King Theodore's Corsica

One must remember that, despite being thinking of himself as a diplomatic mastermind who insists on basically being his own foreign minister, Theodore is not actually very good at diplomacy. He has tremendous personal charisma, but this only really works up close. His OTL letters to various kings and ministers to procure support seem to have been, for the most part, overwrought and grandiloquent missives that were either ignored or laughed at. His diplomacy is more theatrical than functional; his style is leaping upon a stage and delivering a grand speech, not pulling strings from behind a writing desk. Take his excoriating “open letter” to the Genoese in which he mocked their claims of sovereignty and derided them as thieves and common merchants - It’s the sort of thing one might expect from a gazetteer or even a fiery parliamentarian, but you’d never see George II or Maria Theresa writing a diatribe like that. It’s just not what monarchs do.

Much of Corsica’s diplomatic success has come despite Theodore, not because of him. Some of his greatest personal successes - drumming up loans and investment, arranging the Syndicate armada, convincing the British to escort him back to Corsica - were all cases in which he was able to work people over personally and wasn’t conducting diplomacy through envoys or letters. Now that he’s king and not traveling around Europe, Corsica’s diplomatic “victories” tend to happen without him or in spite of him. The Treaty of Monaco was not Theodore’s diplomatic coup, but Chauvelin’s; “King Theodore’s War” was an incredibly risky strategy which could easily have ended with France putting down the boot and quashing the rebellion altogether (which did not happen only because the French felt their position vs. Britain in 1749 was not strong enough to get away with it). The present British intervention surprised Theodore as much as anybody, as that was Paoli’s doing, not his. If Wolfe succeeds, it will be because Britain remained committed to Corsica despite Theodore’s foot-dragging, not because of it. By 1759, every foreign dignitary on the scene - Laval, Wolfe, Sir James Gray - is absolutely sick of Theodore’s bullshit.

Theodore is certainly a popular figure, a real celebrity in his time, and he’s much admired by various European intellectuals and socialites who are fascinated by a “self-made” and thoroughly “Enlightened” king. Since these intellectuals write quite a lot of books, Theodore is likely to enjoy a good posthumous reputation, and his “genius” will be credited for many things which had more to do with luck or the national interests of foreign powers. Yet while Theodore is tolerated by the European powers insofar as his presence serves their interests, his novelty, his scandalous past, and his general behavior make it impossible for them to respect him. His “kingdom” is an accident of diplomacy, birthed by a disreputable peasant insurrection, which has survived thus far only because of the vagaries of international politics. The fact that such a man enjoys the title of “king” is a continual embarrassment - albeit a minor one - to the other crowned heads of Europe. It may be that Corsica and its monarchs will only really start gaining acceptance and a modicum of respect after Theodore is dead - which, considering he’s already 64 years old, may not be too far in the future.
 
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Of course Theodore could not expel the French. But Theodore always wanted to be the center of attention, and this action restored the king to his “proper” role as the protagonist on center stage, not a helpless bystander. Moreover, while his words had been harsh, they were not altogether intemperate. He had not simply ripped up the Convention as some of the more bellicose princes and notabili demanded, but rather cast himself as its strict adherent. He certainly knew that France could not - would not - return to following the letter of the Convention; aside from the blow to their prestige, it would require them to give up Bastia and would probably render their position at San Fiorenzo indefensible. Yet by framing the conflict in this manner he cast himself as the victim and the French as the faithless party. This would not deter France, but it made his course of action more palatable to the “pro-Convention” faction in his kingdom.

Although perhaps not intentionally, it was also a propaganda coup in Britain. While the Corsican expedition was certainly covered in the British press, the Corsicans themselves were not particularly sympathetic subjects. Theodore, after all, had “betrayed” Britain in the Treaty of Monaco and allied with France, and it was difficult to call Conway’s rather underwhelming Corsican campaign a blow against “French tyranny” once it became clear that the Corsicans were not particularly eager to rise up against them. Anti-ministry papers lambasted the expedition as pointless and ridiculed the idea that the Corsicans would rise up against their fellow Catholics. The skirmish at Borgo and Theodore’s theatrical turn against France, however, came as heaven-sent proof of Gallic tyranny. Here was France running roughshod over a small island of liberty-loving people and their king making a brave stand against Bourbon might, demanding only - and vainly - that France keep her word.
How do other countries react to this? If Theodore is in the right here, and I can't see why he wouldn't be, then would there not also be some reaction for instance from Austria - the queen is an Austrian noblewoman in her own right, after all. If harm comes to her due to the actions of the French, I can see at least a wrinkle in the still-only-potential Franco-Austrian alliance.
 
