Sunday, March 18, 2012

So why Murat?

On gaming message board I frequent a friend posted the following regarding the title of this blog:

“Murat's closet and Lady Butler's painting of the Scots Greys, surely a mismatch.”

Indeed it is. Murat was, after all, one of Napoleon’s Marshals, a member of the new nobility of France – about as far from a British trooper as you can get. So why “Murat’s Closet?”

I’ve found that miniatures wargamers tend to identify with their armies. Hex-and-counter and computer-based wargames come with “both sides.” You punch out the counters (or click the mouse) and select who you are going to play as when the game starts. Sure, you may well have a preference, but there isn’t as much commitment to an army.

Building and painting a miniatures army requires dedication. They’re pricey, even in these days of plastic line infantry. And, more to the point, building and painting them takes a large amount of time.

When I set up this blog it was my intention to build a French army. Back in the day my 15mm Napoleonic army was French. I’ve painted more than my share of mustachioed Guardsmen in my time, so why switch?

Making that jump from French to British wasn’t a lightly made decision, but my main opponent had already started his French army. Thus I started picking up books about Wellington’s army and investing in tiny redcoats.

I haven’t posted much about the progress of my British lately because I’m still cleaning horses. I’ll have some visible results soon, once I start basing them and airbrushing them. But as of now I’ve sunk a lot of hours into my cavalry, with nothing to show for it but have bare metal horses which are not exactly exciting to look at. (And, of course, I’m still finishing up those WWI Germans, painting tiny bayonet knots in appropriate Kompanie colors…)

But even though I’m working on the British I still can’t turn my back on Joachim Murat entirely. He’s such an interesting and colorful character that I had to keep the blog’s name. Murat seems to sum up the flair and style of period perfectly.

He was a seminary student who was so enamored with military pomp that he dropped out of school, beginning his military career in 1787 as a common trooper. He was almost immediately expelled after a scandalous affair; he claimed that he was discharged because he had displayed too much revolutionary zeal. But luck was on his side; he soon reentered the army and was the man who brought Napoleon the cannon on 13 Vendémiaire. After this Napoleon appointed him as his chief aide-de-camp, and his place in history was assured. He soon became Napoleon’s brother-in-law and in 1808 he was crowned King of Naples and Sicily. Throughout Napoleon’s campaigns he had moments of glorious triumph as “The First Horseman of Europe,” but he also experienced dismal failure, leading Napoleon to refer to him as a “bewildered idiot.” After Waterloo he attempted to regain the throne of Naples through insurrection. King Ferdinand IV put a price on his head, and he was caught and executed on October 13th, 1815.

For all his flamboyance, personal courage, and ability to lead men, Murat was by no means a great military commander. He was too selfish, too impetuous, and too treacherous to be trusted, and only really performed well when Napoleon had him on a very short rein. – Quarrie, Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature, p. 130.

If there is one thing that Murat is remembered for by wargamers, it is his sense of sartorial style. Murat was an outrageously flamboyant dresser in an age known for excess. During his military hiatus in 1789 he worked as a haberdasher’s clerk at Saint-Ceré. He later designed his uniforms himself, and some of his creations were astoundingly outlandish. Here are three portraits, the first two by François Pascal Simon Gérard, the third by Antoine-Jean Gros.

So even though I’m building a British army, I can’t turn my back on Joachim Murat’s sense of style. Those British redcoats seem dour and drab in comparison…

1 comment:

  1. He made Beau Brummel look like an undertaker's assistant!