“Her insinuating nature, adroitly dominating…”

Part 6 of my translation of Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples. While staying in Paris together for Napoleon’s wedding to Marie-Louise, Murat and Caroline are reconciled after years of tension in their marriage. But in the aftermath of the imperial wedding, Murat and Napoleon have an explosive quarrel that marks a turning point for the worse in their relationship. When Murat departs from Paris and heads back to Naples to begin planning for his expedition against Sicily, Caroline remains behind, where she helps organize and participate in the many celebrations following the wedding. She also takes advantage of her recent reconciliation with her husband to try to advise and direct him via their correspondence as they remain separated for the next few months.

This section is from pages 502-510 of the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5]



In Paris, the Queen finds Murat; here the couple reunites, but at the end of March and beginning of April, he scarcely belongs to himself. The whole time passes in representation, in ceremonies, without pause or respite; it is a succession of solemnities, a continuous apotheosis: 31 March, the civil marriage at Saint Cloud; 1 April, solemn entry into Paris passing under the Arc de Triomphe, figured in its future form; the arrival at the Tuileries, the parade of the Majesties and Highnesses in the great gallery of the Louvre where Caroline is exempt from bearing, like the other queens, the train of the Empress; the religious marriage in the Salon Carré; then, before the imperial banquet, the parade of the troops who salute the royal couple positioned in the balcony of the Tuileries, and who acclaim their Emperor, their God, in a fury of enthusiasm. 

Napoleon then retires to Saint Cloud with the Empress, in a two-person isolation; but, from the 5th of April, they return to Compiègne, where the solemnities resume. All persons admitted to the Court are called, by rank, to come pay homage to the Empress, to appear at the grand circles, at the concerts. The crowds are prodigious, the congestion such that several guests, unable to find accommodation in town, must sleep in their carriages.[1]

At Compiègne, the Emperor, excessively occupied with his wife and seeming to see only her in the world, haughty towards the rest of humanity, is barely accessible to the rest of those close to him. Murat, however, would like to see him and speak to him, to deal with pending questions, to approach difficulties, to say what is in his heart. For this particular audience that he solicits, he is made to wait; he finally obtains it, and from the first words, grievances are opposed, the difference is marked, the debate is irritated. Murat perhaps returns to the Austrian marriage and to the consequences to be deduced from it to the detriment of his own interests. The Emperor flies into a terrible rage, treats Murat as undisciplined, as a rebel, and threatens to have his head cut off. Then, as often happens after these violent explosions, the Emperor softens. Murat obtains the authorization to prepare an expedition against Sicily, which is a pledge of the intentions of his brother-in-law; he gets to keep in his service the French soldiers drawn into his army against the Emperor’s will, and the scene ends in an apparent reconciliation. Nevertheless, under the injury of the brutal words that were hurled at him, something in Murat is definitively broken. The blow is borne, the wound is made; it will always bleed in the heart of the King of Naples. The relations between the King and the Queen had very likely formed one of the objects of the stormy interview. Napoleon wanted his sister treated well in Naples; he wanted her to be happy because he loved her; he wanted her highly honored because he considered her as his direct representative in the peninsular kingdom and his emanation; to fail to regard his sister, was an insult to his blood, to himself. On this point, Murat resolved to give him satisfaction. Did he receive the formal injunction to live better with his wife and did he love her as duty commanded? Did he instinctively seek refuge with her, support in the midst of his troubles? Did he conceive the hope of regaining some influence over the Emperor’s mind through his wife? Whatever it was, he displayed a keen interest in gallantry towards her. In the month of April 1810, during their stay at Compiègne, it is certain that a scene of reconciliation occurs; there is a renewal of conjugal effusions. Murat is tender, eager, amorous; the Queen welcomes this return with delight, because she sees in it a promise of better days, perhaps of a stronger situation in Naples and of a share of authority. Returned to her rights as a wife, she hopes to return to all her rights as queen. 

Between the spouses, a new honeymoon seems to begin. In truth, as Murat is obliged to leave immediately for Naples and Calabria where he is going to prepare the expedition to Sicily, as his wife must remain with the Emperor until the end of the holidays, it is an epistolary honeymoon, from a distance and through the exchange of continual letters. Nevertheless, the letters of Caroline leave no doubt about the reality of the reconciliation; the tone is entirely changed.

“You have left, my dear friend, and I am very sad here, I hope that you will write me a little word before your departure from Paris and that you will promise to give me your news often along the road; do not leave me for such a long time without your letters like during the first journey, and think that when one is separated, one is happy to receive some news from the people we love very tenderly. You know if you are dear to me and if I can separate myself in idea for a moment from the father of my children.” If she had known that Murat, before resuming the path to Naples, had stopped for an evening in Paris, she would have rejoined him there, she said, and enjoyed these hours of grace. 

