The Syndicate Fleet
A period drawing of the Dutch 52-gun warship
On May 20th, the "syndicate armada" departed from the Dutch port of Texel. The syndicate's ships numbered three: the Yongfrau Agathe
, a small fluyt of "twelve large guns and four small ones" under Adolphe Peresen
; the Jacob et Christine
, a 12-gun sloop under the command of Cornelius Roos
; and the Africain
(or "L'Africain"), a 40-gun Indiaman, under the overall expedition commander Pierre Keelmann
. As was common practice at the time for a group of merchant ships sailing in dangerous waters—and they would be passing along the Barbary coast—they were accompanied by a state escort, a warship recorded as the 60-gun "Preterod"
under Captain Alexander Frentzel
. It seems very likely that this is a misspelling of the Brederode
, a Dutch fourth-rate warship of 52 guns launched in 1731.
Once through the Strait of Gibraltar, the fleet made stops at Malaga and Alicante in Spain. Thereafter they were headed to Algiers, where they would be delayed on account of a diplomatic mission which Captain Frentzel was commanded to undertake, specifically a negotiation of peace between the States General and the dey of Algiers Ibrahim III
. The fleet was delayed here for nearly two weeks, and only reached Cagliari in Sardinia on August 8th.
In the meantime, Lieutenant-General Louis de Frétat de Boissieux
played a waiting game. He continued his correspondence to his own government, cautioning that if the Corsicans were allowed to remain in the hands of the Genoese they would probably offer the island to the first power that agreed to take them; it might as well be France. He added too that "Theodore de Neuhof, le soi-disant Roi
" was very powerful in the interior and complained of the conduct of the Genoese commissioner-general Giovanni-Battista de Mari
, who continually demanded that he "put everything to fire and blood."
In early June, Boissieux received his answer. The chief minister Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury
penned a reply directly to the "nationals"—
Boissieux handed it over to Theodore's delegates, Gianpietro Gaffori
and Erasmo Orticoni—
informing them that France would not suffer the sovereignty of Genoa over the island to be abridged, but that if the rebels submitted themselves forthwith to His Most Christian Majesty he would hear their claims and ensure they were fulfilled by the Genoese if found to be just and well-founded. Boissieux, reacting to these instructions and aware of the recent hostilities between the Genoese and the Corsicans, ordered Mari to immediately observe a cease-fire. Mari, as usual, was angered at being told to stand down and raged against the "slothful" conduct of Boissieux and his troops, but his position was weak and there was little he could do but comply. Boissieux required the cease-fire to be mutual, and informed the rebels that he would require collateral. He requested that they furnish prominent hostages to guarantee their good behavior, and promised that these hostages would be held comfortably at Toulon and not under any circumstances placed in Genoese custody. He allowed them two weeks to comply.
Boissieux's action immediately brought peace to the island, for both sides feared French power too much to challenge his diktat. Fleury's terms, however, were not acceptable to the Corsicans, as they still refused to place themselves under Genoese power. Nevertheless, Theodore saw the wisdom of being conciliatory, and authorized Gaffori and Orticoni to agree to provide Boissieux with his hostages as soon as volunteers could be found. Additionally, the delegates requested that the French receive a Corsican envoy at Paris so that any Corsican complaints of Genoese bad faith could be provided directly to the French government. Boissieux was not in a position to approve this, but promised that he would submit the matter to Versailles for consideration. Ultimately, Theodore found his hostages, all of whom really were volunteers. There were eight in total, four from the Dila
and four from the Diqua
, and they included Filippo Maria Costa
, a son of Theodore's chancellor Sebastiano Costa
, as well as Alerio Francesco Matra
, the son of Marquis Saviero Matra
For the first time Theodore addressed Boissieux directly, sending him a letter in Gaffori's care. In it, according to his secretary Denis Richard
, Theodore was apologetic. He explained that while he had no doubt of the honor and beneficence of the French king, the Corsicans had so little faith in the honor of the Genoese that they could not bring themselves to agree to be ruled by them again. Theodore suggested that he would gladly set an example to "his subjects" and submit himself to His Most Christian Majesty, and implied that without that example it was very likely there would be war. All he requested was that Boissieux cease undermining him and agree that he should not be treated as a common outlaw, as was so far the stance of Boissieux and his government. It was, he claimed, only by his own persuasion that the Corsicans had sent delegates and hostages at all, and thus the French had much to thank him for. Richard, who had a fairly critical view of his sovereign and employer, suggested in his memoirs that Theodore had been looking for a way out; perceiving his situation as bleak and aware of the treatment that would await him if he fell into Genoese hands, he wanted a promise of amnesty and safe conduct should he at last quit the kingdom.
