Call to Arms
Genoese troops encamped at Finale
On the 14th of March, a Gallispan army of 46,000 men began its attack on Sardinia. The French contingent was led by Marshal Daniel François de Gélas, Vicomte de Lautrec
, while the Spanish were led nominally by the Infante Felipe de Borbón
but in practice by his “lieutenant” General Jaime de Guzmán-Dávalos, Marqués de la Mina
. The force crossed the Var on the 21st, and the city of Nice surrendered almost immediately. Most of the Sardinian garrison there had already withdrawn to Villefranche after the French had landed a force at Monaco. Villefranche was ringed by formidable fortifications and batteries of artillery, but its security was severely compromised by the presence of more than 4,000 French soldiers to the east. Although this force could not threaten the seven or eight thousand defenders of Villefranche on its own (including nearly a thousand British marines and gunners), it could certainly mount attacks on the Sardinian rear once they were occupied by the main Gallispan army. The Sardinian commander Vittorio Francesco, Marquis de Susa
- the illegitimate brother of King Carlo Emanuele III
- realized that despite the town’s strong natural and artificial defenses it would be difficult to hold with his flank turned. The Marquis had been assured that the British fleet would evacuate his force if the town could not be defended, but there was no sign of that fleet save for a few recently-arrived frigates and sloops, and the force to his east was potentially in a position to set up artillery that could make the harbor of Villefranche impossible to utilize.
Rather than waiting for the main Bourbon army to arrive and surround him totally, Susa elected to evacuate by land while the option still remained to him, leaving a rearguard of 400 men to hold the citadels of Villefranche and Montalban as long as possible. A clean getaway, however, was prevented by the action of François de Chevert
, a man of no title or distinction who had started his career as a 11-year old infantry recruit and rose to the rank of brigadier, an extraordinarily rare feat in the aristocratic French army which is evidence enough of his capability. Chevert, leading the troops recently disembarked at Monaco, mounted a tenacious attack against the Sardinian army as soon as he realized Susa’s intention to withdraw. Although he could not overcome a superior force, his his harrying was so effective that he was able to slow, cut off, and finally destroy the Sardinian rearguard, causing the loss or capture of some 1,500 Sardinian troops. He regretted that Susa and the main Sardinian corps had managed to slip away, which other officers blamed chiefly on the slowness of the Spanish advance, but his accomplishment was noted at Versailles and he was promoted to Maréchal de camp
within a few weeks. The Sardinian detachment holding the citadels continued to hold out after the evacuation of Susa’s corps, but eventually surrendered for lack of ammunition on the 15th of April.[A]
The dormant strategic question, whether to continue eastwards through Liguria or turn the advance elsewhere, now came to the fore. To recap, the Spanish preferred the former, as it promised to be the most efficient means of joining the Gallispan army with the Spanish army of General Jean Thierry du Mont, Comte de Gages
, presently in central Italy, which the Spanish had been trying to achieve since 1741. But the French had their doubts. Lautrec feared that with the return of Mathews’ fleet to the Ligurian coast, the British would now be a persistent thorn in the side of the Gallispan army. By threatening the coastal route, British ships could interfere with supplies and communications. Moreover, when winter arrived and the Alps were rendered impassable, the French feared that the Gallispan army would find itself trapped in Liguria (or wherever else it had marched) with little hope of supply or reinforcement.
The variance between French and Spanish objectives reached all the way to the top. Spain’s uncompromising policy was driven by Elisabetta Farnese
, the Queen of Spain and heiress of Parma, who cared only for the meeting of the Spanish armies, the reclamation of her patrimony, and the installation of her son Don Felipe in a suitable principality. She reacted indignantly to any suggestion of an alternative policy, blithely dismissed any concerns about the security of the coastal route,
and threatened unilateral action if France did not meet what she saw as its dynastic commitments. “The King of France is master of his own troops,” she told the French ambassador, “but there is nothing to prevent us sending on our troops and risking everything rather than expose de Gages’ army to certain ruin.” She was echoed both by her son Don Felipe and General la Mina, a man so proud of his blind loyalty that he was heard to boast that he would gladly march his army into the sea if given the order.