A few days later, there is an outpouring of gratitude under her pen: “I am also going to tell that that I was penetrated with grief on seeing you leave, and above all penetrated by the kind manner you had for me; you have never been like that before, and I swear to you that it filled me with tenderness, and it has given me a lot of courage to ask you for everything I want without having the fear of you getting upset like you always did, which took away my desire to ask you for anything or to owe you anything. You were so good, so perfect to me in your last moments that these proceedings moved me to tears and fill me again with tenderness.”

Then, by each courier, she sends to the traveler king some kindly, loving words, where it seems her heart surrenders entirely and her soul blossoms. Unceasingly, her thoughts fly to her husband; she follows him in spirit all along the route, to his arrival in the kingdom, to Naples, with the children: “What is one doing? How is one getting on? That is the habitual thinking. I see you going for a walk on your long terrace, writing with your ministers or bringing our dear children with you and speaking to them at each moment of their mama;–write me if I guess right and if you return my memories. My dear friend, this latest separation seems to be even more unbearable than the others.” After some time, it is an intimate confidence: “I swear to you that I believe more than ever that I am pregnant, and my very sufferings prove it to me.”

Continuously she advises the King to take care of his health, to not work too hard, to not tire himself and, if he must attempt the Sicilian enterprise, to not expose himself too recklessly. She demands news, frequent letters: “Consider that a single day’s delay can give me much, very much, anxiety.”

Her letters end in almost passionate formulas: “Adieu, my dear friend, I have a great impatience to kiss you…” “Adieu, my tender and good friend, I kiss you as I love you, which is to say very, very tenderly…” “I kiss you a thousand and thousand times…” And everything serves to rekindle her old love, to make it reappear from its ashes, to stir up memories. The places where she now goes, in Paris and its environs, were witness to the beginning of the relationship and of the sweet intelligence of yesteryear, at the time of the Consulate. They make her relive her past, relive her happiness, and each of them is the occasion of a moving reminder. She goes to Morfontaine, where once the marriage was concluded: “It is here where we were united, it is here where I began to have for you all the feelings that I still preserve, plus those added to them by esteem, habit, and a good friendship.” At Neuilly, Paulette’s home, in the admirable park, before the magnificent greenery gilded by the splendor of a beautiful day, she dreams of the walks once taken together, sees again the children, so little, playing in the great avenue leading to Villiers; she suffers from feeling distant from them, feels the sweetness and the melancholy of the memories: “I cannot tell you how sad I am at seeing again the places that have painfully recalled to me my children and you and our walks. This is a very beautiful place and the weather was superb… Believe in my unbounded tenderness.”

In the tone of her letters, it is also easy to see that Murat pays her back, in his own, and does not spare her expressions of solicitude and affection: “You have been so good to me for some time,” she says, “that I cannot express to you how sensitive I am to it… Your letter is so good to me and so full of tenderness that I no longer doubt that I am the happiest of women with you, as I am to you most attached. Moreover, my friend, be always as you are now for me, and I will believe myself the happiest woman in the world.”

Little by little, she becomes tempted to test her credit with the reconquered husband. With tact and precautions, she goes back to risking requests, counsels, opinions, and sometimes hazards remonstrances. Her insinuating nature, adroitly dominating, takes over. It must be recognized that her observations are marked by good sense. Already, she had begged Murat not to reduce to common currency the Order of the Two Sicilies, recently instituted, and not to debase it by lightly handing it out: “I warn you that it is viewed badly in Paris that you give your order to everyone and that many people are making jokes about it… Princess Pauline tells me that you had promised them to her entire household and that she is awaiting them. In Paris one sees nothing but it and your order runs the streets.” Likewise, with a real elevation of thought, she disapproves of the mania taken in Naples for debaptizing localities and monuments to accommodate them to the new regime; it is appropriate for the present one, if it aspires to last, to erase the traces of the past?  

“It pains me to see that you have changed the name of the Tour de l’Annonciade (Torre dell’ Annunziata) for that of Joachim. It seems to me, my friend, that one should have a certain respect for all the old inscriptions and that it is a warning to the following generations to leave those that the reigning king had made, and that one must not imitate the destructive peoples who respect nothing of the country they have conquered and who give a new example of destruction. I see that at this moment the Emperor is greatly disapproved of for having all the letters found on the Louvre and everywhere effaced in order to be replaced with two N’s. It would have been better to leave traces of other dynasties there in order to give a great example of the respect due to old monuments. This is the view of everyone; I give you mine also for the great interest I bear for you.”

Thus, very slowly, the Queen began to reason with her husband, to lecture him, to have her say on the affairs of the kingdom, on the measures to be taken, on the decisions to be avoided. From afar, she intended to indirectly make her authority felt in Naples, while waiting to provide there more closely for the security of the kingdom. 

All her letters express then the ardent desire of returning to Naples and being closer to her family. In fact, it seems that at this time the members of the imperial family, the kings, the princes invited to the wedding ceremonies, felt overwhelmed with representation and constraint, terribly tired of this permanent service of honor; all yearn for rest, relaxation, and just want to go home. But Napoleon does not allow the family to disperse and cease to form his retinue for an instant until the end of the nuptial period. Jérôme and the Queen of Westphalia were flatly denied permission to depart. For having requested to go take the waters, the thoughtless Paulette was sharply reprimanded. Like the others, Caroline must remain at her post of representation and parade. 

