The town of Vescovato
The progress of Lieutenant-General Carlo Francesco Alessandrini
and his naziunali
militia into the pieve
of Luri gravely concerned the filogenovesi
of the Cape. After the rebels dispersed a loyalist militia force and occupied the village of Ersa in July, the podestas of Ersa, Cagnano, Rogliano, and Luri sent an urgent message to Bastia asking for arms and support. Commissioner-General Pier Maria Giustiniani
would have liked nothing more than to oblige them fully, particularly considering that his relative Natale Giustiniani
was the Lieutenant of Rogliano, but with the main rebel army only 15 miles from Bastia he feared to dilute his regular forces any further. Alessandrini’s incursion, after all, might just be a feint. The most he offered was a 50-man company of micheletti
, but they were at least led by Captain Filippo Grimaldi
, arguably the most talented of the filogenovese
commanders. Grimaldi was instructed to organize local resistance in coordination with Lieutenant Giustiniani and his regular infantry under Captain Valdestein
. Grimaldi successfully organized a “united” Luri militia, although they were plagued by a shortage of weapons. In addition to 35 regulars and his own 50 micheletti
, Grimaldi estimated that the loyalist militia was around 160 strong of whom only about 120 had functioning firearms.
Nevertheless, this was a sufficient force to challenge Alessandrini when in the hands of competent commanders. On August 6th, the loyalists occupied a small pass near Ersa called the Bocca di San Nicolo, essentially daring the rebels to eject them. Alessandrini obliged, only to be attacked from the flank by a column of militia and micheletti
which had, with the help of some Ersa locals, worked around the small Bocca di Cataro to the north. Despite outnumbering the enemy, the rebels were quickly routed. Grimaldi captured or killed 30 rebels at the cost of only two deaths and four wounded men, and even more importantly captured dozens of muskets, nearly enough to arm the rest of his volunteers. The setback forced the nationals to abandon Ersa entirely and fall back on Centuri.
This defeat was very distressing to Theodore, particularly as there were whispers that Alessandrini’s force had been betrayed by soldiers within his own ranks. His response was to summon his “nephew” Lieutenant-General Johann Friedrich von Neuhoff zu Rauschenburg
to take control of the situation on the Cape. He had plenty of experience fighting small-unit campaigns in difficult terrain and, the king hoped, might bring some competence to the table. But it was also beneficial to remove him from the interior, where idleness and his own argumentative nature had not yielded good results. His poor relationship with Count Gianpietro Gaffori
had been made worse by the accusation that he had protected one of his “banditi
” friends who had murdered one of the count’s followers in Talcini, which naturally led to questions as to whether the harsh law of the Marca
really applied to favorites of the king’s nephews. While the Battle of Erba was a humiliation, it thus also provided the king with an opportunity to remove Rauschenburg from his position in the interior.
Count Marcantonio Giappiconi
had no patience for the miniscule “battles” being fought over the Cape. He had been growing increasingly impatient for the opportunity to test his forces against the Genoese at Bastia, and urged Theodore to move on the capital. By the beginning of August he had around 800 regular troops under arms at Vescovato, and the artillery situation was improving as well. A “convoy” of a Livorensi pinque and two armed Corsican feluccas out of Ajaccio anchored off San Pellegrino on August 6th, disembarking yet more plundered military supplies including two more 24-pounder guns. The situation had never looked more favorable for an assault on the capital, and something would have to be done soon - Theodore’s money would not last forever, but the more immediate concern was food, as it was a serious logistical challenge to keep well over a thousand people - soldiers, their dependents, craftsmen and laborers involved with the army, to say nothing of the citizens of Vescovato - fed and supplied in one location.