Elisabetta Farnese, Queen of Spain
Contrary to the Queen’s suspicions, King Louis XV
was absolutely committed to the cause of his cousin Don Felipe. Sardinia’s treachery, however, had personally aggrieved him, and he was thus receptive to the arguments of his generals that it was wiser to lay Turin low before riding through Italy to the rescue of Gages. His commanders, including Lautrec, expressed their concerns that the Spanish were so obsessed with Parma that they had become heedless of all reason and military necessity. An advance over the mountains from the Dauphiné into Piedmont might pose more initial challenges, but it would avoid British interference, and if Sardinia could thus be knocked out of the war the Gallispan host could march to Parma, Naples, or anywhere else at their leisure.
Those had been the arguments over the preceding winter, but the unexpectedly swift progress of the Nice campaign seemed to undermine the French position. Sardinian opposition had proved far weaker than anticipated, and after the surprising collapse of the Sardinian position at Villefranche the Gallispan forces seemed unstoppable. Susa had lost more than a quarter of his army and had been forced to spike and abandon more than 80 cannon at Villefranche, some of which were soon repaired and pressed into service by the Bourbon forces. The Spanish drove the Sardinians from Sospello, forcing them ever higher up the Roya valley, while another Spanish force overcame a small garrison at Dolceacqua and then turned east towards Oneglia. Progress was slowed by floodwaters from the spring thaw, but with the Sardinians back on their heels it was easy to argue that the Gallispan army would be best employed continuing to forge ahead rather than retreating so as to attempt another approach.
Even the French fears of British interference seemed to be overblown. Although the Spanish and French Mediterranean fleets were now divided, they still arguably had the numbers to challenge the British if they were able to combine forces. Mathews was quite aware of this and could only hope to avoid that unhappy scenario by a concentration of force at Hyères Roadstead to oppose any breakout from Toulon. Meanwhile, to continue the blockade of Italy Mathews was best served by his frigates and sloops, but he was terribly short of both. He possessed only six frigates in the entire theater, several of which had to be employed watching Toulon and Cartagena for signs of enemy movement. Prior to the Battle of Toulon, Mathews had augmented these cruisers with some detached ships of the line. Now, however, given the loss of the Rupert
and the fact that several ships were still undergoing extensive repairs at Port Mahon, the admiral simply could not afford to make detachments from his battle fleet without jeopardizing his ability to face the Gallispan naval forces in another engagement. As a result, the British could spare but a small fraction of their force to patrol the Riviera. When the Gallispan army forged its way across the Var, the mighty British navy had only been able to oppose them with a pair of 8-gun sloops. Meanwhile, supplies, artillery, ammunition, and even soldiers continued to filter through the blockade towards Italy.
It was nevertheless conceded, even by la Mina, that a key ingredient for a successful Riviera campaign was still missing: the support of Genoa. While the Gallispan army could march through neutral Genoese territory, open support from the Republic was necessary for logistical and tactical reasons. In particular, Genoese fortresses - and Genoese forces to man them - would be of inestimable value in holding back counterattacks from the Sardinians. That support was not yet forthcoming but did not seem beyond the realm of possibility: Once more the British consul in Genoa John Birtles
reported that magazines and supply depots were being assembled in Genoese territory, allegedly for the use of the Spanish army, and the Republic had gathered a large army at Genoa. Yet the Genoese remained frustratingly aloof, offering the Bourbon diplomats vague statements of support and sympathy but stalling every attempt to drag them into an alliance with never-ending parliamentary debates and tedious drawn-out negotiations.
