I think the time has now come to concentrate exclusively on taking the measures most appropriate to humiliating this Power which is our national enemy and the rival of our House.
- Louis XVI to Carlos III

The war which erupted in the Western Mediterranean in 1780 had its roots in the rebellion of Britain’s American colonies which had begun nearly three years earlier. Before the 1760s, the British government had regulated colonial trade in keeping with the mercantilist theories of the day. Such policies had long been a source of colonial resentment. Colonial distillers chafed at the taxes placed on foreign sugar and molasses for the sole purpose of subsidizing British sugar plantations in the West Indies, while colonial manufacturers suffered under tax regimes that made their finished goods uncompetitive with those produced in England.

Following the Treaty of Paris, the British government had reassessed its military posture in the Americas and stationed some 8,000 regulars in the colonies on a permanent basis, something not done prior to the War of 1756. From London’s perspective, it seemed eminently reasonable that Britain’s colonial subjects should bear the cost of these troops, who were after all deployed for their protection. To that end Parliament introduced changes to the Navigation Acts and other laws which were not simply designed to regulate colonial trade, but to raise colonial revenue. In some cases, as in the Sugar Acts, taxes were actually lowered to encourage compliance and discourage rampant smuggling, but this reduction was paired with an intensified enforcement regime which outraged colonial subjects who had come to see tax evasion as practically a natural right.

From the perspective of the colonists, the fundamental problem was as much political as it was economic. Many colonists disputed that Britain’s regulars were needed for their protection - after all, such a permanent army had never been stationed in America before, and the French had been resoundingly defeated. Neither thinly-populated French Louisiana nor the native tribes beyond the Appalachians were perceived by the colonists (particularly those living in the coastal cities) as enough of a threat to merit the cost of 8,000 redcoats, some of whom had been forcibly quartered in the homes of unwilling colonists. What was truly galling, however, was that the colonies had no voice in Parliament, and thus no say in the implementation of these new tax regimes. The English boasted of their marvelous political system which had banished despotism and enshrined liberty; for the colonists, who considered themselves Englishmen as much as any Londoner, being excluded from this political system yet subject to its extractive edicts was an intolerable affront. Nobody could reasonably argue that the colonies were overtaxed - although some did anyway - but without political representation, any tax was tyranny.

The revolt of the American colonies came at a particularly bad time for Britain, as the diplomatic situation the British found themselves in by the late 1770s was highly unfavorable. In 1756 the British had been able to concentrate almost completely on the colonial war with France: Parliament had sent large subsidies and an Anglo-Hanoverian expeditionary force to Germany, but the bulk of the fighting there had been done by Prussians and Britain’s other German allies. France, in contrast, had stood utterly alone against Britain while being forced to expend significant resources fighting bloody battles against Prussia. As a result of its own bungled foreign policy, however, it was now Britain which stood alone. No power was willing to serve as their continental proxy against France, which allowed France to focus entirely on naval and colonial operations. Worse still, France was likely to be joined by Spain, as King Carlos III was far more interested in confronting over-mighty Britain than his predecessor.

All Britain’s rivals had to do was wait for the right opportunity. At the time of the outbreak of rebellion in Massachusetts in 1777 both the Spanish and French governments felt ready for war, but they were wary of jumping the gun. The American revolt might prove to be a flash in the pan, and thus initially the Bourbon powers limited themselves to the covert provision of aid. Not until the end of 1779 did the French and Spanish governments become convinced that the rebellion had a reasonable chance at success. Though they had suffered their share of defeats, colonial rebels had tied up thousands of British regulars overseas, while a huge number of Britain’s warships were occupied with blockading the lengthy American coast and protecting British merchant shipping against enterprising American privateers.

France’s objectives in the coming war with Britain were, at least from a French perspective, quite moderate. Their chief aim was the independence of the American colonies, as the French believed this would break Britain’s mercantilist grip on North American trade and that the newly-independent colonies would become valuable trade partners. There was little appetite to try and reclaim the vast territory they had lost in North America; Canada was deemed too unprofitable and difficult to hold, and retaking it would potentially bring France into conflict with the Americans. At most, France might insist on the retrocession of Newfoundland to gain more secure control over its fisheries. The French also wanted to finally remove the treaty restrictions on the fortifications of Dunkirk and to force Britain to accept “free trade” in the East Indies which would allow France or any nation to establish factories as they pleased.

Spain’s objectives were quite different, as they had little interest in gaining independence for Britain’s colonies or opening new markets for trade. American independence was not necessarily desirable, for while it might weaken Britain it would also set a dangerous example for Spain’s own colonies. Carlos had agreed to covertly arm the rebels only because the rebellion offered him an opportunity to accomplish his other goals. In terms of territory, his principal aim was the recovery of Gibraltar and Minorca, former Spanish territories which the British had long used as bases to project power in the Mediterranean. Spanish objectives in the Americas were of secondary importance and limited in scope: The conquest of Mobile (ceded from France in the Treaty of Paris) to secure their possession of Florida, the expulsion of British loggers from the Bay of Honduras, and the abandonment of Britain’s claim to the disputed Falkland Islands. Spain already had vast lands in the Americas, and Carlos was less interested in gaining more colonies than he was in checking the power of Britain to threaten the colonies he already possessed.

Spain and France also differed on the subject of how the war was to be waged. The French were entirely willing to support Spanish aims in the Mediterranean, as Minorca and Gibraltar also threatened French trade, but they saw the Atlantic as the main theater of operations. For them, the chief aim of the allied navies would be to break the British blockade of America and wage an economic war with Britain by destroying its maritime trade. The Spanish, however, had other concerns. They did not consider American independence to be a priority (or even necessarily good), and feared the economic consequences of a prolonged war - after all, it wasn’t just the British who relied on trade from the colonies. What Carlos and his ministers preferred was a short and principally European war - specifically, an invasion of England that would force the British to sue for peace without the danger or expense of a long conflict.