Yet Theodore held out. His stated reason was that he was waiting for the British, whose assistance he expected soon. The fleet was only a hundred miles away off the Ligurian coast, and even a small squadron carried enough artillery to put Theodore’s little siege train to shame. So far, however, while British ships had occasionally shown themselves cruising off the Coriscan coast, they had yet to show any sign of aggression towards the Genoese themselves, and the king feared that an attack on Bastia without them would be too risky. The state of the capital’s defenses was not good, and Theodore had spies within the city who reported shortages of arms and gunpowder and a constant stream of desertions from lack of pay. Even weakened, however, Bastia’s defenders still had walls and guns, and Theodore’s new army had never been tested in such an assault (to say nothing of the militia, who would still necessarily make up a large portion of the attacking force).
After the Battle of Ersa, however, Theodore felt some demonstration of force was necessary. On the 15th, he authorized Giappiconi to attack the village of Furiani, a Genoese-held outpost just four miles to the south of Bastia, with a force of regulars and militia. It was not the quick and easy victory with Giappiconi would have liked; despite being heavily outnumbered, the Genoese defenders held out for four hours of fighting, and ultimately the Corsican attack faltered against the Tower of Furiani itself, a 16th century tower which was inaccessible from the ground without a ladder, something which the attackers had neglected to bring. Giappiconi was forced to fall back to await artillery, which was in position by the 19th and finally compelled the defenders to evacuate. The Corsicans, however, were not able to cut them off, and most of the remaining defending forces were able to withdraw to Bastia. The rebels proudly raised the national flag was raised atop the tower, where it was plainly visible to the residents of Bastia. For the moment, however, he would go no further.
Ever since the Spanish and French fleets went their separate ways after the Battle of Toulon, the strategy of Vice Admiral Thomas Mathews
had been to keep the bulk of his forces together off Toulon to prevent the enemy fleets from combining. Although he was much criticized by his allies for insufficiently supporting their aims in Italy - particularly by the Austrians, who were now realizing that their Neapolitan conquest was a failure - his naval strategy was sound. If the French tried to escape Toulon, they would be outnumbered by his ships, and if the Spanish tried to approach Toulon to meet them, it was likely (although wind-dependent) the British could attack the Spaniards before the French were able to sail out of the port and join them. To achieve this concentration, however, Mathews had been forced to limit his involvement in other critical tasks, and he had left the Spanish fleet at Cartagena totally unwatched.
In fact the naval battle for the Mediterranean had already been won. Despite the lacklustre performance of the British at the Battle of Toulon, there was no longer any will in Paris or Madrid to challenge Mathews’ squadron. Although the Spanish had hailed their fleet’s performance as heroic, the damage had been severe and costly, and there was not much eagerness to seek another engagement. The French navy, meanwhile, had been humiliated by its failure at the Battle of Dungeness, and the naval minister Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, Comte de Maurepas
- who once held pretensions of dominating the council of ministers - was discredited and forced to retreat back to within the confines of his own ministry. The financial demands of the French army, which was now fielding large forces on three fronts - Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands - were considerable, and accordingly the council of ministers felt it appropriate to move resources from the disappointing navy to the all-important army. Most importantly of all, however, the venture no longer seemed necessary. Challenging Mathews had been attractive only because it would open the sea to the transport of the Gallispan army into Italy and the relief of the Spanish army of General Jean Thierry du Mont, Comte de Gages
, but the adherence of Genoa to the Bourbon cause provided another way into Italy which the Gallispan army was already committed to, and the failure of Austria’s Neapolitan invasion freed the Spanish from any urgent need to rescue Gages, who now held the upper hand in central Italy.
With his funding diminished and his influence curtailed, Maurepas directed the navy to pursue that strategy frequently undertaken by the lesser power at sea, that of the guerre de course
. Over the next few months, the French fleet was broken up into small operational groups and dispersed over the Mediterranean and Atlantic to accost British shipping and communications. It was, in retrospect, a poor strategic choice. Certainly these French squadrons caused damage and made many headaches for the British over the next several years, but the dissolution of the French battle fleet freed Mathews and his successors from needing to keep so many of their ships occupied at Hyères Roadstead. As we have seen, even as a fleet-in-being the French squadron at Toulon was a great enough threat to require most of Britain’s resources in the theater, which in turn limited the impact of the fleet elsewhere in the Mediterranean to the advantage of Bourbon fortunes. After 1744, however, the French no longer possessed a combined fleet which could potentially challenge British naval supremacy in the Mediterranean, which gave the squadron’s admirals much greater freedom to use their forces in the furtherance of the Italian war.
