“A permanent state of distrust”

Part 2 of my translation of Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples. In this part, Vandal describes the rifts which began developing between Joachim and Caroline Murat soon after taking the throne of Naples. These largely stemmed from Murat’s insecurities about being potentially overshadowed–or dominated–by his wife, especially due to Napoleon’s wording of the Treaty of Bayonne, which made it abundantly clear that Murat’s crown was being given to him only by virtue of his wife being the Emperor’s sister.

This section is from pages 485-489 of the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910.

(Part 1 can be found here.)


Of the three sisters of the Emperor, Caroline was certainly the favorite; she kept a great place in her brother’s affections and played for him a role, at the very least a position. Very intelligent, at once passionate and calculating, loving pleasure and power, she succeeded with the Emperor by a way she had of making herself agreeable and useful. 

At first, she did well at court, her charming beauty surviving her early youth; she dressed with taste, unlike her sister Pauline,–Paulette,–who retained something exotic in her appearance, too exuberant, and who, sometimes, in terms of toilettes, distinguished herself by deplorable innovations1. On the contrary, Caroline perfectly accommodated the fashion to her face and figure, she wore with charm the dress with a raised waist, long sheath, and ample train, Greek hairstyle, jewels, diamonds, the royal ornaments. Then the vivacity of her mind, her coaxing manners and enticing grace, animated the coldest solemnities. In a court where an aging Josephine was saddened, Caroline created movement and life, she gave to the over-regulated pleasures the air or spontaneity and spirit that the Emperor desired. Of her kind, she had an organizing spirit; no one knew as well as she how to organize elegance and magnificence. Whether it was to give an unrivaled fête or a beautiful dinner, directing a ball, a costume quadrille, an entertainment or games, despite her feeble health, despite her distressed nerves, she was always prepared and never refused the service. In her part, as much as Murat on the battlefield, she was no longer counting her successes, her victories. The Emperor alternatively employed each spouse, according to their aptitudes; Murat was useful to him for war, and Caroline during the peace. 

In September 1808, she joined her husband in Naples, where she spent nearly all of the following year. Between the spouses, despite the causes of disagreement, conjugal intimacy remained. Informalities were used as in the beginning of the ménage, as in republican and consular times. In the royal palace of Naples, the King and Queen lived close together, and together took care of all the interior and installation details. And outside of their motley court of Frenchmen and Neapolitans, they had an intimate entourage who had followed their fortune; they took care of them with solicitude, Caroline having a passion for providing the establishment of each and for making marriages. Very familiar at heart, despite her deviations, she loved her own household and wanted it to be peaceful. Although strongly attached to the ceremonial exterior and to the prerogatives of her very fresh royalty, she reserved a large part of herself for domestic life. Between the spouses, the occasions of uniting, of enjoying life in common, remained frequent.In this favored climate, they lived a great deal on the terrace which skirted the King’s apartments, and from which the view extended over the azure gulf: “the beautiful terrace,” this is the place whose memory always evoked in Caroline emotion and ecstasy. There, during the summer, after the ardent days, they enjoyed the coolness of the evening and the ineffable beauty of the Neapolitan nights. 

Of all the bonds that habit had formed between the spouses, none was stronger than the children. They had four: Achille, heir presumptive of the crown, Letitia, Lucien, all the more cherished as his childhood was frail and sickly, and Louise. Murat adored his children and spoiled them royally. The Queen bore them an equally passionate and more virile affection: she wanted to raise them well, inculcate them with principles of morality and beneficence2; she took care of their instruction with the tutor Baudus and refrained from spoiling them too much. During an absence, she wrote to her husband: “Kiss the children for me, don’t spoil Letitia and Achille too much; consider that children are not in the world for our pleasure, but to make them happy; do as I do; I often deprive myself of seeing them out of fear of spoiling them.” Constantly, she thought of their future, which she wanted to be grand and royal: “I think,” she said one day, “that it is the nature of mothers to live in the future of their children.”

