“Discreet complaints and… caressing reproaches”

Part 3 of my translation of Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples. We have the beginning of what will be, for Caroline, a very long period away from Naples–first to be present for the proceedings of Napoleon’s divorce from Josephine (an event which Caroline was arguably instrumental in helping bring about), and continuing through Napoleon’s second marriage and the ensuing celebrations. Even after those celebrations concluded, she remained in Paris, awaiting permission from Napoleon to return to Naples. She was finally able to see her children again in August of 1810, after an absence of nearly nine months. In the immediate aftermath of the divorce, Caroline viewed Murat’s open opposition to Napoleon’s marriage to an Austrian bride as a potentially disastrous political misstep; she worked to convince her husband of the necessity of resigning himself to the match and attending the Emperor’s upcoming wedding.

This section is from pages 489-493 of the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910.

[Part 1] [Part 2]


The Emperor then pushed his war of of 1809 against Austria. After the lightning successes in the beginning, fortune betrayed him at Essling; he recovered victory at Wagram and secured it for a long time. Wagram, however, is neither Austerlitz or Jena: the enemy is vanquished, not destroyed. By the end of this campaign, Napoleon begins to regret the absence of the one lieutenant of his who best knew how to achieve victory: he misses Murat, incomparable in the pursuit, quick to rush masses of cavalry upon the shaken enemy, to break him, to scatter him, to disperse him, to transform his retreat into disaster. He said to Berthier: “If I’d had the Grand Duke”–he continued to call Murat the Grand Duke of Berg, out of habit–“at the head of my cavalry at Wagram, not a single Austrian would have escaped.”1

After peace concludes with Austria, after the Emperor’s return to France, a double and memorable event is announced: the divorce, which will be immediately followed by the second marriage, the union which must assure in France the effective heredity of power and promise a line of emperors. For the final dispositions, Napoleon wants to be surrounded by all the members of his family and fortify himself with their presence. On this occasion, he holds in Paris the assembly of the kings of the Occident. He summons Murat like the others; on the 23rd of November 1809, after having written to him about the affairs of Rome, he adds in his own hand this post-script: “I will be in Paris all January; if you come, you will find me still the same for the King of Naples as for General Murat.”

The King and Queen of Naples heed the call. By the 4th of December, they were both in Paris, where they assisted in the accomplishment of the imperial divorce. At the end of December, Murat left Paris and probably went to the Lot, his native land, while Caroline followed the Emperor first to Trianon, to where he had gone on retreat, and then to the Elysée. 

During their separations, the spouses wrote to each other regularly and several times each week. The letters sent by Caroline to Murat from 1810 to 1812 have been preserved without interruption or gap; they are natural and simple, intimate, easily written and above all very feminine, with their nuances of thought and ulterior motive. There is scarcely any documentation which enables us to penetrate further into the familiarity of the Napoleons, in the liveliness and instantaneousness of their impressions, into the current of their existence, into the near daily detail of their occupations, of their agitations and their adversities.

For correspondence, Caroline and Murat employed the post or a service of estafettes2, but both knew that this method of correspondence in no way escaped the universal curiosity of a less than scrupulous police force. So, in addition to letters “where nothing could be said,” Caroline sent others by safe means, by people belonging to her or attached to her husband’s household. These better-protected letters retain all their flavor of effusion and confidence. 

In January 1810 and during the following weeks, when Caroline writes to her husband, she employs simple, affectionate terms, those somewhat banal assurances which, even in a chilled marriage, remain the forms of politeness between spouses: “I share very sincerely the desire you have of seeing me again, and I hope it will be soon… Adieu, my friend, I kiss you.”

The expansions hardly go further. One feels that clouds have passed between the spouses and are not entirely dissipated; Caroline sometimes alludes to them, and scatters importunate grievances; at most she permits herself discrete complaints, enveloped, and caressing reproaches. For example, she finds that her husband does not write her enough, claims that others in Murat’s face would better appreciate the happiness of having her as a wife, and endeavors to pique him into the game: “The King of Bavaria said to me yesterday that, if he had the happiness of being in place of the King of Naples and of being my husband, he would write to me ceaselessly, evening and morning.”3