The French resisted this proposed coup de main. They were well aware of the difficulty of invading England across the Channel, as they had attempted such an operation numerous times over the past century with little success. Yet even if they succeeded, the French feared that landing on English soil would destroy the image of France as a defender of the balance of power. A Bourbon army at the gates of London would alarm all of Europe and convince them that Louis XVI had pretensions even beyond those of the Sun King, which would surely incite the other powers to turn against France and give their support to Britain. What the French wanted was to humble Britain and break her “tyranny over the seas,” not to crush her utterly.


Ships at Portsmouth, late 18th century

As a compromise, the French suggested that an invasion of Ireland might be frightening enough to force the English to sue for peace. In Ireland they would be “liberating” an oppressed Catholic population, which might be seen as less provocative than a march on London - although privately King Louis worried about France gaining a reputation as a sower of revolutionary chaos if it supported insurgents in both America and Ireland.[1] The French also hoped they would enjoy local support, although France’s own spies reported that the Irish Catholics did not seem particularly inclined towards disloyalty. Spanish enthusiasm for this plan was somewhat tepid, but Carlos eventually relented when the French agreed that, if a decisive victory was gained over the British Navy in the Channel (which the French insisted was necessary to any such operation), the goal of the operation would shift to the Solent and the Isle of Wight with the aim of capturing or destroying Portsmouth. To that end, the French would gather 30,000 men and hundreds of transports in Normandy.

The British suspected that France was preparing something and kept a close watch on the French coast. British spies picked up on the gathering of men and transports at Saint Malo and Le Havre, as well as the growing concentration of French sail at Brest. They had even managed to hear rumors of an attack on Ireland, although the British concluded that this was probably a diversion given the buildup of forces across the channel. The Admiralty made arrangements to strengthen the Home Fleet, but did not realize that the Spanish were also involved until mere days before their arrival off Brest. On June 12th of 1780, Britain received an official declaration of war from France, with Spain’s declaration arriving two weeks later on the 25th.

At this point the main force of the Home Fleet was off the Scilly Isles under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, who had taken this position for its flexibility - he could, as needed, sail into the channel, parry a strike against Ireland, or protect the convoys which were soon expected from the Indies. Once the Admiralty learned of the size of the Gallispan fleet, however, they ordered Parker to withdraw towards Portsmouth, as he was likely to be badly outnumbered. In fact the French and Spanish had managed to gather 56 ships of the line compared to only 34 under Parker’s command. Parker’s withdrawal gave the Armada the perfect opportunity to make for Ireland, where they could have landed without contest, but in keeping with his instructions the Comte de Barras instead attempted to find and engage the Home Fleet first.[2] The French eventually caught sight of Parker’s ships south of Lizard Point and gave chase, but they lost sight of the British in the fog. By the time Barras managed to reassemble his fleet - the poor visibility had resulted in the Gallispan ships losing formation and drifting further to the south than they had expected - the quarry was gone, and a strong easterly wind picked up which drove the fleet back out to sea.

Having failed to come to grips with the enemy, Barras now concluded that, as per his orders, he should abandon the Portsmouth scheme and make for Ireland. He was particularly concerned by the state of the Spanish ships, which had not been well-provisioned and could not remain at sea much longer. As he was working his way around the Scilly Isles, however, sails were sighted to the west, which Barras believed to be British reinforcements for the Home Fleet. Eager to defeat them before they could join their comrades, Barras gave chase. As it turned out, these ships were not a British naval squadron, but they were British - a convoy of Indiamen returning from the East Indies. The French and Spanish fleet fell upon them and won an extraordinarily lopsided “victory,” capturing more than a dozen Indiamen laden with valuable goods. The hapless British captains did not even know they were at war until the French opened fire, and while the convoy sailed with an escort to ward off American privateers they stood no chance against the combined Gallispan Armada.

By this point Parker was sailing west again after gathering his full force at Plymouth, but he was too late to save the convoy. Now under orders to attack instead of escape, Parker and 44 ships of the line finally sighted the Armada on July 25th. Despite Barras’s advantage in ships, difficulties in coordination between the French and Spanish fleets gave Parker the opportunity to concentrate his forces on the French in the van. His plan to isolate and land a crushing blow on the French, however, was thwarted by his rearguard, which misinterpreted his signals and moved to engage the Spanish van midway through the allied line. This did succeed in occupying the Spanish, but it meant that Parker faced the French with only two-thirds of his ships, denying him any advantage in numbers. After a running battle with the French contingent lasting several hours, Parker finally disengaged after his battered rearguard fell out of line and the Spanish closed the distance with the French van. With his fleet damaged and critically low on supplies, Barras decided that it was not practical either to give chase or to attempt the planned landing at Kinsale, and returned to Brest.

The Battle of Land’s End was arguably a strategic victory for the British as it prevented the allied invasion, but the British hardly saw it that way. The Anglo-French battle in the van had been quite even, with both sides suffering extensive damage. Only one ship was lost - the unfortunate 64-gun HMS Vigilant, which lost its mainmast, drifted towards the French line, was captured by the French, then recaptured by the British later in the battle, and finally scuttled during Parker’s withdrawal as the shattered hulk was no longer capable of sailing under its own power. The British rearguard, facing a much larger Spanish contingent, had come off worse. Many of the British ships in the rear suffered heavy damage and two were lost, one of them captured. At Parker’s court-martial he blamed his subordinate in command of the rearguard, Rear Admiral Joseph Peyton, for not following orders - which was convenient, as Peyton had been struck down by a cannonball on the quarterdeck of his flagship and could make no defense. Parker was acquitted, but never commanded again.

