Gioacchino Murat: from humble origins to king of Naples

by Claudia Grillo
Gioacchino Murat: from humble origins to king of Naples

A brave and intelligent soldier, a king willing to do anything to keep his kingdom, a bold man, worthy son of a historical period marked by revolution.

Joachim Murat was born in France in 1767 by a family of hoteliers. He was the eleventh child and therefore destined for an ecclesiastical career. From a young age, however, Murat he aspired to a very different life from that of a priest, he knew well that he had the skills to emerge. Determination and a good dose of courage then led him to enlist in the constitutional guard of Louis XVI. At that time in France there were no easy years; the cry rose from all sides Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité and the scent of new revolutionary ideas they soon enticed young Murat as well.

Thus, with the fall of the monarchy, due to the ideals and the desire to end the line in history, it passed from the royal guard to therevolutionary army, starting the career that would have made him the protagonist of the Napoleonic epic.

Following Napoleon

Murat in fact followed Napoleon in the campaigns of Italy and Egypt, proving to be a skilled general. With the saber, on which he had struck the motto “Honor and women”, And with its war strategies it was the setback for many Napoleonic victories.

King of Naples

In 1808, after having ousted the Bourbons, Napoleon appointed Gioacchino Murat king of Naples. But what did the new sovereign do to win the favor of the people and deserve that beautiful statue at the entrance to the royal palace?

Gioacchino Murat: dalle umili origini a re di Napoli

Murat statue at the royal palace

In general he showed interest in the most critical conditions of the population and tried to to raise the economy of the kingdom. He forgave the deserters and recalled the exiles to their homeland, put an end to the executions and tried to restore the public debt. He founded the Banco delle due Sicilie, he declared that his own expenses would not have burdened the state revenues and confiscated the assets from the ecclesiastical mortal man. It is hardly necessary to add that for these confiscations he was not particularly loved by the clergy, and relations did not improve much when the king introduced the Napoleonic Code in Naples which, among other things, legalized divorce for the first time in Italy.

He then turned to education. Among the various innovations he founded the Corps of Engineers of Bridges and Roads, a very first faculty of engineering, founded chairs of agriculture and the “Gioacchina”, the first chair of bibliography and literary biography. It also started major public Works as the bridge of health and via Posillipo and began new excavations in Herculaneum.

Against Napoleon

As Napoleon continued his project, the kingdom of Naples was less and less tied to France, and Murat more and more Neapolitan. He wrote thus in a letter to Napoleon: "I am happy in my countries, I live under the most beautiful sky of beautiful Italy".

He fought for Napoleon the last battles a Dresden and in Leipzig to then sign an alliance pact with Austria, up to now an enemy. In this way betrayed Napoleon, the man who had been his companion in arms for a lifetime, the man who had given him so much and whom he himself had served with so much ardor. He betrayed to keep his kingdom tight, to keep the work intact, the reforms of years. In the treaty with Austria it was in fact provided for the Neapolitan crown to remain on his head.

Shortly after, however, the king began to fear that the Congress of Vienna wanted to assign the Neapolitan throne to the Bourbons. Thus, in March 1815, Murat invaded the papal state and fought against the Austrian army. But Austria prevailed, the king was defeated, the Bourbons would return to their throne: Murat did not give up not even this time.

On May 12 he issued the proclamation of Rimini. He addressed not only the Neapolitans but the whole of Italy: "Italians! The hour has come that your high destinies must be fulfilled. " He urged them to revolt against foreign power. He dreamed of being able to obtain not only the kingdom of Naples but all of Italy, united under his crown. Some of his soldiers convinced him to do it yet another expedition to take back the kingdom. So Murat left on September 28, 1815 from Ajaccio to land in Salerno and a storm forced him to land at the port of Pizzo, on the Calabrian coast.

The betrayal and death sentence of Joachim Murat

The expedition, however, actually it was an ambush: as soon as he landed one of his battalions betrayed him and handed him over to the Bourbon Gendarmerie. He came sentenced to death for other treason. The execution took place in the castle of Pizzo and these were his last words: "Sauvez ma face, visez mon coeur, feu!" (Save my face, aim for the heart, fire!).

Charles Gallois wrote about the event as follows: “The soldiers are moved, two shots go off without touching him. “No grace! Let's start again! Fire!" This time ten rounds detonated together; 6 balls hit him. He stood upright for a moment. Then he falls to the ground electrocuted. "

Today a tombstone in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris commemorates his death. In reality Murat was buried in a common grave in the church of San Giorgio in Pizzo Calabro. Thus ended the life of a man who, whether you want to consider him a hero, a madman or a traitor, anticipated the Risorgimento movements, spoke of independence and despite the immaturity of the times, fought to the end for a utopia.

Claudia Grillo

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Gennaro De Crescenzo 3 May 2017 - 19:34

The author of this article celebrating Murat only missed a small, very small detail: the massacre of over 50,000 southerners (after that of the 60,000 murdered by their French "brothers" in 1799) carried out in the Kingdom of Naples first by the troops of his brother Napoleon and then of Napoleon's brother-in-law (ancient "parentopoli").

Salvatore Calabrese 5 June 2020 - 16:55

Unfortunately, every revolution causes huge mortality, but the French revolution first and the Napoleonic movement then, brought many of those social innovations that sowed throughout Europe many of those seeds that in a few decades sprouted the great and modern ideals of FREEDOM, EQUALITY. AND BROTHERHOOD and I would also add LAW, a term unknown since Roman times. In Naples he made more MURAT in seven years than the Bourbons and Savoy in a hundred years

dario cusani 21 March 2022 - 19:16

Dear Claudia, I read in one breath your concise but passionate story about the life of Joachim Murat that I drew as a boy by reproducing his famous equestrian portrait with his sparkling clothes. As a child I was fascinated by his courage and his resourcefulness, but also the innovations of the laws and the support of the needy, a true progressive as they say today. With warm cordiality


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