While the Treaty of Worms had made a sham of Genoese neutrality, the Republic’s government was nevertheless pulled towards belligerence only slowly and with great reluctance. They had been manifestly unready for war in 1743, with an army of less than 6,000 men who at the time were mostly stationed in Corsica. More crucially, Spain - the only Bourbon power which had so far waged war in Italy - had continually failed to advance their cause since the opening of hostilities in 1741. Given the Republic’s exposed position in Italy, entry into the war without a strong Bourbon army immediately at hand would be tantamount to suicide, as Modena had demonstrated during its brief and farcical contribution to the conflict.
Although the Republic made preparations for war, their favored resolution to the crisis was a diplomatic reversal of the Finale clause. They had met with some success in England, where a number of prominent lords and politicians had publicly voiced their agreement that the proposed cession was unjust and unlawful. The policy of Sir John Carteret
, however, did not change as a result, and Vienna received their ambassadors coldly. It was well known that Franz Stefan
, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Archduke of Austria, still had designs on Corsica and made sure the Genoese envoys received no fair hearing at Vienna, and his royal wife Maria Theresa
needed Turin's support too badly to renounce or unilaterally abridge the Worms treaty.
By May of 1744 the Republic's strategic position was significantly improved. Genoa had completed its redeployment from Corsica and had mustered an 8,000 man army in Liguria. A large Gallispan army had easily routed the Sardinians at Villefranche, captured the county of Nice with astonishing rapidity, and was now poised on the Republic’s frontier. Growing more confident in their own position and that of the Bourbon powers, Genoa’s terror had given way to greed, for the Genoese were well aware of the strategic importance of their territory and now attempted to extract the best deal they could from Paris and Madrid. Spain was more than willing to carve up Sardinia for Genoa’s benefit, but France resisted the idea of offering any Sardinian territory to Genoa, as King Louis and his councilors continued to believe that Sardinia, though treacherous, could still be “turned” given the right pressure. But for the Republic, there was no rush; there were still preparations to make, and the 1744 campaign in Italy was yet young.
On February 3rd, just three days before the Battle of Toulon, Carlo Emanuele had received word from his ambassador to Britain, Giuseppe Antonio Osorio Alarçon
, that London had approved his proposal to recruit soldiers from Corsica. In theory the “recruiting” was to be done at Livorno and aimed at Corsican expatriates there, but Carlo Emanuele fully intended to avail himself of the services of Theodore von Neuhoff
in procuring these soldiers from Corsica itself. The offer which the Sardinian Secretary of War Lorenzo Bogino
handed to Theodore’s agent Domenico Rivarola
in late February was not an alliance, nor any agreement between states; it more closely resembled a “capitulation,” the type of contract which Turin regularly signed with Swiss and German colonel-proprietors charged with raising a foreign regiment for Sardinian service. For now, Turin would deign to deal with Theodore only as a private person. They acknowledged him by his title of “baron,” but not yet as king.
The proposal stipulated that Theodore would recruit and equip a regiment of three battalions of Corsicans for Sardinian service (nominally 1,800-2,100 men). Theodore would provide the men and select the officers, as well as providing the uniforms.
As compensation for his services and to assist him in his task, he would receive the sum of 12,000 sequins (=162,000 lire) in several installments and an annual pension of 275 sequins, the latter to be increased to 400 sequins immediately upon the entry of this regiment into Sardinian service.
The amount is notable for its generosity, as it was emphatically not
Turin’s usual practice to advance mercenary colonels 30 years worth of salary before they had raised a single man. But Carlo Emanuele was not offering this sum out of the goodness of his heart, nor because he had any sentimental attachment to Corsican independence. By “overpaying” Theodore for his services Turin could disguise a subsidy as a salary advance, thus supporting the rebellion while plausibly claiming that they were merely recruiting a foreign regiment, an activity which they were in fact doing and which their British allies had explicitly condoned. The Sardinians, in effect, were doing an end run around their ally’s stated policy: while London maintained the official line that any aid to the “malcontents” was a serious crime, their own exchequer was sending money to Turin that was to be immediately handed to the leader of the Corsican rebel movement. Carlo Emanuele may also have already been planning for the future, as if Theodore’s rebellion was successful it was not out of the question that le soi-disant Roi
, indebted to Savoyard generosity, might be convinced to set aside his royal claims and deliver “free” Corsica to Turin’s control.
