On This Day in Napoleonic History – 11 January 1814

The treachery of Joachim Murat

Joachim Murat, whom Napoleon had placed on the throne of Naples in 1808, promised in a treaty with Austria to lead 30,000 men against Eugène de Beauharnais in order to drive French out of Italy. In return for his betrayal of Napoleon, Austria guaranteed the security of Murat’s throne of Naples for himself and his heirs.

Although Murat’s actions didn’t come as a surprise to Napoleon, the betrayal hurt, not least because Murat was married to Napoleon’s sister Caroline, who encouraged his treaty with Austria. Napoleon called the conduct of his sister and her husband ‘an insult and fearful ingratitude’, adding, ‘he’s very intelligent but he’d have to be blind to imagine that he can stay there whilst I’m gone or when I’ve triumphed over all this.’

And yet, Napoleon didn’t lose hope that Murat would come to his senses. During the 1814 campaign, Napoleon wrote to Eugene: ‘Should Fortune continue to favour us, we might be able to preserve Italy. The King of Naples might change sides again.’ Napoleon was right on both accounts – during the Hundred Days in 1815 Murat would try, unsuccessfully, to join Napoleon’s side. Nor did he keep his throne for long – within two years he would be executed by the Neapolitan firing squad.

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