Interview with Michel Vergé Franceschi on Charles Bonaparte (1746-1785) as the archetype of the “enlightened” man during the latter half of the 18th century.

Michel Vergé Franceschi has just released a book entitled “Charles Bonaparte» — that we presented last Saturday — and which evokes the course, the history, the personality of the father of Napoleon 1st. A Corsican story, but not only…

To discuss it, we interviewed Michel Vergé Franceschi. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?? What made you take an interest in the history of Corsica and how has this influenced your academic career?

Michel Vergé Franceschi: I became interested in the history of Corsica very early on through family genealogy from the age of 12 in 1963. My maternal grandfather was from Cap Corse where all his ancestors lived from 1387 until him, the men going regularly to Marseilles or Livorno, but also to Egypt, to Jerusalem to be received in particular Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, but also to buy wheat or supervise coral fishing. The ancestors of my maternal grandmother lived in Bastia, Ajaccio, Corte. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, it was sculptors of Genoese origin established in Bastia, but also people from Niolo, homeland of shepherds. And she was descended by her great-grandmother from the Pozzo di Borgo d’Alata, which made her the cousin of Napoleon’s father: CHARLES BONAPARTE, but also of the mother of the Emperor LAETITIA RAMOLINO!

As a child I loved History and I always had the 1st prize in History and that of French among many others except math and physics! And in Corsica, in the family house, there were many ancestral archives concerning the sailors of the family, captains in cabotage and a great Paolist privateer Teramo Terami (1731 1822) whose room I occupied on each of my vacation.

Seeing the sea every day on vacation in Corsica then in Toulon where I was born in 1951 during the school year, I did my Master 1 and my Master 2 at the University of Nice in the Royal Navy in 1973 then after the competitions teacher recruitment I did my doctoral thesis in History in 1980 and my State doctorate in letters in 1987, still on the Royal Navy: the first French naval school published at the CNRS thanks to Pierre Chaunu and the General Officers of the Royal Navy published in 1987 despite its 7 volumes and 3747 pages containing 14327 proper nouns!!!

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Michel Vergé Franceschi: Charles Bonaparte (1746-1785) is the model of the Man “enlightenedfrom the second half of the 18th century. This type of father was calledcitizen fathers“. Less severe than those of the 17th century, they are close to their children. Charles is a very attentive father. Married at 18 by her uncle, a priest to 14-year-old Laetitia, she gave birth at 19 to their 4th child in 1769: Napoleon.

Charles builds a wooden hut on the terrace of the house so that Napoleon can do mathematics quietly. He sets up a playroom for his 13 children where Napoleon scribbles soldiers on the walls. He monitors the grades and results of his sons. He takes them himself to the College of Autun in Burgundy. He buys their boarders’ trousseaus himself from tailors in Paris. He hardly instills any religion in them, for he is not devout at all. Like Pascal Paoli, he is a deeply human Man of Lights, in love with his wife, a great reader; his library contained 1000 volumes at his death at the age of 39.

He defends women. As a young magistrate, he hires a 16-year-old Ajaccienne to denounce her rapist. He was a provincial gentleman maintained in his nobility by Louis XV in 1771. He lived on an income equal to that of a captain of the King’s vessels in Brest, Toulon or Rochefort. What was Charles Bonaparte’s political vision for France and Europe, and how did it influence his life and career?

Michel Vergé Franceschi: Charles Bonaparte belongs to the elites of Ajaccio. His ancestors were among the Ligurian founders of the city at the end of the 15th beginning of the 16th. All were “elderly peopleof Ajaccio, that is to say members of the Municipal Council responsible for the management of this city of 500 inhabitants in 1550. No Bonaparte has ever worked with his hands.

Since Charles VIII many Corsicans lived in Marseille, the port having become French in 1482 like Toulon and the rest of the county of Provence. The kingdom of France with 16 million inhabitants under François 1er was the only one able to protect the coasts of Provence, but also the islands: yew. Pomegues. Ratonneau against Marseille. Porquerolles and the islands of Hyères facing Toulon. Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat facing Cannes, against Barbary, Monegasque, Languedoc and Aragonese pirates. Henri II from 1553 to 1559 became king of Corsica in this context to free it from Genoa. The Ornanos, the Perettis of La Rocca received fleur-de-lys from Henry II to put on their coat of arms. The Franceschis and the Gasparis received some from Henri IV.

