Expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain
If Pope Clement XIII
believed that placing Theodore under anathema would bring the wayward monarch to heel, he was quite mistaken. The King of Corsica would not be making any barefoot walks to Canossa. Theodore was not personally troubled by the Monitorio
, and the immediate domestic effects of the brief were minimal. The ban on its dissemination, coupled with the general illiteracy and isolation of the Corsican population, meant that the news spread slowly and was muddled by rumors and half-truths. Corsica only had one real newspaper, the Ragguagli della Corsica
(“Accounts of Corsica”), which did not circulate widely outside of Bastia and was a solidly pro-government paper.
Rather than being placed on the defensive, Theodore quickly decided that Clement, having used his ultimate sanction to little apparent effect, had nothing left in the quiver. He forged on with his planned “reorganization” of the Corsican church, now completely unhindered by the fear of any further response. Although it is generally agreed that the post-Monitorio
reforms were drawn up principally by Theodore himself, they fell to Secretary of State Pasquale Paoli
to promulgate, as apparently Prime Minister Simone Pietro Frediani
preferred to let his subordinate handle this business. For this reason they are known in Corsican history as the Grida Paolina
, or “Paoline Edicts.”
The Grida Paolina
continued Theodore’s regalist agenda of ecclesiastical subordination to the crown, reiterating the prohibition on appeals to Rome and subjecting clergymen to secular courts. The new edicts, however, went much further than merely restating old policies. Seminaries were now to be state institutions, entirely subject to the ministry. Marriage was declared to be a civil contract which, though it might be marked by a religious ceremony, was not within the legal competence of the Church. Claiming that the “excess” of clergy on Corsica “retarded the natural increase of the population,” the edicts placed a cap on the number of priests and monks in the kingdom, forbade men from taking religious vows in excess of that amount, and forbade all women from taking religious vows before the age of forty.
Just as inflammatory as the provisions of the Grida Paolina
was the language used to justify it. Most infamously, the preamble to the edicts included this statement:
...all matters concerning the nation which have not been divinely granted to the Church by Christ and his Apostles are subject to the supreme command and authority of the Sovereign as provided in the Constitution of Corsica.
This language suggested a very narrow view of the Church’s remit and an expansive commitment to regalism. The Curia also observed that it appeared to question the doctrine of apostolic succession, for by claiming that the Church could only concern itself with those matters which “Christ and his Apostles” had placed within its jurisdiction - as opposed to, say, those matters which Clement
considered to be within its jurisdiction - the text implied that the Pope was an inferior substitute to the Apostles, rather than wielding their full authority as delegated to him by Saint Peter.
Yet while the Paoline Edicts caused a great stir in Rome, Theodore’s estimation proved essentially correct. Having already placed the king under anathema, Clement had no further remedies at his disposal. The pope could only hope for a strong popular reaction against Theodore’s regalism, but the provisions of the Grida Paolina
were not as provocative domestically as they were in Rome. Marriage, for instance, was already a civil contract in much of rural Corsica. Couples were usually wed in a secular ceremony (symbolizing the joining of two clans) without the presence of a priest; a “church wedding” was often delayed until the wife’s first childbirth, and sometimes skipped entirely. The cap on the number of priests was the only provision which had a significant impact on traditional life, but because this merely limited the number of future
priests - nobody was actually defrocked or deprived of a curate because of the Paoline Edicts - a popular outcry did not immediately materialize.
Within Corsica, the most strenuous objection to the reforms came not from the bottom of society, but those at the top. The promulgation of the Grida Paolina
in 1765 was the catalyst for the consolidation of the gigliati
as distinct court factions, who coalesced around opposition to or support for the new edicts (respectively). As it was not politically tenable to oppose the king directly, the gigliati
focused instead on Don Pasquale, who was not technically the author of his eponymous edicts but was certainly the leading advocate for regalism within the ministry. Paoli’s position, however, was unshakable; he served at the pleasure of the king, and the king could not be persuaded to dismiss him.
The “anti-Paolists” at court had to content themselves with the knowledge that Theodore would probably not be king for much longer. By the time the king celebrated his 70th birthday in 1764, it was clear that his years were finally catching up with him. Once a barrel-chested, broad-shouldered picture of physical vigor, Theodore had grown stooped with age and flabby from a lack of activity. His regular walks and rides, which Theodore himself credited for his robust health, had been curtailed by arthritis. His demeanour, too, had changed; particularly after his wife’s illness and death, he had grown noticeably more distant and reserved. His old affable and gregarious nature was still evident, but his temper was shorter, and his interest in court life declined precipitously. So precipitously, in fact, that in 1765 the king abandoned the royal court altogether.
