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Corsican regiment in the service of France (XVIth century)

Last modified: 2003-05-31 by
Keywords: corse | corsica | moor's head | regiment | sampiero corso | ornano | cross (white) |
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Historical background

Since 1453, Corsica was administrated by the St. George's Bank, a private organisation which constituted a laws unto itself in the Republic of Genoa, the nominal ruler of Corsica.
From 1485 to 1505, the Bank fought a war against the Corsican feudal lords. Several Corsicans exiled to France, and King François I (1494-1547) appointed a Corsican regiment in service of France, commanded by Sampiero d'Ornano (1498-1567, a.k.a. Sampiero Corso). In 1544, the regiment was disbanded and Sampiero came back to Corsica, where he was rapidly jailed by the Genoese.
After his liberation upon "request" of the King of France, Sampiero left the island but promised to come back. In 1551, the war between France and the Holy German Empire resumed. Genoa supported the Emperor, whereas Sampiero supported the King. With the assistance of the Ottoman Navy, France occupied all Corsica except the city of Calvi. In 1556, a Corsican deputation asked King Henri II (1519-1559) the incorporation of Corsica into the Kingdom. Henri II agreed but Corsica was eventually given back to Genoa by the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559). However, a pro-French party was constituted in Corsica and Sampiero searched for external help, to no avail. In 1563, he came back to Corsica and found out that his wife Vannina had betrayed him and attempted to flee to Genoa. He caught her up in Marseilles and strangled her.

In the meantime, the St. George's Bank gave back Corsica to Genoa. Sampiero resumed his hopeless fight. In January 1567, he was betrayed by one of his fellows and murdered into an ambush in La Rocca. His son Alphonse (1548-1610) was later appointed Marshal of France by King Henri IV (1553-1610). Two other members of the Ornano family were also appointed Marshal of France, Jean-Baptiste (1581-1626), son of Alphonse, and Philippe Antoine (1784-1863).

Ivan Sache, 5 August 2002, after Encyclopaedia Universalis

Regiment flag

[Corsican regiment]by Ivan Sache & Pierre Gay

In his essay on the Moor's head, Jérôme Potentini said that Sampiero, Colonel of the Corsican regiment in the service of the King of France (1547), was reported to have used a black flag with a white cross and a Moor's head in the center. The Moor's head was allegedly added to the regiment flag to distinguish it from the flag used by Piemontese bands.

[Corsican regiment]by Ivan Sache & Pierre Gay

The military historian Poli, however, believed that report was erroneous and that the Moor's head had been added by modern authors. He said that France would have not tolerated mercenaries using an Aragonese symbol.

Ivan Sache, 5 August 2002