October 13, 2015

The Bicentennial of the Death of Gioacchino Murat

Gioacchino Murat, Palazzo Reale, Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Today we remember the 200th Anniversary of the death of Joachim Murat (Gioacchino in Italian), Marshal of France and King of Naples.
One of Napoleon’s most celebrated cavalry commanders, Joachim Murat repeatedly distinguished himself on the field of battle. Marrying the Emperor’s sister Caroline in 1800, he was promoted to Marshal in 1804 and rewarded with the Kingdom of Naples on August 1, 1808.
Murat ruled under the title Joachim Napoleon for nearly seven years, introducing the Napoleonic Code and other reforms. While he tried to rule his new Kingdom independently, Napoleon was adamant that Naples would remain a French satellite. 
As Napoleon’s Empire began to crumble, Murat renounced his brother-in-law and began negotiations with Austria. However, with Napoleon’s return to power in 1815 (and the fact that many of the Allies at the Congress of Vienna wanted to restore the deposed Bourbons of Sicily back to Naples) Murat sided with the Emperor again.
Seeking to save his crown, Murat declared war on Austria in an attempt to unite all of mainland Italy under his dominion. On May 3rd, after a few minor skirmishes, disaster befell his army at the Battle of Tolentino. His forces in disarray, Murat retreated back to Naples. 
News of the advancing Austrians from the north and the approach of an Anglo-Sicilian squadron from the south, Murat fled the city with a small fortune, narrowly escaping to Cannes on a small coasting vessel. On May 20, 1815 HM King Ferdinand IV was rightfully restored to the Neapolitan throne.
Fearing the winds of change in France, Murat took refuge in Corsica in the hopes of avoiding Royalist retribution. With a handful of loyal supporters, he deluded himself into believing his old subjects in the Kingdom of Naples would welcome his return. 
On September 28th, he set sale from the Bay of Ajaccio with 250 men on five small ships and a felucca. As they approached the Calabrian coast, a sudden gale drove the squadron out to sea, losing the felucca. The next day two ships deserted. Disheartened after losing half his men, the enterprise was called-off. The remaining two ships parted ways and Murat decided to reunite with his wife Caroline at Trieste, instead.
Landing at Pizzo Calabro on October 8th to acquire provisions for the long journey, Murat once again had a change of heart and chose to go ahead with the foolhardy incursion. With a handful of men he marched into the market-place shouting “Long live our king, Joachim!” His plans of fomenting insurrection were badly miscalculated as a hostile group of peasants attacked the adventurers, killing one of the Corsicans. Striking Murat in the face, an old woman shouted, “You talk of liberty and you had four of my sons shot!”
Badly beaten, Murat and his escort fled to the coastline only to discover that their ship had abandoned them. Unable to make their escape, the would-be upstarts were captured and imprisoned in the Aragonese castle (now called Castello Murat).
Word of his capture was sent to HM King Ferdinand IV in Naples and on October 13, 1815 the pretender was condemned to death by a court-martial and shot in the castle’s narrow courtyard. Courageous to the end, the ex-King of Naples refused a blindfold and faced the firing squad saying, "Soldiers, do your duty. Fire at the heart, but spare the face."
Joachim Murat is believed to be buried in a common grave in the churchyard of the Duomo di San Giorgio Martire in Pizzo, Calabria. In an epitaph written by his lifelong friend Count Agar of Mosbourg, Murat's military exploits were highlighted, ending with his final feat: "He knew how to die."
Further reading:
Marshal Murat: King of Naples by A.H. Atteridge, 1911, Worley Publications with Brigade Library, Facsimile Edition Published 1992