The Comte de Barras was hailed as a hero in France. He had not only taken a rich trade fleet under the noses of the British, but had won a pitched battle in which the British had lost three ships and he had lost none. Nevertheless, the Battle of Land’s End ended all allied plans for an invasion of Britain. The French fleet needed extensive repair, and by the time that was accomplished the British had strengthened the Home Fleet to ensure that they would not be caught outnumbered in their home waters again. In this sense, Land’s End was a strategic victory for the allies after all - the shock of Land’s End was so severe that the British felt compelled to keep a very strong force in the Channel for the rest of the war, tying down much of the navy’s strength in a theater that saw little further action.

[1] No thought was given to involving Charles Stuart in this proposed enterprise. The fresh-faced 25 year old “Bonnie Prince Charlie” of the Rising of 1745 was now a 60 year old childless drunk. In the event that Ireland was actually conquered, the French planned to install a Bourbon cadet as an independent King of Ireland.
[2] Barras had been a junior officer during the War of the Austrian Succession and had participated in the Battle of Toulon.
Last edited:
Babe wake up, Britain and France are at war again.

Speaking of which I wonder how Corsican intellectuals think about the American revolution (if they do). I wonder how the Anglophile Corsicans/filoinglesi, especially think about the rebels and the supposedly liberty loving Britain trying to put them down.
Last edited:
With Britain in a weaker position and France and Spain working together in this, I can see a more solid defeat for the British in this war, unless there are more loyalists in the American colonies than OTL owing to people worrying more about French Louisiana and Spanish Florida?
Babe wake up, Britain and France are at war again.

Speaking of which I wonder how Corsican intellectuals think about the American revolution (if they do). I wonder how the Anglophile Corsicans/filoinglesi, especially think about the rebels and the supposedly liberty loving Britain trying to put them down.
I'd expect a broadly sympathetic Corsican opinion toward the Americans, to the extent they think about that.
The Corsicans were of some interest to the American would-be revolutionaries IOTL, I can see the reverse happen to an extent here.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, whatever opinions about America exist in Corsica are going to matter relatively little in practice.
[1] No thought was given to involving Charles Stuart in this proposed enterprise. The fresh-faced 25 year old “Bonnie Prince Charlie” of the Rising of 1745 was now a 60 year old childless drunk. In the event that Ireland was actually conquered, the French planned to install a Bourbon cadet as an independent King of Ireland.
So no Charlotte Stuart in this TL? A shame, for I felt that she could have been intertwined into the Neuhoffs of Corsica at some point. She would have only been 27 at this point, I think.
So no Charlotte Stuart in this TL? A shame, for I felt that she could have been intertwined into the Neuhoffs of Corsica at some point. She would have only been 27 at this point, I think.
By childless I really meant without legitimate children, which are the only kind of children the Bourbons are interested in when it comes to evaluating the viability of a restored Jacobite line. Charlie may well have children out of wedlock ITTL - it's not something I've really considered.
[1] No thought was given to involving Charles Stuart in this proposed enterprise. The fresh-faced 25 year old “Bonnie Prince Charlie” of the Rising of 1745 was now a 60 year old childless drunk. In the event that Ireland was actually conquered, the French planned to install a Bourbon cadet as an independent King of Ireland.​
But who, you might ask? (Or you might not. I'm going to speculate anyway.)

The Old Pretender had his two sons, both born before the POD, and it would appear, both subject to the same fate as IOTL (and more importantly, neither of them reproducing, ending the line of James II and VII). His wife Maria Sobieska died in 1735 and, for whatever reason, he never remarried IOTL despite still being relatively young (46) and residing in a court with no shortage of eligible princesses. I don't think butterflies from the POD would affect this choice, leaving him a widower and, in 1766, dead, after a "reign" of 65 years in pretence. Of course all of James II's other descendants were extinct by then and by the time this war would be prosecuted. So we move to the next child of James II and VII's father, Charles I, who was Henrietta Anne, the Duchess of Orleans. Her descendants of course have a senior dynastic claim to the British thrones over those of the Electress of Hanover, but for the Catholicism. (IOTL, from 1807, all Jacobites are descended from her line.)

She had no surviving sons, but did have two daughters. The elder, Marie Louise, married Charles the Bewitched, last Hapsburg King of Spain, so no children there. That left the younger daughter, Anne Marie, who became the first Queen of Sardinia. The Jacobite succession, IOTL, would pass through several generations of sons (and Kings of Sardinia), with her great-grandson Charles Emmanuel IV being recognized as King over the Water (also Charles IV in Jacobite reckoning, conveniently enough) after the death of last Stuart in 1807 (though he never sought nor claimed the British thrones for himself). But Anne Marie's eldest daughter, Marie Adelaide, married Louis, le Petit Dauphin, and their son was Louis XV of France. It strikes me as extremely likely that the Bourbons would take advantage of this pedigree in finding the right Bourbon cadet for Ireland.

