The Feeble Republic
Thus we'll dance down all our tyrants—
Thus we'll dance thy routed armies
Down the hills of Vescovato,
- From a moresca of Casinca
Austrian Grenadiers of the Roth Regiment at Genoa in 1746
Although the Genoese had surrendered to the Austrians on the promise of leniency, it soon became clear that Vienna saw Genoa only as a goose to be cooked. The original armistice signed with General Ludwig Ferdinand, Graf von Schulenburg had limited Genoa’s indemnity to 50,000 genovines and stated that the Austrians would pay “ready money for all necessaries.” Schulenburg, however, had made it clear that the terms were only provisional until ratified by Vienna, and Vienna saw fit to revise them entirely. Empress-Queen Maria Theresa’s Italian domains had been miserably despoiled in the war and she saw no reason why the perfidious Genoese should not bear “the whole expense of the war, at least since the time of [Genoa’s] first appearance in arms.” The Austrian commissioner-general in Italy, Johann Karl Chotek, Graf von Chotkow, announced the revision of 50,000 genovines to three million, and it was to be paid on a strict schedule: the first million within 48 hours, the second within one week, and the third within two weeks. The punishment for breaking this schedule was to be “general pillaging.”
Where was this money to come from? The financial health of the Republic was extraordinarily poor, and the Spanish subsidies that had kept them afloat during the war up to this point had now been cut off. There was some talk of the patricians dipping into their own fortunes, but the oligarchs proved unwilling to sacrifice for the state. Instead the government opted to raid the venerable Bank of St. George, pilfering the deposits of their own citizens and foreign nations alike and forcing the bank to close and suspend all payments on deposits. Even then only about 1.6 million was found. The once opulent merchant republic was well and truly bankrupt. “Take heart, sirs,” King Theodore is supposed to have said to his ministers after hearing of the terms, “we are at last wealthier than the Genoese!” But worse was yet to come, for the Senate’s pleas for mercy were met not with moderation but with yet greater demands. Chotek added that the Republic was also on the hook for the provisioning of Her Imperial Majesty’s army in winter quarters and other war expenses which amounted to nearly an additional million genovines.
The terms levied upon the Genoese were so onerous as to even gain the personal attention of Pope Benedict XIV, who interceded with Vienna on behalf of the Republic and asked for a little Christian charity. This succeeded in producing a slightly more lenient tone in Vienna, but the greater effect was produced by the intervention of General Schulenburg. While no friend of the Genoese, he had come to the opinion that the sums demanded were simply beyond the capacity of the Republic to pay. Unlike his masters in Vienna, who produced sums from the air based on their image of Genoa as a republic of tycoons, Schulenburg could actually see the tremendous devastation and penury to which the Republic had been reduced. Taking Vienna’s moderation after the Papal intervention as a cue, Schulenburg summoned the Senate. He announced that the “wintering” money demanded by Chotek would not be collected, that the necessities of the army would be paid for as originally promised in the armistice, and that he would agree to a bond being drawn up for the remaining debt to give the government some breathing room. To service the debt, however, he prodded Chotek into ordering the confiscation of the nobles’ deposits in the banks of Milan and Vienna. The patricians, it seemed, would not wriggle out of paying after all.[A]
Despite this small reprieve, Genoa was mired in the most complete misery. The war had caused the city to swell with refugees from the countryside - peasants and laborers with no jobs, no money, and no food. The people were destitute, humiliated, and angry - angry at the Austrians who occupied their city and plundered their wealth, angry at the Sardinians who besieged their towns and stole their land, and angry at their own elite who had led them into a ruinous war and now tried to escape the consequences. There was a sense everywhere that the Republic was under siege from without and betrayed from within. The year ended without further commotion - the Sardinians, having taken Savona, moved no further against the Republic - but 1747 had hardly arrived when a new thunderbolt struck the Republic. On January 15th, the Corsicans invaded Capraia.
