“The allies… paid him the blackest ingratitude”

Going back to the memoirs of General Dedem de Gelder this week. In this excerpt, Dedem discusses Murat’s defection from Napoleon in 1814. It is a surprisingly sympathetic take from a man who is far from being an admirer of Murat, and who is deeply critical of his conduct at other points in his memoirs. Dedem describes the dishonest, heavy-handed, and insulting manner in which the allies dealt with Murat, even from the first moments of the alliance; though he labels Murat’s decision to declare war on Austria a “true extravagance,” he blames the Congress of Vienna, which had all but decided to throw Murat to the wolves, for having driven him to it.

Un Général Hollandais sous le premier empire: Mémoires du Général Baron de Dedem de Gelder, 1774-1825; Paris, 1900. Pages 369-373.

(More excerpts from Dedem’s memoirs can be found in the Archive Page.)


Murat may not have wanted the Bourbons in France, but he was working in earnest for the emancipation of Italy, which he wanted to wrest from the yoke of Napoleon. Incontestably, he rendered the greatest services to the allies; it was he who prevented the Viceroy, after the latter had beaten Marshal Bellegarde, from entering the Tyrol and marching on Vienna, which would have been a powerful diversion for France, and there is no doubt that this would have determined the retreat of the Austrian army beyond the Rhine. For that, we did not ask for the cooperation, but simply the neutrality of the King of Naples. The corps on the right of the Pô, commanded then by General Baron Maucune, an officer of very great merit, was more than sufficient to keep the English in check, all the more so as this corps joined with General Fresia, who commanded in Genoa. The French have not lamented Joachim, because he abandoned them, because he was in the end largely the cause of the disasters which completed the Empire’s ruin; but the allies either paid him the blackest ingratitude or were mistaken on his account. In order to sacrifice him on the principle of legitimacy, the pretext of his vacillating conduct was used to condemn him; but history, if she is written by impartial hands, would say that it was the English and Austrian agents, notably Lord William Bentinck, who provoked this conduct. It was easy for them to act in such a way in regard to a man who, despite all his courage in war, had little strength of character. 

Lord W. Bentinck had never had the intention of recognizing Murat as King of Naples, and it is to be believed that in this, he was in accord with Lord Castlereagh. One needn’t be a great diplomat to discover the lack of frankness which these two ministers showed towards Joachim, and I had one of his aides-de-camp tell him so, when he still might have been able to return to Napoleon. The treaties with him were not ratified under the most specious pretexts, while the execution of the commitments entered into by him was demanded with rare arrogance. When he was seen as indecisive and suspicious in the face of such proceedings, all the instruments of politics were played: threats, cajoleries, flattery, to which he was very accessible, and bit by bit the proposed goal was reached; both parties compromised with each other. What is certain, is that he fought with himself for a long time; it was hard for him to declare himself against Napoleon his brother-in-law, who had sometimes humiliated him, but to whom he owed all his greatness. Then, once this great step was taken, he, and the Queen still more, would have fulfilled their engagements honestly, if they had not suspected that they were being played. And they were played so well that at the same time as the Neapolitan troops seized Reggio, which is to say the end of January, it was deliberated at the Austrian headquarters of Marshal Bellegarde if they should not be stopped, and the Sicilian proclamations disseminated in Tuscany, under the authorization of Lord W. Bentinck, calling on the Neapolitans to receive King Ferdinand. To speak truly, Murat was clumsy when he entered into a prolonged correspondence with the Viceroy, who was perhaps perfidious on this occasion; because the continual exchange of negotiators between these two princes, who detested each other, gave umbrage to the allies. Finally, when he later decided to make war on Austria, he committed a true extravagance; but what drove him to it, if not the positive news that, despite the most sacred commitments, the Congress of Vienna had just decided that his kingdom would not be conserved for him? 

The cabinet of the Tuileries had sent copies of his correspondence with Napoleon, and it is from these certified copies that Joachim was judged and condemned. Well, thanks to the carelessness of M. le comte de B[1]… who forgot (while following the King to Ghent) all his correspondence in a wardrobe at the chateau, we now know that all these letters had been truncated. Napoleon found the originals with the minutes from the copies written in a way that served to doom Joachim; all the copies were in the hand of M. de B… attached by pins to the letters of the King of Naples.[2]

From the first days of the year, the Neapolitan commanders had behaved like enemies of France. They had removed the arms of the kingdom of Italy in Bologna, despite the protests of the potentate. General de la Vauguyon had taken possession of Rome and two départements in the name of the King. Marshal Pérignon had had to quit Naples, as had M. Durand, the Emperor’s minister plenipotentiary; on the 28th of January, four French officers in the service of King Joachim presented themselves at our outposts, declaring that they had quit their flags so as not to fight against their country. They were followed by several others. Finally, on February 6, an order of the day from the Viceroy reached us at Plaisance which left no more doubt about the Neapolitan seizures of arms. Already His Imperial Highness had had Verona evacuated, testifying by proclamation to the necessity of abandoning this part of the Kingdom of Italy as a consequence of the defection of the King of Naples. His Imperial Highness had directed his large artillery park toward Crémone, where it arrived on February 6. The Neapolitans, for their part, were obliged to evacuate Reggio, the Viceroy having made a movement in this direction by one division of his army corps. 

How could Murat have been duped by his allies? This is what we asked ourselves every day at Plaisance; we knew that on February 8 Lord W. Bentinck had arrived in Naples, that he had refused to see the Queen, that the Neapolitan deserters were incorporated into the battalions on the payroll of England, that the Austrian troops had placed themselves in Tuscany, and by that cut off the King from his kingdom.

[1] Baudus, who served as governor of Murat’s sons.

[2] [Dedem’s footnote] It is from a very trustworthy man, who Napoleon recalled to him for his cabinet during the Hundred Days and neither loved nor complained of Joachim, that I have these details. He assured me he had seen and reread the letters several times. 

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