King Theodore's Corsica

Well, now that we have Jesuits from the Americas in Corsica, I was thinking about possible agricultural transplants to Corsica, which brought up Jesuit's bark, which prompted a memory that someone had mentioned it in this TL before. After a search, I was pleasantly surprised it was me!
Well, the high-in-quinine bark of the cinchona tree (Jesuit's Bark) had been used a malarial curative for a while now. In fact, contemporaneous to this TL, the French naturalist Charles Marie de La Condamine was in Ecuador and published a paper on the taxonomy and medicinal properties of the varieties of cinchona trees in 1738. Our Theodore seems like the perfect philosopher king to make full utilization of such discoveries.
 
Well, now that we have Jesuits from the Americas in Corsica, I was thinking about possible agricultural transplants to Corsica, which brought up Jesuit's bark, which prompted a memory that someone had mentioned it in this TL before. After a search, I was pleasantly surprised it was me!

Certainly the Jesuits in Corsica know about cinchona, but I doubt they have any - most of them were seized in the middle of the night, marched off to the coast, and packed in ships bound for Europe without much more than the clothes on their backs. Knowledge is good, but they no longer have any access to the supply, which makes agricultural transplant difficult.

I'm also not sure whether cinchona would thrive on Corsica. When it was finally cultivated outside South America in the 19th century, I believe it was chiefly grown in tropical regions.
 
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Certainly the Jesuits in Corsica know about cinchona, but I doubt they have any - most of them were seized in the middle of the night, marched off to the coast, and packed in ships bound for Europe without much more than the clothes on their backs. Knowledge is good, but they no longer have any access to the supply, which makes agricultural transplant difficult.

I'm also not sure whether cinchona would thrive on Corsica. When it was finally cultivated outside South America in the 19th century, I believe it was chiefly grown in tropical regions.

No, sadly, you are right. The climate is not warm enough; although it apparently does well in Saint Helena. Nonetheless, other agricultural innovations could flow from the Jesuit presence. While they might not have brought any plants or seeds with them, they do have a sponsor in a Minister of Commerce with ties to American trade who could be advised to introduce some interesting plant varietals that might flourish in Corsica's climate. Corsican avocadoes, perhaps?
 
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No, sadly, you are right. The climate is not warm enough; although it apparently does well in Saint Helena. Nonetheless, other agricultural innovations could flow from the Jesuit presence. While they might not have brought any plants or seeds with them, they do have a sponsor in a Minister of Commerce with ties to American trade who could be advised to introduce some interesting plant varietals that might flourish in Corsica's climate. Corsican avocadoes, perhaps?

France had an interesting little stab at this. Having acquired Corsica and deciding that it would make a nice little laboratory for the latest theories in modern enlightened governance, the French IOTL briefly experimented with introducing new cash crops. They appear to have gotten it into their heads that Corsica could be the "Indies of the Mediterranean" (actual phrase) and theorized that Caribbean plantation crops like indigo, coffee, sugar, and cotton would thrive there. I'm not really sure why they thought these crops would do better in Corsica than in, say, southern France, but in any case all these plans were abandoned upon the arrival of the French Revolution.

I confess I have a little bit of morbid curiosity as to how the Corsicans would have reacted to the French trying to put them to work on sugar plantations.
 
The most interesting agricultural introduction was probably the French attempt to cultivate cochineal in the mid-19th century. The production of cochineal dye in the Spanish colonies was a closely-held secret and the insects themselves were very fragile, which thwarted attempts to smuggle live cochineal bugs out of Spanish America. After the breakup of Spanish America in the 1820s, however, several powers (including the Spanish themselves) got a hold of the insects and attempted to cultivate them in Europe. The French tried to do it on Corsica, and planted opuntia cactus (prickly pear) on the island, which the cochineal insect lives upon and eats. Sources differ as to how well this actually went; I've read reports that Corsica made the "best cochineal known" and other reports to the effect that the whole enterprise was an abysmal failure. It seems that cochineal was successfully produced, but the cultivated area was fairly small and output was limited. In any case, the whole enterprise came too late; the discovery of aniline dyes produced from coal tar in the 1860s abruptly made cochineal uneconomical, and the whole industry collapsed.

Today the cochineal bugs are long gone, but the opuntia thrived. There's still plenty of prickly pear on Corsica, a possible modern legacy of France's insect experiment.
 
