Volume II

“I embarked upon this enterprise
badly, I confess…”

(Napoleon on St Helena, evoking the question of Spain)

According to the witnesses who were actually present when the news arrived from the Spanish capital, it would seem that the announcement of the tragic events in Madrid had but little effect on Napoleon who was still at the Castle of Marrac(q) in the company of the Spanish sovereigns, and their son Ferdinand who was still but not for much longer King of Spain.

But as an able politician, he quickly discerned that this would give him a means of pressure over the ex-King of Spain.


Napoleon hurried to inform Charles IV of the insurrection in Madrid, and he gave him the message he had just received for him to read. Thereupon, he feigned one of his terrible fits of anger as he was in the habit of doing when he wanted to impress or terrify his opponents or collaborators who were unfamiliar with this little “game”.

Charles IV lost no time in reacting and he immediately summoned his son.

And there was another scene which was even more disgraceful and sordid than the first (See chapter 44) between Ferdinand and his parents.

Brandishing his cane, Charles IV threatened his son whom he accused – and not without reason apparently – of having been the underhand instigator of what had just occurred by spreading alarming rumours about his situation, while at the same time keeping informed of what was afoot.

“The blood of my subjects has been shed, and that of the soldiers of my great friend Napoleon! You had a hand in all this havoc.”

This was a judicious, if not very honourable, way of convincing Napoleon that he had no share of responsibility in the events which had taken place on 2 May, in Madrid.

The angry father was soon backed up by Queen Maria-Luisa, who strangely enough for a mother was even more virulent. She went so far as to call her son a “bastard” and almost slapped him. So much so that Napoleon, who was as astounded as he was disgusted, but also very probably satisfied at the turn of events, later declared:

“What a woman! What a mother! I was horrified.”

A sentiment he had already expressed in this description he made of her in a letter addressed to Tallerand:

“To say that the Queen has her heart and her past written on her face is an understatement. It is beyond anything anyone could possibly imagine.”


Was Ferdinand really guilty, or simply responsible for the terrible atrocities which had been committed against the French by the townspeople of Madrid?

The fact remains that Napoleon who pretended to be convinced of this – but perhaps he really was convinced – took measures for the arrangement which suited his plans. To persuade, or rather, force Ferdinand to abdicate in favour of his father.

“My only commitment is with the King, your father, as it is he I recognize, and I shall escort him back to Madrid, if he so wishes. If, by midnight, you do not recognize him as your legitimate sovereign, and do not inform Madrid of this by letter, you will be treated [by him] like a rebel.”

But Charles IV refused this proposition with vehemence alleging that his son had armed “all the passions in the land” against him.

On 6 May, Ferdinand, whom Napoleon had scornfully described as “cunning”, was forced to abdicate in favour of his father. Thus, the heir apparent who had reigned since the 19 March following the revolt at Aranjuez, gave the crown back to the old King.


It was the Queen’s lover, Godoy, who served more or less as the King’s official representative who concluded the agreement known as the Treaty of Bayonne with Napoleon.

By the terms of this Treaty, Charles IV acknowledged that he was incapable of ensuring peace in Spain and surrendered his crown to Napoleon. But there were, of course, conditions and amongst them was the obligation to preserve the integrity of the kingdom and to maintain the pre-eminence of catholic religion.

In exchange for which, in addition to the political and religious clauses mentioned above,

Charles IV was to receive a civil list of twenty million reales (real, monetary unit formerly used in Spain

and Spanish-speaking countries worth a quarter of a peseta), thus approximately seven million five hundred thousand French francs of the time, together with the château de Compiegne and its woodlands for the duration of his life – but which he soon left as the climate was bad for his health and the château de Chambord freehold.

As for the princes of his House who had also given up their potential rights, they were to receive an allowance which was to be proportional to their dignity.

And Ferdinand?

He was again offered the Kingdom of Etruria by Napoleon (See chapter 44), which he refused on the advice of his entourage, as by refusing he kept his options open for future prospects. But he did, however, accept the Estate of Navarre, near Evreux, in Normandy and an annual allowance of a million francs.

In comparison, in 1815 after Waterloo, Napoleon, the “Ogre” an insult which must always be remembered would only “benefit” from a squalid, roughly constructed hovel with metal sheeting on the roof situated on an isolated, windswept rock in the most remote part of the Atlantic Ocean which was generously allotted to him by England.

By the middle of May 1808, the Spanish Bourbons had disappeared from the politico- monarchical map of Europe.


Until the châteaux were ready to receive their various guests – who were in fact sort of V.I.P prisoners – Charles IV, his wife and the omnipresent favourite Godoy were escorted to Fontainbleau, where they were expected by the Grand Chancellor Cambacérès, while Ferdinand and the infants were escorted to the château de Valençay, where Talleyrand had been called upon to be their host.

So the throne was now vacant.

And while on the subject let us take the opportunity here of recalling Napoleon’s simple but sensible definition of this symbol of power:

“A throne is nothing more than a board garnished with velvet.”

Yes, indeed. But the immediate question was who was to be set on the plank?

Obviously, in Madrid, Murat was all impatience.

As he was firmly convinced that Napoleon was about to give him the throne to reward him for the services(?) he had rendered on 2 May. He was all the more convinced as Charles IV had appointed him Lieutenant-General, and as such he was already the effective master of the country.

All he needed now was Napoleon’s consent and blessing.

