Marie Julie Olivier de Corancez Cavaignac was the wife of Jean-Baptiste Cavaignac, who, as an elected deputy of the Department of the Lot during the Revolution, was instrumental in Murat’s re-entry into the army after an earlier dismissal. During Murat’s reign in Naples, Cavaignac served in his ministry, where he was shown great favor by Murat, who never stopped being grateful for the role Cavaignac had played in his rise. Madame Cavaignac, for her part, was asked by Murat’s wife to become a lady of the palace; but not wanting to be a pawn in what Mme Cavaignac quickly recognized was an ongoing power struggle between King Joachim and Queen Caroline, she respectfully declined the honor, eventually leaving court altogether.
In the following excerpts from her memoirs, Mme Cavaignac describes the toxic atmosphere of the Neapolitan court resulting from the royal couple’s internal strife, the general unpopularity of the French in Naples, and Marshal Pérignon’s dismal attempts to fit in at court.
Source: Cavaignac, Marie Julie Olivier de Corancez, Les mémoires d’une inconnue, publié sur le manuscript original, 1780-1816, 1894.
A few days after my arrival, I was presented to the King and Queen. I felt that, as with Sebastiani, but for another reason, I was supposed to forget the past. Murat reminded me of it though with much affability; his wife was friendly and very welcoming, but with no more antecedents than me. Having only a few Frenchwomen with her then–for these six young ladies whom she had given herself, along the lines of the court of Louis XIV, as maids of honor, hardly counted—she was pleased to see more arrive. So she received me very nicely, urged me to return often, without a dress with a train, she added; she wanted my son to come play with hers on Sundays. A short time after, she offered to me, through M. Baudus, the princes’ governor, a position of lady of the palace. I pleaded the bad state of my health to dispense with it; but, without speaking of my inclination, I had more than one motive for avoiding it.
The example of Mme de Bacciochi [Eliza Bonaparte], first Princess of Lucca, then Grand Duchess of Tuscany as its leader, with her husband for her premier subject, had turned the female heads of the imperial family a bit. Mme Murat especially had the mania for reigning and, not wearing the crown, pretended at least to share it. Unable to take it outright, she intrigued, acted furtively, sought to make a party of her creatures. Saliceti, compatriot, erstwhile friend of the Bonaparte family and whose name was so powerful in Italy, was inclined to this side when she arrived in Naples, and, in an undoubtedly personal calculation, worked for her at first. But soon seeing her surrounded by people with whom he couldn’t get along and who didn’t suit him, MM. de la Vauguyon, Livron, Montrond, etc, etc, he veered, telling my husband that he knew the man the King was: “What the deuce could we have done with her with such fops?” Murat, who also wanted to reign, was on guard, worried, irritated; but behind the sister, he saw the brother who held him in check and hindered him. Besides, he still had affection for his wife, sometimes tried to deceive himself; affection which she hardly returned to him. This was a silent and continuous war, even declared on several occasions, the wife taking a dislike to all those loved by the husband, who returned it in kind to those who pleased her. The position was therefore difficult and slippery for anyone approaching them too closely.
The King loved my husband very much, whom he praised in recalling their history together, and had a total trust in him. All the visits, frequent enough then, that I made to the Queen, my son playing with hers, displeased Murat, offended him. M. Baudus, whose wife told him, informed me that Murat had told her: “What does this tenderness for Mme signify? Do you want to spoil her husband for me, like so many others?” I repeated this to mine and made it a reason to go to the countryside and stay away.
The French formed a sort of colony at court; the people of the country saw them as intruders, as masters, did not like them, and although their domination was certainly the least harsh, the least oppressive of all, that unfortunate mania for criticizing and ridiculing practices and habits that are not theirs, harmed them a great deal abroad. That silent war, that continual struggle between Murat and his wife, of which I have already spoken, gave rise to a good amount of gossip, intrigues, little darknesses, some darker than others, which it was necessary to protect oneself from, and which it would have been difficult to avoid in relationships of a habitual frequentation.
Marshal Pérignon was governor of Naples. An admirable scar that shared his bald head down to the eyebrow had made me warm to him, and I saw in it an entire epic. This was a very good fortune for a soldier; but he should have stayed there. He boasted of his expertise and finesse, at the right time: so there was nothing in him that inspired respect or trust. When he wanted to play courtier, he was boring and ridiculous. He came to my place one day, very discontent with a domestic who made him wait a bit to bring me the ambasciata, that is to say, to announce him, and could not prevent himself from letting him see it. I told him that he wanted to approach me as fast as the enemy, and this friendly jest returned him to a good humor. He was extremely miserly and known as such. Obliged to give in his turn a masked ball for the King who liked them very much, he eliminated the customary supper. It was a ball à la Rumfort, said General Lamarque, who for the next one sent the latter a mask of a cook, which followed him for a long time, it being known that he needed one. On his return to Naples in 1814, Marshal Pérignon recounted to me that, Joachim’s alliance with the coalition becoming certain, without yet being officially declared, he went to the palace, wanting to see the King and to see him alone. Mme Murat was there with her husband, however, and would not leave him. The marshal, after sharply and hotly addressing Murat, who responded with pain, turned towards the Queen: “And you, Madame, sister of the Emperor, if this fatal treaty should be concluded—well in spite of you, I don’t doubt it—undoubtedly you will depart with the French army; undoubtedly the sister of Napoleon will not remain here in the midst of his enemies and will protest by her departure against any alliance with them, if she were not able to prevent it.” To which she only replied, smiling and inclining before her husband: “Monsieur Marshal, you are not unaware that a wife’s duty is in obedience,” then made him understand, by persisting in this light tone, that the conversation had gone on long enough. The marshal had to retire.
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