Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dandy King

Joachim Murat
The Dandy King

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by Sasha Soren
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One of the most bold and dashing cavalry commanders in an era replete with dashing cavalry commanders, Murat was an early friend and associate of Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Napoleon I, Emperor of the French.

Murat had originally studied to become a priest, but after a quarrel with a friend, decided that the calm required of a priest wasn’t for him, and ran off to join a cavalry regiment.

He came to the notice of future Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, during the 13 Vendémiaire, when the young general needed someone to take charge of artillery salvage operations before a critical battle.

Young cavalry officer Murat volunteered and succeeded brilliantly. The battle was one of Bonaparte’s major victories; for this, Murat won the rank of colonel and became a trusted military leader and confidante.

Through several strategic victories, Murat eventually become one of the most famous cavalry generals of the period; he was just as well known for his decorative and flamboyant dress uniforms and evening attire, and impeccable manners and style.

After Napoleon took the throne of France, he made Murat King of Naples, a role seemingly tailor-made for the larger than life cavalry veteran.

Later, the fortunes of both men turned. Napoleon lost his kingdom and spent his last days in exile, on the island of Saint Helena.

Murat lost his throne as well. He tried to retake it in 1815, assembling an army of 600 in Corsica, Italy, where he’d fled after Napoleon’s fall.

But his attempt to regain kingship over Naples through an uprising in Calabria failed. He was captured by the military forces of the reigning Ferdinand IV of Naples and sentenced to be executed by firing squad.

Courageous until the very end, Murat refused a blindfold and himself gave the order to fire, on October 13, 1815.

Vain until the very end, he told the firing squad to spare his face and aim instead at his heart.

His last words, reportedly, were:

‘Soldats! Faites votre devoir! Droit au cœur mais épargnez le visage. Feu!’

(‘Soldiers! Do your duty! Straight to the heart but spare the face. Fire!’)


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by Sasha Soren
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