But his brother-in-law had other ambitions. For if Napoleon had congratulated Murat for the way in which he had “dealt” with the insurrection – “I am very pleased with the vigour you deployed” at heart he could hardly have forgotten the reassuring reports which had been sent to him just before the revolt (See chapter 45), nor the useless executions which had followed. Executions which had the resemblance of vengeance. Not justice. In 1802, when he was First Consul, Bonaparte said:

“The whole secret of governing consists in knowing when to remove the skin of a lion to slip into the skin of a fox.”

And no one was more ill-fitted than Murat to slip into the skin of a fox.

So who was to be set upon the Spanish throne?


Even before the throne was vacant, Napoleon had offered it, in turn, to his brother Louis (on 27 March) who had refused, then to Jerome (on 15 April). The latter had also declined the offer. Both these refusals had kept Murat on tenterhooks in Madrid.

But a letter from the Emperor had finally put an end to his state of painful suspense:

“My intention is that the King of Naples [Joseph] shall reign in Madrid. I wish to give you the Kingdom of Naples or Portugal. Reply immediately to tell me what you think of this; as everything must be settled within a day.”

It is interesting to note at this point that some have judged – and perhaps not without reason – that Napoleon had dispatched the question of Spain in a cavalier manner and that the way in which he disposed of the Spanish sovereigns whatever their failings was just as tactless.

An officer and future admiral in the French Navy, Grivel, who took part in the Peninsular Campaign, expressed his view in the following terms:

“We could not get used to seeing our Emperor behave like a vulgar conqueror, and we felt personally humiliated.”

But neither Grivel, nor the others were acquainted with the political stakes at issue. It is also necessary at this point to recall that for Napoleon, the Continental System designed to close all European ports to British trade was a vital necessity for France. And for the Blockade to be effective it was necessary to take possession of Spain and Portugal.

England who had generously financed all the Coalitions against France and was thus responsible for tens of thousands of dead and wounded had no scruple whatsoever on the subject.


But the problem was that between Joseph’s “nomination” as King of Spain and the moment when he actually started to govern – and for the Emperor these kingdoms were really little more than prefectures (French administrative districts) which were governed by prefects who were named by him and whose work he supervised – too much time went by.

Far too much time considering the explosive context of the situation.

Thus, between the departure of the Spanish sovereigns who were by now under what can best be described as a sort of luxurious house-arrest and the arrival of Joseph, almost two months went by: 13 May-9 July.

During this time the situation was to deteriorate even more because the Lieutenant-General, Murat, felt embittered and affronted by the nomination of Joseph. And yet what his brother-in-law was offering him in compensation was far from negligible.

The Kingdom of Naples (or Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as it was also known), according to sources of that time, represented a territory with six million inhabitants whose capital was… Naples, and possessed much “wealth and riches”. But it was obviously not as grandiose as the majestic kingdom of Charles V, in other words Spain.

Murat accumulated one blunder after another, and the following are just a few examples. He discharged two Swiss regiments in Sevilla who were in the service of Spain; he dismissed the Life Guards and only kept a few of them in his service; he revoked an old edict signed by King Philip V (1683-1746, who reigned in Spain from 1700 until his death) forbidding the Catalans who were reputed to be traditionally attached to their blunderbusses from bearing arms – with future consequences which are all too easy to imagine…

Moreover, among the Spanish troops that were still in Madrid, there were desertions every day, and as he waited for Joseph’s arrival, Murat endeavoured to govern. But all his efforts were in vain, as the Spanish ministers maliciously and stubbornly persisted in putting on the brakes.

Napoleon’s irritation was evident in this letter he addressed to Murat from Marrac:

“Your self-confidence will bring misfortunes upon you. Who are these Life Guards who are guarding you? They will assassinate you. You are far too tolerant with the Spaniards and you will soon bring about another insurrection which may be even more dangerous than the first in that the first had no leader.”

And he added, to make things clear concerning the Spaniards’ feelings towards his brother-in-law:
“The nation is still filled with hate and humiliation after the last events.”

To which the bright cavalier replied:

“The gunfire on 2 May will secure the colours of the new dynasty.”

One has the choice: was he naïve or stupid?


The difficult situation he was trying to cope with and over which he apparently had no control, the disappointment of having been unfairly or so he thought deprived of a throne which he considered was his due in favour of Joseph together with Napoleon’s recriminations had all got the better of his health.
He fell ill, and apparently this was not merely a diplomatic indisposition as the French ambassador, Monsieur de la Forest (who had previously been ambassador in Berlin during the Prussian Campaign, in 1806), sent several despatches in which he confirmed that Murat was in a state of deep depression.

Worried about leaving a country which needed to be governed by a firm hand and an iron will in the hands of a man whom the French ambassador had seen “holding his head between his hands, obsessed with one idea and who only talked of fleeing from an atmosphere which was killing him, completely off his food and accusing those who kept him there of wanting to kill him”, Napoleon decided to send Savary to Spain.

Which was yet another mistake as Savary had been the instrument of what is known as the “the ambush at Bayonne.”

Savary, who had just been created Duke of Rovigo, also confirmed that Murat was in an appalling condition.

“He was unable to speak to me or to recognize me – he is critically ill. I returned this afternoon: he was in the same condition…”

The only solution was to evacuate the sick warrior who had become useless and was now undoubtedly dangerous.

On 29 June, carried away on a litter, Murat left Madrid for Bayonne.

Spain was now waiting for the one who the master of central Europe had decided would be King: Joseph Bonaparte.


To be continued…