Undoubtedly Theodore had wanted more, not so much in terms of money but in recognition and military support. The best he could get in that regard was a comforting but frustratingly vague promise that, when the war was over, His Sardinian Majesty would do his utmost to intervene on behalf of the Corsican people to secure their liberty. But he was certainly not going to turn down 12,000 sequins and a generous salary, and what Carlo Emanuele wanted him to do - raise an army - was exactly what Theodore intended. The only difference was that Theodore hoped to gain some use out of it himself before delivering the promised force to Sardinia’s control.
In March, with the snows thawing in the mountains and the first installment of Turin’s largesse in his pocket, Theodore felt the time was ripe to summon the national consulta
. The chosen site was the Franciscan convent of Orezza, a place charged with meaning for the naziunali
. At the same convent in 1731, in the early days of the Revolution, a consulta
had convened in which the native theologians of Corsica sanctified the rebellion and declared it just for the people to resist tyranny with force; in 1734 another consulta
here had officially renewed the rebellion after the collapse of the Austrian-brokered truce; and it was here again in 1735 that a third consulta
gathered here to proclaim the short-lived Corsican Commonwealth. All this had occurred before Theodore’s arrival, but he had not been King of Corsica for eight years without learning anything of its very recent history, and he could hope for no more symbolic place from which to declare a new uprising.[B]
The Franciscan Convent of Orezza
The case for war which Theodore and his inconciliabili
supporters laid before the assembled delegates on March 18th was straightforward. Negotiations had clearly failed; the Genoese Senate and Commissioner-General Pier Maria Giustiniani
had failed to accept the demands of the Corsican people and had no intention of ever doing so. The Genoese were now weaker than they had ever been, and the rebels stronger than at any time since the fall of the kingdom to the French. Theodore promised money, guns, and ammunition to every Corsican willing to fight for God, king, and country - in fact he had brought a large cache of weapons and sequins with him to Orezza precisely to use the opportunity of the consulta
to raise soldiers. He claimed, not entirely accurately, that he had secured an alliance with the King of Sardinia and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who would support Corsican independence. All that was necessary was for the Corsicans to take up Theodore’s proffered arms and bear them onward against tyranny.
Certainly there was dissent. Giustiniani had co-opted various caporali
and delegates, and there was still a significant party of those who found the status quo comfortable enough to remain in it. Giustiniani’s cause, however, was weakened by his lack of means. The Genoese government’s reallocation of resources from Corsica meant that the commissioner-general’s coffers and arsenals were both empty. He could afford neither to continue bribing Corsican chieftains nor to provide their followers with functioning muskets. Theodore, it seemed, was now in a position to do both, and for many of Corsica’s more mercenary caporali
this was decisive. On March 16th, the delegates of the consulta
signed the so-called Ghjurà di Orezza
(“Oath of Orezza”), in which they yet again confirmed their allegiance to King Theodore, enumerated the various violations of the truce and acts of bad faith committed by Genoa (including, risibly, Genoese “piracy” against traders - that is, smugglers - traveling to Corsica), pledged to follow the King and the Diet of Corsica to war, and promised to make no peace with Genoa without the general approval of the king and the consulta
. The unanimous accession of the Diet followed, and on March 19th of 1744 by royal declaration the Kingdom of Corsica formally declared war on the Republic of Genoa.
It is not surprising that the Genoese were well-informed about this gathering; there were almost certainly delegates present who were passing information to Giustiniani. What is more surprising is that the Genoese also knew all about Theodore’s deal with Turin. Indeed, the Genoese seem to have uncovered this plan almost immediately - so quickly, indeed, that one wonders weather treachery was involved. While Genoese intelligence was relatively robust, Carlo Emanuele and his cabinet were skilled players in the art of covert diplomacy, and it seems unlikely that a leak could have come from Turin. It has been suggested that Rivarola traded his knowledge of the plot for cash, which would not be altogether out of character. But the most intriguing notion is that Theodore himself
may have leaked the proposal, for while there is no evidence that he did so, the results were manifestly in his favor.
