In the tangled politics of the day, troops loyal to his Catholic Majesty Francis I, king of France, joined forces with Muslim corsair Khairedihn Barbarossa, king of Algiers and lead admiral for Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Barbarossa had brought his armada all the way from Constantinople to Marseilles help out the French in their interminable fighting against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The original plan had been to take aim at Italy, but in the end, it was poor Nice got the short end of the stick, being both close to Marseilles and a holding of Charles’ ally, the Duke of Savoy.
The Franco-Ottoman armada sailed down the coast on August 7 to an unprepared Nice. Local militia was about all there was on hand. That, and women and children.
Which is where Ms Ségurane comes in.
Said to be a washer woman and decidedly unattractive, she had the advantage of good arm muscles (all that washing) and was skilled in the use of the laundry beater (see her right hand). By any measure, she would have been a formidable opponent.
The story goes that as the Ottoman troops rose to the ramparts, she struck their standard bearer and grabbed the flag. She then turned her back, hiked up her skirts, leaned over, and mooned the enemy. Worse, she tore up the Ottoman standard and used it to scrub those lower parts. Then she threw the soiled rag down at the Ottomans in contempt.
Which final insult sent them scarpering.
Or so the story goes. Sadly for history, the story grew from a very small seed indeed, and that one not contemporary with the events. You can see how the story grew in the retelling, and indeed, that final bit of the narrative did not arrive on the scene until the early twentieth century.
Well, what can you expect? The anecdote cries out for elaboration, and in the absence of known truth, drama must step in.
As to the siege – despite la Ségurane’s actions, the French soon thereafter took the lower part of the town and engaged in the usual practice of looting and destroying while those Nicois fortunate enough to reach the upper defense works looked on with sorrow and regret. Records are contradictory, but the general sense seems to be that the French behaved far worse than the Ottomans.
In any event, some time into the looting, scouts brought word of reinforcements. The invaders gathered up their ill-gotten gains and headed back home, leaving the locals to recover as best they could. For the sake of self-respect if nothing else, la Ségurane became the pride of the city. Not enough to have her likeness or even the death written down, but good enough for public monuments and song and fable.
Whatever works. All cities need their local heroes, and real or not, she’s a good one.