Joachim Murat

Joachim Murat
Portrait by François Gérard
King of Naples
Reign 1 August 1808 – 19 May 1815
Predecessor Joseph I
Successor Ferdinand IV of Naples
Grand Duke of Berg
Reign 15 March 1806 – 1 August 1808
Successor Louis I
Regent of Spain
Reign 4 May 1808 – 20 July 1808
Born Joachim Murat
(1767-03-25)25 March 1767
La Bastide-Fortunière, Guyenne, France
Died 13 October 1815(1815-10-13) (aged 48)
Pizzo Calabro, Calabria, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
Père Lachaise Cemetery;
Castello di Pizzo, Naples
Spouse Caroline Bonaparte
House Murat
Father Pierre Murat-Jordy
Mother Jeanne Loubières
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature Joachim Murat's signature
Selected battles

Joachim Murat (French pronunciation: ​[ʒoaʃɛ̃ myʁa]; 25 March 1767 – 13 October 1815) was a French military commander and statesman who served during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Under the French Empire he received the military titles of Marshal of the Empire and Admiral of France, and was also the 1st Prince Murat,[1] Grand Duke of Berg from 1806 to 1808,[2] and, as Joachim-Napoleon[3] (Italian: Gioacchino Napoleone),[4] King of Naples from 1808 to 1815.[5] He was the brother-in-law of emperor Napoleon I, who characterised him as exceptionally brave in the face of the enemy, a weakling when he was on his own, a braggart dressed in gold and feathers, continually escaping as by a miracle and admired by the cossacks for his bravery.[6]

Early life

Murat was born on 25 March 1767 in La Bastide-Fortunière[7] (later renamed Labastide-Murat after him), in Guyenne (present-day French department of Lot) to Pierre Murat-Jordy (d. 27 July 1799), an affluent yeoman[8] innkeeper, postmaster[9] and Roman Catholic churchwarden, and his wife Jeanne Loubières (1722 – 11 March 1806), daughter of Pierre Loubières and of his wife Jeanne Viellescazes. Pierre Murat-Jordy was the son of Guillaume Murat (1692–1754) and his wife Marguerite Herbeil (d. 1755), paternal grandson of Pierre Murat (b. 1634) and his wife Catherine Badourès (d. 1697), and maternal grandson of Bertrand Herbeil and his wife Anne Roques.[10]

Murat's parents intended that he pursue a vocation in the church, and he was taught by the parish priest, after which he won a place at the College of Saint-Michel at Cahors when he was ten years old. He then entered the seminary of the Lazarists at Toulouse, but when a regiment of cavalry passed through the city in 1787, he ran away and enlisted on 23 February 1787 in the Chasseurs des Ardennes, which the following year became known as the Chasseurs de Champagne, or the 12th Chasseurs. In 1789, an affair forced him to resign, and he returned to his family, becoming a clerk to a haberdasher at Saint-Ceré.[9]

French Revolutionary Wars

Murat as a sous-lieutenant of the 12th Chasseur-à-Cheval, by Guérin (1835)

By 1790, Murat had joined the National Guard, and the Canton of Montaucon sent him as its representative to the celebration of the first anniversary of Bastille Day (la Fête nationale). He was subsequently reinstated in his former regiment. Because part of the 12th Chasseurs had been sent to Montmédy to protect the royal family on its flight to Varennes, the regiment had to defend its honour and loyalty to the Republic; Murat and the regiment's adjutant made a speech to the assembly at Toul to that effect.[9] In 1792, Murat joined the Constitutional Guard, but left it that same year. His departure was attributed to various causes, including his constant quarreling and dueling, although he claimed he left to avoid punishment for being absent without leave.[9]

An ardent Republican, Murat wrote to his brother in 1791 stating he was preoccupied with revolutionary affairs and would sooner die than cease to be a patriot. Upon his departure from the Constitutional Guard, he reported to the Committee of Surveillance of the Constitutional Assembly that the Guard was guilty of treason and that his lieutenant colonel, a man named Descours, had encouraged him to serve in the émigré army of Louis Joseph, Prince of Condé, then stationed in Koblenz.[9] This garnered for him the support of the Republicans, for Murat rejoined his former regiment and was promoted to corporal in April that year, and later to sergeant in May.[9] By 19 November 1792, Murat was 25 years old and elated at his latest promotion. As a sous-lieutenant, he thought, his family must recognise that he had no great propensity for the priesthood, and he was hoping to prove that he had not been wrong in wishing to be a soldier. Two of the ministers had accused him of being an aristocrat, confusing him with the noble family of Murat d'Auvergne, an accusation that continued to haunt him for the next several years.[11]

13 Vendémiaire

In the autumn of 1795, two years after King Louis XVI of France had been guillotined, royalists and counter-revolutionaries organised an armed uprising. On 3 October, General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was stationed in Paris, was named commander of the French National Convention's defending forces. Bonaparte tasked Murat, who had offered himself voluntarily, with the gathering of artillery from a suburb outside the control of the government's forces. Murat managed to take the cannons of the Camp des Sablons and transport them to the centre of Paris while avoiding the rioters.[12] The use of these cannons – the famous "whiff of grapeshot" – on 5 October allowed Bonaparte to save the members of the National Convention.[13] Napoleon’s report later mentioned Murat not at all. But Napoleon did not forget him as Murat was made a marshal, the "First Horseman of Europe", Grand Duke of Berg and King of Naples.[14]

