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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

A Taste of Gerard Walter's sketch of Murat, Deacon, Waiter, General, Marshal, King.

Translated by David Block

One of the most flamboyant figures of the Napoleonic period was Joachim Murat. His father, a hotel keeper, intended him to become a priest. Having been ordained a sub-deacon, young Murat spent his time pursuing women and frequenting houses, and he was soon expelled from the seminary. Poorly received by his family, he enrolled in a cavalry regiment (February 1787). He acquired a very bad reputation and was released after two years. His father refused to receive him...

At the Ministry of War Murat was believed to be an ex-nobleman belonging to the aristocratic Murats d'Auvergne. He had to get together certificates and affidavits countersigned by influential political men to demonstrate that he was "un vrai sans-culotte" [that he really didn't have any trousers?]...

He fell deeply in love with a certain Signora Ruga, wife of a respectable notary of Brescia, and she was pleased to grant to this superb French officer the favors requested by him, to such an extent that Murat completely forgot that he had an army troop to command and prolonged his stay in Brescia indefinitely. Bonaparte judged it necessary to remind him of his duties. Murat responded with an indignant letter: he did not deserve to be treated this way, he should be shown more regard and consideration should be given to his bravery, the services he had performed, etc. Bonaparte reassured him: "I know how I should value your military talents, your courage, your zeal. I have never had any idea which could be the least bit disfavorable, but I thought that you were more necessary at your division than with your mistress in Brescia, particularly since the honeymoon is over [surtout passe le premier moment]." Hardly returned, although necessary at his division, Murat received another mission as unmilitary as possible. He was sent to Rome to obtain various domestic objects and other things for Josephine. He lived there for a month, very agreeably as a tourist, but upon his return he was tested severely: four battles in ten days (Lavis 9/5; Bassano 9/8; Cerea 9/12; Saint-Georges 9/15). He made himself noticed by acts of great bravery, as if he wanted to prove that the life of pleasure he had led had not in any way diminished his eagerness to fight (a trait deeply characteristic was reported by General Colbert: Murat always made arrangements to pass the night in some hospitable bed. "But if you are surprised what will you do?" he was asked by Colbert, who was his aide de camp at the time. "Oh well, I would get on my horse in my nightgown; I could be better seen that way!" replied Murat.

Napoleon's letter -- 21 June 1797.

Colbert's Souvenirs. Vol.1, p. 93.

Napoleon's youngest sister, Caroline, decided to marry Murat. He was a superb male, a perfect animal. But he wore a fine uniform, was a magnificent horseman, and knew how to hug a girl tightly in his arms... Napoleon took Murat with him to Egypt, thinking that during his absence Carolyn would forget him. It was quite the contrary. All of Bonaparte's efforts to make her change her mind were of no avail. At Saint Helena he said, "I opposed as much as I could the marriage of Caroline with Murat, telling her she would repent it." It was wasted effort. Finally he yielded, perhaps to reward Murat for the valuable services he performed on 18 brumaire. The wedding took place 18 January 1800. Hardly married, Murat had to leave for Italy. Caroline, pregnant, remained in Paris.

Bertrand's Cahiers de Sainte-Helene notes for 1 February, 1817.