“Surrender yourself thus to his orders”

Part 4 of my translation of Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples. Caroline Murat is in Paris, preparing for Napoleon’s second wedding, while her husband remains in Naples. The Emperor, perhaps hoping to drive a further wedge in the marriage of his youngest sister and Murat, offers her the prestigious position of superintendent of the new Empress’s household–which will require her to remain away from Naples for at least the next two years. Caroline turns it down, but is still tasked with going to Austria and escorting Napoleon’s soon-to-be bride back to France. She writes a long letter to Murat before her departure, trying to reassure her husband of Napoleon’s good intentions towards the couple, while also urging him to align his views with Napoleon’s to avoid incurring any more of the Emperor’s displeasure. The letter, cited in nearly its entirety by Vandal, is a perfect example of Caroline’s style of guiding her husband’s political direction by seamlessly blending gentle appeals to his affections with blunt admonitions on the futility of pursuing any other course.

This section is from pages 493-497 of the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

***

The Queen did not stop talking about her brother’s kindness. By insisting on it, she saw a way to bring out the difference between this flattering treatment and the treatment she had suffered in Naples: “Without reproach, I am spoiled much more here than you spoil me in Naples, and I am sometimes told they take great pleasure in seeing me. I don’t want to complain about you, but I hope that on my return you will spoil me so much that I will no longer want to return to Paris. Do not get upset by this little pleasantry, and read the charming letter from Joseph that I’m sending you.”[1]

The Emperor pampered her all the more because he had to employ and utilize her. As he knew she was well versed in matters of the toilette, he entrusted her with composing the Empress’s wardrobe and wedding gift-basket: dresses, mantles, cashmeres, laces, diamonds, jewelry, innumerable ornaments, she had to order everything, and all of these splendors had to be in good taste, because it was important that Marie-Louise, who, according to information from Vienna, dressed badly, would find in France the wherewithal to magnificently transform herself, and not appear to the Parisians dressed in German fashion. Caroline was also called upon to compose the Empress’s household, a task which required great tact and discernment. 

The Emperor expected an even greater service from her. For several days, he settled on the plan of placing with Marie-Louise, for the first two years of her stay in France, a person of distinguished rank and complete trust, who would have to lead her, skillfully educate and train her in the role of French Empress. If the Queen of Naples wanted to accept this charge, he would make her a grand dignitary of the Empire, under the title of superintendent of the household of the Empress. By way of an almost exorbitant derogation of custom, he would make a female grand dignitary; this status would make Caroline equal not only with the queens of the family, but with the kings, endowed with great dignities. It would have been enough to fulfill the wishes and vanity of an ambitious woman. 

But Caroline fears that this excess of honor, this manner of making her a very personal and unparalleled station, will offend her touchy husband. Furthermore, to be separated for two years from her children, would be too cruel a sacrifice. Adroitly, she does enough until the Emperor renounces his idea. For now, the only thing he asks of her is to go meet the Empress at the Austrian border, at Braunau, last town in Bavaria, at the extreme limit of the Confederation of the Rhine where the Empire begins. Marshal and Prince Berthier has gone to Vienna to marry Marie-Louise by proxy; he starts her on the road and accompanies her, but ceremony demands that the new Majesty finds, on leaving her paternal states, a woman of illustrious blood to receive her and bring her to France, to the point where her husband will be awaiting her. For this mission, which is traditional and customary, a very great lady used to suffice; now it requires a queen, a Napoleon. This time, the Queen of Naples takes care not to refuse; she will accomplish the flattering and solemn journey. Before departing for Braunau, she writes at length to her husband, takes credit for having declined the role of superintendent, and implores him once more to come to Paris for the marriage celebration; finally, with the most minute details, she explains to him how the Emperor intends for the Neapolitan court to be represented at the signal event of the imperial wedding.

“The Emperor desires that for his wedding I will have here with me at least four Neapolitan ladies, beautiful and of good expression, and that they be chosen among the richest and the greatest names, to know Mme de Gallo, Mme Civitella, the Duchess d’Atri, the Princess Belvedère and the Princess d’Avellino. I’m designating five, because I fear one of them won’t be able to come, be it from illness or any other cause. But it is necessary to choose between the five. If there are two ill, you will have to send the Duchess Calabrita. I don’t want Mme Caramanica [sic], because she has a very bad reputation here for gambling. Those who I would prefer would be Mme de Gallo, if she is not ill, the Duchess Civitella, the Duchess d’Atri, and the Princess d’Avellino. You would only send the two others at the refusal of two of these. You will give them 15,000 francs for their journey and a carriage from my stables, and they will arrange for their chambermaids. I won’t hear anything more. If you do not want to make this expense, I will pay for it from my coffers, because the Emperor wants me to have a beautiful Court here and some ladies bearing a great name, he desires them to be the most beautiful and the richest. You will undoubtedly judge that I’ve made a good choice in the ladies that I’ve just designated to you. Urge also some ladies to come on their account and have them leave at once, because the wedding will be in the mid-Lent. I will prepare their apartments in the ambassador’s place, so we can economize the expense, these ladies will serve them.