Italian and Egyptian campaigns

Murat at the Battle of Abukir, where 4,000 Ottoman soldiers drowned in the Nile, painted by Antoine-Jean Gros (1804)

In 1796 Joachim Murat went with Bonaparte to northern Italy, initially as his aide-de-camp,[15] and was later named commander of the cavalry during the many campaigns against the Austrians and their allies.[16]

Portrait in hussar uniform by Gérard, 1801, at the time when Murat was the commander of the Consular Guard

Murat commanded the cavalry of the French Egyptian expedition of 1798, again under Bonaparte. On 25 July 1799 at the Battle of Abukir, he successfully led the cavalry charge that broke the Ottoman line.[17]

In 1799, some remaining staff officers, including Murat, and Bonaparte returned to France, eluding various British fleets in five frigates. A short while later, Murat played an important, even pivotal, role in Bonaparte's "coup within a coup" of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799), when he first assumed political power.[18]

Murat married Caroline Bonaparte in a civil ceremony on 20 January 1800 at Mortefontaine and religious one on 4 January 1802 in Paris, thus becoming a son-in-law of Letizia Ramolino as well as brother-in-law to Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Bonaparte, Lucien Bonaparte, Elisa Bonaparte, Louis Bonaparte, Pauline Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte.[19]

Napoleonic Wars

Murat leading a cavalry charge at the Battle of Jena, 14 October 1806
Joachim-Napoleon, King of Naples (c. 1812)

Napoleon made Murat a Marshal of the Empire on 18 May 1804, and also granted him the title of "First Horseman of Europe". He was made Prince of the Empire and Admiral of the Empire in 1805, despite having very little knowledge about naval warfare. After several territorial concessions made by Prussia, the Grand Duchy of Berg was set up, he was appointed Grand Duke of Berg and Duke of Cleves on 15 March 1806, and held this title until 1 August 1808, when he was named King of Naples. Murat was in charge of the French Army in Madrid when the popular Dos de Mayo Uprising that started the Peninsular War broke out.[18]

Murat proved to be equally useful in the Russian campaign of 1812, where he distinguished himself as the best cavalry commander of the Grande Armee at battles such as Smolensk and Borodino.[20]

But although he was a great horseman, Murat showed a total lack of concern for the well-being of the horses. Napoleon had created the greatest forage problem known in military history by putting together a cavalry of 40,000 men and horses. The long marches and the lack of rest meant that the horses suffered from hunger, bad fodder, saddle sores and exhaustion, but these factors were aggravated by Murat himself.[21] He also failed to forge caulkin shoes for the horses to enable them to traverse roads that had become iced over for the retreat. The Polish cavalry and Caulaincourt knew and acted accordingly.[22]

He continued to serve Napoleon during the German Campaign of 1813. However, following Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Murat reached a secret agreement with the Allies in order to save his own throne and switched sides to the Coalition.[23]

In March 1815, he declared war on Austria in the proclamation to Italian patriots in Rimini, moved north to fight against the Austrians in the Neapolitan War in order to strengthen his rule in Italy by military means. However, he was defeated by Austrian general Frederick Bianchi at the Battle of Tolentino (2–3 May 1815).[24]


Murat fled to Corsica and thence to Pizzo. Soon he was captured by forces of King Ferdinand IV of Naples. He was tried for treason and sentenced to death by firing squad.[25]

On being asked if he had any request to make, he said he wished to have a bath prepared for him and perfumed with a bottle of eau-de-Cologne, and, as a last request, that his eyes should not be bandaged. Both wishes were granted, and, by order sent by King Ferdinand, twelve of his own soldiers were selected to shoot him. When the fatal hour came, seeing the emotion of his men, Murat said:

"My friends, if you wish to spare me, aim at my heart."

It was the 13th of October, 1815.[25][26]

Coats of arms


Caroline Bonaparte and her children

Murat and Caroline had four children:


Murat had a brother named Pierre (La Bastide-Fortunière, 27 November 1748 – La Bastide-Fortunière, 8 October 1792), who married at La Bastide-Fortunière on 26 February 1783 Louise d'Astorg (La Bastide-Fortunière, 23 October 1762 – 31 May 1832), daughter of Aymeric d'Astorg, born in 1721, and wife Marie Alanyou, paternal granddaughter of Antoine d'Astorg, born 18 November 1676, and wife Marie de Mary (4 May 1686 – 7 October 1727) and maternal granddaughter of Jean Alanyou and wife Louise de Valon. Pierre and Louise were the parents of Marie Louise, Pierre Adrien (d. 1805), Marie Radegonde (d. 1800), Thomas Joachim and Marie Antoinette Murat, whom Emperor Napoleon I arranged to marry Charles, Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen; Karl III and Marie were the parents of Charles Anthony, Prince of Hohenzollern from whom descended Stephanie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen Queen of Portugal; her brother Carol I of Romania and her nephew Albert I of Belgium.

Another descendant of note is his great-great-great-grandson, American actor René Auberjonois.