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The most interesting agricultural introduction was probably the French attempt to cultivate cochineal in the mid-19th century. The production of cochineal dye in the Spanish colonies was a closely-held secret and the insects themselves were very fragile, which thwarted all attempts to smuggle live cochineal bugs out of Spanish America. After the breakup of Spanish America in the 1820s, however, several powers (including the Spanish themselves) got a hold of the insects and attempted to cultivate them in Europe. The French tried to do it on Corsica, and planted opuntia cactus (prickly pear) on the island, which the cochineal insect lives upon and eats. Sources differ as to how well this actually went; I've read reports that Corsica made the "best cochineal known" and other reports to the effect that the whole enterprise was an abysmal failure. It seems that cochineal was successfully produced, but the cultivated area was fairly small and output was limited. In any case, the whole enterprise came too late; the discovery of aniline dyes produced from coal tar in the 1860s abruptly made cochineal uneconomical, and the whole industry collapsed.

Today the cochineal bugs are long gone, but the opuntia thrived. There's still plenty of prickly pear on Corsica, a possible modern legacy of France's insect experiment.
Any chance one of the Jesuits could try kick starting this experiment in the 1700s?
 
I don't think there's anything the Jesuits can do. The main problem is getting the insects from the Americas, and the Jesuits are no longer in the Americas.

A Frenchman, Menonville, managed to smuggle out some live cochineal in 1777. He was only taking them as far as Haiti, however - much easier on the bugs than a transatlantic voyage. Even then, his cochineal plantation seems to have failed to thrive, and Spain's monopoly remained effectively intact until the collapse of the empire in the 1820s.
 
The Royal Corsican Navy
The Royal Corsican Navy


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Model of the Corsican 24-gun frigate Capraia

Given the small size and limited means of the Corsican kingdom in the 1760s, the state’s need for a navy may not be immediately apparent. The kingdom could never hope to assemble a fleet strong enough to ward off the great powers, nor did it have a large amount of merchant tonnage to protect. Yet the kingdom still possessed maritime interests which made some sort of armed naval capability essential, as King Theodore and his ministers were well aware. Re-establishing the navy after the Treaty of Paris became one of the king’s first priorities.

The primary maritime threat to Corsica was posed by the Barbary “regencies,” whose corsairs had long menaced Christian trade in the Mediterranean. The Barbary corsairs had been in decline during the early 18th century, but the general European wars in the 1740s and 1750s created a favorable environment for a comeback.[1] Whatever protection France had offered Corsican shipping by its presence was lost after the “liberation” of 1759. Corsica and Tunis had a treaty of peace, but the other regencies - Algiers in particular - saw the island as fair game. Many other states, including great naval powers like France and Britain, found tribute to be cheaper than protecting their merchant fleets and simply bought peace from the corsairs. Corsica, however, would not pay. Even if the meager state finances had allowed it, the very notion of giving tribute to the Corsicans’ ancient enemies - the rapacious Moors who had terrorized the isle for a thousand years - was intolerable.

When Don Santo Antonmattei took charge of the new ministry of “commerce and the navy” in 1761, he was starting virtually from scratch. The “navy” consisted of only one warship: The Cyrne, a 10-gun sloop purchased from the British which had seen service in “King Theodore’s War” a decade earlier. Its crew had taken it to Malta during the French occupation to avoid seizure, and when it returned it was in a sorry state from neglect and poor maintenance. Corsica had neither the facilities nor the craftsmen to make the necessary repairs. To make a fresh start, Theodore authorized Don Santo to send an “expedition” to England with instructions to purchase “a swift frigate, in good repair, of 20 to 30 guns” and to recruit experienced sailors and artisans. His chosen envoys were his close friend and fellow Morsiglian Giacomo Giacomini di Porrata, who had also been a merchant captain in the Americas; and Giovan Battista Peri (or Perez), a Corsican-born Knight of Malta and an experienced corsair captain. They were also accompanied by Giovan Felice Valentini, a cousin and close political ally of Secretary of State Pasquale Paoli, who was taking up his post as Corsica’s new ambassador to Great Britain.

It was a good time to be in the market for secondhand ships. Now that the war was over, English ports were full of prizes of war and other surplus. The Admiralty was not interested in selling its most recent classes of ships, but they were willing to part with some older ships which no longer represented the cutting edge of frigate design. Porrata and Peri made a thorough excursion: They met with the Senior Naval Lord Admiral Edward Boscawen, visited the naval yards at Plymouth and Liverpool, and sought out sailors and officers languishing on half-pay who would agree to return to Corsica with them.

