Murat was sent to Spain in February of 1808, to act as Napoleon’s lieutenant and take command of all French forces in the country. Spain was in political turmoil, its citizens on the brink of revolt against the unpopular minister Godoy. Napoleon, having not yet determined on what course of action he wished to pursue, kept his instructions to Murat vague. Uncertain of what Napoleon’s true aims were and increasingly frustrated by the lack of clear directions from the Emperor as to how he should act in regard to the country’s royal family, Murat nevertheless remained naively optimistic about the attitude of Spain towards its French occupiers. Disregarding reports of growing unrest in the capital, he was caught entirely off guard by the outbreak of violence on 2 May 1808–now known as the Dos de Mayo Uprising. That evening he wrote the following letter to Napoleon to inform him of the violence and his efforts to quell it.
Madrid, 2 May 1808, at 7 o’clock in the evening
To His Majesty the Emperor
Sire, the public tranquility was troubled this morning. The people of the countryside, for the past several days, were assembling in the city; some pamphlets were circulating to excite revolt; a price was put on the heads of the French generals and officers lodged in the city; in short, everything announced a crisis. This morning, from eight o’clock, the rabble of Madrid and its environs obstructed all the avenues of the Castle and and filled the courtyard. One of my aides-de-camp, whom I had sent to compliment the Queen of Etruria who was getting into her carriage, was stopped at the door of the Castle, and he would have been assassinated by the frenzied populace, without ten or twelve grenadiers of Your Majesty’s guard that I sent to clear them. A moment after, a second aide-de-camp, who I sent to carry orders to General Grouchy , was assailed with thrown stones and injured. Immediately the drums were beaten; Your Majesty’s guard took up arms, all the camps were set into motion and received the order to march to Madrid, to occupy the posts that had been indicated to them in the event of alarm.
However, one battalion of the guard which was lodged in my palace marched, supported by two pieces of cannon and one squadron of Polish light horsemen, towards the castle, to the assembly there, and dissipated it with musket shots. For his part, General Grouchy assembled his troops in Prado and received the order to go via the street of Alcala to the Puerta del Sol and to the Plaza Mayor and that of the Golden Fountain, where more than twenty thousand rebels had gathered. All the isolated soldiers in the streets who had been looking to return to their posts had already been assassinated; even those who were at the distributions were not spared. General Lefranc, whose regiment occupies the convent of San Bernardino, brought his brigade to the gate of Funcarral where three pieces of cannon were placed. The battalion of marines took position in reserve in front of my palace. Colonel Frédéric, with his two battalions of fusiliers, occupied the plaza of the Castle and the entry of the streets of Almondana and Plateria; the Basque company came to the plaza of San Domino; Your Majesty’s mounted guard were in battle line in front of the barracks, on the street of El Prado Nuevo, at the gate of San Vicente. The cuirassiers marched from Carabanchel to the bridge of Toledo; some pickets had been sent to the hospital, some others marched to the arsenal. Such were my dispositions, when I ordered General Grouchy to come to the Puerto del Sol, and Colonel Frédéric to march on the same point via the street of Plateria and to dissolve this frenzied mob with cannon blasts. These two columns were put in motion and managed to clean up these streets, not without much difficulty, because these wretches, driven from the street, took refuge in the houses and made a crossfire on our troops, while the greatest number of them went to the arsenal, in order to take cannons and muskets, but General Lefranc, who was at the gate of Funcarral, marched on it, bayonet forward, and succeeded in gaining control of it and retaking the cannon which this populace had first seized.
From that moment, the columns came to the plaza of the Puerto del Sol, from the gates of Toledo, from that of Segovia and that of Funcarral, General Grouchy sent them into the houses they had fired from, and had everyone found there put to the sword. All the streets have been swept clean. The peasants of the countryside, who had managed to escape from the city, were encountered by the cavalry and sabred.
The cannon and shooting were no longer being heard, and having just received reports that there was no longer anyone in the streets, I returned to the Palace with the Infante Don Antonio’s to tell him that it was necessary that the whole city be immediately disarmed.
A proclamation is being made at this moment; it will be sent to all the provinces. The captain-generals, the corregidors, the alcades, the leaders of the clergy are being made responsible for its execution and for the tranquility of the kingdom. Sire, there were many people killed. The chasseurs of the Guard have lost some men. Colonel Daumesnil comported himself bravely, as usual; he crossed the crowd twice with his chasseurs and his Mamelukes. He had twenty men out of action, two horses killed under him, he was wounded in the knee; his wound is light. This evening I will let Your Majesty know about this event in a more positive manner, when I have myself all the detailed reports of the different generals in command. In the blink of an eye, everyone was at his post. I owe the greatest praise to all Your Majesty’s troops; I owe it especially to General Grouchy.
Thirty of these rogues, taken with arms in hand, have been shot; another thirty that we are holding in prison will be tomorrow. Libels and provocations against Your Majesty’s army have been found on them.
I received during the shooting Your Majesty’s letter from the 29th; it was no longer permitted to me to not engage in a matter. The other dispositions of Y.M. are going to be fulfilled.
This event, though unfortunate, assures us forever the tranquility of the capital and, I hope, of the kingdom.
I have offered guards to the ambassador of Russia, to those of Holland, Denmark, to all the members of the diplomatic corps.
The calm is reestablished, these gentlemen have expressed their gratitude to me, and showed themselves very sensitive to my offer.
P.S. — The people of the cross and the good citizens applauded, when the proclamation was published in the streets.
Source: Correspondance de Joachim Murat, Albert Lumbroso, 1899.