18th century map of Capraia (click to enlarge)
The Island of Capraia is a rocky isle, just over seven square miles in area, which lies eighteen miles east of the tip of Capo Corso. Through the Middle Ages it had been mainly a place of religious retreat - and, naturally, a target for Muslim pirates - until the Genoese fortified it in the 16th century, making the island reasonably safe for regular habitation. Since that time the population had grown from just over 200 shepherds, fishermen, and monks to about 1,800 total inhabitants. Capraia, however, was not a Genoese settler colony like the Corsican presidii; it owed its population boom not to the relocation of Ligurian colonists, but to the migration of Corsicans - mainly from Capo Corso - to take advantage of the bountiful fishery offshore. By the 18th century Capraia was a well-established fishing town whose fishermen sold salted and pickled anchovies and bluefish at Genoa, Bastia, and Livorno. Although the island had been quiet over the years of the Revolution, the Capraiesi had contributed to the rebel cause in one important way: As skilled mariners with their own boats and commercial contacts in Livorno, they found themselves perfectly placed to take advantage of the opportunity which the Corsican Revolution provided for smugglers, and Capraiese sailors had played a key role in supplying the naziunali. Smuggling, of course, did not necessarily mean that the Capraiesi were Corsican patriots; there was good money to be made in moving contraband regardless of one’s political leanings. Nevertheless, the outlook of the Capraiese fishermen was not entirely mercenary, and more than a few sympathized with the insurgents.
By the end of 1746 the relations between the Capraiesi and the Genoese were at an all-time low owing to a severe supply shortage. It was bad enough that the British blockade had reduced shipments from Genoa to a trickle; that, at least, was not directly the fault of the Genoese. But the Genoese had also banned all commerce with the rebels, which since the fall of Bastia had effectively meant a ban on all commerce with Corsica, causing great disruption to the Capraiese economy and shortages of even the most basic goods and foodstuffs.
The newly-minted Captain Friedrich Wilhelm von Neuhoff zu Pungelscheid appears to have seized upon Capraia early on as an opportunity to obtain a glorious victory of his own. He knew nothing about naval operations and not much more about command; as a Prussian ensign he was no stranger to the military life but was an unproven leader. But he had come at at an auspicious time, as it was becoming clear that the Genoese did not have the strength to protect what was theirs. Capraiese smugglers, increasingly disgruntled with Genoese rule, proved more than happy to provide the nationals with detailed information on the strength of the garrison, the layout of the fortifications, the geography of the island, and landing points of opportunity.
The information was quite encouraging. The town of Capraia and its only protected harbor were guarded by the Fort of San Giorgio, a 16th century Genoese fortress on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, and three outlying watchtowers elsewhere on the coast. The fort was a formidable structure, but the entire island was garrisoned by only about 70 regulars. The Genoese soldiers had not been paid since the summer, and fort’s supplies of flour, gunpowder, and ammunition were all very low. Even if the castle proved impossible to storm, it was plausible that a small force might secure the town and the rest of the island, isolating the castle’s garrison and starving them out. General Marcantonio Giappiconi gave his support to the project; the Genoese had never been weaker, and he was looking for an opportunity to prove the value of his men after the failure at Bonifacio.
Before a landing could be made, however, there was work to do on land and at sea. The Kingdom of Corsica did technically have a “state fleet” of captured Genoese ships including a xebec, two feluccas, and four galliots, but these ships spent most of their time laid up in port owing to shortages of crew, hardware, and naval stores. State ships were gradually gathered at Macinaggio, the closest Corsican port to Capraia, where they underwent repairs and refitting. The privateer Giovanni Francesco Natale was also brought onboard, who would assist the operation with his own ship, the 2-gun felucone Audace. The Audace, the state feluccas, and other small privateering vessels began making regular patrols of the waters around Capraia to make observations of the island and seize supply ships if practicable. In the meantime, Pungelscheid would prepare the landing party.
