French conquest of Corsica

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French conquest of Corsica
Bataille de Ponte Novu.jpg
A depiction of the battle of Ponte Novu
Date15 May 1768 – March 1770

French victory

  • Corsica annexed by the Kingdom of France
 France Corsican Republic
Commanders and leaders
Comte de Vaux Pasquale Paoli

The French conquest of Corsica was a successful expedition by French forces of the Kingdom of France under Comte de Vaux, against Corsican forces under Pasquale Paoli of the Corsican Republic. The expedition was launched in May 1768, in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, a humiliating French defeat. During the conquest, a substantial French military force was landed by the French Navy on Corsica, then ruled by the Corsican Republic. Marching inland to overcome any Corsican opposition, the French force suffered a major defeat in the Battle of Borgo. Despite this unexpected defeat, Comte de Vaux, the French commander of the expedition, decisively defeated the Corsican army at the Battle of Ponte Novu in 1769, effectively bringing an end to effective Corsican resistance.

The Corsican forces, having neither the willpower nor the manpower to resist the French, surrendered the island. After the Corsican defeat, France annexed the island, although they took a year consolidating the territory as many Corsicans took to the hills and engaged in guerilla warfare against the French. Pasquale Paoli fled to Great Britain, where he was immensely popular, and became a member of Samuel Johnson's dining club. Corsica remained under French rule until 1794, when an Anglo-Corsican expedition captured Corsica from the French and the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom was established, with Paoli as its ruler.


The island of Corsica had been ruled by the Republic of Genoa since 1284. In the 18th century, Corsicans started to develop their own nationalism and seek their independence from Genoese rule. In 1729, the Corsican Revolution for independence from Genoa began, first led by Luiggi Giafferi and Giacinto Paoli, and later by Paoli's son, Pasquale Paoli. After 26 years of struggle against the Republic of Genoa (plus an ephemeral attempt to proclaim in 1736 an independent Kingdom of Corsica under the German adventurer Theodor von Neuhoff, who was supported by the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Great Britain, which at the time ruled over Menorca and Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea), the independent Corsican Republic was proclaimed in 1755 under the leadership of Pasquale Paoli and remained sovereign until 1769.

The first Corsican Constitution was written in Italian (the language of culture in Corsica until the middle of the 19th century) by Paoli, which was heavily influenced by the British one. Despite four decades of intense fighting, the Corsican Republic proved unable to eject the Genoese from the major coastal fortresses of Calvi and Bonifacio. After the Corsican conquest of Capraia, a small island of the Tuscan Archipelago, in 1767, the Republic of Genoa, exhausted by forty years of fighting, decided to sell the island to France which, after its defeat in the Seven Years' War, was trying to reinforce its position in the Mediterranean. In 1768, with the Treaty of Versailles, the Genoese republic ceded all its rights on the island. The very same year, King Louis XV sent a military expedition to Corsica to secure French rule over the island, under the command of Comte de Vaux, a veteran of the Seven Years' War.


France's initial offensive failed after a significant defeat was suffered at the Battle of Borgo in October 1768. France dispatched large numbers of reinforcements, swelling the size of their army there to 24,000. The Corsican army suffered a major setback at the Battle of Ponte Novu and the French forces soon overran the island although Corsican forces were not completely subdued until the following year and sporadic outbreaks of rebellion continued.


The French invasion triggered the Corsican Crisis in British politics. Although they sent secret aid to the Corsicans, the British government chose not to act to prevent the island's occupation. Paoli had created a liberal Corsican Constitution heavily influenced by that of Britain. He created the most extensive voting franchise in the world, and attempted radical reforms in education. Because of Britain's enmity of France, and because the British had historically been supportive of Corsican exiles — Paoli sought to establish an alliance with Great Britain. Britain opened a consulate on the island, but events in Corsica did not feature prominently in Britain until 1768.[1]:556 The leader of the Corsican Republic, Pasquale Paoli, went into exile in Britain where he remained until the French Revolution allowed him to return to Corsica. British troops subsequently intervened in Corsica between 1794–1796, where they created the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom, and in 1814 when they agreed the Treaty of Bastia. Following the Congress of Vienna control of the islands were returned to the restored French monarchs.

The invasion and occupation had even more profound consequences for France itself. When Napoleon Bonaparte was born on Corsica in 1769, he automatically became a natural-born French citizen. Both his parents Carlo Maria Buonaparte and Maria Letizia Ramolino joined the local resistance and fought against the French to maintain independence, even when Maria was pregnant with him. Although raised as a Corsican nationalist, Napoleon gradually turned his loyalties towards the whole of France, serving in the French Army. He went on to become ruler of mainland France, adopted the ideals of the French Revolution as his own, and triggered the Napoleonic Wars that devastated much of Europe and changed it permanently.


To this day, some Corsican nationalists advocate the restoration of the island's republic. There are several groups and two nationalist parties (the autonomist Femu a Corsica and the separatist Corsica Libera) active on the island calling for some degree of Corsican autonomy from France or even full independence. Some groups that claim to support Corsican independence, such as the National Liberation Front of Corsica, have carried out a violent campaign since the 1970s that includes bombings and assassinations, usually targeting buildings and officials representing the French government.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat.


  • Black, Jeremy. European Warfare, 1660-1815. UCL Press, 1994.
  • Englund, Steven. Napoleon: A Political Life. Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Gregory, Desmond. The Ungovernable Rock: The Anglo-Corsican Kingdom. Associated University Press, 1985.