“For your subjects, be king; for the Emperor, be viceroy.”

This is Part 1 of what is probably going to be a very long translation project. If there is one part of Murat’s life which is less well understood than any other, it is his reign as King of Naples. Military historians naturally place more of an emphasis on Murat as a cavalry commander, his battles, charges, strategic and tactical errors, shortcomings as a general etc. His reign in Naples tends to be glossed over, and English-language sources on it are few and far in between. Yet without understanding Murat’s time as king, the difficulties he encountered on the throne, and the ensuing conflicts which developed between Murat and Napoleon over the administration of Naples, it is impossible to really understand Murat’s break with the Emperor–to whom he had been devoted for nearly twenty years–in 1814.

So I’ve decided to start translating Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples (The King and Queen of Naples), 1810-1812, which utilizes what at the time was unpublished correspondence between Joachim and Caroline Murat to analyze what was a particularly key period of Murat’s rule. This period marks a dramatic downwards spiral in the relationship between Murat and Napoleon, with Caroline spending an increasing amount of time in Paris to try to bridge the ever-growing divide between her husband and her older brother.

Vandal’s essay was originally published in three different parts. Parts I and II appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910 (pages 481-514 and 757-788); Part III in Tome 56, 1910 (pages 42-74)]. I will differentiate between Vandal’s original footnotes and my own additions in parentheses. Any translation errors are my own.

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The King and Queen of Naples (1810-1812)
By Albert Vandal

I.

The Royal Ménage and the Emperor’s Second Marriage1

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I.

On 31 October 1808, King Murat wrote from Naples to his old comrade Lannes, whom he congratulated for having joined the Emperor in the army of Spain: “Never leave him; it is only with him that there is happiness; I am no longer happy since I left him.”2 He longed for the days of his campaigns and fine battles, when, heartily obeying undisputed orders, free in the execution, he handled, governed as he pleased, and launched against the enemy more squadrons than any man of his time had brought together, and when, under the Emperor Generalissimo, he seemed to be king of the cavalry.

Yet, considering now the magnificent appearances of his destiny, he had every reason to be satisfied. Successively general-in-chief of the army of Italy, governor of Paris, marshal of the Empire, grand dignitary, sovereign prince, Grand Duke of Berg, he had just been elevated to the supreme grade and promoted to king. As a royal distribution, he had received the most marvelous site of the Mediterranean, Naples and the splendid golf, palaces open to the cool breeze, fragrant gardens, terraces populated by antique statues, famous marbles, all this decor of art and nature of which enchanted his Latin soul. More practically, a batch of several million subjects had been assigned to him, the spoils of a Bourbon, with the hope of doubling his kingdom by the conquest of Sicily. He maintained under his orders a French army, a colony of French officers and administrators. In Naples, he had debuted brilliantly; to start, he had flushed out of the island of Capri an English garrison, the sight of which had offended him, had approached and vanquished the elusive enemy, disengaging his capital. To the Neapolitans, he had offered as a first spectacle more than traditional fireworks with their banal rockets: an operation of war with a true cannonade, escalation and victorious assault; he had given himself this gift of glorious accession. Remembering these circumstances, these prowesses, these results, he might, even at this time of maddening fortunes, consider himself one of the favorites of Fate.

It is true that one is not happy by reasoning; one is so by nature and temperament. Outside of the field of battle where all the faculties of his being flourished in a magnificent elation of fighting and vanquishing, Murat had a restless soul, a tormented character; he tortured himself with ambitions and troubles. 

As beautiful as reality was, his ambitions had overtaken him. In 1807, during the campaign against the Russians, he had seen himself in his imagination as king of a resuscitated Poland, leader of a nation on horseback, booted, spurred, plumed, whose style and appearance corresponded to his tastes. In 1808, lieutenant of the Emperor in Madrid, had he coveted the royalty of Spain? At the very least he had dreamed of a role of peaceful triumphant, and from this horrible Spain where he had found only insurgents to shoot, populations to strafe, street-fighting, treacherous war and exhausting climate, he had returned crestfallen, suffering, doleful; he had had to cross on a patient’s litter this border he had previously crossed with the steps of his war-horse. At the end of 1808, when the Emperor himself plunged perilously into Spain, the high intriguers of Paris, Fouché, Talleyrand and others, included in their predictions the murderous ambush in the bend of Castilian sierra, or the assassin’s ball. In the event that the Emperor perished, they had drafted a replacement government; at the summit of this vague construction, they had thought to place Murat and to present to French people this decorative hero. Murat had gottten wind of this intrigue, and perhaps a mad dream had touched him. Some affirm that he had equally aspired to the throne of Holland. In Italy, he felt cramped in his kingdom of Naples and let it be said that one day his authority might overrun the entire peninsula. At the same time, he believed himself the target of black calumnies, supposed plots intended to lose him in the Emperor’s heart, maintained informants everywhere, had reports sent to him, established correspondences, confided in suspicious agents, was alarmed by the slightest evidence, and his effervescent imagination exaggerated the real difficulties of his position in Naples. 

