Tag Archives: Joachim Murat

The road to Waterloo: Week 13 (18 – 24 May 2015)

Treaty of Casalanza
The 20 May 1815 marks the end of the Neapolitan War with the signing of the Treaty of Casalanza.  This conflict, which had started on 15 March, was between the pro-Napoleon Kingdom of Naples on the one hand and the Austrian Empire on the other.

29 days to Waterloo

Prompted by Napoleon’s escape from Elba, Marshal Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, had declared war on Austria.  He was concerned that the European Powers at the Congress of Vienna had plans to remove him and restore Ferdinand IV to the Neapolitan throne.

Murat did not sign the treaty; he had already fled to Corsica following the decisive defeats at the Battles of Tolentino and San Germano.

On the 20th, Edward Cooke, Under Secretary to Lord Castlereagh, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, writes to Wellington from Rome with “gratifying and important intelligence” that he “may consider the Neapolitan War as most successfully terminated”:

“The Neapolitans have hardly fought at all.  Officers and men desert almost by regiments; the whole country has risen against Murat who deserves his fate by his perfidy, his folly, his gasconades and his lies.

Your Grace knows that a Treaty is signed between Austria and Ferdinand the 4th.  The most liberal terms are offered both in Austria and Sicilian, proclamations to all who deserting Murat join the cause of their ancient legitimate sovereign.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/462/24]

Ferdinand IV was restored to the Neapolitan throne on 23 May.

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The road to Waterloo: Week 10 (27 Apr – 3 May 2015)

Battle of Tolentino
The Battle of Tolentino, fought on 2 and 3 May 1815, was the decisive battle of the Neapolitan War.

46 Days to Waterloo

After their defeat to the Austrians at Occhiobello on 9 April 1815, Murat’s Neapolitan army had been forced to retreat towards their headquarters at Ancona. In a letter to Wellington, on 25 April 1815, Lord Stewart outlines the Austrian strategy for decisively ending the Neapolitan campaign:

“General Frimont’s further plan, as far as I can learn, is to have Murat followed on his retreat to Ancona by General Neipperg, whose advanced corps consists of not more than 10,000 men, while a corps of 60,000 is to march under Bianchi to Foligno, thus placing a considerable force between Murat and Naples, and giving the chance of annihilating the Neapolitan corps retiring from Florence by being before it.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/456/2]

However, the Austrian corps under Bianchi and Neipperg became separated on either side of the Apennine Mountains. In an attempt to take advantage of the situation, Murat planned to use the main part of his force to defeat Bianchi at the town of Tolentino, while dispatching a smaller force to delay Neipperg. Unfortunately for Murat, Bianchi successfully routed the Neapolitan garrison at Tolentino on 29 April. Establishing a defensive position in the town, Bianchi aimed to delay Murat for as long as possible. With time running out, Murat was finally forced to march on Tolentino on 2 May.

The first day of the battle ended favourably for the Neapolitans. As fighting recommenced on 3 May they pressed forward. Anticipating a cavalry counterattack, Murat ordered two of his infantry divisions to advance in squares. However, no cavalry emerged and his troops were instead devastated by heavy musket fire. The situation was made worse when Murat was informed that Neipperg’s corps, having defeated the Neapolitan force sent to delay it, was now on the approach. On receiving further information that a Sicilian army had landed in the south of Italy, Murat sounded the retreat.

With their defeat at Tolentino, the Neapolitan army was no longer able to resist the Austrian advance through Italy and Murat was ultimately forced to flee to Corsica. In the postscript of a letter to the Earl of Uxbridge, on 19 May, Wellington mentions the possibility of Murat now commanding the French cavalry:

“I have a most formidable account of the French cavalry. They have now 16,000 grosse cavalerie, of which 6000 are cuirassiers. They are getting horses to mount 42,000 cavalry, heavy and light.

It is reported that Murat has fled from Italy by sea; and by other reports it appears that he has arrived at Paris. He will probably command them.”
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/465/35]

However, Napoleon, enraged by Murat’s premature actions and defeat, refused to receive him, and his offer to command the French cavalry was rejected. Not only did Murat’s actions and defeat at Tolentino mean that Austrian troops were now available for operations against France, it also meant that Napoleon would be robbed of his best cavalry commander at the battle of Waterloo.

The road to Waterloo: Week 7 (6 – 12 Apr 2015)

Battle of Occhiobello
The Battle of Occhiobello took place on 8 and 9 April 1815. It was a turning point in the Neapolitan War which began on 15 March when Joachim Murat, King of Naples, declared war on the Austrian Empire.

70 Days to Waterloo

Murat was brother-in-law to Napoleon Bonaparte who installed him as King of Naples and Sicily in 1808. Following the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, Murat began to distance himself from Napoleon and signed a treaty with the Austrians in January 1814 as a means of protecting his throne. However, as the Congress of Vienna progressed he became increasingly aware of the European powers’ intention to remove him and return the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to their pre-Napoleonic rulers. On hearing of Napoleon’s return to France in March 1815, Murat aligned himself with the Bonapartist cause and made his declaration of war against Austria.

After issuing the Rimini proclamation on 30 March, inciting all Italian nationalists to join his cause and rise in revolt against their Austrian occupiers, Murat and his force of 40,000 men advanced towards Bologna. On 3 April, the day after capturing Bologna, Murat’s Neapolitan army defeated an outnumbered Austrian force on the banks on the Panaro River.

In a letter to Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, on 5 April, Wellington voices his concern over the possible implications of Murat’s threat, stating: “As for my part, I am convinced […] that, if we do not destroy Murat, and that immediately, he will save Bonaparte.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/457/1]

However, Murat’s proclamation of 30 March did not have the intended effect and he received little support from the Italian populace. Despite this, on 8 April, he attempted to cross the bridge over the Po River at Occhiobello and enter Austrian controlled territory. By now, the Austrians had been reinforced and after repeated attempts to cross the river the Neapolitan’s were finally repulsed. By the end of the second day, Murat was compelled to retreat.

In a letter to Wellington, on 21 April, Richard Trench, second Earl of Clancarty, writes: “The Italian news is good: Murat retreated to Bologna, Ferrara débloqué. The only fear here stated is lest the Neapolitan force should retire so far that the Austrians, now reinforced, will not be able to have a fair fight with them in the open country.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/455/29]

With the morale of his troops diminished, Murat would now have to establish a defensive position and prepare for the inevitable Austrian counterattack.