Antoine Félix Lanfranchi: A Companion of Murat

Murat 1815 Naples
Joachim Murat, the dashing King of Naples, in 1815.

Antoine Félix Lanfranchi was one of the soldiers who accompanied Joachim Murat on his final, and fatal, campaign: the landing at Pizzo, Calabria, in October 1815. It was a rash and desperate attempt by Murat to regain his kingdom, lost to him that May, and it involved him landing on the Calabrian coast with just a handful of supporters. Murat had hoped this would trigger a general uprising in his favour, but it dd not. His band of officers and soldiers were overpowered and captured and, after four days of captivity n Pizzo’s prison, Murat himself was executed by firing squad.

Those that accompanied Murat were almost exclusively Corsican. Murat had fled Naples following his defeat at the hands of the Austrians in May 1815 and gone to France. There Napoleon ignored him whilst, after Waterloo, came the Second Restoration, following which the Bourbons sought to seize him and most probably inflict upon him the fate of Marshal Ney. However, Murat was smuggled over to Corsica by sympathizers and there he found himself broadly welcomed in an island that was suspicious of Paris and which had regularly provided soldiers to Murat’s army when he had been King of Naples. The Corsicans rallied to him and, by the end of September 1815, he was able to put together an expeditionary force of some 250 officers and men. This force sailed from Ajaccio on six small boats but then the weather intervened, the flotilla was dispersed, and Murat found himself dazed, and running short of water and supplies, before the little port of Pizzo on 8 October 1815.

Among those with him on that fateful day was the Corsican, Captain Antoine Félix Lanfranchi. He was born on 28 May 1790 at Brando, near Bastia, to Maria Lanfranchi. His father was unknown and his origins were more than modest, for Brando was a poor community dependent on fishing. Still, these were turbulent times and, aged just 12, Lanfranchi joined a battalion of light infantry which, in 1805, was transported over to Livorno, absorbed into the Légion Corse, and sent to fight the Austrians. Then, in 1806, the legion marched south, helping the French overthrow the Bourbons of Naples and placing Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, on the vacated throne. The legion became part of Joseph’s Neapolitan army and continued to serve when Joachim Murat and his wife, Caroline Bonaparte, replaced Joseph on the Neapolitan throne. Lanfranchi, who could read and write, evidently flourished at Naples and he was quickly nominated to serve in the Royal Guard. Towards the end of 1807 he was a mounted velite and was promoted to second lieutenant by 1809 and then to lieutenant on 4 November 1811. His unit, the Velites à cheval of the Royal Guard, took part in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and Lanfranchi was one of 22 cavalry officers who served in the velites in that fateful campaign. Initially, the Neapolitans were kept in reserve and sent to garrison Danzig, however, as Napoleon quit Moscow and began his terrible retreat, the reserves were called up and the velites crossed the Niemen at Kovno on 7 November, just as temperatures began to plunge. They were also soon swept up by the debris of the retreating army, pausing only to fight the Russians in a bitter action at Oszmiana near Vilnius on 5 December, before staggering into frozen Prussia. Lanfranchi, who was wounded by two sword cuts to the head, one slightly scarring his face, and a blow to the right shoulder, at Oszmiana, was one of those to escape.

In early 1813, as the survivors reorganized, Lanfranchi was transferred into Murat’s Guard Hussars on 11 March 1813 ready for a fresh campaign in Germany. When that also went sour, Murat took his Neapolitans back to Naples and campaigned and intrigued in Italy before changing sides in early 1814, betraying Napoleon and joining the Allies. The following year, following Napoleon’s abdication to Elba, Murat had second thoughts and so, when the Emperor escaped from his island retreat, Murat launched a campaign to drive the Austrians from Italy. That campaign also ended in disaster in May 1815 and Murat was chased from his throne. Lanfranchi did rather better, being created a knight of the Order of Two Sicilies on 8 May just before Murat fled his capital for France on 20 May.

The Bourbons then returned to Naples and Lanfranchi, seeing no future for himself, determined to return home to his native Corsica. Civilian life evidently held no charms for him, however, and when he heard Murat was in Corsica he sought him out and volunteered his services. This is why we find Captain Lanfranchi amongst the passengers onboard Master Dominique Forcioli’s Saint Erasme. This barque quit Ajaccio on the night of 28 September bound for Italy. Onboard, too, were Murat, Baron Barbara, General Franceschetti, General Natali, Colonel Ottaviani, Captain Giovanni Battista Viggiani and 37 soldiers, whilst, alongside them sailed five more boats.

The flotilla met with disaster off the coast of Italy, however, and only the Saint Erasme and a little felucca reached the seas off Pizzo. Still, Murat hazarded a landing with just 29 supporters, marching up to the town square and attempting to rally the people to their former king. Instead, he was met with hostility and was overpowered by a band of armed civilians as he tried to escape towards Monteleone. The king and a small number of officers attempted to escape towards the coast but were caught on the beach and Murat was seized and beaten, whilst Captain Pernice was killed and many of the other officers, including Lanfranchi, were wounded.

