“He had nonetheless ceased to reign”

The second part of General Belliard’s account of the events following his arrival in Naples in April 1815. Following Murat’s failed campaign against Austria, both the Austrians and English refuse to have any further dealings with him, and will negotiate terms only with his wife, Queen Caroline. Murat’s reign comes to an abrupt end; he leaves Naples in haste and makes his way to France. (Part 2/2 – Part 1 can be found here.)

Source: Mémoires du Comte Belliard, Vol I, 1842; pages 235-242

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I sought to console him by showing him France soon victorious under the sword of the Emperor Napoleon. I urged him to retire at once behind the Volturno, to fortify Capua, in order to be able, behind his ramparts, to win time and to work to re-raise the morale of his troops. Unfortunately, this council was followed too late: the king wanted, he said, before taking his lines, to go give a lesson to the Austrian division which advanced against his guard, at San-Germano. This guard was surprised and dispersed even before his arrival, and from this moment all hope was lost. In vain, seconded by the clergy who showed him a great devotion, he tried by proclamations to bring forth courage into this weakened body: the army disbanded; it was no longer possible to travel with impunity; the officers carrying orders were assassinated; disorder had reached its height. At headquarters, at Caserta, a thousand plans were formed, without any being adopted. They wanted to gather the parliament and give a constitution. I was entirely opposed to these ideas: first, I said it was ridiculous to give a constitution on the eve of his departure, because the king could remain no longer, and for the moment his reign was finished; then, he would close the most splendid gate for a return, since this constitution given and received would be necessarily accepted by the arriving sovereign: then the country finding all well would no longer desire anything; whereas in leaving things in the status quo, there would be no fear of Ferdinand wanting to augment the sum of liberty for his good people (his ideas on that were well known). I added only that I would find the the gathering of parliament convenient, in the sense that the king would expose to it the state of things, and, immolating his interests to those of the nation, would leave to this parliament the care of treating with the enemy; then he would make a beautiful sacrifice and retire in an honorable manner without abdicating: that he would conserve as well his rights and arrange all the means of vindicating himself one day. As usually happens in such cases, there was deliberation but no action; a firm will was lacking. During this time, the Austrians proposed to General Carascosa to treat with him and the other Neapolitan generals, urging him to abandon the king, and assuring him that they would be putting on the throne a man who would better suit the nation, even General Carascosa himself, if the Neapolitans demanded it; but they refused all participation of the king, whom they no longer recognized.

On the day of the 18th, the enemy made a movement from the left to threaten Caserta, where the king had only a regiment of his guard. It made one equally from the right, by approaching from the Volturno, over which it tried to throw up a bridge. The king then had to return to Naples, where he arrived at nine o’clock in the evening. He was received with enthusiasm on the Toledo Road, and when he descended from his carriage at the door of the palace, the national guard lifted him up and carried him to his apartments. He had nonetheless ceased to reign.

In effect, the English like the Austrians no longer wanted to hear the king spoken of, recognizing only the power of the queen for all that might relate to special arrangements. At midnight, General Carascosa, to whom the king had entrusted the command of all the troops, told H. M. what had happened, and returned immediately to Capua, bearing the tacit authorization, for himself and the other generals, to treat with the Austrians.

The day of the 19th was employed in taking measure to maintain order, and to assure the departure of all persons who could no longer remain in Naples.

The king had decided that he would go shut himself up in Gaeta, in order to defend it to the last extremity. That same day of the 19th, a nine o’clock in the evening, disguised as a sailor, he travelled to Pozzuoli with the people who would accompany him, and throwing himself into a fishing boat, he directed it towards Gaeta; but at the heights of Conegliano, he met an English brick and frigate which barred his passage, and forced him to disembark at Ischia. The next day he boarded a vessel which bore an English flag and which conducted him and General Manhès to France.

After a long interview with the queen, this same night of the 19th to the 20th of May, I embarked on the schooner l’Etoile, which had parted from the Emperor’s flotilla, and which he had sent, after his disembarkation, to the coasts of Naples, awaiting events.

On the 20th, in the morning, at the moment when we were going to put to sail, an English fleet, six vessels strong, made its entry into the harbor and insolently anchored under the palace. This unexpected apparition urged me to return to the queen anew, who initially seemed to want to show some energy, but who, soon, ceded to the deceptive offers of Admirial Pelew, consenting to everything these former and dear allies wanted. She embarked on board the Tremendous, which should have transported her to France. There was some agitation in the city; the customs house was burned; but the national guard having deployed a great firmness, Naples was saved from pillage. The English landed some soldiers, and spent all day emptying the magazines to refill their vessels. What noble allies!… Because they could not be enemies of both Murat and Ferdinand.

The queen was on board an English vessel; everything was consummated. I could do nothing more, either for her or for France; I was going to take leave of Her Majesty and prepare to depart. But the admiral pretended, before my departure, to inspect the schooner, in order to know if Murat was on board. I gave my word of honor that the king was not on my vessel; but I declared that no one would inspect me; that I would not suffer a similar injury to my flag, and that I would defend it to the death. I had no response, and despite my role as ambassador, I had to await the pleasure of Monsieur the admiral.

In the morning we received the convention made between the Austrian and Neapolitan generals. The principal articles were that all remaining troops would return to Naples; that all the plazas, citadels, forts, magazines, etc, would be remitted to the coalition army, in order to be then given to His Majesty Ferdinand; that all titles, grades and honors accorded by King Joachim would be maintained; that all French or foreigners, civilian and military, would be free to retire, and would be furnished their passports, etc.

After twenty-four hours of waiting, I sent anew an aide-de-camp to the admiral, with a letter in which I protested against his conduct in my regard; he refused still, and only when he perceived that I had given the order to set sail, did he authorize our departure on the 21st, at night. On the 22nd, at the heights of Conegliano, an English brick sent us three rounds, and we were forced to heave to, our vessel not being armed. An officer presented himself and renewed the pretention of inspecting us. I received him so well that after having hesitated a long time and having regarded me quite a bit, he took his leave and returned to his vessel; we continued on our route. Welcomed by a storm that lasted for eleven hours, at the height of Piombino, we had to rest on the island of Elba in order to repair our damage. I arrived in Toulon on the 29th, in the evening, recalling from my journey only the regret of not being able to be useful either to my country or to the prince who had, on every occasion, shown me so much kindness and affection.

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3 thoughts on ““He had nonetheless ceased to reign”

    1. Yes, she actually boarded the English vessel in the Bay of Naples under the impression that she would be taken to France, but the English captain received orders to send her to Austria instead. Murat was oblivious to to it all and I think he assumed that it was just a matter of time until she and the children arrived in France to join him; in some of the letters I’ve posted here previously he begs Napoleon to give them asylum. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him at the time that they would be denied the ability to go to France; he’s quite stunned to learn, around the time of Waterloo, that they’ve been exiled to Trieste.

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