King Theodore's Corsica

Been loving the recent updates as always; but in a recent internet hole I had I stumbled across something of interest to this timeline.

The Sardinian Pika was a marmot/rodent like creature that was native to the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It sadly went extinct, but according to some reports it might have survived on the island of Tavolara and other isolated islands until the current place of this timeline - late 1700s early 1800s.

Thought it might be an interesting side benefit of such a POD as this one that an endemic species to these islands survive, maybe in the first Royal Corsican Menagerie or the like. If it falls to the same fate oh well, but nonetheless interesting to see how many species of our ancient past lasted so long but just not long enough to be the benefit of the environmental and conservation movements.
The Count of Cinarca
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.[1] 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.[2]


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.[3] 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.

[1] 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.
[2] 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.
[3] The fact that Freemasonry remained officially proscribed by the Church appears not to have troubled him.

Timeline Notes
[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.
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It's back! Awesome.

Oh dear. The more competent younger brother dies and it's prince Theo's attempt to actually take being the heir seriously by playing to his strengths - which in political terms are largely centered on charm, is what truly creates the rift between father and son. As long as queen Elisabetta lives, I doubt this conflict goes beyond the occasional loud argument behind closed doors and some sarcastic sniping at one another's expense, but if she predeceases her husband, it might get nastier.
Been loving the recent updates as always; but in a recent internet hole I had I stumbled across something of interest to this timeline.

The Sardinian Pika was a marmot/rodent like creature that was native to the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. It sadly went extinct, but according to some reports it might have survived on the island of Tavolara and other isolated islands until the current place of this timeline - late 1700s early 1800s.

Thought it might be an interesting side benefit of such a POD as this one that an endemic species to these islands survive, maybe in the first Royal Corsican Menagerie or the like. If it falls to the same fate oh well, but nonetheless interesting to see how many species of our ancient past lasted so long but just not long enough to be the benefit of the environmental and conservation movements.
The reports about the late survival of the Sardinian Pika in islets like Tavolara by the 18th century are highly questioned by modern biologists and they are considered to be not very reliable today.
The giant pikas (this is assumed to be the last surviving species of that family) were very sensitive to the introduction of invasive rodents, cats, dogs, goats etc. by the humans in their isolated environments. Even the small islets surrounding Corsica and Sardinia were plentiful of those invasive species by that time (more than today, as i.e. goats were eradicated from several minor islands in recent times), so the survival of the pikas after the Roman settlement in the Mediterranean islands is considered today as highly unlikely and those late reports might probably refer to big rats or rabbits.
The pikas were probably extinct even before the Romans settled the islands, included in the Mediterranian islands' wave of extinction that wiped out other insular endemics like the Sardinian dhole, the Majorcan goat or the giant dormouses by the third millennium BCE.
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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.
In Sands of Iwo Jima, a burly young Marine recruit complains to Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) that he can't get the hang of bayonet fighting, and should perhaps transfer to the artillery. Stryker puts a record on a player in a nearby tent, grabs the recruit, and dances with him, barking "Shift your weight!" They pause, and Stryker tells the recruit to dance for an hour every day, thus developing the required agility.
Ugh, I love when you just throw a little tidbit of Corsican history in there like that, Carp! Count of Cinarca indeed! Dare one hope that that will become the princely title, ala the Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay?
BTW, unless I'm mistaken Corsica is by far the smallest state in Europe whose ruler bears the title of 'king', right?

The smallest independent state, certainly. Technically there are some subsidiary kingdoms of Spain which are geographically smaller (the "Kingdom of Majorca," for instance).

Ugh, I love when you just throw a little tidbit of Corsican history in there like that, Carp! Count of Cinarca indeed! Dare one hope that that will become the princely title, ala the Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay?

We'll get into this more later, but Theo's whole "strategy of legitimation" is to emphasize his identity as a native prince. King Theodore's military and diplomatic exploits may have won Corsica's freedom, but there's only so long a dynasty can coast on the reputation of its founder. Theo might be a Neuhoff, but (unlike Federico) he was born on Corsica and has Corsican ancestry, and he's going to make a big deal out of that to justify his place. We see the first hint of this historical interest in this chapter, although whether "Conte di Cinarca" will become a formal title of the monarchy (or indeed, a replacement for "Prince of Corti") or just a pet pseudonym of Prince Theo remains to be seen.