Eleanora had preferred to reside in Bastia, but Theodore had always preferred Ajaccio and visited the city often. In the summer of 1765, the king abruptly decamped to Ajaccio and made it his permanent residence. He established himself at the Palazzo Agostiniano
, the former seminary which Eleanora had renovated into a seasonal royal residence. It was a modest residence by royal standards - the grounds covered only two acres - but the four-story palazzo
by the sea was quite sufficient for Theodore’s purposes. The king was by no means a hermit; his palace was directly adjacent to the upper town and he frequently entertained local noblemen, civic leaders, poets, intellectuals, consuls, and foreign travelers. Word spread among the foreign contingent that getting a dinner invitation at the Palazzo Agostiniano
was remarkably easy, as Theodore was always keen to interrogate his foreign guests about news and politics. The king’s time was increasingly devoted to these social events at his palazzo
, alongside personal correspondence, drawing up plans for public works, and plumbing the mysteries of the universe.
In his old age, the king who had once been known as “the Alchemist of Magdeburg” rediscovered his old passion for mysticism and the esoteric “sciences.” With the assistance of his personal doctor Emanuel Calvo
the king made extensive studies of the kabbalah and experimented with magical healing and divination. He collected curious and esoteric texts, from supposed “ancient texts” to modern works like the Arcana Cœlestia
of the visionary mystic Emanuel Swedenborg
. Most famously, the king struck up a regular correspondence with the mysterious Neapolitan nobleman and alleged dark sorcerer Raimondo di Sangro, principe di San Severo
. Raimondo and Theodore had much in common: They were both accomplished polyglots (Raimondo spoke Hebrew and Arabic, among more common tongues), were deeply intrigued by esoteric mysteries, were associated with Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, and were practicing alchemists.
The contents of this correspondence have been the source of much speculation over the years, but their letters unfortunately do not survive today.
Kabbalistic divinity map, Amsterdam, 18th century
The exact nature of Theodore’s religious beliefs remain the subject of speculation. Certainly by the 1760s he was not a Catholic
in any meaningful sense, which explains why his personal break with the Church made no impression on him whatsoever. Yet although Theodore was clearly a “freethinker,” there is no evidence that the king ever embraced the atheism or vague deism that was then in fashion among continental intellectuals. He was sincerely spiritual, and was fascinated by mystical arts which contemporary philosophes
mocked as foolish superstitions.
For his part, Theodore always strenuously insisted that he was a Christian. Some have dismissed this as dissimulation, for the king readily concealed his unusual beliefs and practices from the Corsican people. Theodore, however, may not have seen any conflict between Christianity and esotericism. He is sometimes said to have been a universalist, adhering to the “perennial philosophy” that the world’s formal religions all shared a single basis of metaphysical truth. In the perennial esoteric mind, Kabbalism, alchemy, and the “primordial traditions” of the ancients were not rivals of Christianity, but alternate - and perhaps complementary - means of reaching the same metaphysical epiphany.
While the king explored metaphysics in Ajaccio, the business of the court and the government continued at Bastia, where the crown prince Don Federico
and his wife Donna Elisabetta
now presided in Theodore’s stead. This may have given the crown prince some useful experience, but although he held court he did not rule
; all major decisions still had to pass Theodore’s desk, and the government ministers still served at the king’s pleasure. This proved awkward, for while Theodore gave his government a rather long leash it was still necessary for Frediani, Paoli, and even the crown prince to occasionally travel back and forth between Bastia and Ajaccio to discuss and implement policy. This was not a sustainable way to rule a country, and it caused considerable aggravation to Paoli and the asphodelati
. They saw very clearly that the king’s absence weakened their position at court, and watched with unease as their enemies sought to ingratiate themselves with the prince and princess in preparation for the inevitable succession.
Theodore’s excommunication did not pass without notice on the continent. Although the state of Theodore himself did not elicit much sympathy in foreign courts, many statesmen were sincerely surprised and dismayed by Rome’s heavy-handed and retrograde response. Catholic governments from Lisbon to Vienna were either mulling over similar reforms or had already begun implementing them, and had optimistically assumed that in this modern age the Church simply knew better than to stand in the way of enlightened governance. Certainly Rome could not be allowed to treat other monarchs in the same way it had treated Theodore. “The Roman Curia,” remarked the Austrian state chancellor Wenzel Anton Kaunitz
, “has to be made aware that it can no longer dictate to rulers in matters other than church doctrine.” Mindful of his deeply pious empress, Kaunitz was always cautious when it came to ecclesiastical matters, but even he was convinced that Rome needed to be taught that royal sovereignty could suffer no infringement.