How do other countries react to this? If Theodore is in the right here, and I can't see why he wouldn't be, then would there not also be some reaction for instance from Austria - the queen is an Austrian noblewoman in her own right, after all. If harm comes to her due to the actions of the French, I can see at least a wrinkle in the still-only-potential Franco-Austrian alliance.
They don't care. What exactly has France done that's so objectionable - protect its ally too well? Engage in a minor skirmish with rebels and criminals who, among other things, bombed a French barracks? One could easily interpret the Convention in a general way and conclude that France is adhering to the spirit of the agreement. After all, strategy is a fluid art; if Laval thinks occupying Bastia is a better way of defending the kingdom from the British, why is that so terrible? Yes, the French basically imposed martial law on Bastia province, but only after the local governor's brother was revealed as a (alleged) terrorist and the governor fled his house rather than submit to French questioning, leaving the province with no effective civilian administration. France hasn't done anything that's beyond the pale and the only reason the British are howling about it is because they're already at war with France.

It's possible that if the Queen actually came to harm, the Austrians would raise some objection. But the French haven't done that and have no intention of doing it, regardless of what the Corsicans say. The royal family might be "hostages" in a sense, and their presence in the citadel may dissuade bombardment, but d'Aubigny is a French officer and nobleman; he does not abuse women and children, and especially not noble women and children. Even if the Austrians suspected there had been some ill treatment, they definitely wouldn't risk alienating France over such a trifle while they're grappling with the Prussians.

The Convention of Ajaccio is based on an OTL agreement in 1756 between France and Genoa, known as the First Treaty of Compiègne. This treaty had the same basic purpose, to keep the English out, although the circumstances were different as the island was contested between the Genoese and Paoli. The same key points were mentioned in the treaty - Ajaccio, Calvi, San Fiorenzo - with two battalions in each. The commander on the ground, however - the Marquis de Castries - decided to array his forces differently, with one battalion each at Ajaccio and Calvi and the other four dispersed between Bastia and San Fiorenzo. If this sounds at all familiar, well, it's more or less what Laval is doing ITTL, because that's a strategically sensible way of doing things and Laval isn't a dummy. Almost immediately, however, Castries started getting in fights with the Genoese. It's not clear whether they objected to his new troop dispositions per se, but to the Genoese any French advance smelled like a plot to take over the isle, and they also fought over who had jurisdiction where, who took orders from whom, who obeyed what protocol, and so on. Eventually, perhaps in part because of Genoese pressure, the French ministry reversed Castries' troop dispositions, which pissed off Castries so much that he successfully appealed to Marshal Belle-Isle (who happened to be his uncle) to lobby for his replacement.
 
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On a tangentially related side note, I thought some of you might enjoy an anecdote about the French conquest of Corsica I encountered a while back. While the British government, as we know, did not offer any overt support to the Paolists against the French in 1768, some British citizens did - sometimes in questionable ways. In particular, the Scottish Weekly Magazine mentions a commission of "four thousand scalping knives nine inches long" to be shipped to the Corsicans for the use of the nationals, engraved with an Italian phrase translated as "for the enemies of freemen." The magazine helpfully informed its readers that they could contribute to this commission at Birmingham, gleefully adding "How the Monsieurs tupees will be razed next spring!"

It is unclear to me if this shipment ever reached the Corsicans. If it did, one can only speculate as to how this gift was received. Although I don't suppose a Corsican would turn down a free knife, they were quite unfamiliar with scalping, and I assume the knives did not come with manuals. I suspect guns would have been more helpful.
 
On a tangentially related side note, I thought some of you might enjoy an anecdote about the French conquest of Corsica I encountered a while back. While the British government, as we know, did not offer any overt support to the Paolists against the French in 1768, some British citizens did - sometimes in questionable ways. In particular, the Scottish Weekly Magazine mentions a commission of "four thousand scalping knives nine inches long" to be shipped to the Corsicans for the use of the nationals, engraved with an Italian phrase translated as "for the enemies of freemen." The magazine helpfully informed its readers that they could contribute to this commission at Birmingham, gleefully adding "How the Monsieurs tupees will be razed next spring!"

It is unclear to me if this shipment ever reached the Corsicans. If it did, one can only speculate as to how this gift was received. Although I don't suppose a Corsican would turn down a free knife, they were quite unfamiliar with scalping, and I assume the knives did not come with manuals. I suspect guns would have been more helpful.
I can just imagine many a young Vorsican wondering why their elders hate bread so :winkytongue:
 
If they had, those manuals would be horrifying.
"Things you will need: One knife, one Frenchman..."