To assure the future of her children and to prevent their deprivation, it was important to maintain at all costs the kingdom of Naples, too often compromised by their father’s imprudences and passions. Next to a hero with a wandering imagination, ever ready to run the great adventure, Caroline is a very practical woman, of positive mind, whose attention knows how to concentrate on one principal object. As a true Corsican woman, she considers herself to be the guardian of the family’s property, which is to say the Neapolitan establishment. This property, the Emperor gave her: he can take it back, if his anger is provoked; it is therefore necessary to comply with his demands and fully enter his system. Not that Caroline wants to identify herself completely with the fortune of her brother. Her very different purpose is to keep Naples, come what may. Only, as the Emperor today is unquestionably the strongest, is it not he who must be humored and satisfied, if one wants to remain in place? For Caroline, in the permanent crisis of Europe, at this time when thrones rise and fall with an equal rapidity, the essential thing is to last, to keep what one holds, so that in any eventuality, in all chances and combinations to which the future gives rise, one can present oneself well-off, advantageously situated, strong in a state of possession. In so far as Murat will have the same conception of the common interest, he will find in his wife a loyal partner. 

The partnership carried within itself a destructive germ; it was a feeling easy to discern in Murat. To explain it, it will suffice to read the treaty signed in Bayonne on 15 July 1808, by which the Emperor, transferring Joseph to Spain, ceded the kingdom of the Two Sicilies to Joachim. There it said, in Article IV which stipulated the potential rights of succession of Queen Caroline, that the cession was made “especially in her favor.” In the face of this article, Murat might think he had been provided with a crown less for his glorious services than out of consideration for his wife. He might fear that the latter, mentioned in special terms in the title of enthronement, might claim to actually share authority with him, or even to monopolize it entirely, reducing him to the role of prince consort. This idea is odious to him. The mere idea that he would be ruled by his wife, or simply that he would appear to be led by her, puts him beside himself. He wishes to effectively exercise his royal authority and, above all, to assert it. He is jealous of his wife less as a husband than as a king, and as he knows her to be adroit, ambitious, prompt to push her creatures and form a party, as he sees her take liberties as soon as one allows her to do so, he puts himself in a permanent state of distrust and defense against her. He intends his wife’s persona to constantly give way before his own and even to retreat into the shadows; hence the unjust measures of exclusion and unpleasant proceedings. 

The Neapolitan journals received the order to speak of the Queen as little as possible. In the report of Court ceremonies and public fêtes, she is barely named. If she participated as an act of courage or benevolence, her role was omitted or distorted. She was to be isolated from her people, to be made to lose contact with her subjects, whatever their rank. In the beginning, her husband consulted her for the nomination of the principal positions and offices of the Court. Little by little, he put a sort of affectation into dismissing her protégés. She came to be severed from relations, permitted to receive only one day a week, inflicted with hours of mortal boredom. During the summer of 1809, she suffered particularly from this confined existence, humiliated, so different from how she had been in Paris. Undoubtedly, there was no declared estrangement in the household; they continued to see each other, to talk to each other, to maintain the usual relations, but the Queen felt unappreciated and unhappy. On several occasions, she complained to the ambassador from France, M. d’Aubusson, and the latter informed his government; timidly at first and by circumlocutions, then in formal terms, he wrote to Paris that the Queen herself had confided to him her pain.3



1 (Author’s note) Queen Caroline, thanking Murat one day for a shipment of some fashions from Paris, in regard to some flowers chosen by Pauline: “As for the flowers, they were dreadful; I cannot conceive how Princess Pauline can choose such vile things.” 19 May 1811. Archives Murat. 

2 (Author’s note) On 26 January 1810, she wrote to little Letitia, advising her to share some New Year’s gifts with her milk-sister: “This is a pleasure I want to procure for you, because one feels a great good in doing good; I reserve this enjoyment for you as recompense and to show you how content I am with you.” Archives Murat.

3 (Author’s note) See Driault, p. 612-615, according to the ambassador’s reports. 

4 thoughts on ““A permanent state of distrust”

  1. Pingback: “Discreet complaints and… caressing reproaches” – Project Murat

  2. Pingback: “Surrender yourself thus to his orders” – Project Murat

  3. Pingback: “So many vexations…” – Project Murat

  4. Pingback: “Her insinuating nature, adroitly dominating…” – Project Murat

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