Vienna, however, would not take the lead in the next round of regalist action. That honor would go to Spain, where a confluence of events in 1766 led to a coordinated expulsion of the Society of Jesus from all Spanish domains around the globe. In that year, Spain finally felt the effects of the general southern European famine which had first struck Naples two years earlier, causing unrest and rioting which was conveniently blamed on Jesuit instigators. This same year saw the death of the queen mother Elisabeth Farnese, one of the political protagonists of the War of Austrian Succession and the most influential pro-Jesuit voice at the court of her son King Carlos III
. Freed of this restraint, Carlos and his government struck a swift and mortal blow against the Jesuits, who were rounded up without warning and placed on ships. The king’s officials were sternly informed that if even one Jesuit remained in their jurisdictions for any reason - even an old priest on his deathbed - their lives would be forfeit.
The intended destination of the Spanish Jesuits was naturally Rome, but throwing them upon the pope’s doorstep proved more difficult than expected. Clement refused to accept them, believing that doing so would be tantamount to recognizing the validity of their expulsion. This placed the Spanish captains in a bind. They could not land at Civitavecchia, but neither could they return to Spain - at least, not if they valued their lives. The Spanish ships spent weeks hovering indecisively off the coast of Lazio, hoping in vain for some diplomatic resolution, but were eventually forced to deal with a more pressing matter: their dwindling supplies of food and water. The captains consulted their charts for a nearby, non-Bourbon port where supplies might be obtained, and the port they chose was Bastia.
The Spanish might have feared a chilly reception given Corsica’s present relations with Rome, but they were pleasantly surprised. Although the port of Bastia itself could not accommodate the flotilla, the Corsican authorities were perfectly willing to allow the Spanish to purchase supplies at Bastia and ferry water and provisions to their ships anchored off the coast. The captains spread the word to their fellows, and soon most of the “Jesuit fleet” had converged on the city. Yet while this resolved the fleet’s immediate needs, the underlying problem remained - what were they going to do with all these Jesuits?
Unlike the Bourbon monarchs, Theodore had never made anti-Jesuitism part of his regalist program. On the continent, statesmen and kings envied the Society’s vast wealth and properties and looked with suspicion at their control over education across much of the Catholic world. The Society was perceived as the covert enemy of the new enlightened monarchism, seeding unrest and indoctrinating new generations to obey the Pope and despise kings. In Corsica, however, Jesuits had virtually no power or influence of any kind. Corsica was home to only a very small number of Jesuits, who possessed no significant property and had no role in secular education. Expelling this handful of powerless priests never even occurred to Theodore and his regalist accomplices. On the contrary, the king himself was personally sympathetic to the Society, perhaps because he himself was the product of an excellent Jesuit education.
With the captains begging him for help, the Spanish vice-consul at Bastia approached the government about the possibility of landing their “cargo” on Corsican soil. He was rebuffed by Paoli, who insisted that the kingdom could not possibly provide for the exiles and privately feared that a large number of Jesuits would inflame religious tensions. Paoli, however, was not the only influential man in the kingdom. Seeking a more cooperative official, the vice-consul turned to Don Santo Antonmattei
, Minister of Commerce and the Navy and Corsica’s staunchest Hispanophile.
Although new to Corsican politics, Santo Antonmattei was one of Corsica’s most successful sons. Born in the Capo Corso village of Morsiglia in 1710, he had made a fortune in the New World as a merchant captain carrying goods between Peru, Panama, and Spain.
In 1753 the Spanish crown commissioned him as an inspector of fortresses and port facilities in the Viceroyalty of Peru, and for his services in this capacity he was ennobled by King Ferdinand VI. By the late 1750s he owned a factory in Cadiz and was certainly one of the richest Corsicans alive. Rather than settling in Spain for a comfortable retirement, however, Don Santo returned to his hometown in 1760 and assumed the role of the local patron and philanthropist, funding public works and aiding post-occupation recovery efforts. As it happened, the king was seeking someone to head a new amalgamated ministry of “commerce and the navy,” and decided that Antonmattei was the ideal candidate: He was an experienced captain, a successful businessman, and an expert in maritime trade. He was also rich, a very useful trait for a minister given the government’s limited ability to fund its own departments.
View of the village of Morsiglia
Politically, Don Santo was something of a wildcard. His wealth, nobility, and Bourbon sympathies seemed to make him a natural ally of the conservatives. Yet Don Santo was also a supporter of liberal trade policies, and as a self-made businessman from a northern fishing village he was not a good cultural fit with the old southern landed aristocracy who comprised the gigliati
. Paoli and Antonmattei usually agreed on economic policy, but their relationship was nevertheless stormy; Don Pasquale was suspicious of Don Santo’s Spanish loyalties, and resented the fact that a man who had been absent for the entire Corsican Revolution had been rewarded with a ministerial post.
