The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Get Involved:

Facebook Twitter Email
The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Research Subjects: Biographies

Joachim Murat, King of Naples, 1808-1815, Marshal (1804)

(La Bastide-Fortunière (Lot), 1767 - Died Pizzo, 1815)


Marshal, King of Naples: in the Napoleonic chess game, Murat was the knight, the splendid warrior in extravagant attire; the impetuous and unthinking bishop; and the queen who needed proof of affection from the master in order to offer full devotion. He was treated like a pawn, placed on a throne with no freedom of action. After that, there was a partially-consummated betrayal and a tragic end in an Italian village.

Joachim, the youngest of twelve children, was born into a family of innkeepers. He studied at the Lazarist seminary in Toulouse. In February 1787, after a quarrel with a friend, he decided against becoming a priest and enlisted in a cavalry regiment. Two years later, he had been promoted to sergeant but was involved in a mutiny and was dismissed from the army.

When he returned home, his father cut off the purse-strings. Murat opened a grocery shop. Even then his gallantry impressed people and his town appointed him to participate in the Fête de la Fédération on July 14, 1790. The following year, he was reinstated in the army as a private.

He was named second lieutenant on May 30, 1791. Investigated after the fall of Robespierre, Murat, a fervent Republican, went so far as to adopt the name Marat; in late 1794, he found himself with no assignment in Paris. On the eve of 13 Vendémiaire, Barras and a young Corsican general, Bonaparte, needed a volunteer to recover the guns parked at Sablons. Murat offered his services. He returned with 40 pieces of artillery which enabled them to quell the royalist uprising.

This action invariably linked Murat's and Bonaparte's destinies. The general named him brigade chief on February 2, 1796 and one of his aide-de-camps. He thus accompanied Bonaparte to Italy in 1796, where he distinguished himself by his bravery. In charge of taking the enemy flags to the Directory in Paris, he was also asked to intervene with Joséphine to convince her to join her husband. He returned from Paris as brigadier general. He fought in the siege of Mantua; after Campo-Formio, Bonaparte sent him to the Congress of Rastadt.

Murat again distinguished himself at the head of a cavalry brigade in Egypt. After the taking of Alexandria (July 2, 1798) and the Battle of the Pyramids (July 21, 1798), he was the first to mount the attack at Acre (March 28, 1799) during the Syrian expedition. At the Battle of Aboukir, on July 25, 1799, he personally captured Pasha Mustapha, whose two fingers he cut off in the heat of the action. This earned him an unusual injury a bullet pierced his jaw from one side to the other and a promotion to general. Murat became a popular figure.

However, during the many years spent together, Bonaparte was abrupt with the man who had shown proof of his loyalty on 18-Brumaire, shouting at his grenadiers before the astounded deputies: "Throw 'em all out!" Bonaparte gave him the hand of his sister Caroline, in February 1800, after Joséphine intervened on his behalf. He made him marshal in 1804, grand admiral and prince a year later, but seemed hesitant to entrust him with major commands.

Governor of Paris in 1804, Murat reluctantly signed for the creation of a military commission which presided at the execution of the Duc d'Enghien. He left the following year for the Austrian campaign, at the head of the cavalry. After the taking of Ulm (October 15-20, 1805), he pursued the Austrian and Russian armies along the Danube. Although Bonaparte ordered him to cover the flanks of the Grande Armée, he entered Vienna at the head of his troops on November 11, 1805. Napoleon reproached him severely for this act of insubordination. Murat made up for it at the Battle of Austerlitz, on December 2.

Napoleon granted him the Grand Duchy of Berg and Clèves in 1806; he needed someone he could trust to ensure the Continental blockade. Once Murat was in power, he was concerned about the well-being of his subjects. Again there was tension with the Emperor, who soon recalled him into the ranks. In 1806, Prussia, England, Sweden and Russia declared war on France. Murat chased the Prussians to Leipzig, fought brilliantly in the Battle of Jena on October 14, 1806 and forced Blücher to capitulate at Lübeck. He was the first to enter Warsaw on November 28, 1806. At Eylau (February 8, 1807), he was at the command of the entire French cavalry. On Napoleon's orders, he launched his troops to repulse the Russian center. This charge went down in History as the "charge of the 80 squadrons."

Napoleon offered him the crown of Naples in 1808, provided he remain a pawn in Imperial politics. Murat no doubt had dreams of the Spanish throne, for which he had made personal sacrifices. Sent to Spain with no specific instructions, he had violently quelled the insurrection on May 2, 1808 and organized the exodus of Ferdinand VII and Charles IV to Bayonne. He quaked with the thought of having this Neapolitan crown taken away, as was the case for the King of Holland, whose kingdom was purely and simply annexed to the Empire in 1810.

Murat the commoner proved to be a conscientious king. He introduced reforms and organized an army. Friction with the Emperor resumed, heightened by the dissension between Caroline and Murat, who fought over power.

In 1812, Napoleon called his brother-in-law to his side for the Russian campaign, once again at the head of the cavalry. During the six-month campaign, Murat would constantly be in contact with the Russian armies. During the Battle of Borodino on September 7, he charged out to meet the Russian guns, at the head of 15,000 horsemen.

While Napoleon was in Moscow, in October 1812, he almost got surrounded at Taroutino (October 18, 1812) but managed to extricate himself. In December, Napoleon left him in command of the Grande Armée while he hastened back to Paris. Murat did not want the command, but wanted to save his kingdom. At Vilna, he lost his head and abandoned the Grande Armée. On his return to Naples, he wrote to Napoleon to explain his actions. He asked to return to the Emperor's service.

He returned to fight in the campaign of the summer of 1813; Napoleon gave him the command of the Army of the South, assigned to contain the Schwarzenberg coalition. After the defeat at Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813), he returned to his kingdom. In January 1814, he signed a treaty with Austria.

At the Congress of Vienna of 1815, the generous monies he paid the diplomats, particularly Talleyrand, served no purpose. There was the possibility that the Bourbons might return to the Neapolitan throne. A desperate Murat looked for opportunities on all sides; he wrote a cordial letter to Louis XVIII and joined Napoleon in exile on Elba. The latter informed him of his plans to return. Murat declared war on Austria as soon as he learned the Emperor had landed. He soon occupied Rome, Ancona and Bologna. He launched a proclamation from Rimini, calling for the unification of Italy. Austrian troops, led by Neipperg, soon encircled him and he was defeated at Tolentino, on April 21, 1815.

Murat had to flee while Ferdinand regained the throne. He arrived in France, but Napoleon refused to see him. In Corsica, he assembled 600 men, enough for him to dream of reconquering Italy. He sailed for the Italian coast, landed at Pizzo and was taken prisoner. A decree from the king ordered the commission who tried him to allow him "half an hour to receive the last rites." Murat himself gave the order to fire, on October 13, 1815.

by Alexandra Dalbin


Biographies Index | Marshals Index ]