King Theodore's Corsica

So I was reading about the komnenos dynasty and apparently one of the Corsican Greeks claimed descent from the komnenos and even had it recognized by the king of France.

Don't know if you already knew this but it's a cool little thing to point out.
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 Calvi, 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 ambassador 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 ambassador 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”).
Will this TL wrap with Theodore's death or will it continue?
My intention was always to continue at least until the end of the 18th century (or thereabouts), and at present that is still the plan.

The next update will be a sort of epilogue on the reign of Theodore, detailing the funeral and coronation and giving some analysis of Theodore's life and legacy. The next update after that will probably be an introduction to the new royal family, which we haven't seen much of; at present, Frederick and Elisabeth have five living children, and the presumed heir Theodore Francis is already fifteen. After that, we will forge on into the 1770s and see how things go under Re Federico. The 1760s were pretty calm and peaceful for Corsica - aside from that little spat with the church - but the next decade promises to be much more turbulent.
I know you said you wouldn't be doing a chapter on it, but now that we're getting into the 1770's - is there anything we should know about the situation in British North America? Even if nothing's that different, it might be worth checking in when the TL gets to around 1774.
With all that has happened, Theodore's reputation as Corsica's august monarch is probably assured among the commonfolk. Rare is the person who can crown himself king and mean it. Rarer still is the same person repeatedly screwing around almost every major European power and still keep himself and his kingdom afloat. If nothing else, I can see tongue-in-cheek caricaturists imagining him as a descendant of Hermes, tricking the world to his people's delight. :openedeyewink:
The international relations are interesting. Corsica acting as a friendly waypoint from Spain to Naples should the Bourbon branches ever go to war between themselves could be interesting.

I wouldn't worry about Theodore dying. He will probably find a way to con his way out Hades by pitting heaven and hell against one another and sneaking off in the confusion, possibly with Osiris' flail safely hidden away somewhere on his person.
I wouldn't worry about Theodore dying. He will probably find a way to con his way out Hades by pitting heaven and hell against one another and sneaking off in the confusion, possibly with Osiris' flail safely hidden away somewhere on his person.
Sounds pretty much about right. Maybe catching a ride with the Valkyries whom he told he died in glorious battle against all powers of europe and the church.