This newfound freedom was not immediately apparent to Mathews, who had no way of knowing what his enemy’s intent was. Navigating the new strategic situation would be left to his successor, as in late July Mathews’ resignation, requested some months before, was approved by the Admiralty. His position was assumed by Vice Admiral William Rowley
, who had led Mathews’ rearguard at Toulon and had just been promoted from rear admiral in June. The demands facing Rowley were considerable; the siege of Ceva, beginning in earnest in August, demanded a naval presence off Liguria to interfere with enemy supplies and communications on the coastal route, and Genoa itself - which had revealed itself to be complicit in the the Gallispan invasion - had to be blockaded and cut off from succors arriving from Barcelona, Marseilles, Antibes, and elsewhere. There were dozens of British merchant ships stranded at Port Mahon awaiting a suitable escort before they could sail for Gibraltar, and the victualling convoy was still held up in Portugal. This final problem was the most severe, for Genoa’s new antagonism meant that taking on Sardinian cattle at the Bay of Vado driven through Genoese territory, which had spared Mathews earlier that summer, was no longer possible. Rowley opined to his allies and diplomatic contacts that he would soon be compelled to withdraw from Italy if supplies could not soon be obtained, at the very least long enough to fetch the victuallers from Portugal, and in that time the French and Spanish would enjoy nearly free reign in the Mediterranean.
On top of this wide array of tasks pulling him in all directions, Rowley had to deal with the incoherence and incompetence of Britain’s fleet command structure. Although decisions on ships, personnel, victualling, and so on were made by the Board of Admiralty, Rowley - and Mathews before him - did not receive their orders there. Their instructions came directly from the Secretary of State for the Southern Department Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle
. Along with his brother Prime Minister Henry Pelham
, he held great power over British policy.
He was, however, not a seaman, nor indeed a military man of any kind. His dictates to the fleet were based substantially on the reports he received from British diplomats on the ground, in particular Horace Mann
in Florence and Arthur Villettes
in Turin, and these orders were quite incredibly not shared with the Admiralty. The result of this was that Britain’s diplomatic corps was effectively in command of the Mediterranean squadron, yet the choice of how many ships and resources ought to be devoted to the squadron was made by the Admiralty with no knowledge of what their admiral was actually supposed to do
with those ships save that imparted by letters from the admiral himself.
The peculiarities of this structure worked to Theodore’s advantage, as it was to Newcastle himself that all the king’s communiques eventually passed, or at least those which Mann and Villettes considered worthy of transmission (and once they had added their own annotations). Although Villettes was more sanguine in his assessment of Theodore than Mann, both took an interest in developments in Corsica and considered the support of the “malcontents” to be advantageous to Britain. In the first place, with Villefranche lost the fleet was short on victualling bases, and while Corsica was not exactly the granary of Europe it could help ease Rowley’s concerns about provisions. The ejection of the Genoese from Corsica would also deny them the use of their ports there as waystations to smuggle goods into Genoa for the use of the Gallispan army. Although nobody placed enormous value on the regiment which Theodore was supposedly raising, the king had made it clear that Corsican recruits would be made available for the continental war only when the Genoese threat to Corsica had been eliminated. Perhaps the most important reason to support the rebellion, however, was to put pressure on the Genoese to withdraw their support for the Bourbons, which would cut off the Gallispan offensive at the knees. Although some British statesmen had genuine affection for the Corsican cause, if abandoning the malcontents was the price for securing Genoa’s withdrawal, they were willing to pay it.