Favorable to both Spain and the Society of Jesus, Don Santo bypassed Paoli and Frediani and went to the king directly. He argued that the Jesuits - many of whom were from the Americas - had agricultural and educational expertise that Corsica desperately needed. This piqued Theodore’s interest, but he shared Paoli’s concern that the kingdom simply could not support so many needy foreigners. The vice-consul, however, proposed a possible solution. King Carlos had already pledged to pay an annual pension of 100 pesetas to each Jesuit so long as they remained within the Papal States, as a way to encourage these “troublemakers” to stay put. If the king was willing to broaden this offer to include Corsica, it would reduce the dependence of the exiles upon state charity. After exchanging messages with his superiors, the vice-consul procured Madrid’s consent to this arrangement and a royal guarantee for the pensions of any Jesuits landed in Corsica.
Not all the Spanish Jesuits ended up in Corsica. In total, more than five thousand Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish Empire, more than half of whom were from the American colonies. Even with the promised subsidy, the Corsican government was not prepared to accept so many refugees. Even those that were allowed to land did not all stay; many preferred to make their way to Rome or seek opportunities on the continent even if this meant forfeiting their pensions. Corsica, after all, was not the most attractive place of exile. Padre Antonio López de Priego
, a native of Puebla, was singularly unimpressed; “The Corsicans are baptized Christians,” he wrote in a letter to his sister, “but they are so illiterate that in comparing them to the most barbarous Indian tribes I do them no injustice whatever.” Yet more than a thousand Jesuits - mostly Americans - did choose to stay, and would end up playing an important role in the history of the young kingdom.
Pope Clement fell ill and died in early 1768. His successor was Carlo Alberto Guidobono Cavalchini
, the very same Cardinal Cavalchini who had served as Apostolic Visitor to Corsica in the 1750s. Cavalchini - now Pope Benedict XV
- was no Corsican partisan, but he was
a pragmatist. Benedict quickly backed away from Clement’s stubborn and ruinous hostility towards the Catholic monarchies. Bowing to foreign pressure, the pope ordered the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1770, dissolving the order entirely. Yet as Rome and Corsica were still at diplomatic loggerheads, Theodore’s government refused to grant this bull the regium exequatur
, and it was never officially promulgated in the kingdom. In a twist of fate, Corsica became the only Catholic country in which the Society of Jesus was not proscribed.[A]
 Bonfiglio Guelfucci, the editor of the Ragguagli,
was a staunchly royalist Servite friar and revolutionary propagandist who would later achieve fame as one of Corsica’s foremost 18th century historians. The Ragguagli
aspired to be a both a political and literary gazette, including both poetry and political or topical essays. Technically his publication was preceded by the Magazzino di Ajaccio
, but the Magazzino
was a trade publication containing ship arrivals, exchange rates, and snippets of foreign news for a small audience of Ajaccini traders and shipowners, with no domestic political content.
 Although only an enthusiast himself, Calvo had been an associate of the late Rabbi Moshe Luzzatto, a prominent Jewish theologian and mystic who claimed to have received angelic inspiration.
 Raimondo di San Severo is best known for his marvelous and rather dubious inventions, including an ever-burning lamp, a printing press which could print in multiple colors, a self-driving carriage drawn by “wooden horses” which could traverse both land and water, and a means of producing artificial gemstones. He was also the subject of fearful rumors that he was a diabolical magician who performed human sacrifice and subjected his animals and servants to deranged experiments. The prince possessed two "anatomical machines" which still exist today, full-scale models of a human circulatory system made of metal wire built around a human skeleton, which were said to have been created by injecting an alchemical quicksilver solution which turned the subject's blood into solid iron. A statue of a “veiled Christ,” which resides in the Sansevero chapel, was so arrestingly lifelike that some believed the prince had used black magic to transmute a living person into cold marble.
 Very few of Theodore’s papers survive from this period, which is why we can only venture a guess at Theodore’s beliefs and specific interests. It is generally believed that Prince Federico thoroughly destroyed Theodore’s library and papers upon his accession to the throne, as he considered Theodore's "hobbies" to be a potential embarrassment to the monarchy. Naturally, this alleged cover-up provided plenty of fodder for conspiracy theorists. Some later claimed that the alchemist-king’s “secrets” were actually safeguarded by the Asphodelians, spirited away to the Prince of San Severo, or hidden by some shadowy agents of the Freemasons or the Knights Templar.
 Details of Antonmattei's mercantile career are scarce, but in 1750 he is recorded as the captain of the 30-gun El Toscana
carrying a cargo of wax and cinnamon worth a million piastres.
[A] The arrival of the Jesuits in Corsica is based on real events. When Spain expelled the Jesuits from her empire in 1767, the Pope really did turn them away at Civitavecchia, and many of the ships went to Corsica and landed the exiles there. Without support from either Paoli's national government or the Genoese, hundreds of Jesuits organized their own community and survived on contributions from foreign sympathizers. Within two years of their arrival, however, Corsica was invaded by the French. As the Jesuits had already been banned from France, they were forced out once more, with most of them heading to mainland Italy.