“This unexpected accord”

I’ve been trying to dig more into the relationship between Murat and Fouché lately, which has led me back to an episode I’ve always found particularly interesting: the alleged plot between Fouché and Talleyrand, while Napoleon was in Spain in late 1808, to have Murat succeed Napoleon in the event that the Emperor died before producing a legitimate heir. The incident marked a major turning point in the relationship between Murat and Napoleon; as Murat’s friend/finance minister Jean-Michel Agar, the Count of Mosbourg, says, “From that time, Napoleon’s distrust of Murat continually increased, often showing itself in outbursts that were very offensive to the King of Naples. The latter, whose pride was easily touched and who did not know the real cause of the criticisms that the emperor seemed to delight in showering on him, supposed that this was part of a set plan against him, and that the emperor was only looking for a pretext to take away his crown.”

Étienne-Denis Pasquier, who served in Napoleon’s administration and was made a baron in 1809, leaves the following account of the episode in his memoirs. One of his primary sources for the incident is Savary, who later replaced Fouché as Minister of Police and whom Murat, it should be noted, considered an enemy.

Source: A History of My Time: Memoirs of Chancellor Pasquier, ed. by the Duc d’Audiffret-Pasquier, translated by Charles E. Roche. Vol I; 1893. Pages 376-382.

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The estrangement which had persistently and for so long endured between M. de Talleyrand and Fouché, the Minister of Police, had suddenly come to an end. Both men had apparently begun to look at matters from the same standpoint, and losing all confidence in the fortunes of Napoleon, had said to themselves that if he were to disappear from the scene, they alone would be in a position to dispose of the Empire, and that it was consequently necessary that they should determine upon his successor to their mutual and best advantage. But, in order to attain this object, it was necessary to come to a mutual understanding, to unite in the use of their respective means of action, and to forego an enmity for which the time had gone by. They had each met the other half way, and their final reconciliation had been, if I am not mistaken, brought about by M. d’Hauterive, who was at the head of the department of the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and who, as an old Oratorian, had always remained on good terms with M. Fouché. M. d’Hauterive had assuredly not seen the bearing of the work to which he was lending his co-operation, and had merely yielded to the impulse, which he could hardly ever resist, of taking a part in everything. He believed he had done wonders in contributing to a peacemaking which seemed to him likely to set everybody at ease and be most agreeable to the Emperor. 

The most astounding spectacle presented by this unexpected accord was the open way in which two men who should have been so prudent sought to glory in it openly. It must either have been that they believed themselves very powerful in their union, or that they felt pretty well satisfied of the downfall of the Emperor. I can still recall the effect produced at a brilliant evening party given by M. de Talleyrand, by the appearance of M. Fouché, on the day when he entered his former foe’s drawing-room for the first time. No one could believe his eyes, and the wonder was far greater, when the affectation of harmony was carried to the point of the two men linking arms and together walking from room to room during the whole course of the evening. Among those in Paris, who kept an eye open to everything likely to interest Napoleon and who were in constant correspondence with him, was one of his former aides-de-camp, M. de La Valette, to whom he had given the hand of his niece, Mlle de Beauharnais, and whom he had since appointed Postmaster-General. He was a man of intellect and endowed with a rare sagacity. M. de La Valette felt towards his old general and benefactor the most sincere attachment, and judged of his position all the better that, in spite of his admiration for his talents, he was not blind to his errors. 

It so happened that at that time he looked upon the Emperor’s situation as a most critical one, and he must consequently have set great importance on what was happening under his eyes, between two men whom he considered capable of anything, one of whom, M. de Talleyrand, had never, in spite of his great reputation, inspired him with either respect or confidence, and the other, M. Fouché, had always been the object of his most pronounced aversion. So he wrote to the Emperor, telling him all he thought of a friendship which could only have been formed with some political object greatly opposed to his interests, and the fears he gave utterance to were soon confirmed by a fact which threw the most searching light on the mysteries of this intrigue, and clearly revealed its tendency. 

I have not had in my own hands the proofs of this fact, but what I gleaned later from the lips of M. de La Valette and of the Duc de Rovigo do not permit my entertaining the least doubt about it. In the event of Napoleon’s death, it was necessary to have at hand a man to take his place immediately, whatever course might be determined upon in the future. The two new friends cast eyes upon Murat, who had just been made King of Naples, and whose insane vanity had shown itself but little gratified by so great a preferment, at a time when he was reckoning upon getting the throne of Spain, which he thought himself alone fit to occupy, and to which he considered he had a claim, as a reward for the energy of his conduct at Madrid during the Bayonne conferences. And indeed one cannot forget the rebellion that he had stifled by such terrible methods, which were to play so powerful a part in deciding the uprising of the whole Peninsula.