The commissioner of Capraia, Giacomo Filippo Peirano, was not blind. He had his own spies in Bastia and could draw the obvious inference from the movement of ships to Macinaggio and the growing presence of mysterious craft cruising in the distance. In November he sent an urgent letter to Genoa pleading for reinforcements and resupply, as he believed an attack to be imminent. But although by now the British blockade had been lifted, the Republic’s response left much to be desired; the Genoese, as we have seen, had other problems. The Senate sent a few gondolas with some flour, salt, and ammunition, but only some of little unarmed boats were able to make Capraia on account of rough winter seas and Corsican privateers. Peirano concluded that if an attack was made, his only choice would be to rally the locals to the island’s defense. He organized coastal patrols by the local militia and prepared a cache of arms to be distributed to the citizens in case of invasion.
The invasion was the first Corsican military action conducted mainly by regular forces. The initial landing force consisted of 82 grenadiers, 140 fusiliers, and two bronze falcons (3 or 4 pounder guns). Another company of fusiliers and 200 Cape militiamen were held in reserve, to be landed afterwards to bolster the besieging force. Rough weather delayed the attack for several weeks - it was originally slated for the end of December - but the Genoese were unable to make any use of this reprieve. On the morning January 15th, finding clear seas, the flotilla launched from Macinaggio, reached Capraia, and found that a small cove on the east side of the island known as the Cala di Ceppo appeared to be unguarded. The black-coated Corsican grenadiers were the first to wade ashore, led by Pungelscheid, still in his blue and red Prussian uniform. To maximize their chances of surprise, the captain had ordered his men to land with unloaded muskets to avoid any accidental discharge.
The approach of the Corsican ships had not gone unnoticed by the Genoese sentries, and Peirano activated his defense plans. Whatever muskets could be spared were distributed to the militia, and patrols were sent to the various coves around the island to ascertain where the Corsicans were landing, if that was indeed their intent. Three militiamen came upon the Cala di Ceppo and blundered right into the Corsicans, who had already made landfall. Not knowing that the Corsicans’ guns were unloaded, the militiamen threw down their arms and surrendered immediately. The landing party then proceeded inland along a ravine to the old abandoned Church of San Stefano in the center of the island. Waiting here as more men disembarked, the landing party managed to waylay several more small groups of militiamen going to or coming back from other coves. By noon, the Corsicans had captured and disarmed at least 25 Capraiese militiamen without firing a shot. Peirano eventually learned of the Corsican position and prepared to defend the town from attack. While he had fewer than sixty regulars on hand - around a dozen were at the outlying watchtowers - he had around 150 armed militiamen to support him.
His reliance upon the Capraiesi, however, proved to be misplaced. Speaking in French (translated by a Corsican officer; Pungelscheid’s Italian was poor), the captain informed his captives that he and his men had come not to subjugate Capraia but to drive out the Genoese and unite the Capraiesi with their Corsican brethren. A proclamation from Theodore was read which promised “liberty” to the Capraiesi, proclaimed the abolition of Genoese taxes, and guaranteed them full use of their fisheries and uninhibited commerce with all the ports of Corsica. Then they released the captives - without their muskets - to return to the town. This news quickly disseminated through the populace and had its desired effect. The Capraiesi militia had been formed to defend the island against pirates, but clearly the present invaders were no Barbary corsairs. Some welcomed the “liberation,” but even those who disliked the royalists proved unwilling to fight against them for the sake of the Genoese.
