The Genoese Revolution
The Genoese Revolution


The Hall of the Major Council in the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa

The Republic of Genoa in early 1750 was a state in crisis. An expensive war and the British blockade had ruined the Genoese economy and sunk the republic deep into debt. During the occupation, thousands of Ligurian peasants and villagers had swarmed into the capital, chased from their homes by hunger or Sardinian armies. By 1750 most of them still remained, desperate for food and work, a great mass of immiserated humanity which the government had no capacity to support. But the woes of the republic were not only economic. The Genoese were deeply humiliated by the war and the treaty that ended it. They had been subject to a merciless foreign occupation, and when the war ended they had been betrayed by their allies. Instead of the concessions they had been promised in the Treaty of Aranjuez, the French had signed away Finale to the Sardinians, cutting Liguria in two.

Who was to blame for this calamity? Foreigners, certainly - the devious Carlo Emanuele who slavered like a wolf over the helpless republic, the cruel and avaricious Empress Maria Theresa who had plundered the republic while its people starved, the faithless King Louis who had broken his word just so he could give his snot-nosed cousin the infante Felipe a place to rest his royal buttocks in Italy. But outsiders alone were not responsible for Genoa’s disgrace. Although it had certainly been provoked, the Genoese government had plunged into the War of Austrian Succession by its own choice. The nobility, who controlled every lever of power in Genoa’s insular oligarchic government, had fettered Genoa to the Bourbon cause and the fortunes of the Gallispan army. They alone had launched Genoa into a war which had impoverished, diminished, and disgraced it. And it was not just their incompetence that incensed the people, but a sense of actual betrayal: it did not escape the notice of the Genoese people that while the government had completely failed to save Finale at Aix-la-Chapelle, they had nevertheless managed to insert a clause in which the fortunes of the nobility were returned by the Austrians. That seemed to be a rather clear signal as to where the aristocracy’s interests truly lay.

These suspicions were further reinforced in 1749. The Treaty of Monaco came as a great shock to the Genoese people, who had presumed that they were winning “King Theodore’s War.” By the summer of 1749, Corsican piracy had stopped, the Tunisians had withdrawn, and it was widely rumored that the French and British were working out a proposal which would reconcile the Corsicans with the republic. Instead the Genoese found themselves once more defeated and betrayed. Although in retrospect it seems obvious that Corsica was a tremendous drain on Genoa’s resources, the Genoese public could hardly see the loss of half their state’s territory after twenty vain years of struggle and sacrifice as a victory. Once more, only the aristocracy seemed to profit from it. The French ambassador François Claude Bernard Louis de Chauvelin had insisted upon the 15 million livre indemnity to mollify the Genoese government, but he had not given much thought to the people, for whom this clause just made Monaco seem like another Aix-la-Chapelle - an outright sale of Genoese territory. Chauvelin’s public insistence that France had been merely a mediator, not the originator of these humiliating terms - a line which served to preserve French honor and satisfy King Louis - only further degraded the reputation of the Genoese government among their own citizens. What further proof was necessary that the oligarchy was not merely incompetent, but had actually betrayed the people?

The question answered itself in March of 1750 when the Genoese government elected a new doge, Agostino Viale. Of Viale himself, there is not much to be said; he was not a particularly objectionable candidate, particularly since the Doge of Genoa was not much more than a royal puppet who gave some stately dignity and regal theatrics to the otherwise unglamorous (and secretive) deliberative bodies of the oligarchy. But in one of those unforced errors which has baffled historians ever since, the newly elected Doge Agostino chose to celebrate his coronation with a grand ceremony and an enormous banquet, and opted to pay for these luxuries with state funds despite the fact that he himself was one of the wealthier members of the aristocracy. Even some of the nobility called the price tag excessive, and inflated rumors quickly spread of the the doge’s great extravagance. It was falsely claimed that he had ordered the table scraps to be shipped off to his country estate to feed his hunting dogs, who were evidently more worthy of his generosity than the teeming beggars of Genoa.


Agostino Viale, Doge of Genoa

The unrest started within a few days of the coronation feast, according to legend when a group of women waiting outside a bakery - which had just run out of stock - began an impromptu protest and decided to walk to the palazzo ducale and make their grievances heard. Over the next few weeks, demonstrations of popular anger continued to roil the city, culminating in a lamentable accident in which the Guardie del Real Palazzo (the German palace guard company) fired warning shots at the crowd, starting a stampede which injured many and trampled a young boy to death. Following this incident, Genoese soldiers were pelted with rocks in the streets and ever larger crowds began to rail against the “mercenaries,” until the government decided to try and restore calm by removing the Germans from their post. The people cheered, and the crisis seemed to have been resolved - but giving in to the people also gave them confidence.