The ship they chose was the Rose, a 24-gun “post ship” launched in 1743 which they managed to acquire for £910.[2] Back in Corsica it was re-christened as the frigate Capraia, an homage to the crown prince. Armed with a main battery of 9-pounder guns, the Capraia was a powerful ship for its size and a match for most corsair vessels in a one-on-one fight. Its sailing qualities, however, left something to be desired. As British post ships often spent long periods of time “on station” overseas, more consideration was given to seaworthiness, cargo space, and crew comfort than speed or weatherliness.

One of the ships Porrata and Peri had examined in England was the Saltash, a sister ship of Corsica’s own Cyrne (ex-Merlin). They did not buy it as their instructions called for the purchase of a frigate, but they were intrigued by the substantial changes which the British had made to it. They had completely changed the sail plan, replacing the sloop’s two-masted snow rig with a three-masted ship rig, and had substantially increased its armament from ten to fourteen 6-pounder guns. Porrata and Peri took some measurements, and upon their return suggested to Antonmattei that a similar overhaul might be attempted with the aging Cyrne. The ship was taken to Livorno for repairs and refitting, which proved rather expensive but successfully returned the ship to service.

Initially the navy’s only other type of vessel was the felucca, a common type of single-masted fishing boat. In naval service these were equipped with oars and armed with petriere (swivel guns) and sometimes one or two small carriage guns. Although too weak to fight corsairs, they could easily catch and overawe an unarmed smuggler and remained in use as coastal patrol vessels. Over the course of the 1760s the navy also acquired larger “tartans” or tartane, one or two-masted lateen-rigged merchant vessels, which became its favored auxiliary ships. The tartana actually had a deck (unlike the open felucca) and could carry more cargo and a more respectable armament. Naval tartane were typically equipped with 4 to 8 “falcons” (probably 3 or 4 pounder carriage guns) along with petrieri. We know the names of only two such ships, the Ventura and the Rondone, but the navy possessed at least four tartane in 1768.[3]

The Corsican navy got off to a rough start, and 1764 was a particularly ignominious year. In June, a naval felucca and a private merchant pinco were taken by the Algerians off Capo Muro, just 15 miles from Ajaccio. Just two months later the navy very nearly lost its new flagship off the coast of Bastia when it was approached by five corsair vessels under oars. Thanks to its own sweeps and several civilian craft which tied tow ropes to the frigate, the Capraia managed to crawl back within range of Bastia’s citadel, and the corsairs were warned off by fire from the shore battery.

In response to these events the navy commissioned two galiots from Corsican shipbuilders, the Santa Devota and the Beato Alessandro. These were small galleys with sixteen banks of oars and lateen sails, armed with three guns in the bow and a number of petrieri and spingardi. With their shallow drafts they could pursue corsair vessels hiding in inshore waters, and could also serve as towing ships. These ships proved very useful additions to the fleet, and assisted the sailing warships in capturing a handful of small corsair vessels in Corsican coastal waters.


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Model of a 16-bench galiot


Adequately crewing even this modest fleet was a major challenge. Some English sailors had been recruited by Porrata and Peri, but they did not last long; within weeks of their arrival Peri complained that the English were “particularly partial to our wine” and constantly drunk. Most were dismissed within a few months. As Corsican manpower was insufficient, the navy turned to other foreign sources, particularly Livorno and Malta. In 1770 only half the navy’s ordinary sailors were actual Corsicans.

The supply of native officers was considerably better. The kingdom had a modest but enthusiastic pool of experienced naval officers, most of whom were veterans of Maltese service - sometimes as actual knights, like Peri, but mostly as private corsairs who raided Turkish shipping under the legal protection of Maltese letters patent. Some had already sailed under a Corsican flag as privateers during the Revolution. These ex-corsairs had plenty of maritime experience and knew the Barbary enemy well, but most had served on feluccas and galleys and had little experience with modern sailing warships. To train them, the navy sought out foreign officers. British lieutenants Cole and Oakeley were hired by Porrata and Peri in England and fared better than their other countrymen, serving out their full contracts. A Dutchman, Lieutenant Pieters, was hired in 1763 on similar terms. The foreigners were known for imposing strict discipline, which did not endear them to either the crews or the proud ex-corsair Corsican officers. Nevertheless, they seem to have trained effective crews and imparted valuable skills to the Corsican officers.

