To commemorate Joachim & Caroline Murat’s shared birthday (25 March of 1767 and 1782, respectively) this year, I’ve compiled some accounts recorded by three visitors to Naples–two English and one Irish–between the fall of Napoleon in 1814 and his return from Elba in 1815. The first account is from the English poet Samuel Rogers; the second, an Irish lawyer named John Mayne; the third, Sir Henry Holland, who served as the physician of the Princess of Wales.
Samuel Rogers, English poet
When she [Lady Holland] and Lord Holland were at Naples, Murat and his Queen used to have certain evenings appointed for receiving persons of distinction. Lady Holland would not go to those royal parties. At last Murat, who was always anxious to conciliate the English government, gave a concert expressly in honour of Lady Holland; and she had the gratification of sitting, at that concert, between Murat and the Queen, when, no doubt, she applied to them her screw,–that is, she fairly asked them about every thing which she wished to know.–By the by, Murat and his Queen were extremely civil to me. The Queen once talked to me about The Pleasures of Memory. I often met Murat when he was on horseback, and he would invariably call out to me, rising in his stirrups, “Hé bien, Monsieur, êtes-vous inspiré aujourd’hui?”
—Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (London, 1856), page 274.
John Mayne, Irish traveler in Naples
[3 February 1815] In the evening to San Carlo. The King and Queen were present. He is a gay, handsome man, but with no very genteel appearance. His hair, which is very dark, hangs in ringlets down upon his shoulders; his eyes are remarkably small and bright. He wore a blue uniform without lace or embroidery, a medal and a star, and a white cravat. The Queen is pretty, and her appearance delicate and most interesting. The Princess of Wales was present, and towards the end of the opera she went round into the royal box, kissed the Queen, and sat beside her for a long time. (page 271)
[5 February 1815] In the evening to a great masked ball at San Carlo. The house was brilliantly illuminated, and the pit covered over and the stage opened to the back. This immense space was so crowded that one could with difficulty move about…. Joachim and his Queen were present in the second tier of boxes over the stage. He and his aides-de-camp wore coloured clothes. His dress was a light green inside coat, with a velvet surtout of a still lighter green lined with fur. He seemed to enjoy the scene, and very good-humouredly answered the salutations of the masks as they crowded under his box. The Queen did not attend much to what was passing. She seems pensive and abstracted, whether from general habit or not, I don’t know…. Of society our stay was too short to permit us to attempt anything; but the KIng keeps a splendid court, and pleasure seemed to form the whole employment of my acquaintances among the English, as well as the subject of all their conversation. I believe it to be the most idle, dissipated, luxurious, and profligate capital in Europe. (pages 275-6)
–The Journal of John Mayne, during a tour on the continent upon its reopening after the fall of Napoleon, 1814. (London, 1909)
Sir Henry Holland, physician of the Princess of Wales (Caroline of Brunswick)
We reached Naples early in November, King Joachim meeting the Princess [of Wales] at Aversa, and bringing her to his capital with much military show. Policy, or what at this time was supposed such, blended itself here with the love of pomp and display innate in his temperament. The four months we passed at Naples–the closing period of his reign–were coloured in every way by the personal character of the man. It was a time of continuous fête and revelry–of balls, masquerades, and operas–of levées, processions, and military reviews–of boar-hunts and fishing parties, and numerous other festivities by land and sea. In all these Murat himself was the conspicuous figure, and well pleased to be so. Tall and masculine in person; his features well formed, but expressing little beyond good nature and a rude energy and consciousness of physical power; his black hair flowing in curls over his shoulders; his hat gorgeous with plumes; his whole dress carrying an air of masquerade–this was the general aspect of the man, well picturing the ardent chieftain of cavalry in Napoleon’s great campaigns. Amidst the luxurious life of Naples, indeed, his feelings and conversation often reverted to the time when he was hotly engaged with Cossack bands on the plains of Poland and Russia. I have seen him dressed as a Cossack Chief at a court masquerade; and parading the Strada di Toledo, with a long suite of his old companions in war, in similar costume. He was endowed with a large amount of pure animal vitality, which pleasurably expended itself in the active deeds of war but found no sufficient vent in peace, even when called upon to act the king. I think he was personally popular with his Neapolitan subjects, including the Lazzaroni, who had their peculiar way of describing with the fingers his gait on horseback, and the waving of his plumes. With all his fantasies of dress, there was a jovial kindness of temperament, which made his presence agreeable to the public eye. I mention his popularity, however, with the distrust I always feel for the judgment of travellers on a matter of this kind, founded, as it generally is, on partial instances, often on the mere personal feelings of the narrator.
