A small souvenir from Napoleon’s sister up for auction in Cheltenham

The small piano will be auctioned by The Cotswold Auction Company this December.

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A rare and beautiful spinet gifted by Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples (1782-1839) goes under the hammer in Cheltenham on 14th December. The small piano, made of figured wood and lined with satinwood, was given to the current owners’ descendant George Hepburn. Family legend has it that George was Caroline’s lover in Trieste. The instrument has passed through various generations and has turned up for sale at The Cotswold Auction Company’s Christmas Auction.


Caroline was Napoleon’s sister and married Joachim Murat, a general on Napoleon’s staff. Napoleon made them King and Queen of Naples in 1808, but they betrayed Napoleon and Joachim was executed.


Caroline surrendered to the English fleet at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and escaped to Austria, first living at Hainburg then Frohrsdorf Castle, styling herself as the Countess of Lipona (anagram of Napoli) before settling in Trieste in 1824. She went back to Frohrsdorf for a visit in 1828 from where she wrote a letter, gifting the spinet to George, who was residing in Trieste. The letter translates:

‘I am taking the opportunity of my letter to advise Monsieur Hepburn that I have sent to his address a little piano which I beg him to accept as a small souvenir from Frohrsdorf and regretting greatly that he is not to himself to take pleasure in the hunting, because there is not a week goes by that we don’t bag a stag or fawns.

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I hope to be Trieste in a fortnight’s time, please pay my respects to the Benedetti family to all those who remember me. The piano is so small that he could carry it in his arms down the garden path. I am sorry to hear from the general that the Bora wind has damaged the lawn in his garden, and even though it rivals the Campo Marzo I am no less angry, Comptesse de Lipona.’

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