“Come replace me here”

As delighted as Murat initially was to be back in the field in 1812 after having been made to sit out during the 1809 campaign, it was not long before the rigors of the invasion of Russia, and his anxiety over the state of affairs in Naples, combined to set his mind towards returning home. Caroline had been left to rule as regent in her husband’s stead; but Murat, still deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of his wife gaining too much power and prominence in Naples, had tried to limit her ability to accomplish much in his absence. He professed to be content with her conduct, but his insecurities, as well as his weariness with the campaign and his desires to return home, poured through in his letters to her, as evidenced by the following excerpts from several letters between the royal couple, published by Frédéric Reboul in 1910. 

[Source: Campagne de 1813: les préliminaires. Tome I, Le commandement de Murat, 5 décembre 1812 – 16 janvier 1813, by Frédéric Reboul, 1910. Pages 378-383. (Via Gallica)]

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Joachim Murat to his wife, 13 October 1812

I admit, I repeat it to you, that, moreover, I am very satisfied with all that is being done in Naples. How could I not be? You write to me that you understand affairs as well as I do, that you maneuver my troops; in that case, come replace me here; you will have great pleasure, the Russians will be beaten in advance, they will yield to valor and beauty, and the Bulletins will tell Naples and Paris of your brilliant successes; they are mute on the little I do; come spread the renown, or rather come make my happiness; but no, make that of our subjects, that of our tender children, take the place of their father. Be happier than I, who can only be so in the bosom of an adoring family. Adieu, loveliest of women; the Emperor is doing well. Adieu.

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Caroline Murat to her husband, 16 October 1812

My friend, 

I’ve received your letter from the 20th of September, which caused me infinite pain. I see in it that you are discontent and sad. I cannot tell you how much this hurts me. Calm yourself, my friend, reflect, do not, for a moment, lose the fruit of so perilous and brilliant a campaign. I was looking forward to seeing you again, but your letter makes me fear it…. I beg you, if there is still time, calm yourself. Come to your friend, to your children, but don’t deprive yourself of the means of returning to the Emperor whenever you want….

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Caroline Murat to her husband, 20 October 1812

My friend,

I’ve received your letter from the 22nd of September, which surprises me excessively, because, after that of the 10th, I believed you at the gates of Naples, I was occupied only with your arrival…. I beg you in grace to let me know exactly what is going on; I am quite sure that it is the march of the Emperor that will settle yours, and that you will leave him only as much as he himself, fixing his stay for a few months, would rest from the fatigues of war and give you time to come kiss your friend and your children. I desire it very vividly, but I will tell you that I see with infinite pain that you take pleasure in causing yourself grief. The Emperor, you tell me, is excellent to you; well, what more do you want? You love him, you are useful to him, and his conduct proves to you that he is grateful to you. It seems to me that this should suffice in your heart; what do wretched Bulletins do for you? They are good for those who have a reputation to make, an order to obtain, a fortune to acquire; but you, my friend, it is enough that it is known that you are present at an affair to be sure of the way in which you have conducted yourself…. I know your attachment too well to not be certain that you attach an infinite value to the thought of contributing with all your power to the success of French arms and to the glory of the Emperor, of which yours is a part. So enjoy, my friend, all these advantages, and may I no longer see in your letters these traces of grief which cause me so much pain….

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Caroline Murat to her husband, 27 October 1812

You speak of my amusements, my friend; they can only be what they are in effect; all for appearance, all to reassure and calm the public spirit, which is always ready to be alarmed, which seeks to know everything I do, if I’ve been at the spectacle, if I’ve received, if I was serious or gay, and which, on the slightest things, draws grave implications. I must therefore show myself, display a tranquility that is often very far from my heart…

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Despite his desire to return to Naples, Murat remained with the army until the following January. When Napoleon departed from the army with a small retinue in order to make a hasty return to Paris in November 1812, Murat was given command. Unable to keep the demoralized, freezing, and starving remnants of the Grande Armée from total disintegration, he began to lose heart, and was writing to Napoleon by mid December, requesting permission to return to Naples. The Emperor’s permission never arrived, and Murat ultimately left the army anyway, placing it under the command of Eugène de Beauharnais, and returned to Naples in the middle of January 1813, leading to further tensions between himself and Napoleon.

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