“It is for us to follow and obey”

A little interlude before I get back to translating Vandal: three letters from Napoleon’s chief of staff, Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier, to Murat. The first letter is written weeks before Murat was officially crowned King of Naples; the other two are several months into his reign, carrying into the 1809 campaign, which Murat was forced to sit out. The second letter was partially written at Napoleon’s behest, as he and Murat began coming into conflict over various issues regarding the administration of Naples almost as soon as Murat was sitting on the throne. Throughout Murat’s reign, Berthier would frequently write to him on Napoleon’s behalf (especially when Napoleon was particularly irritated with Murat and didn’t want to write to him personally) giving Murat advice and reassurance, as well as instructions dictated by Napoleon.

The first letter is from Volume 6 of Lettres et documents pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat; the other two are from Volume 7.


Marshal Berthier to Murat
Bayonne, 18 July 1808

My dear Grand Duke[1]

The Grand Duchess[2] departed yesterday evening at eleven thirty, leaving from the Emperor’s home. She charges me to tell you that His Majesty has only granted the decoration of the Legion of Honor to Westerode, she desires you to insist again on the others. 

I am ordering General Beaumont to go directly to the Grand Duchess in Paris to take her orders; as soon as General Exelmans is free, I will send him to you. 

I have sent with your equipage all that remained here of the men and horses of your guards; I’m sending the major to Paris as he desired: these are all we have been able to obtain. I fear that those of your guards who are with the King will only go as far as Madrid. Believe, Monseigneur, that I will take care of everything that interests you. You know that the Emperor has chosen six of your Spanish horses. 

Bessières has completely beaten M. de Cuesta at Médina del Rio Secco on the 14th of July, he killed six thousand men[3], captured all his artillery, baggage, etc, and put him in the most total route; Piéton[4]was killed in a charge, Darmagnac wounded. All the Spanish troops of the line were in the first line; thus are Galicia and the Asturias subjugated.

Dupont is still in the same position, he is facing the army of insurgents, no doubt he will fight them, if they want to attack him; besides, Bessières’ affair changes things and Dupont will be reinforced[5].

Moncey has had a beautiful affair on the plains of Valencia, he captured all the rebels’ artillery, but having found the town entrenched, barricaded, and lacking munitions, he retook his position at San Clemente. Things are going well, Bessières’ total victory has some very clear advantages. The King[6] was well enough received, everywhere he receives souvenirs of attachment. Everything is arranged, four beautiful regiments of the line are coming to us. 

The Emperor goes to Pau and Toulouse, from there to Bordeaux and perhaps to Rochefort and Nantes. It is said that he will depart around the 20th or 22nd

Take care of your health, my dear Grand Duke, without health one enjoys nothing. Your wife, your children, the Emperor have need of you. I do not speak to you of your friends, that would be to speak of myself; trust that in every place and every circumstance, you will be able to say: “Where the Prince of Neufchatel is, I have a true friend.”

Adieu, Monseigneur, soon I will no longer be able to write you with the same effusion; however, friendship seeks to maintain itself in some corner of your throne. 

I embrace you with all my heart.



Marshal Berthier to Murat
Paris, 5 March 1809


I received your letter of the 19th and that for the Emperor. I gave it to him and read him that which you wrote me, I added that the sentiments so well expressed were those of your heart, of your soul entirely his. He laughed and said: “I don’t doubt him, but the influence of his surroundings.”

Saliceti[7] has had an audience, he is leaving in a few days. The Emperor spoke to him with frankness: “No finesse with me, friend or enemy, no one can deceive me, you have the mind, the talent, employ these qualities well.”

As for you, Sire, the Emperor loves you very much, he loves his sister, he has told me a thousand kind things on that, and this is no courtier who speaks to you.

Here, Sire, is what must be done: For your subjects, be King; for the Emperor, be viceroy. –Be French and not Neapolitan. –Consult His Imperial Majesty about everything; what appears to you harmful to your subjects at the moment is, on the contrary, to their advantage, since everything the Emperor wants depends on the vast plan of his projects, of his ideas, and the happiness of the nations governed by his dynasty depends on the success of his grand designs; it is for us to follow and obey towards his views, towards his ideas, without seeking to fathom their depths. His glory, his happiness, are they not in the glory and happiness of the kings he has made?

Abandon yourself to all the Emperor’s wishes, consult him on everything, obey his desires; this is to work towards the happiness of the Empire, towards your own. What I have the pleasure of telling you, is that His Majesty is not ignoring you, that he loves you tenderly, that he loves the Queen and your children the same.

