The French Arrive
Infantryman of the Auvergne Regiment
Theodore wasted no time in trying to make the best of the diplomatic situation, and began by penning a letter King Louis XV
. Theodore hailed the beneficence, justice, and mercy of the Most Christian King and claimed to have heard the news of the French arrival in Corsica with great joy. Theodore, in his usual grandiloquent prose, welcomed the French with open arms, presenting the French intervention as though it were a mediation between the Genoese and Corsicans rather than an invasion on behalf of the latter. He had no doubt, he wrote, that the "great humanity" of the French king would put in check the "tyranny" of the Republic. This was, of course, nonsense, and Theodore knew it. Yet while the letter was
delivered to Paris (by two unnamed Corsican "plenipotentiaries" whose very presence in France elicited another official protest by the Genoese) it was also widely published in Corsica and the continent. Theodore was, in effect, trying to get out in front of the story, and his letter played to multiple audiences. To the Corsicans, he sought to boost morale by suggesting the French were not actually their enemy; to Versailles, he wished to communicate his desire for negotiation and reconciliation; and to the rest of Europe, he wanted to set up an expectation that France was coming as merely a neutral arbitrator, so that they would appear treacherous if in the end they turned their guns on the Corsicans.
Versailles, at least, got the message. While the French government assured the Genoese that it intended nothing less than a prompt and thorough pacification of the island and its restoration to Genoese sovereignty, they clearly had no intention of landing on the beaches of Corsica with guns blazing. The government was reluctant to deal with Theodore, who they were still convinced was a possible English agent, but they were interested in a potential rebel interlocutor, and found him in the person of Father Gregorio Salvini
. Salvini, a Balagnese priest, was an agent for the Corsican rebels in Livorno. He had pledged allegiance to Theodore in 1736 and had covertly purchased arms in Livorno to be smuggled into the country. He was also a literate man who had earned his doctorate in civil and canon law in Rome, and had arranged the publishing of the anti-Genoese tract Disinganno intorno alla guerra di Corsica
written by the patriot Giulio Matteo Natali
in 1736. Recently, he and certain other Corsicans in Livorno had written to the French chief minister André-Hercule Fleury
to request French mediation in the Genoese-Corsican war. Whether this letter was done with the knowledge or consent of Theodore is unclear; Salvini was certainly in communication with and a subordinate of Father Erasmo Orticoni
, Theodore's foreign minister. Regardless, it suited Theodore's purposes, and the French saw it as the contact within the rebellion they had been looking for. Marquis Jean-Jacques Amelot de Chaillou
, the French secretary of state for foreign affairs, sent instructions to Pierre-Jean Pignon
, a physician who served as the French consul in Tunis, to go to Livorno and meet directly with Salvini. Amelot made it clear that the matter was to be done in the utmost secrecy, and that the government preferred "ways of conciliation rather than ways of rigor."
On Corsica, the war continued. In December, Algajola fell to the forces of Marquis Simone Fabiani
, reducing thereby the Genoese presence in the northwest to Calvi alone. Theodore urged him to besiege that citadel, and even joined him in person; perhaps he thought to wrest this position from the Genoese so as to prevent French forces from having a disembarkation point so near the vital Balagna. Victory, however, would elude the Corsicans this time. The position was simply too strong. The rebels did not have enough artillery, and while they gained the heights south of the city this position was too far to directly bombard the citadel as they had managed at Algajola. Calvi, as the Genoese headquarters in Corsica after the fall of Bastia, had a strong Genoese garrison and was well-stocked with food, water, and ammunition. The Corsicans could cut off Calvi by land, but the Genoese retained control of the sea. Although the siege was maintained through the winter, it accomplished little other than to cause some logistical difficulties for the Republic.
Theodore returned to the Castagniccia in January, dwelling first at Vescovato and then in his first capital of Cervioni. Wherever he was, Theodore continued his efforts at diplomacy, constantly writing letters to any acquaintance or distant relation he could think of, and dictated missives to the syndicate, foreign ministers, diplomats, and consuls. Denis Richard
, his English secretary, was kept busy indeed. When not writing letters, he made legislation on various and sundry matters, and when not doing that he took walks in the countryside, attended always by his German life-guard.