His Queen, the Sister of Napoleon, required and deserved more study. Under her fine and feminine features lay a depth of thought–at this time, as it seemed to me, verging upon melancholy. I doubt not, indeed, from what I saw and heard, that she was keenly sensible of the crisis then hanging over the fortunes of her family. Her qualities were very different, and loftier than those of her husband; and both I believe to have been fully conscious of this disparity. Many obvious causes rendered her less popular than him, both in the Palace and among the people. I had constant opportunities of observing them together in the various Court festivities, at all which she was present; though, as I could fancy, from obligation (or from jealousy, as some surmised) rather than real pleasure. Curiously enough, the English country dance, now almost lost to ourselves, was in high fashion at this time at Naples; and as my own days of youth were not yet gone by, it often happened to me at the Court balls to stand with Murat and his Queen in the same country dance–she much the most graceful dancer as well as the most dignified personage of her Court.
One of these occasions is deeply marked in my memory. It was a great ball given by Count Mosbourg, the Minister of Finance, on one of the first days of March. All belonging to the Neapolitan Court were present; the Princess of Wales and her suite; the principal nobility of Naples and many foreigners. Among the latter was the Countess Walewski, very recently arrived from Elba with her young son; and attracting much attention from her known relation to the great prisoner there, as well as from the graces of her own person and manner. Her sudden presence at Naples, and certain other collateral incidents, excited suspicions without defining them. Itw as that vague whisper which often precedes some event close at hand. The ball of which I am speaking afforded the solution in a sudden and startling way. Everything went on according to the wonted fashion of such festivities until about 11 o’clock–the King and Queen, with the principal persons of their Court, being at that moment engaged in the figures of an English country dance. Count Mosbourg, our host, was suddenly summoned out of the room. He speedily returned, went up to the King, and whispered intelligence to him, which he instantly communicated in similar way to the Queen. They both disappeared from the dance, and the assembly itself was at once dissolved; each guest carrying away some dim surmise of what had happened. The intelligence, in fact, was the escape of Napoleon from Elba–that romantic exploit which has already passed into history as one of the most extraordinary events of the age in which we live. His departure only was known at this time; but I was still at Naples when the intelligence came of Napoleon’s first successes in France.
Many English were present at this ball; amongst whom I recollect the Duke of Bedford, Lord and Lady Holland, Lord and Lady Conyngham, Lord and Lady Oxford, Lord Gage, Lord Clare, &c. Of these only Lord Gage is now alive to recollect the scene.
Murat was resplendent on horseback, and felt himself to be so. He dwarfed all his numerous suite in person and fine horsemanship, and reveled in his superiority. Yet on one occasion, at a great boar-hunt in the country, I saw him thrown from an English blood-mare which he had mounted for the first time. A large and fierce boar rushed at him–the horse reared, and the King slipped off–his fall sheltered, and the boar repelled, by a crowd of equerries and other officers. This incident, as I was told, much annoyed him. I now and then accompanied his riding parties; and on one occasion, at a review of the regiments of guards, rode close to him in a charge of cavalry on a square of infantry–his Queen placed within the square. It was curious to witness his elation and eagerness even in this petty mimicry of fight. The close of his career, both of royalty and life, came speedily in sequel to it.
–Henry Holland, Recollections of Past Life (New York, 1872), pages 131-134.