The Count of Cinarca
Statue of Vincentello d'Istria (1380-1434), Count of Cinarca
The passing of Prince Theodore to manhood did nothing to alleviate his father’s concern for his suitability for the throne. Now that he was no longer caged with his tutors in the Royal Palace of Bastia, his tendency towards dissipation seemed to only grow. Whatever money he had he wasted on frivolities. He spent his days hunting, fencing with the Guardia Nobile
, puttering around in the gardens, or just riding about the countryside accompanied by an ever-growing pack of dogs.
The king fell back on a familiar solution: boarding school. Convinced that military discipline was the answer, Federico arranged for his son to attend the Accademia Reale
of Turin, one of the oldest and most well-regarded military academies in Europe. Like most such institutions in the 18th century, the Accademia Reale
was not merely a school of military science, but an aristocratic finishing school. The curriculum was focused on military-adjacent pursuits: Academic subjects like language, mathematics, geometry, geography, and history, as well as physical activities like riding, fencing, vaulting, dancing, and “simulated battles,” all intended to cultivate the mind and body of a young gentleman for war.[A]
Yet the Accademia Reale
was also part of the royal court of Turin, and over the course of their studies the young pupils were also taught the proper etiquette and comportment that was expected of an aristocrat in both war and peace.
His entry had to be negotiated with the court at Turin, for although foreign students often studied at the Accademia Reale
foreign crown princes
generally did not. Theo, however, would not be attending as a prince. He was admitted to the school in 1773 under an alias: “Théodore François, Comte de Cinarca,” a title chosen by Theo himself which harkened back to medieval Corsican history.
This was not a ‘secret identity’ - everyone knew exactly who he was - but a paper-thin fiction which allowed his instructors and fellow students to interact with the “count” as an equal, without being concerned with the proper protocol to use when addressing (or disciplining) royalty.
“Count” Theo was not initially pleased with his father’s decision and referred to it in a letter to his sister as “my exile,” but he soon warmed to life in Turin. His academic record remained uneven: He did reasonably well in history and geography, but predictably struggled with mathematics and geometry. When it came to the physical curriculum, however, he excelled. A Sardinian nobleman who knew Theo at Turin (they shared the same “apartment,” or dormitory) later wrote that the ‘Count of Cinarca’ was a talented fencer and one of the best horsemen at the school. Young Theo “had the makings of a superb cavalry officer,” he opined, “though I would not have trusted him behind a cannon.”
His classmates in Turin were an eclectic crowd. Because of the Academy’s high reputation it attracted students from all over Europe, particularly Englishmen, Germans, and Russians. The English made up the largest foreign contingent, whose “study abroad” at Turin was frequently intended to add a more serious and edifying sort of military tourism to the usual sightseeing and frivolity of the Grand Tour. Most of the British students were housed in the same “apartment” as Theo, and it is certainly here where he learned English.
Cadet uniform of the Royal Academy of Turin
Much of what we know about Theo’s time at Turin comes to us from the correspondence and memoirs of his British schoolmates. King Theodore’s celebrity was perhaps greater in Britain than any other country outside of Corsica itself, and the late king’s successor and namesake was an intriguing subject. The future politician William Coke, one of Theo’s comrades at the Academy, offered a general appraisal of the personality of the Corsican prince in a letter to a friend: “Energetic and active, but impatient and easily bored… talkative but rarely tiresome, as he has a very lively & captivating manner to him… on occasion [he] surprises with cleverness or perception, but cannot be called scholarly or deeply contemplative.” Coke added that the prince, though not arrogant, “cares inordinately for his appearance to an extent which I think unsuited to a man.”
Theo’s royal status and outgoing personality made him popular in Turin, but his own letters (mainly to his sister) and the observations of others point to a certain social anxiety. Sardinia was itself an anxious state: Though respected for its disciplined and efficient army, Sardinia was a relatively small country with a recently-acquired crown and struggled to be treated as a peer by the great powers. The Court of Turin was not extravagant by continental standards - the Savoyard kings were too cost-conscious for that - but the Sardinian elite was hyper-aware of status, and took protocol and ceremony extremely seriously. Turin’s diplomats closely scrutinized every letter and action by foreign states, looking for any word or gesture (or lack thereof) that might suggest that their kingdom was not being afforded exactly the respect and courtesy it was due, and the aristocracy took its cues from the king and his ministers.