To me, the anecdote is interesting not only because of the oddity of the commission but what it says about British views of the Corsicans. Scalping, after all, was not generally done in Europe, and even in America it was usually done to (and by) the natives. Wolfe, for instance, forbade scalping by his soldiers "except when the enemy are Indians, or Canadians dressed like Indians." The British and Hanoverians did not pause to scalp their French enemies at Minden, and one can hardly imagine the British sending scalping knives to their Prussian or Portuguese allies. That the British considered this to be a proper gift for the Corsicans, I think, demonstrates how Corsica was perceived as being not quite European, not quite "civilized." The Corsicans (and particularly Paoli) were admired, but they were admired chiefly for their rustic virtue, a primitive and uncomplicated love of liberty possessed by the noble savage.
 
@Carp Since this TL is in early 1759, I thought I’d ask - how goes the Seven Years War thus far? Has France still been having a hard time of it in the first years; and if so, has dug de Choiseul still been appointed?
 
@Carp Since this TL is in early 1759, I thought I’d ask - how goes the Seven Years War thus far? Has France still been having a hard time of it in the first years; and if so, has dug de Choiseul still been appointed?
As often stated before I don’t consider myself to be an 18th century expert, but based on what I’ve read in the process of doing research for this TL I consider a French victory in the American theater to be unlikely given the circumstances. IOTL, the British advantage in ships (approximately 130 warships to France’s 63 in 1756), ship-building capacity, and trained seamen was very difficult to overcome, and probably impossible given France's commitment to and strategy of naval warfare. The navy was underfunded and under-equipped, and France's pool of experienced naval manpower was continually diminished by British piracy (300+ French ships and thousands of merchant sailors captured in 1755 alone, before the war had even started) and the preference of French sailors to serve on more lucrative privateer ships. The naval strength they did have was wasted on a planned invasion of Britain, a plan which had failed in the WAS and was probably not feasible in the SYW. The progress of these events ITTL is not identical but broadly similar. The French are fighting bravely and well in Canada, but British naval supremacy makes their position difficult, and perhaps ultimately hopeless. The Mediterranean was the only theater in which the French enjoyed real success, but had little effect on the larger war and really couldn't unless the British lost Gibraltar as well.

In contrast, I view the situation on the continent as being less determined and more vulnerable to butterflies - in particular, small changes in political and military leadership. The death of Tsarina Elisabeth and the succession of the pro-Prussian Peter III is the best known example of this, but there are decision points to be found on the battlefield as well. Certainly there were structural reasons that Frederick won IOTL - the high quality of his army (at least early in the war) and the logistical, strategic, diplomatic, and financial deficiencies of his enemies - but IMO the presence and decisions of individual commanders had more impact on the course of the continental war than they could have ever had in the Atlantic, where there were very few pitched battles (and virtually none that were initiated by the French).

I don’t want to give everything away, but the progress of the war ITTL will reflect these views. As for Choiseul, I’m not entirely sure - with a 1736 POD his rise to power is definitely not preordained. A different war career, a different marriage, different court intrigues, etc. could easily avert his appointment.
 
It's a bit unfair to say wasted on a British invasion. Without the third protestant wind the WAS could have been completely different, similarly in SYW the strategy of going for a quick strike at the head is not unsound.

Though France's continual failure to mount a successful landing goes beyond bad luck.

Regardless the presence kept a lot of British ships in the channel and British attention always focused on the spectre of invasion which isn't a waste of resources imo.
 
Hm. A mixed result to the war perhaps, with Britain dominant and unassailable on the seas, but on the losing side in terms of the land war? Taking over some lands, but perhaps trading back at least a significant portion of Canada to end a Franco-Austrian occupation of Hanover?

Might that in turn delay the ARW? With the Francophone Catholics in Quebec as external enemies rather than internal rivals, that is one driver for the revolution less, potentially leading to a slower burn, which might lead to either a settlement or a later war, perhaps with a different result if in the meanwhile France ends up breaking it's bank in some other conflict.
 
Concador
Concador



The Conca d'Oro, northern Nebbio, with the Bay of San Fiorenzo in the background

Following the Siege of Ajaccio, French and British forces on Corsica would not encounter one another for nearly a year. Although British and French ships occasionally pursued one another in Corsican waters, the two occupations otherwise existed in parallel, and no attempt was made by either party to eject the other from the island. Many factors contributed to this inactivity - the naval stalemate at Toulon, the difficult Corsican terrain which separated the Dila from the Diqua, the reluctance of the British to devote scarce ground forces to the Mediterranean theater, the precarious neutrality of the Corsican government, and reluctant British leadership on the ground.

