The Assassination of Murat
...I started at daybreak on a good stout mule on my way to visit Pizzo, the spot where the brave but unfortunate Murat met his fate...
...You may have read a detailed account of Murat’s trial and condemnation, but you may find it interesting to hear the statement of the gaoler, who evidently considered himself the most important personage in the transaction. It was on a Sunday morning, October 8, 1815, that two small vessels were seen to approach Pizzo without attracting much attention from the inhabitants, who were employed at the time in hearing mass. Murat and thirty of his followers landed immediately, without a single question being asked, and proceeded to the public square, where he found the legionary soldiers on duty in that very uniform which he had himself bestowed upon them. He exclaimed, ‘Ah, my brave legionaries, you still wear my uniform’; and, naming one whom he recognised, he said, ‘Do you not know me, your king, Joachim Murat?’ To this one of them answered, ‘Ferdinand is our king, by whom we are paid.’ Meanwhile, a crowd of people had collected round him, and he urged them to cry, viva Gioacchino Murat! and to pull down the flag which was displayed on the castle, calling it a mappino, a ‘rag’. This word is Neapolitan, and is used to signify the towel made use of in the kitchen by the cook to clean her dishes, and was, no doubt, used by Murat in contempt. It is derived from the Latin, mappa. When no one offered to do so, he upbraided them as a mere band of brigands and traitors to their sovereign. As no one seemed willing to bring forward the horses for which he called, he inquired for the road to Monteleone, the chief city in the vicinity, and began to mount the hill to the post-road.
In the meantime a person had proceeded to give information to the commanding officer that Murat had landed, and was haranguing the soldiers in the public square. The result was soon known, and the direction in which he was proceeding. The officer immediately ordered a party of men to hurry forward to the point, where the road from Pizzo joined that to Monteleone, while he himself followed in the direction that Murat had taken. Murat had reached the heights where the two roads meet, when an officer stepped forward, and said, ‘I arrest you in the name of King Ferdinand as a traitor.’ Murat’s men immediately prepared to resist, and had levelled their guns, when Murat called out to them not to fire, while the officer opposed to him ordered his men to aim at Murat, yet not one shot took effect.
It is difficult to account for Murat’s indecision at this moment, as no one who has read his history can doubt that he was brave to a fault, but instead of making any resistance, he fled down a precipitous bank and reached the shore. In all prints that you may have seen of him, you will find him represented with long cavalry boots and enormous spurs. He was dressed in this way at the time, and as he attempted to leap into a fisherman’s boat, his spurs got entangled in a net and held him fast till his opponents got up, when he was taken prisoner. Then began one of those disgraceful scenes which have only too often taken place when the tide of popular favour has turned against some unfortunate wretch. A few years before, the inhabitants of Pizzo would have crouched before his chariot-wheels; now, they heaped on him every species of indignity. They spat in his face, they tore his clothes, and even plucked the hair from his head and whiskers. I am ashamed to say that the women were more savage than the men, and if the soldiers had not come up and rescued him from their hands, his life would have been sacrificed to their fury.
He was carried to the castle, and thrust into a low and dirty dungeon, into which I entered. A telegraphic despatch was sent to the commander of the forces in the district, General Nunziante, who hurried forward without delay, with all the troops he could collect, and took military possession of Pizzo. The ex-king was placed at his disposal, and he had no longer any reason to complain of his treatment. Everything was granted that was consistent with his safe custody, and it is only justice to the military officers whose duty it was to act against him, to state that from them he received no treatment unworthy of a high station which he had once held.
On Thursday morning orders were received from government to proceed to his trial, and a military commission of twelve persons was formed in order that all legal forms might be complied with. He was even allowed to employ in his defence, if he chose, a person who is called the advocate of the poor. There could be no doubt that he had forfeited his life by an attempt to excite rebellion; every government must possess the power to punish by the extreme penalty of the law any one who shall attempt to depose it. The exact grounds, however, of his condemnation arose, I believe, from his contravention of a law which he had himself enacted. By the quarantine laws, death is the penalty incurred by any one who shall land in the kingdom of Naples from a vessel that has not received pratique- that is to say, which has not remained in harbour a certain time under the surveillance of the officers of health. The object, you know, is to guard against the introduction of the plague from the East, and the penalty was one which he had himself sanctioned. This, I believe, was the technical grounds of his condemnation, but even without this he must have fallen a victim to his want of success.
After the examination of some witnesses, and no attempt of defence being made by Murat, the military commission retired for a short time to consider its verdict, soon, however, returning, when the president, General Nunziante, addressed Murat somewhat to the following effect: ‘General Murat, our consciences are clear; you are condemned to death by your own law, and you must die. If you wish a confessor, you shall have one summoned immediately.’ He requested that a confessor should be sent for, adding, that he could not believe that Ferdinand would confirm his condemnation; but there was to be no forgiveness for him; orders had already been given that the law should immediately take effect. It is said that General Nunziante was so deeply affected at the part he was obliged to act, that he retired from the room, and did not again make his appearance.
While he was waiting for the confessor, Murat said, ‘Officers, you have done your duty,’ and at the same time requested that paper should be furnished him that he might write a few lines to his wife. He then presented the note to the officers, who pledged their honour that it should reach its destination. He was then asked where he wished to die, being led into a small courtyard within the castle. He paced up and down for a few minutes, exclaiming, Dov' è il mio destino -- ‘Where is my fate?’ when suddenly stopping at a spot which was nearly a foot higher than the rest of the courtyard, and facing round, exclaimed, Ecco il mio destino -- ‘Behold the fated spot.’ He then addressed the officers to the following effect: ‘Officers, I have commanded in many battles; I should wish to give the word of command for the last time, if you can grant me that request. ’ Permission having been given, he called out, in a clear and firm voice: ‘Soldiers, form line,’ when six drew themselves up about ten feet from him. ‘Prepare arms, present’ - and having in his possession a gold repeater with his wife’s miniature upon it, he drew it from his pocket, and as he raised it to his lips, called out - ‘Fire!’ He fell back against a door, and as he appeared to struggle, three soldiers, who had been placed on a roof above, fired a volley at his head, which put him out of pain.
Thus perished the brave Murat, whose fate we may indeed regret, but its justice we can scarcely deny. His body was placed in a common coffin, and conveyed without ceremony to the church by the clergy. He was buried in the vault set apart for the poor, which, however, has been closed since that period. I was shown the small room where the council was held, and two low-roofed dungeons in which Murat and his companions were imprisoned. The door against which he fell appears still stained with his blood. I then proceeded to the church where the bones of the hero were laid. It was small and neat, and on remarking that it seemed to be of late date, I was told that Murat himself had contributed funds for its erection. It appears that he had shown considerable favour to this village of Pizzo, and it was probably from a recollection of this that he selected Pizzo for his foolhardy attempt. In the middle of the church a small stone, with an iron ring by which it was raised, was shown as the entrance to the vault; and, suspended to the roof, the small banner which was to have led him to fortune waved mournfully over his tomb...