Theo was not an uncultured boor, but he had been raised in a very different sort of environment. The Corsican court was extremely small and informal by European standards. King Theodore certainly knew how a royal court operated - he had been a page at Versailles, after all - but he had also been a revolutionary leader for the first thirteen years of his reign, living in circumstances which were not exactly conducive to developing a court ceremony or insisting on the finer points of protocol. Federico, for his part, had no experience of royal ceremonial at all; before Corsica, he was a baron and an army cadet. Federico knew how to be an aristocrat, but nothing about how to be a king
, and he ran his household more like a noble’s country estate than a royal court. Aside from this, Corsica’s class hierarchy was also much less rigid than it was in continental Italy: In Corsica, nobility was merely a special honor, not an isolated and privileged class ruling over the rest. Most ministerial posts and senior officer positions were de facto
reserved for the “dons,” particularly under Federico’s regime, but there were plenty of non-nobles with political influence and a presence at court who intermingled and intermarried with noble families.
Theo’s unfamiliarity with this new environment was sometimes a source of awkwardness and embarrassment. Though deference was paid to Theo’s (covert) royalty, he was nevertheless aware - or at least perceived
- that the aristocrats and courtiers of Turin saw him as a rustic curiosity. He seems to have coped with this sense of inferiority, in part, through competitiveness; besting his peers in riding and swordsmanship, age-old pursuits of the aristocracy, may have been a means to “prove” his equality. Similarly, his use of the title of Cinarca may be interpreted as an attempt to emphasize his links with an ancient noble line over the tawdry inheritance of the upjumped Baron Neuhoff. That inheritance, however, could not be entirely dispelled, nor did Theo really wish to dissociate himself from the great-uncle he lionized.
It was perhaps this sense of not quite belonging
that the Count of Cinarca embraced an alternate social circle, one after Theodore’s own heart: Freemasonry. Soon after his arrival in Turin, Theo was invited into the Masonic Grand Lodge of Turin Saint Jean de la Mystérieuse
. Theo did not share his great-uncle’s interest in esotericism, but the Masonic emphasis on merit and virtue appealed to him, as did its fraternal sociability.
Although men of “vulgar trades” (that is, the working class) were generally excluded from Freemasonry, the organization offered a sort of elite egalitarianism for society’s “best men”, noble or otherwise. Under the roof of the Grand Lodge, great aristocrats, respectable bourgeoisie, and progressive men of letters interacted (more or less) as peers, unencumbered by the strict classism of the outside world.
Badge of the Grand Lodge of Turin Saint Jean de la Mystérieuse, c. 1778
Count Theodore attended the Accademia Reale
for 16 months. This was not unusually short; many foreign students attended the academy for only a year. Nevertheless, his term did not come to a natural end. Theo was recalled by his father not because his education was deemed complete, but to attend a funeral. In August of 1774, he received the shocking news that his brother Federico Giuseppe Lorenzo, Prince of Calvi, had died of a sudden illness, probably typhoid fever.
The death of Prince Federico was a devastating blow to the family. Mortality among children, of course, was common, and the royal couple had lost children in infancy before. The Prince of Calvi, however, died at the age of fifteen. He had already shown himself to be a thoughtful and diligent young man who, despite being four years younger than Theo, was clearly more serious and successful in his studies. Shortly before his death he had even begun assisting his father with his administrative duties, something Theo had never really been involved (or interested) in. Perhaps Theo, who had sometimes been envious of his father’s praise for his younger brother, would have come to resent him, but there was no time for this fracture to grow.
Theo mourned his brother, but it was his father who was most affected by the loss. King Federico was never particularly affable or charming; even as a young man he was stiff, proper and serious. From this moment, however, his usual sternness seems to have slid into a dour gloom. He became increasingly aloof from his court, his ministers, and even his remaining children. He seemed to take consolation only in the company of his wife, who shared the depth of his loss, but his position and his own self-regard would not allow him to mourn as openly as Elisabetta. The strain upon him manifested in other ways: Occasionally some act of disobedience or incompetence would cause the façade to crack with rage, and the usually unflappable Federico would lash out at his subordinates with red-faced fury.
It may not have been a coincidence that the king’s relationship with his subjects, and the Corsican political class in particular, began to deteriorate around this same time. The fight with the Dieta
over the gabella dei contratti
in 1773 had been an irritating setback to his policies, but after some initial missteps the king had been sensible enough to settle for a marginal victory and then turn his attention elsewhere. Thereafter, however, Federico became increasingly brittle and uncompromising. He was ever more willing to assume that those who resisted his will were acting in bad faith, and that maintaining royal authority required these enemies to be handled with force, not compromise.