M. Fouché had always been on most intimate terms with him, and prided himself upon being able to manage him. M. de Talleyrand considered that it would be even easier to overthrow him than to set him up, and he at all events felt sure that his presence would not long trouble him. As to Mme. Murat, the Emperor’s sister, her ambition was so boundless that one could make her accept any and all terms. She was to give sufficient proof of this hereafter. No hesitancy was felt in letting the new King of Naples know that he was to hold himself in readiness to come to France at the first call, in order to reap the high destinies which were awaiting him. The letter, or the messenger bearing it, was intercepted in Italy by Prince Eugène, who had no doubt been warned by M. de La Valette to be on the lookout, and to watch everything with scrupulous care. The prince did not lose any time in sending to Spain the details of his discovery, and this certainly contributed to hasten the Emperor’s return. It was indeed impossible to notice that the rapidity with which he generally covered distances had been much greater than was his wont, and that in spite of the difficulties presented to the traveler. He had been compelled to make several parts of the journey on horseback. 

In the first hour of his arrival, everybody thought that his presence was merely due to the condition of affairs in Austria. His fury with regard to the intrigues of M. de Talleyrand and M. Fouché did not find vent until five or six days later. He had evidently been desirous of ascertaining for himself the truth of the facts. Moreover, he dissembled with the latter of these individuals, leaving him on one side, and concentrating his attack on the former. It is always difficult to remove the occupant of the Ministry of Police, as the post naturally leaves many wires at the disposal of the man who has held it for any length of time. Hence Napoleon thought that it would be better for him not to remove M. Fouché until such time as every precaution should have been taken to make his resentment a thing no longer to be dreaded. Moreover, he foresaw a coming campaign in Germany, and he did not wish to disorganize any portion of his home administration just as he was on the point of entering upon its prosecution. He doubtless thought that as soon as he had triumphantly conquered this new peril, nothing would then hinder him from meting out such justice as was advisable. 

As to M. de Talleyrand, who had no special functions, and who consequently did not take any active part either in the public services or in the government, he did not hesitate to let him feel the full weight of his anger. The first warning of the impending storm appeared in the Moniteur of the 30th, which announced that the post of High Chamberlain had been given to M. de Montesquieu, and that consequently it had been taken away from M. de Talleyrand, who had held it from the time of the first organization of the Imperial Court. In spite of the reason alleged for this change being that since his promotion to the position of Vice-Grand Chancellor, he had exercised the functions of High Chamberlain only provisionally, his disgrace was none the less patent, as so flimsy a pretext did not deceive anybody. 

Moreover, it was known almost simultaneously that this action had been preceded by a most violent scene, in the course of which, in the presence of several high officials and of nearly all the ministers, the Emperor had treated M. de Talleyrand as the lowest of men, and had hurled all sorts of reproaches, one may even say insults, at him. I was told this in the course of the evening by Mme. de Rem…, who had received from M. de Talleyrand himself the account of all that he had been compelled to endure. This terrible scene was again described to me several years later, and in the same fashion, but much more in detail, by M. Decrès, one of the ministers who had witnessed it, and as it is he whose conduct towards M. de Talleyrand was at the time the most generous, as it was he who did not turn his back upon him, his narrative is worthy of implicit belief. What had more especially struck him, and which he could not understand, even after so long a period had intervened, was the seeming indifference of the man who had to listen to all this, and who for nearly a whole half -hour endured, without flinching, a torrent of invectives for which there is prob- ably no precedent among men in such high positions and in such a place. 

”You are a thief, a coward, a man without honor, you do not believe in God; you have all your life been a traitor to your duties, you have deceived and betrayed everybody; nothing is sacred to you; you would sell your own father. I have loaded you down with gifts, and there is nothing that you would not undertake against me. Thus, for the past ten months, you have been shameless enough, because you supposed, rightly or wrongly, that my affairs in Spain were going astray, to say to all who would listen to you that you always blamed my undertaking there, whereas it was you yourself who first put it into my head, and who persistently urged it. And that man, that unfortunate (he was thus designating the Duc d’Enghien), by whom was I advised of the place of his residence? Who drove me to deal cruelly with him? What then are you aiming at? What do you wish for? What do you hope? Do you dare to say? You deserve that I should smash you like a wineglass. I can do it, but I despise you too much to take the trouble.” 

The foregoing is, in an abridged form, the substance of what M. de Talleyrand was compelled to listen to during this mortal half-hour, which must have been a frightful one for him, if one is to judge of it by the suffering felt at it by those present, none of whom ever subsequently referred to it without shuddering at its recollection. And yet, this man, who was thus ignominiously treated, remained at Court, and preserved his rank in the hierarchy of the highest Imperial dignities. Although in less close connection to the Emperor than heretofore, he did not for that reason become completely a stranger to affairs of state, and we are soon to see him called upon once more to give advice to his sovereign on an occasion of the highest importance.

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2 thoughts on ““This unexpected accord”

  1. Pingback: “In order to ruin him… in the Emperor’s mind” – Project Murat

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