Sincerely, he wanted the welfare of his subjects, the happiness of Naples. In this environment of indolence, in a court divided into tight cliques, in a government where he found, outside of some Frenchmen, only flexible intriguers or solemn puppets, he brought great intentions, invigorating dispositions. Right away, the people took an affection to him; in the memory of the people, he remained the handsome and good king, the legendary king, the enterprising monarch. They loved his ease of hand, his sumptuous munificence, his pleasure in making people happy, this passion for obliging which he had at all times. His theatrical looks and even his excessive taste for costume and decoration which harmed him elsewhere, were pleasing in Naples. However, this was only one side of his nature. He took his new occupation very seriously, worked hard, applied himself, wanting to restore finances, introduce the Code Napoléon, achieve the abolition of the feudal regime, undertake works of public utility, sanitize and ventilate, morally as well as physically, a country which languished in the pestilence of abuses and the stagnation of inveterate habits. But his will to act and to reign, this impatient will, was irritated by the imperious orders of the Emperor, which confronted him with limits throughout.

In Naples as in Holland, as in Spain, with the difference of situations and temperaments, the flaw of the system of the brother kings showed itself immediately. By making three of his brothers and his brother-in-law kings, Napoleon had wished to establish in them his legates, his high proconsuls, the agents of his authority in countries too distant to be governed directly, agents of Frenchification, instruments of his universal war against the English. Only, by the very fact that he had conferred upon them a sovereign title and hereditary office, he had awakened them to independence; he had almost necessarily obligated them to incorporate themselves in the country whose keeping they had received, to want to establish themselves there, to take root there, to become popular there, and consequently to denationalize themselves in some fashion and to support the interest of their subjects against that of France, as soon as the two found themselves in conflict. Under the inspiration and probably under the dictation of the Emperor, Berthier wrote to Murat, his great friend: “For your subjects, be king; for the Emperor, be viceroy.”3 Precisely, it is this duplication which is impossible; the two terms oppose each other; one cannot be subject and king at the same time: one is not a king in order to obey, such was the fundamental thinking of Murat, which he would one day shout in exasperation and frankness. 

However, it is in all things that the Emperor aspires to subject the king and kingdom of Naples to French interests; he demands money from them, a lot of money, men, sailors, vessels; he intends that the kingdom open itself fully to French products, but only half-opens the Empire to Neapolitan products; he presses the application of the continental blockade. Murat resists and balks at these demands, though merging in protestations of devotion. His complaints bring him only harsh reprimands and orders of service.4 He knows, moreover, that the Emperor, in his interior, expresses himself brusquely about the kings made by his hand. With his potent joviality, with his teasing verve, Napoleon makes fun of them readily; with his mania for giving nicknames, he no longer calls Murat King of Naples but the lazzarone, king of the lazzaroni; later, he will call him Orlando, furious Orlando, by comparison with a paladin from romance. And Murat, very sensitive, very susceptible, judges himself misunderstood by the one he has served so well. In his letters to the Emperor, he sighs and laments, taking on the tone of disappointed friendship, or rather, unhappy love. At times, he seems ready to break his crown himself on a whim. The opposition of characters thus aggravated the forces born of circumstances. In order to manage relations between the overbearing empire and the fragile Neapolitan kingdom, would have required an infinite tact, a flexibility, an uncommon dexterity. In this role, who would have succeeded? A woman perhaps, if one would let her: a sister of Napoleon, the wife of Murat. 

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Notes

[1] (Author’s note) The basis of these articles consists of letters written by Queen Caroline Murat to her husband between the month of January 1810 through April 1812. These unpublished letters will be a part, by their date, of the Lettres et documens pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat, published by H.H. the Prince Murat, with an introduction and notes by Mr Paul Le Brethon. We know this capital interest of this publication from which H.H. the Prince Murat was kind enough to authorize us to detach, for the reader of the Revue, the letters and extracts we quote. The full correspondence of the Queen will be inserted into the publication from Tome IV, which should appear next. 

[2] (Author’s note) Archives Murat. (Translator’s note) The full letter from Murat to Lannes was eventually published in Le Brethon’s seventh volume of Murat’s correspondence. 

[3] (Author’s note) Letter from 5 May 1809. Archives Murat.

[4] (Author’s note) On these disputes, see especially the work of Mr Frédéric Masson, Napoléon et sa famille, t. IV, V, VI and VII, and that of Mr. J.-E. Driault, Napoléon en Italie, ch. XXI.

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5 thoughts on ““For your subjects, be king; for the Emperor, be viceroy.”

  1. Pingback: “A permanent state of distrust” – Project Murat

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