Over the course of January, Murat returns to Paris, On the 29th, he sits in the great council, at once council of state and council of family, where the Emperor puts to debate the choice of the new empress: would she be Russian, Austrian, or Saxon? In reality, as Russia, to which Napoleon first and very positively addressed himself, makes him languish and suggests a refusal, he tends to turn himself towards Austria, which puts Marie-Louise at his disposal; it is in this direction he isdrawn from now on by an intimate and proud predilection. The purpose of holding the solemn council is less to form its decision than to prepare public opinion for the imminent reversal. But Murat does not know about the underside of the affair and imagines that the question remains open. In the council, he vehemently pronounces for the grand duchess and especially against the archduchess. He retains revolutionary prejudices against Austria. For treating the house of Austria as a personal enemy, he has also the reason of finding it opposing him and his ambitions, in Sicily, in the person of Queen Marie-Caroline who descended from the blood of the Habsburgs and who governs the Bourbon king. So, he fumes and gets carried away: As an exception to his career, he executes a charge at the wrong time, and, in order to rush against Austria, chooses his moment badly. After this dispute, he departs for Naples, leaving his wife in Paris. The Emperor is a little astonished by this precipitate departure and writes to him: “I am upset that you left so quickly; tell the Queen to come dine with me.”

Eight days later, the news breaks of the Austrian marriage; Europe reverberates with it. Caroline immediately understands the mistake committed by her husband; she fears that Murat will make it worse by persisting in an attitude of opposition and sulking. As quickly as possible, she writes to him not to frown on the inevitable; if he does not come back to Paris for the marriage celebration, the effect will be disastrous. The alarms of the Queen are all the more vivid as Murat shuts himself up now in a chagrined silence and no longer writes:

“I begin by telling you that I am very unhappy with you; not a single line from you, this has never happened. 

“We were at a ball yesterday at Princess Pauline’s and today on a hunt and the weather was very humid, and the Emperor told me: ‘Ah well! The Lazzarone forgets you, he no longer thinks of you, he is going to be very upset, because I am marrying an Austrian,’ but all this while laughing. I think that, since he is marrying an Austrian, you must not show any repugnance, because as it is neither you nor I can decide this, it is apparently his politics which give him this counsel; moreover, I will tell you that at the council this morning Berthier voted for the Austrian… For me, I only write all day to you and to my children, I see no one and I am bored in my little obscure room. I hope you will return for the marriage and that you will bring me back to Naples, to leave you no more!…”

While waiting, she stays with the Emperor, who has installed her in the Pavilion of Flowers. At the Tuileries, in those weeks which passed between Napoleon’s short bachelorhood and the arrival of the new Empress, the Court’s existence is as if suspended; they live as a family. The Emperor, waiting for his fiancée, burning to know her and loving her in advance, occupies himself almost exclusively with the reception to be given her, and interrupts this care only with violent distractions. Each day, there are frantic gallops in the woods near Paris or Versailles, hunts which Queen Caroline follows by calèche: “We are returning at this moment from the hunt; it was a magnificent time and the Boulogne woods were charming.” In the evening, as the large apartments of the Tuileries are invaded by preparations for celebration, encumbered with scaffolding, people stay in the little apartments; they limited themselves to intimate receptions where appeared only members of the family, people of service, and, by flattering exception, the Prince of Schwartzenberg, Austrian ambassador, and the Countess Metternich. Occasionally, the Emperor transports the headquarters of his hunts to Rambouillet; there, in the narrow chateau, life is even more constricted; after dinner, they amuse themselves with games, which are not always exempt from inconveniences and perils. 

“The evening before yesterday,” writes Caroline to her husband on 24 February, “I had an accident that might have become a disaster, but was nothing more than a fright. We were playing blind man’s buff in the Emperor’s apartments, when the hard and pointy forehead of Mme Duchâtel came so unfortunately against my eye that the blow tripped me over. The Emperor supported me in his arms and prevented me from falling. The pain was so bad that I gave a sharp cry and believed my eye was out of the socket. The Emperor, full of kindness, frightened for my situation, immediately called Ivan [the surgeon], who bathed my eye, put a poultice and a black blindfold on it, and soon I had the air of an invalid in the midst of the salon. The Emperor has showered me with attention, he came to see me, he has been very anxious. Today, I have a great contusion, my eye is very black from extravasated blood, but I don’t have any pain. I am aggrieved to have to tell it to you, since you like Mme Duchâtel, you find her to your tastes, but she has terribly pointy bones that hurt a lot. Indeed, the poor woman has been desolate to see me in this state by her fault. Don’t be too worried about my accident. By the time you receive this letter, it won’t be visible anymore…. The Emperor speaks to me of you always with kindness and asks me if you still make verses. He counts on seeing you here for the wedding; I cannot repeat enough how kind he has been to me.”



1(Author’s note) Berthier to Murat, 29 August 1809. Archives Murat. 

2(Translator’s note) Couriers/dispatch riders. 

3(Translator’s note) 5 February 1810.

4 thoughts on ““Discreet complaints and… caressing reproaches”

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

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

  4. Pingback: “He gets mad at everything.” – Project Murat

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