This last factor changed at the beginning of 1759 when Brigadier-General James Wolfe gained command of British forces in Corsica. He had arrived on the island as a junior colonel, but the death of Colonel John Arabin in December, Wolfe’s promotion to brigadier, and the reassignment of Major-General Henry Seymour Conway to the German theater in January propelled him to his first independent command. Unlike the hesitant Conway, Wolfe was eager for action, but eagerness alone did not provide him with the resources he needed. Britain had never considered the Mediterranean theater to be of great importance compared to America, Germany, or the English Channel. Since his arrival in Corsica the British garrison in Ajaccio had actually decreased because of concerns with Gibraltar’s security, and with most of their naval assets tied up at Toulon the navy devoted only a handful of frigates and sloops to patrolling Corsican waters. This proved insufficient to cut the French occupying forces off from the mainland.

Only in early 1759 did action on Corsica become feasible. This was partially because of Wolfe’s own agitation, as he had friends in the ministry who had secured his promotion and now wished him to succeed (not the least of which was William Pitt). More importantly, however, it was also because the British were now increasingly certain that a breakout from Toulon was imminent. The French, like the British, put paramount importance on the Atlantic theater; with a sufficient force here they could contest the sea lanes to America, or better yet launch an invasion directly against Britain herself. In 1758 the decision was made to move the bulk of the Mediterranean squadron to link up with naval forces in the Atlantic. The problem was that the squadron was simply not ready.

Despite their victory at Minorca in 1756 the French had not followed this triumph with a forceful naval policy in the Mediterranean. With Minorca and Corsica in French hands, it scarcely seemed necessary, and funds for the navy were desperately needed elsewhere. This neglect and lack of funding not only ceded the initiative to the British but caused the Toulon fleet to fall into a miserable state, with the squadron beset by declining morale and a critical shortage of sailors, guns, and naval stores. This trend could not be reversed with a snap of the fingers, and thus considerable effort had to be devoted to preparing the squadron to sail through the blockade, past Gibraltar, and into the Atlantic. This process would take months, require considerable expense, and - critically - could not be done in secret.

The British observed and noted the intensive preparations beginning at Toulon, but they were not privy to the reasons for them. Certainly an escape to the Atlantic was considered (and thought to be the most dangerous), but closer targets were also available - namely, Gibraltar and Ajaccio. Ajaccio did not have Gibraltar’s arsenals and naval facilities, but it was much closer to Toulon than Gibraltar was, and the British had gone through some effort in the preceding months to turn it into a secondary naval base.[1] British ground forces in the theater were limited, and if the French landed a few thousand more troops on Corsica they could easily destroy this valuable advance position, driving the British back to Gibraltar.[2]

This newfound concern for Corsica redounded to Wolfe’s benefit, as he finally began to receive the resources he desired. By March he had amassed 2,100 foot and marines at Ajaccio, as well as around 400 Corsican volunteers trained and armed under British auspices. A small detachment of warships and bomb vessels was also allocated to his enterprise. The general objective was to destroy the French occupation forces, which would not only deny the French a foothold on Corsica (making an invasion from Toulon much more difficult) but put the ports of Calvi and San Fiorenzo in British hands for the use of the navy and privateers. In preparation, the blockade of the island was intensified, and in March a party of British marines landed on Capraia and captured the island. The Corsican podesta in the island issued a formal protest but stood down without firing a shot.[3]

The new French commander on Corsica, Maréchal du Camp Charles Armand, Marquis de Monti, commanded a superior force but held a vastly inferior position. By late 1758 the French force had stabilized at six battalions, amounting to nearly 3,000 regulars, but they were not all in one place. One battalion held Calvi, while the remainder occupied the Bastia lieutenancy, which included the Bastia and San Fiorenzo garrisons as well as detached companies holding strategic villages between those two towns. Monti was quite aware that an invasion might be coming, but his orders prevented him from abandoning Bastia and it was necessary to hold the interior Nebbio in order to preserve his lines of communication. His only local auxiliaries of value, the Greek cavalrymen of the Busacci squadron, were too few to relieve the French from occupation duties in the interior.

Although the macchiari and other Corsican “subversives” were not a serious threat to French control, they had a great deal of information on the local terrain and the disposition of French troops. Don Pasquale Paoli, who had previously been out of favor with both his own government and the British on account of his overly ambitious predictions, now came back into the picture as an operative for Wolfe, relaying information between partisans in the Nebbio and the British command. The devoti also operated in Bastia, where the key figure smuggling messages out of the city was Sister Cristina Rivarola, an Ursuline nun and the daughter of the late Don Domenico Rivarola, who took advantage of the fact that the French soldiers never suspected that a nun would be at the center of a spy ring. General Wolfe had a low opinion of the Corsicans as soldiers, but admitted in his despatches that the “Machiars” were his invaluable eyes in the north.