The only surviving son of Louis XV IOTL and likely ITTL is Dauphin Louis, who IOTL was the father of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. Presumably ITTL one of the younger sons of the Dauphin (born sometime in the 1750s) would be chosen for the Irish throne. Even more conveniently (as if it were kismet!), both Louis XVIII and Charles X were married IOTL to daughters of Victor Amadeus III, King of Sardinia (and grandson of Anne Marie of Orleans), which would strengthen their claims even further. It's entirely possible that the French claimant to the throne of Ireland actually could become the recognized Jacobite pretender should the male line of the Kings of Sardinia die out in just the right way. IOTL, just one of Victor Amadeus's sons managed to have children - daughters - and so the Jacobite line continues through them. If these daughters were not born it would instead pass through his own daughters - and the wives of Louis XVIII and Charles X are the two eldest of these.

Of course at the time of the war, although I'm sure the prince's genealogy and marital connections give him the fig leaf the French need to pick him over an old, drunken wastrel, I'm sure none of them have any idea how serendipitous and retroactively "legitimate" their selection would be.
This was left to a footnote because Paris considered it extremely unlikely. Even if the invasion had been successful and they had conquered some significant portion of Ireland, they probably wouldn't have kept it - the whole point of a cross-channel invasion was to avoid a long war by frightening Britain into suing for peace, which means trading Ireland back to the English in exchange for the stuff on the Bourbon wish list (Gibraltar, Minorca, Mobile, Newfoundland, maybe some stuff in India, etc - and American independence, of course). The question of who would rule an independent pro-Bourbon Ireland was mostly idle speculation, on the off chance that the stars align/a miracle occurs and somehow the Bourbons found themselves in such a strong position that they could demand not only their initial objectives but Ireland as well. It's very hard to imagine that actually occurring. A march on London is probably the only way to accomplish it - and that was exactly what the French wanted to avoid by attacking Ireland.
Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Neutral


The Ministerial Palace of Bastia (right), adjacent to the Royal Palace. Formerly known as the “Palace of the Twelve Nobles,” it was built in 1703 for the Dodici, the representatives of the Corsican nation under Genoese rule. After independence it became the “government house” of the kingdom, containing the offices of ministers and their secretaries. The façade was once much more richly decorated and included an upper balcony.

While the eyes of Europe were fixed upon the Gallispan Armada, hostilities between the British and the Bourbons technically began in the Mediterranean, as a Spanish flotilla reached Gibraltar and placed it under blockade before the Armada had fired a single cannon.[1] Soon French and Spanish frigates were hunting down British merchant vessels in the Mediterranean while British captains in Livorno outfitted privateers to strike back against the Bourbons’ own Mediterranean trade. War had arrived, and Corsica was already in the thick of it.

On July 20th, shortly after news of the French declaration of war arrived in Corsica, Foreign Minister Francesco Matteo Limperani officially informed the resident foreign diplomats of Corsica’s intention to observe “a strict neutrality.” Neutrality, however, was a vaguely defined term. There was a world of difference between a friendly neutral and a hostile one. Following this preliminary declaration, the Council of State convened to discuss a formal edict which would spell out the kingdom’s policy. Minister of Justice Pasquale Paoli and Minister of Finance Marco Maria Carli pushed for a truly even-handed stance which would keep Corsica’s ports open to merchant shipping of all powers while placing restrictions on belligerent warships. Limperani cautioned that this could be seen as provocative by the Bourbons, but the king was convinced that full neutrality was well within Corsica’s sovereign rights.

Limperani’s concern was well-placed, as the Spanish envoy Martín de Valdés had received instructions from Madrid to pressure the Corsican government to close its ports to British shipping. Neutrality notwithstanding, the Spanish and French governments were concerned that British merchants and privateers would use Corsican ports to resupply and repair, and might attempt to smuggle provisions from Corsica to Minorca or Gibraltar. Making rules was not the same as enforcing them, and Corsica was a weak state - would they actually open fire on British ships which abused Corsican neutrality? Valdés thought not, and he informed Limperani that a disinterested neutrality was “unacceptable” to Madrid (and, by implication, Paris). He carefully avoided making any overt threats, but suggested that the ongoing subsidy for the improvement of Corsican defenses was contingent upon the “friendship” shown by the Corsican government towards His Most Catholic Majesty.

Theo reacted to this news with indignation. Neutrality was his sovereign right; it was not for the Spanish envoy to tell him who he could and could not allow into Corsican ports. His proposed neutrality policy was completely in line with international norms, and given that the war had only just started, Valdés had no basis to accuse his government of favoring the British or being lax in its obligations as a neutral state. Theodore I had made free ports the cornerstone of his economic plan for Corsica, and what Valdés demanded would abrogate that policy. His minister of war, Count Innocenzo di Mari, noted that if the British took any sort of retaliatory action Corsica would be ill-prepared to defend itself, as none of the Spanish-funded upgrades of Corsican fortifications were actually complete.

Despite the king’s anger, it was obvious even to him that Corsica was not in a strong position to defy the Bourbon powers. After the defeat of the British Navy at Land’s End, it was not clear that the British would even keep naval supremacy in their own home waters, let alone be able to maintain their influence in the Mediterranean. Paoli and Carli believed that Valdés’s demand should be rejected, or at least put off until events had made it clear that Corsica would not show any favor to the British. Theo, however, was deeply concerned that a wrong move might result in a foreign occupation like the one he had witnessed as a child, and Limperani, Mari, and Prime Minister Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra agreed that it was not worth the risk. Mari suggested that they should make their acceptance conditional upon certain guarantees - for instance, that no Bourbon troops would occupy Corsican territory without the consent of the king - as well as an immediate provision of artillery and gunpowder to give Corsica some capacity to enforce the terms Spain was demanding that they implement. Reluctantly, Theo agreed and authorized Limperani to negotiate on this basis.