It is true that the Emperor does not bring her when, in May, he conducts Marie-Louise on honeymoon across the Belgian departments, returning via Normandy, but she did initially have to be part of the procession to Saint-Quentin, in the company of the Grand Duke of Wurtzbourg. From Antwerp, Marie-Louise writes her a pensioner’s letter, with formal courtesies that do not allow her true feelings for her sister-in-law to penetrate, but Their Majesties have hardly returned to Paris when Caroline is recalled to them: “2 June—I am leaving to go dine at Saint Cloud where I will spend the night.” She speaks of returning to Naples, the Emperor becomes upset and alleges that it is the time of great heat, that it would be imprudent to travel on these brutal days: “To get started on the road, in this heat!”

Furthermore, the fêtes are starting again with renewed vigor, and the instruction is to assist in them; they are transported again to Paris, prodigious galas or public rejoicings, and it is in the heart of the capital that the triumphal period is to close with a series of dazzling events. In vain would Caroline like to “dodge” the latter; she must endure them to the end. 

On the 10th of June, there is the grandiose reception given at the Hotel de Ville by the municipality of Paris; the Queen dances the quadrille with the viceroy of Italy. For the 14th, Princess Pauline announces a night fête in the gardens of Neuilly, a fairyland, and regarding the preparations, everyone who lives around her is up in the air. In the midst of a busyness that wears everyone out, only the husband remains in good humor, Borghese, the least troublesome and most content of husbands, who takes everything in good part: “Borghese is always gay, wild, has fun with everything and sends you a thousand compliments,” writes Caroline to Murat. On the appointed evening, it is a fête without parallel, four hours of enchantment and surprises, in a décor of illuminated greenery. On the 21st, is the enormous festival given by the Imperial Guard on the Field of Mars and at the École Militaire. On the 1st of July, Caroline is at a ball at Prince Schwarzenberg’s, at this final fête which terminates in catastrophe and replaces an apotheotic clarity with a sinister, fiery redness. From the hotel which suddenly catches fire, she is taken by the Grand Duke of Wurtzbourg and Marshal Moncey before having been conscious of the danger; if she had remained some moments longer, what would have become of her in the general conflagration, in the crowd panicked from terror, and the next day, still under the blow of the frightful event, she writes to her husband: 

“Don’t be frightened if you learn from the journals of the disaster that occurred yesterday at the fête of the Austrian ambassador. Nothing happened to the Emperor and Empress, and I was carried out of the fire by the Grand Duke of Wurtzbourg, who saved me, because without him, I would have believed the danger so great, and I don’t know what would have happened. The fire caught by a candle that sank without being noticed, and the heat was so strong that all the glass broke. At the first indication of the fire, the Emperor carried away the Empress, and got into a coach, as did I, but he left us at the barrier (of Saint Cloud) and returned to the ambassador’s house to look for the people we feared had perished. The unfortunate sister-in-law of the Austrian ambassador was the victim of her love for one of her children, whom she believed in danger, she rushed into the midst of the flames, the ceiling collapsed on her, and it was only this morning a shapeless form was discovered under the rubble, recognized to be her by her diamonds. The ambassador has shown an admirable sangfroid, though worried for his family, he hasn’t left the Emperor for a single instant and follows him step-by-step. We don’t know the number of victims, one hopes the number is reduced to one only, but Prince Kurakin[2] was injured as well as the Princess of Leyen. I am still seized by this terrible event, I write it to you without order, because I still don’t know all the details…”

This letter is dated from Saint Cloud where the Queen was staying with Their Imperial Majesties, who had only come to Paris for the fêtes. Even between holidays, in moments of respite, in the calm residences of Saint Cloud and Rambouillet, in more restricted surroundings, Napoleon felt the need to keep his sister near him and to utilize her presence. He puts her in third place in the long carriage rides he takes with Marie-Louise through the royal forests, on those days of splendid light; the Queen’s playfulness, her pretty way of bearing the brunt animates the somewhat languid interview and permits Marie-Louise, who does not have great resources for conversation, to get in a word. For her part, Caroline finds advantage in these intimate occasions; it is then that the Emperor speaks freely and that, by a phrase, a word, his feelings and intentions towards the King of Naples can be judged. “The Emperor, with whom I go for a carriage ride every day, told me: ‘Ah well! Will he take Sicily? I hope we will have good news soon and that he will tell us that Sicily is ours.’ The Empress heard this and appeared to desire that you take Sicily!” “One morning at breakfast at breakfast, in the course of the conversation, the Emperor said: ‘I hope that the King and I are no longer quarreling; tell him some good things on my part.’ The Empress asked me the same thing; she never fails to ask me for your news.”


[1] [Author’s note] Frédéric Masson, L’Impératrice Marie-Louise, p. 227.

[2] [Author’s note] Ambassador from Russia.

One thought on ““Her insinuating nature, adroitly dominating…”

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

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