Boissieux did not immediately respond, and was not the sort of man to be won over in a single letter. He was mindful of his own government's attitude towards Theodore. He did, however, forward the letter to Fleury, adding that he had seen no evidence so far that Theodore had any British association and that if Versailles truly wanted to remove him from the picture, it might be more successful if it offered him safe passage and a "dignified retreat" rather than referring to him as a common criminal. That seems to comport with Richard's explanation that Theodore was on the verge of flight, although Boissieux only suggested that Theodore might take advantage of such an offer, not that he had specifically requested it.
At the same time that Theodore was making his overture, Franco-Genoese relations took a turn for the worse. In late July, the Genoese discovered that an engineer in the French army had been making detailed sketches of the defenses of Calvi and sending them back to France. Whether Boissieux knew about or authorized this is unclear, but it prompted a fresh objection by Mari and further fueled his suspicion that the French meant only to take the island for themselves. Mari wrote Fleury directly, complaining that Boissieux had become too close to the rebels and demanding his removal. While the cardinal did not necessarily share the general's view of the situation, however, he had done nothing insubordinate, and certainly Fleury was not going to sack Boissieux based on the request of a Genoese functionary.
So matters dragged on through the summer. The hostages, some of whom had to traverse the length of Corsica from the Dila
, took time to gather, and Boissieux was sufficiently assured of their good faith as to not stick closely to his two-week guideline. By August 10th they were all accounted for and had been taken to Toulon on a French frigate. Two days earlier, the syndicate armada had reached Cagliari.
The appearance of the Dutch flotilla, particularly after the publication of its alleged manifest in Le Mercure
a few months previously, immediately set the Genoese consul in Cagliari, Mongiardino
, on high alert. He wrote Mari to report the arrival of these suspicious ships and urged the Sardinian viceroy, the Marquis Carlo-Amadeo di Rivarolo
, to inspect or impound them, but Rivarolo declined to do this. In an apparent effort to deceive observers, Captain Keelmann directed the Yongfrau Agathe
and the Jacob et Christine
to depart Cagliari alone, so that they would not appear to be in a convoy together.
At this point captains Frentzel and Keelmann undoubtedly had a discussion. Frenztel, a navy officer, was quite aware that no French corvette could withstand the firepower of the Brederode
, but he was also mindful of the larger political situation. His government tolerated the syndicate, and perhaps even abetted it, but it had no desire for its own ship to open fire on the French Navy on the syndicate's behalf. What the States General needed was plausible deniability, and so far they had it; if at this moment the Brederode
departed from the convoy, the Dutch could very reasonably say that they had been escorting a merchant convoy through hostile waters as was common practice, and whether that convoy had at some later point landed at Corsica was not their concern. Keelmann, however, had been made aware that he would have to land in the north of Corsica if he hoped to be paid, and he feared running the gauntlet of the waters around Calvi where the French presence was presumed strongest.
Frentzel agreed to escort the syndicate ships as far as Cape Revellata near Calvi, and the next day the Brederode
left Cagliari. They traveled north up the western coast of Sardinia and reunited with the smaller ships off Alghero before heading into Corsican waters. Their passage up the western coast was uneventful, although they paused briefly at the Gulf of Sagone to allow the Jacob et Christine
to set ashore some volunteers of Theodore's who did not want to risk being caught aboard the syndicate ships by any French or Genoese vessel that might overtake them.