Based in part on this intelligence, Wolfe chose San Fiorenzo as his target. Bastia may have been the island’s largest city, but San Fiorenzo was more strategically important - it was the Bay of San Fiorenzo, not Bastia’s small harbor, through which supplies and reinforcements reached the French in the northeast. The main problem was gaining access to the bay, for the Genoese towers around the bay’s perimeter were significantly tougher than they looked. A probing expedition by two British warships in late 1758 had been ably fended off by the Torre di Mortella at the bay’s entrance. But Wolfe’s Corsican contacts had made him aware that this tower was vulnerable to landward attack; it had a pair of 18-pounder guns facing the sea, but only a single 6-pounder falcone which pointed inland.



Saleccia Beach

On the night of May 8th, two thousand British infantrymen and marines made landfall at Saleccia beach, an attractive landing site three miles to the west of Mortella Tower.[A] The landing went off without a hitch, but Wolfe’s hope of a lightning victory was dashed by the difficulty of moving even his lightest guns up the ridge overlooking the bay. The Marquis de Monti was slow to react, apparently convinced that Bastia was the real target and the landing at Saleccia might just be a distraction, but when a Greek scout reported the size of the fleet offshore he rushed to reinforce San Fiorenzo. He was too late to save Mortella, which surrendered on the morning of the 10th after a short bombardment, but British ships could still not safely operate in the bay as long as the battery of Fornali to the south was still operational. Fornali had more guns than Mortella, and Monti had by now strongly reinforced the garrison there. But the real key to its defense was that the ridge above was even more formidable than the terrain above Mortella. Monti’s chief engineer had confidently declared that emplacing guns there was impossible.

It was thus all the more shocking when, on the morning of the 15th, Monti and his officers observed that the British had managed to haul two pieces of artillery atop a rocky outcrop on the ridge. It was a phenomenal feat, made possible by the sweat and expertise of disembarked sailors who labored day and night with ropes, tackles, and hand tools. From this high position the guns could launch a plunging fire of shot and shell into the French defenses, while the French guns at Fornali, mounted on battery carriages, could not elevate sufficiently to return fire. By the 17th the outcrop battery had increased to five guns, and the fire was unrelenting. Monti concluded that the position was untenable, and ordered a withdrawal just hours before a planned British assault. Fornali’s loss made San Fiorenzo untenable, as British ships of the line would soon be sailing into the bay. The French withdrew from San Fiorenzo, burning the harbor and the village behind them.

The French withdraw eastwards towards Bastia. The Marquis de Monti knew that Bastia was a poor defensive position and feared being caught between Wolfe and the British Navy; certainly if the British could emplace guns over Fornali, they could drag them over the mountain and emplace them over Bastia. But despite his misgivings, Monti did not have better options. Some of his officers suggested withdrawing westward, marching overland to Calvi, a far better position. But there were no roads over the Agriate, making it a difficult march, and particularly perilous given that the British commanded the sea. It was entirely possible that Wolfe might re-embark and land to the west while his column was trudging through the macchia, thus cutting him off from Calvi. Monti decided instead to retreat eastwards over the Pass of Teghime, where he would station a strong rearguard to confound the British and hopefully force them to cross further south, where the terrain was more in Monti’s favor if he chose to engage them in the field. As so often happens in war, however, Monti’s plans were interrupted by events which nobody expected.

Despite various indignities suffered by the townspeople, Bastia had not been a hotbed of subversion against the French. Certainly there was a great deal of anger on the part of the city’s fishermen, traders, and boat-builders, who suffered from the interruption of trade and the French seizure of vessels for their own use. But a substantial garrison kept the dissenters in line, and the burden of war fell unevenly. There were many who had done rather well from the French occupation, as an occupying army and its officer corps created a demand for goods and services of their own. One such prospering entrepreneur was the beautiful and witty Maria Domenica Varese, Bastia’s most famous courtesan, who ran a fashionable establishment where French officers relaxed in the closest thing Corsica had to a cultured Parisian salon.[B]

Wolfe’s landing, however, caused widespread anxiety. Many residents remembered the last time Bastia had been contested between hostile armies fifteen years before, which had resulted in the city being shelled by the British fleet and then looted and burned by royalist irregulars. The imminent prospect of another siege, presumably by the British, was enough to put everyone on edge. But what turned this apprehension into feverish dread was the destruction of San Fiorenzo by the retreating French. If that was to be the fate of towns the French were unable to keep, then Bastia was doomed; either the French would hold the city and the Bastiesi would cower beneath a rain of British shells, or the French would abandon the city and leave it a smoldering cinder in their wake.