Be happy; if we have war, await the Emperor’s will, he will know how to employ you where he thinks you most useful. 

Saragossa is taken, Spain is conquered, time will subdue it. Our armies on the Rhine and in Italy are disposed to new conquests in Germany. 

I have the happiness of still being major general and thereby close to the Emperor. That is everything I desire and what I prefer to a throne. 

If Austria wants war, she will only have herself to blame for her loss. After that, we will be tranquil and we will come to see you.  

Never doubt, Sire, my tender friendship and my profound respect. Put me at the feet of the Queen. 



Marshal Berthier to Murat
The Ens, 6 May 1809


The Prince of Hohenzollern arrives and we find ourselves on the Ens[8]. The Emperor makes war in his usual manner, he appears and he defeats his enemies. Prince Charles was carved to pieces at the battle of Eckmûhl, at Ratisbonne, at Abensberg. The result is that the Austrians have lost 60,000 men in twelve days. We are here on the field where His Majesty beat the Russians, we are marching towards Amstetten, this is the moment that will destroy the monarchy. Prince Charles must look to reunite the debris of his army at Vienna, we desire a final battle, then there will be no more Austrian army and in less than one month, the Emperor will have destroyed his enemies. Nobody pities them, they deserve what happens to them, one could not deploy more perfidy, more arrogance at the beginning and show more discouragement and baseness in the moment they are beaten: they are the same, which is to say that their army, however, is even less good, three-quarters of their soldiers are not of the peloton school.

The Emperor is doing marvelously, I have not told you of the dead ball which came to touch him on the foot in front of Ratisbonne, because it did not prevent him from continuing to march and to go on horseback and we are profiting from this to prevent him from exposing himself where he should not be. He had been on foot chatting with others for an hour, when the ball came to die on his foot. Trust that in the future, I will not suffer him to put himself in a position for a similar accident. 

You suffer, Sire, by not being with us, and I tell you that no one replaces your activity and your talent in the vanguard, but where you are, you are serving the Emperor, and we must submit to doing all the Emperor requires. 

I have welcomed the Prince of Hohenzollern as he should be by the interest Your Majesty takes in him. 

Our affairs in Italy, in Spain, are going, but not as when the Emperor was there, his genius cannot be replaced, he doubles, he triples the strength of his armies, of his chiefs of administration by his presence and by everything which comes from his genius. 

Masséna, Lannes, Oudinot, Davout, are doing well, they are devoted men, Régnier commands the vanguard, Vandamme the Wurtembergers, Lefebvre the Bavarians, our allies are doing well, even the Germans are worth double by the Emperor’s presence. 

Our army is beautiful and numerous, and it is from here that the Emperor will beat the enemy in every part of the world. Cervoni who had not made war for several years, had only appeared and a ball took his head[9].

As for us, we are, as usual, the invulnerables. Our cavalry covers itself in glory, the light cavalry, the cuirassiers, the carabiniers do marvelously and strike terror in the enemy. 

The Emperor is mounting. I leave you, Sire, praying you receive with kindness the homage of profound respect and the assurance of the attachment of one who calls himself your friend.



[1] Murat has not yet officially been crowned King of Naples as of this letter; he is still the Grand Duke of Berg.

[2] Caroline Murat; she had gone to Bayonne to take part in the negotiations with Napoleon regarding the terms of the Treaty of Bayonne, under which she and her husband would receive the throne of Naples. She arrived back in Paris on 22 July.

[3] Actually the Spanish only lost around 1000 killed or wounded, along with 1200 captured.

[4] Colonel Jean-Baptiste Piéton-Prémalé, 22nd Chasseurs à Cheval.

[5] Unbeknownst to Berthier, Dupont was about to surrender his army to the Spanish as Bailen the day after this letter was written. 

[6] Joseph Bonaparte, formerly King of Naples, was made King of Spain by Napoleon in July 1808.  

[7] Antoine Christophe Saliceti (1757-1809), a Coriscan who befriended Napoleon during the Revolution, he served as Minister of Police in Naples under both Joseph Bonaparte and Murat. 

[8] A river in Bavaria.

[9] General Jean-Baptiste Cervoni, serving as Marshal Lannes’ chief of staff during the 1809 campaign, was decapitated by a cannonball at Eckmuhl on 22 April 1809.

One thought on ““It is for us to follow and obey”

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