The revelation of the new Sardinian-Corsican axis struck the Genoese government like a bolt of lightning. Of course the “Worms Allies” had already stirred the pot in Corsica: The Archduke’s machinations were well-known, as was his role in the creation of the “Free Battalion” that had caused so many problems for the Republic in the Dila
; Britain had sheltered Theodore in exile and had brought the pernicious instigator of rebellion back to Corsica on their own warships. But Sardinia now surpassed both in their aggression and shamelessness. They were now directly supporting the rebellion and paying the arch-rebel Theodore to raise an army of malcontents. The Genoese did not for a minute believe that Turin was merely recruiting Corsicans for the continental war; this was a proxy war against the Genoese Republic, the intent of which was nothing less than the overthrow of the Genoese government in Corsica and the likely Sardinian annexation of the island. As threatening as it was, the “Finale clause” had been merely a future, speculative loss of territory; this was a present and immediate attempt to provoke a new uprising and drive the Genoese from their island.
The Spanish kept up the pressure throughout the Spring, hoping to drag France and Genoa along with their preferred strategy by sheer momentum and obstinance. In April, the Spanish army occupied the Genoese city of Ventimiglia and received only the most cursory protest from Doge Lorenzo de Mari
The Spaniards then moved against Oneglia, and the Sardinians again chose to withdraw rather than fight. On the 22nd of April, the Spanish army captured the city. Here, however, the offensive stalled, waiting on diplomatic progress.
By this time it had been a month since the consulta
of Orezza, and Theodore had not spent it idly. The assembly had been immediately followed by a general levy in Orezza, which spread from there to much of the rest of the Castagniccia. Mindful of his obligation to Turin, he entrusted the formation of a regular regiment to his minister of war Major General Marcantonio Giappiconi
, a former colonel of the Venetian army who had fought the Turks as a young officer during the Second Morean War (1714-1718). For the time being, however, most of the forces raised were still local militia companies motivated by some combination of patriotism, the personal loyalty of their leaders to the king, free muskets, and Turin's gold. This force, numbering at least a thousand, marched directly against Bastia. A small Genoese garrison was driven from Borgo, and on the 29th of March a more serious engagement took place between Biguglia and Furiani. The Genoese were driven from their positions near Biguglia and fell back on Furiani, while the Corsicans came within four miles of Bastia. Yet Theodore knew the city could not be taken; his artillery had not yet arrived, the Genoese had improved Bastia’s defenses since the city’s fall in 1736, and the Genoese had a full-sized galley and several smaller ships offshore which could bombard the approaching Corsican army. Before dawn on the 30th, Theodore’s force quietly withdrew from the outskirts of Furiani and filed west through the Bocca di San Stefano into the Nebbio. Most of this province was already in the hands of the naziunali
, and the only Genoese position left was San Fiorenzo itself, whose garrison by April had been reduced to a mere 40 men. The Genoese lieutenant in command of this post chose to evacuate by sea rather than face the brunt of the uprising, and on April 4th Theodore’s forces liberated the town.