As it happened, the 20th of May was Rogation Sunday, the beginning of Rogation Days, a period of fasting and prayer in the Catholic faith preceding the Feast of the Ascension. This was traditionally a time to beseech God for the deliverance of the people from calamity, which at this moment seemed especially poignant. Rogation Days in Bastia were traditionally observed with a mass procession, a solemn affair in which men and women alike walked barefoot and some brave penitents dragged iron chains or struck their backs with sharp implements in a show of penance. Such was the feeling of disquiet that the local religious authorities decided that the procession on Monday the 21st would be led by a priest bearing Bastia’s own Black Christ (U Christu Negru), a large crucifix of dark oak said to have been miraculously found floating in the sea by two Bastiese fishermen in 1428.



A modern procession with the Black Christ (U Christu Negru) of Bastia

The French garrison commander at that moment, Lieutenant-Colonel François-Auguste, Chevalier de la Ferronays, was quite aware of the mood in the city. On the 20th, when the news of the burning of San Fiorenzo had reached the city, a restive crowd had gathered outside the citadel and the city elders had petitioned him for assurances that he would not fire the town. Ferronays handled the matter with tact: The crowd was peaceably dispersed, and he reassured the councillors that his troops would do no such thing. To burn a little fishing village was one thing; to raze the island’s largest city was quite unthinkable. Far from seeing the next day’s procession as a threat, the chevalier appears to have seen it as a means to relieve the tension, presumably by channeling popular anxiety into harmless religious expression.

Nevertheless, several factors combined to make the situation dangerous. Monday’s procession was planned to begin at the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was situated within the walls of the citadel. The plaza in front of the cathedral was not particularly large and the procession was unusually well-attended. Although the marchers would leave the citadel once the procession got started, thousands of Bastiesi would still be gathering within the citadel that morning, packing into the small plaza and overflowing into the streets and alleys of the terranova. By concentrating all available forces in the Nebbio to oppose the British, Monti had left Ferronays with only half a battalion to hold Bastia. But even this was a deceptively high estimation of his strength, as many of the men who Monti had left behind at Bastia were invalids - injured, sick, and recovering soldiers who ranged from “light duty only” to “completely bedridden” - and not all his able-bodied soldiers would be within the citadel that morning, as sentries were needed elsewhere in the city and at the Tower of Furiani to the south. His real strength is uncertain but it is generally believed that on the 21st he held the citadel with fewer than a hundred able-bodied men.

Things started to go wrong even before the ceremonies started. Allegedly, as the crowd was gathering at the plaza a French soldier was heard to crack a joke about the “barefoot Corsicans,” which was heard by some Corsican men who took offense and began taunting the soldiers, calling King Louis a “godless whoremonger.” Rumors of French retreats or an advancing British fleet swirled through the milling crowd. The bishop’s opening sermon might have calmed the crowd, but it turned out that virtually nobody could actually hear the bishop on a temporary platform in front of the cathedral, as the crowd was vast and the bishop was apparently struggling with a cold. It was a particularly hot and stifling 20th of May, and the press of people trying to get close enough to hear the bishop’s hoarse mumbling probably did not improve matters.



The Cathedral of Santa Maria and its square today


The Chevalier de Ferronays was in attendance, as was Don Federico, Principe di Capraia along with his wife Elisabeth d’Harcourt and their children Maria Anna and Teodoro Francesco (ages 7 and 4, respectively). Ferronays had encouraged the visiting prince to attend, presumably as a means of showing Franco-Corsican amity and dispelling rumors about ill-treatment of the princess at French hands. They had a small escort of French troops with them, but Ferronays had not wanted to distract or alarm the populace with a show of force.

Then Princess Elisabeth abruptly left the plaza, followed swiftly by her husband and children along with a few French soldiers. Elisabeth, who was pregnant again, was not feeling well and worried that she was going to faint in the heat. But the crowd was not privy to this information, and all they could see was the prince and his family being hurriedly removed from the plaza by French soldiers. This, or some other unknown trigger, led to an altercation and shouting which quickly spread. Suddenly part of the restless crowd was surging after Don Federico and his escort. Ferronays tried to hold back the crowd, but he had only a handful of men with him. Someone got too close to a bayonet and blood was spilled, whereupon the furious mob overpowered the soldiers. Ferronays was struck in the head with a rock and blacked out. The soldiers who had left the plaza with Elisabeth were cornered by angry, barefoot Corsicans brandishing whips and chains, who wrested away their weapons and “liberated” the prince and his family.

Don Federico did not particularly want to be liberated, but he did not have much of a choice. Although some later claimed that the prince was a secret devote who was trying to whip up the mob, it seems clear that the prince was mainly interested in getting his family to safety in a situation that was swiftly turning ugly. To this end he informed the Corsicans that if they were going to “escort” him anywhere, as they insisted, it should be to the palace, as his wife was feeling ill. What filtered back through the crowd, however, was merely the exhortation to march on the palace, and suddenly the prince was “leading” a mob through the streets. The bishop, who had long since lost control of the situation, could only watch with bewilderment as his “procession” suddenly started marching off without him.