The Republic, however, was moving in the opposite direction. On August 20th, the Geneose delegates signed the Treaty of Aranjuez, a defensive alliance between the Bourbon monarchies and the Republic of Genoa.[A]
By this treaty, the Republic pledged 10,000 soldiers as auxiliaries to the allied cause as well as a train of siege artillery (much of which was in fact already in use at Ceva), and to support the allied war effort generally. In return, the Bourbon powers pledged to support the maintenance of these forces with a subsidy (provided by Spain), to guarantee and protect Genoese territory, to send an expeditionary force to defend Corsica from the Worms allies and the “malcontents” serving their interests, and to acquire certain territories for the Republic which at a minimum would include the Sardinian exclave of Oneglia and the Tuscan exclave of the Lunigiana.
Clearly the primary factor which led the Republic to this extremity was the odious Finale clause of the Treaty of Worms, which made the prospect of a Bourbon defeat in Italy unbearable to the Genoese. Had Carlo Emanuele III
been satisfied merely with the cession of Austrian territories as the price for his allegiance, it is likely that Genoa, whatever her worries on Corsica, would have remained aloof from the greater war. Bourbon diplomatic pressure, great as it was, would not have made a difference without this threat to Genoese sovereignty. Yet the influence of Corsica is not to be ignored in the calculations of the Genoese statesmen and negotiators. The Bourbon powers promised an expeditionary force to defend the island, which the Republic badly needed given the rebel army perched over Bastia, but the French negotiators also made it clear that future
assistance with the “Corsican matter” would be contingent on Genoa’s present
loyalty. If the Genoese failed to back the Bourbons in a timely fashion and the French failed as a result, it seemed probably that not only would the Republic lose Finale to Sardinia, but they would probably lose Corsica as well, as without French troops the reconquest of the island from the malcontents seemed quite impossible.
The Treaty of Aranjuez, like many treaties of the war, was a secret treaty that wasn’t. Its existence was assumed as soon as Genoese forces began joining their Gallispan allies in the invasion of Piedmont, and the details of the treaty's articles were certainly known to London, Turin, and Vienna within a few weeks. Yet the Genoese had not expected much secrecy and were not counting upon it, and the fall of the fortress of Ceva to the Gallispan army five days after the treaty’s signature, on August 25th, instilled further confidence in the Senate that they had made the right choice. They waited only a few weeks longer to declare war on the Kingdom of Sardinia.
It was without knowledge of these developments that Theodore, on September 3rd, reluctantly ordered for the siege of Bastia to begin. The performance of his troops at Furiani had not inspired him, and he still preferred to wait for the British, but he had begun to fear that his command of the rebels would start to slip away if he did not press the attack and achieve a victory. After a series of skirmishes on the 7th and 8th, the Corsican army and militia forces surrounded the capital by land. It was to be a test of the ability of the Corsicans in a type of battle they were quite unused to, against an enemy that was weakened and demoralized yet still had powerful advantages in defending a cannon-armed citadel. What Theodore did not know, but would soon discover, was that the diplomatic situation had already shifted in his favor, and the open support he had long craved would not be delayed much longer.[B]
 Confusingly, although the ministry at this time is generally known as the “Carteret Ministry” until Carteret’s fall from power in November 1744, Carteret is not generally considered to have been a Prime Minister of Great Britain. Carteret’s actual post was that of Secretary of State for the Northern Department, and his hold on Britain’s overall foreign policy during his tenure was secured by the favor of the king, whose powers in the foreign sphere were much greater than at home. The position of First Lord of the Treasury in the Carteret Ministry, and thus Prime Minister, was initially held by the Earl of Wilmington, and from August 1743 by Henry Pelham.
[A] About 8-9 months before the OTL Treaty of Aranjuez. The TTL terms of this treaty are almost the same; the only difference is the explicit promise of a Corsican expeditionary force, which was not offered IOTL. Nevertheless, French forces landed on Corsica in 1747 to oppose Sardinian intervention there.
[B] A somewhat small but necessary update that sets up the big events to follow. The Siege of Bastia begins next, to be followed by a return to Italy. As hinted in this update, the Worms Allies aren't doing so hot right now, but the fortunes of war are fickle...