Valdés thought it a bit much for Corsica to demand anything, but King Carlos himself directed his government to accept Corsica’s terms. Decades ago when Carlos had been King of Naples, a British fleet had forced him to end his military cooperation with Spain by threatening to bomb Naples into oblivion. He remembered this deep humiliation for the rest of his life, and it strongly influenced his opinion of the British as untrustworthy bullies who needed to be put in their place. Theo’s fear that the British would take advantage of Corsica’s weakness to retaliate against him made perfect sense to Carlos, and he directed his government to fulfill the king’s wishes as long as it was not prejudicial to Spain’s own war effort. By the end of August the parties had come to an agreement, and Limperani informed Valdés that his government would immediately ban British shipping from Corsican ports.

The British envoy, Sir Matthew Beckford, had been monitoring the situation but was unable to stop the agreement. Limperani had been almost apologetic towards him, insisting that his government had taken this unfriendly action only under duress, but Beckford was quite aware of the money and arms Corsica was receiving from Spain. Beckford spoke to the king directly, and reported to his government that Theo was “quite affronted and mortified” by Spain’s demand and not at all hostile to the British, but wanted to avoid the indignity suffered by his grand-uncle during the French occupation and had been convinced to bend to Madrid’s wishes under the influence of Matra and Limperani. Beckford not only described these ministers as partial to Spain but opined that Limperani was probably corrupt, insinuating that not all the Spanish reales flowing into Corsica were going directly to the fortification project.

Beckford was a somewhat unlikely diplomat. Then 36 years old, he was an avid outdoorsman and something of a dandy who had developed a taste for Italian culture while on the Grand Tour. Princess Carina described him as a “frivolous man” and observed that Beckford talked about nothing but “cani, cavalli e caccia” (hounds, horses, and hunting). As it happened, however, those were things very near to Theo’s heart, and Beckford soon became the king’s favorite member of the diplomatic corps. Although he lacked the erudition and polish of Valdés, Beckford enjoyed more personal access to the king than most diplomats as he was a frequent guest in the royal hunting party. His reports back to London were detailed and sometimes quite insightful, suggesting that he was not quite as vacuous as he let on.

In the following months the king seems to have developed second thoughts about agreeing to Valdés’ demands. Beckford “confided” to the king that the Spanish had not dared make this demand of other states like Tuscany and Sardinia, suggesting that the Spanish were not treating Corsica as a friend but as a weak state to be intimidated. The notables of Ajaccio were howling with indignation; nearly all British trade with Corsica came through their city, and English merchants were the largest buyers of processed coral. Theo, perhaps wondering whether he had been motivated more by cowardice than prudence, expressed concern that his country had started down a slippery slope of dependence on the Bourbon powers.

Someone had to be held responsible for this debacle - specifically, Foreign Minister Limperani. He had been brought in at Matra’s request in 1776 and had no particular qualifications for the job other than that he could speak French and belonged to a family allied to the Matra clan. Limperani had trumpeted the Spanish subsidy as a great achievement, but after Valdés used that subsidy as a negotiating tactic it was starting to look more like blackmail than benevolence. Perhaps the reason Corsica found itself in this situation had less to do with Corsica’s weakness than the incompetence of its foreign minister. Whether Beckford told Theo of his suspicions of Limperani’s “corruption” is unclear; no accusation was ever made against him.

On December 1st, King Theodore II dismissed Limperani from office. The cause and timing of his sacking became the source of much speculation. It is possible that it took three months for Theo to fully sour on the "Valdés agreement" and decided that Limperani was either responsible or the ideal scapegoat. Alternatively, the king may have wanted to put some distance between the agreement and Limperani’s dismissal to avoid giving the appearance that dismissing his foreign minister implied a repudiation of the agreement. More cynically, some have pointed out that Theo only fired Limperani after the first shipments of Spanish armaments had arrived. Matra was convinced that Paoli had put the idea in the king’s head, while Valdés reported to his government that Limperani’s downfall was certainly due to Beckford’s insidious influence. Perhaps neither of these men were responsible; perhaps both were.

Matra attempted to secure the selection of another one of his allies, but the king exercised his right to choose his own ministers and appointed Don Giovan Francesco Cuneo d’Ornano, a 61 year old nobleman of Ajaccio. A distant cousin of Marquis Luca d’Ornano,[2] Giovan Francesco had a doctorate in law from the University of Rome, was an honorary colonel of the Republic of Venice, and had served in various judicial and diplomatic posts since the 1750s. Theo’s stated reasons for choosing him were unimpeachable: Cuneo d’Ornano was an experienced diplomat and a skilled orator who knew French, Spanish, and Latin, and the fact that he was a southerner would help address the geographic imbalance on the Council of State. His appointment was not without controversy, however. The “old guard” of the aristocracy grumbled that he was a cavaliere tardivo[3] - that is, a former filogenovese - while the gigliati were uncomfortable with his membership in the Constitutional Society and his relationship with Paoli, who had solicited Cuneo d’Ornano’s aid in his ongoing project to draft a new civil code for Corsica.

This proved to be a fatal blow to the Second Matra Ministry. Matra had originally engineered the “coup” of 1776 alongside Prince Theo and Pasquale Paoli with the aim of actually exerting power as prime minister and choosing the members of his own cabinet, but the sacking of Limperani removed his strongest ally in the council, and the king’s refusal to accept his nominations for Limperani’s vacated post was a stark display of his lack of influence. The marquis was unwilling to go back to being a mere figurehead for a government that he could not control. Concluding that he no longer had the confidence of his sovereign, Alerio Francesco Matra tendered his resignation from the Council of State on December 20th. Some have suggested that this was a stratagem and Matra did not really expect to be let go - but if so, Theo called his bluff. On the following day, the king accepted Matra’s resignation.

