“It once served… one of our most valiant sovereigns”

Murat entered Warsaw on the 28th of November, 1806, enthusiastically welcomed by the Poles, who believed the French would bring them independence. Even the Duchess d’Abrantes, who was no great admirer of Murat, wrote of that his “splendid type of chivalrous valour… pleased that brave and most impressionable people, which was ready to follow with ardent devotion a young prince, who they knew would ride into an enemy’s batteries as light-heartedly as other men would go to a ball.” Murat hoped–and possibly even expected–to be named King of Poland by Napoleon, and it was not long before rumors were swirling in Paris that this would indeed be the case. Prince Józef Poniatowski, nephew of the last king of Poland, soon arrived in Warsaw to meet Murat. Unlike the Countess Potocka, who left some less than flattering accounts (to be found here and here) of her first encounters with Murat, Poniatowski took a fast liking to him, and the feeling was mutual. Murat wrote to Napoleon in praise of the Polish prince, and tried to assure Napoleon that his suspicions about Poniatowski favoring Prussia or Russia were unjustified.

The following May, Poniatowski made a very special–and symbolic–gift to Murat: the sword of Stephen Báthory, one of the most famous kings in Polish history. He wrote the following letter to Murat (the date is missing, but it falls between the 12th and 14th of May 1807 in Murat’s published correspondence).

***

Monseigneur,

I have received the hat that Your Imperial Highness has had the kindness to send me, with all the gratitude that must inspire in me such a flattering mark of his memory. But what above all gives this grace a price that I can feel better than I can possibly express, are the testimonies of benevolence which accompanied it, and the care that Her Imperial Highness the Princess Caroline has deigned to take in this circumstance.

There is a custom among us which, without giving me the boldness to believe that I could ever prove to Your Imperial Highness the feelings that I have devoted to him, permit me at least to show him how much I desire to do so. Preserving religiously the arms of the great men who once exemplified Poland, we make it our duty to present them to those whom general acknowledgement places at the same rank, it is in this regard, Monseigneur, that I dare to beg Your Imperial Highness to accept the sabre that I take the liberty to offer him. Property of the last kings of Poland, it once served Stephen Báthory, one of our most valiant sovereigns, and bore witness to our most brilliant victories. Placed in the hands of Your Imperial Highness, it will resume after centuries the glorious road that it has already traveled and will fight perhaps again for the Fatherland.

Please accept, Monseigneur, the homage of my respectful devotion.

Joseph, Prince Poniatowski

***

[Source: Lettres et Documents Pour Servir à l’Histoire de Joachim Murat, Vol 5]

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