With the prince at its head the mob proceeded to the Pavilion of the Dodici in front of the Governor’s Palace, where they were met by a small detachment of French soldiers. A standoff ensued, and the mob started hurling abuse (and objects) at the soldiers. The prince walked up to a young French sergeant and briefly conversed with him, presumably trying to find some resolution, but this was cut short when the guard detail inside the palace apparently lost its nerve and raised the drawbridge. This not only cut off the retreat of the soldiers in the pavilion but was immediately perceived by the mob as an affront. As the crowd began pelting the soldiers with increasing number of rocks, the prince’s bodyguard, Sir David Murray, urged Don Federico to leave the pavilion for his own safety. Heavily outnumbered, apparently abandoned by his own officers, and in danger of being stoned to death where he stood, the French sergeant stood down and his men were disarmed by the mob.

A cry then went out to storm the adjacent Bastion of San Giovanni Battista, which protected the gate and also had secondary access to the palace. Evidently the door between the bastion and the courtyard was simply unlocked. The soldiers stationed here were caught entirely by surprise, but they did not give up their position as easily as the detail in the courtyard and opened fire on the Corsicans. This only further enraged the rioters, who along with stones and chains were now also armed with muskets seized from the French. The soldiers of the bastion were totally unprepared to repulse the attack. Five French soldiers and seven Corsicans were killed before resistance collapsed, and several more soldiers were beaten or simply murdered by the furious mob thereafter. A number of the soldiers barricaded themselves in a storeroom and emerged later, after receiving the prince’s word that no harm would come to them.

The extent to which the uprising which became known as La revolta scalza (“the Barefoot Revolt”) was truly spontaneous is still debated today. Certainly it was not a planned event, but it is clear that there were devoti sympathizers in the city who hoped to take advantage of Ferronays’ anemic garrison and were in the crowd during the Rogation festivities. In particular, the attack on the San Giovanni Battista bastion seems to have been spearheaded (or at least hijacked) by a militant minority. Their objective was undoubtedly the bastion armory and powder magazine, and having seized it they armed themselves and began passing out muskets and sabres to the crowd.

It is not difficult to see why the French response to this uprising was so dismal. Many soldiers did not initially respond to the uproar in the streets as they had been expecting a loud religious procession with plenty of shouting and wailing. Even occasional gunfire may not have caused any alarm, as the Corsican custom of celebratory gunfire - even at religious events - was well-known. The garrison’s commander had been incapacitated at the very beginning of the revolt, and the French detachments scattered around the citadel in various bastions and barracks were unable to communicate with one another or establish a new command. These isolated groups quickly fell one after the other, in some cases without a shot being fired. The palace fell quickly after rebels in the bastion of San Giovanni gained access via the parapet, as the palace itself was “garrisoned” largely by invalids. Only at the bastion of Santa Maria did a French contingent successfully hold its ground, dispersing rioters outside with gunfire. The senior officer at this bastion, a lieutenant, led a sortie towards San Giovanni in an attempt to recapture the magazine, but he was wounded and forced to retreat in the face of the newly-armed mob. This bastion surrendered only when the “rebels” wheeled a cannon into the cathedral square and threatened to start blasting away.

Adrenaline eventually began to ebb, giving way to uncertainty. It became clear that nobody, not even the devoti partisans, actually had a plan beyond “drive out the French.” Some now came to the realization that shedding the blood of French soldiers might actually have consequences, particularly given that a substantial French army lay just over the mountains and was marching in their direction. The citizens turned to the Prince of Capraia and begged him to take command of the city’s defenses.

Don Federico was understandably reluctant to do this, as he had no desire to take responsibility for the day’s bloodletting and must have known that the Bastiesi stood no chance against a French army thousands strong. The prince, however, could see no other option, for despite being offered “command” it was clear that the Corsicans would not countenance simply returning the citadel to the French. In an attempt to maintain some semblance of neutrality, Don Federico ordered all able-bodied French captives to be taken outside of the city and released with their arms; as Corsica and France were not at war, he explained to the apprehensive Bastiesi, he could not reasonably keep prisoners of war. He wrote a message informing the Marquis de Monti that, although the day’s violence had not been intended, he could not re-admit French soldiers to Bastia based on the king’s earlier declaration that the French were to return to their treaty-mandated posts. Another message was sent to a British ship cruising off the coast, the 32-gun frigate Juno, informing them of the situation and requesting that they refrain from violating the neutrality of Bastia.