From that point on the Capraiesi offered no resistance. The Capraiese sentries made no attempt to warn the Genoese when a Corsican column marched on the harbor, and the militia at the harbor lay down their arms without a fight. Upon realizing that the harbor had been betrayed to the Corsicans, the Genoese officers in the upper town threatened death to traitors and even turned a cannon against the town, demanding that the militia remain at their posts and fight. Not surprisingly, this failed to inspire the loyalty of the Capraiesi. As the Corsicans advanced into the town, Peirano had no choice but to withdraw into the citadel with his regulars. Although a few shots had been exchanged, by the end of the day the Corsicans had managed to capture the town and virtually the entire island without a single death on either side. Within a week, all three of the outlying watchtowers surrendered. All that remained was the Fort of San Giorgio, exactly 57 Genoese soldiers, and 41 women and children, the families of those soldiers who had fled with them into the citadel for fear of retaliation.
The relations between the Corsicans and the Capraiesi were cordial, and many of the locals openly collaborated with the occupiers. Offering a monthly salary of 10 lira, Pungelscheid raised a company of Capraiesi militia about 80 strong to keep order and help patrol the coastline. The Capraiese fishermen volunteered to use their boats to help ferry supplies from Macinaggio, greatly easing the Corsicans’ logistical burden. These supplies were shared with the Capraiesi, who for the first time in many months were able to restock their larders with flour, oil, and wine. Pungelscheid - the Capraiesi called him “Don Federico” - reported to Giappiconi that the fathers of the commune were cooperative and had regular meetings with him over homemade brandy, while the local women would visit the Corsican patrols and offer his soldiers cake. Although he expressed concern that too much fraternizing with the civilians would be bad for discipline and made efforts to tighten security at the soldiers’ camp, Pungelscheid admitted that the favor of the locals and their indifference towards the Genoese had been key to his bloodless conquest.
At Genoa, the invasion of Capraia was met with horror - and considerable surprise, despite Peirano’s earlier warnings. The Genoese leadership still saw the Corsican nationals as a crude rabble and tended to ascribe their successes to foreign support. That the rebels were capable of launching a naval invasion without the British or Sardinians holding their hand seemed scarcely believable. The effects of Capraia’s fall, lamented the Senators, would be disastrous: It was not only a key supply and staging depot for Genoese forces (which might one day attempt to land upon Corsica again), but it was also a vital link between Genoa and Bonifacio. There was general agreement that if Capraia could not be regained it would be almost impossible to hold Bonifacio, which was already very desperate for provisions.
An effort was made to relieve the island, but it was stymied by a lack of nearly everything one would need to prosecute a war. The state galleys were dragged off the beach for the first time since 1744, but they needed work and naval stores were in short supply. It was not until early February that a squadron was gathered, consisting of two war galleys, three pinques, and four feluccas, but even these were said to have been in poor condition. They remained in harbor, however, because of a lack of crew, for the government had no money to pay sailors and many of them had been snapped up by the Spanish or commandeered (along with their ships) by the British and Austrians. Finally, on February 9th - with the fleet still in harbor - General Schulenburg crippled the whole enterprise by informing the Senate that by the terms of the armistice, the garrison of Genoa had to remain demobilized and within the city to keep order. This meant the government had no landing force to retake the island. The Senate considered roping in the militia, but found them totally unwilling. The regulars dreaded Corsican duty so much that the Genoese government had, in recent years, used transfer to Corsica as punishment, so clearly the militia was not going to voluntarily head overseas. Given the volatile situation in Genoa, trying to force them might cause a riot.
The last hope of the Republic was to try and strangle the occupiers by blockading the island. To this end a somewhat reduced fleet - seven vessels - was dispatched on February 16th. It was a pointless endeavour. In the month since their landing, the Corsicans had gathered a considerable stockpile of provisions on the island. Rough weather frequently forced the Genoese flotilla to withdraw to the Bay of Spezia, creating opportunities for the Capraiesi to dart out in their gondolas and take on supplies at Macinaggio. The fleet did succeed in making contact with Peirano by a clever means - a boat was rowed to the sea caves below the Fort San Giorgio and a messenger was hauled up from the boat to the castle walls with a rope. This, however, was not a sufficient means to keep the garrison in supply. The only real accomplishment of the “blockade” was to secure the release of the women and children in the citadel, whom Pungelscheid allowed to leave and take passage on the Genoese fleet. Ultimately it was the fleet that ran out of provisions before the Corsicans, and the ships withdrew to Spezia to resupply. But Peirano was not much better off, and realized that if the Republic would not invade the island there was no hope for his rescue. On March 7th, after a seven week siege, Peirano surrendered and was granted the honors of war. When the Genoese fleet returned a few days later, they found the Moor’s Head atop the citadel. The Genoese commodore withdrew with Peirano and his garrison on March 14th and returned to Genoa in defeat.