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Between a kingdom of 25 million subjects in 1770 and a Republic of Genoa ruined by the bankruptcy of the Bank of Saint-Georges in 1746 and highly contested in Corsica since 1729, the choice of Charles Bonaparte was easy. Livorno. Genoa. Rome were only towns which offered the Corsicans very few outlets. Pascal Paoli himself had asked Louis XV in 1755 for a place as a lieutenant in the royal army.! Father of Joseph, Napoleon, Louis, Lucien Charles Bonaparte by playing the French card ensured his sons a better future. The King offered recognition of nobility, scholarships, jobs, promotions.

Paoli defeated at Ponte Novo on May 8, 1769 emigrated to London with 300 Corsicans. The 29000 other Corsican men all stayed on the island like Charles Bonaparte. What was its role in the war of» independence against Genoa?

Michel Vergé Franceschi: In the war of independence waged by the Paolists from 1729 to 1768 against the Republic of Genoa, the young Charles Bonaparte was stuck.

A student at Corte in 1764 with Paoli, he was 18 years old and he was more Paolist than pro-Genoese despite his distant Ligurian origins prior to 1520… But Laetitia, fatherless at the age of 5, was brought up by her grandfather. – maternal father Pietrasanta who was raised himself by his uncle and maternal tutor Sorba, minister of Genoa at Versailles, where he was the only Corsican present in 1715 at the death of Louis XIV. In addition, Pietrasanta had a fine career in Corsica thanks to his first cousin the Genoese Patrice Agostino Sorba, Minister of Genoa at Versailles from 1738 following the death of his father. But Agostino is the one who signs with the Duke of Choiseul the treaty of May 15, 1768 by which Genoa temporarily cedes its suzerainty over Corsica to Louis XV.

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Charles Bonaparte fought the soldiers of Louis XV at Borgo in 1768 then at Ponte Novo in 1769. But this 20-year-old student weighed nothing. The 2 strong men of the family are Laetita’s grandfather: Pietrasanta 70 years old and Agostino Sorba, also in his seventies who leads the clan from Versailles. Laetitia depends on her grandfather for her shoes, her nobility dresses, her laces, her fabrics to cut herself from the clothes she sews. Charles could only rally to the King like his uncle don Luciano Bonaparte, future archdeacon of Bastia. Like the Pozzo di Borgo and 120 other notable families of 10 to 50 people each. Families of soldiers, officers at the Royal Corse and the Provincial Corse, lawyers, judges. Magistrates, knights of the royal and military order of Saint-Louis. Finally, what legacy did he leave to his son?

Michel Vergé Franceschi: Charles Bonaparte himself gave by his example and his rigor a good mental heritage to his children. Doctor of law from the University of Pisa, young lawyer in Ajaccio at the age of 22 then assessor at the Court of Ajaccio, a great reader, he taught them work and the will to succeed.

Enjoying only 1,200 pounds of annual salary as a magistrate, he managed Laetitia’s dowry (7,000 pounds) well, one of the most important in Ajaccio and the highest that a Bonaparte had ever obtained. He managed his 23 hectares of Salines planted with mulberry trees well with the support of the State. Its land, its herds of cows and above all its vines. He taught them a certain taste for luxury, buying the finest furniture in Ajaccio and very beautiful clothes and clothes and shoes and a powdered wig.

Napoleon, a boarder on the continent from 1779 at the age of ten, only saw his father twice on the continent, because Charles died in Montpellier in 1785 at the age of 39 from liver cancer, the best university in France in medicine couldn’t save him. His remains were brought back to Ajaccio in 1951 in the Imperial Chapel built under Napoleon III by Cardinal Fesch half-brother of Laetitia

Interview by YV

Photo credit: DR

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