Sampiero Corso ‘the Fiery’, ‘the Most Corsican of Corsicans’ – 1498-1567

I once had a French teacher whose family was Corsican.  Among the family possessions was a dagger, on one side of which blade was engraved Vendetta, on the other, Morte.

Hardboiled, the Corsicans.  No surprise that a Napoleon could come out of there.

And while Napoleon had to prove himself to the rest of the world, Sampiero Corso was concerned only with his own country and his own people.  Keeping it local, as it were, which is a sensible scope for any political leader.

He was born a commoner in 1498 near Bastelica.  Then as now, the army was a means to advancement, and a little less now than then, fighting as a mercenary under foreign flags was a respectable career path.  He started out on that path at age fourteen.

Hardboiled, the Corsicans.

He got his first fighting in the Italian wars, under the Medici flag, both secular and then papal in Clement VII.  His flair was enough that he was hired away by the French ambassador, and spent the following three decades under the flag of France.  He saved the life of the Dauphin, which a pip in anyone;s career.  His stature was high enough by now that he could marry into the aristocracy, the lovely Vannina d’Ornano, and settle back in Corsica.

The local Genoese governor was a bit unnerved by the man.  No telling what kind of trouble a man like that could cause.  The best solution he could come up with was to throw the fellow in prison as a rebel risk.  It took all the influence of the Dauphin, now king Henri II, to get him out.

He held a grudge, and when France decided to take another shot at the island in 1553. Corso held the rank of a colonel. The invasion, a joint operation with the Barbary Corsair Dragut Rais was a success, and all various Genoese strongholds were besieged and even taken.

It was a glorious moment, but it didn’t last. Corsica for the French was a chess piece in the larger war.  France made the political mistake of claiming the place as a piece of France, which didn’t seem much of an improvement over Genoese rule. By the time the war was over, and the treaty of Cateau Cambresis was signed, Henri was happy to give it back to Genoa, a move which was a disappointment to Sampiero.

Eventually he wound up in Aix-en-Provence, and later a job as French envoy to the Ottoman empire.

Now family matters got in the way.   He married late, it should be noted,  at age forty seven. His wife had been fifteen.

May December romances can be tricky, the more so when the partners have too spend lots of time apart.  The story goes that she found alternative comfort in the person of Michelangelo Ombrone, the Genoese tutor to the children. She planned on cashing in on his goods and sail off to the hated Genoa.  Corso found out, intercepted the ship, and strangled the poor woman. (The incident was said to be the germ of the play.)

The funeral was spectacular, and it was the talk of Europe.  For him it was a private matter. All he wanted was to take another shot at Corsica.  There were enough people interested in needling Genoa to make it happen, and it was clear to anyone paying attention that the island, abused and overtaxed by foreign overlords, was ready to explode.  In the summer of 1564, he landed at the bay of Valinco.  Word spread and the countryside erupted in support.

Ultimately, it didn’t work out.  The interior was one matter, all mountain fastness,  but the coast, which was all that really mattered to the Genoese, stayed firmly in foreign hands.

Age was catching up with him.  He was sixty nine and still working on independence.  Support was waning. He was ambushed by his wife’s cousin, Vittolu, encouraged by the Genoese, killed and beheaded.  The head was stuck over the town gate at Ajaccio.

Hardboiled, the Corsicans.

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