Pasquale Paoli

1725-1807

Pasquale Paoli was born on April 6 1725 in Stretta, a hamlet of the Corsican village of Merusaglia. At that time the island was still under Genoese rule.
In  January of 1735, a CUNSULTA  'Assembly' met in Orezza - the Corsican village where some of the finest water in Corsica is now bottled. The  Cunsulta declared the independence of Corsica and drafted a constitution giving legislative power to deputies elected by the people, and executive power to a Junta of 6 people elected by the Cunsulta. 

Ghjacintu Paoli, father of Pasquale, was in this Junta, but in 1739 a Corsican insurrection was crushed and Pasquale and Ghjacintu fled to Italy. Pasquale went to university in Naples, where he stood out as a brilliant student. His father had chosen the church for him but Pasquale decided to become a soldier and was billeted in Sicily as a lieutenant in the Royal Farnese.



While in Italy, he followed closely the politics of Corsica and when his brother Clemente, who had remained in Corsica, asked him to come back, very much against the wishes of his father, he arrived in Aleria in April 1755.  He was elected 'General of the Nation' on July 14 of the same year by the Cunsulta which was eventually to decide his role. To achieve their ambition of freeing Corsica from the Genoese, and becoming independent, the Corsicans needed to elect a General with full powers, except in matters of state for which he would have to consult with his deputies.


When Paoli arrived back in Corsica, aged 30, anarchy, disorder, vendetta, and poverty were rife. An immense task awaited him. With firm patience, Paoli reorganised the island and gave rights and dignity to its people. He made it into a nation with a constitution, an army, a monetary system, a very strict justice system, and an effective civil service. He founded the University of Corti, opened schools, encouraged economy, and promoted industry and commerce. He also introduced the culture of potatoes and planted more chestnut trees, created ports for commercial exchanges, and exploited the island's lead and silver mines.

Under his enlightened rule, the island became a successful democratic republic admired and commented upon by many writers in Europe, including Rousseau and Voltaire, who were to write drafts for the constitution.

However, the island's strategic position in the mediterranean had been coveted by many countries in the past (this continued until after the 1945 war and the arrival of the Americans).


In 1758 Genova was in serious debt and asked the French king Louis XV for help.
 In May 1768, Louis XV's minister Choiseul bought Corsica for France by the Treaty of Versailles. 


Paoli, appalled, called for a Cunsulta in Corti (Corte) and when the king, wanting to take posession, invaded the island with his army, the Corsicans defended themselves with much success at first, but were finally defeated at The Battle of PONTE NOVO, 9 May 1769.



In despair, Paoli who had sought help from all the European countries, was forced into exile. On 13 June 1769 he boarded an English ship for London, where he was greeted by his friend JAMES BOSWELL whom he had met in Corsica a few years before and who had pleaded the cause of the island among the English. Here, Paoli was treated like an important head of state and mobbed by enthusiastic crowds of followers. King George III gave him several audiences and a pension 'to enable him to live like a gentleman'.

 While in London, Paoli lived in Baker street, Bond street, and Regent street and met all the literary and artistic celebreties of the Dr Johnson-Boswell circle. He also visited the Cosways frequently, and became a firm friend of Maria Cosway. She was a painter and society lady, and the very pretty wife of the well known miniaturist Richard Cosway. She won the heart of Paoli who became the godfather of her daughter, called Paolina in his honour.


George III

James Boswell

Maria Cosway


In London Paoli attracted the attention of the Johnsonian circle almost immediately, for which his expansive personality made him a natural fit. By the time Paoli entered the scene it had in part taken the form of The Club of mainly successful men of a liberal frame of mind. Such behavior as Paoli showing his bullet-ridden coat to all visitors and then demanding a gratuity for the observation were amusing to the group, which had begun when its members were starting their careers and according to its chronicler James Boswell were themselves needy.

After a series of interviews with King George III, Paoli was given a pension by the crown with the understanding that if he ever returned to Corsica in a position of authority he would support British interests against the French. This was not, however, a cynical arrangement. Paoli became sincerely pro-British and had a genuine affection for his new friends, including the king, a predisposition that in the French Revolution led him into the royalist camp. The arrangement also was not a treaty of any sort, as at the time neither Paoli nor George III would have any idea of future circumstances. George would not have imagined that he would become a symbol of British tyranny or Pasquale that he would be condemned as a traitor to the very revolution for which he had just been fighting.

 




In 1789 during the French revolution, 20 years of exile later, aged 50, Paoli was allowed to return to Corsica and was elected President and General of the Garde nationale. Now perhaps there might be a period of peace for Corsica. But from 1792 Paoli, who wanted Corsica to remain peaceful and free from revolutionary atrocities, was accused of treason, harassed by his enemies and called Traitor to the Nation by the Convention, despite Napoleon's efforts to save him. 

Paoli called the English Navy to the rescue and the French had to leave Corsica.

A new Consulta in June 1794 officially broke with France, adopted a constitution, and created an Anglo-Corsican kingdom.

The legislative power now belonged to both the crown of England and the Corsican parliament, whose deputies were elected for two years and voted the laws. Corsicans were very disappointed and angry at this arrangement:  they had expected Paoli to become Viceroy of the kingdom. But King George III named in his place Sir Gilbert Elliot, who considered Corsica 'an ungovernable rock'.
 


Torn between the old regime, the revolution, and independance, Corsica was in turmoil: chaos and anarchy reigned. Sir Gilbert Elliot, persuaded that Paoli was the cause of the troubles, asked for him to be exiled once more. Paoli left for London on 14 October 1795.

 After his departure the relationship between the English and the Corsicans deteriorated further. Alarmed by Napoleon's triumphs in Italy, the English thought it most prudent to leave Corsica. 

In 1796, the island returned to the French.


 

Paoli died in London at no1 Edgware Road on February 5 1807, after spending a total of 32 years in England. He was buried in the cemetary of St Pancras. In September 1889, after work started on the famous railway station, Paoli's ashes were tranferred to his birthplace of Merusaglia, where his house has been turned into a museum.

 A bust by Flaxman was placed in Westminster Abbey and the Association Corse du Royaume Uni Pasquale  Paoli  (see ACRUPP website) lays a wreath there every year on his birthday accompanied by traditional Corsican song, and celebrates his life with several days of music and festivities in London. A plaque was placed on No.77 South Audley Street to commemorate the life of the 'Father of our Nation'.