This left the king without a prime minister - which was just the way he wanted it. Theo had never liked the idea of a single over-mighty minister who would embody the whole government in his person and might overshadow the monarch, which was one of the few opinions he shared with his late father. But it was still necessary to have someone chair the Council of State in the king’s absence, and thus on Christmas Day of 1780 the king granted Don Pasquale Paoli the office of “Vice-president of the Council of State,” effectively making him the fifth prime minister of the Kingdom of Corsica at the age of 54.

[1] At the outbreak of war the British had only one (1) ship of the line in the entirety of the Mediterranean, then stationed at Minorca. The Spanish were thus able to blockade Gibraltar with a relatively small fleet until they were reinforced by Spanish and French ships returning from the Channel.
[2] The Cuneo d’Ornano family was founded by Andrea Cuneo, a Genoese captain who married Brigida d’Ornano, a cousin of Vanina d’Ornano (the wife of Sampiero Corso). Andrea settled in Ajaccio around 1560 and adopted the name of his wife’s more prestigious family, styling himself as “Andrea Cuneo d’Ornano.” His descendants pursued mercenary careers and were prominent in the military history of Venice. At least two members of the family died defending Crete from the Turks in the 1640s. Giovan Francesco had broken with the family’s military tradition by pursuing a legal career, but was nevertheless made an “honorary colonel” by Venice in recognition of his family’s service. Although they were considered to be part of the extended d’Ornano clan - indeed, until independence Giovan Francesco bore the title of “co-lord of Ornano” - the Cuneo d’Ornano family resided principally in Ajaccio and were not major rural landowners. Giovan Francesco was loyal to the Genoese until Ajaccio fell to the royalists, at which point he seems to have made a strategic decision to change teams.
[3] “Cavalieri tardivi” (“belated knights” or “too-late knights”) and the less derogatory “cavalieri conciliati” (“conciliated knights”) were terms for former filogenovesi who reconciled themselves to the Neuhoff regime and were raised to the hereditary nobility by King Theodore in the early 1750s after independence was achieved. Although many of his supporters objected to rewarding “traitors” with nobility, Theodore believed that it was necessary to gain the loyalty of influential former filogenovesi if he was going to heal the wounds of civil war and rule a united nation. The “conciliated knights” were always knights, not counts or marquesses, as Theodore reserved the higher ranks of nobility for those who had supported him during the Revolution.
Last edited:
Neutrality in a big war between nominal friendly powers which have much bigger armed forces and much deeper pockets is always a little bit nerve-wracking. This will not be the last time Corsica is likely to be in such a position.
Neutrality in a big war between nominal friendly powers which have much bigger armed forces and much deeper pockets is always a little bit nerve-wracking. This will not be the last time Corsica is likely to be in such a position.
Yeah, if Corsica can get treaty-recognized neutrality, like what Switzerland or Belgium got than they would be in a good spot.
For Belgium even a treaty wasn't quite a perfect solution, although maybe with its terrain Corsica then has more in common with Switzerland.

But that just brings us to, is it really the treaty?
About the picture of the Palace of the Dodici in the update - the building on the right is the Palace of the Dodici, while the adjacent building on the left was originally the guardhouse (which is why the gate runs directly through it). The guardhouse was older than the Palace of the Dodici (which was built in 1703, quite late in the history of Genoese Corsica) but used to be shorter, as the French rebuilt the guardhouse and added another floor in 1778.

As I mentioned in the caption, the Palace was once more ornate than it is now. Here's how it looks today, compared to a sketch of the original façade:


The French didn't really have any use for the old Genoese government complex, and thus the Palace of the Dodici was converted into a barracks, which apparently entailed getting rid of all the superfluous decorative elements. As I've mentioned before, the same fate befell the Palace of the Governors itself, which lost its grand staircase because it got in the way of drilling troops in the courtyard.
Last edited:
Drawing the Line
Drawing the Line


Map of the Strait of Bonifacio and the Intermediate Isles

It is clear in retrospect that neither France nor Spain seriously entertained a preemptive invasion of Corsica. The event they feared most, an occupation of Corsican ports by the British Navy, never seemed likely and was particularly implausible in 1780-81 with the British Navy practically absent from the Mediterranean. Although the French had supported Spain’s attempt to close Corsican ports to the British on strategic grounds, they also told the Spanish government that they would not support any sort of ultimatum. Since the start of the war, the British had claimed the right to stop and search neutral ships for “contraband,” behavior widely considered to be an illegal breach of neutral rights. The French government had eagerly taken advantage of this by declaring their war to be a struggle for the “rights of nations” against Britain’s “tyranny of the sea” and its arrogant disregard for neutral states. Invading Corsica, which had shown no hostility towards the Bourbon powers, would have undermined France’s entire framing of the war. Had the Matra ministry refused to close its ports it surely would have damaged relations with Spain and France, but it almost certainly would not have resulted in military action.

The Corsican government - under both Matra and Paoli - also overestimated the degree to which the ban on British shipping would impact their trade. A large amount of pre-war merchant traffic in the port of Ajaccio was British, but the war itself would have decimated this trade even if the port had remained open. Moreover, the gap created by the loss of British shipping everywhere in the Mediterranean was soon filled by the merchant fleets of neutral states, particularly those of Denmark-Norway. Departures of Danish ships bound for Mediterranean ports more than doubled over the course of the American Revolutionary War, rising as high as 400 departures per year.

