Months ago I posted my translations of a handful of letters written by Murat during his stay in Plaisance just prior to Waterloo, including his final letter to Napoleon. Today I have the privilege of sharing some entries from the period encompassing the writing of those letters, translated from the diaries of General Rossetti, courtesy of Napoleonic historian Jonathan North (www.jpnorth.co.uk). Mr. North has been transcribing and translating Rossetti’s heretofore unpublished diary, via the French National Archives, for future publication, and has kindly permitted me to share here the extracts below. Rossetti had served Murat with unwavering devotion from 1807 until their final separation in August 1815; his diary provides not only some fascinating insights into Murat’s personality and character, but these excerpts in particular provide a more in-depth look into a period of Murat’s life about which details have been scarce.
Introduction from Jonathan North
Marie-Joseph-Thomas Rossetti was a faithful companion of Joachim Murat, and one who accompanied him almost right through to that soldierly king’s tragic end. Born in Turin, Piedmont, Rossetti had volunteered to serve the French republic, rising to the rank of captain in the 26th Chasseurs. He was a quiet, taciturn man, dubbed the Imperturbable by close friends, indeed nothing like a light cavalryman was supposed to be, and quite unlike his patron, the dashing Marshal Murat. In 1807, Murat took him on as one of his aides-de-camp, promoting him to colonel, later general, in the service of Naples after Murat had assumed the throne of that kingdom. He was at Murat’s side in the king’s final campaign, the fateful attempt to drive the Austrians from Italy in the spring of 1815, and remained with him when Murat fled Naples in May 1815. The two found themselves in southern France, fugitives at the time of Waterloo and just as the White Terror was about to take hold across Provence. This extract from Rossetti’s unpublished diaries reveal some of the drama and anxiety of those times. As for what followed, Rossetti and Murat were about to go their separate ways. An unsuccessful attempt to spirit Murat away saw Rossetti take ship to Le Havre and he continued on to Paris to plead Murat’s case whilst, before long, Murat headed for Corsica and his final, tragic, return to his kingdom when he landed at Pizzo that October. Rossetti returned home to Turin in January 1816 and would die, peacefully, in 1840.
(Journal du général Rossetti–French National Archives, 31AP/10)
9 June 1815
Monsieur Péborde [Baron Jean de Péborde, the king’s former doctor], who met us on his return from Cannes, told us that the Emperor had not replied to the letter from the king but that Monsieur Baudus, the governor of the king’s children who had returned to France in 1814, had been sent by the Duke d’Otranto to see the king. Monsieur Péborde added that the king was much hurt by the silence of the Emperor and he openly complained to Monsieur Baudus and found that his justifications for the Emperor’s silence were far from being satisfactory. One other circumstance contributed greatly to the king’s anger and that was the delay in the arrival of the queen and his children. In fact, according to the terms of the agreement with Commodore Campbell, she should have embarked on a Neapolitan ship on the day following the Austrian entry into Naples in order to be transported to France. The Austrians had entered on 22 May but still the queen had not yet arrived.
General Manhès and his young wife had left the king a few days earlier and so His Majesty had determined to come to Toulon in order to rent a country house in the vicinity. To that effect we rented a pretty place a few miles from Toulon and which belonged to General Lallemand. This country house was known as Plaisance.
12 June 1815
The king arrived and went directly to Plaisance without stopping in town and he seemed unperturbed by the changes in his circumstances although he was most distressed by the continued absence of the queen and his children, and by the silence of the Emperor. I found the king most displeased with Monsieur Baudus who had followed him to Toulon but whose suspicious behaviour raised some sinister doubts in the mind of the king. I observed to the king that the frank and loyal character of Monsieur Baudus, and his attachment to the children of His Majesty who had been his charges, and his marked zeal to serve His Majesty should all place him above any suspicion. I added that, in any case, I did not see any possibility of him causing any harm unless he was acting on instructions or orders to oppose whatever resolutions the king might determine upon, and, even then, I felt that Monsieur Baudus was incapable of accepting such a commission. The king seemed satisfied with my observations although his doubts regarding Monsieur Baudus did not entirely disappear.
13 June 1815
A merchant ship which had left Naples on the 3rd, and carrying Monsieur Serralonga, an official from the king’s cabinet, along with a few French passengers, came into port at noon. Monsieur Serralonga had obtained permission to leave in order to be with the king and he informed him that Lord Exlemout [Exmouth] had refused to ratify the agreement made by Commodore Campbell and that, instead of having the queen sent to France, as the agreement stipulated, in a Neapolitan vessel, she, with the children, was to be sent to Trieste onboard an English vessel. This sad news was like a bolt from the blue for the king as he had been more affected by the separation from his wife and children than he had been by the loss of his kingdom.
14 June 1815
Monsieur Baudus, seeing that the king’s manner towards him was rather cold and quite reserved, and that there was talk of suspicion concerning his conduct, complained of it directly to the king. His complaint lead to some recrimination from the king and this ended by the king demanding of Monsieur Baudus that he show the king the instructions regarding him that this gentleman had received in Paris. Monsieur Baudus assured the king that he had received none in writing but that he was open to sharing with him the instructions the Emperor had given him. The king then rather brusquely interrupted him, saying ‘Am I then your prisoner?’ This interruption prompted Monsieur Baudus to smile and that smile calmed the king and their discussion became less heated. Monsieur Baudus shared that, in the current circumstances, the Emperor dared not summon him as he was a sovereign who had borne arms against France in 1814, therefore his decision was to keep the king until military affairs were more settled, which would be relatively soon, and, in order to encourage the king to comply with his brother-in-law’s wishes, the Duke D’Otranto had sent him, Baudus, to His Majesty. He then added that he had kept quiet about this until now so as not to upset the king but now he placed himself entirely at his orders and, should His Majesty continue to entertain any doubts on his behalf then he begged His Majesty to let hm know at once and he would leave that very day. The king was satisfied with these explanations and asked Monsieur Baudus to remain with him.
17 June 1815
Captain Gruchet, on the king’s staff, arrived from Paris bearing despatches from the Duke D’Otranto in which he confirmed all Monsieur Baudus had said concerning the Emperor’s position and begged him to be patient concerning the Emperor’s silence. He advised him to leave Cannes (he thought he was still there) in order to come to Lyon and to there await the outcome of the great events then unfolding.
20 June 1815
The king sent Captain Gruchet back to Paris with despatches for the Emperor and in which he expressed his regrets that he had not been recalled to the army and also complained that his most recent campaign had been dubbed rash in the chamber by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, recalling that the very same minister had written to him quoting the Emperor as saying the following ‘begin operations and I shall support you with everything we have.’ The king concluded by adding that, after having lost his crown in support of the Emperor, he still would freely give his last drop of blood in his service.
Captain Gruchet also carried despatches for the Duke D’Otranto in which the king informed him that he would follow his advice and establish himself in the region of Lyon and that, once there, he would send Monsieur Decoussy, his private secretary, to inform him as to his new address. Decoussy would remain at Paris at the disposition of the duke and in order to convey to the king any instructions the duke might have for him.