The “Barefoot Revolt” resulted in only a handful of French casualties, but it was a disastrous setback for the Marquis de Monti. The ill-prepared rabble in Bastia would ordinarily be no obstacle to the French, and it remained possible that the French might simply burn the rest of the city in retaliation. But the prince’s rabble did control the citadel, and Monti had neither guns nor time to besiege the fortress, certainly not with the British army nipping at his heels. Although he seethed with fury at the “betrayal” of the Corsicans when he received word of the revolt on the morning of the 22nd, Monti’s first priority was to extricate his army. Reversing course, he ordered his men to march back down into the Nebbio and turn south towards Oletta. Wolfe, observing Monti from the southwest, now moved to cut him off and formed his lines along the road running southeast from San Fiorenzo to Oletta.



Fraser's Highlanders c. 1759


On the afternoon of the 22nd, the Battle of Concador began with the French grenadiers leading a mass infantry attack against the British line.[4] Monti did not have his full force, as some companies were still trailing behind from having to march back down the mountains, but he believed it was critical to engage the British as they were still forming up and before they had an opportunity to bring up artillery from San Fiorenzo. Owing to the oblique order of the British line arrayed on the road, however, as well as skirmishing in Oletta on the French left between French pickets and Wolfe’s Corsicans, the two lines did not meet evenly. The French right engaged the enemy first, receiving the concentrated fire of several British battalions as they opened up at close range with double-shotted muskets. Meanwhile, the French left stopped short and engaged in a rather indecisive and long-distance firefight with their British counterparts. The French right was shattered in this engagement, suffering heavy casualties, and Monti was forced to pull back and regroup. The marquis reordered his line and led a second attack, first on horseback and then on foot after his horse was shot out from under him. By this time, however, the British had brought several guns into action. The French fought tenaciously, but when Monti fell mortally wounded and the British guns began raking the tattered French lines, the advance stalled out. A counter-charge by Fraser’s Highlanders on the British right started a general French retreat.[5] Pursuit was prevented by the loss of daylight, but the French had nowhere to go. Monti died that night at the village of Patrimonio, and at noon on the 23rd at the Church of St. Martin his officers surrendered to General Wolfe.


Footnotes
[1] Ajaccio’s principal use was for careening. Ship hulls (particularly wooden hulls) are inevitably “fouled” by sea life growing on them, which increases drag and thus decreases their speed. This was a particular problem for a blockading squadron, as their ships would become heavily fouled while the blockaded fleet in port would have the advantage of being able to put to sea with “clean” hulls, making their chances of escaping the blockade much better. To address this, a blockading squadron would have to rotate ships out regularly to be “careened,” the process of beaching a ship and turning it on its side to have the sea life scraped off its hull. Having a nearby port to perform this task was highly beneficial, allowing the fleet to clean its ships frequently (and thus keep them at peak performance) without sacrificing the strength of the blockade by having ships constantly absent on long voyages. Aside from performing such maintenance, the navy also procured some provisions and naval stores at Ajaccio, but the city could only supplement the supplies of Gibraltar and the victualling fleets, not replace them.
[2] Britain still controlled Tabarka, but the value of this island as a military installation was questionable. The port was not suitable for large warships, the Genoese-built fortifications were old and needed work, and the collapse of the Regency into civil war meant that procuring supplies from the Tunisian hinterland was difficult.
[3] He may not have been able to do so anyway. Upon landing the British took an inventory of the fortress, and found that what little gunpowder there was in the magazine was fouled and probably useless.
[4] “Concador” was not the name of a nearby village, but rather an Anglicization of Conca d’Oro, “valley of gold.” The French, possibly borrowing from the English, named the battle “Conquedor.” In Corsica the engagement is more usually known as the Battle of Oletta.
[5] The attack of Fraser’s Highlanders made a profound impression on the Corsicans present, who - observing from the British right - perceived this charge “with pipes and broadswords” as the decisive action of the battle. Initially this view of Concador was popular in Britain too, particularly in Scotland. It was seized upon by prominent Scottish loyalists seeking to redeem their country’s honor in the wake of the Jacobite rebellion, and immortalized in art by the celebrated painting “The Highlanders at Concador.” Modern scholarship has placed more emphasis on the unsung efforts of the units on the British left, who were heavily engaged early in the battle and suffered a much higher casualty rate than the Highlanders. It is for the most part generally agreed now that the left wing battalions did the heavy lifting that day, and the principal contribution of the Scots at Concador was to break an already demoralized and wavering enemy.

Timeline Notes
[A] You can see a landing on Saleccia Beach on film. It was used to represent Omaha Beach in the 1962 D-Day epic The Longest Day starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.
[B] Called the “Corsican Cleopatra,” Madame Varese (1714-1775) really did run such a salon and was an intimate of several successive French commanders stationed in Bastia.
 
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