The naziunali were ecstatic, and the victory - accomplished without the loss of a single soldier in combat - made Friedrich Wilhelm's reputation. Ironically it was of little satisfaction to Friedrich Wilhelm himself, who was happy to receive praise and recognition but had hoped to gain glory in battle, not in a bloodless seven week "armed picnic." Yet despite the ease of the conquest, it proved to be a pivotal moment. It now seemed apparent to all that, as a consequence of the steady improvement of the Corsican rebels and the swift collapse of Genoa, the Corsicans had become the military equals of the Genoese, perhaps even their superiors. They were no longer merely a mob of armed rustics who sniped at the Genoese from the macchia, but a state with a disciplined and effective (if small) army which could carry out sophisticated operations against the Genoese. Although Corsica remained a peripheral theater of the war, the great powers took notice. Three weeks after the Genoese sailed home from Capraia, the Empress-Queen declared the Corsicans to be "forever free of Genoa and her tyranny." Not merely content with looting the Republic, she was now giving her blessings to its dismemberment.
 Equivalent to about 1.1 million pounds sterling.
 If considered part of Corsica - and administratively, it was - Capraia was technically the fourth largest Corsican "city," with more people than Sartena, Calvi, or Corti.
 Although hardly a naval power, even this force was probably beyond the capacity of the Corsicans to fight at sea. Genoa’s state galleys were equipped with five forward-facing guns: a pair of 4-pounders, a pair of 8-pounders, and a single monstrous 36-pounder gun in the center. The Corsicans had no vessels with that kind of firepower, to say nothing of their complete lack of trained naval gunners. The Corsican privateers and state ships usually confined their attacks to single, minimally-armed gondolas and pinques.
 Privately, Pungelscheid opined that the Genoese had been undeserving of the honors of war, which ordinarily were afforded as a token of respect to an enemy which had mounted a suitably honorable and courageous defense. Nevertheless, he felt obligated to extend full honors to Peirano to "set an example of honorable conduct to the men."
[A] The Genoese Revolution is averted, at least for now. While the (insane) Austrian demands for money came from Count Chotek, not the OTL military governor Botta Adorno (as is often claimed), Botta was notoriously stubborn, ornery, and difficult to work with to the point that even his fellow Austrian generals disliked him; Schulenburg is no filogenovese but at the very least he lacks Botta’s cruelty and pigheadedness. What really triggered the rebellion was not the looting of the treasury and the Bank of St. George, but the attempt by Botta Adorno to strip the artillery from Genoa’s walls to send to the Provence campaign. Fearing that they would be stripped of their defenses and left helpless, the Genoese revolted. Initially they demanded the return of their artillery and the return of their city gates to their own forces (Botta Adorno had promised to only occupy one, but stationed his troops in several). Botta Adorno not only ignored these demands but sent the Austrian grenadiers back into the city to resume requisitioning the artillery, and they got chased out with rocks and gunfire. Finally the revolt exploded: the people stormed the armories, turned artillery against the Austrians, forced them from the city, and overthrew their own government (which had tried to stop the rebellion for fear of angering the Austrians). ITTL, the earlier end of the siege of Savona (which was occupying much of the Sardinian artillery) and Schulenburg’s greater respect for the terms of the original armistice mean no artillery requisitioning, and thus no December revolt. Genoa nevertheless remains a roiling cauldron, and their leaders have never been less popular.