The prisoners were brought into the castle at Pizzo and, the following day, the interrogations began. General Nunziante, the Bourbon officer in charge of Calabria, interviewed Murat and each one of his followers The Archivio Borbone contains the transcript of the interview of Lanfranchi. Here it is:

“On this morning of 9 October 1815 the suspect was introduced into the presence of the undersigned and the following questions were conveyed to him:

Q. What is your name and country?

A. I am Antonio Felice Lanfranchi, Corsican, and captain of cavalry in the former army of Murat.

Q. How is it you find yourself detained in this castle?

A. Because I was arrested yesterday at Pizzo.

Q. And why was it you were arrested?

A. I was one of those with Murat.

Q. What were the motives for you being with him?

A. I shall tell you why. When the army was disbanded I returned to Corsica to be with my family and there to await the decision of His Majesty Louis XVIII regarding my status. Early last September I heard that Joachim was staying with the mayor of the commune of Vescovato. I was told anyone, whether a civilian or a soldier, could visit him, and I went to see him. Around 10 days later the military commander of the department prohibited communication with the aforementioned Joachim and decreed he must leave. So he left Vescovato and went on to Ajaccio. There he received a passport so he could be reunited with his own. Three or four times he tried to set off with this object but the boats were impounded. I finally embarked on a boat from Ajaccio and accompanied Joachim so that when he set off I was with him. He had with him his passport from the Allied powers so he could go to Trieste and then Austria where he would be reunited with his family. That night we set off with all those who had embarked the day before. The seas had been stormy for ten days so we only set off on the night of 28 September. Food soon began to run short and the water on the boat was used up. Joachim decided to change vessels for a better one, and also get more supplies, and to do that determined to go to Messina or to the commune of Pizzo which was closer. When we came off there we saw that there were no [suitable] boats on the shore but, nevertheless we landed and determined to pass through the province in order to go down to Cotrone where boats could normally be found and we could then continue on to Trieste. All of us therefore landed and we followed him. No sooner had we stepped on the beach than the sailors in our boat cheered ‘long live Joachim’ and the soldiers, who were there to escort us, did the same although I ordered them not to. The population took up arms so we left the town and went off towards Monteleone where Joachim thought to present himself to Your Excellency [Nunziante] so as to ask for an escort to go with him to Cotrone. We had not gone far when a huge crowd attacked us. We returned to the harbour to re-embark but the boat was some way off and sailing away. One of us, Captain Pernice, was hit and went down and most of us were wounded and we were taken and brought to this fort.

Q. Who owned the boat you were brought on?

A. The owner was French but I don’t know his name.

Q. Were there other passengers on the boat?

A. I don’t remember them all but one of them was called Barbara and he knew the coastline, which the master did not, but he brought us here although, as I said, we should have gone to Cotrone.

Q. Did you have any secret intelligence from this kingdom and, if so, from whom?

A. I did not.

Q. Did you have a tricolour flag onboard your vessel?

A. I did not see one, but I heard Joachim say that, when, in the depths of his disgrace, whilst at Toulon, he had considered forming a band of Corsicans and try to seize the kingdom but that he had abandoned that idea when he received the Allied passport. I should add that the passport also applies to his followers.

Ant. Felice Lanfranchi.


[Archivio Borbone, f. 656.]

Murat was executed on 13 October and his followers fully expected to share the same fate. However, the King of Naples, Ferdinand, pardoned them in an unexpected show of magnanimity and so, after briefly being detained in one of the Neapolitan penal islands, they were shipped off back to Corsica. The French authorities were, however, less merciful and the officers were detained and promptly sent the notorious Chateau d’If. The French hoped to bring the officers to trial, no doubt for being dangerous Bonapartists, but the courts felt they could not, in all honesty, prosecute pardoned Corsicans for having erred against the crown of Naples. When a final attempt to prosecute Franceschetti, Natali, Ottaviani, Lanfranchi and Medori at Draguignan in the Var collapsed, the officers were reluctantly released on 16 January 1817 and sent into internal exile under surveillance. Then, after another month had passed, the Minister of Police finally sent an order permitting them to return to Corsica.

After such vindictive treatment, Lanfranchi went abroad and found employment in Smyrna, in the Ottoman Empire. There he maintained links with Queen Caroline, Murat’s widow, and seems to have acted as agent to General Macdonald, her adviser, until 1820 and also seems to have received some compensation from them for his losses in 1815. Then, readmitted into the French Army as captain, he returned to Corsica and, provided with a modest half-pay salary, married and settled down.

He was just 30 years old but had experienced more than many people would experience in a lifetime.

He died in September 1863, at Brando, leaving a widow and two children.

Further reading:

Franceschetti, Domenico Cesare. Mémoires sur les événements qui ont précédé la mort de Joachim 1er, roi des Deux-Siciles. Paris, 1826.

Giacomoni, Maryse. Antoine Félix Lanfranchi, capitaine des hussards de

la garde du roi Joachim Murat (1790-1863) in Cavalier et Roi, 23, pp 65—68.

Lemmi, Francesco. La fine di Gioacchino Murat in Archivio Storico Italiano, 26, 220, 1900.