Critically, the lesser orders of the Genoese population were more organized than ever before. The government had bent to popular will (some might say popular hysteria) during King Theodore’s War and formed a volunteer urban militia, only to disband it after the Treaty of Monaco. Many of the people’s “companies,” however, had not actually dissolved, but developed into social clubs of like-minded lower-middle class Genoese whose interests now turned increasingly to social agitation. Following the dismissal of the German guard, the common fishermen and tradesmen of Genoa began to talk in the taverns and speak of other, more far-reaching demands. Constitutional changes were not yet discussed; they wanted work and bread, as well as accountability for those who had ruined and sold out the state. On May 12th, a group of men delivered a petition to the palazzo ducale asking for a laundry list of changes including price controls, the disbandment of foreign mercenary units, reforms to the justice and guild systems, and the taxation of noble estates to service the state debt. It was not a large march, nor did the incident turn violent. On the contrary, the government was alarmed by the convivial relations between the petitioners and the Ligurian troops who now guarded the palace. A prominent nobleman, Giovan Francesco Doria, accepted the petition and assured the marchers that their proposals would be considered.

The government did indeed consider it; and then, for the most part, they rejected it. Price controls, particularly on grain and other staples, would be too injurious to the merchants and landowners (including prominent members of the government), and they were unwilling to shovel their own fortunes into the gaping pit which was the state debt. They were reluctant to disband the German guard given their lack of faith in the ability of their own native troops to keep the Genoese mob in line. Over the next few days, the government announced a few judicial reforms and tweaks to the tax system which were well-received, but then simply sat on the rest of the demands, hoping they had given enough to satisfy the plebs. On the off chance it didn’t work, however, regular army companies were steadily redeployed from Liguria to the capital.

Increasingly the whispers in the taverns turned conspiratorial. People began to speak of a noble plot to suppress the citizens, and of a conspiracy to keep food prices high so the aristocratic landowners could fatten their purses and make the citizens compliant through hunger. The government’s complete silence on the proposed reforms did not help matters, nor did their decision to move a few companies of troops from eastern Liguria to the city gates, which only seemed to confirm the rumors of an impending crackdown. The disbanded militia companies began to meet with ever more frequency, attendance, and militancy, and exchanged oaths to defend the city from the “congiura nobile.” As ever, the Genoese government seemed determined to offer the worst possible response, and recalled the German guard to tighten the palace’s security. It was a slap in the face to the people, and seemed to be the confirmation of their worst fears.

The reaction to this move was swift and caught the government quite by surprise. A series of violent riots broke out in the city, and on June 5th a group of malcontents managed to scale the walls of one of the state armories with ladders and seize a large cache of muskets and ammunition. The vacillating government reversed itself once more and moved the Germans from their post at the palace, hoping this would have the same salutary effect as last time. Instead a mob, many of them now armed, stormed the palace - the Ligurian soldiers who had just been called in to replace the Germans offered no resistance - and surged into the halls of power. Although many nobles were able to flee - some had already done so in previous days - the doge and dozens of senators became virtual prisoners of the insurgents.

In theory the “rump senate” of the Genoese government continued to function, but their autonomy was stripped from them. After a few days of uncertainty, some of the leading tradesmen and “militiamen” declared the formation of the “General Assembly of the People” (Assemblea generale del popolo), which would draft a new list of reforms and “advise” the government on their implementation. With well-armed tradesmen watching over them, the rump senate and the doge dutifully signed off on orders commanding the army battalions to stand down. They ordered the German guard to be disbanded, enacted price controls on salt, flour, and other staples, and rewrote the tax law.

The rest of the republic languished in a state of uncertainty. The nobles who had fled the city, who formed something of a government-in-exile in Chiavari, declared the edicts of the rump senate to be coerced and illegal. Their ilk controlled the positions of power in the military and the bureaucracy, but the loyalty of the soldiers - who, after the disbanding of most of the foreign and Corsican units during the war, were predominantly Ligurian peasants - was questionable. The Assembly responded to the hostility of the exiles by a radical declaration: the senators not present were ordered to immediately return to Genoa or suffer proscription, forfeiting both their properties and their lives. With no other option, the rump government enacted this as well, and the doge called upon the senate and all government organs to reconvene in full. The nobles in exile, however, considered this decree as illegal as all the others, and most refused to comply. With the army’s loyalty in doubt, the counterrevolutionary senators appealed to Emperor Franz Stefan to help them crush the rebellion.