The Genoese could do nothing against this offensive but wait behind Bastia’s fortifications and prepare for the worst. Despite this threatening move against the city, the Republic nevertheless withdrew two companies of Jost’s Grison infantry from Bastia to the mainland in April, reducing the Bastia garrison from 1,100 to 700 regulars and the overall Genoese regular forces on the island from 1,800 to 1,400 (all nominal figures). For want of artillery, however, Theodore still did not move against the capital. The king had entrusted the movement of the artillery to Alerio Francesco Matra
, the 26 year old son of Saviero Matra (who was seriously ill and would pass away in the following year). As the brother-in-law of Gianpietro Gaffori
and son-in-law of Domenico Rivarola, the young Matra was a powerful figure despite his youth, and Theodore had given him the rank of colonel. Matra had elected to move these pieces down the Tavignano valley to Aleria and then northwards along the coast, an easier but more circuitous route than attempting to drag the artillery down the narrow Golo ravine. In the meantime, the naziunali
forces in the Nebbio concentrated their efforts against Capo Corso, which remained in the hands of the filogenovesi
. Progress was slow going owing to the difficulty of the terrain, the plethora of Genoese towers which studded the peninsula’s coast, and the general indifference of the natives to the national cause, but the rebels made initial inroads with the conquest of Farinole, Nonza, and Ogliastro on the western coast.
Undoubtedly this pressure played a role in loosening up the diplomatic deadlock between Genoa and the Bourbons. Genoa blamed their situation entirely on the Sardinians (and to a lesser extent, the British), who were clearly the authors of every new Genoese misfortune on Corsica. Although obviously significant foreign intervention in Corsica would not be forthcoming while the war raged on the continent, Theodore’s march on Bastia caused the Genoese government to request a small Spanish or French expeditionary force - perhaps two or three battalions - to help them hold their remaining citadels so as to preserve a foothold on the island and to deny them to the British fleet. The Bourbons were willing to oblige them, as well as assist the Republic with its financial needs by means of a generous subsidy, but not without Genoa's commitment to war.
Even with this apparent meeting of the minds, diplomacy remained a frustratingly slow process. As summer arrived, there was still no treaty. In the interim, however, Genoa agreed to set aside its neutrality - undeclared hostilities, after all, were nothing new in this war - and pledged to furnish the Gallispan army with all required aid and to defend its own territory by force from any Sardinian incursions. Genoa’s hesitation had caused serious delays for the Gallispan army, with virtually no activity on the Nice front in May, and that had given the Sardinians precious time to halt their withdrawal and reposition their forces. The adherence of Genoa, however, finally eroded the last of France’s objections. The Ligurian campaign of the Gallispan army could now begin in earnest.
Situation in Corsica, early June 1744 (Click to expand)
 The Queen fatuously explained that she knew the coastal route very well and foresaw no problems, having traveled it on a sedan chair from Parma to Madrid on the way to her wedding many years before. Presumably, however, her bridal procession had not been in danger of being raked by British naval gunfire.
 Duke Francesco III of Modena had joined the war on the side of the Bourbons on April 30th 1742, but is state was attacked and occupied by the Austrians before the Spanish army could arrive to support them. After a 19 day siege, Modena surrendered and the Duke was made an exile.
 It was standard practice in Sardinia for foreign regiments to supply their own uniforms, while Turin would provide their arms and ammunition from government arsenals. As Theodore fully intended to use his "regiment" before delivering it to the Sardinians, however, he was obligated to both clothe and arm them.
 A relative of Giovanni-Battista de Mari, Commissioner-General of Corsica during the French intervention and Spinola’s predecessor.
[A] IOTL, the Gallispan Nice campaign proceeded in a similar direction, but with considerably more resistance and at a much slower pace. Villefranche held out for weeks, inflicting thousands of casualties on the attackers. Most of the garrison was ultimately evacuated by Mathews' fleet to Oneglia. Although the French had preferred a more northerly advance even before Villefranche, the heavy cost of this battle and the continued neutrality of the Genoese ultimately compelled the Spanish to give up and accept the French plan. As a result of this stalling, the Alpine offensive did not begin until July, which was a crucial reason why it ultimately failed - the Gallispans simply lacked the time to reduce the all-important fortress of Cuneo before the snows began to fall and the army was forced to fall back over the mountains before the passes were closed.
[B] Unfortunately the historic convent of Orezza, one of the most important landmarks of the 40-year Corsica Revolution, suffered the same fate as the historic Ponte Novu and was destroyed by the Germans in the Second World War. Only the ruined walls still remain, which is why I was obliged to use an old photo.