Theodore was always coming up with new schemes, most of which never came to fruition. One particularly innovative example which deserves mention here was a proposal, sent to Minister Fleury in January of 1738, suggesting that Pope Clement XII
might be persuaded to revive his ancient claim to Corsica, and that in exchange for French recognition of this claim His Holiness might be persuaded to "exchange" Corsica for Avignon, thus ceding that Papal enclave in France to the Most Christian King. That Rome might claim Corsica for its own, following medieval precedent, had occurred to Theodore before, but the Papacy had been unresponsive to his overtures; Theodore now presented the idea to France with the implication that Rome was already on board or at least congenial to the idea. It was an incredible presumption, and one which the French probably saw through at once, but one must at least credit Theodore for trying.
Overall command of the French intervention was vested in the 50 year old Lieutenant-General Louis de Frétat, Comte de Boissieux
, a nobleman of Auvergne.
Boissieux was the nephew of the famous Marshal Villars and had served as his aide-de-camp. Although the Genoese would come to criticize him for inactivity, he was by no means an armchair general. He had been in the thick of the fighting in the Italian theater of the War of Polish succession, having been wounded at Parma and noted for personally leading a bayonet charge at Guastalla in 1734. The force which he would be leading was composed of six infantry battalions, two from the Auvergne Regiment and one each from the regiments of d'Ourouer, La Sarre, Nivernais, and Bassigny. Each battalion amounted to about 500 men, for a total force of 3,000 infantry. No cavalry or artillery was provided, although it scarcely seemed necessary:[A]
Boissieux, like Pignon, had been informed of the government's preference to avoid undue "rigor," and it was expected that the very sight of the French army would be sufficient to overawe the rebels and compel their capitulation—or at least reconciliation—without serious opposition. To provide naval support for the intervention, chiefly by patrolling Corsican waters for smugglers, a flotilla of three light frigates was provided; the identity of only one vessel is certainly known, the 26-gun Flore
The expedition had a difficult start. The French transport fleet set out from Antibes on the 6th of February, but the weather quickly turned foul and the French fleet was scattered by a storm.[B]
No ships were lost, but several were driven east and sustained enough damage that they had to put into Livorno for repairs. Boissieux landed at Calvi on the 9th with two battalions. He was welcomed by the Genoese commissioner-general, Giovanni-Battista de Mari
, but their relationship was not to be a warm one. Mari, who had long been a skeptic of French assistance, had strong opinions as to how Boissieux and his forces should conduct themselves. Mari's strategy had been one of terror and spoliation, and he demanded that Boissieux immediately march against the rebels, drive them from the Balagna, offer amnesty to all who surrendered and disarmed, and then raze and burn the homes, crops, and orchards of any who refused that generous offer.
Boissieux had no intention of following this advice. His government vastly preferred a peaceful resolution to the rebellion, or at least one of minimal force. A cynic—and Mari was just such a man—might have interpreted this as a desire to demonstrate the mildness and enlightenment of French rule, as contrasted with Genoese brutality, in order to stoke pro-French sympathy on the island and pave the way for its conquest by France. Although no "smoking gun" exists to prove this ulterior motive, it is quite plausible. Boissieux outright refused to make any aggressive moves at this early point, explaining that several of his battalions had not yet arrived because of complications with the weather. His true aim, however, was made quite obvious two days later, when Pignon arrived in Corsica on the orders of Secretary Amelot. Pignon was instructed by Amelot to make contact with the Corsicans, and Boissieux provided him with letters saying that he would happily have talks with members of the "Corsican nation."
These letters were not addressed to Theodore, as the French still considered him an untrustworthy adventurer and thought they might bypass him entirely. Theodore, however, was by now aware of the Pignon-Salvini correspondence (if he had not been before), and ensured that he was made aware of all of Pignon's proposals. Salvini, under his instructions, informed Pignon that the Corsicans would convene a consulta
at Casinca to choose representatives and decide upon a course of action. In the meantime, Salvini asked for peace, and promised that the rebels would not initiate hostilities against the French. Boissieux was willing to wait, but demanded that the rebel sieges end as a token of good faith. Reluctantly, Marquis Fabiani drew back from Calvi, and in late February Marquis Luca d'Ornano
lifted the long siege of Ajaccio. Boissieux would have to wait longer than expected, however, for it was still winter and there was still snow in the mountains, and owing to logistical difficulties (assuming this was not merely an excuse) the consulta
did not actually convene in full until March.