Of course the Corsican state was not privy to all this information, and thus the new de facto first minister Pasquale Paoli was obliged to proceed with caution.[1] Although Paoli had supported an “impartial” neutrality in the council and King Theo now regretted his decision to bend to Spain’s demands, Paoli insisted that it was unwise for the government to go back on its word. To tear up the agreement with Spain because of a ministerial reshuffle - and after the Spanish had started holding up their end of the bargain by providing needed armaments - would ruin the credibility of the state and impugn the honor of the king. Whatever mistakes had been made by the previous administration, Corsica had made its bed and now would have to lie in it - at least until the war was over.

Paoli was also sensitive to the fact that the Bourbon courts regarded him with deep suspicion. Although his return to Corsica upon a British fleet was now two decades in the past, to France and Spain he was still “English Paoli.” The Spanish envoy Martín de Valdés warned his superiors that Matra’s resignation was a serious blow to Spanish influence in Corsica and that Paoli might “again” seek to give Britain a strategic advantage in the Mediterranean. France’s minister Jean de Baschi, comte de Saint-Estève, reported that all the Anglophiles of Corsica were “cheering” Paoli’s appointment. The new foreign minister Don Giovan Cuneo d’Ornano went to work trying to smooth ruffled feathers, but Paoli felt that the best way to convince the Bourbons that he was not a threat was to keep faith with Spain.

As the new government was handling this crisis, it was also attempting to resolve a more serious and fundamental crisis of the state’s fiscal affairs. Unable to pay its basic expenses, the government was sinking ever deeper into debt. Although Federico’s fiscal reforms had increased revenue, these gains were canceled out by his expanded military budget. The state kept just over a thousand regular soldiers under arms, which though small in absolute terms consumed nearly all of the country’s revenue. Military spending had increased further under Theodore II, who had disbanded the expensive foreign Trabanti but more than made up for this by acquiring a whole new fleet. Paoli envisioned slashing the military budget to focus on paying the debt and funding internal improvements, but the outbreak of war made this politically untenable.

Further complicating this problem was a growing chorus of outrage from Ajaccio, where the coral industry was facing a number of headwinds. Competition was increasing all over the Western Mediterranean. Although the largest number of corallieri were actually from Naples, the intrusions of the Genoese were particularly galling as they exploited coral in Corsica’s “own” waters and operated from nearby Bonifacio. The industry, already getting more precarious, now looked as though it might be plunged into disaster by the war. The British, the largest buyers of finished coral (mainly beads) at Ajaccio were now banned, while coral fishing was becoming increasingly hazardous as Barbary corsairs used the distraction of the major powers to step up their attacks. Boat owners pooled their resources to hire armed escorts, but this cut into profits. Corsica's one advantage was Tabarka, where Corsican corallieri enjoyed a monopoly from their relationship with the British-owned Barbary Company, but there was some doubt as to whether this relationship would survive the war.

Paoli placed great importance on trade, but he was also a man of the Castagniccia who was more interested in land reform and the agricultural economy than in coral, which was a lucrative and prestigious but rather niche industry that was of little importance to most Corsicans. Nevertheless, this constituency could not just be ignored, and not just because of its importance as a tax base. Much of Corsica’s debt had been negotiated through Jewish intermediaries who had family and business connections in London and Amsterdam. Jews living in Corsica obviously had an interest in the state’s continued functioning, while many of their family members and compatriots supported the “Theodoran experiment” in Jewish emancipation and wanted it to succeed. By working through these channels the government had been able to procure better interest rates than Corsica’s abysmal credit might otherwise suggest, but this meant that satisfying those families - many of whom were merchants, manufacturers, and financiers involved in the coral trade - was about more than just coral, but the state’s very ability to remain solvent.

In March of 1781, as the sailing season approached, the king signed a decree banning all Genoese vessels from fishing (for coral or otherwise) off the Corsican coast. This was not the first time a state had asserted maritime sovereignty in this way, but the decree was notable for specifically targeting the Genoese. Subsequent to its promulgation, Minister of War Innocenzo di Mari gave the following instruction to Secretary of the Navy Giulio Francesco Baciocchi:

If any Genoese vessels, contrary to the orders of the king, are found loitering or fishing one league from any shore of the kingdom, you will make all haste to capture them and bring them to Ajaccio or Bastia.[2]

Secretary Baciocchi was more than happy to vigorously enforce this request. He belonged to a distinguished family of Ajaccio which had held a place on the council of anziani for generations. Don Giulio himself was a merchant and naval patron (that is, he owned and invested in fishing and merchant ships) and had been chosen for the post because of this background. Genoese fishing in Corsican waters was not merely a matter of policy to him, but a threat to his own family interests.


18th century depiction of coral being gathered from shallow waters off Sicily

On May 20th, the Corsican schooner Arcipelago encountered five Genoese coral boats just north of the Isle of Maddalena, 15 miles from Bonifacio. This was nowhere near the Corsican mainland, and when the coral boats were forcibly boarded the fishermen complained that this was an illegal and piratical attack. The schooner’s captain, Sebastiano Piccioni, replied that since His Most Serene Majesty King Federico had (briefly) established a post on the island in 1773, Maddalena and all the Isole delle Bocche (“Isles of the Straits”) were claimed by Corsica, and it was thus the fishermen who were in violation of the law. Piccioni put prize crews on all five boats and took them to Ajaccio, where their coral was confiscated. After being interrogated, they were then returned to their boats and ordered to stay out of Corsican waters.

The Genoese government denounced this outrageous act against their citizens. They declared Piccioni to be a pirate and accused the Corsican government of breaching the Treaty of Monaco, as they considered the Corsican claim to the Isole delle Bocche to be completely specious. In Turin, the Genoese envoy presented the Corsican envoy with a demand for compensation for Piccioni’s “act of piracy.”