That Austria might fight on Genoa’s behalf might seem strange given their recent conflict, but Maria Theresa did not consider the Republic to be her permanent enemy. What she feared most in Italy was the ambition of King Carlo Emanuele III of Sardinia, and Genoese weakness would only encourage him. Moreover, if she refused Genoa’s plea for aid the oligarchy would undoubtedly turn to the French, and she had no desire to let France play the role of peacekeeper in Italy. Despite her fears, however, it is clear that Carlo Emanuele had no intention of stepping into the conflict. Certainly he could always use a larger coastline, but Carlo Emanuele was an exceedingly cautious prince. He feared the reaction of the great powers, particularly France, and did not want to endanger his recent winnings by breaking the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Since the treaty he had put his army on a peacetime footing, and was concentrating on paying down the substantial war debt he had accumulated. It was not a time for military adventurism.

The Genoese experiment with radicalism was to be short-lived. With no foreign support and an Austrian army on the march to suppress them, even a united Genoese revolutionary state would have been hard pressed to maintain its independence. The Genoese Republic, however, was very far from united. The Assembly held no power outside Genoa itself, and even within Genoa the government was seriously undermined by the ambivalence of the wealthy merchant classes, who chafed at the monopolization of power among the elite but looked askance at the plebeian revolt and opposed their radical price controls and proscriptions. Without such support the popular government had few resources to fight a war, and they did not use what resources they had effectively. The people who now held power were completely ignorant as to its exercise, and the assembly frequently broke down in procedural bickering and arguments as to what their actual aims were. The Assembly - now declared to be a permanent body - raised a militia and gained some success in forcing the residual units of the regular Genoese army to withdraw from most of the city, but the army maintained control of several gates which made a real defense of Genoa untenable. When 8,000 Austrian troops arrived on the scene in late July, they were able to enter the city without resorting to a siege. In the face of professional Austrian soldiery the popular militia swiftly collapsed. The delegates of the assembly fled for their lives, and the old government resumed its operation under the wings of the imperial eagle.

Thus the old order was ushered back in. The legislation of the “General Assembly” and its hostage Senate was annulled, and the restored government cracked down on the former insurgents. Yet the consequences of the revolution could not be unwritten as easily as its formal edicts. The rebellion had exposed the hollowness of the Genoese state and the government’s complete dependence on foreign arms to maintain control - not merely of an overseas colony, but their own capital city. Certainly the revolution did nothing to help the state’s fiscal crisis, for the restored government was now also on the hook for the cost of the Austrian intervention: Even when the job served her own interests, Maria Theresa did not work for free. Within a few years it would become clear that the true winners of the revolution were neither the aristocrats nor the lower classes, but the merchant elite, who seized upon the weakness of the aristocracy and the poverty of the state to quietly demand an expanded role in the state apparatus. Over the course of the 1750s the Senate and other organs of government were opened to the wealthiest of the Genoese bourgeoisie. The irony of the Genoese Revolution was that it had succeeded in cracking open the oligarchy - just not for the benefit of the common men who had been the Revolution’s protagonists.

The Kingdom of Corsica played no official role in the Genoese Revolution. Certainly there were some who suggested that this would be an opportune time to seize Bonifacio from the republic, but this was a minority view, strongly opposed by King Theodore himself. Genoa, he argued, had long labored to portray the Corsicans as a race of bandits and thieves; attacking Bonifacio with no provocation when the Treaty of Monaco was less than a year old would only confirm that libel. Theodore would neither sully his own honor nor that of the Corsican nation. The Corsican government simply pretended that nothing was happening, which meant that Corsican ships were free to travel to Genoa even while it was under the Assembly government. Corsicans, in an individual capacity, played an important role in supplying the city throughout the uprising, although most were probably more interested in making a living than revolutionary solidarity. The Austrians could hardly complain - Emperor Franz, who typically put business before politics, raised no objection to Tuscan merchants continuing to do business in Genoa even as his own imperial troops were marching on the city.

As the revolutionary government collapsed, Genoese citizens who feared retribution for their role in the uprising fled abroad. Many went to Livorno or Marseilles, but a considerable number ended up in Corsica, either by design or because they escaped Genoa on a Corsican ship. The island seemed like an obvious safe haven: If any state would be ill-disposed to do the bidding of the Genoese oligarchy, surely it would be Corsica. The only obstacle to their immigration was the constitutional impediment to Genoese residency, but this was easily overcome. Theodore already had an open-door immigration policy, which was elucidated in the Grida sulla Naturalizzazione of 1750.[1] The king declared naturalization to be a royal prerogative and explained the circumstances under which a Genoese subject might become Corsican: They could possess no lands or fiefs in Genoa, could hold no Genoese patricianship or title of nobility, and would be required to swear loyalty to the Corsican crown and constitution before a royal luogotenente (and sign a document to the same effect). As few of the the Genoese refugees of 1750 had lands, let alone titles, this proved no great hurdle.