Theodore, when the consulta
finally assembled, related to the assembly his recent and fervent hope that the French would come as liberators and allies against Genoese tyranny. The French, however, seemed to have decided otherwise, and at this point he produced a letter from Boissieux to Salvini in which the general stated politely but firmly that while the French desired to bring peace to Corsica, they had not come to annex the island but to restore the sovereignty of Genoa. After the general groan of dismay had passed, Theodore went on with humility and resolve. If his own presence, he said, was ever an obstacle to freedom from Genoese tyranny, he would gladly abdicate that very day; if France had offered to take the isle under her wing, and that was the will of the Corsican people, then he would be the first to submit to their rule, and if his own exile from his beloved kingdom was a condition than he would not hesitate to bid them his farewells. It was probably true—in fact Theodore had written a letter to the King of Naples while he had been in prisoner in Amsterdam, offering him the crown of Corsica in exchange for support, and around the same time he had contacted his old Jacobite friends proposing that with their help Corsica could be made a kingdom for the British pretender James Stuart
. He knew the odds against him, and he was clearly willing to surrender his crown if it meant the liberation of Corsica and an honorable position for himself.
The Corsicans, of course, knew none of this, and Theodore did not think it wise to tell them. If France had offered her protection, he said, he would submit, but he would never submit to any arrangement in which the Corsican people would be compelled to return to the rule of the Genoese. That was an uncontroversial opinion, and it drew hearty cheers. If it meant defying the might of France, he went on, so be it, for he would ensure the Corsicans were well-prepared; but Theodore tamped down talk of war, saying that such a fraught endeavor should only be attempted when all peaceful means had failed. Thus, he called upon the representatives to ratify his choice of deputies to be sent to Boissieux: Orticoni, his foreign minister, and Gianpietro Gaffori
, his secretary of state. They were easily approved by acclamation. Theodore, again, was being sincere; he certainly did hope that the French could be made to change their stance on Genoese sovereignty. Negotiations, however, were also a way to buy time.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the intervention of the French army in Corsica would have dissuaded the syndicate from its plans to prop up Theodore. Instead, they doubled down. After the Yongfrau Agathe
returned to Amsterdam with oil, investment in the scheme had only grown, and the syndicate began preparing a new shipment. All the French intervention seems to have done is convince them that this time they would have to send much more materiel and ensure it was much better protected. The 16-gun Yongfrau Agathe
now prepared for its return, but it would be joined by the 12-gun sloop Jacob et Christine;
the 40-gun Indiaman Africain;
and an escort from the Dutch Navy, the 60-gun warship Preterod
. In the holds of the three syndicate ships would be enough munitions to equip an army. Theodore asked for peace, and meant it, but his backers were ready for war.
 Technically Boissieux was not a lieutenant-general when he arrived. He was given that rank in March of 1738, less than a month after he arrived on Corsica.
 The Flore
was a "second order" demi-batterie
frigate, meaning that it mounted a partial battery of guns on its second deck—in the case of the Flore
, four 8-pounder guns on the lower deck and twenty-two 6-pounders on the upper deck and works. This type of design was abandoned in the second half of the 18th century, in part because the lower gun-ports on these ships were so close to the waterline that rough seas sometimes rendered the lower battery unusable. It was replaced by the "true" frigate beginning in the 1740s, which mounted all its guns on the upper deck and reserved the lower deck for crew quarters and storage. That basic design, frequently augmented with additional guns on the forecastle and quarterdeck, would remain standard for the frigate into the age of steam.
[A] Based on what I've read, it seems as if regimental guns were not in use by the French infantry at this time, with even the 4-pounder pieces being under the general command of the artillery corps. This suggests that the initial French force had no artillery at all, although that's hardly incredible—they probably imagined, very sensibly, that they would have little use of it. That list of regiments, by the way, is the same as the OTL list of French regiments which landed in the first French intervention in Corsica around this time. Artillery battalions and several hussar squadrons were eventually posted in Corsica during the first French intervention IOTL, but not until after Boissieux's death in 1739. I'm not aware of the artillery battalions actually doing
anything except garrisoning Bastia, and the hussars were soon dismissed because it proved too difficult to find forage for the horses. Corsica is not cavalry country.
[B] Lest you think I am just making the weather favor Theodore, there actually was a storm at about this time, and it really did mess with the French fleet.