Of course, this could also be another source of friction with his father. If "nativeness" is a source of legitimacy, who is the more legitimate king: Theodore's German cousin who can barely speak passable Italian, or Theodore's native-born grand-nephew with Ornano and Cinarchese blood who can chat with the peasants in their own dialect?

As an aside, it's interesting to me to consider how Corsican "historical memory" might be different ITTL. ITOL, Corsican nationalists are fairly indiscriminate with their choice of national heroes. Sampiero Corso, Vincentello d'Istria, and Sambocuccio d'Alando are all considered patriots and national icons, and all have statues on Corsica today. Yet Sambocuccio, the founder of "Corsican democracy," was an ally of the Genoese and embraced their sovereignty as preferable to the rule of the native lords; Vincentello nearly unified Corsica, but did so under the banner of the Aragonese monarchy and his own aristocratic privilege; while Sampiero was a condottiere in the service of France who fought on the same side as the Turks of all people. Amusingly, both Sampiero and Sambocuccio are referenced by name in the modern Corsican nationalist song Borgu as examples of "true Corsicans, fighting against the foreigner" despite the fact that they were fighting on the side of foreigners and, had they been contemporaries, would probably have been trying to kill each other. But in fairness to the Corsicans, their options are limited; there was no notion of "Corsican independence" before the 18th century, so any "patriot" prior to that time is by definition a foreign auxiliary, fighting to liberate Corsica from one master in order to deliver it to another. ITTL, the Corsican monarchy might be a bit more discriminating with the figures it chooses to lionize: Vincentello, Sampiero, and the Cinarchesi are in, while Sambocuccio - a friend of Genoa and an enemy of the nobility - is probably out.
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In case you were interested, a bit of genealogy from Vincentello to Theo.

  • Vincentello Colonna d’Istria, Count of Corsica
  • w/ ???, daughter of the Marquis de Nonza:
    • Franceschetta d’Istria
    • w/ Francesco d’Ornano:
      • Giovannina “Vannina” d’Ornano:
      • w/ Sampiero Corso, Corsican condottiero:
        • Alphonse Jérôme d’Ornano, Marshal of France
        • w/ Marguerite Louise de Pontevès-Carcès:
          • Henri François Alphonse d'Ornano, Lord of Mazargues
          • w/ Marguerite de Modène, Countess of Montlaur and Marquise of Maubec:
            • Anne d'Ornano, Countess of Montlaur and Marquise of Maubec
            • w/ François-Louis de Lorraine, Count of Harcourt:
              • Alphonse Henri Charles de Lorraine, Count of Harcourt
              • w/ Marie Françoise de Brancas:
                • Anne-Marie Joseph de Lorraine, Count of Harcourt
                • w/ Marie Anne Leopoldine von Neuhoff (mistress):
                  • Elizabeth Cherrier Jeanne d’Harcourt
                  • w/ Federico I Guglielmo, King of Corsica:
                    • Teodoro II Francesco, King of Corsica
In case you were interested, a bit of genealogy from Vincentello to Theo.
I must say, when you found out Theodore von Neuhoff's sister was the mistress of a descendant of multiple national heroes of Corsica, you must have felt like you'd hit the jackpot!
I must say, when you found out Theodore von Neuhoff's sister was the mistress of a descendant of multiple national heroes of Corsica, you must have felt like you'd hit the jackpot!

Indeed, I came about it entirely by accident after already deciding that Frederick and Elizabeth would marry. I was looking at the ancestors of the house of Lorraine-Harcourt to see exactly how closely related they were to the "main" Lorrainer line of Emperor Francis, saw "Anne d'Ornano," and thought "wait a minute..."
At the Precipice
At the Precipice


Goats grazing near Capo Rosso, overlooked by a Genoese tower

“Tax is really only owed by the rich. You cannot ask a shepherd for part of the bread he earns.”
- Theodore I, King of Corsica

Despite the abortive showdown with the Dieta in 1773 and the growing discontent with Federico’s style of governance, a true conflict between the crown and the Corsican political class failed to materialize. It may be that the situation was simply not grave enough; the Corsican government in the 1770s was still dominated by Revolutionary veterans who remembered actual tyranny and knew the real costs of civil strife.