The Corsican government offered no immediate response, as they had not authorized Piccioni's action. While Corsica had never abandoned the claim to the Isole delle Bocche which Federico had made in 1773, neither Paoli nor Mari had thought to place these disputed islands in the exclusive zone. Piccioni was acting under orders from Secretary Baciocchi, who had taken it upon himself to interpret Mari’s instructions and decided that “any shore of the kingdom” also included the shore of Maddalena where Federico’s troops had raised the Moor’s Head. Foreign Minister Giovan Francesco Cuneo d’Ornano was less than pleased with the naval secretary taking such liberties with the kingdom’s foreign policy, particularly at a time of such danger, but the idea of “compensating” the Genoese was anathema.

What worried Cuneo d’Ornano was not the Genoese, but the Sardinians. Sardinia had raised its own claim to the Isole delle Bocche in 1773, and it had been largely due to Sardinia’s opposition that Federico had backed off. Since that point, however, Corso-Sardinian relations had improved considerably. King Carlo Emanuele III had died shortly thereafter, and the houses of Savoy and Neuhoff had been linked in 1777 by the marriage of Princess Lisa of Corsica and Prince Filippo Savoy-Carignano, Count of Villafranca. Shortly after Piccioni returned to port, Cuneo d’Ornano held private talks with the Sardinian envoy Count Amadeo Tana di Santena. Tana maintained his government’s claim, but Sardinia shared an interest in protecting its own waters from exploitation. The Savoyard state was very much a newcomer to maritime affairs, but had been attempting to expand its naval presence ever since acquiring the port of Finale in 1748.

Once assured that the Sardinians were not going to intervene at this stage, Paoli felt confident enough to call Genoa’s bluff. Two weeks after the incident, Cuneo d’Ornano replied to Genoa via his envoy at Turin and stated that Piccioni had acted lawfully, that no compensation would be forthcoming, and that the Genoese should be prepared for more seizures if they continued to fish in Corsican waters. The Genoese replied to this insult by placing a punitive tariff on raw and finished coral from Corsica, which was subsequently expanded to Corsican wine as well.

The “Maddalena Incident” provided Paoli and his fellow ministers with some intriguing information. Firstly, Piccioni’s action had been very popular in Ajaccio, and not just among the coral merchants who invited him to a banquet held in his honor. A large crowd of Ajaccini fishermen and sailors had gathered to cheer the crew of the Arcipelago - and to hurl abuse at the Genoese fishermen as they were being led ashore. Secondly, it appeared that the Genoese were either unwilling or unable to defend their rights at sea or to offer any military response. Thirdly, nobody had come to Genoa’s defense - neither Sardinia, nor the Bourbons (who were quite busy at the moment), nor the Austrians.

During a subsequent meeting of the Council of State, Cuneo d’Ornano brought another matter of interest to the council’s attention. Genoa’s tariff appeared to be directly at odds with one of the terms of the Treaty of Monaco, to wit:

The signatories shall not close their ports to the ships of the other signatory or their nationals which are engaged in lawful commerce so long as those ports are open to the ships of other nations, nor shall they levy discriminatory or unjust tariffs or excises upon them.

The Genoese could (and did) make the argument that Corsica had violated the treaty first by occupying Maddalena and illegally seizing Genoese property, but it could at least be argued (if not entirely convincingly) that this was something of a gray area. Genoa’s tariff, however, was plainly “discriminatory.” The republic had just handed the Corsicans a casus belli on a silver platter.

War was not an obvious choice for a small state with an untested military which was already struggling under a considerable amount of debt. As they discussed the matter, however, the ministers realized that a successful war might solve several of their problems at once. A war against the Genoese, particularly if Bonifacio could be taken, would greatly satisfy the Ajaccini and might benefit the coral trade in the long term. It would allow the unsustainably large army to be usefully employed before Paoli was forced to gut the military budget, which he saw as inevitable even if it had been delayed by the present American War. It might even make a profit, as Genoese coral boats and merchant ships could be seized. Cuneo d’Ornano raised the possibility of selling Corsica’s claim to the “intermediate isles” to the Sardinians, which - if they were willing - would not only raise some much-needed cash but would satisfy Turin’s strategic interests. If Bonifacio could be acquired, losing a few uninhabited rocks would be no great loss, particularly if fishing and grazing rights could be negotiated with Turin.

King Theo listened to his council discuss all these potential benefits, as well as the attendant risks. Yet the chief attraction of the war for him may have been something else entirely. The capture of Bonifacio and the “completion” of the Corsican Revolution had been his father’s dream; Federico had believed it would finally win him the popularity that he deserved and show that he was an able successor to the great Theodore, Father of the Nation. If Theo could succeed where Federico had failed, he would not only be able to take that mantle for himself, but would prove beyond any doubt that he was a greater king than his father ever was - a worthy heir to the name of Theodore.

[1] Although the post of primo ministro had fallen into abeyance with Matra’s resignation, as the vice-president of the council and its most influential member Paoli was effectively Theo’s first minister and will be referred to as such in this text. This reduced the number of seats on the Council of State to five (excluding the king): chancellery, finance, war, foreign affairs, and justice (held by Paoli himself).
[2] A “league” in this context was originally defined as the Spanish legua geographica of approximately 6,353 meters, but this was quickly superseded by the adoption of the Danish geografisk mil for naval purposes, which was equivalent to four equatorial arcminutes or about 7,420 meters. That was the limit of the exclusive fishing zone claimed by Denmark-Norway around this time, and the Corsicans may have learned of it from Danish traders who became increasingly common at Ajaccio from 1780.
Last edited: