The King’s Peace
The Church of Sant'Agostino at Ortiporio
On June 26th, Commissioner-General Pier Maria Giustiniani
, Bishop of Ventimiglia, unveiled his government-approved program for Corsican reconciliation. Known popularly as the Concessioni di Giustiniani
, the “concessions” included a renewal of the general amnesty for all those willing to reconcile with the Republic, the legalization of the possession of firearms with the possession of a license, the abolition of the due seini
, the curbing of arbitrary arrests and the abolition of criminal judgment without trial, the prohibition of any new taxes on the Corsicans without the approval of the Council of Twelve, a re-negotiation of all current civil and ecclesiastical duties, and the establishment of an order of nobility for Corsica. It was by far the most generous offer the Corsicans had yet received from the Republic, but it suffered from extraordinarily poor timing. On the very same day that Giustiniani announced his government’s terms to the Corsicans, Vice-Regent Gian Benedetto Speroni
requested terms from Marquis Luca d’Ornano
for the surrender of Ajaccio.
The result of these simultaneous developments was confusion among the national leaders. There was, in the first place, uncertainty over the truth of reports from Ajaccio. Only a few days before, a rumor had been spreading that the Genoese relief fleet had brought a large army to Ajaccio and broken the siege; now there were reports that the exact opposite had happened, and the Genoese had evacuated the city or perhaps had all been taken prisoner by the nationals. As the week went on the truth became better known, but the contrary rumors would not be quashed entirely until the return of Theodore from the south in late July.
Having denied any sort of plenipotentiary powers to its negotiators, the consulta
needed to reconstitute itself to make any sort of response to the Concessioni
. The prospect for a united assembly, however, was put into doubt after the fall of Ajaccio by the inconciliabili
, who were giving indications that they might boycott such a consulta
altogether on the basis that any attempt to treat with the enemy in the middle of a (victorious) war was treasonous. This was a foolish stance, and it did not prevail for long - Theodore had no interest in boycotting the consulta
, and indeed the advocates of rebellion needed the consulta’s
legitimacy to go to war as much as the “moderates” needed its legitimacy to find a path to peace. Such rumors of division, however, served to delay efforts to convene the assembly. Theodore left Ajaccio on July 18th, nearly two weeks after his arrival, not because he had grown tired of the city but because it had taken that long for the northern delegates to reach a consensus as to the time and place of the new consulta
. The place was to be the village of Ortiporio in Casaconi, in the northern Castagniccia.
Clearly the fall of Ajaccio had given new momentum to the inconciliabili
, but if they expected to sweep the national movement into a mass uprising they were again to be disappointed. The numbers of the pro-reconciliation delegates remained considerable, and although Ajaccio’s fall was a stunning development it was also relatively remote from the attentions and concerns of the northerners who dominated the consulta
. The influence of Giustiniani himself is not to be underestimated - despite his public image as a beatific lover of peace, he was also a very shrewd manipulator of people who put more effort into targeting and “flipping” vacillating members of the national movement than his predecessors had ever done. Undoubtedly a not-inconsiderable portion of the delegates were prepared to do his bidding, and some may have even been on his payroll. As a result, those in favor of reconciliation essentially got the type
they had envisioned, a summit to discuss and reply to the new Genoese terms; a resumption of the war was not even on the agenda. But the capture of Ajaccio did serve to whet the appetite of the more ambitious “moderates” for deeper concessions, and the attitude of the consulta
in general was to treat Giustiniani’s generous Concessioni
not as the Republic’s final offer but as a mere starting point for negotiations.
On top of the Concessioni
, the final product of the consulta
demanded that the Genoese fund a Corsican university, reserve a majority (3 of 5) of the island’s dioceses for Corsican bishops, enact various structural reforms to the administration of the island, and allow the Corsicans to trade with “any nation whatsoever.” Furthermore, the consulta
required that any agreement between Genoa and the nationals be guaranteed and countersigned by both the King of France and
the Holy Roman Emperor, and - pressed by the more militant representatives to back their demands with the threat of force - declared that if their demands were not met, they would resume the general uprising.
In fact there was no chance that these demands would be met. The most obvious non-starter was the demand for Corsican free trade, a provision that if enacted would essentially end the colonial status of Corsica, turning it from a captive market of Genoa into an economically autonomous zone. Indeed, such liberty would make Corsican ports freer than their counterparts in Liguria itself, whose trade was regulated and restricted to channel traffic into and out of the port of Genoa proper. No Genoese administration, controlled as the government was by the mercantile interests of the ruling class which dominated the Senate, would allow such a policy. The inconciliabili
had failed to overturn the negotiations altogether, but it now seemed that the consulta
’s intemperate demands - egged on, in part, by the inconciliabili
themselves - would achieve the same objective by presenting the Senate with an ultimatum it could not possibly accept.
Giustiniani had considered such an outcome likely from the start, but did not consider it to be a major setback. A counter-offer from the Corsicans would mean that the Genoese would have to prepare their own counter-counter-offer, which Giustiniani could string out as long as he wanted to, claiming that the Senate was still deliberating the nationals’ proposals. In the meantime, he would continue his subversive work to gain the loyalty of the more sympathetic or venal rebels. He knew that the rebel “government” was fractious and disorganized, and that months - years, even - of inactivity and delay would corrode their unity and effectiveness. The very foundation of the “toehold strategy” was that time was ultimately on the side of Genoa, for once the continental war ended the Republic could count on foreign assistance and return to the Corsican problem from a position of strength. Yet the nationals, aware that an ultimatum with no timetable was meaningless, had placed a time limit on their patience. The delegates debated how long was long enough, but their decision ultimately came from an unexpected quarter. Surprising everyone, especially his own militant supporters, King Theodore declared that he would unilaterally observe a six month armistice with the Genoese to allow negotiations the chance to bear fruit. It was less than the most moderate delegates had wanted - some had proposed a year - but Theodore’s influence and the confidence of the delegates in the strength of their position won the day. If at the end of January 1744 the negotiations had not been resolved to the satisfaction of the Corsicans, they resolved to take up their arms again.
What had motivated Theodore to abruptly declare peace in the middle of a war which he appeared to be winning? The inconciliabili
, in general his most devoted supporters, had only recently been braying for war and threatening to boycott the assembly; the king’s decision surprised and confused them. A review of the strategic situation, however, makes Theodore’s motivation clear. With Ajaccio’s fall, the only reasonable targets for further “liberation” were in the north; Bonifacio was too strong and isolated a position for the rebels to assault in their present state, which left only Bastia and Calvi (and their nearby satellites of San Fiorenzo and Algajola, respectively). While the Bozio consulta
had been helpless to influence matters at Ajaccio, in the north Theodore could rely neither on d’Ornano’s militiamen nor Colonna’s battalion and would necessarily depend on the same communities whose delegates were now meeting at Ortiporio. Critically short on both troops and money, Theodore was in no position to take on Bastia or Calvi without the full-throated support of the Castagniccian pieves (and perhaps not even then given his lack of resources), and if that full measure of support was not forthcoming it was better to enjoy the fruits of peace. Genoa, after all, had more than 1,500 regulars at Bastia, a force that could seriously trouble Theodore if Giustiniani changed his mind and decided to use it offensively. Theodore had declared his truce unilaterally, but he knew - or suspected - that the Genoese were likely to observe it, for they had no desire to provoke the general uprising they feared.
To derive any advantage from this precarious peace, Theodore would need money, which remained scarce on Corsica. The prospects for internal taxation were not great, which limited the revenues of the state (such as it was) to proceeds from the royalist-held ports of Ajaccio and Isola Rossa.
Theodore had, in keeping with his promised economic plan, declared these towns to be free ports, but “free port” meant only the absence of (certain) customs duties. Docking and storage fees were still demanded, as Theodore’s governors had seized control of most warehouses and harbor facilities in both ports, but apart from these service costs the Corsican trade was practically duty-free. The amount of income is unrecorded but could not have been enormous; the exactions were not large, Theodore’s state was unrecognized (which made traders at these ports smugglers by international standards), and the war had filled the Mediterranean with pirates and privateers. Yet despite the ongoing war and its attendant dangers, the Corsican ports did not only attract the interest of small-time smugglers. Corsica was of significant import to the coral brokers of Livorno, who were players in a lively international trade.
Polished beads of Corsican coral
The coral trade offers a unique insight into how even isolated Corsica had a place in the global commercial networks of the 18th century. In Europe, coral did not enjoy a particularly high status; it was a mere ornamental stone. In Asia, however - and especially in India - coral was highly prized, and the warm red coral of the Mediterranean was one of the most sought after varieties. Mediterranean coral beads sold in Madras were said to be as valuable as top-quality pearls sold in European markets. Most importantly, however, coral was one of the few indigenous European commodities which was actually in demand in India. The most lucrative manifestation of this demand was the “coral-diamond” trade, in which polished coral beads were sold in Goa and Madras for brilliant Indian diamonds from the mines of Golconda. By the 18th century Livorno had come to enjoy a dominant position in this trade. Coral dredged up by fishermen was brought to the famous annual Livorno coral fair or purchased elsewhere through local agents, cut and polished into beads in factories in Livorno and Pisa, packed in paper and shipped to Lisbon, Amsterdam, or London, and then shipped around the Horn of Africa to Goa or Madras to be exchanged for diamonds with local Hindu traders. A wealthy European could make an order and put down a deposit with a Livorno broker and, within a year or two, pick up a diamond that matched his price and specifications.
In 1743, business was booming, but so was competition. New coral workshops were going up in Pisa and Livorno, and brokers struggled with each other to find good quality material. Genoa was a major supplier of raw coral, but the Franco-Tunisian War, the capture of Tabarka (Genoa’s main coral-fishing outpost), and the Corsican Revolution had severely disrupted the market and caused production to plummet. The Sephardic broker Abraham Ergas
, in a letter to one of his agents in Genoa, bemoaned the “turbulence” in Genoa’s territories which had made the coral supply so tight. The fall of Ajaccio to the rebels, however, opened new opportunities. The Ajaccio coral fishermen had been denied the ability to trade directly with Livorno, an impediment with Theodore had recently lifted. That was a matter of some importance because Genoa and Livorno had been involved in an escalating trade war for years and had slapped substantial tariffs on goods coming from their rival port. Most of the Livorno brokers still did business in Genoa and were by no means supporters of the rebellion, but direct trade with the Ajaccio fishermen was tempting, and the Jewish brokers in Livorno were by now well aware of both Theodore’s religious tolerance and commitments to free trade. With the Livorno coral fair coming up in October-November (the date varied based on when the fishing season ended, which was weather-dependent), the brokers were inspired to move quickly. The firm of Ergas and Silvera dispatched one of their in-laws to act as their agent there, and other agents followed. The royalist government imposed a tax on the coral fishermen, but their terms were still far better than under Genoa’s onerous regulation, and the brokers may have been able to offer them higher prices because of Ajaccio’s duty-free status.[A]
The Sephardic coral-brokers were not the only Jews with an interest in Corsica. In August, a ship arrived at Ajaccio with a German Jew named Salomon Levi
on board. Levi had not come to trade; he was an associate of some of the Jewish merchants and financiers who had backed Theodore early in his venture. Theodore had promised years ago that he would support the founding of a Jewish settlement in Corsica where the colonists would be able to live under an “enlightened” ruler and benefit from low taxes. Levi’s mission was one of reconnaissance: he was to study and report on the prospects for such a settlement given the return of Theodore to the island. After a brief stay in Ajaccio, Levi obtained a letter of safe conduct from Marquis d’Ornano and traveled inland to meet the King of Corsica. Count Gianpietro Gaffori
wondered if he was not the first Jew to ever set foot in Corti.
The impetus for Levi’s voyage was that the political and economic position of many European Jews was growing more precarious. The war had brought brought economic disruption, piracy, and closed borders, all of which made life more difficult for wealthy and middle-class European Jews who were often involved in international networks of trade and finance. But perhaps even more troubling than this was the attitude of the Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa
, who even for her time was an extraordinary anti-Semite. Because of their status as outsiders, Jews often served as scapegoats in times of difficulty, and during the Franco-Bavarian occupation of Bohemia rumors had spread that the Bohemian Jews were traitors and spies in the service of the French. After Prague’s recapture, either believing these rumors or merely using them as an excuse, Maria Theresa announced her intentions to expel the Jews from all the lands of the Bohemian Crown within a period of three years. This threat was ultimately not carried out to its full extent, but exorbitant new fees were placed upon the Jews of the kingdom and the number of “closed” cities (that is, closed to the Jews) was significantly expanded. Such policies had not yet been implemented in Tuscany, but the fact that the Grand Duke of Tuscany was Maria Theresa’s husband was the source of serious concern to the thriving Jewish communities of Livorno and Pisa.
Levi was unable to visit Aleria, Theodore’s original proposed site for a Jewish colony, primarily because Aleria in August was not a healthy place to be. Presumably this did not do much to recommend the site to Levi, although Theodore assured him that through drainage and land reclamation much of the pestilential coastline could be made salubrious. But Levi’s main interest seems to have been in determining the seriousness of Theodore’s edict of toleration and commercial concessions, as these pledges were now at least seven years old. Fortunately, the king remained as committed to religious tolerance as he had ever been, and Levi’s report in that regard could only have been good. Theodore, for his part, used the encounter to try and gain further financial commitments from Levi and the investors he represented. Money, he insisted, was the only obstacle he still faced; even with a modest infusion of arms, supplies, and cash, he could complete the liberation of Corsica and thus provide the Jews with the settlement he had promised them. They had backed him with 3,500 sequins before he was king; now that he actually had collateral (that is to say, most of Corsica) surely they were good for more. Theodore always did his best social and diplomatic work in person, and worked Levi over with all the charm and confidence he could spare. Levi was clearly convinced of Theodore’s sincerity and promised he would transmit the king’s requests to his backers.
Theodore had still more irons in the fire. He had by now resumed contact with an old friend by the name of Hamet
, a shadowy figure who was nevertheless a crucial link in Theodore’s schemes. Hamet was a figure whose biography was nearly as improbable as Theodore’s own: He was a Moroccan doctor who had converted to Christianity, traveled to Italy and became a Capuchin monk, gained an interest in alchemy and occult philosophy, and was inducted into Rosicrucianism. The exact circumstances of his first acquaintance with Theodore are unclear, but during Theodore’s years as “Baron von Syburg,” the Alchemist of Magdeburg, Hamet - under the aliases of "Herr Seitz" and "Doctor Molitoris" - was “Syburg’s” mysterious foreign manservant. As an exotic foreigner, occultist, and capable doctor, he lent credence to Theodore’s persona as a man wise in the mysteries and healing arts of the Orient. When Theodore had embarked on his Corsican venture, Hamet had faithfully followed him, and served as Theodore’s courier to his partner and ex-mentor Ripperda until the latter’s death in 1737. From 1738, Hamet smuggled letters to and from Theodore, serving as part of his communication network with the outside world; in this activity he was very nearly found out, and had to throw a batch of letters overboard when the ship he was on was seized by the Genoese. His whereabouts immediately thereafter are unknown - he may have been detained by the authorities for a time - and after the fall of the Corsican ports to the French army such duties became too dangerous.
He was reunited with his former master only in 1742 at Livorno after Theodore’s return from London, and returned immediately into his service. Theodore had more need of him as a courier than as a manservant, and since he was a native Arabic-speaker the king thought him ideal to be his agent in Tunis. This involved the purchase of supplies as necessary, but it was also an ambassadorial post, for Theodore desired to renew his old alliance with Tunis. In 1735 Theodore and the Bey of Tunis had signed a treaty of recognition and alliance, good for 20 years, by which the bey had hoped to improve Tunisian trade and increase his clout in the Mediterranean. The problem was that the bey who had signed this treaty, Husayn ibn Ali, had been overthrown and beheaded by his nephew Ali Pasha
, the current bey, and Ali was not necessarily bound by his uncle’s word. But Ali had his own good reasons for looking favorably upon Corsica, not the least of which was his antipathy towards Genoa and desire to court Britain as a potential counterbalance against French influence (as he seems to have been quite aware of Britain’s support for Theodore). The island’s coves were frequently used by Tunisian ships, both merchants and corsairs, to repair and restock their water supplies, and Ali was also interested in Corsican timber to build and maintain his fleet. He had already signaled his friendly intentions by his tentative trade mission to Porto Vecchio after its capture by the Free Battalion, and the liberation of Ajaccio appeared to indicate that Theodore was not merely a flash in the pan. In exchange for trading privileges, the Bey agreed to ratify his uncle’s 20-year peace and ordered several Corsican slaves to be repatriated. There is no record of subsidies, but Hamet returned several times with cash and supplies that must have been obtained from somewhere, presumably either from the Bey himself or the Tunisian Jews who had long supported Theodore. Theodore the Abolitionist and the slave-taking Bey of Tunis did not seem like the most natural of allies, and this fundamental philosophical opposition would cause future tension, but desperate times made for strange bedfellows and Theodore had to find friends wherever he could.
 Porto Vecchio was virtually abandoned in the summer owing to malaria; no traders would venture there until October at the earliest.
[A] We know a great deal about Ergas and Silvera because a number of their letters survive, in which they discuss all sorts of matters relating to business and legal affairs. The firm ultimately went bankrupt in the late 1740s because of the "Big Diamond Affair," in which the merchants contracted to sell a massive 60-carat diamond obtained in Aleppo but were unable to find a buyer. A protracted legal dispute followed which ultimately brought down the business.