More critically, however, the “political class” simply did not exist as a coherent entity. Although sometimes lumped together as “conservatives” or (more narrowly) “gigliati,” the sgio and other important landed families were divided by geography, provincialism, personalities, and clan rivalries, and did not form a true political bloc. Nor, for that matter, did the proprietari (effectively the “yeomanry” of Corsica), nor the educated professionals. Historians intrigued by the idea of a “Corsican Enlightenment” often focus on the asfodelati and the connections it created between liberal men of letters, but the ranks of the Constitutional Society were never large and their actual weight in the sphere of public politics was not great. The elective system was governed by clan and patronage networks, not ideologies, and the asfodelati were frozen out of Federico’s cabinet. When a real crisis finally came, it would begin not with men at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, but the bottom.

The dedicated pastoralists of the Corsican interior followed a traditional migratory way of life, moving their herds along well-worn paths from alpine meadows in the summer to coastal lowlands in the winter. These migratory patterns were firmly established, with the same communities often visiting the same pastures every year for generations. Often located near the depopulated coast and consisting of agriculturally marginal terrain, many of these seasonally inhabited grazing lands had been considered “wasteland” by the Genoese and thus state property, whose use by the shepherds was subject to a fee known as the erbatico (“herbage”). Other pastoral communities, especially those in the northern Niolo, wintered their herds in the bountiful Balagna, grazing them on stubble and fallow fields and paying their usage fees to private owners instead of the state.

These fees tended to increase over time, and by the Revolution they were a major source of grievance among the shepherds. Private fees, rather than the erbatico, seem to have been the greatest source of tension. The Niolesi joked bitterly that “if Jesus Christ had been born in the Balagna, he too would have been a robber.” In the decades leading up to the Revolution, the Republic had been moving steadily in the direction of privatization, transferring state “wasteland” by sale or emphyteutic lease to Genoese citizens or filogenovese notables. The growth of these large private estates, or procoi, not only threatened the shepherds with higher fees but with the loss of grazing land altogether. Seeking greater profits, private owners often switched from cereals to orchards and put up fences to exclude the shepherds entirely.

From the perspective of the shepherds, the Revolution had been fought to preserve their traditional way of life against these encroachments. Although their quarrels were often with private landowners rather than tax collectors, they knew that the Genoese state was fully complicit in their immiseration. Genoese judges inevitably sided with the property rights of big landowners against the traditional rights of the shepherds. The shepherds became some of the earliest and most zealous supporters of the national movement, and proudly boasted that they were the only Corsicans who had never been conquered. They expected that, in victory, a grateful king would give them ironclad legal title to those lands that had always truly belonged to them by ancient custom, and thus rid them of the exploitative regime of greedy landowners and callous judges once and for all.

These fruits of victory failed to materialize. Theodore had claimed much of the “wasteland” for the crown, and while some had been auctioned off, the shepherd communities were easily outbid by wealthy nobles. Crown ownership was at least tolerable under Theodore, who had never vigorously enforced his fiscal prerogatives in the “wastelands.” Federico, however, was not a man to leave money on the table, and insisted on zealous collection of the erbatico. Neither king did anything to stop the loss of agricultural grazing land, and indeed they encouraged this trend, as both Theodore and Federico believed that the growth of exportable cash crops like oil, wine, citrus, and nuts was key to economic development. The highland shepherds had fought and bled for the Revolution only to find that the new boss bore a striking resemblance to the old boss.

In December of 1774 a group of Niolesi shepherds clashed with a Balagnese landowner who had recently enclosed land they had long used for seasonal grazing. The shepherds tore up his fences, drove their herds onto his fields, and threatened the landowner with violence. He then turned to the authorities, and a posse of dragoni presidiali was dispatched with instructions to make the shepherds move on. The militiamen, however, hesitated to press the issue against heavily armed shepherds and did not confront them. Grievously insulted by the landowner’s actions, a 19 year old shepherd named Raimondo Albertini decided to restore his people’s honor by waiting for the landowner outside his home, drawing a pistol, and shooting him in the head.