A modern reproduction of a 42-gun VOC Indiaman which may have resembled the 40-gun
One of these volunteers was another of Theodore's "nephews," Johann Friedrich von Neuhoff zu Rauschenburg
. Johann Friedrich was actually Theodore's first cousin, although at 25 years of age he certainly could have passed for the king's nephew. His father Werner Jobst Lothar
was a younger brother of Theodore's father. As the youngest son of Theodore's grandfather Leopold Wilhelm
, Werner had been stuck with the smallest share of the patrimony, amounting to the picturesque but minor fief of Rauschenburg on the Lippe river near the Westphalian town of Olfen. Accordingly, Werner had taken the title of Freiherr von Neuhoff zu Rauschenburg
, and when he died in 1730 the estate and the title had passed to his son Johann Friedrich. The young lord had been active in Theodore's affairs since his arrival in Amsterdam, and now made his appearance in Corsica with a gaggle of German officers and other hopefuls who had been attracted to the scheme by promises of money and position. Johann Friedrich convinced Keelmann to allow them to disembark with some small arms and ammunition from the syndicate's cargo, at least enough to make sure they were well-protected, but Keelmann was insistent that nothing more would be landed without payment.[B]
On the 24th of August, the syndicate fleet sighted two Genoese barca-longas and the Brederode
ran up the Dutch ensign. The ships approached, and a Genoese captain demanded that the Dutch fleet heave to. Captain Frentzel
refused; they were not in view of any shore, Frentzel felt no obligation to stop for a Genoese ship, and in any case his flotilla vastly outgunned the two little patrol boats. Eventually the Genoese ships departed for Calvi to inform Mari. On the next day, concerned that he had already done too much, Frentzel decided to take his leave of the flotilla and set a westerly course for Port Mahon.
As Isola Rossa was a significant smuggling depot, the northern coast of Corsica was a site of heavy Genoese and French naval patrols. It was also the only rebel-held port in the olive-rich Balagna, which made it ideal for Keelmann's purposes, but after sighting the Genoese barques and the departure of the Brederode
Keelmann did not feel like taking chances. He also needed to placate his co-captains Peresen and Roos, who were on the verge of mutiny and demanded that they re-route to Naples or Livorno. Those captains, unlike Keelmann, were only employees and not investors; they were less concerned with the syndicate's enterprise than their own safety, and as far as they were concerned it was more sensible to try and hawk the arms in their holds at a safer port. Keelmann, however, insisted that his orders were to go to Corsica, and threatened the other captains with legal consequences if they took the syndicate's cargo anywhere else.
Keelmann planned to land at Isola Rossa, but as the fleet approached his worst fears were realized. A flotilla of three ships appeared, three Genoese galleys and the French frigate Flore
. With a westerly wind at his back, Keelmann and his fellow ships fled. Wearing its sails, the Africain
did its best to keep away from its pursuers, but the Flore
was a good sight faster than the lumbering Indiaman. Its captain, the Marquis de Sabran
, fired a warning shot at the Africain
. As a means of confusion, Keelmann ran out the Spanish flag, but did not slow or heave to. When the frigate kept closing, Keelmann ran out the guns to demonstrate to Sabran what he was dealing with.
Sabran undoubtedly knew that he could not stand against the broadside of the Africain
alone, and frustratingly the laggardly Genoese were too far behind to assist him. He attempted instead to overtake the Africain and attempt to arrest one of the smaller ships of the flotilla. Soon he was firing his bow chasers at the Yongfrau Agathe
to damage her rigging, while Keelmann struggled to try and interpose himself between the frigate and the fluyt without losing too much speed. The Africain
fired a warning shot of her own at the Flore
, but Keelmann still hesitated to actually engage her.
The chase, lasting several hours, was eventually decided by the appearance of the Mortella tower at the entrance to the Bay of San Fiorenzo. Owing to its strategic position and Theodore's fears of a French landing in the Nebbio, it was one of the few towers which the rebels had actually garrisoned. The guards did not know exactly what was going on, but they certainly recognized the Flore
and saw it firing on the other ships and trained their two 18-pounder guns on the frigate. Soon they were ranging the Flore
with their guns, and a curl of smoke began rising from the tower—the gunners were warming up their shot furnace and would soon be ready to lob red-hot shot at the frigate. When a shot whistled over the frigate's deck, the Flore
veered away, and the flotilla glided into the bay.[C]
Theodore was only a few miles away at Murato and quickly came to San Fiorenzo. He had some goods to offer them, but told a dismayed Keelmann that most of the oil which had been stockpiled was indeed in the Balagna, and it would take time to arrive. Theodore asked that Theodore begin landing the cargo immediately, but Keelmann refused; his orders were clear. Eventually the two agreed to unload a portion of the cargo—specifically, some of the guns—in exchange for what Theodore did
have, if for no other reason than to fortify the harbor, as Keelmann feared the French and Genoese would be back and attempt to cut out the fleet from San Fiorenzo.