The strategy of the Corsican navy during the 1760s was exceedingly conservative. Given the small size of the navy, the loss of even a single vessel meant losing a large investment in money, materiel, and manpower. It would be a massive blow to the strength of the navy and the prestige of the kingdom. As a result Corsican warships rarely left the coast, and after 1764 they were prohibited from sailing alone under most circumstances. The navy offered battle with the corsairs rarely and only under highly favorable conditions, such as when the squadron managed to find a single vessel or a handful of small ships cruising along the coast or hiding in a cove. Nevertheless, the navy had plenty of duties to keep its ships occupied. Because of Corsica’s difficult terrain and poor infrastructure, naval transport was often the fastest and cheapest way to move soldiers, goods, provisions, money, artillery, and munitions between the presidi, and this cargo needed to be protected. Naval transport was also necessary for the government’s salt provision, as most salt was produced on the eastern coast and needed to be moved elsewhere for distribution and sale. Although the navy’s anti-corsair patrols attract the most historical interest, by far the most common duty of Corsica’s warships was escorting the tartane, feluche, and private merchant craft.[4]


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Model of a Corsican tartana


The only true “expedition” of the Corsican Navy in the 1760s was in 1767, when the Capraia and Cyrne took part in a joint cruise with the Sardinian Navy. The Kingdom of Sardinia was also trying to establish its first sailing navy and had followed essentially the same playbook as the Corsicans, sending a mission to England to purchase ships and hire sailors. As the main interest of the Sardinians was protecting their regular convoys between Finale and the island of Sardinia, which passed directly through Corsican waters, a capable Corsican squadron that could help keep those waters free of pirates was absolutely in their interest. After several years of training and convoy duty, Sardinia’s British officers suggested embarking on a long cruise to give the crews some experience and perhaps capture a few prizes.

The combined fleet - the 40-gun San Carlo, the 36-gun San Vittorio, the 24-gun Capraia, and the 14-gun Cyrne - cruised for 78 days, visiting Sicily, Malta, and the Barbary coast. The fleet sighted two unidentified xebecs off Pantelleria which escaped, but had better luck on the return journey, when they sighted an Algerian flotilla off the southwestern coast of Sardinia and gave chase. Several ships escaped, but the fleet managed to overtake a barque and a galiot, which were hopelessly outgunned and surrendered after a brief cannonade.

As even this little flotilla represented a considerable cost to the state, the Corsican government was always looking for alternative means to raise money and defray its expenditures. The navy’s ships often carried private goods or civilian passengers for a fee when they did not have pressing official business. In 1763 the government approved a tax on maritime insurance known as the sicurtà (“security”) which went directly to the naval budget. Even with these revenue sources the navy only stayed afloat - literally - with the help of private donors, including the king himself, Prince Federico, Don Santo, and a handful of other noblemen. There was also a “subscription” started by Jewish traders in Ajaccio to help fund the construction of the galiots; as their business was trade and coral fighting piracy was a matter of self-interest, but it was also a means to demonstrate their patriotism and loyalty to the state at a time when the religious future of the kingdom seemed uncertain.

Capraia (ex-Rose), Frigate
Launched: 1743 (Commissioned 1762)
Armament: 20x9pdr (UD), 4x3pdr (QD), 12 swivels
Broadside: 96 lbs
Crew: 140 men
Length: 108 feet
Burthen: 445 tons

Cyrne (ex-Merlin), Ship-rigged Corvette
Launched: 1744 (Commissioned 1749)
Armament: 14x6pdr, 14 swivels
Broadside: 42 lbs
Crew: 110 men
Length: 91 feet
Burthen: 270 tons

Santa Devota, Galiot
Launched: 1765
Armament: 1x9pdr and 2x3pdr (bow), 10 swivels
Crew: 60
Length: 72 feet
Burthen: ?

Beato Alessandro, Galiot
Launched: 1766
Armament: 1x9pdr and 2x3pdr (bow), 10 swivels
Crew: 60
Length: 72 feet
Burthen: ?


