with the queen’s portrait which the king always kept close to his heart and had with him even when executed. The officer wished to blindfold the king’s eyes and offered him a chair. His Majesty thanked him but added that he in no way feared death, and that he had never harmed anyone and had nothing to reproach himself for. He asked the soldiers of Ferdinand not to mistreat those that had followed him.”

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A footnote provided by Jonathan North:

We do not know what ultimately became of Armand, the king’s valet. He received a pension of 300 Francs from Caroline and, in 1827, he was still loyal to Murat’s memory, vigorously defending the queen’s reputation in a court case brought by others which suggested she had neglected to honour debts with those who had supported Murat in his final adventures. 

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