It had been a near thing, but the arrival of the syndicate fleet was an enormous boon for Theodore. Prior to Keelmann's arrival, if Denis Richard is to be believed, the king was on the verge of flight. On the diplomatic front, Theodore seemed to be running out of time, and there was a growing faction of the rebel leaders who had grown disillusioned with the idea that Theodore would ever delivered the substantial foreign aid he had promised and opined that it might be better to agree to Fleury's terms before they no longer had that opportunity. Theodore had been increasingly worried for his safety, that someone might turn him in or assassinate him for the Genoese reward money or to gain favor with the French, and was uncertain who he could really trust, even among the various volunteers and deserters who made up his "German life-guard." Now, however, Theodore had received such support as to silence all but his most irreconcilable critics, and the weapons and money to raise all of Corsica—that is, if he could manage to get Keelmann to disgorge them from his ships.[D]
 Not to be confused with the previous and much more famous Brederode
of 1644, which was the flagship of the Dutch navy during the First Anglo-Dutch War.
 The ambassador of the States General to France would later claim that, according to his information, the Brederode
had accompanied the syndicate vessels along the Corsican coast for fear of Corsican piracy given the "unsettled" situation on the island, which was particularly asinine as it suggested that fear of the rebels was the reason a Dutch warship had been escorting a massive cache of weapons to those same rebels.
[A] This is an image of the replica VOC ship Amsterdam
, which was wrecked on its maiden voyage in 1749. I was originally going to note that in the caption, but I thought better of it; after all, in a TL with a POD in 1738 which does actually concern the Dutch the same ship may not necessarily get wrecked in the same place by the same storm 12 years later. I don't actually have any information on the Africain
except that it was a 40-gun Indiaman of the mid-18th century, and the idea that it looked similar to the Amsterdam
is pure conjecture.
[B] Introducing plausible Theodore successor #2 (after Charles-Philippe de Trevou; Matthias von Drost, for reasons mentioned in the last update, isn't a plausible heir unless everyone else kicks the bucket prematurely). Johann Friedrich, the most minor of barons, has a lot less wealth and status than Charles-Philippe, but that may work in his favor: he's got nothing much to return to in Westphalia, while Charles-Philippe has a prestigious position and hunts with King Louis and might not want to give up the Versailles lifestyle. Additionally, once the fighting gets under way between the rebels and the French, there's reason to think a French successor might be less palatable to the people than a German one.
[C] I'm now realizing just how long it's been since I read my C. S. Forester. Hopefully this naval "engagement" actually makes the slightest bit of sense as I've written it. It's a bit of an awkward situation, really—the side that had the most guns doesn't want to fight, but the other side doesn't necessarily know that at first.
[D] IOTL, Keelmann brought Theodore (who was traveling with the fleet) to Corsica as well as some of his followers, but refused to land the cargo because Theodore had nothing to pay him with; at the time the rebels controlled no ports and Theodore's control over the rebels, having been away since 1736, was nonexistent. As soon as Boissieux heard that Theodore had arrived, he made it known that anyone who harbored him would be treated as an outlaw. He soon left with the fleet for Naples, where Keelmann and his fellow captains were arrested by the Dutch consul (who claimed to have received instructions from Boon) for disobeying their orders. French and Genoese diplomatic pressure eventually obtained their release, and the Dutch were forced to recall the consul after French protests. Theodore was briefly imprisoned at Gaeta, but he had friends in the Neapolitan government, and the imprisonment may have just been a pretext to keep him from the clutches of the French and Genoese. The premise of this TL is that, having returned to the island months earlier, controlling several ports, and most importantly controlling the olive country of the Balagna, Theodore is actually able to pay the syndicate, or at least partially.