The number of Genoese “refugees” settling in Corsica in the aftermath of the Genoese Revolution was probably between one and two thousand persons. Most came to reside in northern cities with an already existing Genoese character - specifically, Bastia, Calvi, and Algajola. Although most arrived in a state of destitution, the refugees did bring useful skills to northern Corsica. Luckily for future historians, the clerks of the Bastia lieutenancy noted the professions of those requesting naturalization. Among those persons “from Genoa” whose records survive from 1750-52, we read of brickmakers, carpenters, chandlers, cobblers, coopers, fishermen, ropemakers, sailors, tailors, and wheelwrights. Some eventually relocated to Isola Rossa, where the NCC was in dire need of experienced tradesmen.

Although certain persons among the Corsican elite expressed concern about letting in a disloyal Genoese element, their fear seems to have been misplaced. The people who had fled Genoa were precisely those with the least allegiance to the Republic's present government, and unlike the “native” Corso-Genoese who had grudgingly accepted their subjection by the barbarous Corsicans, the new immigrants tended to see the Corti government as their protector rather than their conqueror. Perhaps the Corsican government was not so radically democratic as the “General Assembly,” but it was certainly more open than the Genoese oligarchy even after the reforms of the 1750s.

[1] In Genoese Corsica, the law was a three-legged stool consisting of the capitolares (Roman statutes); the customary law of the Terra del Commune; and the grida (from grido, meaning “shout” or “cry” in Italian), the name given to the formal orders of the commissioner-general which had statutory power. A rebel consulta in 1730 had abolished all Genoese statutes and declared the grida up to that point to be null and void, an act which was effectively ratified in 1736 when the newly-crowned King Theodore again declared the nullification of "Genoese law" (meaning the grida specifically). Nevertheless, after the Revolution the term continued to be used - informally at first - for royal edicts which had legislative force.
Last edited:
Man the bitter irony of fleeing Bastia from peasant malcontents and treacherous Great Powers only to see what had become of Genoa and then having to return to Theodore and fall on bended knee to his officials next to a bunch of random Ligurians.
Last edited:
Interesting. Unless the nobles choose to donate substatial parts of their personal wealth, unlikely, it seems that Genoa's debt will only continue to drag it down. Even though a Napoleon is unlikely in this timeline, I can't help but think the republic's days are numbered.
The bit about Agostino Viale's unusually expensive coronation festivities is OTL; he really did think it was appropriate, less than two years after the war's end, to charge the treasury for this extravagance despite Genoa's debt and ruination. While the line of Doges won't remain exactly the same - several post-1746 doges appear to have been chosen partially on the basis of their deeds during the great anti-Austrian revolt, which did not happen IOTL - I thought Viale's blunder was a nice trigger for popular discontent.

In terms of the rebellion's outcome, I was to some degree inspired by the Genevan Revolution of 1782, which although it occurred under considerably different circumstances was also a "franchise revolt" in which the lower orders of a republic rose up in an attempt to break the upper class's hold on political power. In that case, an intervention by French and Sardinian forces restored the old elite to power, and many of the citizens who had been involved in the rebellion fled to other countries (including, curiously - and unsuccessfully - Ireland).

IMO, a rebellion of this type has little chance in the 18th century. The monarchies tolerated the old patrician republics, but any true democratic state would have no friends among the powers of Europe.
Last edited:
So maybe Theodore is a model for bringing in more democratic constitutions that won't create as much of a backlash. Sort of the July Monarchy?
So maybe Theodore is a model for bringing in more democratic constitutions that won't create as much of a backlash. Sort of the July Monarchy?
Things seem to be evolving into a more representative system, which might prevent a revolution there. Other countries that follow it while there's time might escape it too.
Seems to me that the genoese will still play an important role in Corsican cities for the near future, how ironic since they spent 20 years trying to kick the genoese out but whatever helps to get Corsica's economy rolling is good to me :p They'll eventually assimilate into the true inheritors of Rome... The corsicans
Although I was hoping to get a big update in before the end of the year, that's looking increasingly unlikely, and I'll be leaving on vacation soon. The next update (or two updates, if I decide to break it up) is an extremely important one that will have a lot of future repercussions, so I don't want to rush it out the door. Rest assured that KTC will come back with a vengeance in January, with updates featuring Maria Eleonora, the first peacetime consulta generale, a clash with Rome, challenges to France's foreign policy, a crisis in Tunisia, and "background" updates about such things as Corsican society, the economy, the royal household, the military, the Corsican Jews, and more.

Thanks for reading along, and have a happy New Year. :D
Last edited: