Unanswered Questions
  • Unanswered Questions


    Emperor Pyotr III of Russia

    Taken together, the War of the Austrian Succession and the Four Years’ War put to rest most of the troublesome dynastic and political questions which had troubled continental Europe in the early 18th century. The matter of the Habsburg succession in Italy, the cause of intermittent wars for half a century, was settled with treaties in 1748 and 1752 recognizing a partition that was further solidified by marriages between the Habsburgs and the Spanish Bourbons. The question of whether Austria would persevere in its dominion of Germany was also decisively answered; the attempts of Bavaria and Prussia to steal the patrimony of Empress Maria Theresa had ended in failure. Even the ancient feud between France and Austria had been set aside, and though their mutual alliance was looking rather shaky by the 1760s neither side had any interest in a resumption of old hostilities.

    British statesmen felt a great deal of unease as they surveyed this European landscape. They had won vast colonial conquests at the expense of France in the recent war, but the death of “Friedrich der Kühne” had also left them without a powerful continental ally. Dividing Bourbon resources between the colonies and the continent had thus far been the cornerstone of British wartime strategy, but without a capable European partner this would be impossible. Some still hoped to resurrect the “old system” of the Anglo-Habsburg alliance, imagining that warmer relations with Austria would be a silver lining upon the otherwise dark cloud of Prussia’s demise. While the tone of the London-Vienna relationship did improve after 1760, however, Maria Theresa had no reason to break with France. By the mid-1760s, events had convinced her the greatest threat to her empire was not France or even Brandenburg, but Russia.

    In just a few decades, the Russian Empire had evolved from a diplomatic afterthought to a serious European power. Russian might had been demonstrated for all to see on the battlefields of Pomerania, and after the Russo-Polish treaty of 1761 the empire’s borders were closer to central Europe than ever before. Russia’s power and proximity were made even more unnerving by the fact that this new power was in the hands of Emperor Pyotr III, a belligerent and ambitious monarch who displayed an uncannily Friedrich-like contempt for political conventions.

    As the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, Pyotr laid claim to lands in Schleswig which had been lost to the Gottorp house in 1721. Negotiations over the Gottorp claims had been ongoing since the 1740s, but the solution proposed by the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway - a territorial swap of the Gottorp lands in Holstein with the Danish-owned German counties of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst - was unsatisfactory to Pyotr.[1] In 1761 the existing Russo-Danish treaty expired, leaving Pyotr free to break the stalemate by force. Such a course of action was opposed by many of his advisors and senior officials, who were not only afraid that the war would be impolitic but warned that Russia’s navy was unready for the contest. The emperor, however, was undeterred.

    King Frederik V of Denmark was alarmed to find himself utterly alone against this menace. Austria, England, and France had all guaranteed Denmark’s possession of Schleswig as recently as 1758, but it soon became clear that not one of them was willing to directly oppose Pyotr’s designs. Yet Pyotr, too, was isolated. His attempts to entice Sweden into war with the prospect of conquering Norway ran aground on the anti-Russian policy of the ruling “Hats” party and the ineptitude of Russian envoys; the best he could do was ensure Sweden’s neutrality. Brandenburg was somewhat more receptive, as Prince-Regent Heinrich eagerly sought an alliance with Russia to guard against Austria. Heinrich, however, understood that the electorate was in no state to launch an offensive war after its recent defeat, and could promise the emperor only free passage and some logistical support.

    Several attempts were made by other powers to defuse the growing tension - including an offer of mediation made by King Theodore of Corsica - but once Russian troops entered Brandenburg in 1763, King Frederik decided he could afford to wait no longer. Marshal Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain, an experienced French general in Danish service, was determined to take the offensive. The fleet sailed forth to Bornholm, while Saint-Germain extorted a forced loan from Lübeck and then occupied western Mecklenburg. Pyotr had not intended to launch the war this early, but these provocative actions were too good of a casus belli to resist. In August, Russia declared war on Denmark, and Emperor Pyotr personally led his army into Mecklenburg.


    The Comte de Saint-Germain, field marshal and supreme commander of Danish forces during the Schleswig War

    Saint-Germain was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Although he had worked hard to overhaul the Danish army, that army had not seen a battle since the Great Northern War, and Saint-Germain possessed only 28,000 soldiers against nearly 40,000 Russians. To maximize his chances, Saint-Germain took a position near Wismar where both his flanks were anchored on bodies of water, preventing the Russians from encircling him or bringing their full force to bear. With supreme confidence in his troops, Pyotr obligingly ordered a frontal assault. The Russians proved their worth, and in the end the Danish army was forced to retreat. The Russian victory at the Battle of Wismar, however, was dearly bought. Multiple assaults had been necessary to exhaust the Danish defenders, and in the end the Russians suffered nearly five thousand dead and wounded compared to three thousand Danish casualties.

    A more decisive engagement came eight days later at the Battle of Rostock. The Danish fleet under Admiral Gaspard Frédéric de Fontenay intercepted a Russian naval convoy and dealt a shattering defeat to a Russian squadron.[2] This defeat effectively knocked Pyotr’s navy out of the war, as Russian warships no longer risked leaving port. This left the Danes free to enforce a tight blockade, which cut off all maritime supply to the imperial army. Pyotr described Rostock as more of an annoyance than a catastrophe, but as the Russians advanced it soon became clear that supplying their forces in Danish territory by long overland routes was beyond the capacity of the empire’s logistics. The emperor’s army slowed to a crawl so as to not outpace its supplies, which gave Saint-Germain strategic freedom. Moreover, without sea transport any attack against the Danish isles was impossible, and even taking fortresses on the mainland was made vastly more difficult because of the glacial pace of Russian siege trains and the inability of the Russians to prevent the Danes from supplying these fortresses by sea. Although the Russians were able to advance into Holstein and seize most of Schleswig, the Russian supply situation was so bad that Pyotr was forced to relinquish his conquests and retreat back to Lübeck with the coming of winter. Humiliatingly, Kiel - the capital of the Gottorp duchy - was seized by the Danes.

    The emperor was considering his next move from his winter cantonment when word arrived that King Augustus III of Poland had died, kicking off the next contest for the Polish throne. Pyotr immediately left the army and made for Saint Petersburg to coordinate his response, but shortly after his arrival he was very nearly abducted in an attempted coup by the partisans of his wife, Empress Ekaterina. Such was the seriousness of this affair that Pyotr was briefly forced to flee the capital and orders were sent to recall the army from Lübeck, but long before these orders arrived the capital was secured and the conspirators were seized by loyalist forces under Field Marshal Burkhard Münnich.

    Maria Theresa fully supported the candidacy of Augustus’s son Friedrich Christian, but Pyotr was less than enthusiastic. The election of a third consecutive Wettin smelled a great deal like a hereditary monarchy, which - if realized - might curtail Russia’s influence in Polish affairs. Fighting Friedrich’s election would have been a difficult task in any circumstance; he had the backing of Austria, as well as support from Polish magnates who had benefited from his father’s acquisition of Ducal Prussia. It was made much harder, however, by Pyotr’s decision to support his ally Prince Heinrich of Brandenburg as an alternative candidate.

    Prince Heinrich did have some Polish support, but the problems posed by his candidacy were numerous. He was a Protestant, and although he professed a willingness to convert for the crown, his religion coupled with Pyotr’s open support for religious liberty and the rights of Polish “dissenters” alienated many staunch Catholics. Russian support for his candidacy came as a rude shock to the powerful Czartoryskis, who had cozied up to Pyotr expecting that he would support a “Piast” (that is, a native Polish prince) from their own clan. In Vienna, the empress considered the idea of a Hohenzollern Poland so deeply objectionable to her interests that she committed herself totally to the Wettin election even if it meant a confrontation with Russia.

    Shaken by the recent coup and urged by his loyal councillors to abandon the Danish war, Pyotr consented to a British offer to host negotiations at Lüneburg. The Danes seemed to have the upper hand, but the Danish foreign minister Count Johann von Bernstorff knew that his position was not as strong as it seemed. Russia was far more capable of replacing its losses than Denmark, and Danish finances could not bear the strain of an extended war. Seeking to gain an advantage for his state while still giving Pyotr a face-saving exit, Bernstorff suggested concluding a treaty on the basis of earlier negotiations - to wit, the exchange of Holstein-Gottorp for Oldenburg and Delmenhorst. Pyotr, however, still considered the Oldenburg counties to be a poor trade for his ancestral duchy, and secretly hoped that come spring another battlefield victory would force the Danes to accept the status quo ante bellum.

    The Russian army, however, was ill-prepared for offensive action. The supply situation had not improved, and the leadership had suffered from a post-coup purge of a number of senior officers deemed to be unreliable. Command had been given to General George Browne - a cousin of the more famous Austrian Field Marshal Maximilian Ulysses Browne - who was himself an opponent of the Schleswig War. Browne dutifully began the march, but Saint-Germain was also on the offensive. The French general had been obsessively training and reorganizing his army all winter, and had now been reinforced by soldiers from Hesse-Kassel obtained with subsidies from France. Browne, expecting the usual defensive and delaying tactics which Saint-Germain had employed in 1763, was surprised to find himself facing an aggressive Danish army with more or less equal numbers to his own.

    In early May, Browne and Saint-Germain finally came to grips with one another at the Battle of Ascheberg. Tactically, the battle was a draw; both armies withdrew after heavy fighting, with the Danes taking somewhat more casualties than the Russians. Strategically, however, Ascheberg was the nail in the coffin of the Russian war effort. The Danes had proven that they would not be easily swept aside, and the Russians were facing critical shortages of ammunition, fodder, and other essentials, as well as widespread illness. Browne broke off the advance, concluding that no further progress was possible without substantial resupply and reinforcement. However good his reasons may have been, they did not appease the emperor, who remembered Browne's earlier "defeatism" and suspected the general of having deliberately sabotaged the war effort. Browne was recalled, stripped of his rank, and banished from Russia, but it was too late for a shakeup in command to change the course of the war.

    Facing a military quagmire and mounting expenditures, uncertain of the loyalty of his own army, and further embarrassed by a Danish squadron which was raiding the Livonian coast with impunity, Pyotr finally yielded. Although he considered Bernstorff’s deal disadvantageous, the fact that it was a trade rather than a one-sided cession obscured the fact of Russian defeat. For a few further modifications to the proposal - most notably, a Danish guarantee of the Gottorp-Eutin possession of Lübeck and a pledge from Emperor Franz Stefan to elevate Oldenburg and Delmenhorst to ducal status - the Russian envoys signed the Treaty of Lüneburg in June of 1764.[3][A]

    The Russian emperor fared no better in the Polish matter. Pyotr was simply not in a position to risk an open conflict with Austria over the Polish succession, while Maria Theresa was ready to go to the mat to avoid a Hohenzollern Poland. Prince Heinrich ultimately withdrew his candidacy to spare Pyotr the embarrassment of abandoning him, and the emperor gave his grudging support for Friedrich Christian’s election. All in all, it was a rough introduction to international politics for the young tsar. He had underestimated both his foreign and domestic opponents, and had been punished for it. Yet Pyotr still had his crown, and while chastened, he was far from vanquished.


    Friedrich Christian, King of Poland and Prussia, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Elector of Saxony

    For Britain, like Russia, the events of 1763-64 represented a serious setback to their foreign policy. Although as mentioned some British statesmen still hoped the “Diplomatic Revolution” might be reversed, more practical minds had already come to the conclusion that Britain’s best hope for a continental ally was Russia. It was the desire to maintain Russia’s friendship - as well as their access to Russian timber and naval stores - that had caused Britain to remain neutral in the Schleswig War despite their dynastic connections to the Danes. This careful neutrality, however, had won them no friends. It had alienated King Frederik, who resented the “cowardice” of the British, and it had ruined their chances for an alliance with the Russian emperor.

    Emperor Pyotr suspected from the outset of his reign that a formal alliance with Britain would be inadvisable, and the events of 1763-64 confirmed his suspicions. The British were entirely capable of turning the Schleswig War in his favor, but chose to remain on the sidelines. Pyotr sought British diplomatic and monetary assistance for Prince Heinrich’s election, but Britain declared that Poland was none of their concern. After Lüneburg, when Pyotr suggested that Britain could help him pay down his war debts, London loftily replied that it was not their policy to subsidize allies in peacetime. It seemed to Pyotr that the British were less interested in gaining an ally than in gaining a pawn: They expected him to exert himself mightily in their interest, even to the point of fighting a war against the Bourbons, but were unwilling to exert themselves in the slightest to further his interests. After 1764 Pyotr extracted what he could from Britain, signing a commercial treaty and procuring their help with rebuilding his navy, but when discussions turned to an actual alliance he remained slippery and noncommittal.

    British anxiety over their isolation was heightened by the fact that, for them, the Four Years’ War had never really ended. The European war was over, but the native peoples whose land had been traded away at Paris did not consider themselves bound by a treaty they had no say in. Native tribes in the Ohio Valley who had enjoyed cordial relations with the French rose up against the British in 1761, resulting in a brutal frontier war that lasted for another four years. Britain’s attempts to shore up their defenses and revenues in the Americas only made their colonial subjects resentful, a development which the French observed with keen interest. On the other side of the world, the East India Company was mired in wars with local Indian rulers throughout the decade, some of them directly backed by French money, arms, and soldiers.

    Despite this proxy fighting it was Carlos III of Spain, not Louis XV, who was most enthusiastic about the prospect of another war with Britain. As the Four Years’ War had unfolded, Carlos - then King of Naples - had been alarmed by British successes in the Americas and dismayed by the failure of his pacific half-brother, Ferdinand VI, to assist his French ally. In the wake of France’s defeat and his own accession to the Spanish throne, Carlos was convinced that Britain represented a mortal threat to his global empire, to say nothing of their continued occupation of rightful Spanish land (that is, Gibraltar and Minorca). The king, however, understood very well that fighting Britain alone was an impossible task. Without France, there could be no Spanish victory.

    Louis was not quite as eager as his cousin. The disastrous Treaty of Paris had stirred a desire for revanche among many French statesmen, but Louis himself professed to be quite sick of war. French diplomatic policy in the 1760s seemed more effective: France had arguably saved Denmark twice over, first by diplomatic maneuvering in Stockholm that helped prevent a Russo-Swedish alliance, and second by extending subsidies and loans which allowed Frederik to pay his armies in the 1764 campaign. Between the Danish victory and the Wettin election, French diplomatic policy on the continent - which was essentially an anti-Russian policy - was looking very robust indeed.

    Even if another war with Britain had been the king’s dearest aim, however, Louis’s ministers knew that the time was not yet ripe. The kingdom’s finances were strained, and it would take years of work before the French navy was prepared to confront Britain again. Initial estimates of the time it would take to build a competitive fleet proved far too rosy, and the ministry was continually pushing back its timeline for a possible war. Until then, the French government urged the Spanish to avoid any confrontation with Britain that might spark a war before the Bourbon allies were capable of winning it. Thus, despite considerable certainty on both sides that a new Anglo-Bourbon war was both inevitable and imminent, a tenuous peace lingered through the remainder of the decade.

    Peace on Europe’s eastern front also proved worryingly fragile. Far from solving the “Polish Question,” the election of King Friedrich opened new conflicts. His election had been secured in part by the political defection of the Familia, which had become gravely disillusioned with Pyotr on account of his support for toleration and his backing of a Hohenzollern over a Czartoryski candidate. Finding that the Saxon elector was in favor of many of the centralizing reforms they wished to advance, the Familia had given him their support. A few preliminary measures had been passed in the Convocation Sejm of 1764, but the more radical projects - an overhaul of the state’s finances, the establishment of the Sejm as a permanent body, the expansion of the army, and the abolition of the liberum veto - were put off until the Sejm of 1766.

    This project was opposed by the Russians and Prussians, who had no interest in seeing Poland regain its political cohesion or military power. To this end, Emperor Pyotr - already famous for establishing religious tolerance in Russia - dispatched agents among the Protestant and Orthodox communities spreading dire warnings that Czartoryski “reform” was nothing less than a plan for the introduction of Catholic despotism. Armed clashes broke out between the supporters of Friedrich and the Familia on one side, and confederations formed by Dissenters and Catholic republicans on the other. Pyotr threatened Russian intervention to defend noble liberties and religious equality. With the Saxon army and finances still in a shambles, Friedrich called upon Maria Theresa for support, while the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III warned that a Russian incursion into Poland would be an unacceptable provocation.

    It was only a lack of will that prevented the crisis of 1766-67 from escalating into a full-blown war. Maria Theresa had been ready to take up arms for the Wettin succession in 1764, but fighting a war to avoid a Hohenzollern Poland was very different from fighting a war for the sake of Polish political reforms. Despite his bluster, Pyotr did not feel confident in taking on both Austria and the Ottomans, particularly given that his sole ally Friedrich Wilhelm IV, Elector of Brandenburg, was signalling that his state was still unready for such a confrontation. King Friedrich supported reform in theory, but he was not so dedicated to the project that he was willing to risk anarchy and war, particularly given the lamentable state of Saxony and the obvious reluctance of the Austrian empress to fight on his behalf. In the end the Russian-backed push for religious equality was defeated, but Friedrich retreated from far-reaching political reforms and the Familia was forced to greatly scale back its ambitions. Such concessions defused the immediate crisis, but - as with the Anglo-Bourbon conflict - it seemed to many that a war for Poland’s future had only been deferred, not avoided.[B]

    Map of Europe in 1765 (Click to Expand)

    [1] These talks were broken off during the Four Years’ War, when the Danes had rather unwisely attempted to intimidate the Russians by suggesting that if the swap was not made, they might throw in their lot with Prussia. The Russians saw this for the empty bluff that it was.
    [2] Despite his name Admiral de Fontenay was a native-born Dane, the son of a French Huguenot nobleman who had immigrated to Denmark after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
    [3] Gottorp-Eutin was a cadet branch of the Gottorp line. The Princes of Eutin served as the secular rulers of the Prince-Bishopric of Lübeck, which was adjacent to (but not the same as) the Free City of Lübeck. Prince Friedrich August of Gottorp-Eutin served as an advisor to Emperor Pyotr, and from 1764 he was also the regent of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst in Pyotr’s absence.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] I was surprised to learn that the Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo, in which Catherine II exchanged Holstein-Gottorp for Oldenburg and Delmenhorst, was not the invention of Danish or Russian diplomats in the 1760s but originated from a Danish proposal which had already been on the table as far back as 1745, when Peter (then merely Duke of Holstein-Gottorp) reached majority. We know that Peter at least entertained the idea; the suggestion that Oldenburg and Delmenhorst ought to be elevated to duchies, which became part of the Tsarskoye Selo agreement, appears to have originated with Peter’s concern that trading a duchy for two counties would be accepting a diminution in his status. Ultimately Peter deemed the swap unsatisfactory and felt justified in breaking off talks entirely after the Danes threatened to join Prussia during the Seven Years’ War. It seemed to me that Peter might agree to the swap ITTL when faced with a worse alternative - to wit, losing territory to Denmark without compensation - and thus the Russian defeat in the Schleswig War leads to what is essentially an earlier Tsarskoye Selo, albeit in the context of enmity rather than an alliance. Whether Peter will honor the cession of his ancestral duchy remains to be seen.
    [B] I hesitated for a long time on this update because posting it fills me with dread; 18th century Polish and Russian politics is very far outside my usual wheelhouse. I can only hope I didn't make too many glaring mistakes. As far as the general course of eastern politics, although a general "Polish War" is potentially foreshadowed in this update, it seemed unlikely to me that it would happen just yet. The Schleswig War has taught Peter a lesson about the perils of overconfidence, and nobody else is really excited to go to war for the sake of Polish reform. IOTL tensions over Poland's internal politics led to the partition and eventual dissolution of the state, but in my opinion the events of the TL thus far have made that series of events very unlikely. Austria is not particularly hungry for new territory, an intact Saxon Poland serves them well as a buffer against Russia, and Vienna's policy is anchored on the principle of preventing any Hohenzollern expansion to keep Brandenburg from recovering its status as a peer competitor. Austria's strength and Brandenburg's weakness relative to OTL suggest that even a Russo-Brandenburg alliance will not be able to force Austria into accepting a partition of Poland - at least, not without a fight.
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    The Eye of the Storm
  • The Eye of the Storm


    The warship Grønland undergoes careening prior to being sent out on mission to the Mediterranean

    In the wake of the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain seemed naturally poised to usurp France’s position as the preeminent foreign power in Corsica. The British Navy had established clear superiority in the Mediterranean and had driven French forces from the island, demonstrating its utility to the Corsicans as a shield against future French aggression. Yet despite their military leverage - and, as we will see, informal influence - the British did not dominate the postwar kingdom in the way that the French had during the decennio francese.

    Although it was not always cordial, France’s relationship with Corsica in the 1750s had been substantive. French advisors were present at court, French engineers and surveyors mapped the country and designed roads, and the French government had very consciously attempted to intensify commercial ties with Corsica and bring the island into France’s economic orbit. The British government, in contrast, had very little interest in “developing” Corsica or linking its economy with their own. Their objectives were narrowly strategic - to keep Bourbon troops off the island and to keep Corsican ports open to British warships and privateers in case of war. This strategic focus was exemplified by the fact that, throughout the 1760s, the position of British envoy to Corsica was held not by a resident diplomat, but by the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet, an admiral with his headquarters at Gibraltar.[1]

    Britain’s only real hold on Corsica’s economy was their possession of Tabarka, which was the center of an important coral fishery. Originally the British had envisioned Corsican coral fishermen as mere placeholders until the British could learn to operate the concession themselves, but this plan was never seriously pursued. The Barbary Company balked at the time and resources which would be required to import, settle, and train an English workforce. Easier and more immediate profits could be had by the export of Tunisian goods - grain, leather, hides, wax, and oil - while the Corsicans were left to work the concession in exchange for fees paid to the Company. Yet while British traders and Corsican fishermen lived and worked alongside each other on Tabarka, it was not really a source of diplomatic or cultural contact; the Company was quite content to leave the “Tabarchini” to their own devices.

    Rather remarkably, the men most responsible for the maintenance of good relations between the British and Corsican governments were neither British consuls, nor Company factors, nor the absent admiral-minister, but Jacobite exiles. Theodore had deep roots in the international Jacobite community and had maintained ties with them throughout his reign. In the 1760s the Trabants recruited many Scottish and Irish exiles (or sons of those exiles), who were an important vector for the transmission of foreign fashions and ideas to the Corsican nobility. Admittedly Corsican service offered no opportunity for military glory, but it was an attractive vocation for a variety of ex-Jacobites of no great station or renown, particularly Catholics.

    By the 1760s political Jacobitism was no longer seen as a serious threat by the British government, and for most of “Theodore’s Jacobites” cultural ties were stronger than old political allegiances. British consuls reported that Theodore’s “Scots” guardsmen were exceedingly useful for gaining audiences with the king and introductions to Corsican ministers. Sir David Murray, the Scottish bodyguard and close confidant of Prince Federico, was the perfect example of this “post-45” reconciliation: Despite having been convicted of treason, stripped of his titles, and sentenced to death for his participation in the 1745 uprising (which was subsequently commuted to exile), he was friendly with various Anglophile politicians, declared his lifelong distrust of the French for their “betrayal” of Prince Charlie, and reportedly toasted the British victory at Concador.[2]

    Britain’s hands-off approach left room for other powers, including one relative newcomer to Mediterranean politics. From around 1750 the presence of Danish merchant ships in the Mediterranean began to steadily increase, with a particular surge during the Four Years’ War when Denmark enjoyed the status of a neutral carrier. In the 1760s, the possibility of Corsica as a source for cheap agricultural goods and a naval base for anti-piracy operations began to come to the attention of Danish statesmen. Helpfully, relations between the monarchs of Denmark and Corsica were already established; King Frederik V had sent a wedding gift to Theodore upon hearing of his marriage to Frederik’s distant cousin Eleanora of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Wiesenburg, and the two kings (who shared several “enlightened” interests) had been in occasional correspondence ever since.

    The first arrival of the Danes in Corsica occurred in 1761 when the warship Grønland sailed into the Bay of Ajaccio. This 50-gun ship of the line was on a special mission - the conveyance of the Danish Arabia Expedition, an ambitious scientific mission to Arabia, Persia, and India supported by Frederik’s government. Although most of the expedition’s members would die in the East, the survivors would eventually return to Denmark in 1767 with samples of “oriental” plants and seeds, Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts, new maps of the Levant and the Red Sea, and even copies of ancient inscriptions which would lead to the first translations of Old Persian cuneiform. For the expedition members Corsica was merely a short layover on their way to Alexandria, but Theodore hastened to Ajaccio to meet them. The diaries of the expedition members record the king hosting them for dinner at the Palazzo Agostiniano, offering his opinions on philology, and regaling them with the tale of his capture and ransom by Algerian pirates.


    An engraving of headgear seen in Cairo by Georg Wilhelm Baurenfeind, a member of the Danish Arabia Expedition

    The establishment of formal relations was delayed by the outbreak of the Schleswig War, but in 1765 the Danes appointed a consul in Corsica. The port favored most by Danish ships at this time was Algajola, where wine, lemons, raisins, almonds, and other produce of the Balagna could be obtained at reasonable prices only a short distance from Marseilles (a common stop). Ajaccio was also occasionally visited, primarily to purchase coral beads for export to the Gold Coast.[3] The heyday of Dano-Corsican cooperation would come later, when the kingdoms became wartime allies and the production of Corsican tobacco and brandy made the island a more attractive trade partner, but the groundwork was laid in these early years.

    Franco-Corsican relations, in contrast, remained chilly. King Louis XV never trusted or respected Theodore, the man who had allied himself with Britain and humiliated French armies. On a more fundamental level, Louis had never reconciled himself to the idea of this upjumped adventurer being recognized as a fellow monarch. Even as his servant Chauvelin was negotiating Corsican independence in 1749, Louis grumbled that the notion of a free Corsica would be far more agreeable if “le baron couronné” was not leading it. The events of the Four Years’ War convinced Louis that he had been right all along. Convinced that Concador was the fruit of Theodore’s treachery, Louis ended all diplomatic relations with Corsica beyond the consular level and dissolved the Régiment Royal-Corse, whose soldiers were folded into the Régiment Royal-Italien. Previous trade privileges were withdrawn, although Franco-Corsican trade during the 1760s was not significant aside from the export of low-grade Corsican oil to the soap factories of Marseilles.

    The irony of the gigliati’s Francophilia was thus that theirs was an unrequited love. Any attempt to reconcile the two countries, whether initiated by the Corsican nobility or the French ministry, inevitably met the insurmountable obstacle of Louis’s personal loathing of Theodore. Because this was not readily apparent, however - Louis was both too courteous and too proud to openly declare his enmity for a man he considered far below his dignity - hopes for a reconciliation persisted. Over the course of the 1760s, however, those advocating a more pro-Bourbon, anti-English foreign policy began to shift their gaze from Paris to Madrid. Unlike his French cousin, King Carlos III was very happy to cultivate relations with Corsican elites.

    Spain and Corsica did not have official relations during the 1750s, a consequence of the disinterest of King Fernando VI and the historical friendship between Spain and Genoa. In 1760, however, Fernando was succeeded by his half-brother Carlos III, who had a significant personal history with the Corsicans. Prior to Theodore’s arrival, the infante Carlos (at that time Duke of Parma and considered to be the likely heir to Tuscany) was the only man the naziunali had seriously considered as a potential king, and a delegation had traveled to Madrid to make this proposition to his father Felipe V. It was not to be; Felipe thought it impolitic to support rebels against the Republic, and at that moment Carlos was busy preparing an invasion of the much grander Kingdom of Naples.

    Having gained this throne, Carlos adopted a friendly policy towards the Corsican rebels. Naples and Porto Longone (a Spanish possession in Elba) were key hubs for Corsican smuggling during the Revolution, and Neapolitan officials turned a blind eye to expatriate activities. Carlos employed Corsican exiles in his army, giving many of them valuable military training, and his government had even offered a bounty for deserters suborned from the Genoese forces in Corsica.[4] It was no wonder that many statesmen saw the hidden hand of Naples (and by extension, Spain) behind the rebels’ exploits and suspected that the whole Theodoran project was part of a Bourbon plot to win more territory for Carlos (or obtain a kingdom for his brother Felipe, subsequently Duke of Parma).

    Now ruling Spain and its vast empire, Carlos was no longer interested in acquiring Corsica for himself - if indeed he ever had been - but he was very interested in checking the ascendancy of Britain both in the Americas and in his own Mediterranean backyard. Carlos was convinced that another Anglo-Bourbon war was inevitable and that the Mediterranean would be a crucial theater in that war. He yearned to regain the rightful Spanish territories of Minorca and Gibraltar, but it would be unfortunate if the British were to lose these posts only to replace them with a Corsican protectorate. The British occupation of Ajaccio had been a wakeup call; next time they might not leave, particularly if the Corsicans invited them to stay.

    French land surveys during the 1750s also suggested that a Spanish-aligned Corsica could be of direct value to the Bourbon naval war effort beyond merely denying naval bases to the British. Corsica’s conifer forests were a largely untapped resource, particularly its stands of tall Corsican Pine (well-suited for masts and spars) and Maritime Pine (a good source of pitch and resin). Corsican forestry was of little concern to Britain, which had ample supplies of timber and naval stores from the Baltic, but the Bourbons had more use for it. The French had made some attempts to build roads accessing these mountainside forests, but difficult terrain, disputes over land rights, and a troublesome labor force had limited their progress.

    Formal diplomatic relations between Spain and Corsica were opened in 1761 with the appointment of a Spanish resident minister. Theodore reciprocated by appointing Count Cosimo da Gentile as his envoy to Madrid. The Spanish considered this selection very suitable indeed, as Cosimo was both a nobleman of venerable lineage and a veteran of Carlos’s Neapolitan army.[5] Although his embassy was shockingly poorly-funded compared to most foreign delegations to the King of Spain, Don Cosimo got along reasonably well at the Spanish court and fully supported Carlos’s agenda to strengthen Hispano-Corsican ties. Back in Corsica, the Spanish diplomatic effort was considerably aided by the Hispanophile secretary of commerce and the navy, Don Santo Antonmattei, who had spent his career in Spanish service and had been ennobled by Fernando VI.

    Bernardo de Iriarte, envoy of Spain from 1765, left numerous letters which offer a foreigner’s perspective on Corsican politics of the time. He arrived at a delicate period - the middle years of the decade saw the break with Rome, the enactment of the Grida Paolina, the death of the queen, Theodore’s “retirement” to Ajaccio, and a hardening of the lines between gigliati and asfodelati at court. Prior to his appointment Spanish diplomacy had focused on the gigliati, who were already inclined to favor the Bourbons and seemed likely to gain prominence upon the succession of the Prince of Capraia. Nevertheless, Iriarte worried that being too “partisan” could backfire. After all, it was impossible to know how long Theodore might live, or whether another Anglo-Bourbon war might break out while he was still alive and the Frediani-Paoli ministry was still in power. Bernardo also confessed his frustration with the fractiousness of the so-called gigliati, who although often described as one faction were riven by clan rivalries and mutual jealousy.


    Bernardo de Iriarte, former Spanish envoy to Corsica, depicted in the 1790s

    Thus, while continuing to encourage a Hispanophile party among the nobility, Iriarte also engaged the asfodelati in his attempt to ensure Corsica’s studious neutrality in any future war. The case he made was that the British had selfish strategic interests which were incompatible with an independent Corsica, and they would forcibly occupy Ajaccio (or some other vital port) again if it suited those interests. Although the asfodelati tended towards Anglophilia, they were also nationalists, and these arguments carried some weight with those who worried that too close of an attachment to Britain would jeopardize Corsican liberty.

    Helpfully, Iriarte’s push for Corsican neutrality was more or less in line with Theodore’s own foreign policy ideals. Theodore had certainly allied himself with foreign powers during his quest for Corsican independence, but his allegiances were rather fluid: At various points in his revolutionary career, he claimed to be (and sometimes acted as) an earnest friend and loyal servant of Britain, France, Sardinia, Spain, Austria, the Jacobites, and even the Pope. His vision for post-revolutionary Corsica, however, had always been one of perfect openness, welcoming merchants and immigrants alike without discirimination or favoritism. Free trade and amicable relations, in his view, would secure the state and ensure its prosperity better than a dependent alliance with a great power ever could.

    This rather optimistic policy had come under criticism during the second French intervention, and the army reform movement in 1766 - which Theodore had agreed to somewhat reluctantly - had been an indication of dissatisfaction with the king’s pacific vision. Corsica remained aloof from formal commitments to the European powers, but dissenting views had now come into the open. It was in this time of uncertainty, as domestic political factions bickered and international tensions continued to escalate, that grave news shook the kingdom.

    On April 13th of the year 1770, King Theodore collapsed at his writing desk. He was found by a servant and brought to bed, where his personal doctor Emanuele Calvo attended to him. Although the king regained consciousness, he complained of weakness, numbness and a pain in his chest. Calvo gave him laudanum for the pain, but over the next few days the king grew weaker and his breathing more labored, and he drifted in and out of consciousness. On the 16th, Theodore von Neuhoff, King of Corsica, died in his bed at the Augustinian Palace in Ajaccio. It was exactly one day after the 34th anniversary of his election as king. He was 76 years old.[6]

    [1] From 1761, the Mediterranean C-in-C was also simultaneously Britain’s minister to Genoa. Up to that point Britain had maintained no official diplomatic representation in Genoa (other than consuls) since 1722, when they had withdrawn their envoy in protest of the favor which the Republic showed to the “Old Pretender” James Francis Stuart.
    [2] David Murray, the 4th Baronet Stanhope, was the nephew of Sir John Murray of Broughton, who had served as Prince Charles Stuart’s secretary of state during the ‘45. During the uprising, David served as a captain of “Scotch Hussars” and became one of Prince Charlie’s aides-de-camp. He was only around eighteen years old at the time, which may explain why he was granted clemency and merely exiled rather than executed. David had initially followed the prince to Paris and Rome, but grew disillusioned with Charlie and the Stuart “court” and offered his services to Theodore in 1752. He became good friends with Don Federico and accompanied him as a bodyguard during his 1753-54 sojourn to the continent. After Don Federico became crown prince, Murray parlayed this relationship into social prominence and married into the noble Caraffa family of Bastia. His descendants, bearing the Italianized surname of Marri, are still extant today.
    [3] One of the ironies of Theodore’s reign was that despite his radical and vocal denunciation of slavery in all its forms, the industry that Theodore arguably worked the hardest to cultivate - Corsican coral fishing - was inextricably connected to the slave trade. Coral beads were just as valued in West Africa as they were in India, and a significant portion of the coral which was hauled ashore and polished in Ajaccio ended up in the hands of slavers who bartered Corsican beads for African lives. It seems impossible that Theodore was unaware of this, but if he harbored any regrets over his country’s participation (however indirect) in this “abominable trade” he made no mention of them.
    [4] The Neapolitan army paid a bounty of two sequins for every Genoese deserter who enlisted, or three sequins if the deserter arrived with his musket. In their reports, Neapolitan agents boasted of recruiting by the dozens and bleeding Genoese garrisons dry. The Spanish and French were just as brazen: It was common knowledge that the French vice-consul’s house in Calvi served primarily as a deserter recruitment office, while the Spanish warship San Isodoro moored in the port of Ajaccio happily enlisted any Genoese soldier who came aboard (that is, until it blew up). It has been argued that for much of the revolutionary period, Corsica's primary “export” was in fact Genoese deserters. This brisk trade in soldiers did incalculable damage to Genoese attempts to regain control of their colony.
    [5] The da Gentile clan was a Capo Corso family of Medieval vintage which held a number of fiefs on the peninsula. Traditionally the family was closely tied to the Genoese, but in 1732 both Cosimo and his father Virgilio were arrested by the Genoese commissioner for suspected disloyalty and imprisoned on the mainland. They managed to escape from captivity two years later, fleeing first to Tuscany and then to Naples, where they offered their services to the newly-crowned King Carlos. Carlos recognized the family’s nobility and eventually created Virgilio a count. In 1743, Cosimo - then a lieutenant in the Neapolitan army - resigned his commission in order to return to Corsica and join Theodore and the naziunali. On the basis of his foreign military experience he was commissioned as a captain in the Second Royalist Army and served in the expeditionary force sent to the continent. Theodore made him a count and awarded him with the Order of the Redemption. After being made an envoy Cosimo was given a pension by the Spanish crown, which was badly needed given the shoestring budget he received from his own government.
    [6] Theodore’s last words were recorded as “Ne t'inquiète pas. Je suis bien préparé” (“Don’t worry. I am well-prepared”).
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    Re Liberatore
  • Re Liberatore


    Bust of King Theodore I in Cervioni

    Chosen by Cyrne, God the choice approved,
    Trusting the mighty conflict to his sword,
    Which Europe rose to watch, and watching stands.
    By that sword's flash, even fate itself is moved;
    Thankless Liguria has its stroke deplored,
    While Cyrne takes her sceptre from his hands.

    - English poetic translation of a Corsican paean to Theodore, c. 1749

    Legally, the succession to the Corsican throne was not in doubt. The 1736 Constitution had given Theodore the power to name his successor in the absence of an heir of his body, and he had done that unequivocally in the Royal Testament of 1761. As a practical matter, however, Corsica had never before experienced a royal succession. The Prince of Capraia - now King Federico I - was keenly aware of the delicacy and importance of this transition. Theodore was not just a king; he was a founder, a liberator, and a revered hero to the Corsican people. Properly honoring the first King of Corsica was a crucial step towards ensuring the people’s acceptance of Federico as his late cousin’s rightful successor.[1]

    Theodore had never expressed much of an interest in planning for his own death, but he had at least selected the site of his ultimate repose. His body was to be interred in the crypt of the Cathedral of Saint Erasmus in Cervioni, the king’s first capital, where his wife Eleanora was already interred. Sant'Erasmo was Corsica’s newest and most striking cathedral, designed in a modern baroque style and completed only in the 1750s.[2] As taking the body overland across the Corsican mountains was neither dignified nor very practical, it would be borne instead by the warship Capraia, which at that time was fortuitously stationed in Ajaccio.

    Federico was quite prepared to move Theodore's body immediately, but met with the strident opposition of the long-serving luogotenente of Ajaccio province, Marquis Luca d’Ornano. Evidently the marquis was unhappy with the unceremonious exit of the king from Ajaccio, arguing that it was both against Corsican custom and a slight against the people of the Dila who, if they could not host the king’s funeral, at least ought to be able to have his wake. This was also, of course, a golden opportunity for d'Ornano to demonstrate his position and influence and associate himself one last time with the Theodoran legend. Not wanting to alienate one of the most powerful nobles in the Dila as the first act of his reign, Federico relented and permitted Don Luca to supervise a more formal departure.

    On the morning after the king’s death, the king’s body was laid in state in the front hall of the Augustinian Palace upon a tola, or funeral table, draped with black cloth and covered in flowers.[3] As soon as the scene was set, the hall was opened to the public. They came in droves, all dressed in black, to see the body of the king. The English consul described the behavior of the Corsican women with incredulity, draped in black veils and crying out with “wild lamentations” while scratching their faces and tearing at their hair. Federico too was rather disturbed by the “theatrics,” particularly at the manner in which the wailing women would loudly implore Theodore’s body to awake from slumber and stand up. On the following day a general feast was provided for the mourners, paid for by d’Ornano himself. Only then did Don Luca allow the king’s body to be taken to the ship, escorted in procession by the black-coated Noble Guard.

    The Capraia, which had been decorated for the occasion with black cloth, stopped briefly at Calvi and Bastia before proceeding down the eastern coast to Campoloro. There were no “viewings” at these cities as there had been at Ajaccio, but residents crowded to the harbor to view (and, in the case of some of the women, wail at) the black-shrouded ship. Escorted by the two state galiots, the frigate reached Cervioni on the 23rd. The body, now in a wooden coffin, was laid atop of a catafalque in the nave of the Cathedral of Sant’Erasmo. This wooden platform was eight feet tall but without ostentation, entirely covered by black cloth and surrounded by tall candles in silver candlesticks which had been borrowed from the churches of Bastia and local parishes all over the Castagniccia.

    As by now word of the king’s death had traveled across the island, the attendance was much greater at Cervioni than at Ajaccio. The Sardinian envoy compared it to a mass pilgrimage, and reported that there was not a nobleman in the kingdom who failed to show himself at Cervioni, together with their wives in voluminous black veils. Although there was certainly weeping, the crowd here was generally more sedate than at the viewing in Ajaccio. Providing for all these visitors proved to be a huge logistical challenge for the government, as the bakers, shopkeepers, and inkeeps of Cervioni - a town of fewer than a thousand people - could hardly accommodate such a host on their own. Even the navy’s warships were pressed into service to bring bread, cheese, fish, oil, and wine from Bastia.

    King Federico declared a year of national mourning,[4] but he had no intention of waiting that long to formalize his succession. It was determined that the coronation would be held on the 6th of May, the fourth Sunday of Eastertide (as it happened, Theodore had died the day after Easter Sunday), and would closely follow the example of Theodore’s own coronation. The day began with High Mass, which lasted several hours. This was followed by the coronation feast, with vast amounts of food and wine and innumerable toasts to kings both old and new. There was music, poetry, public speaking, and plenty of celebratory gunfire.

    Federico, seated upon Theodore’s throne-armchair of chestnut and velvet atop a stage in front of the Convent of Alesani decorated with flower garlands, was now presented with the Constitution. Its articles were read aloud to the crowd, and the new king swore to uphold them. He then received the pledges of loyalty from the nobility, the lead clergy, the members of the dieta, and the whole assembled crowd. The king then went into the convent chapel for the actual coronation, with the Bishop of Aleria presiding. Like Theodore, he was crowned with a laurel wreath, although Federico added his own element to the ceremony by then crowning his wife with a wreath of her own. They emerged from the chapel to the cheering of the crowd and a peal of musketry and cannon.

    Federico had tried very hard to emulate the coronation of 1736, an event which he had not personally witnessed. The differences were largely ones of degree. The attendance was probably much greater; the high estimates exceeded 10,000 participants, a massive number given the island’s population. This time, there were troops of uniformed soldiers and a battery of cannon. The king’s stage was larger and grander, although it was still merely a framework of timber covered by cloth and flowers. Unlike the purely Corsican affair of 1736, in 1770 there were foreign dignitaries present - most notably Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, a younger brother of King George III of Britain.[5] In general, the preparations were more thorough and the resources expended were greater, though by the standards of continental coronations it was still a very inexpensive and remarkably informal affair.


    The Convent of Alesani, coronation site of Corsican kings

    Though he had only been in the grave a few weeks, the late Theodore was already passing from mortal into myth. The dignitaries toasted “il re liberatore,” the Liberator-King, a title which on Corsica was quickly becoming interchangeable with his name. A few months later, the consulta generale voted to award Theodore with the posthumous title of Pater Patriae, “father of the nation,” which the Roman Senate had once granted to victorious emperors.

    The apotheosis of Theodore was guaranteed by Corsica’s own national insecurity. Despite the preceding decade of relative peace, many wondered whether Corsica, as an independent state, would survive its founder. In European eyes, Theodore was Corsica; he was certainly better known and considerably more interesting than his island, a weak and backwards country born from a peasant rebellion whose population could fit within a suburb of London. Many Corsicans believed, not without reason, that the king’s personal gifts had been essential to the realization of their liberty. Would his less distinguished relations and the new generation of Corsican leaders be able to keep what he had won, or would the powers of Europe now awaken from their Theodoran reverie and enchain Corsica once more?

    It was thus in the interests of nearly all Corsicans to hold on to and magnify the Theodoran myth. For his Neuhoff successors, Theodore’s popular election and heroic deeds justified their own rule and obscured the fact that they themselves never deigned to submit to an electorate. The nobility, who owed their titles to Theodore’s grace, had every reason to praise the king and boast of their own historical association with the Pater Patriae, even if the support they had offered him in life had been less than exemplary. Corsican intellectuals and statesmen polished his reputation to a sterling shine to erase the stain of Theodore’s rather sordid past and make the case for Corsica’s rightful place among the European family of crowns and nations. To the peasantry, Theodore was both the kindly father and the avenger of oppression, whose name might be invoked as a rallying cry against rapacious landlords just as easily as it had been deployed against callous Genoese officials.

    For obvious reasons, European Jews were the first and most loyal foreign admirers of the “German Cyrus.” The occasion of his death is sometimes used to mark the beginning of the nascent Haskalah, or “Jewish Enlightenment,” as several Jewish intellectuals and writers used the opportunity of eulogizing Theodore to explore the notion of a more secular and worldly Jewish culture, anchored in reason rather than superstition, which could leave its segregated existence and engage with Christian societies. The apparent success of the Jews of Ajaccio was a powerful argument in favor of those reformists who argued that the adoption of local dress and language, coupled with an earnest loyalty to the state, would lead to prosperity without compromising Jewish identity - as well as an argument that could be made to kings and ministers considering whether to ease age-old restrictions on Jewish communities. Wherever the cause of Jewish emancipation advanced, there were those who credited the wise and righteous King Theodore with leading the way.

    Theodore’s reputation as a political symbol was slower to develop. There were a few early enthusiasts like Filippo Mazzei who saw Theodoran monarchy as a praiseworthy political development, but at the time “Enlightened Despotism” was still the darling of continental philosophes. Corsica’s peculiar system of popular elections and raucous consulte seemed more like a quaint leftover of rude antiquity rather than a harbinger of things to come. The hour of constitutional liberalism would come, however, and its exponents - particularly in Italy - would rediscover Theodore and deploy his legend to their own rhetorical ends. He was reinvented in the 19th century as a king with the soul of a republican, whose state demonstrated the potential for the harmonious coexistence of monarchy, constitutionalism, and popular representation. Italian nationalists, in contrast, would be less interested in the German Theodore than in his Corsican-born grand-nephew Theodore II, the very image of a "people's monarch" in his own time.

    Time, distance, and archival sources have permitted modern historians to piece together a more nuanced view of Theodore the man, rather than the symbol. Certainly he was a person of unusual resourcefulness and persistence who was seemingly always able to recover from a setback. His personal charisma must have been tremendous; there is no other way to explain his extraordinary ability to charm almost everyone he met, from Amsterdam aldermen and English aristocrats to the unlettered farmer-militiamen of Corsica. That Corsica not only won its freedom but did not immediately devolve into civil war upon gaining it is, in no small part, a testament to his ability to win Corsica’s biggest and most contumacious personalities to his side. Nevertheless, it must be conceded that Theodore's victory was not his alone; without support from the British, Dutch, Sardinians, and other interested powers it is easy to imagine his improbable rise becoming a quixotic failure.

    Theodore’s reputation as a military commander is more ambiguous. The king led surprisingly few actual engagements, often delegating offensives to his generals; when he was present he frequently acted in a supervisory role, soliciting plans from his war councils and approving the consensus opinion. His leadership at San Pellegrino and Ponte Nuovo, his two famous victories against the French, was creditable. Yet it is worth considering that in each case, Theodore’s main contribution does not seem to have been devising a tactical plan or even directing battlefield maneuvers, but deciding where to fight and convincing the fractious Corsican captains and colonels to follow him there. Theodore did produce the occasional clever stratagem, but he demonstrated more affinity for strategy than tactics, and - as at the Siege of Calvi, where he visited his troops under the shadow of the Genoese batteries - understood that he contributed more by his presence and the example of his personal courage than any attempt at tactical insight.

    The part of Theodore’s legacy that has been subjected to the most criticism in modern times is not his career as a revolutionary leader, but as a king. Theodore’s political instincts were generally good, but they seem to have gradually failed him in his old age. His dispute with Rome was a self-inflicted wound; the Church posed no great threat to Theodore’s rule, and the king’s heavy-handed response to mild provocations caused the collapse of Gaffori’s government and exacerbated political and cultural tensions. His later reign, particularly after the death of his wife and his split with Rome, was characterized by a sort of political paralysis. The king’s own grandiose plans for projects and works seldom left the page, and the Frediani ministry was undermined by the king’s flagging interest in public affairs and hobbled by a lack of resources.

    The poverty of the government was indicative of one of Theodore’s more glaring deficiencies: his neglect and mismanagement of the public coffers. The king failed (or feared) to use his political clout to implement necessary taxes. The provincial luogotenenti he had created as vessels of royal power were too often self-interested and corrupt, failing to collect taxes effectively and siphoning from what revenues they did collect to build their own private fiefdoms. The deficit was covered by his personal wealth - which, by the time of his death, was all but exhausted - or by borrowing, to the extent that Federico was shocked to find the state he had inherited was already a considerable debtor with few assets or improvements to show for it. The Theodore who ruled Corsica was the same Theodore who lost all his savings (and his wife’s jewelry) to John Law’s Mississippi fiasco and spent years fleeing from country to country with creditors barking at his heels.

    Historians still debate whether Theodore’s later reign, particularly the last decade, is better characterized as a golden age of tranquility or a period of stagnation and political aimlessness. Certainly Federico was inclined towards the latter opinion, and by the time of his coronation at Alesani he was already brimming with plans to reform and “rationalize” the Corsican state. Before he was a prince, Federico had been a Prussian officer, and he expected discipline and hard work from his ministers and subjects alike. He aspired to lift Corsica from its backwardness through Cameralist theories of government and political economy implemented by a hands-on monarch and a competent, professional administration. Whether the Corsicans would take to his Teutonic methods, of course, was another matter entirely.

    [1] Theodore’s status as the “first King of Corsica'' is debatable. Pope Boniface VIII had first created the title of Rex Sardiniae et Corsicae for Jaime II of Aragon in 1297, but although Sardinia became an Aragonese possession neither Jaime nor his successors managed to realize their claim over Corsica. Alfonso V was the only Aragonese king to actually set foot upon the island: He landed in 1420, unsuccessfully besieged Bonifacio, and departed in the following year. Thereafter the Aragonese claim was purely notional, although the Spanish monarchs continued to include “King of Corsica” in their long list of real and honorary titles. The Doges of Genoa revived the title of Rex Corsicae in 1637 as a means to elevate themselves to royal rank, and continued to use it until they were compelled to renounce the title in the 1749 Treaty of Monaco. It was Theodore’s opinion that the Papal grant to Aragon had been legitimate, but that the kings of Aragon had never “consummated” their investiture by actual possession; while the Genoese had never held a legitimate right to the crown, as the doge had assumed the title for himself without receiving it from either the Pope or the Corsican people. Officially, then, the Corsican position was that while the “Kingdom of Corsica” had indeed existed from 1297, the throne had remained vacant for the next 439 years until the coronation of Theodore I.
    [2] The Cathedral of Saint Erasmus had been completely rebuilt starting in 1714, but at the time of Thedore’s arrival in 1736 it was still incomplete. Construction proceeded only intermittently during the Revolution, and it was not finished until 1753.
    [3] Virtually all of the “black superfine cloth” used throughout the funeral proceedings was donated by the Jewish community of Ajaccio, who included a number of tailors and cloth merchants among their members. This was only the largest of a number of monetary and in-kind donations made by the community for the purpose of Theodore’s burial. This was probably inspired at least in part by the hope that such a display might make a favorable impression upon King Federico, whose position on religious tolerance was as yet untested, but the Jews of Corsica also shared an undeniable feeling of respect for the late king and a desire to honor and commemorate him.
    [4] The English consul sardonically observed that a year of mourning would be “of no great inconvenience” to the Corsicans, as they habitually wore black already.
    [5] Prince Henry had been traveling in Tuscany when news of Theodore’s death arrived, and he decided of his own initiative to travel to Corsica to see the coronation of the new “Laurel King.” This was not an official state visit; the prince merely attended as a private citizen, albeit a very distinguished one.
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    The House of Neuhoff
  • The House of Neuhoff


    Castle Rhade in Westphalia

    Whatever else might be said about King Theodore’s grandfather Dietrich Stephan von Neuhoff zu Pungelscheid, he certainly fulfilled his duty to continue the family line. The senior line of the family, that of von und zu Neuhoff, had died off in the male line in 1701, but Dietrich's nine surviving children - including six sons - seemed to guarantee the survival of the Pungelscheid branch. In the space of two generations, however, this seemingly bountiful lineage came dangerously close to extinction. Of Dietrich’s six sons only three succeeded in marrying and siring heirs. One of these, Theodore’s father Leopold Wilhelm, was posthumously disinherited and removed from the succession by Dietrich’s own machinations. The other two, Franz Bernhard and Werner Jobst, produced only one son apiece who managed to reach adulthood and marry: The men who would later be known as Don Federico, Principe di Capraia, and Don Giovan, Principe di Morosaglia.

    Although never warm, the marriage between Don Giovan and Maria Camilla Cybo-Malaspina grew colder in their last years in Corsica owing to Maria Camilla’s deep unhappiness with Corsican life, the personal incompatibility of the prince and princess, and their failure to produce children. Following the Royal Testament of 1761 and the agreement made between the two princes, Don Giovan had traveled to Westphalia alone, intending to summon his wife to join him once he had made everything suitable for her arrival. When the princess finally received his summons, however, she delayed, made excuses, and then flatly refused to go. It was bad enough to be living at the poorest, least cultured royal court in Europe; she was not about to leave her sunny Italian homeland for a baron’s castle in cold and dismal Germany, where she would be trapped for the rest of her life in a loveless marriage in a foreign country with no friends or family. Instead, Maria Camilla moved back to her family home of Massa. She became a dependent of her older sister Maria Theresa, the sovereign princess of Massa-Carrara and duchess-consort of Modena, and returned to her old life of fêtes and concerts. Although their marriage was never actually annulled, the prince and princess of Morosaglia would never see each other again.

    Don Giovan was initially furious at his wife’s betrayal, but there were certain benefits to her absence. The prince still retained his dowry, and his expenses were greatly reduced now that he was no longer responsible for Maria Camilla’s extravagant upkeep. Giovan - now styling himself Johann Friedrich von Neuhoff, Prinz von Korsika - established himself at his cousin’s estate of Rhade. The position of the “lady of the house” was taken up by Prince Johann’s sister and only surviving sibling, Klara Helena Christine Angela. Klara, now in her early 50s, was the childless widow of Christian August, Freiherr von Schütz zu Isengarden, and through a series of inheritances she had acquired the estate of Benninghofen near Dortmund.[1] Unable to maintain the estate herself, Klara transferred it to her brother in exchange for lodging and a regular stipend sufficient for her needs.

    It was probably at Dortmund that Prince Johann made the acquaintance of his first cousin (once removed) Caspar Adolf, Freiherr von Romberg zu Brüninghausen. Caspar von Romberg was a literal coal baron, noted today as one of the pioneers of proto-industrial coal mining in the Ruhr region. He was also an enterprising landlord who made a tidy profit by buying up distressed noble estates and reforming their agricultural production. Using some of his estranged wife’s dowry - a considerable fortune - Prince Johann became one of his cousin’s primary investors, helping to bankroll the massive expansion of the Romberg collieries in the late 18th century which made Caspar Adolf into one of the richest men in Westphalia. At his death, Baron Romberg left an estate worth a million florins. While not as rich as Romberg, Prince Johann also profited handsomely from his investment.

    As a wealthy and well-connected man with a princely title and extensive lands (being owner or administrator of all the Neuhoff estates), Johann quickly became a notable figure in the County Mark. The Elector of Brandenburg, young Friedrich Wilhelm IV, was quite interested in making the most of his Westphalian possessions after the loss of Silesia and East Prussia, and the Prinz von Korsika became a part of these plans. The elector allowed Johann to succeed as drost (bailiff) of Iserlohn, Altena, and Neuenrade, positions traditionally held by the Neuhoff-Pungelscheid barons, and granted him the position of geheimrat (privy councillor).

    As neither King Theodore nor Prince Johann produced a legitimate heir, the responsibility for continuing the Neuhoff house fell entirely upon the Prince of Capraia, subsequently Federico I, King of Corsica. Fortunately for both the family name and the royal succession, Federico and his wife Elisabeth Cherrier Jeanne d'Harcourt proved equal to the challenge. Despite marrying relatively late by the standards of royalty - they were both around 27 at their wedding - the couple had five children who survived infancy: Maria Anna Caterina Lucia (1752), Teodoro Francesco Giuseppe (1755), Federico Giuseppe Lorenzo (1759), Elisabetta Theodora Amalia (1761), and Carlo Teodoro Maurizio (1764).

    The center of family and court life was Bastia, as Queen Eleanora had deemed the old Palace of the Governors to be the most appropriate royal residence on the island. While the prince and princess of Capraia were very involved with the upbringing of their own children - more so, it seems, than most royal families of the period - the rearing of young princes and princesses was a communal affair. Governesses were chosen from the ladies of the Corsican nobility (usually widows) to supervise the children, and various noble children spent time at the palace as playmates. The palace was a bewilderingly multilingual environment: French was the language of court and the native tongue of Princess Elisabetta, while Theodore, Federico, and Eleanora were native German speakers, and the various governesses and playmates spoke Italian. The children were also instructed in Spanish, English, Greek, and Latin, with varying degrees of success.

    At around the age of six, the children started formal tutoring under the direction of Leonardo Grimaldi, the royal preceptor.[2] Grimaldi, a Franciscan friar who taught mathematics and philosophy at the University of Corti, was assisted by a variety of tutors. Initially these were other Corsican ecclesiastics, almost all of them Franciscans, as very few Corsican laymen held academic degrees. A few foreign tutors were also on the payroll - we know, for instance, of a Florentine fencing master and a French dancing instructor. In 1767 Theodore obtained the services of the Cremonese nobleman, writer, and Freemason Giambattista Biffi, one of the lesser-known figures of the Italian Enlightenment. Biffi resided in Bastia until 1771, teaching history and philosophy while he worked on translating the works of the French philosophes into Italian.

    From 1766 the Corsican tutors were supplemented by several Jesuit exiles who received the king’s patronage. The Spanish Jesuit Lorenzo Hervás, a prolific author who is considered to be one of the founders of comparative linguistics, served the court as a tutor of mathematics, astronomy, language, and metaphysics, and was given the position of Royal Librarian. Less famous than Hervás but perhaps more influential was Gaspar Xuárez, a Jesuit botanist born in the Governorate of the Rio de la Plata. Xuárez became royal gardener to the crown, assisted the agricultural ministry, and established several gardens and herbariums on the island, most famously the exotic Giardino Indiano Reale (“Royal Indian Garden”) near Ajaccio which still exists today.[3]


    Il Giardino Indiano Reale, Ajaccio

    The oldest of the royal children was Maria Anna Caterina Lucia, more usually known as Karine (by her family) or Donna Caterina (by the Corsicans). She was a striking figure: quite tall, with reddish hair, described by one diplomat as “very fair” but with a "too prominent" nose. A boisterous and difficult child, she was bored by sewing and music lessons and was always evading her tutors to go run and play. Her father grew increasingly concerned about her behavior and what he perceived as Theodore’s encouragement of it, as the king doted on his eldest grand-niece and rarely refused her anything. In one incident, Caterina asked her great uncle if she could wear a uniform like his, and the king had a riding habit made for her in the colors of the Noble Guard which became her favorite outfit. She was so fond of wearing it that the guards nicknamed her “La Colonella.” Donna Caterina was particularly fond of horsemanship, and in later years would clash with her parents over her alarming proclivity for wearing breeches and riding astride rather than sidesaddle in the manner of a proper lady.

    Caterina’s eldest brother and Federico’s heir apparent, Teodoro Francesco Guiseppe - known throughout his early life as Don Teo - challenged his father in other ways. Even among the Neuhoff clan, which gained something of a reputation for producing good-looking princes and princesses, Theo stood out. He was of average height, but broad-shouldered and well built like his great uncle. He had a somewhat rounded face with a strong jaw, chestnut hair, and dark eyes. As a young man he was considered very handsome, which was enhanced by his pleasant, easy going demeanor. He was fond of riding, fencing, and dancing, but his academic record was less impressive. To his father’s great consternation he was a rather indifferent student, and his tutors complained that he was lazy, easily distracted, and given to daydreaming. He struggled with mathematics and geometry, was bored by philosophy, and was once punished by his father for falling asleep during theology class.

    When Theo was twelve, Gaspar Xuárez introduced him to the natural sciences. Rather than merely studying texts, Xuárez had the prince gather plant specimens from nature and in the Jesuit’s herbarium, and instructed him on their parts and properties. The prince was immediately absorbed by this new subject, which seemed to hold his interest even in the classroom; his sister Karine would later joke that Theo “only learned Latin to read [Carl] Linnaeus.” In fact he did more than read the works of the Swedish botanist - Prince Theo sent him letters and seeds of Corsican plants for his collection, and the prince and the botanist struck up an occasional correspondence which lasted until Linnaeus’s death in 1778. While Don Federico tolerated this hobby, he was not wholly convinced of the value of botany to a prince and spoke disapprovingly of “mon fils, le jardinier.”

    Federico’s favorite son - or at least the one who gave him the least trouble - was Federico Giuseppe Lorenzo, four years younger than Don Teo. Tall and slender with a darker complexion than his elder brother, Federico did not quite match Theo's looks or charisma; he was always rather reserved, although hardly a shrinking violet. He was also an attentive pupil who took his responsibilities more seriously than his elder brother, and could generally be relied on to perform for his tutors to his father’s satisfaction. This was the source of some resentment from Theo at his father’s rather obvious favoritism, but the brothers themselves seem to have remained on good terms with one another throughout their childhood.[4]

    Although Federico’s marriage to his cousin Elisabetta was both happy and fruitful, it had not done much for the status of the Neuhoff clan. Emperor Franz’s act of legitimation allowing Elisabetta to bear the surname of d’Harcourt mitigated the stigma of the queen’s birth, but even a legitimate daughter of a count and a baroness was still far beneath the select circle of princely and royal families from which European sovereigns usually chose their partners. If the ruling family of Corsica was to be truly accepted as one of Europe’s royal houses, they would need an infusion of far richer blood.

    “Marrying upwards” was easier said than done. Whatever their opinions about Corsican independence as a political matter, the monarchs of Europe had no interest in offering their daughters to the grubby relations of the “crowned baron” of Corsica. The notionally sovereign princely houses of the Empire might have seemed more promising, but there was not much in it for them - sending a daughter (and a dowry) off to Corsica offered neither much prestige nor a political alliance which would be useful to a German prince. Corsica also suffered from a very limited diplomatic presence in Germany, which made negotiations challenging. King Carlos III of Spain showed some interest in the matter when it was brought to his attention by the Corsican envoy Cosimo da Gentile, but no viable candidate seems to have come of it.

    In the late 1760s Federico pursued the idea of a match with the House of Savoy-Carignano, a cadet branch of the royal family of Savoy. The Princes of Carignano were not sovereign, but they had royal blood, and commonly intermarried with German and Italian princely families. The current Prince of Carignano, Luigi Vittorio, had an unwed daughter named Gabriella Maria Luisa who was just a year older than Theo. Federico was somewhat concerned with the destitution of the prince - Luigi had been forced to sell many family assets to cover his late father’s obscene gambling debts - but still considered the match worth pursuing on the basis that some royal blood was potentially worth a poor dowry. King Louis XV, however, had other ideas. The King of France had scant regard for the Neuhoffs and was at that very moment working to link the House of Savoy more closely to his own. Catching wind of the proposed match, the French convinced Luigi Vittorio to wed her to a Bourbon cadet instead.

    Federico was considerably less interested in the marriage of his female relations. The same problem of finding a partner of sufficient status was compounded by the fact that Federico would be obligated to give, rather than receive, a royal dowry for the marriage of one of his daughters. It has been often said that Federico came to regret not marrying off his troublesome eldest daughter, but whatever embarrassment the headstrong Donna Caterina caused him had to be weighed against the financial blow which he would have presumably suffered by marrying her off. In fact Caterina would never marry - some contemporaries nicknamed her the "Corsican Diana" - and she rejected every attempt by her father to convince her to take religious vows.

    The prince's disinterest applied equally to his three sisters. The eldest, Sofia Theodora (b. 1727) was already an Ursuline nun by the time of Corsica’s independence, but the younger two - Margreta Christina Josina (1729) and Maria Katharina Wilhelmina Elisabeth (1736) lived in the town of Herdecke in a damenstift, a kind of secular convent for noblewomen which was a common destination for the daughters of the German lesser aristocracy. Young women could be safely stowed away at the damenstift for as long as necessary, and because they did not take permanent religious vows they could always be removed from their cloister if a favorable match was found (provided they were still of marriageable age).


    Johann Aloys, Count of Oettingen

    Unlike his daughter, however, Federico’s younger sisters could not simply be left in place. It was unseemly for members of an aspiring royal house to reside in a damenstift along with the rest of the surplus daughters of the Westphalian baronial class. Federico did not want to bring them to Corsica, however, and his sisters don't appear to have been fond of the idea either. Instead Federico arranged for them to go to Vienna. This could not have been accomplished without the aid of Queen Eleanora, who still had important friends and family at the imperial capital. Federico’s sisters were placed under the supervision of Eleanora’s brother-in-law Johann Aloys, Graf von Oettingen-Spielberg, who was very well connected in Viennese society: a few years later, he would celebrate the marriage of his daughters to the Prince of Liechtenstein and the son of the empress’s chief minister Wenzel Anton Kaunitz.

    Margreta would eventually follow her elder sister into the religious life, but the prince’s youngest sister would take a different path. During the Four Years’ War she was introduced to Prince Ludwig Eugen, the younger brother of the Duke of Württemberg. Born in 1731, Ludwig had grown up at the court of King Friedrich of Prussia and had led a German cavalry regiment in French service during the War of the Austrian Succession. He eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant-General in the French army, but in 1757 he transferred to Austrian service and fought with bravery and distinction against the Prussians until he was wounded in action in 1759.[5] Shortly after the war’s end, Prince Ludwig rather unexpectedly sent word to Corsica asking for the hand of Maria Katharina. The prince was 29, and Maria was 24.[A]

    Their relationship has been described as a love match, but it has also been suggested that it was encouraged by the Austrians - though their motives for doing so are less than clear. Austro-Corsican relations were good and the emperor was indeed godfather to Prince Federico’s son, although Corsica was hardly a vital ally. It may be that Vienna was more concerned about the loyalty of Württemberg. The reigning duke Karl Eugen, Ludwig’s older brother, had become estranged from his wife and did not seem likely to leave a legitimate heir, while Ludwig’s younger brother Friedrich Eugen was seen as Vienna’s enemy. Friedrich had married a niece of the late King Friedrich of Prussia, had agreed that his children would be brought up in the Lutheran faith, and had fought against Austria (and his own brothers) during the recent war.


    Ludwig Eugen, Prince of Württemberg

    King Theodore welcomed the proposal, and Federico concurred once he realized that nobody was actually asking him for a royal dowry - whatever his reasons, Ludwig was clearly not interested in Maria Katharina for her money. Although it may have modestly raised the profile of the Neuhoffs, the marriage did not have much immediate consequence for Corsica. The prince retired from military service and moved to an estate near Lausanne with his wife, reinventing himself as a “gentleman of letters” who patronized Enlightenment journals and exchanged correspondence with Voltaire and Rousseau. The marriage was evidently a happy one. It would be nearly 30 years before Ludwig returned to prominence, upon the death of his elder brother without a legitimate heir and Ludwig's succession as Duke of Württemberg.[6] At the time of the wedding of Ludwig and Maria Katherina there had been some question as to whether the marriage was technically morganatic, given that the bride - whatever the accomplishments of her relatives - was a mere baroness by birth. Initially the rest of his family rejected the idea of the marriage being a suitably equal match, but Duke Karl Eugen was eventually convinced to change his mind. Not all of his relatives agreed, however, and the issue would raise its head again in the 1790s when it became clear that the status of Ludwig's children would determine whether the duchy would be ruled by a Catholic or a Protestant.

    [1] Benninghofen had initially been the possession of Johann Christian von Neuhoff-Ley, of another cadet branch of the senior von und zu Neuhoff line. Johann Christian married one of Theodore’s aunts, Anna Henrina Catarina von Neuhoff zu Pungelscheid, but the marriage was childless. Prior to his death, rather than allowing Benninghofen to revert to his own relatives, Johann Christian willed the estate to his wife. His wife, in turn, willed the estate to her niece Klara Helena, who transferred it to her brother Prince Johann.
    [2] A Franciscan friar from Campoloro, Grimaldi taught mathematics and philosophy at the University of Corti and had been an eloquent propagandist of the naziunali during the Revolution. When he was not writing revolutionary apologetics, Grimaldi was giving sermons in Corsican villages claiming that those who “died for king and fatherland” would be assured of salvation. He had also been among those theologians who, in 1736, had given his endorsement to Theodore’s policy of religious tolerance.
    [3] “Indian” in this case is a reference to the West Indies. Although the Indian Garden was certainly designed with aesthetics in mind, its initial primary purpose was to evaluate the suitability of foreign crops - particularly American crops - for Corsican agriculture. Xuárez and his garden played an important role in the introduction of Nicotina tabacum to Corsica.
    [4] Federico’s youngest two children will be discussed in more detail later. At the time of their father’s coronation they were but nine and six years old respectively.
    [5] Prince Ludwig's transfer to the Austrian army was not entirely by choice. Württemberg's soldiers, who were mostly Protestants, hated the French and were appalled at the idea of fighting alongside them. In their view, France was the eternal enemy of the Germans, while the heroic King of Prussia was the best defender of Protestant liberty within the empire. When they were mustered and placed under French command, the duke's army revolted and entire regiments disbanded on the spot. Karl Eugen had to promise his men that they would only fight alongside the Austrians, not the French, to prevent his army from completely falling apart. This succeeded in reconciling most of the deserters, although the Württembergers remained rather grudging participants in the war and the ducal army was continually plagued by mutiny and desertion.
    [6] Although he failed to sire a legitimate heir, Karl Eugen was an accomplished philanderer who produced numerous bastards from at least eight different mistresses.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] IOTL, Ludwig Eugen eventually married a minor Saxon countess three years his senior. This was a morganatic marriage, rejected by his family, which made his children ineligible for the succession. The reasons for his choice are unclear, although Austro-Saxon politics may have played a part. As a consequence, the duchy thus passed to his younger brother Friedrich upon Ludwig's death, and eventually to Friedrich’s children, returning the duchy to Protestant rule.
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    The Soldier-King
  • The Soldier-King


    A depiction of King Federico I in the 1770s, wearing a Prussian-inspired military coat in the black and red colors of the Corsican Noble Guard.

    It is almost impossible to find an analysis of King Federico I of Corsica which does not place the king’s Prussian upbringing at the very foundation of his personality and approach to governance. The Neuhoffs had been subjects of the Electors of Brandenburg since the annexation of the County Mark in 1666, but Federico had more exposure to the administrative and military apparatus of the Prussian state as a young man than most Neuhoff barons. His father had been a Prussian government councillor with considerable public authority in the County Mark, and Federico himself - before going off to foreign lands to become a prince - had been a junior officer in the army of Friedrich the Bold.

    Notwithstanding the electorate’s defeat in 1760, King Federico saw Brandenburg-Prussia as a model to be emulated. Certainly the Prussian army had achieved remarkable feats, but Berlin’s power had not arisen from martial prowess alone. The efficiency of the Hohenzollern administration was equally remarkable: The Austrians had been so impressed by the revenue which Friedrich extracted from conquered Silesia that, upon retaking the province, they tried to keep the Prussian system intact rather than restoring their old system of administration. Recognizing Prussia’s accomplishments, however, was much easier than emulating them. Prussian kameralismus relied upon an educated and disciplined civil service, as well as the resources to directly expand the economy through infrastructure, invest in new industries, and promote internal colonization.

    Federico’s grand ambitions immediately stumbled upon financial reality, as Theodore had not kept his fiscal house in order. The royal lands had been mismanaged, particularly in the last half of the 1760s after Queen Eleanora’s death, and the king refused to raise taxes so as not to endanger his popularity. As a consequence, the state’s expenses ballooned far beyond its revenue. Federico estimated that the government’s revenue in 1769 was less than two million lire, or just over 400 thousand livres. Maintaining the kingdom’s little army and navy alone cost nearly that much. Theodore had “balanced the books” by taking out loans and had concealed the extent of the debt from his own government.

    The new king attempted to close the budgetary gap with new taxes and reforms to existing taxes. A new customs office, the scrittoio delle dogane, was set up to collect import tariffs on “luxuries” like sugar and coffee as well as goods which competed with domestic imports like wine, furniture, and woolens. A Genoese-era gabelle on salt fish was put back into effect. Anchorage fees were raised and more vigorously enforced. The taglia - the hearth tax - was modified such that instead of a flat one-lira tax on all households, the amount varied from one to three lire (the constitutional maximum) depending on the head-of-household’s profession.

    One of the king’s key reform measures involved the sovvenzione, the controversial agricultural tax originally introduced by the French. Widely disliked and often evaded, the sovvenzione was a 5% tax on the gross product of land. In keeping with fashionable physiocratic ideas, the king proposed making it from a tax on net rather than gross production. By taxing only a farmer’s surplus, he reasoned, nobody would ever be taxed into going hungry, and a “fairer” tax might also help curb rampant evasion. Because a net tax would produce much less than a gross tax, however, Federico also proposed to raise the rate from 5% to 10%. This caused considerable controversy, partially because of common farmers who misunderstood the reform and thought the king was merely doubling the land tax.

    The king’s ideas had some merit, but their implementation displayed his lack of political skill. Virtually no effort was made to drum up support from the notabili or any other constituency, nor does Federico appear to have solicited much advice from local leaders, the dieta, or even his own cabinet. As the state’s financial troubles under Theodore were not well known, many assumed that the new taxes and more stringent enforcement of domain rights were simply a sign that the new king was greedier than “u bonu Tiadoru.” The fast pace of reforms and new taxes introduced within just a few years of his coronation ensured that almost everyone had something to be upset about, even if they benefited from a change to the tax laws in some other way.

    Not surprisingly, it did not take long for the king to start running into serious resistance from Corsica’s democratic institutions. The dieta accepted his initial proposals without much comment, and even swallowed the modified sovvenzione despite news of sporadic unrest in the pievi (mostly by farmers who did not understand it). In 1773, however, the king introduced the “contract gabelle” (gabella dei contratti), a tax on the sale or lease of real property. This was not Federico's invention - other states, including Tuscany, had a very similar tax - but the king favored it as a means to raise revenue from the towns, which hardly contributed to land taxes but had plenty of taxable rents. It also applied to the sale of agricultural land, however, which upset just the sort of landowning notabili who were over-represented on the dieta.

    When the dieta rejected the new tax, Federico took a drastic step and threatened to defund the consulta generale. Traditionally the procuratori were fed, housed, and given a small stipend at the government’s expense for the duration of the three-day assembly. By withholding this money the king seems to have imagined that the people, seeing the practical effects of the state’s grave financial situation, would elect a new and more compliant dieta. Instead it made the king look even more grasping and miserly. Although many procuratori were nobles and other notabili who did not need the money, there were also many farmers for whom serving as procuratori was a hardship that the subsidy helped to mitigate. They were incensed that the king would raise their taxes and then take away their means to come to Corti and complain about those same taxes. When word reached the king that many of the pieve elections had turned into impromptu rallies against the revocation of the subsidies, he quickly backtracked.

    There was to be no grand showdown. Certainly it was a rebuke to the king; the newly elected dieta was largely the same as before, and the king’s ministers had to endure some heckling at the consulta. His defeat, however, has been greatly exaggerated. The actual legislation at issue, the gabella dei contratti, was nevertheless approved later in 1773 (albeit at a reduced rate). Rather than picking any more fights with the dieta, Federico turned his energies thereafter towards enforcing existing taxes and enhancing the profitability of the crown lands. These approaches, however, proved just as fraught with difficulty.

    Federico had long been critical of Theodore’s system of luogotenenti, the powerful appointed governors who administered the provinces. As a rule, Theodore had given these positions to the most powerful clan leaders among the naziunali to both reward them and tie them to his rule. This made political sense at the time, but many of them used their office to enrich themselves and expand their networks of patronage in the provinces. They were also largely unaccountable, as their status meant that firing them was politically dangerous; in theory they served at the king’s pleasure, but under Theodore the office of luogotenente was effectively a life appointment.

    Realizing that it was not tenable to simply abolish positions held by some of the grandest nobles in the realm, Federico sought instead to undermine them with newly formed camere provinciali (“provincial chambers”). These were administrative committees staffed by commissari appointed from among the local notables. Initially these were only proposed as “advisory” bodies to the luogotenenti, but the royal lieutenants weren’t fooled; they correctly saw the camere as threats to their independence and did everything they could to impede their operation. In some cases the king simply had to wait for luogotenenti to exit the scene on their own, as was the case in Ajaccio province where the camera did not assume any real power until the death of Marquis Luca d’Ornano in 1776 at the age of 72.

    Although often obscured by the other controversies that clouded Federico’s reign, the provincial chambers were a genuine improvement. They were more efficient and had less opportunity for corruption than the luogotenenti, and the committee system prevented any single person or clan from monopolizing state power within the provinces. Perhaps even more importantly, the chamber system opened the business of administration to a wider group of notabili - lesser nobles, proprietari, and lawyers who sought a role in local government - rather than leaving it to a handful of marquesses and their clients.

    The king’s handling of administration at the national level was less inspired. Federico came to power convinced that, unlike Theodore in his later years, he would be an active and engaged monarch who devoted himself to the business of state. His idea of activity, however, was to monopolize practically all decision-making in his own person. This too was reminiscent of Prussia, as Friedrich the Bold had been notorious for making his own desk the nerve center of the Prussian administration. Corsica, however, was not Prussia. The king was not dealing with humble and disciplined civil servants, but proud Corsican noblemen. They joined the government expecting to wield real influence and have their voices heard on matters of state, not to be the king’s glorified secretaries whose only purpose was to pass information up and hand the king’s orders down. The king was not impervious to good counsel, but he did not often solicit the advice of his ministers or defer to their consensus, and actual meetings of the cabinet were rare occurrences that served mainly for the king to explain decisions he had already made.

    Nobody felt this disillusionment more keenly than the king’s notional first minister, Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra. Don Alerio was the chief of the powerful Matra clan of Serra and had an admirable revolutionary record. Although too young to have participated in the early years of the revolt, the marquis had commanded a militia battalion at the Second Siege of Bastia, led the campaign that crushed the filogenovesi in Fiumorbo, held the rank of lieutenant-general, and was one of the two primary negotiators of the Treaty of Monaco in 1749 - all before the age of thirty. Politically, he was a rather astute pick. Although he was a northerner, the southern sgio could hardly grumble; Don Alerio was as grand a noble as they, and shared many views with the gigliati (although not their Francophilia - a few months in the Chateau d’If during the Revolution had apparently cured him of that). He could also count on a strong base of support in the north, not only from his own clients and allies in Serra and the other eastern pievi but from those of the great Marquis Gianpietro Gaffori of Corti, Don Alerio’s brother-in-law and longtime political ally.


    Coat of arms of the Matra family

    The marquis was initially grateful for the appointment, but he was also a proud and ambitious man who had expected that being in Gaffori’s role meant he would possess Gaffori’s power. It soon became clear that Federico’s idea of a “prime minister” was really more Giafferi than Gaffori - a figurehead who existed primarily to lend the government his prestige. It had been enough for the venerable Luigi Giafferi, but it did not suffice for Alerio Matra. For the moment he simply grumbled, but this disaffection and embarrassment over the irrelevance of his title would eventually lead Don Alerio down an unlikely path from a conservative figurehead to a willing (if temperamental) ally of "liberal" and parliamentary reformers.

    Federico’s autocratic disposition and his deficits as a politician soon dissolved the great hopes which had accompanied his ascent to the throne. The gigliati who had been among his strongest supporters as prince were frustrated by his monopolization of power and his fight with the luogotenenti, while the asfodelati objected to his aristocratic and conservative cabinet, his disinterest in Theodore's free-trade economics, and his contempt for what they considered "constitutional governance." Disillusionment was not restricted to the politically active notabili, either: Once a popular hero for his "resistance" to the French during the Barefoot Revolt, Federico would end up sparking an actual armed uprising in the highlands over his attempts to wring more revenue out of the domains, a course he deemed necessary after running into resistance to his tax policy in the dieta. His talent for alienating his subjects was best expressed by a 19th century Corsican historian, who observed that “the king [Federico] was first a soldier, and so he fought - with the farmers, with the shepherds, with the nobles, with the consulta, with the dieta, with the luogotenenti, with his ministers - and finally, with his own son.”
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    The First Estate
  • The First Estate


    The Jesuit church of Bastia

    Years before the arrival of Theodore upon Corsica, the Corsican clergy had been foundational to the national movement. In 1730, at the very dawn of the rebellion, clergymen from all over the island convened at Orezza and declared (“unanimously,” we are told) that if Genoa did not meet the people’s demands the Corsicans would no longer owe any loyalty to the Republic, and war would become not only justified but necessary. Naturally not all of the Corsican clergy were naziunali, but the Orezza Declaration was indicative of the key role which the rank and file of the Corsican Church played in supporting and legitimating the national struggle from its very inception.

    The radical politics of the clergy arose from their role within Corsican society. The priesthood was poor and ill-educated, but this meant that there was little to separate them from the communities they emerged from. They lived no better than the peasantry, and only a small minority received any schooling in Genoa which might have instilled, alongside basic theology, some sort of gratitude or loyalty to the Republic. Despite - and in part, because of - their poverty and ignorance, the clergy were respected as moral and political authorities, often involving themselves in local politics and mediating clan disputes. With Corsicans virtually shut out of the Genoese administration of their own island, the priesthood was the sole organizational “superstructure” of Corsican society which rose above the level of local clan chiefs and caporali. Without the efforts of patriotic village curates, uniting the Corsican clans against a common enemy would have been impossible.

    The clergy’s “nationalist” sentiment had transitioned very easily to “royalist” sentiment from 1736. Many hailed the king’s arrival as an authentic miracle. While Theodore’s religious policy had its detractors, most Corsican priests put patriotism before orthodoxy. It had not been hard to find prominent clergymen who were willing to justify and support religious toleration on the king’s behalf. (Even Rome, they reasoned, had its Jews; why not Corsica?) Just as they had abrogated the people’s duty to Genoa, the clergy now affirmed the people’s duty to their heaven-sent king. A few went so far as to cast the rebellion as a new Crusade, promising that anyone who killed a Genoese would be cleansed of sin and the gates of Heaven would be thrown open to the nation’s martyrs.

    This fervent nationalist sentiment among the clergy explains the lack of any serious native clerical opposition to King Theodore’s “war” against Rome in the 1760s, even when the king’s latae sententiae excommunication became known. Devoted to both king and pope, the Corsican priesthood solved their ideological dilemma by blaming the pope’s evil councillors: The archbishop of Genoa and the scheming cardinals in Rome who had undoubtedly been bribed by the Republic to mislead the Holy Father. During the Revolution, Genoa had frequently used its power over the Church hierarchy to try to demoralize and divide the Corsicans and to discredit their national struggle; the idea that they were up to their old tricks again was entirely believable. The complete impotence of Theodore’s excommunication was demonstrated after his death, when - despite never reconciling with the Papacy - the king’s funeral rites were performed with all due ceremony and presided over by none other than the Bishop of Aleria.

    In contrast, King Federico made it clear upon surmounting the throne that reconciliation with Rome was a royal priority. Despite the apparent irrelevance of the “schism” to the Corsican clergy, Federico had always believed that Theodore’s spat with the papacy was ill-advised. He was also, particularly early in his reign, closely associated with elements of the landowning nobility who had taken far more umbrage at Theodore’s religious policy than most of the native clergy. Within months of his coronation, the king re-established diplomatic relations with Rome and signalled that the provisions of the 1764 May Edicts and the 1765 “Paoline” Edicts would be immediately reviewed and amended.

    If Rome assumed that this conciliatory language implied that Federico was going to offer any significant concessions, however, they were soon disappointed. In the first place, the actual amount of ecclesiastical territory at issue was miniscule. Before 1730 the Church had controlled only about one percent of Corsica’s agricultural land, a much smaller share than in many other Catholic kingdoms. Federico estimated that the amount of land Theodore had actually seized barely exceeded 1,500 arpents - about two square miles - divided between dozens of scattered small properties.[A]

    In other matters Federico likewise offered little more than a token capitulation. He pledged that the tithe would be used only for religious purposes, but did not actually return control of this revenue stream to eccleastical authorities. The 1765 Edicts were formally “suspended,” but were quietly replaced with laws that replicated most of their content. Marriage was still a civil contract, and young women were still barred from taking religious vows (although the minimum age was lowered from 40 to 30). Clergymen were still subject to secular courts and could not appeal most legal matters to Rome. Seminaries were reopened, but they remained under government control. The arbitrary limit on the number of clergy in the kingdom was abolished, but the same effect could be obtained by simply limiting seminary enrollment.

    On the matter of religious tolerance, Federico did not budge at all. Conservatives grumbled that the king tolerated the Jews only because he was in debt to them, which was not entirely wrong but did greatly oversimplify the king’s perspective. Jewish immigrants had established Ajaccio’s first coral factory, first printing house, and first coffeehouse; Jewish businessmen had helped fund the construction of the navy’s galiots and had even donated the black cloth used for Theodore’s funeral procession. Federico does not seem to have shared Theodore’s deep philosophical commitment to freedom of conscience, but he saw no reason to harass loyal and productive citizens just to curry favor with Rome. The king’s desire for religious tranquility did not trump his desire for a fiscally sound state.

    Despite these rather meager concessions, the Church was ready to welcome the king of Corsica back into the fold. Rome had a new pope, Benedict XV, who was more practical and accommodating than his predecessor. Whereas Clement XIII had seen Corsica as a perfect candidate for some exemplary punishment, Benedict saw it as just one more headache he didn’t need. The new king seemed to be genuinely interested in the welfare of the Corsican church; at the very least, he wanted a more disciplined and better educated priesthood. Benedict sympathized with this, as “Benedict XV” was none other than Carlo Alberto Cavalchini, the very same man who had been Apostolic Visitor to Corsica in the 1750s. He was also under some pressure from the Spanish ambassador, whose court desired the normalization of relations between Corsica and Rome. This was partially to build Corso-Spanish relations, but was probably also intended to "encourage" Corsican compliance with the recent dissolution of the Jesuits, on the assumption that the Corsican monarchy's protection of the Society was essentially an act of spite against a hostile Papacy. While there was some truth to this, however, the healing of the breach did not achieve the results that Madrid may have been expecting.


    Pope Benedict XV

    The question of the Spanish Jesuits proved to be a far thornier issue than Theodore's regalist edicts. In January of 1770 Benedict issued Solliciti Servare Unitatem, a papal brief which officially suppressed the Society of Jesus. In one of his final acts, Theodore had refused to grant the exequatur, preventing the bull from being published or implemented within the kingdom. Although Corsica was not the only state to refuse the dissolution, by 1772 it became evident that it was the only Catholic state to do so.

    The Society of Jesus had only a small presence in Corsica during the Genoese period. There were two Jesuit parishes, at Bastia and Ajaccio, each consisting of a chapel and a secondary school which catered mainly to the children of Genoese families. Aside from these buildings the Society owned no land on the island; their operations were funded not by agricultural rents, but by interest on an endowment deposited with various Italian banks. Nevertheless, the Corsican Revolution had not been kind to them. Their parish in Bastia was used as a strongpoint by Genoese soldiers during the Second Siege of Bastia, and was hammered by Corsican guns until the roof collapsed. The school there was shuttered, and no attempt at repair was made until the late 1760s.

    Upon their arrival in Corsica, the exiles faced appalling conditions. They slept on pews and under stairwells, or encamped in empty barns and long-abandoned convents. The Spanish subsidy was meager, and became even less useful as the presence of the exiles drove up the price of food. Spain had deported the Jesuits without regard to age or health, and many old and sick brothers - already weakened by a long and difficult oceanic voyage - did not survive the ordeal. The island made a poor impression upon these sophisticated men; one exile, dispatched to San Fiorenzo, wrote that the condition of the town was “the most unhappy that can be explained or even conceived” and that its church “did not deserve to be compared with the poorest hermitage in the most unhappy place in Andalusia.” The government did what it could to assist them but its capabilities were limited, and some brothers chose to retire to Italy as secularized priests rather than struggling for survival in miserable Corsica. The Corsican ordeal thus served as a sort of winnowing process: The Jesuits who remained on the island were those most committed to the Society and its mission, and the most willing to bear hardship in its name.

    The Corsican government strived to make good use of them. By the time Solliciti was promulgated in 1770, the Bastia school had reopened and a third parish-school was being organized in Corti. Jesuit fathers were also teaching at the national university there. They brought expertise on practical subjects including mathematics, botany, zoology, physics, hydraulics, language, medicine, and astronomy. A few Jesuits found employment as private tutors or with the royal household. A group of Peruvian Jesuits sent to Oletta are credited with introducing copper pot distillation to the island, marking the beginning of the Corsican brandy industry.[1]

    Federico fully supported the educational mission of the Jesuits, and feared that if he allowed the dissolution of the Society the brothers would have no further reason to stay. He thus continued Theodore’s refusal to grant the exequatur. As the other kingdoms complied one by one, however, he began to worry that his refusal would turn the island into a “haven” for dissident Jesuits who could cause economic, social, and political trouble. He was, after all, trying to mend fences with Rome at exactly this moment, and while Corsica needed teachers and experts it did not need thousands of them. In 1772 the king signed an edict which banned (former) Jesuits from entering the kingdom - excepting those already present - and prohibited the Jesuits from establishing a novitiate, which effectively stopped the Corsican Jesuits from increasing their numbers either by immigration or recruitment. The Spanish Jesuits protested these decrees, but they were not in a position to bargain. Nowhere else on Earth could they serve in the Society of Jesus under a Catholic government.

    There is ample evidence that the ban was also supported by the Franciscan Order, which had long held a dominant position in the religious life of Corsica.[2] The order’s poverty, simplicity, and earnest piety had earned them the respect of the common people, and they shared the priesthood’s sympathy with the naziunali. While other monastic orders like the Benedictines had vainly called for calm and obedience to the Republic, many Corsican Franciscans openly preached against Genoese tyranny and provided the rebels with moral and material support. Some even took up arms themselves. Many of the pivotal consulte of the revolutionary period had been held in Franciscan convents, and Theodore had been crowned at the Franciscan convent of Alesani. With the arrival of independence, the Order’s position had grown stronger than ever.

    It was no wonder, then, that the Franciscans were not entirely pleased to see hundreds of foreign Jesuits washing up on their shores. On an individual level, Jesuits and Franciscans competed for educational positions, including in the royal household where the education of the Neuhoff princes was contested between Franciscan instructors and the new Jesuit tutors promoted by Theodore. More broadly, it was a question of royal favor and social supremacy, as the Order’s status as the island’s dominant and most favored religious society now seemed less secure. Xenophobia was also a factor, as the Franciscans were mostly natives. So too was class, as while the Jesuits were favored by the literate and socially aspirational notabili the Franciscans retained the trust and favor of the rural population. The rivalry between the Society and the Order must not be overestimated - they were not universally hostile, and many Franciscan convents welcomed Jesuit refugees with a spirit of Christian charity - but the Franciscans, particularly their leadership, pressed Federico to restrict their numbers and activities.

    Despite growing resentment of his policies and leadership in some circles, Federico had little reason to doubt the loyalty of the clergy. The priesthood had always been staunchly royalist and presumably approved of his warming relations with Rome. Whatever qualms the Franciscans had with the Jesuits, the king himself had done nothing to provoke their ire. But the very closeness between the clergy and the peasantry was a double-edge sword. In the context of Genoese oppression and misrule, the native clergy’s sympathy with the common people had turned them into naziunali. Now, however, Corsica was ruled by Federico and his administration. If that administration was itself perceived as oppressive by the common farmer or herdsman, would the clergy side with their poor comrades, or their king?

    [1] After grapes were introduced in the 16th century, Peru soon became the viticultural capital of Spanish America with the Jesuits taking the lead in cultivation and production. Initially the main product of Peru’s vineyards was wine, with brandy being produced only as an additive to better preserve the wine. In the 18th century, however, Peruvian grape brandy - known as pisco - grew rapidly in popularity. By the time of the expulsion of the Jesuits, around 90% of Peruvian wine grapes were being used for pisco production. In the immediate aftermath of the expulsion this industry declined precipitously, as the Jesuits were replaced with private landowners who had none of their accumulated expertise.
    [2] Prior to the Paoline Edicts the Benedictines possessed 65 convents on Corsica, making them by far the largest order on the island. The Capuchins - themselves a Franciscan offshoot - held a distant second place with 17 convents.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Contrast this with France, where estimates I have read place the amount of land owned by the church prior to its seizure by the National Assembly at somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.
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    Roman Holiday
  • Roman Holiday


    British Gentlemen in Rome, Katharine Read, c.1750

    In May of 1771, King Federico set forth on a journey to Rome. It was the first time Federico had left the country since he visited his Westphalian estates in 1753, and the first overseas visit by any Corsican monarch since independence in 1749. It was ostensibly a diplomatic and religious mission, meant to “formally” resume relations with the Holy See, assure Pope Benedict XV of Federico’s good will, and assure the Corsican people of their new king’s faithful piety. If diplomacy had really been Federico’s sole aim, however, his purpose would probably have been just as well served by an ambassador.

    The less publicized (although hardly secret) purpose of Federico’s royal excursion concerned his children, and specifically his son and heir apparent Teodoro Francesco Giuseppe, known since 1770 as the Prince of Corti.[1] The prince had just celebrated his sixteenth birthday, and his father had decided that it was time for him to see something of the world beyond the rustic isle of his birth. The prince was an active and good-natured young man, but he could also be frivolous and lazy, and his father privately wondered whether the “Corsican vices” were rubbing off on his Corsican-born son. If, as some philosophers supposed, character was influenced by physical environment, perhaps a change of environment would contribute to the boy’s intellectual and moral improvement.

    The king was also keeping an eye open for marital opportunities. Having failed in his earlier schemes to find royal (or at least royal-adjacent) matches for his eldest children, Federico had now set his sights somewhat lower and was eyeing the Roman aristocracy. Although not royal or even sovereign, the Roman princely families were old and respected - and more importantly, they were rich. Ever since he had taken the throne and became privy to the true extent of the state’s financial woes, a generous dowry had moved to the top of his list of priorities for a future daughter-in-law. The king's older daughter Maria Anna Caterina Lucia, now approaching nineteen years old, was also along for the trip. Federico had not yet entirely given up on the idea that she might yet submit to a husband - and, failing that, perhaps the pious splendor of Rome would convince her to take religious vows.

    Setting out from Bastia on the frigate Capraia, the royal party made an initial detour to the ship’s namesake island, which Federico had not visited since he had led the conquest of the isle in 1747. After joining the town elders for a ceremonial banquet, the royals sailed on towards Civitavecchia. Never having been on a ship before, Prince Theo spent the journey interrogating the sailors and peering at passing islands from the quarterdeck through a spyglass. Princess Caterina, in contrast, hardly showed her face above deck; she was violently seasick for most of the journey and vowed never to go overseas again, a promise she would end up keeping.

    The king’s host in Rome was the wealthy and eccentric Prince of Farnese, Sigismondo Chigi della Rovere, who put the Corsican delegation up in lavish style at his palazzo in Rome.[A] Although best known at this time as a patron of the arts and a talented poet and librettist in his own right, the 35 year old Chigi was also a freethinker and covert Freemason who had admired King Theodore as a model Enlightenment ruler. Chigi fancied the idea of playing host to the monarch of Europe’s newest and most curious kingdom, and given his wealth it was a fancy he could easily indulge. Chigi soon discovered that he did not actually like Federico very much; he found the king to be uptight, miserly, and a lacklustre conversationalist. His opinion of the king’s children, however, was more favorable, and he would remain friends with Prince Theo for many years. After his wife died in childbirth in 1774 Chigi would actually propose marriage to Princess Caterina, but a number of factors prevented this from transpiring - questions over the dowry, the reluctance of the would-be bride, and Chigi’s own political disgrace after it became known that he was the author of a brutally satirical pamphlet mocking the Curia. It was the closest the “Corsican Diana” would ever come to being married.


    Sigismondo Chigi della Rovere, Prince of Farnese

    The king’s audience at the Vatican was rather anticlimactic. Diplomatic protocol seems to have been adequately observed and discussions between the king and the pope were presumably cordial enough, if not extraordinarily productive. Federico, as noted, was offering Rome more platitudes than concrete concessions. Several Corsican clerics who accompanied the king submitted a petition in favor of the canonization of Alessandro Sauli, a 16th century bishop of Aleria known as the “Apostle of Corsica,” who had been beatified in 1742.[2] This would eventually be granted, but it would not happen during the life of Benedict XV, either because of opposition within the Curia or doubts about the veracity of the “miracles” the Corsicans claimed in Sauli’s name.

    After paying his respects to the Holy Father, the king spent most of his remaining time in Rome in the company of the aristocracy, mainly to sniff out marital options for his son. The salon was not Federico’s natural environment, particularly without the assistance of his much more sociable wife. Nevertheless his royal crown opened doors, as did the assistance of Prince Chigi and Orazio Albani, the prince of Soriano nel Cimino. Albani was technically the king’s relation - he was married to the sister of Maria Camilla Cybo-Malaspina, Don Giovan’s estranged wife - and was both a well-regarded diplomatic figure at the Papal court and a pillar of the Roman social scene.[3]

    One door in particular which Federico was anxious to open was that of Gaetano Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino and Duke of Sora and Arce. Gaetano was rich in land, wealth, and honor: He was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, a Grandee of Spain, a Knight of the Golden Fleece, and owner of a long list of fiefdoms in central and southern Italy. His fortune was described by a contemporary as “almost royal,” and the dowry which Gaetano had obtained for the marriage of his son Antonio was so large that it required special papal dispensation to avoid a ban on excessive gifts.

    Nevertheless, the family’s political fortune had been on the decline for years. Pro-Spanish by inclination, Prince Gaetano had supported the conquest of Naples by the infante Carlos in 1734, even personally presenting the key to the city to his new sovereign. He received great favor for this loyalty, becoming one of the king’s most influential advisors and even serving as Carlos’s ambassador to his father’s court in Madrid. This close relationship between Gaetano and his king, however, would quickly begin to deteriorate over matters of religious policy. Gaetano was an uncompromising reactionary (his foes at court called him a “fanatic” and a “bigot”) who fought tooth and nail against the clique of liberal reformers at the Neapolitan court. When the Neapolitan concordat of 1740 was being negotiated, Gaetano infamously sided with the Pope against his own sovereign. His relationship with Carlos grew so poor that in 1746, when Carlos’s half-brother Fernando IV became King of Spain, Gaetano claimed that Piombino was actually a Spanish fief - not Neapolitan - and traveled to Madrid to give Fernando his fealty.[4] After this breach, Gaetano quit Naples for good and went to Rome, finding there a social circle more suitable to his taste.

    The Boncompagni-Ludovisi fortune naturally attracted Federico’s interest, but Gaetano wanted nothing to do with him. The Prince of Piombino had despised King Theodore, who stood for everything Gaetano loathed, and he sneered at the pretensions of the so-called “kings” of Corsica. Despite efforts by Sigismondo Chigi, Gaetano’s nephew, the Prince of Piombino snubbed Federico and refused to associate with him. But Gaetano was not long for this world, and in a few years the head of the family would be his son Antonio, the Prince of Venosa, who inherited the family’s problems along with its assets.


    Antonio II Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino, Duke of Sora and Arce

    Antonio did not share his father’s religious conservatism, but nevertheless found himself at loggerheads with Naples. Under the direction of its centralizing ministers, the Neapolitan royal administration was tightening the financial screws on the nobility. Antonio continued his father’s vain insistence that Piombino was a Spanish vassal (despite the King of Spain declaring emphatically that it was not) and struggled against the Neapolitan government’s encroachments upon his estates and privileges, but unlike his tenacious and quarrelsome father Antonio’s heart was not really in it. The never-ending and seemingly futile task of fighting against this creeping absolutism bored and frustrated him, and he quickly lost interest in his dominions and retreated fully into the social bubble of the Roman court. Antonio even offered to sell all his Neapolitan fiefs to the crown just to be rid of the whole mess for good.

    Antonio may have been Federico’s superior in wealth and prestige, but the king did have something that Antonio lacked - true sovereignty. However inconsequential the King of Corsica might be on the European stage, he gave fealty to nobody but God. Marrying his daughter to another Roman or Neapolitan nobleman would not change Antonio’s subjection to Naples or avert the steady erosion of his patrimony, but marrying her to a king, however petty, would at least be a gesture towards the idea that the Prince of Piombino was a peer of kings. Perhaps it would even improve his relationship with Madrid, given the warming Corso-Spanish relations. Even if nothing could halt the seemingly inevitable decline of his family’s autonomy, the connection might be of some value at the Papal court. The popes, after all, were kings too, and courtiers with ties to foreign monarchs were diplomatically useful. Orazio Albani’s marriage into the (notionally) sovereign family of Cybo-Malaspina had considerably raised his profile at the Curia, and they were not even royal.

    After various twists and turns - and thanks in no small part to the efforts of Antonio’s cousin Sigismondo Chigi - the Prince of Corti would eventually marry Antonio’s eldest daughter Laura Flaminia. That, however, was years in the future, and Federico could not have anticipated this outcome after the brusque dismissal he received from Prince Gaetano. When the king left Rome after three weeks, it must have been with some frustration. His attempt to mend relations with Benedict had gone well enough, but he was no closer to finding marriages for his children than before, and he could not even boast of having a new saint for Corsicans to venerate.

    In another respect, however, the Roman embassy of 1771 would have great consequences for Corsica’s future. It should come as no surprise that Rome made an impression on the Prince of Corti; it was, after all, a bustling metropolis of 150,000 people, and up to this point the largest “city” Theo had ever seen was Bastia and its meagre six thousand souls. But what seems to have made the greatest impact on young Theo was not the teeming multitudes of Rome, but its silent and majestic ruins. Classical history was not a new interest of the prince - history in general was one of his better subjects - but struggling through Virgil and Sallust paled in comparison to standing in the shadow of the Colosseum and the Pantheon.


    View of the Colosseum, Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1747

    While his father exchanged pleasantries with the aristocracy, Theo took every opportunity to escape into the “urban countryside” and see the ancient sights. He viewed the rich collections of Chigi and Albani, and joined the famous British artist-archaeologist Gavin Hamilton at Tor Colombaro, a nearby estate belonging to Chigi’s uncle Cardinal Flavio which Hamilton had been contracted to excavate. His father was not entirely pleased - here was Theo shirking his duties to go gallivanting about the countryside again - but at least this pastime seemed vaguely academic, and an interest in classical history was certainly more “manful” than botany (although Theo did also visit Rome’s esteemed botanical gardens).

    The prince’s Roman excursion was the beginning of a lifelong love affair. To be sure, Theo was never a true classical scholar; he could hold his own in a dinner party conversation, but his studies were fairly superficial and his Latin was only ever mediocre. He was taken more by the “classical spirit,” the ideas and aesthetics of the Greco-Roman past as they were understood in his time. Theo - subsequently Theodore II - is well known today as Corsica’s “neoclassical king,” whose tastes are still evident in the colonnaded facades of public buildings and the famous equestrian statue of Theodore I in the garb of a Roman emperor.

    Theo’s classicism was not restricted to art and architecture. In later years, perhaps as a reaction to the common view of his country as backwards and uncivilized, he came to embrace the idea that Corsica possessed a “Roman spirit” which the rest of Italy had forgotten. Much ink has been spilled by his biographers explaining how Theo’s sense of Romanitas influenced his personality and style of rule, not always convincingly. At worst, Theo’s classical enthusiasm has been ridiculed as a vain, fatuous, pseudo-intellectual pretension; he was, after all, the king who notoriously commissioned a portrait of himself in the guise of Hercules.[5] Yet it proved to be a popular pretension among later Corsican elites, who sought an identity more flattering than that of Italy’s poor, barbarous cousin.

    [1] By a royal decree promulgated in October 1770, King Federico granted new titles to his sons and codified the forms of address to be used for the royal family. The sovereign’s eldest son and heir apparent would be styled Principe di Corti, while younger sons could be given the heritable title of duke, the first use of that rank in independent Corsica (as the highest noble title was that of marquis). Federico’s second son Federico Giuseppe was named Duca di Calvi, while his youngest son Carlo Teodoro became Duca di Sartena.
    [2] One of the Corsican Navy’s two galleys, the Beato Alessandro, was named in his honor. It is said that during Alessandro Sauli’s tenure as Bishop of Aleria, twenty-two Turkish galleys attacked Campoloro. Refusing to flee, Bishop Sauli instead asked the people of Campoloro to pray with him, and a fierce storm suddenly arose which drove the Turks away.
    [3] Albani was also at this time playing host to Charles Edward Stuart, who following the death of his father was now the Jacobite king-in-pretense of the British kingdoms. Despite occasionally being under the same roof, King Federico studiously avoided meeting the “Young Pretender” as to give no offense to the British.
    [4] Unfortunately for Gaetano, Fernando died without issue and was succeeded by Carlos, who immediately issued a formal renunciation of any Spanish claim over Piombino in favor of Naples.
    [5] In an age of clean-shaven, impeccably dressed royal portraiture, an official portrait of the King of Corsica sporting a beard - and not sporting a shirt - was something of a novelty. His successors kept the portrait in storage, evidently considering it unsuitable for display, and the original “Theodoran Hercules” did not reemerge until the 20th century.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Today, the Palazzo Chigi is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Italy.
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    Corsica Militant
  • Corsica Militant


    A militia muster in Bern, 1780s

    “The army is the only means by which an imperial prince can receive a measure of due respect during these already difficult times. It is also the only sovereign right and prerogative, the exercise of which distinguishes such a personage from other lesser estates.”
    - From the minutes of the Privy Council of Hesse-Darmstadt, 1711​

    Despite the fiscal constraints he was operating under, King Federico never gave serious consideration to disbanding the state’s little army. As with his approach to administration and governance, Federico’s desire to maintain the kingdom’s military presence despite its burdensome costs has often been portrayed - generally in a negative light - as an inevitable consequence of his military background. The common view that Federico was merely “playing soldier,” however, does not withstand serious scrutiny.

    18th century Europe was a difficult environment for a small state. A variety of factors - the increasing sophistication of government administration, new forms of financing, vast revenues from colonial empires - had allowed the first-rate powers to raise and maintain ever larger standing armies, opening a vast gulf between their military capabilities and those of everyone else. Even formerly significant players like Sweden and the Netherlands had fallen far behind as the cost of maintaining military competitiveness had outpaced their resources, and could not even dream of fighting a war without subsidies from a greater power.

    Given these circumstances, one might wonder why small states continued to maintain armies at all. An army was an immense drain on a state’s coffers, yet could offer no meaningful resistance to a hostile power. Demilitarization, however, was a dangerous alternative. One needed only to glance at Poland or the Italian principalities to see that a disarmed state was a victim state - at best ignored, at worst abused. Small states that continued to maintain armies - that is, over and above what was needed for domestic peacekeeping - often did so not so much to defend their territory, which was a lost cause, but to maintain political relevance and secure great power patronage. A thousand-man army was worthless on its own, but one might curry favor with a friendly power by offering that army in service to them. In Germany this was often accomplished with a subsidy agreement in which the cost was at least partially borne by the contracting power.

    The modern assumption that the German Soldatenhandel (“soldier trade”) equated to nothing more than the sale of “mercenaries” for the enrichment of greedy princes is belied by the fact that many of these subsidy agreements were unprofitable. Certainly the princes did not object to making money when possible, but their primary objective was usually political: A prince was more likely to be taken seriously at the court of Vienna (or London, Paris, etc.), and his sovereignty more secure thereby, if he brought battalions to the table instead of mere words. Moreover, even if a subsidy agreement was unprofitable it still mitigated a prince’s military costs, allowing him to maintain a larger standing army than he could otherwise afford on his own resources - and a larger standing army, in turn, meant more prestige and influence.

    None of this would have been news to King Federico, whose need for political relevance was especially acute. Corsica was valuable strategic terrain, and unlike the German states it could not rely on centuries of legitimacy or the institutions of the Empire for protection. To Federico, securing political support through a subsidy agreement made perfect sense, and seemed particularly well-suited for the state he ruled. The Corsican people had long possessed a reputation for bravery, and had been popular subjects for mercenary recruitment since the Renaissance. The days of the condottieri were long past and the Italian mercenary had largely disappeared from the battlefields of Europe, but Corsica remained something of an exception: In the 1730s Theodore had calculated that 4,600 Corsicans served in foreign armies, nearly 4% of the island’s entire population.[1]

    Finding a patron, however, proved more difficult than he had hoped. Britain was a politically fraught choice, and also uninterested; the recovery of Minorca caused Corsica to lose some of its strategic luster in the eyes of British policymakers. States like Spain and Venice were interested in recruiting in Corsica, but not subsidizing whole units. Austria declined as well, as Vienna was trying to keep a lid on military expenses following its ultimately successful but monumentally expensive war against Prussia. Federico went so far as to offer troops to the Papacy during his 1771 visit to Rome, suggesting that the old “Corsican Guard” could be revived to protect the supreme pontiff.[2] Pope Benedict XV politely declined. For the time being, the project for a “subsidy corps” had to be shelved for lack of buyers.

    Federico next turned his military eye towards a badly-needed reform of the militia. In theory most Corsican men between 18 and 50 were part of the militia, but while this “milizia generale” made for an impressive paper strength its actual military value was very questionable. Militia musters were supposed to be held regularly in the pievi under the supervision of the local caporale, but attendance was rarely enforced and widely shirked. The peasantry saw no point to it in peacetime, and the notables who bothered to attend were often more interested in pageantry than military exercise. Federico, who had reviewed plenty of musters as a prince, described the whole system as a “regrettable farce.”

    The king’s solution was the creation of the fanteria provinciale (“provincial infantry”), a force of part-time soldiers to bridge the gap between the general militia and the regular army. Every pieve was required to elect a certain number of men to serve in this new formation, varying by population but averaging around 50 men per pieve. Provincial soldiers served a four year term, but only one month each year was spent in active duty. For the rest of the year, the fanteria provinciale were free to return to their villages and pursue their normal civilian occupations. Weapons and uniforms were issued to them when on active service, and returned to provincial depots when they returned home.

    On paper the fanteria provinciale had a strength of about 3,600 men, divided into three regional regiments of two battalions each. In peacetime only about 300 soldiers were active at any one time, but in theory the full force (or some fraction thereof) could be activated and mobilized in case of war, Barbary attack, or civil unrest.[3] One month of service a year did not produce crack troops, but that was enough time to teach men the basics of marching and handling a musket - and since they only received wages while on active duty, it was also much less expensive than a fully professional regiment.

    Organizational Chart of the Fanteria Provinciale
    1° Reggimento “Centro”
    1° Battaglione “Corti”
    2° Battaglione “Cervioni”
    2° Reggimento “Sud”
    1° Battaglione “Ajaccio”
    2° Battaglione “Sartena”
    3° Reggimento “Nord”
    1° Battaglione “Bastia”
    2° Battaglione “Calvi”

    Despite the use of local elections the fanteria provinciale system was fundamentally a form of conscription, seldom a popular policy. To soften the blow Federico created various petty financial, legal, and ceremonial perks for provincial soldiers, including exemption from the taglia. This did not eliminate shirking and evasion, but it helped that service in the provincial regiments was not very onerous. Aside from drilling and instruction, “active duty” mainly meant garrisoning the presidi and manning coastal watchtowers, duties which could be rather boring but were not particularly difficult. For economically precarious peasants, it was a way of getting a modest wage and free meals for a month every year that was more socially prestigious than wage labor on someone else’s estate.

    Perhaps ironically given Federico’s attention on land forces, Corsica’s navy was far more active during this period. The first naval expedition of his reign came just a few months after his coronation when he committed Corsica to the ongoing Danish-Algerian War.[4] The rapid growth of Danish shipping in the Mediterranean had caused the Dey of Algiers to decide that his existing tribute agreement with Denmark-Norway was insufficient, and he declared war to exact a higher toll. The Danes responded by sending a fleet (four ships of the line, two frigates, a xebec, and four converted bomb vessels) to bombard Algiers, which was joined by the Corsican frigate Capraia and two galiots.


    Algiers in the 18th century

    This expedition proved to be a complete debacle. The Danes found that the harbor was too shallow to allow their ships of the line to get close, and their jury-rigged bomb vessels (hastily-refitted merchant ships) proved unable to withstand the force of their own weapons and started breaking apart. Despite the Danish admiral’s dismissive attitude towards the usefulness of his Corsican “allies,” they gained an opportunity to prove their valor when the Danish frigate Falster ran aground on a sandbar within range of an Algerian shore battery. Braving fire which could have easily crippled or destroyed the fragile galiot, the Beato Alessandro was able to run a cable to the Falster and pull the frigate free.[5] Corsican ships were also present at the second (and somewhat more successful) Danish bombardment of the city in 1772, but their participation was limited to an auxiliary role. More important to the Danes was the use of Ajaccio as a staging point for these punitive expeditions.

    The Corsican Navy would visit Algiers again in 1774, this time as part of a Spanish fleet. King Carlos III had more ambitious plans than the Danes: He intended nothing less than to seize Algiers itself and put a permanent end to the corsair threat. To this end the Spanish gathered a large fleet of warships and transports, joined not just by the Corsicans but Tuscan, Neapolitan, and Maltese contingents. This armada succeeded in causing serious damage to the city, but the landing was bungled and the Spanish ground forces were decisively crushed by a massive army of tribal cavalry from the interior. Fortunately for the Corsicans, their contribution was purely naval and they escaped any involvement with the humiliating defeat on land.

    The “Algerian Expeditions” of the early 1770s were opportunities to assert Corsica’s sovereignty, but “showing the flag” was not the only aim of Federico’s naval policy. He hoped that the experience gained on these expeditions would prove useful against a foe much closer to home: Genoa.

    King Federico had been making plans for the conquest of Bonifacio, the last Genoese foothold on Corsica, even before he gained the crown. Bonifacio was a key strategic position, and its occupation by the Genoese Republic had become injurious to the kingdom: The Genoese used it as a base to fish and harvest coral in Corsican waters, and the Corsican government charged that Bonifacio’s authorities ignored or even facilitated Corsican smuggling. Cooler heads had tamped down the war fever that had surged in 1764 in light of the “Saporiti Conspiracy,” but the underlying issues had not been resolved and anti-Genoese sentiment remained high. King Federico imagined that taking Bonifacio would boost his popularity and secure his reputation as the Unifier of Corsica, the king who finished what Theodore had started.

    Federico was encouraged by Genoa’s obvious weakness. War and revolution had virtually destroyed the Genoese army. As Corsican soldiers were no longer available and native Ligurians were deemed politically unreliable, the Republic had come to rely more on “Oltremontani” more than ever before; in 1770 more than 40% of the army was German or Swiss. These troops were expensive, however, and the Republic’s finances were already strained. The grim years of the 1750s, when interest on the public debt consumed more than half the Republic’s annual revenue, were thankfully in the past, but digging out of this financial hole had required severe cutbacks and the debts of the 1740s had still not been entirely cleared. As a result, in 1770 the Genoese army amounted to a mere 3,000 men, the smallest it had been in nearly a century. No improvement had been made to the navy, which still consisted of only a handful of obsolete galleys.[6] The defense of Bonifacio was an afterthought; its garrison consisted of a single poorly-equipped German company, and its defenses had been badly neglected. Federico knew that his own state was not really in a position to fight a real war, but if Bonifacio could be quickly seized Genoa would be hard-pressed to respond, and might simply accept the city’s loss as a fait accompli.

    Corsica and Genoa, however, did not exist in a vacuum. Ever since the restoration of the oligarchy at the point of Austrian bayonets in 1750, the Empress-Queen Maria Theresa had asserted herself as the “protector” of the Republic in order to bolster Austria’s position in Italy and prevent the Sardinians from taking advantage of Genoa’s weakness. The Austrians did not care about Bonifacio, but if the Republic was attacked the empress might feel obliged to respond to demonstrate that her commitment to Genoa’s protection was real, and to prevent the Genoese from turning to the Bourbons instead.


    Ruined fortifications on Isola Maddalena

    In 1773, Federico decided to test the waters. The object of his aggression was the “Isole delle Bocche” (Isles of the Straits), also known as the Maddalena Archipelago, whose status was somewhat unclear. Though close to the Sardinian coast, the isles had not been explicitly granted to the Savoyard monarchy when they received Sardinia in the 1720 Treaty of the Hague. Genoa had long claimed sovereignty over them, but the 1749 Treaty of Monaco had only specified that the Genoese were to retain control of the “Isole Intermedie” (Intermediate Isles) without further elaboration, and Federico argued that this actually referred to the tiny and uninhabited Isole di Lavezzi on the Corsican side of the strait. The Maddalenas, in contrast, did have residents - they had been colonized by Corsican shepherds, who seem to have been sympathetic to the Corsican government.

    Using the pretext of protecting these colonists from Barbary pirates, the Corsican Navy landed a small corps of soldiers and sailors on Isola Maddalena. They erected a very modest “fort” on the western end of the island and equipped it with a Corsican flag and a 6-pounder gun. This incursion was eventually noticed, and as expected Genoa did nothing more than issue a protest through the Tuscan consul. Worryingly, however, this was followed by a “reminder” from the Austrians that the Empress expected the Treaty of Monaco to be honored - and much to Federico’s chagrin, the Sardinian consul also protested by raising his monarch’s heretofore-unstated claim to the isles. This was a rude shock to the king, who had assumed that the Sardinians had no interest in the territory.[A]

    The crisis went no further. There was too little at stake, and despite his promise of protection Federico did not have the resources to fortify the isles. “Fort Frederick” was left with a token garrison - six men and a cannon - in the hopes that their mere presence would uphold Corsica's claim and discourage the Sardinians from making a move. If the Sardinians did make a move, however, Federico knew he would be powerless to stop them.

    This flurry of small naval actions in the early 1770s was not sustained. An inspection of the navy’s ships after the Isola Maddalena operation revealed that the Cyrne was seriously rotten. The English-built corvette which had served the Corsican state since King Theodore’s War and sailed under the infamous Fortunatus Wright was finally condemned and broken up. The Capraia also needed repairs, which Federico only permitted because scrapping the navy’s flagship (and now its only sailing warship) was deemed too injurious to national honor. After 1774, however, the Capraia sailed only rarely, and coastal patrols consisted only of the state galiots and armed merchant ships. As with his attempts to secure a subsidy for his army, Federico’s naval ambitions ran aground on the rocks of political and fiscal reality.

    [1] Theodore’s figures are suspiciously specific: He claimed that there were 742 Corsicans serving the Pope, 885 in Venetian service, 911 in Naples and Spain, 409 in France, 89 in Piedmont, 83 in Tuscany, and 1,481 in Genoa, which adds up to precisely 4,600. How exactly he obtained these figures is unclear, but they are generally consistent with what we know about Corsican military service at this time.
    [2] The Corsican Guard was a 17th century unit of Corsican mercenaries in Papal service who were fierce soldiers but had a reputation for unruly behavior. After a shootout between the Guard and the retinue of the French ambassador in 1662, the Pope was forced to disband them under heavy French diplomatic pressure.
    [3] In practice, Corsican arsenals had nowhere near the number of muskets and uniforms needed to equip the entire brigade at once. Count Innocenzo di Mari, the Minister of War, admitted that if the state were to fully mobilize most of the provincial infantrymen would have to furnish their own muskets and serve in civilian clothes. He set the provisioning of two full battalions - around 1,200 men - as a more reasonable goal during his tenure, but appears that even this relatively low bar was not reached. Given the continual budget crisis of the Corsican government during Federico’s rule it proved difficult to justify the purchase of spare arms and uniforms just so they could sit idle in government arsenals, waiting for an emergency.
    [4] Technically Corsica was not “declaring war,” and no official declaration was made. For the Barbary Regencies, war was the default state with any Christian country that did not have a treaty with them, and a treaty required the payment of tribute. King Theodore was never able or willing to pay, and so Corsica and Algiers had always been at war.
    [5] The galiot’s commander, Lieutenant Domenico Mattei, became the first recipient of the Ordine Militare della Redenzione since the end of the Revolution in 1749.
    [6] For comparison, the Republic’s standing army was around 3,800 strong in the first decades of the 18th century and was increased to 5,000 by 1727 in response to border skirmishes with the Sardinians. In the first decade of the Corsican Rebellion the army was expanded to over 6,000 men, and reached 10,000 at the height of the Republic’s participation in the War of the Austrian Succession.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] IOTL, the Sardinians unilaterally seized the Maddalenas in 1767 near the end of the Corsican Revolution. The Genoese Republic protested this seizure even after relinquishing Corsica to the French, but the Sardinians simply ignored them.
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    The Count of Cinarca
  • The Count of Cinarca


    Statue of Vincentello d'Istria (1380-1434), Count of Cinarca

    The passing of Prince Theodore to manhood did nothing to alleviate his father’s concern for his suitability for the throne. Now that he was no longer caged with his tutors in the Royal Palace of Bastia, his tendency towards dissipation seemed to only grow. Whatever money he had he wasted on frivolities. He spent his days hunting, fencing with the Guardia Nobile, puttering around in the gardens, or just riding about the countryside accompanied by an ever-growing pack of dogs.

    The king fell back on a familiar solution: boarding school. Convinced that military discipline was the answer, Federico arranged for his son to attend the Accademia Reale of Turin, one of the oldest and most well-regarded military academies in Europe. Like most such institutions in the 18th century, the Accademia Reale was not merely a school of military science, but an aristocratic finishing school. The curriculum was focused on military-adjacent pursuits: Academic subjects like language, mathematics, geometry, geography, and history, as well as physical activities like riding, fencing, vaulting, dancing, and “simulated battles,” all intended to cultivate the mind and body of a young gentleman for war.[A] Yet the Accademia Reale was also part of the royal court of Turin, and over the course of their studies the young pupils were also taught the proper etiquette and comportment that was expected of an aristocrat in both war and peace.

    His entry had to be negotiated with the court at Turin, for although foreign students often studied at the Accademia Reale foreign crown princes generally did not. Theo, however, would not be attending as a prince. He was admitted to the school in 1773 under an alias: “Théodore François, Comte de Cinarca,” a title chosen by Theo himself which harkened back to medieval Corsican history.[1] This was not a ‘secret identity’ - everyone knew exactly who he was - but a paper-thin fiction which allowed his instructors and fellow students to interact with the “count” as an equal, without being concerned with the proper protocol to use when addressing (or disciplining) royalty.

    “Count” Theo was not initially pleased with his father’s decision and referred to it in a letter to his sister as “my exile,” but he soon warmed to life in Turin. His academic record remained uneven: He did reasonably well in history and geography, but predictably struggled with mathematics and geometry. When it came to the physical curriculum, however, he excelled. A Sardinian nobleman who knew Theo at Turin (they shared the same “apartment,” or dormitory) later wrote that the ‘Count of Cinarca’ was a talented fencer and one of the best horsemen at the school. Young Theo “had the makings of a superb cavalry officer,” he opined, “though I would not have trusted him behind a cannon.”

    His classmates in Turin were an eclectic crowd. Because of the Academy’s high reputation it attracted students from all over Europe, particularly Englishmen, Germans, and Russians. The English made up the largest foreign contingent, whose “study abroad” at Turin was frequently intended to add a more serious and edifying sort of military tourism to the usual sightseeing and frivolity of the Grand Tour. Most of the British students were housed in the same “apartment” as Theo, and it is certainly here where he learned English.[2]


    Cadet uniform of the Royal Academy of Turin

    Much of what we know about Theo’s time at Turin comes to us from the correspondence and memoirs of his British schoolmates. King Theodore’s celebrity was perhaps greater in Britain than any other country outside of Corsica itself, and the late king’s successor and namesake was an intriguing subject. The future politician William Coke, one of Theo’s comrades at the Academy, offered a general appraisal of the personality of the Corsican prince in a letter to a friend: “Energetic and active, but impatient and easily bored… talkative but rarely tiresome, as he has a very lively & captivating manner to him… on occasion [he] surprises with cleverness or perception, but cannot be called scholarly or deeply contemplative.” Coke added that the prince, though not arrogant, “cares inordinately for his appearance to an extent which I think unsuited to a man.”

    Theo’s royal status and outgoing personality made him popular in Turin, but his own letters (mainly to his sister) and the observations of others point to a certain social anxiety. Sardinia was itself an anxious state: Though respected for its disciplined and efficient army, Sardinia was a relatively small country with a recently-acquired crown and struggled to be treated as a peer by the great powers. The Court of Turin was not extravagant by continental standards - the Savoyard kings were too cost-conscious for that - but the Sardinian elite was hyper-aware of status, and took protocol and ceremony extremely seriously. Turin’s diplomats closely scrutinized every letter and action by foreign states, looking for any word or gesture (or lack thereof) that might suggest that their kingdom was not being afforded exactly the respect and courtesy it was due, and the aristocracy took its cues from the king and his ministers.

    Theo was not an uncultured boor, but he had been raised in a very different sort of environment. The Corsican court was extremely small and informal by European standards. King Theodore certainly knew how a royal court operated - he had been a page at Versailles, after all - but he had also been a revolutionary leader for the first thirteen years of his reign, living in circumstances which were not exactly conducive to developing a court ceremony or insisting on the finer points of protocol. Federico, for his part, had no experience of royal ceremonial at all; before Corsica, he was a baron and an army cadet. Federico knew how to be an aristocrat, but nothing about how to be a king, and he ran his household more like a noble’s country estate than a royal court. Aside from this, Corsica’s class hierarchy was also much less rigid than it was in continental Italy: In Corsica, nobility was merely a special honor, not an isolated and privileged class ruling over the rest. Most ministerial posts and senior officer positions were de facto reserved for the “dons,” particularly under Federico’s regime, but there were plenty of non-nobles with political influence and a presence at court who intermingled and intermarried with noble families.

    Theo’s unfamiliarity with this new environment was sometimes a source of awkwardness and embarrassment. Though deference was paid to Theo’s (covert) royalty, he was nevertheless aware - or at least perceived - that the aristocrats and courtiers of Turin saw him as a rustic curiosity. He seems to have coped with this sense of inferiority, in part, through competitiveness; besting his peers in riding and swordsmanship, age-old pursuits of the aristocracy, may have been a means to “prove” his equality. Similarly, his use of the title of Cinarca may be interpreted as an attempt to emphasize his links with an ancient noble line over the tawdry inheritance of the upjumped Baron Neuhoff. That inheritance, however, could not be entirely dispelled, nor did Theo really wish to dissociate himself from the great-uncle he lionized.

    It was perhaps this sense of not quite belonging that the Count of Cinarca embraced an alternate social circle, one after Theodore’s own heart: Freemasonry. Soon after his arrival in Turin, Theo was invited into the Masonic Grand Lodge of Turin Saint Jean de la Mystérieuse. Theo did not share his great-uncle’s interest in esotericism, but the Masonic emphasis on merit and virtue appealed to him, as did its fraternal sociability.[3] Although men of “vulgar trades” (that is, the working class) were generally excluded from Freemasonry, the organization offered a sort of elite egalitarianism for society’s “best men”, noble or otherwise. Under the roof of the Grand Lodge, great aristocrats, respectable bourgeoisie, and progressive men of letters interacted (more or less) as peers, unencumbered by the strict classism of the outside world.


    Badge of the Grand Lodge of Turin Saint Jean de la Mystérieuse, c. 1778

    Count Theodore attended the Accademia Reale for 16 months. This was not unusually short; many foreign students attended the academy for only a year. Nevertheless, his term did not come to a natural end. Theo was recalled by his father not because his education was deemed complete, but to attend a funeral. In August of 1774, he received the shocking news that his brother Federico Giuseppe Lorenzo, Prince of Calvi, had died of a sudden illness, probably typhoid fever.

    The death of Prince Federico was a devastating blow to the family. Mortality among children, of course, was common, and the royal couple had lost children in infancy before. The Prince of Calvi, however, died at the age of fifteen. He had already shown himself to be a thoughtful and diligent young man who, despite being four years younger than Theo, was clearly more serious and successful in his studies. Shortly before his death he had even begun assisting his father with his administrative duties, something Theo had never really been involved (or interested) in. Perhaps Theo, who had sometimes been envious of his father’s praise for his younger brother, would have come to resent him, but there was no time for this fracture to grow.

    Theo mourned his brother, but it was his father who was most affected by the loss. King Federico was never particularly affable or charming; even as a young man he was stiff, proper and serious. From this moment, however, his usual sternness seems to have slid into a dour gloom. He became increasingly aloof from his court, his ministers, and even his remaining children. He seemed to take consolation only in the company of his wife, who shared the depth of his loss, but his position and his own self-regard would not allow him to mourn as openly as Elisabetta. The strain upon him manifested in other ways: Occasionally some act of disobedience or incompetence would cause the façade to crack with rage, and the usually unflappable Federico would lash out at his subordinates with red-faced fury.

    It may not have been a coincidence that the king’s relationship with his subjects, and the Corsican political class in particular, began to deteriorate around this same time. The fight with the Dieta over the gabella dei contratti in 1773 had been an irritating setback to his policies, but after some initial missteps the king had been sensible enough to settle for a marginal victory and then turn his attention elsewhere. Thereafter, however, Federico became increasingly brittle and uncompromising. He was ever more willing to assume that those who resisted his will were acting in bad faith, and that maintaining royal authority required these enemies to be handled with force, not compromise.

    These “enemies” would soon come to include the Prince of Corti himself. Before 1774, Theo’s relationship with his father had sometimes been strained: Federico was a stern and demanding disciplinarian and Theo struggled to meet his expectations. Yet there was clearly still affection between them, and the regrettably common portrayal of a lifelong hostility between father and son is groundless. It was not until his brother’s death, by which time Theo was a grown man, that the king and his son truly fell out.

    The irony was that Prince Theo had actually become a better son. He was, of course, still Theo; he had the same hobbies, predilections, and personality. Yet Federico’s hope that the “discipline” of the Accademia Reale would help his personal growth seems to have been fulfilled, and the occasion of his brother’s death provoked real soul-searching in the crown prince. He confided to “Carina” - his older sister - that in Turin he had sometimes daydreamed about running off to start a career in the Austrian army “like Prince Eugene [of Savoy]” and leaving the throne to little Federico, whom he admitted (albeit only privately and posthumously) was probably better suited for the role. But this had been a self-indulgent fantasy, and now that he was a man of nineteen he concluded that it was time for him to take his role more seriously.

    Paradoxically, this new interest in his royal duty was the main cause of the rift between him and his father. Theo’s idea of taking his role seriously was to broaden his social circle and engage with Corsican notables - the nobles, landowners, and professionals who made up the politically interested class of Corsican citizens. With his liberal inclinations (at least, more liberal than his father) and his affinity for Freemasonry, he naturally attracted the friendship of those notables who were less than pleased with the increasingly uncompromising and tight-fisted rule of King Federico and the “government of marquesses” that he favored. The Constitutional Society not only welcomed him with open arms, but made him their new Gran Patrono, an honor which had been originally bestowed upon Theodore I but which Federico had declined to accept to appease the gigliati. Anxious to establish himself as his own man, Theo took up a seasonal residence in the Palazzo Agostiniano in Ajaccio, which began to look very much like an “opposition court” both physically and politically removed from the royal court in Bastia.

    Without entirely meaning to, Theo was becoming the mascot of his father’s critics. By pledging their love for Theo, the asfodelati could critique the government while maintaining their loyalty to the dynasty, and because he was heir to the throne they felt confident that the loyalty they showed today would be well repaid in the future. Since Theo’s own politics were still vague and ill-formed, it was possible to see whatever one wanted in him, and his eventual succession was welcomed with an eagerness that at times seemed downright treasonous. It was said that the asfodelati opened their meetings with a sardonic toast: “Our fathers prayed for Theodore to liberate the nation from tyranny. Gentlemen, let us emulate our fathers in all things.” Eager to please, still inexperienced in politics, and with a personality somewhat vulnerable to flattery, Theo accepted their devotion without fully appreciating how his father would react to the company he kept.

    [1] Cinarca was a castle on Corsica’s western coast about ten miles north of Ajaccio which is said to have been built in the 9th or 10th centuries. The lords of this castle and their descendants, known as the Counts of Cinarca or Cinarchesi, were the most prominent noble family of Medieval Corsica. They dominated the Dila for much of this period and several assumed the title of “Count of Corsica.” The Cinarchesi switched sides opportunistically between Pisa and Genoa during the High Medieval Period, but in the late 14th century they threw their support to the Kings of Aragon and became leaders of the anti-Genoese faction. Although at times the Cinarchesi and their Aragonese allies managed to control nearly the whole island, the Genoese ultimately prevailed and the Kings of Aragon abandoned their attempts to conquer Corsica. Giovan Paolo di Leca, the last Count of Cinarca, was driven into exile and died in Rome in 1515. The Genoese razed Cinarca to the ground, and almost nothing remains of the castle today. Despite the extinction of their main line the Cinarchesi did leave descendants, including Prince Theo himself: Through his mother he was a direct descendant of Sampiero Corso and his wife Vaninna d’Ornano, who was in turn the granddaughter of Vincentello d’Istria, one of the greatest of the Cinarchesi. Vincentello is credited with building the citadel of Corti, and at the height of his power ruled nearly all of Corsica as Aragon’s viceroy.
    [2] Theo was not a master of languages like his grand-uncle, but he was raised in a multilingual family. He spoke French and Italian with complete ease, and could hold a conversation in German, Spanish, and English. Of these, English was undoubtedly his worst language; Theo enjoyed “showing off” to English-speakers by using their tongue, but he spoke with a strong accent and would switch to French for any long or serious conversation.
    [3] The fact that Freemasonry remained officially proscribed by the Church appears not to have troubled him.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Yes, even dancing. It might seem strange to us, but dancing was considered to be a vital part of elite military training alongside riding and fencing. Contemporaries pointed out dancing’s similarity to military drill and its usefulness in cultivating the body for the rigors of battle.
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    At the Precipice
  • At the Precipice


    Goats grazing near Capo Rosso, overlooked by a Genoese tower

    “Tax is really only owed by the rich. You cannot ask a shepherd for part of the bread he earns.”
    - Theodore I, King of Corsica

    Despite the abortive showdown with the Dieta in 1773 and the growing discontent with Federico’s style of governance, a true conflict between the crown and the Corsican political class failed to materialize. It may be that the situation was simply not grave enough; the Corsican government in the 1770s was still dominated by Revolutionary veterans who remembered actual tyranny and knew the real costs of civil strife.

    More critically, however, the “political class” simply did not exist as a coherent entity. Although sometimes lumped together as “conservatives” or (more narrowly) “gigliati,” the sgio and other important landed families were divided by geography, provincialism, personalities, and clan rivalries, and did not form a true political bloc. Nor, for that matter, did the proprietari (effectively the “yeomanry” of Corsica), nor the educated professionals. Historians intrigued by the idea of a “Corsican Enlightenment” often focus on the asfodelati and the connections it created between liberal men of letters, but the ranks of the Constitutional Society were never large and their actual weight in the sphere of public politics was not great. The elective system was governed by clan and patronage networks, not ideologies, and the asfodelati were frozen out of Federico’s cabinet. When a real crisis finally came, it would begin not with men at the top of the socioeconomic ladder, but the bottom.

    The dedicated pastoralists of the Corsican interior followed a traditional migratory way of life, moving their herds along well-worn paths from alpine meadows in the summer to coastal lowlands in the winter. These migratory patterns were firmly established, with the same communities often visiting the same pastures every year for generations. Often located near the depopulated coast and consisting of agriculturally marginal terrain, many of these seasonally inhabited grazing lands had been considered “wasteland” by the Genoese and thus state property, whose use by the shepherds was subject to a fee known as the erbatico (“herbage”). Other pastoral communities, especially those in the northern Niolo, wintered their herds in the bountiful Balagna, grazing them on stubble and fallow fields and paying their usage fees to private owners instead of the state.

    These fees tended to increase over time, and by the Revolution they were a major source of grievance among the shepherds. Private fees, rather than the erbatico, seem to have been the greatest source of tension. The Niolesi joked bitterly that “if Jesus Christ had been born in the Balagna, he too would have been a robber.” In the decades leading up to the Revolution, the Republic had been moving steadily in the direction of privatization, transferring state “wasteland” by sale or emphyteutic lease to Genoese citizens or filogenovese notables. The growth of these large private estates, or procoi, not only threatened the shepherds with higher fees but with the loss of grazing land altogether. Seeking greater profits, private owners often switched from cereals to orchards and put up fences to exclude the shepherds entirely.

    From the perspective of the shepherds, the Revolution had been fought to preserve their traditional way of life against these encroachments. Although their quarrels were often with private landowners rather than tax collectors, they knew that the Genoese state was fully complicit in their immiseration. Genoese judges inevitably sided with the property rights of big landowners against the traditional rights of the shepherds. The shepherds became some of the earliest and most zealous supporters of the national movement, and proudly boasted that they were the only Corsicans who had never been conquered. They expected that, in victory, a grateful king would give them ironclad legal title to those lands that had always truly belonged to them by ancient custom, and thus rid them of the exploitative regime of greedy landowners and callous judges once and for all.

    These fruits of victory failed to materialize. Theodore had claimed much of the “wasteland” for the crown, and while some had been auctioned off, the shepherd communities were easily outbid by wealthy nobles. Crown ownership was at least tolerable under Theodore, who had never vigorously enforced his fiscal prerogatives in the “wastelands.” Federico, however, was not a man to leave money on the table, and insisted on zealous collection of the erbatico. Neither king did anything to stop the loss of agricultural grazing land, and indeed they encouraged this trend, as both Theodore and Federico believed that the growth of exportable cash crops like oil, wine, citrus, and nuts was key to economic development. The highland shepherds had fought and bled for the Revolution only to find that the new boss bore a striking resemblance to the old boss.

    In December of 1774 a group of Niolesi shepherds clashed with a Balagnese landowner who had recently enclosed land they had long used for seasonal grazing. The shepherds tore up his fences, drove their herds onto his fields, and threatened the landowner with violence. He then turned to the authorities, and a posse of dragoni presidiali was dispatched with instructions to make the shepherds move on. The militiamen, however, hesitated to press the issue against heavily armed shepherds and did not confront them. Grievously insulted by the landowner’s actions, a 19 year old shepherd named Raimondo Albertini decided to restore his people’s honor by waiting for the landowner outside his home, drawing a pistol, and shooting him in the head.

    Murder on Corsica was still distressingly common in the 1770s, but the status of the victim ensured that this murder received special attention. The Marcia was immediately constituted in the Balagna and the Royal Dragoons dispatched to find the killer. Albertini, however, had already fled back into the mountains, taking to the macchia as a bandito d'onore. The Niolesi proved uncooperative with the manhunt, even under threats by the Marcia to prosecute anyone suspected of supporting or sheltering the outlaw. The court’s arrest of Albertini’s aunt, accused of taking food to her nephew, resulted in an armed band descending on the Convent of Calacuccia (where the tribunal was now headquartered) and forcing the outnumbered dragoons to release their prisoner. It was a humiliation for Corsica's elite squadrons which would soon be avenged.

    At the consulta generale of 1775 the Niolesi decided to make their case to the nation, seeking the realization of their land claims and the abolition (or at least drastic reform) of the Marcia. This, however, was a lost cause from the start. The consulta was dominated by rural notables who had very little sympathy for the cause of the shepherds. Many Corsican farmers - and not just the wealthy ones - had long resented the Niolesi for acting as though they were entitled to all the land in Corsica and threatening violence against anyone who so much as raised a fence. Now these arrogant goatherds demanded that their “rights” ought to be respected? Who did they think they were?

    On September 3rd, after being a fugitive for nine months, Albertini’s luck finally ran out. He contracted some unspecified illness and traveled to a nearby Franciscan convent to ask for food and medicine and to recuperate in secrecy. Catching wind of this, a squad of royal dragoons burst into the convent and dragged Albertini from his bed. Notionally they were supposed to haul him back to the court at Calacuccia for sentencing, but the commanding lieutenant (perhaps in light of the "liberation" of his aunt) made a snap decision to tie Albertini to a tree and summarily execute him by firing squad. This act appalled the Niolesi on multiple levels - not only was it seen as an extrajudicial murder of a sick man, but it was a flagrant violation of the ancient tradition of sanctuary within a convent’s walls.

    When the herdsmen descended from the mountains again that October, they brought a general attitude of defiance with them. There was a widespread refusal to pay the erbatico, and royal officials who came to collect were either ignored or chased off at gunpoint. In the Balagna, the shepherds forcefully exerted their “ancient rights,” tearing down fences and daring anyone to stop them. Frustrated by the government’s failure to act, local notables took matters into their own hands. On November 12th the Ussari di Balagna, an irregular militia cavalry company formed from the provincial gentry, drove off a group of Corscian herdsmen who had illegally occupied an orchard.[A] Shots were fired, and two shepherds were killed. Lurid (and exaggerated) stories quickly spread in the highlands of the Balagnese notabili running down poor herdsmen with sabers.

    Soon after this incident, King Federico finally decided to intervene. Two companies of the Fanteria Provinciale under Lieutenant-Colonel Don Giuseppe Bonavita and a squadron of Dragoni Reali under Major Achille Murati were dispatched to the Balagna to restore order. This force had a paper strength of only 320 men, and in reality was considerably smaller. Bonavita was authorized to take command of the local militia and presidiali to bolster his forces as he saw fit, but his attempts to do so were stymied by the disorganized state of the militia and resistance from the provincial luogotenente, Marquis Giuseppe Maria Fabiani.


    Corsican militiaman of the late 18th century

    The eldest son of the famed revolutionary general Simone Fabiani, Don Giuseppe had been elevated to his father’s position as luogotenente by Theodore after his father’s death. Giuseppe, now 52, was not the same towering national figure as his father had been, but his family name carried weight and his clan network in the Balagna was extensive. As a Francophile aristocrat and ally of the southern gigliati, Fabiani had initially welcomed King Federico’s succession, but Federico’s attempts to curb the autonomy of the luogotenenti and shift their powers to his new “camere provinciali” had alienated the marquis. Fabiani was happy to see royal action against the troublemaking Niolesi, but he interpreted Bonavita’s orders to take charge of the presidiali as an attempt to undermine him. The presidiali were his men, the enforcers of Fabiani’s authority, and the king had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to strip the luogotenenti of these “private militias” and subject them to the authority of the camere.

    It did not help that Fabiani and Bonavita appear to have immediately turned against one another. Although Fabiani was superior to Bonavita in rank, title, and office - he was a colonel, a marquis, and the royal lieutenant of the entire province - Bonavita took his instructions to mean that Fabiani (as the overall militia commander) was his subordinate, and expected the marquis to follow his orders accordingly. Fabiani, already suspicious of Bonavita’s intentions, took this as a personal insult. Bonavita accused Fabiani of purposefully interfering with his attempts to reorganize and deploy the militia, an accusation which appears very credible.

    To assert his authority Bonavita took the drastic step of calling all militia formations to assemble at Algajola, including the presidiali. The turnout was dismal. Fabiani made excuses for his men, claiming that they were held up protecting their own villages from the Niolesi. This was probably true to some degree, but Fabiani also clearly did not trust Bonavita and did not want to place his men under the lieutenant-colonel’s power. Eventually Bonavita’s patience ran out. He abruptly declared that all presidiali who were not present had effectively deserted, and ordered them struck from the unit rolls. He then filled the spots of the absentees with local militiamen who had shown up, and compelled them to swear an oath to the king and the camera (but pointedly not the luogotenente). Fabiani declared this act to be illegal and quit Algajola in a fury, taking with him all the militiamen he could convince to follow. Bonavita then doubled down by sending Murati’s troopers into the villages to seize arms belonging to the “former” presidials. Rather than restoring order to the province, Bonavita had effectively triggered a constitutional crisis that threatened to turn into an actual armed conflict between the king’s army and his own provincial governor.

    Federico’s instincts were to forcibly assert his authority by sending in the regulars, but there was division in Bastia as well. The Dieta, searching for some way to assert itself in light of recent events, accepted the use of the provinciali and the Royal Dragoons - who, though army units, had the maintenance of domestic order as part of their remit - but claimed that deploying the regular infantry was a “decision of war” which was subject to the council’s veto. The king scoffed at this flimsy legal argument, but the Dieta was encouraged by First Minister Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra, who had grown so frustrated with the king’s personal rule and his own powerlessness that he was now complicit in the obstruction of his own government. Facing defiance from his subjects, his governor, the Diet, and his own prime minister, the king became increasingly paranoid. Matra and Fabiani had very different objectives and were hardly allies, but the king was convinced they were conspiring against him. His fears of a coup were only aggravated by reports that the shepherds had taken up “Evviva Don Ghjuvan” (referring to Rauschenburg/Morosaglia) as a rallying cry, which the king interpreted as a clearly stated intent to depose him in favor of his cousin. [1]

    Prince Theo was not immediately aware of these events because he was not in Corsica at the time. As the situation careened towards violence, the crown prince was living it up in Rome. He had ostensibly gone to take part in the Jubilee Year of 1775 but also to reopen marriage negotiations with the Boncompagni-Ludovisi, whose intransigent patriarch Prince Gaetano had died in the previous year. Once he was informed of just how bad the situation in Corsica really was, Theo quickly returned to the island. He would play a key role in averting true disaster, but at the cost of whatever trust was left between him and his father.

    [1] Don Giovan, of course, was in Westphalia at the time, and quite unaware that his name was being invoked as the mascot of the Niolese malcontents.

    TImeline Notes
    [A] This is not a typo for “Corsican.” There is a village in Corsica called Corscia. Yes, I know that’s confusing.
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    The Second Matra Ministry
  • The Second Matra Ministry


    Minister Pasquale Paoli in 1777​

    Immediately after returning to Bastia, Prince Theo found his father contemplating some very drastic steps. Apparently the king had drafted orders sacking both Luogotenente Giuseppe Fabiani and First Minister Alerio Matra, and proposed to mobilize the foreign Trabanti to aid Lieutenant-Colonel Bonavita in forcibly restoring order to the Balagna. That these orders remained in his desk, unsigned, was only because he was convinced that making enemies of Fabiani, Matra, the Niolesi, and the Balagnesi all at once would be a mistake. Theo later claimed that he was the one who persuaded his father to stop at the precipice, but some suspicion of this claim is warranted. Theo, after all, was not yet 21 years old with no political experience whatsoever.

    Faced with this sudden and serious crisis, Theo looked to others for advice - and in particular, to Don Pasquale Paoli. Driven from power after Federico’s accession, Paoli had vainly attempted to satisfy his ambition through elective politics, but he clearly yearned to be back in the cockpit of government. The prince, after his return from Turin, was an obvious vehicle for this triumphant comeback, and Paoli courted him assiduously. Paoli had introduced him to the leading men of the Constitutional Society, which had subsequently made Theo their new Gran Patrono, and was also a fellow Freemason. Although Paoli can certainly be accused of manipulating the young and still rather naive prince for his own ends, the prince did need political advice, and Paoli was well-qualified to give it.

    Paoli’s advice in this case was to cut a deal with Marquis Alerio Matra. Notwithstanding the king’s belief in a larger conspiracy, Don Alerio clearly had little sympathy for the cause of the shepherds and his aims were mutually exclusive with those of Marquis Fabiani. Fabiani, after all, was trying to preserve his local autonomy against a national government which Matra (at least notionally) headed. What Matra wanted was fairly straightforward: Actual responsibilities in government and more control over the composition of the ministry, which he had never been consulted about.

    It was not coincidental that this also suited Paoli’s interests. Don Pasquale had scant regard for most of the ministers in the “consiglio dei conti.”[1] Admittedly he was not particularly close to Matra either, but Matra had been gradually moving towards the asfodelati “reformers” as he grew more and more disillusioned with Federico’s style of rule and the Francophile sympathies of his fellow ministers. Matra and Paoli appear to have already been in communication by this time, and it is quite possible that the “negotiations” between Theo and Matra were largely theatrical, intended only to get the unwitting prince to support an agreement whose generalities had already been agreed to by the two politicians.

    In any case, the resulting “deal” was not well-received by the king. Paoli’s counsel, in this case, was flawed, for he had allowed the prince to make the mistake of negotiating in secret. When Theo presented the proposal to his father, including a ministerial reshuffle and the allocation of more authority to Matra, Federico perceived it not as a friendly proposal but a hostile ultimatum. He had never authorized his son to negotiate with Matra, whom the king still suspected was conspiring against him, and was furious that Matra would presume any role in deciding who ought to be a minister in the king’s government. Matra, in turn, seems to have been under the mistaken impression that Theo had the full confidence of the king and that royal approval was a mere formality. With this assumption, he had already ordered Count Innocenzo di Mari, the Minister of War, to mobilize the Foot Regiment. Don Alerio may have thought he was merely being proactive and holding up his end of the bargain, but the king interpreted this as a further threat and a usurpation of his own power.

    The traditional account maintains that a real breach was only averted by Queen Elisabetta, who hated to see her husband and son at odds and convinced Federico to accept his son’s proposal. Some (perhaps most) credit may also be due to the king’s bodyguard and trusted confidant, Sir David Murray, who opined that any concessions made to Matra now could always be “revisited” once Fabiani and the Niolesi had been put in their places. Either way, the king reluctantly accepted Theo’s terms, but he never forgave his son for “betraying” him. As Federico saw it, Theo had gone behind his back, sided with Matra against the interests of the crown, and then handed him an unfavorable agreement as a fait accompli while Matra seized control of the army without royal consent. It was a soft coup, but a coup nonetheless, and one which had been supported by his own son and heir.

    With the political crisis momentarily resolved, the government could now bring its full attention to the Balagna. Marquis Matra proposed to lead an expedition himself, perhaps hoping to repeat his success in crushing the filogenovesi of Fiumorbo during the Revolution. The king, however, was not having it. It was bad enough that he had been forced to make concessions to Matra; he was not putting him in personal command of an army as well. The prince put it more diplomatically, explaining to the marquis that, as prime minister, military command was no longer in his job description. Instead, four companies of the Regiment of Foot were assembled and entrusted to Major-General Count Giovan Quilico Casabianca - perhaps not coincidentally, a friend of Paoli - who was ordered to take control of all government forces in the province.

    Casabianca quickly brought Fabiani back into obedience. There were some inducements on the table, such as stopping Murati’s arms raids and offering to restore some of Fabiani’s clients to the presidiali, but the greater consideration was the presence of 800 or so government soldiers on Fabiani’s doorstep. It helped that Casabianca was more diplomatic than the quarrelsome Bonavita, and - as a count and a general - was someone Marquis Fabiani could obey without injury to his pride. Casabianca ratified Fabiani’s command of the militia, but this had more to do with establishing dominance than any actual utility of these local troops.

    Surprising many, Casabianca treated the Niolesi rather gently. He made no attempt to attack them or their flocks, and insisted that his soldiers were not in the Balagna to shake down shepherds for unpaid grazing dues. His strategy was instead to interpose his men between the Niolesi and armed locals to keep the peace. This proved successful in ending the bloodshed without provoking further violence, but it was not the favored solution of the Balagnese notabili, whose fields and orchards were still occupied by “bandits.” Moreover, Casabianca’s occupying force had to sleep and eat somewhere, and in lieu of any actual military infrastructure this meant that many were quartered in convents, barns, and private homes. Despite dismissing most of the provinciali, this was still a considerable burden on the local population. Casabianca knew that the Niolesi would eventually have to return to their mountains in the Spring, but this forbearance earned him the considerable ire of the locals.

    Meanwhile, Marquis Matra set about shaking up the government. The casualties of this reshuffle belonged disproportionately to the southern aristocracy. The first to get the axe was Foreign Minister Count Lilio Peretti della Rocca, who belonged to a venerable clan of cinarchesi blood and was a stalwart member of the gigliati.[2] Matra had come to despise him, describing him as arrogant, incompetent, and so “slavishly devoted” to France that he could only have been in the pay of Versailles (although no evidence was produced to this effect). The Minister of Justice, Count Antonio Francesco Peraldi, was another prominent casualty. Widely seen as biased towards his fellow landowners, he was personally hated by the Niolesi and had gradually been losing favor with the king owing to his failure to extirpate the vendetta. His survival to this point had much to do with the fact that he was also the cousin of Marquis Luca d’Ornano, but when the venerable Don Luca finally died in the spring of 1776 Peraldi was out the door almost before the body was cold.

    Matra did not really possess a well-defined political agenda, and thus the new members of the “Second Matra Ministry” were mainly family clients and other men whom the first minister could personally rely on. Francesco Matteo Limperani of Casinca, who replaced Peretti, was a good example; he was not the most qualified choice, but he was a reasonably competent official whose family was an ally of the Matra clan.[3] Don Alerio, however, did not have an entirely free hand. The king personally vetoed his attempt to replace the generally well-regarded war minister Count Innocenzo di Mari with Mario Emanuele Matra, Don Alerio’s younger brother.[A]. He did, however, get his nephew Francesco Antonio Gaffori - the son of the famous Marquis Gianpietro Gaffori - appointed as president of the camera provinciale of Corti.

    The Second Matra Ministry also marked Paoli’s return from political exile. That was the price of Paoli’s assistance, but it was also useful to Matra, as it removed a charismatic (and often troublesome) voice from the Dieta. Though seemingly suspicious of Paoli’s ambition, clearly Matra thought it better to have such a man working for him than against him. Paoli’s appointment was as Peraldi’s replacement in the Justice Ministry, which was a clear step down from his former authority as Secretary of State but was presumably less antagonistic towards the gigliati than giving this notorious Anglophile an office with influence over foreign affairs.

    Although he had no legal training, Paoli would turn out to be an inspired choice for the post. Rather than resenting his station, Paoli threw himself (and his prodigious work ethic) into the job. He was determined to crush the vendetta, and despite his reputation as an “enlightened” liberal he had absolutely no compunctions about using quite draconian methods to accomplish this. The immediate destruction of any house belonging to a convicted murderer or bandit became so routine that he was nicknamed “the arsonist of Morosaglia.” Nevertheless, Paoli tried to project an image as “harsh but fair,” and backed it up by expanding the role of witnesses in the Marcia (whose summary proceedings had often been rather light on evidence) and launching a purge of judges he deemed to be partial or corrupt.


    Niolo villagers at the end of the 19th century

    Before any of this, however, he had to address the recent Niolo revolt. Paoli offered a blanket pardon to numerous lesser offenses (including trespass), and “past due” payments of the erbatico were forgiven. His mercy, however, was not total. Those accused of banditry and murder were hunted ruthlessly by the Royal Dragoons, leading to a number of violence incidents; now headquartered in Corti, however, the Marcia was no longer vulnerable to the stirrings of popular outrage. In the fall, General Casabianca’s soldiers occupied the established herding routes into the Balagna and demanded the disarmament of anyone who passed. It was easy for a man to evade them, but sneaking by them with an entire flock of sheep posed more of a challenge. While not completely successful at disarming the shepherds, this measure combined with a robust military presence succeeded in preventing another “war” from breaking out in the winter of 1776-77.

    There would be no “final battle” against the disgruntled shepherds. Although incidents would continue to arise for years to come, not excluding violence, the inexorable advancement of state power (even in such a relatively weak state as Corsica) could not be denied. The shepherds had no support within broader Corsican society to defend their ancient rights, and their coastal grazing lands would only continue to be reduced by agricultural settlement and the growing cash crop economy, whose proponents commanded more resources and marshalled more political influence than the shepherds ever could. The way of life which had been practiced in the Niolo since time immemorial - even before the days of the Romans - was finally succumbing to modernity.

    The political contest, however, had not been set on a similarly inevitable course. Matra’s purge of the ministry infuriated the gigliati, who remained influential at court and had the king’s ear. A considerable number of southern notables, even those not part of the gigliati, looked with unease at a government that seemed to be increasingly dominated by northerners (and Castagniccians in particular). In the past, Luca d’Ornano had accepted northern preeminence on the national stage - they were, after all, two thirds of the population - in return for quasi-feudal autonomy in the Dila, but Federico’s dismantlement of the lieutenancy system threatened to eliminate what many southern sgio saw as the only line of defense against a “northern dictatorship” that would intervene in their affairs and would be hostile towards their interests.

    [1] Il consiglio dei conti (“the cabinet of counts”) is the nickname traditionally given to the First Matra Ministry, as it was almost exclusively composed of members of the upper nobility (counts and marquesses).
    [2] The Peretti family had been notoriously flexible in its loyalty during the Revolution. Giacomo Maria Peretti, the family’s most prominent member in this period, had initially opposed the rebellion. He had come onboard in 1736 and pledged his loyalty to Theodore, but switched sides after the French occupation and was commissioned by Genoa as captain of a filogenovese militia company. He defected back to the royalists in 1743 after Colonna’s landing at Porto Vecchio, but by early 1746 it was suspected that he was in Genoese pay again and Don Matteo avoided his pieve after hearing rumors that Peretti planned to seize him and hand him over to the Republic. Giacomo finally ended his tergiversation during the “War of La Rocca” in late 1746 as the Republic’s authority crumbled completely, and submitted to royal authority.
    [3] Francesco Limperani was the nephew of Giovan Paoli Limperani, best known as the main author of the Ortiporio Declaration and thus one of the ringleaders of the “Sedizioni” who had briefly rebelled against the royalist government in 1745. He was pardoned after surrendering to the royalists in June of that year.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Mario Emanuele Matra is best known IOTL as the archenemy of Pasquale Paoli. He and his family were allies of Gaffori, but after Gaffori’s assassination in 1753 there was a schism among the national leadership and the Matra clan refused to support Paoli’s election as general of the nation in 1755. Mario Matra was elected as “Capo Generale” in opposition to Paoli by a rival consulta at Alesani and appealed to Genoa for support, beginning a civil war within the national movement. Matra managed to corner Paoli and his men in a convent in Alando in 1757, but allies came to Paoli’s aid and Matra was killed in the ensuing battle. Although Paoli’s support among the Corsicans was never universal, Mario Matra’s death marked the end of any serious challenge to Paoli’s leadership, which Paoli maintained for the next twelve years until his defeat at the hands of the French in 1769. “He was a brave man,” Paoli said of his vanquished foe; “In the fullness of time he might, if he had lived, have done Corsica great service.”
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    The Saxon Tyrant
  • The Saxon Tyrant


    Archduke Franz Xaver, Prince of Saxony and Duke of Teschen

    The events of 1764 had temporarily checked the ambitions of Pyotr III, Emperor of Russia. He had been forced to concede defeat to Denmark in the Schleswig War (notwithstanding a face-saving territorial exchange) and grudgingly accepted a continuation of the Wettin regime in Poland at the expense of his favored candidate, Prince Heinrich of Brandenburg. His position in St. Petersburg itself was shaken by a treasonous conspiracy among the Guards regiments masterminded by his wife, Katharina of Anhalt-Zerbst. Pyotr, however, had quickly regained his footing; his saber-rattling in response to the Sejm of 1766 had succeeded in reasserting Russian influence in Poland and forcing King Friedrich Christian to back away from his more far-reaching political reforms. From this point the Polish king’s energies would be focused primarily on the restoration of war-torn Saxony.[1]

    From 1766 Polish affairs were left in the hands of a cadre of royal officials, including the king’s own brother Franz Xaver, who had a seat on the newly-created permanent governing council of the kingdom. Prince Xaver had commanded the Saxon army in the recent war and had once dreamed of receiving the Polish crown himself, on the (ultimately mistaken) assumption that his older brother would refuse it. Poland provided him with a place to exercise some autonomous authority, and there was still some chance that he would eventually get his chance, as Friedrich was eight years his senior and physically infirm.

    Xaver’s main interest was in military affairs, and so his attention turned naturally to the small and rather useless Polish army. He organized a new and more efficient Military Department and expanded the kingdom’s army - at least on paper - to nearly 30,000 men, but his efforts were often frustrated by the council, which was compromised by magnates whose interests were not served by reform (or who were directly on the Russian payroll). To circumvent these issues, he turned to the recently-acquired territory of Ducal Prussia - that is, the province of East Prussia which had been seized from the Hohenzollerns at the conclusion of the last war. Xaver had faced the late Prussian king in battle and had great respect for his achievements, and convinced his brother to maintain what remained of the Hohenzollern military-administrative system in the conquered land.

    Xaver’s attempts to (re)construct a “Prussian army” alarmed some very powerful men. The magnates saw it as a threat to their autonomy, as it seemed as though the prince was circumventing the apparatus of the Polish government to raise his own private force within the kingdom. Because this force was raised in East Prussia, it would also be principally Lutheran and German-speaking, which unnerved the Catholic Polish nobility. The Russians were also troubled by Xaver’s Habsburg connections. The Wettins, of course, were Habsburg allies, but Prince Xaver was also Archduke Xaver on account of his marriage to a daughter of the Empress-Queen.[A] It was all too easy to see him as an Austrian agent bent on undermining Russian influence within the Commonwealth.

    This fear was not without some basis in fact. Traditionally the political and cultural counterweight to Russia within Poland had been France, but France had been discredited in the recent war and was no longer willing (nor indeed able) to lavish funds upon the anti-Russian faction. Austria, in contrast, appeared stronger than ever, and Xaver’s Habsburg connections and interest in reform had obvious appeal to anti-Russian Polish “patriots.” The hopes they placed in Austria were for the most part unrequited, as the Empress-Queen and her government were very wary of provoking Russia, but it seemed reasonable to assume that Xaver would not be undertaking such ventures unless both he and his reformist agenda had the support of Vienna.

    With Russian approval, the magnates pushed back against Xaver’s “provocations.” In 1772, claiming that Xaver was attempting to destroy the liberties of the nobility and make himself a despot, pro-Russian nobles formed a confederation in opposition to the archduke - and notionally in support of King Friedrich Christian, whom they claimed was surely ignorant of his brother’s abuses. Prince Xaver made a show of defiance against these “rebels” and mustered his forces. Xaver’s faith that his brother and mother-in-law would support him, however, proved badly misplaced.

    It was true that the empress and her advisors increasingly viewed Russia as a threat. The lesson which the Austrians had learned from the brief but disruptive reign of Friedrich the Bold was that preventing the emergence of a rival state within the Holy Roman Empire ought to be the first aim of Habsburg policy, but Pyotr seemed to be dead-set upon resurrecting the Prussian menace. He had supported a Hohenzollern candidate for the Polish crown in 1764, signed a “defensive” alliance with the elector in 1768, and mused openly about “revising” the treaties of 1760 with regards to Poland - to take more territory for himself, perhaps, but also to recover Prussia for his Hohenzollern allies.

    Yet the empress also greatly feared the prospect of war with Russia, and despite Austria’s recent victory its financial situation remained precarious. Unlike previous wars, it was unlikely that either France or Britain would be interested in subsidizing Austrian armies in a contest with Russia; indeed, it was entirely possible that Britain might bankroll Pyotr instead. There were some suggestions within her cabinet that a relationship with the Ottomans might help meet the Russian threat, but Maria Theresa still saw the Turks as the “true enemy” of her house and could not contemplate anything so bold - and, for that matter, heretical - as an alliance. King Friedrich Christian, for his part, understood very well that he had no cards to play without Austrian support, and when the crisis arrived he folded. The king recalled his brother from Poland and accepted the demands of the confederates and Russians, which included disbanding Xaver’s Prussian forces.

    Saxon humiliation, however, did not instantly bring peace to Poland. The reformists, thoroughly demoralized by the Austro-Saxon retreat, did not put up much of a fight, but the brief spasm of lawlessness had triggered an anti-Polish uprising in Right-Bank Ukraine among cossacks and peasants. Friedrich could only abase himself further by requesting Pyotr’s help to restore order. This was eventually accomplished, but this show of Russian force in Polish territory, combined with Pyotr’s high-handed treatment of the Wettins, unnerved Russia’s southern neighbor.


    Sultan Mustafa III

    Sultan Mustafa III was sanguine about his chances in a war with Russia and had been steadily gravitating towards the belief that such a war was necessary to check Russian influence in Poland and the Caucasus. He was egged on by the French and Austrian ambassadors, whose countries lacked the ability or interest to confront Russia directly but were more than happy to see the Turks and Russians bleed each other white. It was reported that Polish reformists, dismayed by Xaver’s removal, were even prepared to offer Polish territory to the Sultan in exchange for his help in purging their kingdom of Russian interlopers. In 1772, the Sublime Porte declared war on Russia.

    This was, in retrospect, a terrible mistake. Despite some Russian successes in Crimea during the previous Russo-Turkish War (1736-39), it was generally assumed that the Russians and Turks were more or less military equals. Yet despite catching Pyotr completely by surprise, the Ottoman armies soon found that they were not facing the same old Russians. Military reforms and battlefield experience had vastly improved the Russian army over the past three decades, while the Ottoman forces had seen no combat in Europe since 1739 (and no major combat at all since the end of the last war with Persia in 1746). Despite their great size, the armies of the Sultan and his vassal, the Crimean Khan, suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of Pyotr’s generals.

    The inevitability of a Russian victory was not immediately evident, however, and the Russians implemented a novel plan for a grand strategic diversion. Since the disastrous Battle of Rostock, Pyotr had been busily rebuilding his Baltic fleet, and the Turkish war provided a novel opportunity to exercise his sailors and recover the imperial navy’s honor. With encouragement and substantial material aid from the British, who were still seeking a Russian alliance, Pyotr and his admirals planned a naval operation in which a detachment of the Baltic fleet would cruise all the way to the Mediterranean and strike the Grand Turk at the very heart of his empire in the Aegean.

    This operation, however, would not rely on Russian arms alone. Although if successful the expeditionary fleet might greatly inconvenience the commerce of the Turks in the Aegean, it was unlikely to force them to reallocate forces from the Balkan front unless the Russians could actually threaten to make landings and hold territory. The fleet’s own marines would certainly not be sufficient for this task. The Russians expected their co-religionist Greeks under Turkish rule to rise up and rally to their cause, but they also sent agents abroad into the Greek expatriate communities of Italy to recruit volunteers directly.

    No such agents were dispatched to Corsica, but when Giorgio-Maria Stefanopoli became aware of the Russian approaches to the Greek communities of Italy he immediately perceived it as an opportunity - to consolidate his power among the Corsican Greeks, to burnish his standing in the kingdom, to gain political relevance, and perhaps even to save his community from their seemingly inexorable decline. Through his actions, the outbreak of hostilities in distant Ukraine would end up triggering events which would have significant political, military, and demographic consequences for the Corsican Kingdom, starting with the Archipelago Expedition and the saga of the Korsikanskiy legion.

    [1] The period of postwar recovery in Saxony under Friedrich Christian, known as the “Saxon Rétablissement,” is generally regarded as highly successful. In contrast to the feckless and profligate administration of his father, Friedrich’s government steadily paid down Saxony’s war debt and introduced a stable paper currency. Towns were rebuilt, industries were encouraged, and new techniques of farming and animal husbandry were introduced. He is regarded with far less esteem in Poland, where - as we have seen, for reasons not entirely his fault - his reign was considerably less distinguished and effective.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] IOTL, Prince Franz Xaver of Saxony married morganatically. ITTL, however, Saxony’s political importance in the 1760s is far greater than it was IOTL; although despoiled by war, it is marginally larger than OTL (having annexed a few bits from Brandenburg) and relatively more consequential in Germany owing to Prussia’s defeat. Moreover, the Saxon elector still wears the crown of Poland, which vastly increases the importance of the Wettins in Habsburg foreign policy, which is increasingly concerned with checking the power of Russia. As a consequence, ITTL Franz Xaver is married to an Austrian princess to strengthen the Austro-Saxon alliance rather than permitted to go off and marry a minor noblewoman.
    The Archipelago Expedition
  • The Archipelago Expedition


    The Russians engage the Ottoman fleet off Chios
    As a consequence of the French occupation in 1758, Giorgio-Maria Stefanopoli had emerged the victor in his family’s long struggle for leadership over the Corsican Greek community. His main rivals, the Busacci family, had unwisely chosen to collaborate with the French and were forced off the island after the decisive Battle of Concador.[1] King Theodore, who had always hoped to reconcile the Greeks and Corsicans, recognized Giorgo-Maria’s loyalty to the state by granting him the rank of cavaliere, thus making him the first Greek to join the island’s nobility and giving him de facto recognition as the representative of his entire community.

    The personal good fortune of “Kapetán Yiorgákis,” however, did not extend to the community he now led.[A] The Greeks had faced a difficult transition from the insular farming community of Paomia to an “urban” lifestyle in Ajaccio, where they were a minority community suffering from economic dislocation and ethno-religious prejudice. Initially the population of Ajaccio, generally pro-Genoese until its conquest by the royalists, had been much more welcoming of the Greek exiles than the rural naziunali who had driven them from Paomia and burned their homes, but the events of the French occupation perpetuated the reputation of the Greeks as national traitors. Despite Giorgio-Maria’s ennoblement, many Corsicans do not seem to have drawn much of a distinction between “loyal” Greeks and actual collaborators.

    As a consequence, from a high point of over 800 at the dawn of the Corsican Revolution, the number of Corsican Greeks had declined by more than half by the time of Theodore’s death in 1770. Most of this loss was due to emigration, particularly to the British outpost of Minorca.[2] Even among those who remained, however, the community elders feared a more insidious destruction through the loss of their identity. The younger generation of Greeks, having grown up in a Corsican city, was proving to be far more open to assimilation than previous generations, with many adopting the Italian language and wearing “Latin” clothes.[3] This may have helped them escape prejudice, but it challenged the position of Giorgio-Maria, whose authority was based on the continuing distinctiveness of his community.

    A steady decline into oblivion seemed to be the inevitable fate of the Corsican Greek community, destined to be no more than an odd demographic footnote in the long history of Corsica. The outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, however, would give Giorgio-Maria one more chance to arrest this destiny. Through his contacts in the Greek communities of continental Italy Giorgio-Maria learned of the Russian search for Greek auxiliaries for their upcoming campaign and wasted no time in reaching out to Russia’s agents. Stefanopoli promised them not only the support of the Corsican Greeks, but boasted that he could procure a regiment of Corsicans as well. The Russians took him seriously enough to grant him the title of “Consul of the Russian Empire in Ajaccio,” which came with no salary and few duties but gave Giorgio-Maria some cachet as the honorary representative of a great power.

    Giorgio-Maria’s promise of Corsican troops was premature, but he had reasons to believe that King Federico would be sympathetic. After all, the king was currently seeking employment for Corsican soldiers to subsidize his military and gain relevance on the international stage, thus far without success. Giorgio-Maria, however, found the king to be less enthusiastic than he had hoped. Supplying soldiers to Austria, Britain, or Spain might be politically useful, but what good was it to curry favor with Russia, which had no presence in the Mediterranean? The king was also being lobbied by the Danish consul, whose government was understandably hostile towards any sort of Russian naval adventurism. Though trade with the Danes made up only a small fraction of Corsican commerce, that was more than could be said for Russia, and Corsica and Denmark had very recently been military allies against Algiers.

    Though his initial approaches went nowhere, Giorgio-Maria was not ready to give up. He needed an ally with influence at court, and found one in Count Giovan Paolo Quilici. The son of the revolutionary General Ambrogio Quilici who had commanded the siege of Calvi (under Theodore’s “supervision”), Count Quilici had taken advantage of the post-revolutionary land confiscations to amass extensive estates in his native Balagna and became one of the richest men in Corsica. Fancying himself a man of art and culture, the count had patronized the writers and poets of the revived Accademia dei Vagabondi (Corsica’s premier literary society) and became internationally famous as the man who hosted Jean-Jaques Rousseau at his chateau in Speloncato. Despite all this, however, Count Quilici still felt he was missing something: A military career that lived up to his father’s reputation. The count had participated in the Revolution as a young man, but only as an aide-de-camp to his father, and could not claim any real martial glory of his own.

    Quilici’s ambitions made him an ideal ally for Giorgio-Maria, who suggested that the count might take command of the (still purely theoretical) Corsican regiment in Russian service. Quite liking this idea, Quilici petitioned the king in support of Giorgio-Maria’s plan and offered to raise the unit himself, on his own dime. This piqued the interest of the eternally cash-strapped Federico, who finally gave his blessing to the project in August of 1773. It would technically be a private enterprise, both to mitigate diplomatic fallout and to circumvent any objection from the Dieta (which claimed oversight over “all arrangements concerning war”). But this did not mean that Federico was wholly uninvolved: The king arranged loans and procurement for Quilici and “suggested” officers for his staff.

    The Quilici-Stefanopoli regiment, subsequently known as the Korsikanskiy legion, assembled at Port Mahon (which the British had allowed the Russians to use as a staging base) and was taken into Russian service in February of 1774. The Russians recorded its strength at 523 Corsicans and 102 Greeks.[4] The unit was a mix of fresh recruits, barely-trained militiamen, foreign veterans, and soldiers on “leave” from the Corsican Army, motivated variously by the promise of adventure, the lure of plunder, an attractive signing bonus, and a natural antipathy towards “the Turk.”[5]

    Although it was not exactly an elite unit, the Russians would come to appreciate the Corsican Legion. Unlike the Greek irregulars who made up most of their forces in the theater, the Corsicans actually had a military command structure, followed orders, and did not embarrass the Russian command with any particularly egregious brutality. As a military leader Count Quilici was quite useless, but fortunately for the Legion he was more interested in “presiding” over the legion than actually commanding it. He left most of the real work to Lieutenant-Colonel Gio Carlo Paganelli, a career soldier and mercenary who had fought Albanian rebels in Cattaro under the Venetian flag.

    Officially Giorgio-Maria personally commanded the “Greek battalion” (actually a company) of Quilici’s legion, but the Russians soon found other uses for him. After achieving a decisive victory over the Ottoman fleet, the Russians extended their control over the Archipelago and its Greek inhabitants. They would continue to hold these isles until the end of the war, and although the population was generally cooperative some sort of administration had to be established in the interim. The Russian command even considered the idea that, at the end of the war, some permanent presence might be established here - perhaps even an insular “principality” under Russian control.

    Long before their arrival on Corsica, the Stefanopoli clan of Mani had claimed descent from the Komnenoi emperors of Trebizond. Theodore and the Corsicans never showed much interest in this mythological pedigree, but it intrigued the Russian fleet commander, who mused about using Giorgio-Maria’s supposed imperial descent to give the Russian occupation legitimacy and build local support. From late 1775 “Gregorios Stephanopolous Komnenos” was detached from his unit and appointed as a sort of Russo-Greek intermediary official on Naxos, the main base of the Russian fleet, where he appears to have been treated respectfully by the local population.[B]

    Despite naval victories, Russian attempts to link up with local Greek forces in the Morea and capture territory there were thwarted by an overwhelming Ottoman response. This was actually just what Pyotr and his advisors had hoped for: One of the main objectives of the expedition was to draw Turkish troops away from the more important theater of the war in the Danubian Principalities, and in this it succeeded spectacularly. Even with Greek auxiliaries, however, the Archipelago force proved unable to stand against tens of thousands of Ottoman troops and the Greek rebels were soon forced into the mountainous interior where they could expect no help from the Russians. Instead, the fleet command turned its attention to Crete, where a native revolt had also erupted under the leadership of the Sfakian mariner Ioannis Daskalogiannis. A Russo-Greek corps, including the Corsicans, was dispatched to wrest the island from the Turks.


    The plateau of Askifou (Askyphon/Aschifo)

    The Corsican Legion had its “baptism of fire” in the Morea at Gythion in 1774, but its most distinguished service was on Crete. Their finest hour was at the Battle of Askyphon (Aschifo in Italian) in 1776, in which the Corsican Legion, a company of Russian marines, and a few hundred Greek rebels held a narrow valley in the Cretan highlands against repeated attacks by an Ottoman column claimed to have been 4,000 strong. Yet despite winning several battlefield victories and extending their control over most of western Crete, the Russo-Greek forces proved unable to capture the fortified capital of Chania, and the Russian blockade was spread too thin to prevent the Ottomans from landing more reinforcements. In 1777 all Russian forces, including the Corsicans, were evacuated from the island. Any rebels who did not flee with the Russian fleet were left to their own devices, while the Legion garrisoned Naxos and Hydra for the remainder of the war.

    The peace which took effect in 1778 did not include any “Archipelago Principality.” It had always been a fanciful notion which had never enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Emperor Pyotr, and was opposed by practically all the other powers. The Straits still belonged to the Turks, and any Russian power projection in the Mediterranean was only at the pleasure of the British, who by now had already withdrawn their support. The British had backed the Archipelago expedition as a means to court Russia as an ally and to diminish France (which dominated trade with the Levant and had more influence with the Porte than any other power), but Russia’s crushing naval victories and the occupation of the Greek isles led London to fear that the Russians were becoming too successful and might offer unwelcome competition. They were certainly not going to help the Russians establish a vassal state in the heart of the Archipelago.

    With his fleeting dreams of a Comnenid restoration denied, Giorgio-Maria returned to Corsica with the Legion. The Russians invited him to settle in their territory and offered him an officer’s commission, but he turned them down. Accepting would have meant abandoning his leadership over the Corsican Greeks, which mattered more to him than a Russian uniform. Giorgio-Maria still believed that his people might be preserved: The ultimate failure of the Greek uprising had resulted in a flood of refugees fleeing Ottoman reprisals, and while many followed the Russians into exile Giorgio-Maria hoped to entice enough of them westward to reverse his community’s demographic tailspin, or at least delay it. His success would far surpass his expectations, for much had changed in Corsica since he had left in 1773. The country he returned to was finally in need of his services.

    [1] Virtually the entire Corsican Greek community, including the Busacci, belonged to the extended Stefanopoli clan, originally of Mani in the Peloponnese. Generally speaking, however, only a few leading families were entitled to bear the surname "Stefanopoli." After his return to Corsica Giorgio-Maria added “di Comneno” to his surname, but even if the claim of Comnenid descent is true (which is extremely doubtful), there is no reason to believe that he was any more related to the Comnenids than anyone else in the extended clan. Nevertheless, it was a privilege whose exclusivity Giorgio-Maria and his descendants jealously guarded.
    [2] After conquering Minorca in 1708 (which was ratified by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713), the British sought to attract non-Catholic settlers to the island to counterbalance the potentially unreliable Spanish population. Most of these settlers, who numbered about three thousand by the late 1760s, were Greeks and North African Jews. Some were deported by the French during their brief occupation of Minorca during the Four Years’ War, but they were allowed to return once the island was restored to Britain. In the 1760s the ethnic balance of Minorcan settlers began shifting towards the Greeks, as Minorcan Jews migrated to Corsica and Corsican Greeks moved in the opposite direction. After Minorca, the second-most popular destination for emigrating Corsican Greeks was Sardinia.
    [3] “Corsican Greek” is a modern term. At this time the Greeks of Corsica referred to themselves as romaíos (“Roman”). The native Corsicans referred to the Greeks as grechi or turchi in reference to their “oriental” clothes and customs. The Greeks typically referred to the native Corsicans as fránkoi, a catch-all term for “Latins” generally, but also - particularly when speaking of rural Corsicans rather than Ajaccini - called them vláchoi, “Vlachs,” which among the Maniots seems to have been a derisive term for pastoralists rather than an ethnonym.
    [4] The records are somewhat misleading. The “Corsicans” were indeed mostly Corsicans, but Quilici also recruited some non-Corsican Italians to pad out the regiment. The “Greeks” were indeed Greeks, but they were not all Corsican Greeks; at least some of them were Minorcan Greeks recruited at Port Mahon.
    [5] Among the Corsicans on the muster list was Giuseppe Carro, the son of a Jewish tailor who had emigrated from the Papal States soon after the Treaty of Monaco. Giuseppe belonged to the first generation of Jews to be born in Corsica. His motivation for joining the Legion is unknown, but he fought at Aschifo, survived the expedition, and even received a field promotion to corporal in 1776. Mr. Carro thus enjoys the distinction of being the first Jewish soldier in Corsican history.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] This was, in fact, the name Giorgio-Maria (“Georges-Marie” after the French conquest) was known by among his fellow Corsican Greeks IOTL. My understanding is that “Yiorgákis” is a (affectionate?) diminutive of “Yiórgos” (George), so his nickname presumably translates to something like “Captain Georgie.” No doubt he would have preferred "Lord Komnenos."
    [B] The Komnenid descent of the Stefanopoli is impossible to prove and almost certainly spurious. Nevertheless, it was taken seriously enough at the time that Demetrio Stefanopoli, of the Busacci branch of the family, was officially recognized in 1782 as the rightful heir of the Trapezuntine emperors by King Louis XVI, and styled himself "the High and Mighty Sir Demetrius Count of Comnene, Lord of Trebizond, Elder of Lacedaemonia." Napoleon would later send Demetrio to Greece as his agent in 1797 and supposedly considered installing him as a client ruler of the Greeks, but this idea never amounted to anything. Someone really ought to write a TL about that.
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    The Victor of Targoviste
  • The Victor of Targoviste


    Contemporary allegorical print alluding to the "amputation" of territories from the Ottoman Empire in the Treaty of Targoviste

    The view from Vienna in early 1775 was extremely distressing. Having helped goad the Turks into war to check Russian ambitions expecting that they would bleed each other white, the Austrians were shocked to witness the apparent collapse of Ottoman military power. Not long ago the Austrians had conceived of Russia as a junior partner, a potentially strong but backwards state which could be used to achieve their own objectives in Europe. In only a few years, however, Russia had clearly shown it was nobody’s junior partner. Emperor Pyotr's embarrassment at the hands of the Danes had been only a temporary setback. With the Ottomans collapsing, the Poles brought to heel, and Brandenburg as his loyal ally, Pyotr’s influence looked vast and threatening.

    Two strategies recommended themselves. One was the path of confrontation with Russia. Austrian arms, victorious in the last war, were still to be feared. The Austrian leadership dreaded the idea of war with Russia, but some made the argument that if war was inevitable, then there was no better time for it than now. Should the empire wait until after the Ottomans were vanquished, and Pyotr’s Hohenzollern allies had even more time to build their armies and finances? If Austria did not act now, would it ever be in a position to act again?

    The other path, of course, was cooperation with Russia. War with Russia almost certainly meant simultaneous war with Brandenburg, a contest which the Austrians feared they could not win. Their own list of allies in such a struggle did not include any state more formidable than Saxony. Was it not better to instead join Pyotr in plundering the Ottoman Empire? After all, weren’t the Turks the oldest and truest enemy of the Austrian house? Why should the empire’s blood and treasure be risked to prop up an edifice which had proven itself to be thoroughly rotten? Instead of attempting to minimize Russia’s absolute gains, Austria could instead focus on limiting their relative gains by seizing Ottoman possessions in equal measure.

    Minister Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz saw no reason he could not pursue both strategies at once. Indeed, if Austria demonstrated that it was willing to use the proverbial stick, it might cause Pyotr to look upon the carrot more favorably. Kaunitz declared that the Danube was a red line for Austria, and that Russian advances past this point could not be countenanced. To back up this warning, Austrian troops were massed on the empire’s eastern borders. Pyotr and his advisors were taken aback by this threat; they had not anticipated that Austria of all states would rise in defense of the Turks, and had fully expected that if Maria Theresa became involved it would be as Russia’s ally, not her enemy. In fact Kaunitz was bluffing, for the Empress-Queen was firmly against war with Russia, but the Russians failed to call his bluff.

    Kaunitz’s attempt to pivot to cooperation, however, stumbled upon his own deviousness. Operating on the maxim that one should never do anything for free, even as Kaunitz threatened Russia he was simultaneously extorting the Sultan for Austria’s “help.” The Ottoman government was so desperate to stop the Russians that they were willing to countenance territorial concessions to Austria, and Kaunitz had an agreement in hand which ceded Oltenia to Habsburg rule in exchange for a pledge to support Ottoman territorial integrity (although this “support” stopped just short of an actual military alliance). But Kaunitz’s duplicity was too much for Maria Theresa, who declared that, having made an agreement with the Porte and promised to uphold their integrity, the “honor of her house” would be compromised if she were to turn on them and join Pyotr in his spoliation of the Ottomans.

    In fact the Russo-Turkish war was all but over by mid-1776. Having driven the last major Ottoman army over the Danube in May, the Russian command decided that - even leaving aside Kaunitz’s ultimatum - it was not feasible to give chase. An outbreak of plague was wreaking havoc on the Russian army (and would soon be doing the same to Russian cities), and the army’s supply lines were already stretched to the breaking point. In the Aegean the Russians maintained naval dominance and were enforcing a blockade of the Dardanelles, but the Ottomans had contained the Greek rebellion in the Morea and were steadily reasserting control. The Battle of Askyphon proved to be Russia’s high-water mark in Crete, the conquest of which had never really rested on sound military logic, and from this point the invaders steadily fell back until finally evacuating the last of their forces from Hóra Sfakíon at the beginning of 1777. The Porte’s situation could hardly be called good - their armies were in tatters, practically everything north of the Danube was under enemy occupation, and the Russian blockade was taking a tremendous toll - but it was at least stable.


    Russians and Turks arrayed in battle

    Just as the fighting between the Russians and the Turks was winding down, however, Russo-Austrian tensions reached a new height. Alarmed by Russian advances into Wallachia and the flight of Ottoman armies over the Danube, the Austrians made their own move over the frontier in July of 1776. Making good on their “secret” agreement with the Porte, the Austrians took possession of Oltenia, while other Austrian armies simultaneously entered western Moldavia and advanced into Poland to establish a “security cordon.” Yet even as the empires were seemingly poised at the brink of war, both Pyotr and Maria Theresa were insisting to their ministers that war was entirely unacceptable. Some compromise had to be reached.

    Russia’s opening bid was the annexation of everything up to the Dniester, which Pyotr thought exceedingly fair; generous, even, compared to a potential border on the Danube which the emperor (somewhat implausibly) claimed was easily within his grasp. The advantage which the Russians would gain by taking this vast swath of the Black Sea littoral was immediately obvious to the Austrians. Up to this point the Russians had always been forced to wage overland campaigns against the Turks along the same predictable lines of attack, but with naval access a whole new strategic dimension would be open to them. They would be able to move forces where they chose, with or without Austrian support, and it was possible to imagine that one day Russian battalions would be disembarking upon the Golden Horn.

    As if this situation was not already complicated enough, King Friedrich Christian added to the confusion by dying in March of 1777 at the age of 54. With the stakes now higher than ever, many assumed that a larger war - a new War of the Polish Succession - was practically inevitable. Alarmed by this news, the Russians quickly arranged for an armistice with the Turks, although as noted by this time there had been no significant engagements for months.

    The Austrians reflexively supported a Wettin continuation, but the new Saxon elector was less than enthusiastic. Friedrich August, now 25 years old, had witnessed his father’s frustrated abandonment of the kingdom and feared that Poland had become little more than a millstone around the familial neck. He also hoped to continue his father’s program of economic development rather than plunging Saxony into another war - which, if the last war was anything to go by, was likely to result in the electorate being reduced to a smoking ruin regardless of who ended up “winning.” His uncle Franz Xaver was happy to take this burden from him, but the archduke’s candidacy was unlikely to pass muster with Pyotr, who had his own ideas.

    Pyotr’s first pick was again Prince Heinrich of Brandenburg, who was just as unacceptable to Vienna as he had been in the last election. This time, however, Pyotr hinted that he might be open to other solutions. Polish elections were expensive, particularly if they had to be decided by war, and after five years of war with the Porte the Russian treasury was not in good shape. Pyotr had asked the British for financial support, but London had airily dismissed his ambassadors, claiming that no British interest was at stake in Poland. Pyotr was confident that he could win a confrontation with the Austrians over the Polish throne, but was it really worth bankrupting the state? A “Piast” candidate (that is, a native Polish prince; the actual Piast dynasty was long dead) might be more tractable to Russian influence and more agreeable to Vienna.

    With only lukewarm support for a Wettin candidacy in both Poland and Saxony, Kaunitz wondered whether the end of Wettin rule might not be a blessing in disguise. It had already occurred to him that Pyotr might be convinced to forgo expansion at the expense of the Ottomans in exchange for Polish territory, but robbing her allies the Wettins had not been palatable to the empress. If the Wettins did not rule, the Commonwealth could be carved up for everyone’s mutual benefit. Brandenburg also favored this idea, hoping to recover their Prussian province and crown. But Pyotr heeded the advice of Chancellor Panin, who believed that carving up Poland would weaken Russian power, not strengthen it. Poland was already effectively in Russian hands, even more so if a pliant native king was elected. Why should he share his protectorate with others?

    Of course, this did not mean that Polish territory was entirely sacrosanct. The Russian armies which had occupied Right-Bank Ukraine at the behest of King Friedrich Christian just before the war had never left, and Pyotr clearly intended to turn this occupation into ownership. After all, if the Poles could not maintain control of their province, someone had to take responsibility for keeping order. Russian management would bring peace and stability, and it would also be a useful strategic acquisition to ensure future access to the Danubian states without having to meddle in Poland.

    With the understanding that it was better to compromise the Danubian states and make a few territorial adjustments than to open up Poland to a full-scale partition, the Russians offered to accept the Austrian annexation of Oltenia and the Polish territories of Spisz and Nowy Targ, which Austria had quietly occupied at the start of the war in 1772. (The Russians had not seen fit to make a fuss out of it as long as they were fully occupied with the Turks.) The Austrians thought this too meager a counterpart to Russian acquisitions and pressed for more, but it was unclear where this would come from; Pyotr did not wish to further despoil the Poles, and Maria Theresa did not wish to further despoil the Turks.

    The focus of negotiations now shifted to the Danubian Principalities, the voivodeships of Wallachia and Moldavia. These were Ottoman vassal states, ruled by Greek princes appointed by the Porte since the 1710s. The Russian leadership perceived these states as rightfully belonging in Russia’s sphere - the people were, after all, largely Orthodox - and did not wish to compromise them further. But Austria too wished to preserve the Principalities, because Kaunitz firmly believed that under no circumstances should Austria and Russia share a border. If they were under a friendly government, so much the better, but he had no desire to annex them in full.

    Emperor Joseph II, who had donned the imperial mantle after the death of his father in 1773, proposed that the role of “friendly buffer state” could be played by a new “Kingdom of Dacia,” an amalgamation of the two principalities, and he had just the man in mind to rule it: His brother-in-law Franz Xaver.[1] This would not only ensure the installation of a friendly ruler between Austria and Russia, but would offer the Wettins some consolation for losing the Polish crown. Critics in the government pointed out that this whole idea was a betrayal of the agreement made with the Ottomans which Maria Theresa had been so loath to breach. But Kaunitz could justify anything if he put his mind to it: If this “Dacia” were to remain a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, however nominally, then it did not really represent a loss of Ottoman territorial integrity, just a reorganization.

    Emperor Pyotr was less than enthusiastic about this plan. His advisors understood very well that the objective of such a state was to obstruct any further Russian expansion into the Danubian region, and even if such a kingdom was erected Franz Xaver was hardly his first choice. But Pyotr was not very interested in further acquisitions in this direction, and his commitment to the project of Russian pan-Orthodox hegemony was highly dubious. (This was, after all, the sam Pyotr who had imposed religious liberty upon the empire.) If placing a Wettin in the Danubian voivodeships was the price of dissolving Austria’s opposition to an Ottoman peace deal and a Piast election in Poland - to say nothing of avoiding an Austrian war - perhaps that was worth the price. Besides, a Wettin king in Poland had proved no real obstacle to the exertion of Russian influence there; why should it be different in Wallachia and Moldavia?

    The major remaining issue concerned Brandenburg, as Elector Friedrich Wilhelm was insistent that he should not come away from this affair empty-handed. Above all, he wanted the retrocession of East Prussia and the royal crown that came with it. Pyotr had supported this for many years and had raised the prospect of a redeemed Prussia on several occasions. When the moment came, however, the emperor suddenly hesitated. Even if East Prussia was “rightfully” Hohenzollern, which Pyotr may still have believed, putting that province on the table would destroy the present negotiations with Vienna. At the very least the Austrians would insist upon major territorial concessions in Poland to match; at most, they might go to war to prevent Prussia’s restoration.

    Moreover, even if it had been diplomatically possible, Pyotr was no longer certain that reconstituting the Kingdom of Prussia was really in his interest. As he had grown older, his burning ardor for Friedrich’s Prussian state had cooled somewhat. His advisors questioned whether it was wise to aggrandize Russia’s Hohenzollern allies too much, lest they should think themselves his equals rather than his clients. There were also objections from his council that such a move would put the legitimacy of recent Russian annexations in doubt, as Courland and the other border provinces had been notionally traded for the cession of East Prussia to Poland. The importance of legitimacy may be overstated here; after all, it wasn’t as if Poland was in a position to wrest those territories back from the empire. But Pyotr was certainly sensitive to his domestic legitimacy, having been threatened by several revolts and attempted coups since his accession, and among the ruling elites there were murmurs that it would be downright shameful to simply return a province which the Russians had only very recently wrested away at the cost of considerable Russian blood and treasure. Ultimately Pyotr allowed a revision of the Polish border in the elector’s favor, but it was a mere pittance compared to what Friedrich Wilhelm aspired to.[2] He would remain, for the time being, “just” an elector.


    Kazimierz V Czartoryski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, King of Prussia, etc.

    In Poland, Russia and Austria abandoned their respective candidates and accepted the election of the 43 year old Prince Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, who took the regnal name of Casimir V. One of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Poland, Czartoryski had carefully cultivated connections to both Russia and Saxony and was seen as the most credible man to become Poland’s first “native” king since the deposition of Stanislaus. King Casimir hoped that these close relations would allow him to obtain the permission of neighbors to allow sensible reforms to the dysfunctional Polish political system, but the recent experiences of the Wettins were not reassuring. Most outsiders assumed that Poland would continue in its course as Russia’s helpless satellite.

    When he entered Wallachia in 1778 following the signing of a formal peace treaty at Targoviste, Franz Xaver was required to revise both his religion and his title. The Russians, concerned that Franz Xaver would try to convert the locals to Catholicism as the Austrians had done when they last ruled Oltenia, had demanded that he convert to Orthodoxy, while the Ottomans insisted that the title of “king” was off the table. Kings, after all, were sovereign, and the royal dignity was thus inconsistent with the idea that “Dacia” would remain an Ottoman vassal. Franz Xaver seems to have objected more to the change in title than the change in religion: Compensating the Wettin loss of one crown with another of nominally equal rank was a fundamental part of Joseph’s original plan. But Kaunitz felt this demotion was necessary to preserve the facade of upholding Ottoman integrity, and so Franz Xaver was forced to accept the dignity of a mere prince of Dacia - for now, at least.

    The Treaty of Targoviste and its attendant agreements constituted a clear success for Pyotr, the crowning triumph of his reign thus far. Yet his success had less to do with Russian finesse than the mere fact that Austria was not in a position to stop him. Kaunitz had played a weak hand as best as he could: He knew from the start that his sovereign would never voluntarily choose war with Russia, and without a real threat of force all he could do was posture, browbeat, and cajole. If Pyotr really wanted the northern Black Sea littoral Austria could not prevent him from taking it, and Kaunitz knew it. It may be that Vienna would have been best served by joining Pyotr in carving up the Turks, and Pyotr had urged them to do exactly that; but Maria Theresa did not want it, and so Kaunitz’s hands were tied. Oltenia, a few towns in Poland, and a backwards pseudo-client state on the lower Danube were not much to brag about when compared to Pyotr’s own acquisitions.[A]

    Yet this glorious Russian triumph came at the cost of a very serious erosion of Russia’s diplomatic position. The powers friendliest to Russia at the outset of the war were Britain and Brandenburg; by the end of the war, Pyotr had alienated both of them. The British had supported the Archipelago expedition because they fancied that it might undermine the French position in the Mediterranean, and because they still hoped to court Pyotr as an ally. But unexpected Russian success and the possibility of actual Russian conquests in the isles (though these never materialized) spooked London, and the British withdrew their support for the Russian naval expedition even before the war was over. It gradually began to dawn on British policymakers that Pyotr was only stringing them along, and would never submit himself to be Britain’s continental proxy as Austria had once been.

    As Austria had once regarded Russia, so Russia now regarded Brandenburg: as a junior partner, a tool to be used to further Russia’s own interests. In pursuing those interests, however, Pyotr had frustrated the elector’s foremost aim. However justifiable his decisions may have been, the message received in Berlin was that Pyotr was a devious hypocrite and that a slavish devotion to St. Petersburg was not the golden path to a Hohenzollern restoration. A faction began to arise within the Hohenzollern court advocating for a rapprochement with Austria; after all, despite recent bad blood, Vienna and Berlin shared a common interest in the acquisition of Polish territory, an ambition which Pyotr resolutely opposed (except, of course, when he was the one acquiring it). A true confluence of interest was not possible as long as Maria Theresa ruled in Vienna; her memories of the ruin and humiliation inflicted upon her by Friedrich the Bold were still too bitter. But she would not be on the throne forever.

    Europe after the Treaty of Targoviste in 1778 (Click to expand)

    [1] Defending his idea in a memorandum to the government ministers, Joseph drew a parallel to Theodore von Neuhoff: if a mere adventurer, with no royal pedigree and no support, could revive an ancient (or at least medieval) kingdom and recover it from oppression and degradation, there was no reason why a Saxon prince with the joint backing of Vienna and Saint Petersburg could not do the same.
    [2] Hohenzollern acquisitions amounted to the Starostei Draheim, which had been pawned to Brandenburg in 1657 but not formally annexed until this point, and the Wałcz district consisting of the towns of Deutsch Krone (Wałcz), Tütz (Tuczno), and Märkisch Friedland (Miroslawiec). This district was mostly Protestant and German-speaking, but had not been ruled by Brandenburg since 1368.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] The outcome of this war is worse for the Ottomans than OTL, mainly because the First Partition of Poland failed to (fully) materialize. OTL's partition was substantially influenced by Frederick of Prussia, who isn’t around ITTL, and his nephew has neither the same position nor the same political talents. Pyotr, meanwhile, has a different view Polish affairs than Catherine had IOTL. The Ottomans haven’t really done any worse on the battlefield (the war went disastrously for them IOTL as well), but without the distraction of carving up Poland, the Russians and Austrians end up taking a little more at the Sultan’s expense. The result is that, in addition to losing control of the Crimean Khanate as they did IOTL, the Ottomans have also lost Yedisan (which historically they would not cede to Russia until the 1792 Treaty of Jassy), and have lost effective control of the Danubian Principalities, which have been unified (well, sort of - Oltenia is Austrian now) far in advance of OTL’s events. Still, I said this TL wasn’t an “Ottoman screw,” and I don’t think it is. The imperial core is intact; Wallachia, Moldavia, and Yedisan are peripheral territories which the empire can survive without. The question is whether they can build a political, economic, and military system capable of matching the European powers, and that's a question I'm not equipped to answer.

    A “Dacian” kingdom was indeed proposed by Emperor Joseph II during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768, although he seems to have been interested in giving it to Prince Henry of Prussia, whom he may have seen as an amenable compromise between Habsburg and Russian candidates. (This option is less palatable ITTL given Henry's status as Pyotr's favorite and "the general who saved Brandenburg from the Austrians"). Prince Henry was also at one point discussed as a possible candidate for the Polish crown, and there was even a plan to make him King of the United States (the so-called “Prussian Scheme”). Henry might hold the world record for “candidate for the most thrones without ever actually getting one.” Later, Catherine took up the idea of a client Dacia with Grigory Potemkin as its king, part of the fantastical “Greek Plan."

    On a “meta” note, I will repeat what I said earlier that this update is not strictly necessary. KTC is probably going to conclude before the consequences of this chapter really have any impact on Corsica, which means I don’t really have to worry about the repercussions of these events. Thus far in the story I feel like I’ve been pretty conservative with continental butterflies, so this time I've decided to just go for it and give you some alt-historical shenanigans (and a shiny new Dacia). If you think that’s too unrealistic, then I have great news for you: This is basically a bonus chapter and you could dismiss it as entirely non-canonical without really changing anything in the rest of the story. Go ahead, make up your own ending for KTC’s Russo-Turkish War of 1772. I will probably never mention Dacia in this TL ever again.
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    The Prince in Exile
  • The Prince in Exile


    Celebration in honor of Saint John the Baptist, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, c. 1740

    In 1775, the recently elected Pope Innocent XIV opened the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica with a golden chisel and formally inaugurated the nineteenth Holy Year of the Catholic Church.[1] The Jubilee of 1775 came at a tense time in the relationship between Church and State, and not everyone welcomed the occasion. Fearing its destabilizing influence, the King of Naples went so far as to forbid any of his subjects from attending, a remarkable declaration from a Catholic monarch. Yet the pilgrims could not be kept away, and over 300,000 penitents flocked to the city over the course of the Holy Year. Voltaire himself admitted the event’s success: “Another such Jubilee,” he observed ruefully, “and it will be all over with philosophy.”

    Among the attendees was Teodoro Francesco, Prince of Corti. Ostensibly his visit was diplomatic rather than spiritual, but the exact motivations for his journey are not entirely clear. After arriving at Civitavecchia in September on a Corsican vessel, Prince Theo was once more hosted in Rome by Sigismondo Chigi della Rovere, the Prince of Farnese. This time, however, the Prince of Corti was not Chigi’s most distinguished guest. That honor belonged to Archduke Karl Josef, second son of the Empress-Queen, who had succeeded his late father (and Theo’s godfather) Emperor Franz Stefan as Grand Duke of Tuscany after the emperor’s death in 1773. Though Karl was nine years older than Theo, the two “godbrothers'' possessed similarly outgoing personalities and quickly became friends.

    Theo did indeed find an audience with the pope - the visit seems to have been wholly unremarkable - but the chief object of Theo’s attention was Antonio II Boncompagni-Ludovisi, the Prince of Piombino. King Federico had broached the subject of marrying his eldest son to Antonio’s daughter in 1771, but his hopes had been quashed by Antonio’s father Prince Gaetano, a pious and old-fashioned aristocrat who held the Neuhoffs in contempt. Gaetano, however, had died in 1774, and while Antonio was still rather skeptical of the parvenu royal family of Corsica he was not quite so reflexively hostile to the idea of a union as his father had been.

    That Theo would pursue his father’s marital schemes for him may seem surprising. Their relationship was not exactly at its highest point, and Theo does not appear to have been a particularly eager groom. But even as it threatened to tie him down, marriage offered Theo another kind of independence - financial independence. Theo’s efforts to carve out a place for himself since his return to Corsica had been frustrated by his own lack of means. Having no lands or income of his own, he was entirely dependent on a stipend from his father, who had no interest in bankrolling his son’s frivolities. True to his namesake, by age twenty Prince Theodore was already in debt.

    The events of the “Balagnese Crisis” of 1775-76 only made matters worse. While it may be argued that the prince was merely a pawn of more sophisticated politicians like Marquis Alerio Matra and Don Pasquale Paoli, his role in Matra’s “soft coup” and the installation of the Second Matra Ministry opened a serious breach between Theo and his father. Although Federico had accepted the agreement made by Theo and Matra, he immediately started trying to undermine it and punished his son for his role in forcing it upon him. No longer would the king tolerate his son staying at the Augustinian Palace in Ajaccio with his own little court of malcontents; it was time to bring the crown prince to heel.

    Federico drastically cut his son’s allowance and forbade any loans to the royal family that did not have his personal approval. Completely ruined, Theo was forced to return permanently to the Palace of Bastia. Despite forcing his son back under his roof and denying him the resources to pursue his hobbies, Federico did not offer him any serious governmental responsibilities, leaving him with little to do and plenty of resentment. Despite Queen Elisabetta’s attempts to get them to at least observe common courtesy, they often spent dinner sniping at one another. Worse still, Theo did not restrict his defiance to private quarters, and began displaying such open disrespect for his father at court that Federico excused him from most official functions.

    A reprieve came in March of 1777, when the Prince of Corti received a letter from Archduke Karl inviting him to attend celebrations in Florence on the occasion of the archduke’s 30th birthday. Federico had kept his son on a tight leash for the previous year, but he was not going to deny a personal request of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The king undoubtedly assumed this would be a cursory diplomatic visit, as royal birthdays were usually stuffy, formal affairs. Theo’s sojourn, however, would end up lasting much longer than anyone anticipated.

    The Prince of Corti was welcomed in a manner befitting his rank, and duly attended the various concerts, operas, and ballets organized for the archduke’s birthday. Theo, whose traveling experience was quite limited, was deeply impressed by the country and asked for Karl’s permission to remain a while longer and take in the scenery and culture that Florence had to offer. It was far more interesting than his dreary “captivity” at Bastia, and his extended stay did not trouble the archduke. On the contrary, Karl was more than happy to host his friend, who traveled with only a handful of valets and guards and was extremely low-maintenance by princely standards.

    As the weeks went by, it gradually became clear that the Prince of Corti might not be returning to Bastia anytime soon. Enabled by the grand duke, he indulged himself fully in everything Tuscany had to offer. That included Lucrezia Rizzi, a vivacious Sienese soprano and rising star of the Florentine opera scene who had performed at the grand duke’s birthday celebrations. The attraction was apparently mutual; certainly she was not with him for his money, as Theo had none. Florentine society did not bat an eye at this relationship, which was carried on quite openly - the two shared a box at the opera - but the reaction of Theo’s own family was less enthusiastic. Rumors of the prince’s behavior only deepened Federico’s misgivings about his dissolute and disobedient son.

    In the prince’s defense, his stay in Tuscany was not pure debauchery. After a few months in Florence, he toured Tuscany “incognito” (that is, under his paper-thin alias of “Théodore François, Comte de Cinarca”), viewing landscapes, cityscapes, and antiquities. He visited the Florentine botanical gardens and met the naturalist Giovanni Tozzetti, who apparently lectured Theo on the benefits of the potato. At Livorno, Corsica’s most important foreign port, he visited the city’s famous coral fair and attended a reception organized by the leaders of the city’s Jewish “nation.”


    Maria Anna Caterina, Princess of Corsica, c. 1780 [2]

    Meanwhile, Federico was finding his daughters only marginally less difficult to manage than his son. By 1777 he seems to have given up on marriage prospects for his eldest, Maria Anna Caterina (“Carina”), who turned 25 that year. Apart from her somewhat advanced age - at least, by the standards of unwed princesses - her obstinate character and “unladylike” behavior was now sufficiently well known to dissuade most suitors. The Spanish envoy Martín de Valdés, who made detailed reports on the Neuhoffs and Corsican politics during these years, gave a memorable description of coming across the “Corsican Diana” returning from a ride “dressed like a hussar,” riding astride in breeches and smoking a pipe.

    Her younger sister, Elisabetta Teodora Amalia (nicknamed “Lisa” or “Lisadora,” born 1761), was Carina’s complete opposite. Compared to her sister she was thoroughly conventional, with a stern and fastidious character that reminded people of her father. Unlike her father, however, she became deeply religious in her adolescence, a rare trait in the Neuhoff clan (which Carina blamed on her sister’s Jesuit tutors). While Federico had tried unsuccessfully for years to persuade Carina to choose the religious life, Lisa had to be persuaded not to enter a convent. Ultimately duty won out over piety, but it was a near thing.

    In previous years Federico had sought a Savoyard match for his children, only to be foiled by the indifference of Carlo Emmanuele and the active opposition of Louis XV. By now, however, both of those kings were dead. The Neuhoffs were better known to the court of Turin thanks to Theo’s study abroad, while French policy had shifted course entirely. The new king, Louis XVI, had no personal grudge against the Neuhoffs, and his ministry came to the conclusion that the best policy towards Corsica was to follow the Spanish model and maintain good relations to keep Federico in the Bourbon orbit and out of British hands.

    In July of 1777, as Theo was settling into his extended stay in Tuscany, a marriage contract was signed on behalf of Princess Lisa and Filippo Luigi Ilarione, Count of Villafranca and second son of the Prince of Savoy-Carignano, a cadet branch of the Savoyard royal house. The Savoy-Carignano branch was not particularly wealthy (thanks in part to the crippling gambling addiction of Filippo’s grandfather), but their royal blood afforded them status beyond their means. With no great prospects at home, Filippo had chosen to pursue a career in the French army and became the colonel-proprietor of an infantry regiment at the age of twenty. The marriage was thus seen by both Federico and the French as an indirect way of warming Franco-Corsican relations which would not require the Bourbons to demean themselves by a mésalliance with the Corsican upstarts. The main obstacle was the question of the dowry, but Filippo’s material concerns were addressed by King Louis, who gave a generous bequest to the new couple as a “marriage gift.” They were married in Turin, after which Lisa accompanied her new husband to Paris.

    King Federico may have hoped that his daughter would be an asset to him in Versailles, but Princess Lisa was not ideally suited to French court life. She found the court’s great extravagance and baroque ceremony to be bewildering and distasteful, and her staid and pious character did not win her many friends among the libertine French aristocracy. The court ladies sneered at her prim religiosity and Corsican rusticity, nicknaming her “Madame Châtaigne” (“Lady Chestnut”). But while Lisa was neither a great political asset for her father nor a great social asset to her husband, she was a loyal and morally irreproachable wife who ably fulfilled her most fundamental aristocratic duty by bearing Filippo eight children. Unlike her elder siblings she was never a source of scandal, for which the rest of the family was always thankful.


    Antonio II Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino, Duke of Sora and Arce

    Negotiations with the Prince of Piombino seem to have slackened after Theo’s return from Rome in 1776, perhaps in part because Federico, despite having originated the idea, was not entirely sure whether making his son independently wealthy was a good idea, and while the latest talks had been conducted by Theo any decision on marriage ultimately rested with the family head. Theo’s behavior in Tuscany, however, suggested that allowing the prince to remain a bachelor might embarrass the royal house, and Queen Elisabetta was confident that matrimony would “tame” her spirited son. Prince Antonio may have had some concerns that the marriage would be a source of scandal, and there were rumors in the summer of 1777 that he was considering another Roman prince for Laura’s hand, but the marriage of Filippo and Lisa may have been a reassuring development. If a Neuhoff was good enough for the House of Savoy (albeit for a second son of a cadet branch thereof), he was probably good enough for the House of Boncompagni.

    Actually negotiating the marriage contract took some time, in large part because Federico was determined to get as much as he could out of the massively wealthy Roman family. He was, perhaps, playing to type; Federico’s historical reputation has long been that of a miser. But it was also vital for the state, which remained on very difficult financial footing, and it was not an unreasonable position - Prince Antonio’s own fortune was described as “nearly royal,” and the dowry Antonio had received from the Orisini family at his own wedding was so great that it required a papal dispensation to circumvent a long-standing ban on “excessive gifts.” Corsica might be the newest and least reputable kingdom in Europe, but it was still at least notionally a kingdom, and it was not absurd to demand a dowry of at least vaguely royal magnitude.

    The completion of this long negotiation, however, would fall to another. On the morning of January 18th, King Federico suddenly collapsed in his dressing room in the Palace of Bastia. Thereafter he drifted in and out of consciousness, and even when awake he could not sit up or speak. His doctors diagnosed apoplexy, but were unable to do anything for him. Early in the morning on the 21st he suffered another fit and died, attended by his wife and present children (Princess Carina and young Prince Carlo). The king was 52 years old, and had ruled Corsica for just shy of eight years.

    He would not know it for several days, but at only 22 years of age, Teodoro Francesco was now Theodore II, King of Corsica.[3]

    [1] Innocent - formerly Antonio Visconti - had only recently been elected in November of 1774 after the death of his predecessor, Benedict XV.
    [2] Aside from a single equestrian portrait in which she wears a riding habit with breeches, all of the official portraiture of Princess Carina portrays her in a dress. Despite the reputation of the "Corsican Diana" for liking "masculine" (and particularly military) fashion, she did not spurn women's fashion and was always "correctly" attired at court and for any sort of official function. This portrait in particular portrays a hunting scene, however - complete with musket - and all accounts suggest that she did not wear dresses on those occasions.
    [3] Theo’s regnal name was simply “Teodoro II” (Theodorus secundus), and he is generally known by this name (or Re Teo, informally) in Corsican historiography. In continental texts he is sometimes called Theodore Francis to distinguish him from his great uncle; this is particularly common in German works where he is often referred to as Theodor II. Franz (or just Theodor Franz), perhaps because of the relative popularity of compound royal names in the German sphere.
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    A Frederician Eulogy
  • A Frederician Eulogy


    Interior of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bastia

    On January 30th of 1778, Prince Theo arrived at Bastia aboard the Tuscan corvette Aurora, which the Grand Duke had put at his service upon hearing the news of King Federico’s death. He was met by a crowd gathered at the docks shouting “Rè Teodoru” and “Evviva u rè,” although this demonstration of loyalty was not entirely impromptu. Theo's return was expected, and Marquis Alerio Matra, Princess Carina, and various cabinet ministers were awaiting him at the harbor. With the crowd following along, the king and his escort walked to the palace where Theo was reunited with the rest of his family. The Dieta then assembled in the palace courtyard, where they formally welcomed the king and offered him their oaths of allegiance.

    Even before Theo’s arrival, Princess Carina had taken it upon herself to start making arrangements for her father’s funeral. Unlike Theodore, whose body had been subjected to a Corsican-style viewing and funeral feast at the insistence of Don Luca d’Ornano, Federico received a more conventional funerary process. His body was laid in state in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bastia, a richly decorated church which also served as a meeting for the Dieta when they convened in the city.[A] The late king was placed in a wooden coffin atop a catafalque, all draped in black cloth and surrounded with candles, with a crown of laurels resting upon the coffin. Soldiers of the Guardia Nobile kept watch over the body.

    Now that Theo had returned from abroad, the process could be completed. On February 2nd the coffin was carried to the harbor in a procession led by the Bishop of Mariana and loaded onto the galiot Santa Devota. Federico’s body was brought to Campoloro, carried inland to Cervioni, and then taken in another procession to the Cathedral of Sant’Erasmo. After a funeral mass led by the Bishop of Aleria, the king was interred in the cathedral crypt. For the moment he remained in a wooden coffin, for a sarcophagus had not yet been prepared, but in time his granite tomb would join those of Theodore I, Queen Eleanora, and his beloved son Prince Federico.

    King Federico of Corsica has never enjoyed a particularly high historical reputation. In Corsican popular culture he has often been reduced to one of two caricatures, or a combination of both - the grasping miser and the stiff-necked martinet. Even academics have tended to minimize his place in Corsican history, dismissing his reign as a brief and relatively undistinguished interlude between the much longer reigns of Theodore I and Theodore II.

    Critically evaluating the figure of Federico is particularly difficult given the relative scarcity of details about his life. Aside from a bare chronology of events, almost nothing is known about Federico’s life prior to his arrival in Corsica. We know the basic outline of his military service in the Prussian army, but very little about his relationship with his own parents, his experience in the army, his schooling, his youthful hobbies, and so on. This is in stark contrast to his son Theo, who grew up as the heir apparent in a royal household and thus had his personality and interests committed to record from the very beginning. Theo also left historians a trove of letters, including intimate correspondence between him and his family members; from Federico we have almost nothing aside from terse instructions regarding the business of state. Not only does this lack of material make Federico difficult to understand and empathize with as a person, but the dearth of sources has discouraged historians from giving fair treatment to Federico and his reign, as so much about him rests on speculation, conjecture, or the dubious opinions of hostile writers.

    There has been a welcome trend in recent Corsican scholarship towards a modest reappraisal of Federico as a monarch, who though not one of Corsica’s ablest kings was not without achievements. Although his unending fiscal struggles have been interpreted as mismanagement - and certainly his management was not without fault - he left the state on better financial footing than it had been under the more popular but shockingly irresponsible administration of Theodore I. Federico’s son scoffed at the memory of his father’s tight-fistedness, but he could afford to; between his enormous dowry and the eventual inheritance of the family’s Westphalian estates, Theodore II was the first King of Corsica who was not constantly broke. Tellingly, Theo left most of his father’s fiscal innovations in place, as well as the revenue collection system of provincial chambers which Federico had devised.

    It is likewise unfair to treat Federico’s military interest as mere wasteful indulgence. It is certainly true that Federico’s obsession with fixing state finances sat uneasily alongside his interest in creating a respectable military, and this military fixation often comes under particular criticism given that his rule was one of uninterrupted peace. Yet this period was also one of great potential danger, for Corsica had been a battleground between France and Britain in very recent memory, and another war between these two powers was the subject of continuous speculation and apprehension throughout the 1770s; indeed, Federico almost lived long enough to see it. As prince, Federico had witnessed firsthand the upheavals and humiliations of the French occupation, and he was determined that the country and its monarchy should never be so helpless and degraded again.

    Still, we should be wary of overcorrection. Despite many strands of continuity between Federico’s policies and those of his son, there were stark differences in the nature of their rule, and they were generally unflattering to the former. Federico’s conception of monarchy, rooted in his interpretation of cameralism, absolutism, and his experience managing the family estates, was that of the monarch as the central genius of government, the font from which all policy flowed. In this view, ministers and bureaucrats existed merely as conduits, passing information up to the monarch and transmitting orders downwards to those who would ultimately implement them. This was not only good, as it would ensure a singular purpose and vision in administration, but right, as princes were directly entrusted with the care of their people by God.

    This vision of the state was aspirational even in the ideological heartland of cameralism in Germany; in Corsica it proved wholly incompatible with political harmony. Federico’s ideal minister may have been a docile, guileless bureaucrat who would unquestioningly carry out the royal will, but insofar as such people existed, they were not produced in Corsica. What he had instead - because he had put them there to build elite support - was a clique of prideful noblemen who would have bristled at being called “public servants.” The result was increasing animosity and dysfunction at the highest level of government, culminating in Matra’s so-called “coup,” which might be most charitably described as a product of the frustrated ambition of privileged men who had fought for their nation’s freedom and now expected to have some control over their nation’s destiny.

    The personal character of the king also contributed to the problems of his reign. Although he grew more aloof and suspicious in his final years, particularly after the death of his son and the events of the Balagna Crisis, Federico was never a particularly approachable figure. He was proper, polite, serious, and diligent, admirable traits in their own right, but he had little patience for the “personal touch” of politics and put little thought or effort into his own public persona. These deficiencies were particularly stark when he was compared to his predecessor, whose captivating personality and near-universal popularity remain unequaled in Corsican history. Federico must have understood that there was more to royal legitimacy than mere administrative competence; his care in arranging Theodore’s burial demonstrated as much. But the reflected glow of the Theodoran legacy was not sufficient on its own, and if anything the lingering memory of the Pater Patriae only made his cousin look less impressive.

    Some writers have claimed that Federico was the subject of popular loathing in his own time, which is not true. It was simply his misfortune that his most disgruntled critics, the “liberal” notables who came into ascendance under the rule of his son, are also some of our best sources for this period. If not loathed, however, neither was he loved - not by the notables, not by the farmers, not by the shepherds, and not even by many of the conservative nobles whom he had supposedly shown such favor to. Years later, after his mother's death, Theodore II would quip that of all the many remarkable things about his mother, the most remarkable by far was that she alone had managed to love his father. But this remark reveals more about Theo than Federico, for Theo seems to have been the exception in the family. Even Carina, who in her teenage years was constantly testing her father's boundaries and defying his expectations as to the "natural" role and conduct of an aristocratic daughter, expressed seemingly genuine sorrow at his death and spoke of his good qualities. Theo alone could never manage it, even as he endured his father's obsequies with the requisite solemnity. Of course, Theo had been burdened with a far greater weight of paternal expectations than any of his siblings; Federico was a demanding father, and never more so when it came to his eldest son and heir. One might see this as an expression of his sense of duty, and perhaps even, in his own way, his love - until his dying day, Federico's greatest worry was that his son had not yet become the man which he believed his family and his state needed him to be.

    Despite popular ambivalence towards the person of the late king, the Corsican monarchy was in no danger in 1778. There was, in the first place, no alternative; “republic” was practically synonymous with “Genoa,” and even aside from this unfortunate association the sclerotic oligarchies of Italy were hardly paragons of progress and liberty to be emulated. Perhaps more importantly, the crown was linked inextricably with the idea of Corsican freedom and nationhood. In a time before the rhetoric of self-determination as an inherent right of peoples, this medieval crown - created and sanctified by the Pope himself - was the very basis of Corsica’s claim to be a peer among the nations. Theodore had not been the first to wear this crown, but he had been the first to make it his sole title and first responsibility, not a mere trophy of colonial mastery. His unlikely victory had ensured the popular association between Corsica’s crown and Corsica’s liberty. To the Corsican people, the regno was the nazione and the nazione was the regno - and there was no regno without a re.

    Nor was there any doubt as to who the re would now be. Not everyone welcomed the accession of the “young king” Theo with optimism: Aside from the fact that he was a headstrong twenty-two year old bachelor (for the moment, at least) with all the potential problems that entailed, Theo had little experience in governance or politics and had spent most of the last year cavorting around Tuscany with his mistress. Many suspected that the prince’s youthful hedonism meant that he would be a mere cipher for his ministers, which delighted some and greatly unnerved others. Again, however, there was really no alternative; the constitution was clear, and even those alarmed by the youth and character of their new monarch did not dream of opening Pandora’s box by questioning the legal succession.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Historically, this church was also the meeting place of the parliament of the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom (1794-96), when the island was briefly under British sovereignty. An empty throne was placed before the altar to symbolize the presence of King George III.
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    Theodorus Secundus
  • Theodorus Secundus


    Courtyard of the Palace of Bastia

    Once his father was interred in the cathedral crypt of Cervioni, Theo wasted no more time in making plans for his own coronation. He announced to the cabinet that he intended to hold this ceremony on April 15th, the anniversary of the coronation of Theodore I and the proclamation of the independent Kingdom of Corsica. This was rather short notice, but the more obvious problem involved the liturgical calendar. In 1736 Easter had fallen on April 1st, two weeks before the coronation, but in 1778 it fell on April 19th, four days after coronation day. This would place Theo’s proposed coronation during Lent, hardly a time for celebration and feasting - and, rather inauspiciously, on Holy Wednesday, which commemorated the decision of Judas Iscariot to betray Christ. Confronted with these difficulties, Theo reluctantly agreed to move the event to White Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) on April 26th.

    This still left very little time for preparation, particularly given Theo’s other stipulation - that he should be accompanied at the coronation by his bride. Theo, of course, was not actually married yet, and so the next order of business was to send a delegation back to Italy to try and wrap up the late king’s negotiations with Antonio II, Prince of Piombino and Duke of Sora. Despite the desire for haste, the sudden death of Federico may actually have given his son a stronger hand in this affair; Princess Laura would now be marrying not just a prince and heir apparent, but an actual ruling monarch. Fortunately for Theo, Prince Antonio did not drag out the process any further, and upon the signing of the contract a proxy marriage was conducted at Isola del Liri with Count Francesco Antonio Colonna-Portovecchio standing in for Theo.[1]

    Theo's desire to be crowned with his wife beside him may have been intended to present an image of domestic propriety and to silence rumors about the king and his Florentine opera singer, but getting his hands on the Boncompagni dowry as soon as possible was probably also a key consideration. Indeed, in his inaugural address to the Dieta he had magnanimously (and somewhat optimistically) declared that he would pay for the coronation festivities himself, which was not actually possible with his current resources. The final terms of the marriage contract stipulated the payment of a staggering 180,000 scudi, which was well over twice the Corsican government’s gross annual revenue. With such a sum under his belt, bankrolling a single day’s festivities was a small matter.[A]

    One can only imagine the trepidation which Laura Flaminia Boncompagni-Ludovisi felt when she first beheld Corsica from the deck of the Aurora.[2] She was eighteen years old and had only briefly met Theo once before, during his visit to Rome three years earlier. Laura had grown up in opulence and luxury; her father was one of the richest men in Roman society, while her mother belonged to the venerable (and equally wealthy) Orsini family. Now she was to be queen of an island she had never visited, a country which was principally known for poverty, violence, and revolution.

    In many ways, Laura and her new husband could not have been more different. He was gregarious and outgoing; she was quiet and reserved. Whereas Theo loved to be active and outdoors, Laura preferred reading, poetry, and music. She played the harp and the clavichord with skill, and is credited with introducing the first piano to Corsica. In public, she was unfailingly decorous and composed, which was sometimes interpreted by others as coldness or arrogance. In fact this serene placidity was a carefully cultivated affect; in private she displayed a sensitive and anxious temperament and fretted about how she was perceived by her new subjects - and, most of all, by her husband.

    Their relationship had been rather one-sided from the outset. Upon meeting the princess for the first time in 1775, Theo had nothing more to say about her in a letter to his sister than that she seemed “pleasant enough.” The visit seems to have made much more of an impression on Laura, who had been a supporter of the marriage from the outset (despite some reservations about living in Corsica). After their marriage-by-proxy, Laura sent a fond letter to Theo in Bastia expressing her happiness with their union and how pleased she was that they would meet again soon, and included a poem of her own composition. What she got back was a rather stilted formal letter expressing Theo’s satisfaction with the marriage arrangements, which must have been rather disappointing. Theo came to appreciate her better qualities and by the standards of the time it was a successful aristocratic marriage, but the king never seems to have craved Laura’s approval as she did his.

    The royal wedding was a relatively modest affair, consisting mainly of a banquet held at the Palace of Bastia with various ministers, noblemen, and foreign envoys in attendance. The attendees spoke approvingly of the “elegance” and “poise” of their new continental queen, although her sister-in-law was less impressed. Observing that the new queen said almost nothing, Princess Carina later remarked that, if not for the fact that the event was Laura’s own wedding, nobody would have remembered that she was there at all. Carina seems to have taken an instant dislike to Laura’s demure character and referred to her contemptuously as la caniche romain (“the Roman poodle”).

    The coronation proceedings were consciously modeled after the “original” Theodoran coronation of 1736, which was made easier by the fact that there were still plenty of living Corsicans who had witnessed that event firsthand. Martín de Valdés, the Spanish envoy, gave a rather generous estimate of the crowd at twenty thousand strong, ranging from Corsican signori and foreign dignitaries to peasants and shepherds in their wool caps and hide shoes. Then came a cavalcade of Corsican grandees on horseback: Marquesses and counts, Knights of the Redemption in their green mantles,[3] and the young king himself leading the procession upon a black horse. In his attempts to imitate his grand-uncle he even went so far as to wear a long, crimson “Turkish” robe lined with fur over his gold-embroidered black coat. At the Convent of Alesani, where a wooden stage had been erected, he was joined by Queen Laura in a “splendid” robe à la française of embroidered green silk, accompanied by the ladies of court. After a morning of speeches and a military review, the constitution was read aloud by the Grand Chancellor and the king publicly swore to uphold it. Theo and Laura then proceeded into the convent, where Theo was crowned with the traditional laurel wreath by the Bishop of Aleria.


    Nave of the "Coronation Chapel" of the Convent of Alesani

    Upon emerging from the convent, the Bishop of Aleria announced Theodorus secundus, Dei gratia rex Corsicae to the crowd, who replied with a great cheer and a peal of muskets and cannon. Nervous about potentially thousands of people shooting wildly into the air as was the Corsican custom, the authorities had arranged for a proper military salute and attempted to prohibit people from bringing firearms to the assembly; the account of Valdés suggests this was only partially successful. The nobility then lined up to kiss the king’s hand and pledge their fealty, after which the crowd sang the Te Deum and an outdoor mass was held. The day ended with feasting and music, while the king received the congratulations of foreign envoys and nodded approvingly at toasts offered by the nobles.

    The event was widely considered to be a great success, and everyone agreed that Theo had looked the part. The coronation may have been laughably rustic by continental standards - not many European kings were crowned in a rural convent - but domestic expectations were met and exceeded, and even the foreign observers seemed to look favorably upon the bucolic charm of Alesani and the very evident enthusiasm of the Corsicans for their queer little monarchy. Theo’s obsession with emulating his namesake was occasionally in danger of veering into parody, but it was at least founded upon sincerity rather than cynicism.

    The coronation honeymoon, however, did not put politics on hold. Federico’s death left the government’s future hanging in the air, and triggered an immediate falling out between the Prime Minister, Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra, and the Minister of Justice, Don Filippo Antonio Pasquale Paoli. Ever since the Balagna Crisis the two men had maintained an alliance of convenience - Matra could offer Paoli a path back into government, while Paoli could offer Matra political support in the Dieta and the ear of the crown prince. Now that the crown prince was king, however, Paoli’s influence with Theo made him a threat rather than an asset. Matra and Paoli began scheming against each other before Federico’s body was even cold. Paoli had the personal advantage, but Matra had a strong network of clan allies and clients which made him a very formidable foe.

    This contest was further complicated by developments abroad. Carlos III of Spain had been waiting for a chance to humble Britain since the end of the Four Years’ War, and the hour for action finally seemed to be approaching. Versailles had become more favorable to the idea of revanche since the death of Louis XV, and discontent in Britain’s American colonies had boiled over into open rebellion in 1777. When war came - and it was a matter of when, not if - possessing the allegiance of Corsica, or at least its favorable neutrality, would be critical. Even if Carlos managed to regain Minorca and Gibraltar for Spain, the victory would be incomplete if the British could simply fall back on Ajaccio and Calvi. Madrid and Versailles were in complete agreement that the British had to be driven completely from the Mediterranean, and that required securing Corsica.

    Observing the disastrous French experience on Corsica in the 1750s, the Spanish had elected to bring the island into their influence more subtly and tactfully, and Carlos’s ministers had been confident that Federico would play the role that Spain needed him to play. But Theo was a mystery, and the new king’s relationship with Paoli - whose Anglophile reputation preceded him - was cause for very serious concern. Weeks before the coronation, Valdés warned his masters that the situation was “now very critical,” and that the outcome of the coming political struggles in Corti and Bastia could potentially hand London a key victory before the real war had even started.

    [1] Francesco Antonio was the son of Matthias von Drost, Prince of Porto Vecchio, the eldest of Theodore’s “nephews,” who died in 1773. King Federico deemed Theodore’s “victory titles,” including “Prince of Porto Vecchio,” to be non-heritable, but he gave Matthias’s children special dispensation to inherit the comital rank of their mothers’ family (the Colonna-Bozzi). Count Francesco subsequently adopted Colonna-Portovecchio as a family name.
    [2] At this point Corsica did not have a true sailing warship in serviceable condition. The Cyrne had been condemned in 1774, while the Capraia, though technically still in service, was laid up for long-delayed repairs and was missing spars. It would eventually be broken up and sold for lumber in 1779. The navy’s only ships in working order were the two state galiots and a small assortment of armed feluccas, pinques, and tartanes, auxiliary vessels deemed too meager for the conveyance of a queen. The Grand Duke of Tuscany had offered Theo the use of the 20-gun corvette Aurora to escort him back to Corsica, and he left the ship and its Tuscan crew at Theo’s disposal until April.
    [3] The original mantle of the Order of the Redemption was said to have been “sky blue,” but this must have been changed to green by 1745, when Theodore wore a green sash of the order at the Siege of Calvi.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Historical currency conversion is difficult and I've wavered quite a lot on what exactly a "proper" Neuhoff-Boncompagni dowry would be in concrete terms. Although the scudi of different Italian states were not exactly the same in value, generally speaking the exchange rate between most Italian scudi and English pounds sterling seems to have been between about 4 to 5 scudi to £1. That would make 180,000 scudi worth around £40,000, or just over 900,000 French livres. By way of comparison, Jacob Vanderlint wrote in the 1730s that £500 was the minimum annual income necessary to live as a “gentleman” in Britain. The annual episcopal revenue of the Bishop of Rennes was 60,000 livres (about £2,600); for the Bishop of Strasbourg, it was 400,000 livres (about £17,400). Of course, none of this was very impressive by the standards of other kings: From 1760 King George III received £800,000 from the Civil List each year. But Theo does not have George’s expenses, and this sort of money probably goes a lot further on Corsica. ITTL, the kingdom’s annual revenue in 1769 was said to be just over 400,000 livres, while IOTL France’s tax receipts from Corsica by the 1780s were estimated at around 600,000 livres per annum.
    Extra: The Palace of the Governors
  • I hadn’t really planned to do this, but since the issue has been raised, here’s some info about the Palais des Gouverneurs of Bastia.

    Despite its name, the palace was not just the governor’s residence. Above all it was a fortress, the first incarnation of which was probably built around 1400. The palace as it existed in the 16th-18th centuries included artillery, large cisterns and storerooms to withstand a prolonged siege, and both an “Italian” and a “German” barracks. It was also an administrative and judicial center, with a courtroom, prison, chancery, archive, and treasury. In addition to the governor, there were about 30 permanent officials who lived and worked in the palace, not including soldiers and tradesmen. The Genoese kept very good records, including inventories, so we actually know quite a bit about how the palace’s rooms would have been utilized and furnished.


    The first (or if you’re American, second) floor of the Palace, with the residential (east) wing at the bottom. North is to the right. Note that this is a modern floor plan, so many doorways, staircases, and interior walls are not accurate to the 18th century. I have added in where I think the horseshoe staircase leading up to the mezzanine would have been originally been.

    From the central courtyard, guests would ascend to the mezzanine floor on the north side via a grand "horseshoe" staircase, built in 1722-23 as part of the extensive renovations to the palace ordered by the governor Nicolo Durazzo. From the mezzanine one would turn right and enter the sala maggiore (1) - the great hall - whose marble walls were engraved with dedications to the various governors who had come before. Balls, banquets, and theatrical performances were held here, as were the formal elections of the podesta and the dodici. The governor sat on a throne with a canopy, decorated with red velvet, and beside him was a table with a silver bell. Next to the great hall was the governor’s private chapel (2) dedicated to John the Baptist, Genoa’s patron saint. Directly below the sala maggiore was the chamber of the vicariate, where criminal and civil judgements were given in the governor’s absence.

    South of the sala maggiore were two “living rooms,” (3) one for the governor (overlooking the sea) and the other for his wife (overlooking the courtyard). The governor’s living room doubled as a private audience chamber, and was decorated with red damask and had a “huge glass lantern” and a painting of Corsica on the wall. There was another canopied throne for the governor here, which sat in front of the window. Behind the living rooms were two bedrooms (4) for the governor and his wife, and behind those were six other rooms (5) used for family members, senior servants, or storage as required. The main servants’ quarters, along with the kitchens, were located in the north wing. Finally, at the southern end of the east wing was the torrione, (6) the “dungeon” or military tower which was equipped with artillery.

    In the basement was the prison, whose inventory mentions smithing tools, chains, and one hundred sets of manacles. The Genoese authorities frequently sentenced people to galley slavery, who presumably passed through here on their way to the rest of their (short) lives chained to a rowing bench. The palace basement even had a dedicated torture chamber, located in the bottom level of the torrione, whose inventory included “tables and benches for the strappado, easels for the quartering, straitjackets and pants for the prisoners, and straps of hemp to attach them…”


    The horseshoe staircase leading to the mezzanine.

    Under French rule the governors no longer resided here, and it served only as a barracks and (until 1820) a prison. The governor’s once-sumptuous audience room was converted into a storeroom for flour. In 1830 the horseshoe staircase was demolished because it got in the way of military maneuvers in the courtyard. In 1848 an extra floor was added to the east wing, which required dismantling the vaults of the sala maggiore (as the great hall was unnecessarily tall for their purposes). There were no more prisoners here after 1820, except for a brief resumption in WW2 when the basement cells were used to imprison members of the Resistance. Before evacuating from Bastia in 1943, the Germans mined the palace, causing extensive damage and destroying the entire eastern facade (which may be why, in the image posted in the recent update, one side of the courtyard looks very different than the other). Restoration work began after the war and since 1952 the palace has been a Corsican ethnographic museum.

    ITTL, the character of the palace has moved in the opposite direction from OTL, becoming less military and more residential. The palace is an integral part of the citadel and there's still artillery in the torrione, but there isn’t really a need for two barracks anymore (perhaps just one for the Trabanti). Genoese prisoners were kept here during the Revolution (many of whom died of typhus), but after independence the jail cells (and torture chamber) were converted into storerooms to clear up space in the floors above for servants and various domestic functionaries, as the Neuhoff household is considerably larger than that of the Genoese governors. The Grand Chancellor and the king’s secretaries live and work in the palace, as do the three members of the Dieta who “must always reside in the Court of the Sovereign” according to the Constitution. By 1778 it’s probably getting a bit cramped, but for the moment it’s still the grandest building in Corsica.

    Note: Virtually all this information is from the official material of the Museum of Bastia.
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    Matters of State
  • Matters of State


    A scrivania (writing desk) belonging to Pasquale Paoli, carved from walnut and chestnut wood. The Valley of Orezza in the Castagniccia was the center of artisanal cabinetmaking in Corsica, and "Orezza tables" like this one were commissioned by wealthy Corsicans throughout the island.

    It was immediately apparent that King Theodore II did not intend to run the government in the manner of his father, but exactly what form the government would now take was not immediately clear. Not until after the coronation did Theo summon his ministers and begin sharing his plans for a new system.

    Under Federico, the cabinet had rarely met as a body; the king preferred dealing with each of his ministers individually, as heads of separate departments which all reported to the sovereign. In practice, this meant that the departments were all siloed off from one another and had no formal means of coordination, and all responsibility lay with the king for the overall direction of policy. Theo, no less than Federico, expected to have ultimate authority over the government, but unlike his father he did not want direct authority.

    Under Theo’s direction, the structure of the government was completely reorganized over the summer of 1778 into a form referred to by modern Corsican historians as the “Council System” (sistema dei consigli). Two new bodies were created, the Council of Finance and the Council of War, presided over by their respective ministers, which would comprise all of the various secretaries and department heads falling into these two broad categories. In what became known as the “Great Demotion,” most other cabinet ministers were reduced from a “minister” to the lesser rank of “secretary of state,” and now reported to their respective councils rather than directly to the king. Aside from the Ministers of Finance and War, who headed the new councils, the only other ministers to survive the reform were the Ministers of Justice and of Foreign Affairs.[1]

    At the top of the new hierarchy was the Consiglio di Stato, composed of the king himself, the Grand Chancellor, and the few remaining ministers. The Council of State was intended to be the supreme decision-making body of the kingdom, replacing the old cabinet - and unlike Federico’s cabinet, Theo intended for this council to actually meet and discuss matters of import. Theo believed that this new structure would ensure that lowly matters would be resolved in the subsidiary councils without requiring royal attention, while only the greatest matters would be elevated to the Council of State where they could be discussed in the confidence of a small group until the king made a final decision.

    The king presented this new arrangement as if it was entirely his idea, and much of it may well have been. The division of most government business into two councils of War and Finance, for instance, bore a distinct resemblance to the structure of the Tuscan government at this time, and Theo had the opportunity to learn about the Tuscan government during his “exile” in 1776. Nevertheless, many suspected that the king was not the sole author, and perhaps not even the primary author of these reforms. Don Pasquale Paoli was among the earliest and staunchest proponents of the king’s new system, and it did not escape anyone’s notice that he was also one of the few ministers to escape the “Great Demotion” and keep his seat in the Council of State.

    More alarming to Paoli’s opponents, however, was the dubious role of the prime minister in this new system. The king did nothing to explicitly diminish the position: Marquis Alerio Francesco Matra retained his office and received a seat on the new Consiglio di Stato. The king gave Matra his personal assurance that he remained in high esteem, and awarded him with the catena d’argento shortly after the coronation.[2] Nevertheless, while Matra sat on the council he was only one voice of six, and unlike the other ministers he had no subsidiary council or major department heads under him,[3] which made it seem like he would actually be the weakest member of the council. He was given the title of “Vice-President of the Council of State,” which meant that he would chair the council in the king’s absence, but if the king was not absent then that title was just as honorary as the catena. Matra suspected that the king’s new system was largely Paoli’s idea, who was using this “restructuring” to sideline him even as the king heaped praises and honors upon his head. Figurehead prime ministers were nothing new in Corsica - indeed, thus far prime ministers with real power had been the exception rather than the rule - but after asserting himself in the wake of the Balagna Crisis, Matra had no intention of sliding back into irrelevance.

    With Matra and Paoli staring daggers at each other across the council table, the other ministers had to decide where their interests lay. The marquis could count on the support of the Foreign Minister, Francesco Matteo Limperani, whose family had close ties to the Matra clan and had been given his post on Matra’s recommendation in 1776. The Minister of War was another story: Count Innocenzo di Mari shared Matra’s privileged background and Hispanophile sympathies, but he was also a Castagniccian (like Paoli), and he had not forgotten that Matra had very recently tried to get him sacked and replaced with Matra’s brother.

    The Grand Chancellor, Father Carlo Rostini, was also a fairly reliable ally of Paoli. Known popularly as “il padre maestro,” Rostini, now 68 years old, had served in the chancery for half his life and was something of a living legend. Rostini came from a family of staunch filogenovesi; his father was a tax collector for the Republic and Carlo had earned his doctorate in theology from the Jesuit college in Genoa. By 1737, however, Carlo had cut ties with his family and was serving as a propagandist and agent for the naziunali. Theodore made him a chancery secretary in 1743, and in 1764 he was selected to replace Giulio Natali as grand chancellor.[4]

    Rostini was well-educated, a talented writer, and extremely dedicated to his work, and as a result Federico chose to retain him in his position.[5] This was the source of some controversy, as Rostini was not the most agreeable of men. Paoli noted with exasperation that Rostini often spoke as if he was still writing revolutionary polemic and “must always be forced to be moderate.” The extent of his influence on Federico is not exactly clear, but the gigliati were always suspicious of him; as chancellor he drafted royal decrees and affixed the royal seal, which meant he was always close to the king. Apparently Theo had planned to “retire” the old priest, but critically Rostini - as his name implied - was from Rostino, which was also Paoli’s hometown. Paoli convinced the king to keep him on, and thus Rostini gained the unique distinction of being chancellor to three kings.

    The wild card was the new Minister of Finance Don Marco Maria Carli. Carli, 59, was from a distinguished noble family of Speloncato in the Balagna which had emigrated from Lucca in the 16th century. A notary and lawyer by trade, Don Marco had sided with the royalists during the Revolution although his contributions appear to have been more political and administrative than military. After independence he had served as a tax and customs official and was eventually appointed as Director of the Royal Saltworks. Count Quilici, his friend and neighbor, had relied upon his help to organize and outfit the “Corsican Legion.”


    Signature of Marco Maria Carli, Corsica's first Minister of Finance

    Carli was not the most obvious choice for the role, not for any lack of qualifications but because his political connections were fairly limited. He was a respected man from a good family, but he did not have ties either to the extended Matra clan or to Paoli and his Castagniccian allies. Some alleged that Paoli had influenced his appointment, which is plausible, as the two held many similar views on economic reform. Yet although Carli was generally closer to Paoli on policy, he was by no means Don Pasquale's loyal partisan, and seems to have been more interested in the organization of the newly-created Council of Finance than in the political games going on in the Council of State.

    These personal and familial relations dictated the balance of power in the council. Matra could always count on Limperani, while Mari and Rostini were fairly reliable supporters of Paoli. Carli fell somewhere in the middle, although he was generally more favorable to Paoli on policy issues. The Council of State was not majoritarian; the king always had the final word. Yet Theo often went along with the majority position (though he preferred to act on consensus), which meant that in some sense Paoli, not Matra, initially appeared to be the real “prime minister” after the reorganization of 1778.

    The best card that Matra could play was in foreign affairs, which were becoming increasingly relevant with the progress of the American rebellion and the rising tensions between the Bourbons and Hanoverians. Limperani may have been Matra’s only firm ally in the council of state, but he was the foreign minister, and he saw Paoli’s Anglophile reputation as a weakness he could exploit. Ironically, everyone in the council - including the king - was of basically the same mind on foreign affairs; siding with any power in the coming war was pointless and possibly suicidal. A robust neutrality was the best course of action. But given his history, Paoli’s commitment to that neutrality could be called into question, and Matra insinuated that Paoli’s mere presence in the government was dangerous.

    This claim was not entirely baseless. Paoli assured Martín de Valdés, the Spanish envoy, that he was a committed neutral and firmly opposed to any military concessions to Britain, but it was hard for Valdés to just take the word of the man who was almost single handedly responsible for inviting the British into Corsica. Valdés suspected that Paoli was hiding his true intentions and that his rise to power represented a potential threat to Bourbon security. Limperani related this to Theo, and it gave the king pause; he did not want to be Madrid’s enemy, and was more personally sympathetic to the Bourbons than the British. Although Paoli continued to exert influence on the king, Theo became increasingly reluctant to side with him too often or allow him too much authority, lest the Spanish think he and his council were receiving orders from London. And Matra, of course, had to remain prime minister; if he were let go, the Bourbons might see it as a hostile act. Above all, Theo did not wish to give the French or Spanish any excuse to occupy his kingdom as had happened during his grand-uncle’s reign.

    The other weakness that Matra could exploit was geographical. Although there were a number of prominent southerners among the various secretaries and department heads, Theo had erred by not including even one native of the Dila sat on the Council of State. Matra, a native of Rogna-Serra, was no exception, but he was something of a "peripheral" northerner and definitely outside the “Castagniccian gang” of Paoli, Rostini, and Mari. Having spent the first part of the decade gravitating towards the asfodelati out of frustration with Federico and the useless aristocrats in his cabinet, Matra now reversed course, seeking to rebuild an alliance with the gigliati who hated Paoli and were dismayed at being denied any representation on the supreme governing council.

    Despite this serious division at the top, the Theodoran Sistema represented a distinct improvement over Federician centralism. Its early success was due in large part to Minister Carli, whose ability to shape the Consiglio di Finanza into a coherent bureau was a major asset. Covering taxation, customs, roads, forests, fishing, currency, agriculture, surveying, and everything else that concerned revenue and infrastructure, this council represented the very core of the state apparatus, and given the kingdom's very serious financial issues its proper functioning was of paramount importance. Carli was not particularly innovative, but he was a very capable organizer.

    Carli’s task was made easier by the fact that the royal household was no longer an item on his balance sheet. Federico had been a frugal king, but his meager revenues from the “crown lands” were still not sufficient to sustain his household and maintain the royal dignity. Theo, in contrast, could pay his own way. One of his first acts after his marriage was to wall off his private fortune entirely, establishing it as entirely separate from (and untouchable by) the royal government. This was a major change: Before 1778, there was essentially no distinction between Corsica’s money and the king’s money. Theo did this out of self-interest, as he had no desire for his new fortune to be drained away to service the government’s debts, but it also relieved the government of a considerable burden. Moreover, it established the precedent that there was such a thing as a “public treasury” which was distinct from the king's own coffers. It was a step, albeit an inadvertent one, towards the modern fiscal state.

    [1] Only the Ministers of Finance and War had “councils” of their own, although the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs had their own subordinates who reported to them.
    [2] Various “miscellaneous” officials who did not fit in any of the other categories defaulted to the prime minister’s supervision, such as the Almoner of the Realm (in charge of religious affairs), the Grand Courier (in charge of the post), and the Rector of the Royal University. Nevertheless, compared to war, finance, justice, and foreign affairs, “religion, education, and the mail” did not seem like much of a portfolio.
    [3] The Ordine della Catena d’Argento (Order of the Silver Chain) was a chivalric order created by King Theodore I in 1768 to recognize “extraordinary service to the Corsican crown and nation.” The chain was a reference to the Neuhoff coat of arms, which featured a broken white (or in heraldic terminology, “silver”) chain on a black field. Unlike the higher-ranking Military Order of the Redemption, the Order of the Silver Chain was a civic order intended to recognize exemplary non-military service as well as scientific, literary, and cultural achievements. Whereas the Order of the Redemption was restricted to Corsican men of noble descent and Christian faith, the Order of the Silver Chain was explicitly open to all persons regardless of noble status, religion, sex, or even nationality (as even a foreigner might hypothetically render some great service to the kingdom). Non-noble recipients of “La Catena” became honorary noblemen with the rank of cavaliere, but this title was non-heritable. Such honorary knights were known colloquially as catenati (literally “the enchained”). Federico had given the award rather sparingly, mostly as a farewell gift to retiring ministers. His son was more generous, and frequently used the Catena to flatter influential men, reward celebrated artists and writers, and give honorary nobility to “common” men in high offices so the hereditary nobles would not complain quite so much about having to follow their orders.
    [4] Natali had simultaneously been both grand chancellor and Bishop of Aleria from 1758, and still held the latter position when he performed the coronation of King Federico in 1770. Natali was a restrained figure who saw his role as essentially apolitical. He had resigned his office in 1764, believing it was impolitic for a sitting bishop to continue as chancellor to an excommunicated king, but did not openly criticize Theodore’s religious policy.
    [5] An avid writer, historian, and antiquarian, Chancellor Rostini was a true man of letters and would have a place in Corsican history even if he had never set foot in government. He was the first person to translate De rebus Corsicis, by the 15th century Corsican historian Petrus Cyrnæus, from the original Latin into Italian. This work is one of the most important sources on the history of medieval Corsica and its translation by Rostini inspired a new interest in Corsica's medieval past among the island's literate classes in the late 18th century.
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    Paoli's Justice
  • Paoli’s Justice


    Former prison cell below the Palace of the Governors, Bastia

    It was widely expected that the “Second Matra Ministry,” formed in 1776 as a consequence of the Balagna Crisis, would not survive King Federico by very long. Federico had dissolved the cabinet and started from scratch in his first year of rule, and many believed Theodore II would follow that example - even if some ministers known to be close to the king might keep a cabinet post in the new regime. This did not happen, but the accession of the new king and the new structure which he imposed upon the royal government drastically changed the character of the ministry. Marquis Alerio Matra had demanded the reshuffle of 1776 to obtain a government that actually obeyed his commands, as during his “first” ministry his formal power as prime minister was almost nonexistent. Under the new system, however, Matra found himself leading a minority in his own government. This was inherently unsatisfactory to all parties, and within a few years questions of foreign policy would trigger a final reckoning.

    Don Pasquale Paoli had been brought into government by Matra, but their relationship had only been one of convenience. Paoli was an effective speaker, an influential figure in the Castagniccia, a member of the Dieta who had the potential to interfere with Matra’s agenda, and was close to the crown prince. His new position, that of justice minister, was important but limited in scope. It was also widely seen as thankless - whoever held the post of Minister of Justice was responsible for suppressing vendetta killings and “banditry,” which was not only a daunting challenge but one which tended to make enemies rather than friends. This, Matra may have hoped, was a place where he could deploy some of Paoli’s organizational talents while also neutralizing him as a rival.

    The problems facing the new Minister of Justice in 1776 were indeed formidable. While the Balagna Crisis had been defused before it had sparked a serious revolt, it had demonstrated just how weak the government’s authority in the interior really was. The government’s soldiers had to tread lightly in areas like the Niolo, where appeals to “law” received only marginally more respect than they had under Genoese rule. Whatever good will had been obtained from the shared struggle of the Revolution had, for the most part, been destroyed by the Revolution’s broken promises and the deteriorating economic situation of the highlanders - particularly shepherds- under Federico’s rule. Even reaching these areas was scarcely easier than it had been a hundred years ago; infrastructure was not cheap.

    Paoli also had to deal with that most deadly enemy of justice - corruption. It was, in fairness, not quite the same kind of corruption that had so thoroughly discredited the Genoese legal system. Corsican judges were not beholden to a class of foreign rentiers, nor did they possess the inherently abusive power to pass sentence ex informata conscientia (“from an informed conscience,” that is without any evidence or witnesses). But the clan society which made the interior so resistant to impartial law also made the justice system resistant to impartial decisions. The men who became judges tended to be from respectable families of notabili with their own clan alliances and interests, and accusations of favoritism were widespread. Even the Marcia faced allegations that it was less interested in prosecuting vendetta killings generally than in killings which ran afoul of well-connected families. Count Peraldi, Paoli’s predecessor, had exemplified this; a member of the southern landowning elite, his class and social biases were well-known and readily acted upon.[1] There was no quick solution to such a fundamental theme of Corsican society, but Paoli gained a reputation for sacking judges whom he found too partial and established regulations preventing provincial court judges from holding office in their own home provinces.

    The moniker of “the arsonist of Morosaglia” which Paoli received during his first years on the job proved to be rather ironic given that he ended the practice of judicial home demolition. To say that he “softened” is not exactly accurate; Paoli believed in the strict application of the law and had absolutely no qualms about sending out the Dragoons to put down bandits and murderers as though they were rabid dogs. He insisted upon impartiality, but was not overly troubled by the swift and often rather perfunctory proceedings of the Marcia. It soon became clear to him, however, that destructive spectacles and collective punishment undermined the confidence in law and government he was struggling to create. Fire could instill fear, but it could not build trust.

    His strategy shifted instead to one of humiliation, as Paoli was quite familiar with his homeland’s culture of honor and shame. He instructed his deputies to erect a pilastro dell'infamia (“pillar of infamy”) in front of the houses of murderers, each engraved with their crimes.[A] These pillars stood for years even after the criminal was caught and punished, and moving or defacing them was itself a serious criminal act. The idea, as Paoli envisioned it, was to impress upon all would-be killers that while their own punishment would end with their death, their families would suffer social opprobrium and disgrace long after they were gone. To many Corsicans this was a more fearful prospect than merely losing a house.

    Paoli also attempted to resolve existing disputes through negotiation. This was not a new tactic; King Theodore had appointed local clergymen as paceri (“men of peace”) to mediate disputes before they escalated into murderous reprisals. Paoli likewise sought to mobilize the clergy in the service of justice, but he took the very unusual step of tackling many disputes personally. Minister Paoli, sometimes only accompanied by a clerk and a pair of troopers, would ride into a village where a longstanding vendetta existed and would personally meet with village leaders and the chiefs of the feuding clans. Paoli was a good negotiator, but he also had an effect by his very presence. Having a government minister and personal representative of His Most Serene Majesty Theodore II show up at your door was both intimidating and flattering. A clan chief who had been honored by Don Pasquale’s visit and had given the minister his word, in person, to desist in a feud would be deeply humiliated if one of his kinsmen made a liar of him by continuing to wage the vendetta, and thus had a strong reason to keep the peace. This personal touch was only really possible in a country the size of Corsica, and even so Paoli could hardly solve every dispute himself, but by even making the attempt he demonstrated the seriousness of his commitment and built a reputation as a statesman of the people.

    The effectiveness of Paoli’s judicial regime was thanks in no small part to his good working relationship with Innocenzo di Mari, the Minister of War. The Royal Dragoons functioned as the island’s gendarmerie and were vital for law enforcement in the interior, but they were technically a regular army unit and ultimately reported to Mari, not Paoli. In the past this had occasionally been a source of dysfunction, as ministers jealously guarded their portfolios and were not always interested in allowing someone else access to their resources. Paoli, however, succeeded in gaining Mari’s trust, and Mari authorized a liaison between the departments to allow the Justice Ministry some input on matters relating to the dragoons, including where they were posted.

    Minister Paoli also contributed to one of the most notable projects of the reign of Theodore II, the creation of the Codice Generale del Regno (“general code of the realm”). Under Genoese rule, Corsican law had been a “three-legged stool” consisting of old Roman Law, traditional Corsican law, and the grida (“decrees”) of the governor. The Revolution had replaced the Genoese grida with those of the royal chancellery, but the system had otherwise been left intact. Because of these various sources there was no single compilation of Corsican law, and many laws were outdated, vague, or in conflict with one another.

    The project of creating a universal code had actually started under King Federico, but initial progress was slow. Corsica actually enjoyed many advantages when it came to codification: Theodore’s total abolition of the Genoese grida had wiped the slate clean of centuries of accumulated republican laws, and the well-entrenched interest groups of aristocrats and clergy that often held back legal reform in other European states simply did not exist to the same extent in Corsica. Enforcing the law, not creating it, was the state’s true challenge. Nevertheless, the kingdom was not a tabula rasa upon which the lawgiver could inscribe whatever he wished. Care had to be taken to respect traditional law, lest the people believe that the new code was simply an assault against their ancient rights. The production of the General Code involved a great deal of research into precisely what “traditional Corsican law” actually was, for there was no single text on that either. As a consequence of all this, the General Code was not actually published in full until 1788, although drafts were circulated before this time and some sections came into effect prior to the full promulgation.

    Paoli was not a lawyer by training and did not actually write any part of the Code himself, but he was nevertheless a major influence on its organization and development. He picked up legal concepts quickly, and his travel through the countryside meant that he was actually quite knowledgeable about the vagaries of local rules and customs. His most important contributions, however, involved the transmission of Enlightenment ideas on legal theory into the new code. Despite his harsh reputation he was a leading advocate for the restriction of the death penalty, and it was chiefly thanks to his influence that the General Code banned capital punishment for all crimes save treason, piracy, and willful murder (omicidio doloso, “malicious homicide,” which included vendetta killings).

    To his dismay, Marquis Matra soon found that Paoli’s position as Minister of Justice was proving to be more of an asset than a hindrance to his rival’s career. Paoli achieved results with remarkable speed, and compared to the murky waters of foreign policy his reports at the Council of State were both gratifying and refreshingly straightforward: Disputes resolved, criminals apprehended, sentences rendered. Some of Paoli’s claims are too rosy to be believed, and there is little doubt he was polishing his efforts to put them before the king in the best possible light. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that in just a few years he had shown himself to be more successful at combating the vendetta than any of his predecessors. The king already liked Paoli personally, and now Matra had put Paoli in a position where he could remind the king of his competence on a regular basis. What Matra needed was a victory of his own.[B]

    [1] The fact that his favoritism was generally constrained to the Dila, where the government’s writ was weakest, was one of the reasons it had remained beneath the notice of the national government for so long; the fact that Peraldi was Luca d’Ornano’s cousin probably also helped.

    Timeline Notes
    [A] Paoli had this idea IOTL and implemented it as leader of the Corsican Republic. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any picture or detailed description of what Paoli’s “pillars of infamy” looked like. You’ll have to use your imagination.
    [B] The title of this chapter is a historical reference. Paoli’s rule IOTL was characterized by unflinching severity against accused murderers, as he was absolutely determined to suppress the vendetta by any means necessary. Offenders were subject to summary execution, the destruction of their homes, and even the suppression of their surnames to extinguish their family identity entirely. Known popularly as Ghjustizia Paolina (“Paoline Justice”), his approach was harsh and draconian but seems to have been at least somewhat effective. ITTL, Paoli’s approach is a bit milder; he’s a government minister, not the wartime dictator of a revolutionary state. Nevertheless, several of OTL Paoli’s ideas about strict justice, personal dispute resolution, and even pillars of infamy have made their way into TTL. In more recent times, “Ghjustizia Paolina” was the name of a Corsican separatist group which bombed shops and police stations back in the 1970s and eventually merged into the FLNC, the most prominent Corsican militant separatist organization.