Carolyn-Maria-Annonciada Bonaparte, the youngest sister of Napoleon, was born at Ajaccio in 1782. She was, therefore, 11 years old when her mother and family were compelled to leave Corsica for Marseilles, and to accept the bounty of the convention. On going to Paris the next year, she was placed at Madame Campan’s boarding school, where she acquired some accomplishments and many affectations. In 1798, her brother Joseph was appointed ambassador of the republic near the papal government, and Carolyn spent some time with him in Rome. Then only 16, her rather precocious beauty attracted many admirers, among whom were Joachim Murat, aide-de-camp of Bonaparte, and the young prince to Santa Croce. Murat was evidently the favorite, but he was unable to prosecute his suit, as he fell at this period into disgrace with the general-in-chief on account of an unskillful maneuver before the walls of Mantua. He lingered for many months under Bonaparte’s displeasure, but redeemed himself in Egypt, at Aboukir, and in the struggle with Mourad Bey. One his return to France, Josephine strongly urged him to apply at once to Napoleon for the hand of the sister Carolyn, hoping by thus espousing his interests, to secure to herself a partisan in the very bosom of her husband’s family.
Murat proferred his request to Bonaparte at the Luxembourg. It was received coldly and Murat obtained no immediate satisfaction. In the meantime occurred the revolution of the ninth of November; Murat’s dashing charge of grenadiers in the hall of the 500, greatly facilitated Bonaparte’s usurpation of power. The aide-de-camp receive the command of the consular guard, and the first consul yielded to the pressing solicitations of Josephine, Hortense, and Eugene, in behalf of his marriage with Carolyn. “Murat is the son of innkeeper,” said Bonaparte, hesitating; “but, after all, the alliance is a proper one, and no one can say that I am proud, and that I seek grand matches.” Joachim Murat and Caroline Bonaparte were married at the Luxembourg on the 29th of December, 1799 and in the second month of the consulate. Bonaparte could only give his sister a portion of 30,000 francs; the wedding present which he made her was a diamond necklace, abstracted from Josephine’s jewel box, in the vain hope that that luxurious lady would not notice its absence. He was soon able, however, to purchase her a country seat, called Villiers, at Neuilly.
Murat as King of Naples
Caroline Bonaparte, at the age of 17, and at the period of her marriage, is said to have possessed ;the most beautiful complexion in France. Her skin was thought to resemble white satin seen through pink glass. Otherwise, she was not to be compared to her older sister, Pauline. Her head was large, and her shoulders were round; her arms, hands, and feet were perfect, like those of all the Bonapartes; her hair, which in infancy, had been almost white, was now neither light or dark; her teeth were white, though not so regularly beautiful as those of Napoleon; she kept them constantly visible by a permanent sneer. Jewelry, which so well became Pauline, was detrimental to the pure, pale colors of Caroline’s complexion. Heavy stuffs, brocades, and sections were equally prejudicial, and she seldom wore them in consequence.
Napoleon soon left Paris for the second Italian campaign, and taking Murat with him to the St. Bernard and Marengo, left the youthful bride to play her part in the reviving gaities of the metropolis. On the proclamation of the Empire, Napoleon made Murat Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves, his dominions including the possessions of the House of Nassau, and the principality of Muenster. Carolyn was not content with this allotment, and left her husband to assume and to administer his government as he thought fit. She saw a very little of her capital city of Dusseldorf, preferring to remain at Paris and to reside in the Elysée Imperial. During the winter of 1806-7, she led the festivities of the court, of which she was the undisputed belle. Her sister Elisa was at Lucca, Pauline was an invalid, Hortense was in Holland, Josephine had abandoned dancing, and Napoleon and Murat were absent at the wars. It was at this period that she enticed General Junot, now governor of Paris, into a gallant intrigue, which drew upon him the wrath of Napoleon, and which consequently reduced his wife, the Duchess to d’Abrantes, to the necessity of writing her memoirs for a subsistence.
Napoleon returned to Paris in July, 1807, having but lately received full and written details of Junot’s intimacy with his sister. Their first meeting was a stormy one. Napoleon accused Junot directly of having compromised, by his assiduities, the good name of the grand Duchess. “Sire,” exclaimed Junot, “I loved the Princess Pauline in Marseilles, and you were on the point of giving her to me. I loved her to distraction, yet, but was my conduct? Was it not that of a man of honor? I am not changed since that period. I am still equally devoted to you and yours. Sire, your distrust of me is unkind.” Napoleon listened with a menacing brow. At last he said, “I am willing to believe what you say, but you are nonetheless guilty of imprudence; and imprudents in your situation towards my sister amounts to a fault, if not to worse. Why does the grand Duchess occupy your boxes at the theaters? Why does she go thither in your carriage? Hey, M. Junot! You are surprised that I’m so well acquainted with your affairs, and those of that little fool, Madame Murat. Yes, I know all this and many other facts which I am willing to consider as imprudences only, but which are nevertheless serious offenses on your part. Once more, why this carriage with your livery? Your servants should not be seen at two o’clock in the morning in the courtyard of the grand Duchess of Berg! You, Juno! You, compromise my sister!”
“I do not hesitate to ascribe all my husband’s misfortunes,” writes Madame Junot, “and even his death, to his unhappy entanglement with Caroline Murat. I do not charge this connection with real criminality: I even believe that there was only the appearance of it: but the suspicious appearances, which really did exist, led to the most fatal consequences: they kindled the lion’s wrath. A family bereft of its hed, children made orphans, an illustrious name assailed, are sufficient grounds for conferring on my history all the solemnity it merits, and preserving it from the insignificance of an amorous intrigue. I shall entertain my readers neither with jealous passions nor with romantic sorrow: it is facts alone that I shall record.” General Juno was soon after sent to take the chief command of the army of observation, now assembling at Bordeaux and Bayonne. “So then, you exile me?” he said to Napoleon. “What more could you have done, had I committed a crime?” “You have not committed a crime, but you have erred. It is indispensable to remove you from Paris, to silence the current reports respecting my sister and you. Come, my old friend – the marshal’s baton is yonder.”
Murat spent the winter of 1807-8 in Paris, and for a time plunged into the follies of what he supposed a life of fashion and elegant debauch. As a gallant, his connections were of the lowest sort, and had it not been for his splendid military reputation, his affected manners and harlequin dress would have driven him from society. Even in the field and as a soldier, he had made himself notorious by his fantastic costume. He gathered together scraps of military uniforms from the armies of every nation in Europe, and huddled them upon his magnificent person with an utter disregard of epoch, fitness or color. He invented a series of military head-dresses that rendered the leader of the cavalry of France a pompous and flaunting caricature. His feathers cost him 70000 francs a month. He was called “l’homme aux panaches.” The most severe language that Napoleon ever listened to from any one of his generals, was provoked by Murat’s mountebank attire. “That brother-in-law of yours is a pretentious knave,” said Lannes, “with his pantomime dress and his plumes like a dancing dog.” Murat’s eccentricities could not diminish his merits as the most brilliant cavalry officer of the age; but his curls, furs, plumes, feathers, and his wardrobe generally – that of a strolling player – with corresponding manners, rendered it vain for him to aspire to the position of a gentleman and a courtier. Napoleon once called him a “Franconi King.”