Footnotes
[1] As an example, in 1737 the fleet of Algiers numbered fewer than twenty fighting ships, and the most formidable of them had a mere 18 guns. In 1760 this fleet had grown to twice its earlier size and included a pair of 26 gun xebecs.
[2] In British service the Rose mounted twenty 9-pdrs on the upper deck, two 9-pdrs on the lower deck, and two 3-pdrs on the quarterdeck. This configuration with a single pair of guns on the lower deck was something of a throwback; all future British frigates mounted their main guns only on the upper deck. In Corsican service the lower ports appear to have gone unused, and the main battery was only twenty 9-pounders. The Capraia remained a 24-gun ship, however, because the Corsicans added an additional pair of 3-pdr guns to the quarterdeck. This made the small quarterdeck rather crowded but also more defensible, which was considered worthwhile given the reliance of the Barbary corsairs on boarding tactics.
[3] The navy was always in need of tartanes and picked them up whenever it could get them at a discount. The Ventura was bought off the stocks in Livorno when the original owner went bankrupt, while the Rondone was a prize purchased from Tunisian corsairs in Ajaccio.
[4] The Capraia also served as the “royal yacht,” used by the king and his family members to traverse the isle when necessary. The frigate’s armament, seaworthiness, and (relative) roominess made it perfectly suited to transport Corsican dignitaries and royals.
 
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Nice update !
I wish these will see more action, and you could tell us a tale of their epic victory against the barbary pirates!
 
The best armed forces are impressive enough that potential enemies will absolutely refrain from antagonizing you in order to stay alive.

Fortunately for this story continuing to be very interesting, the Corsican navy is barely able to keep pirates off it's flagship a short distance from the capitol, so any tales of naval derring-do would be underdog stories just about any time.
 
This last update is based partially on the experience of the Sardinians, who as mentioned were attempting to upgrade their rather useless galley force into a real sailing navy around this time. IOTL, their envoys didn't really know what they were doing; one of the "frigates" they bought turned out to be a 50-gun ship of the line, they got scammed by an ordnance supplier and ended up with a bunch of mismatched old guns, and the ships they bought (Spanish prizes taken during the SYW) which they had been assured would last for many years didn't even make it to 1770 before being condemned and scrapped.

One problem was that the Sardinians tended to send career diplomats to do their purchasing, which didn't work out so well; the gun scam happened because the diplomat sent to buy these guns knew literally nothing about artillery and didn't bother to check the calibers (he also evidently didn't know what a frigate was). The other issue was that they purchased their ships without any infrastructure or expertise to maintain them. The Corsicans do a little better ITTL - they send an experienced merchant captain and a Maltese knight to make their purchases rather than a diplomat, and while the Corsicans aren't much better equipped for maintenance a single post ship is probably simpler to maintain than a full frigate and a 50-gun battleship.

Many of Corsica's neighbors are attempting the same sort of modernization. IOTL, Tuscany bought three English frigates in 1749, and the Papal States bought two 24-gun frigates in 1755 of the same type as ITTL's Capraia (although in the Papal records they are referred to as 30-gun frigates!). Malta, Venice, and Naples had already acquired sailing navies by this time, including a few proper ships of the line. The only state missing is Genoa, which never made a serious or sustained effort to maintain a sailing navy.
 
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The navy should
Be the best service in Corsica. Small professional army with a well developed reserve system would be enough to discourage invasion. I know that’s far in the future but it’s cool to think about.
 
I remember years ago I read an authors note in one of those Nelsons Navy novel series all about the rope used in the ships rigging, it was a major industry because the stuff needed constant maintenance and replacement and the ships of the day needed so much of it. It took a fair amount of infrastructure to produce the required quantities and quality. Quality cordage was prized and they did things like weave colored threads in as proof that it came from a good producer.
 
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I don't know the exact order of the next few updates yet, but one of them is going to be another "survey of European politics" chapter as we careen towards another Anglo-Bourbon war. Such a conflict seems highly likely to me by the end of the 1760s. Carlos III is worried about Britain, and - unlike in OTL - Spain was neutral and left untouched by the most recent European war. Historically Louis XV was very reluctant to get involved in another conflict with Britain, which is why he backed away from the Falklands Crisis in 1770 - but because the Four Years' War was shorter than OTL's Seven Years' War, presumably France's finances are in better shape and Louis might be more easily persuaded to help his Spanish cousin. I have not, however, settled on a precise trigger yet - the Falklands would be the traditional choice, but there were plenty of other colonial disputes that could have gone hot in this time period. Corsica is going to have to watch out.

At present, the only big lingering question for me on the continent is the fate of Russia. Peter III will at least be around long enough to get us a little Russo-Danish war, but I'm still debating whether I want Catherine to still coup him eventually or leave Peter on the throne. The former, being closer to OTL, will presumably be easier for me to deal with, particularly since I am not at all well-versed in Russian politics and history. That said, we're already well and truly off the rails here with Prussia's defeat and Poland's consolidation, so it's not as if Catherine's reign will be the same even if she attains her historical place.
 
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