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The Island of Corsica has had a long and turbulent history
where the numerous clans that traditionally constituted its
population were often exploitatively ruled by outsiders. The
outsiders in question, in the earlier part of the eighteenth
century, being the Republic of Genoa. The Corsicans themselves
had a predilection for becoming involved in bloody inter-clan
vendettas and the Genoese had often found it convenient, over the
several centuries of their rule in Corsica, to exploit, and
indeed foment, inter-clan conflicts to better allow their own
position of sovereignty over Corsica to be maintained.
Paoli subsequently travelled to England where the Corsica he, and his Corsican followers, had tried to create had had a remarkable level of public support.
As Paoli proceeded to England via Milan, Mantua, Vienna and Holland he was generally received with a notable degree of enthusiasm by the several populaces and their rulers.
Paoli arrived in England in September 1769 and shortly thereafter was allowed an audience with the King. Paoli was awarded an annual pension of £1,200 per year - then a fairly significant amount - by the British government (that being said Paoli had many dependents in the wake of the failure of Corsican independence). He was also invited to take up refuge in Russia by the "Enlightened Despot" Catherine the Great who was prepared to settle a pension of 6,000 roubles if her offer was taken up.
It eventually proved that active British aid in restoring Corsican independence was not forthcoming. That is to say that there was insufficient motivation for any British intervention. British political life was distressed by the populism of John Wilkes and by the early phase of American colonial resitance to British imposed taxations. Britain did not, meanwhile, become embroiled in any conflict against France that might have made Corsica seem relevant as an additional front through which such a conflict could be pursued.
In the event Paoli continued to base himself in London where he lived for the next twenty years enjoying a wide popularity and the acquantaince of many celebrities including, through an introduction by James Boswell, Samuel Johnson. In March 1774 Pasquale Paoli was elected to Membership of the Royal Society this being a learned association which promoted intellectual endeavours and scientific knowledge which enjoyed royal patronage and had a good deal of social prominence.
The French assumption of authority in Corsica brought with it efforts to encourage a French administrative model with which it was hoped that Corsicans could be brought to co-operate. Those anti-Paolists who had helped the French were rewarded but other Corsicans who had struggled against them were not particularly punished. The French hoped for a reconciliation whilst subtly incorporating Corsica into the orbit of the French kingdom.
As part of this process the French established an educational system in Corsica that would, so they hoped, tend over time, to draw Corsica culturally towards France. It happened, however, that in many cases Corsicans quietly declined to gradually become provincial Frenchmen and Frenchwomen preferring to regard themselves as Corsicans who had suffered a reverse in the face of overwhelming military force.
Due to a lack of positive response from the majority of the islands inhabitants the French abandoned their initial policy of conciliation and over the subsequent two decades the French (who considered that they were prepared to make concessions to Corsican sentiment and to avoid onerous taxation) were appalled to find themselves in the same position as the Genoese. That of having their authority reluctantly respected in the immediate vicinity of military strongholds but largely disrespected thereafter.
In 1774 there was a serious Corsican revolt against the French authority on the island. This revolt was met by a programme of brutal repression that tended to greatly further the alienation of Corsican sentiment from any acceptance of French authority. Over the ensuing fifteen years (1774-89) there were many causes of complaint by Corsicans against such things as the employment of Frenchmen only in all meaningful roles in the administration, the awardance of monopolies that often left Corsicans at the mercy of rapacious merchants and high customs duties that stifled Corsican trade with the Italian mainland or France.
The French Royal States finances were severly strained during these decades by the expense of the Seven Years War (1756-63) and also by the involvement of French forces in support of the American interest that was struggling for independence from Britain (1776-1783). A deep financial crisis resulted in the calling together of Aristrocratic, Clerical, and Third Estate (i.e. commoner) representatives to make humble representations to an "Estates General" that was to convene before the presence of the King in May 1789. As an adminstrative part of France it happened that Corsica contributed one Aristocratic, one Clerical, and two Third Estate representatives to these proceedings. The meeting of the Estates General was within weeks however followed by developments that culminated in the onset of "Revolution in France".
As the tradition of previously absolute French Royal authority gradually fell into decay there was more opportunity for Corsican complaints about many aspects of the present French Royal administration in Corsica to be voiced. By August of 1789 there were many instances of an actual Corsican insurgency against the French authority.
In efforts to frame a new policy that would tend to allow for a more consensual continued association of Corsica with France a political amnesty was declared by the French National Assembly on 30th November that, amongst other things, covered Paoli and other persons' previous transgressions against the authority of the French Royal state at the time when French control was being established after the effective purchase of Corsica from Genoa.
Paoli, now in his early sixties, travelled to Paris in April 1790 and was personally acclaimed by the populace and by many prominent radicals in the new revolutionary France. He was raised to the rank of lieutenant-general in the French army and appointed as governor of Corsica. He made a triumphal progress across France to the mediterranean port of Toulon landing on the Corsica in July 1790 to take up his new duties. There was a continued intolerance across Corsica of those who had co-operated with the Royal French State in the past however and many persons felt it necessary because of diverse harassments to depart for France or the Italian mainland.
When the French monarchy was finally abolished Paoli was confirmed in his appointment as Governor by the newly established French Republic. Paoli was unsympathetic to some of the more radical turns the French Revolution took in particular, although he was himself something of a Deist believing in God somewhat abstractly, Paoli was opposed to the revolutions' reform of the organisation of the Catholic church in France in a form subservient to the state. He was also unable to support the centralizing policies followed by the Revolutionary government.
In early February 1793 the French National Convention declared war on England. This had the effect, in the case of Pasquale Paoli, who was known to have been a long time resident of Britain and to have received a British pension, of leaving him somewhat open to being denounced by his rivals for influence in Corsican affairs. The Convention could not afford to have persons whose loyalty they doubted in positions of power as they might be of great use to an enemy. Paoli was formally summoned to Paris but pleaded age and pressures of work in order to avoid such a journey.
Some weeks thereafter the defection of an hitherto loyal general named Dumouriez heightened the Conventions' paranoia about potential betrayal. On 2nd April 1793 the Convention ordered Paoli's arrest but, as most Corsicans still warmly supported Paoli there was much unrest that constituted an effective breach with the present policy of the Convention. Most Corsicans who were quite prepared to see their island remain as part of France were nonetheless strongly supportive of Paoli's role in Corsica's governance.
A serious revolt against the Convention occured in the south of France after the Convention had purged itself of Girondin influence. Most of the Girondins were deputies who had been returned by areas of Southern France. This development may well have contributed to the Convention deciding on 17th July that Paoli and some thirty other influential Corsicans were to be regarded as traitors.
This declaration by the Convention that many prominent Corsicans were traitors caused deep rifts in Corsican society as people were faced with choosing between their loyalties to a Corsican association with France and a Corsica led by Paoli. In the event many persons decided not to support Paoli but to leave Corsica. In late August Paoli solicited "England's protection for Corsica's political existence". With the help of the British Admiral Hood the French were defeated by June 1794. The Corsican assembly (consulta) recognised Paoli as President and adopted the former Constitution of the 1770's with adaptions consistent with the King of Great Britain also being regarded as the King of Corsica. Corsica could now expect to be a British protectorate.
General Sir Gilbert Elliot was appointed viceroy (October 1794) and Pozzo di Borgo (formerly Paoli's principal aide) became chief of the Corsican council of state that acted in an association with Elliot as viceroy.
Despite a negotiated expectation by the Corsicans at the time of their agreeing to adopt Britain as a protecting power that they would effectively be self-governing in internal matters several high handed decisions as sponsored by Elliot gave the Corsicans dire cause for complaint. Paoli tried to heal the emerging rifts but Elliot for his part saw Paoli as an actual fomenter of opposition to his authority and urged the arrangement of Paoli being asked to sail to England at the King's request (October 1795).
Paoli's departure was profoundly regretted by many Corsicans. From March 1796 there were numerous risings against the British in response to attempts to raise unpopular taxations and to the suspension of the Corsican parliament. Corsican interests, with French assistance, succeeded in their aim of overthrowing the unpopular British protectorate by September of that year.
Although Paoli had some fitful hopes of returning to live somewhere closer to Corsica the dominance of French armies on the continent of Europe was one of the factors that discouraged any such move. Paoli continued to reside in England until his death on 5th February 1807. His remains were buried in St. Pancras churchyard and sometime thereafter influential English friends arranged for a memorial bust to be placed in Westminster Abbey.
In September 1889 Paoli's remains were disinterred and transported on an English naval frigate to Corsica where they were re-interred with much ceremony in a mausoleum at his family's home in Morosaglia
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