“He gets mad at everything.”

Part 7 of my translation of Albert Vandal’s Le Roi et la Reine de Naples. Still in Paris in the aftermath of Napoleon’s wedding to Marie-Louise, Caroline Murat continues to serve as an intermediary between her husband and the Emperor. New conflicts arise between the two men as Napoleon struggles to get his finances in order and Murat struggles to begin his invasion of Sicily.

This section is from pages 510-514 of the Revue des Deux Mondes, Tome 55, 1910.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]



Throughout this entire period, Caroline never loses sight of the interests of her husband, which she merges with her own. On the one hand, she tries to appease Murat, who remains bruised by the violence of Compiègne and who fears for his kingdom; she tries to persuade him that the Emperor does not want his crown and has done him kindnesses. “He is brusque, but he is so good to us that we must not doubt his feelings. Even being brusque, he is nonetheless the best in the world…” here is the principal modulation, the dominant theme of her letters and especially those that she sends through the ordinary post. On the other hand, as the one she proclaims the best of men is nonetheless a very rigorous master, she strives to soften and temper his demands regarding the kingdom of Naples. 

On the basis of disputed debts, Napoleon required a heavy sacrifice of money from the Neapolitan state. He demanded that the King’s ambassador to him, the Duke of Campo-Chiaro, sign a treaty of liquidation recognizing the debt, settling the sums, setting the deadlines. Caroline solicited a reduction and at first obtained nothing:

“My dear friend, I’m sending you d’Arlincourt to inform you of the manner in which the Emperor has just terminated the affair of the debts of Naples. The way he announced it to me, I thought it would be advantageous to us, but he wanted eleven million in goods, three of which were payable at the end of the month, and the rest to be given to him within the space of five years. The ambassador is sending you the treaty. The Emperor just made such great expenses for his marriage, and the war in Spain is costing him so much, that all the coffers are empty, so he is looking everywhere to get money. So we must subscribe to what he wants, and I urge you to arrange for the first goods to be delivered to him at the prescribed time and without the slightest delay. If you don’t do it, he will be upset and might perhaps take the opportunity of claiming lands in Sicily when you are master of it. You have no idea of all the means to which he is obliged to resort in order to fill his coffers, which are entirely depleted. He has just ordered the King of Westphalia to immediately pay him several millions in arrears. It was protested to him that this was entirely impossible, and that Jérôme would never find the sum that he demands in his kingdom; he persisted, and made it known that he would not suffer the slightest delay, and that if the King of Westphalia wanted to present himself to him to speak to him about this and make new arguments, he would close his door to him. He is claiming at this moment the debts of all the sovereigns and listens to no arguments. So I counsel you, my dear friend, to subscribe at once and with good grace to what the Emperor has decided, and then to execute very exactly within the time limits he has fixed, so as not to give him any complaints, and so he won’t think of raising any other pretensions when you have conquered Sicily. Do not believe, I repeat to you, that the Emperor is only so demanding with us, he is the same to everyone, because never have his finances been so bad as they are now, and he does not know where to find money. Despite what he said to Jérôme’s representations, I spoke with him this morning on the unfavorable manner in which he settled our affair, and that you would be quite embarrassed, with the expenses that you have at the moment, to do what he just demanded. He did not respond to me and spoke of something else. So I believe there is nothing more to say and I counsel you to accept his treaty and execute it punctually.

“I was going to finish my long letter when the ambassador came to inform me that M. de Champagny[1] just told him that the Emperor has modified his treaty in our favor, and that he has consented to pass the millions that he owes you as a deduction from his claim. It pleases me greatly to tell you of this amelioration, of which Campo-Chiaro will give you the details. I think what I told the Emperor made some impression on his mind and he immediately returned to more favorable sentiments.” Here is an example of how the Emperor occasionally conceded at his sister’s insistences, without wanting to seem like he had done so.