Murder on Corsica was still distressingly common in the 1770s, but the status of the victim ensured that this murder received special attention. The Marcia was immediately constituted in the Balagna and the Royal Dragoons dispatched to find the killer. Albertini, however, had already fled back into the mountains, taking to the macchia as a bandito d'onore. The Niolesi proved uncooperative with the manhunt, even under threats by the Marcia to prosecute anyone suspected of supporting or sheltering the outlaw. The court’s arrest of Albertini’s aunt, accused of taking food to her nephew, resulted in an armed band descending on the Convent of Calacuccia (where the tribunal was now headquartered) and forcing the outnumbered dragoons to release their prisoner. It was a humiliation for Corsica's elite squadrons which would soon be avenged.

At the consulta generale of 1775 the Niolesi decided to make their case to the nation, seeking the realization of their land claims and the abolition (or at least drastic reform) of the Marcia. This, however, was a lost cause from the start. The consulta was dominated by rural notables who had very little sympathy for the cause of the shepherds. Many Corsican farmers - and not just the wealthy ones - had long resented the Niolesi for acting as though they were entitled to all the land in Corsica and threatening violence against anyone who so much as raised a fence. Now these arrogant goatherds demanded that their “rights” ought to be respected? Who did they think they were?

On September 3rd, after being a fugitive for nine months, Albertini’s luck finally ran out. He contracted some unspecified illness and traveled to a nearby Franciscan convent to ask for food and medicine and to recuperate in secrecy. Catching wind of this, a squad of royal dragoons burst into the convent and dragged Albertini from his bed. Notionally they were supposed to haul him back to the court at Calacuccia for sentencing, but the commanding lieutenant (perhaps in light of the "liberation" of his aunt) made a snap decision to tie Albertini to a tree and summarily execute him by firing squad. This act appalled the Niolesi on multiple levels - not only was it seen as an extrajudicial murder of a sick man, but it was a flagrant violation of the ancient tradition of sanctuary within a convent’s walls.

When the herdsmen descended from the mountains again that October, they brought a general attitude of defiance with them. There was a widespread refusal to pay the erbatico, and royal officials who came to collect were either ignored or chased off at gunpoint. In the Balagna, the shepherds forcefully exerted their “ancient rights,” tearing down fences and daring anyone to stop them. Frustrated by the government’s failure to act, local notables took matters into their own hands. On November 12th the Ussari di Balagna, an irregular militia cavalry company formed from the provincial gentry, drove off a group of Corscian herdsmen who had illegally occupied an orchard.[A] Shots were fired, and two shepherds were killed. Lurid (and exaggerated) stories quickly spread in the highlands of the Balagnese notabili running down poor herdsmen with sabers.

Soon after this incident, King Federico finally decided to intervene. Two companies of the Fanteria Provinciale under Lieutenant-Colonel Don Giuseppe Bonavita and a squadron of Dragoni Reali under Major Achille Murati were dispatched to the Balagna to restore order. This force had a paper strength of only 320 men, and in reality was considerably smaller. Bonavita was authorized to take command of the local militia and presidiali to bolster his forces as he saw fit, but his attempts to do so were stymied by the disorganized state of the militia and resistance from the provincial luogotenente, Marquis Giuseppe Maria Fabiani.


Corsican militiaman of the late 18th century

The eldest son of the famed revolutionary general Simone Fabiani, Don Giuseppe had been elevated to his father’s position as luogotenente by Theodore after his father’s death. Giuseppe, now 52, was not the same towering national figure as his father had been, but his family name carried weight and his clan network in the Balagna was extensive. As a Francophile aristocrat and ally of the southern gigliati, Fabiani had initially welcomed King Federico’s succession, but Federico’s attempts to curb the autonomy of the luogotenenti and shift their powers to his new “camere provinciali” had alienated the marquis. Fabiani was happy to see royal action against the troublemaking Niolesi, but he interpreted Bonavita’s orders to take charge of the presidiali as an attempt to undermine him. The presidiali were his men, the enforcers of Fabiani’s authority, and the king had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to strip the luogotenenti of these “private militias” and subject them to the authority of the camere.