“The Emperor is very good for you, and according to what he says, I see that he will never have the intention of uniting Naples (to the Empire). He says Naples is one great villasse that can only be supported by a Court, and that it is too close to Rome for him to be able to give it one. He also says that the Neapolitans are too subject to revolt, and especially the Calabrians, for them to be governed from so far away, and that they need their Sovereign at home. I strongly urge you to come for the wedding. Jérôme, the Viceroy [Eugène], Elisa, all the family will be reunited, your absence will have a bad effect and will greatly upset the Emperor. You know that I will be very glad to see you, but I assure you that it is your interest alone which makes me press you to come, because the Emperor will be very discontent. If, however, you have strong oppositions which will prevent you from making this journey, write to me secretly and if this occurs, write a charming letter to the Emperor to excuse yourself. But I repeat to you, I regard your arrival for the wedding as a very useful thing to our interests.

“The Emperor is excessively occupied with his future, he speaks of it all the time and is almost in love with it. Everyone who was opposed to the marriage is now overjoyed. You know my good and my constant friendship for you; listen to the counsels of a friend who only desires your happiness. Show no more opposition which will turn to your detriment; your inclination for the Russian alliance will become suspect in the eyes of the Emperor, who wants us to think as he does. He is going to have himself crowned in Rome, you know it since you must have read the senatus-consulte[2]. It is in your interest, and that of our children, that you not alienate yourself from the Emperor’s heart, show him that only the fear that he would not be happy in this alliance could alone have induced you to have an opinion other than his own, but that since he finds his happiness there, your own is in conforming to his will and submitting to his desires. Surrender yourself thus to his orders. Believe me, to have at this moment another sentiment would signify only an unwarranted stubbornness. By your not coming to the wedding, your enemies might suspect that you only acted for your own interests, and suggest that to the Emperor. Besides, the Russian is too ugly and too young, and the Emperor is delighted to marry the Austrian, of whom the greatest good is generally said. (…)

“Among the Neapolitans that you want to bring with you, only choose from great names, from people have the grand cordon of France, M. de Cassano and others from the richest in the country. If you want to send six ladies instead of four, that would be even better. In the end, do what you judge most appropriate, provided that they leave immediately and are here for the wedding.

“The Emperor has named the Duchess of Montebello[3], lady of honor. I imagine that this nomination will give you great pleasure. Everyone is delighted by it, because it is beautiful for the Emperor to reward so worthily a man dead in his service and to honor his memory by giving the first place in his Court to his widow. I am charged by the Emperor with the formation of the household of the new Empress. I work from morning to evening and my apartments are always full of visits from solicitors.

“I cannot express to you all the sorrows I’ve had from the fear of being named superintendent of the Empress’s household, but I could not decide on it, because I would have needed to remain absent from Naples for two years and been deprived of the pleasure of seeing you as well as my children. The Emperor made me the most beautiful and kindest propositions and his intention was to elevate this position so much that it would not have been beneath the title of Queen. He created it only for me and it would not have existed after me. His intention was to make it by a senatus-consulte an office of Grand Dignitary, and as superintendent, I would have had a step above the Queens of Spain and Holland. You see that the Emperor wanted to do a very kind thing for me, but the separation I would have had from my family caused me too much pain, and without offending the Emperor, who always has a perfect kindness for me, I managed to see him forget this plan, because he perceived that it hurt me too much. The intention of the Emperor in fixing me with the new Empress for two years was to have her led as he desired and to prevent a crowd of people who think badly from surrounding her and showing her their bad feelings. The Emperor wants me to go to Braunau to meet the Empress. It will be a bit of a tiring journey, but the Emperor puts so much grace in his prayers, he is so good for us, that I cannot refuse him that which he regards as a great service. Because among the people who have to go meet the Empress, he can only be sure of me, and he desires above all that she not experience any bad impression. The day when my departure is decided, I will send you a courier. The known nominations of the new Empress are those of M. de Beauharnais, the husband of my lady of honor, in the office of knight of honor, and that of Prince Aldobrandini in the officer of first equerry. I will make all the other nominations known to you by the courier I will send. (…)

“M. Gueheneuc[4] was just named senator. The day of my departure is not yet fixed, I will let you know. I thought of my dignity in asking to travel in my carriages and to be followed by my Neapolitan service and this has been granted to me. I will travel only with my Court. I will be returning with the Empress, and my Court will follow. Farewell, my friend, I kiss you.”

***


[1](Translator’s note) 28 February 1810.

[2] (Author’s note) A senatus-consultum, which was never implemented, had just decided that the emperors, crowned for the first time in Paris, would then be crowned in Rome.

[3] (Author’s note) The role of lady of honor was the foremost in the household of the Empress. The Duchess of Montebello was the widow of Marshal Lannes. 

[4] (Author’s note) Father of the Duchess of Montebello.

2 thoughts on ““Surrender yourself thus to his orders”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s