These “enemies” would soon come to include the Prince of Corti himself. Before 1774, Theo’s relationship with his father had sometimes been strained: Federico was a stern and demanding disciplinarian and Theo struggled to meet his expectations. Yet there was clearly still affection between them, and the regrettably common portrayal of a lifelong hostility between father and son is groundless. It was not until his brother’s death, by which time Theo was a grown man, that the king and his son truly fell out.
The irony was that Prince Theo had actually become a better son. He was, of course, still Theo; he had the same hobbies, predilections, and personality. Yet Federico’s hope that the “discipline” of the Accademia Reale
would help his personal growth seems to have been fulfilled, and the occasion of his brother’s death provoked real soul-searching in the crown prince. He confided to “Carina” - his older sister - that in Turin he had sometimes daydreamed about running off to start a career in the Austrian army “like Prince Eugene [of Savoy]” and leaving the throne to little Federico, whom he admitted (albeit only privately and posthumously) was probably better suited for the role. But this had been a self-indulgent fantasy, and now that he was a man of nineteen he concluded that it was time for him to take his role more seriously.
Paradoxically, this new interest in his royal duty was the main cause of the rift between him and his father. Theo’s idea of taking his role seriously was to broaden his social circle and engage with Corsican notables - the nobles, landowners, and professionals who made up the politically interested class of Corsican citizens. With his liberal inclinations (at least, more liberal than his father) and his affinity for Freemasonry, he naturally attracted the friendship of those notables who were less than pleased with the increasingly uncompromising and tight-fisted rule of King Federico and the “government of marquesses” that he favored. The Constitutional Society not only welcomed him with open arms, but made him their new Gran Patrono
, an honor which had been originally bestowed upon Theodore I but which Federico had declined to accept to appease the gigliati
. Anxious to establish himself as his own man, Theo took up a seasonal residence in the Palazzo Agostiniano
in Ajaccio, which began to look very much like an “opposition court” both physically and politically removed from the royal court in Bastia.
Without entirely meaning to, Theo was becoming the mascot of his father’s critics. By pledging their love for Theo, the asfodelati
could critique the government while maintaining their loyalty to the dynasty, and because he was heir to the throne they felt confident that the loyalty they showed today would be well repaid in the future. Since Theo’s own politics were still vague and ill-formed, it was possible to see whatever one wanted in him, and his eventual succession was welcomed with an eagerness that at times seemed downright treasonous. It was said that the asfodelati
opened their meetings with a sardonic toast: “Our fathers prayed for Theodore
to liberate the nation from tyranny. Gentlemen, let us emulate our fathers in all things.” Eager to please, still inexperienced in politics, and with a personality somewhat vulnerable to flattery, Theo accepted their devotion without fully appreciating how his father would react to the company he kept.
 Cinarca was a castle on Corsica’s western coast about ten miles north of Ajaccio which is said to have been built in the 9th or 10th centuries. The lords of this castle and their descendants, known as the Counts of Cinarca or Cinarchesi
, were the most prominent noble family of Medieval Corsica. They dominated the Dila
for much of this period and several assumed the title of “Count of Corsica.” The Cinarchesi switched sides opportunistically between Pisa and Genoa during the High Medieval Period, but in the late 14th century they threw their support to the Kings of Aragon and became leaders of the anti-Genoese faction. Although at times the Cinarchesi and their Aragonese allies managed to control nearly the whole island, the Genoese ultimately prevailed and the Kings of Aragon abandoned their attempts to conquer Corsica. Giovan Paolo di Leca, the last Count of Cinarca, was driven into exile and died in Rome in 1515. The Genoese razed Cinarca to the ground, and almost nothing remains of the castle today. Despite the extinction of their main line the Cinarchesi did leave descendants, including Prince Theo himself: Through his mother he was a direct descendant of Sampiero Corso and his wife Vaninna d’Ornano, who was in turn the granddaughter of Vincentello d’Istria, one of the greatest of the Cinarchesi. Vincentello is credited with building the citadel of Corti, and at the height of his power ruled nearly all of Corsica as Aragon’s viceroy.
 Theo was not a master of languages like his grand-uncle, but he was raised in a multilingual family. He spoke French and Italian with complete ease, and could hold a conversation in German, Spanish, and English. Of these, English was undoubtedly his worst language; Theo enjoyed “showing off” to English-speakers by using their tongue, but he spoke with a strong accent and would switch to French for any long or serious conversation.
 The fact that Freemasonry remained officially proscribed by the Church appears not to have troubled him.
[A] Yes, even dancing. It might seem strange to us, but dancing was considered to be a vital part of elite military training alongside riding and fencing. Contemporaries pointed out dancing’s similarity to military drill and its usefulness in cultivating the body for the rigors of battle.