Nevertheless, the difficulties between the two states remain incessant, multiple, and arising from every affair involved. The Sicilian expedition gives the Queen a thousand worries. At first, she pushed Murat to rush the enterprise and do it quickly: “Take Sicily, take it quickly, because it may be sacrificed to the peace.” Now, she asks herself if she did the right thing in inciting her husband’s conquering ardor, because the Emperor emits strong doubts on the possibility of the crossing to Sicily, and a reversal will irritate him. The affair is already causing reciprocal clashes. Murat has only been authorized to attempt the crossing when he has fifteen thousand men at his disposal. A French officer is charged to go to Naples to verify the numbers, to examine and inspect everything. Murat bears this surveillance, this control, badly, and, through the mediation of his wife, sends a lively enough letter to Napoleon:

“My dear friend,” replies the Queen, “I’ve given your letter to the Emperor, who laughed very much while reading it and said to me: ‘Ah! So he is a mad at me, what a funny mind, he gets mad at everything. I told him not to make the expedition if he cannot cross fifteen thousand men, for the reason that I am afraid that he’ll cross with too few men and expose himself. I told the officer to examine Naples in order to send him support if he needs it; but if the officer has carried out. His commission badly, it’s not my fault, and there is no great harm in all this, and there is nothing to be angry about.”[2]

The Emperor had taken the thing in jest, which perhaps was a way of hiding some dubious intentions towards the enterprise. He took another indiscretion of Murat’s entirely differently. At this time, Lucien, more fallen out than ever with his brother and retired in Italy, sought to escape from the Empire. His plan was to embark at Civita-Vecchia in order to cross to the United States or perhaps to land first in Sardinia, under the shelter of the English flag. Devoid of resources, he had asked Murat for money, an American ship placed under sequester, and a Neapolitan vessel of war to escort the latter, to spare him the main perils.[3]Always quick to take pity, to give, Murat grants the money and the ships. Whereupon, violent reproaches from the Emperor to the Queen; she communicates them to her husband by transposing them, by lowering them in tone, in order to spare a susceptibility always on the alert. Doing justice to the King’s good intentions and to his excellent heart, she makes him feel that at certain moments the advice of reason must prevail over all other inspiration and that there are imprudent generosities:

“I’ve received the letter in which you speak to me of Lucien. The Emperor interviewed me this morning on this subject and he did not seem to me very satisfied with what you providing, so easily and without awaiting his orders, a vessel and money. Permit me, my friend, to tell you that you have perhaps acted too precipitately; you consulted only the impulse of your heart, and I understand that, because in your place, I would have perhaps exhorted you to do what you did and we would not have done better, because, at so great a distance, we can misunderstand the Emperor’s intentions, and who knows if it is not part of his policy to force Lucien to have recourse only to him, so that, if he asks for money, he may force him to condescend to his wishes! Because you well know that the Emperor can give him money, if he wants to, and that, since he does not do it, he does not find it good that we give him some either and that we support him in this way in his independence, because I do not think the Emperor wants Lucien to abandon Europe and he must not be happy with you if you have provided him the means of expatriating himself. At any rate, my dear friend, I know that Lucien’s situation touched your good heart; how to support the idea of an unfortunate brother! Put ourselves also in the place of the Emperor, who must not be pleased, if his plans have been thwarted. 

“Anyway, the Emperor is perfect to you and asks me every morning if I have received letters from the King of the lazzaroni and if the expedition advances; he is gay, charming and perfect to me. Yesterday, I had the post horses set to depart, but he had them removed, and here I am at Rambouillet for I don’t know how many days, because you know that when one is near him, one cannot quit him easily, and he wants me to stay several more days. The hopes that the Empress is pregnant are supported, and I believe I’ll be able to say affirmatively that she is so; this will be a great happiness…”

On the 22nd of July, the Queen at last obtained her leave, granted with bad enough grace; on the following night, she was getting in her carriage to go straight back to Naples. The thought of seeing her children again and enjoying them at her ease delighted her. In Naples, she did not find Murat, who had taken command of the troops in Calabria and was preparing for the descent on Sicily, but closer to him, she would make herself heard better.  There is no doubt that her intimate desire was to govern the King without his realizing it and to interfere in matters of state while appearing to touch them as little as possible. Disguised as it was, this ambition would cause her great anxiety; it was too much to seek both power and happiness.


[1] (Author’s note) The Minister of Foreign Relations

[2] (Author’s note) 2 July 1810

[3] (Translator’s note) Lucien ended up being captured by the British, and lived in England until 1814. Napoleon, believing his brother had intentionally defected to the British, had his name stricken from the Bonapartes’ Imperial Almanac in 1811, as well as from the list of grand officers of the Legion of Honor. 

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