Joachim(-Napoléon) Murat (1767-1815) linked his career with that of the famous Napoleon when on the 13th Vendémiaire he returned to the general with the canon Napoleon fired into the crowd for his 'whiff of grapeshot'. From that moment onwards he was the (soon to be) Emperor's trusted cavalry commander. He led the mounted troops valiantly in countless hardfought battle. From the front, always splendidly uniformed and mounted. A faithful lieutenant through sixteen years of campaigning. Quite the character for a nice biography: Marshall Murat, King of Naples. By A.H. Atteridge.
I have always liked this flamboyant Marshall of France who was rewarded for his loyalty by the Duchy of Berg and later his beloved Kingdom of Naples, Atteridge's book adds to the understanding of character and actions. In his later years, particularly after the failure of the 1812 march to Moscow, he put his own, or actually his kingdom's interests before that of Napoleon and his loyalty suffered for it. Reading about it all you can understand his sometimes stupid and treacherous decisions and feel for him, Napoleon wasn't an easy Emperor and brother-in-law to deal with.
With the same passion he ruled his kingdom Joachim Murat lived, there was his aforementioned flamboyance and his dashing style of leadership. But he was also a gentle and kind man, weeping while reading the letters from his wife, Caroline Bonaparte while on campaign. Something Napoleon moked him for.
After the 1812 campaign all went south, his relation with the Emperor, the rule of his kingdom and the future of the crown of Naples. It was thus after another adventure he was caught leading an abortive and futile 'revolution' on the coast of Southern-Italy. After a quick trial he was sentenced to be shot by firring squad and had but one request: "Soldiers, do your duty. Fire at the heart but spare the face." So he died on October 13th 1815, a bullet nevertheless having shattered his cheek.
There is another fascinating quirk of Joachim Murat I would like to share with you though. This, in the very last pages of the book, made Murat's character shine even more.
During battle he never took his sword from its scabbard (bit of a discrepancy with the first picture there) because, as he himself explained: "What gives me the most heartfelt satisfaction when I think of my military career is, that I have never seen a man fall killed by my hand. [.....] If a man had ever fallen dead before me by my act, the picture of it would always be before me, and would pursue me to the grave."
A second story perhaps even better illustrates the kindhearted man he was, even though he led many a deadly charge and on these occasions did not spare his troops nor the enemy. After a mutiny, the three leaders had been condemned to dead. Murat however, was so impressed by their regret for their misconduct he carried out a sham execution at sunrise. He arranged that the condemned men should fall before a volley of blanks cartridge, and had them covered up by dirt for a while. During the night the three men were removed to a place where they were given disguise and subsequently shipped away from the port.
King-Napoléon Joachim Murat, he knew how to live and "he knew how to die."
- Marshall Murat, King of Naples. By A.H. Atteridge a good but not great book, nice read about the amazing Murat though: 3/5