It did not help that Fabiani and Bonavita appear to have immediately turned against one another. Although Fabiani was superior to Bonavita in rank, title, and office - he was a colonel, a marquis, and the royal lieutenant of the entire province - Bonavita took his instructions to mean that Fabiani (as the overall militia commander) was his subordinate, and expected the marquis to follow his orders accordingly. Fabiani, already suspicious of Bonavita’s intentions, took this as a personal insult. Bonavita accused Fabiani of purposefully interfering with his attempts to reorganize and deploy the militia, an accusation which appears very credible.

To assert his authority Bonavita took the drastic step of calling all militia formations to assemble at Algajola, including the presidiali. The turnout was dismal. Fabiani made excuses for his men, claiming that they were held up protecting their own villages from the Niolesi. This was probably true to some degree, but Fabiani also clearly did not trust Bonavita and did not want to place his men under the lieutenant-colonel’s power. Eventually Bonavita’s patience ran out. He abruptly declared that all presidiali who were not present had effectively deserted, and ordered them struck from the unit rolls. He then filled the spots of the absentees with local militiamen who had shown up, and compelled them to swear an oath to the king and the camera (but pointedly not the luogotenente). Fabiani declared this act to be illegal and quit Algajola in a fury, taking with him all the militiamen he could convince to follow. Bonavita then doubled down by sending Murati’s troopers into the villages to seize arms belonging to the “former” presidials. Rather than restoring order to the province, Bonavita had effectively triggered a constitutional crisis that threatened to turn into an actual armed conflict between the king’s army and his own provincial governor.

Federico’s instincts were to forcibly assert his authority by sending in the regulars, but there was division in Bastia as well. The Dieta, searching for some way to assert itself in light of recent events, accepted the use of the provinciali and the Royal Dragoons - who, though army units, had the maintenance of domestic order as part of their remit - but claimed that deploying the regular infantry was a “decision of war” which was subject to the council’s veto. The king scoffed at this flimsy legal argument, but the Dieta was encouraged by First Minister Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra, who had grown so frustrated with the king’s personal rule and his own powerlessness that he was now complicit in the obstruction of his own government. Facing defiance from his subjects, his governor, the Diet, and his own prime minister, the king became increasingly paranoid. Matra and Fabiani had very different objectives and were hardly allies, but the king was convinced they were conspiring against him. His fears of a coup were only aggravated by reports that the shepherds had taken up “Evviva Don Ghjuvan” (referring to Rauschenburg/Morosaglia) as a rallying cry, which the king interpreted as a clearly stated intent to depose him in favor of his cousin. [1]

Prince Theo was not immediately aware of these events because he was not in Corsica at the time. As the situation careened towards violence, the crown prince was living it up in Rome. He had ostensibly gone to take part in the Jubilee Year of 1775 but also to reopen marriage negotiations with the Boncompagni-Ludovisi, whose intransigent patriarch Prince Gaetano had died in the previous year. Once he was informed of just how bad the situation in Corsica really was, Theo quickly returned to the island. He would play a key role in averting true disaster, but at the cost of whatever trust was left between him and his father.

[1] Don Giovan, of course, was in Westphalia at the time, and quite unaware that his name was being invoked as the mascot of the Niolese malcontents.

TImeline Notes
[A] This is not a typo for “Corsican.” There is a village in Corsica called Corscia. Yes, I know that’s confusing.
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Oh boy power struggles. Unfortunately Federico is trying to create a centralized state that was always resistant to it. Hopefully Theo, a person who was actually born on the island, would actually understand how to run it.
Yay, an update!
This read like a rustic, farcical comedy at first (and a good one, I laughed a lot about nobody getting their act together and commanders tripping over their feet), until I realised how serious thingse are.
The state crisis is hopefully averted with Theo's help, as foreshadowed. The underying land conflict needs addressing, though. Which, at that time, probably is no good News for the shepherds, since things tended to how from bad to worse for their like in those days...
Another glorious chapter. Perhaps a strip of land will end up being set aside as 'belonging' to the semi-nomadic herdsmen, but only if they play their cards exactly right at the exact right time. Otherwise, I cannot see that way of life continue for very long.