Island in the western Mediterranean, north of Sardinia. [For the Département(s) and Region, see CORSE].
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Corsica became part of the Vandal Kingdom, which held the Tunisian coast-lands and many of the islands of the western Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire overthrew the Vandals in 533 and held Corsica until the Lombard reduction of Byzantine power in central Italy in the second quarter of the 8th century.
The Franks later destroyed the Lombard Kingdom, and in the 9th century the Marquises of Tuscany at times controlled parts of Corsica – Bonifacio, in the south of the island, is named after one of them. The Arabs, who had become established in Sardinia, also held parts of the coastlands of Corsica, which they used as a base for piracy and raiding. They were not finally expelled until 1014.
In the 11th century, there was much internal strife and in 1078 the Pope, who claimed that Corsica was part of the territory that had been recognised as his, encouraged Pisa, which had already established itself in Sardinia, to take control of the island. One of his successors changed the Papal mind and in 1123 granted the island to Genoa. Eventually a compromise was reached in 1133 and Genoa held the north, Pisa the south. Pisan power was broken in 1284 when Genoa won a decisive naval victory. The Papacy however was still asserting its claims over the island and in 1297 as part of the reconciliation between the Pope and the King of Aragon after the disputes arising from the expulsion of the Angevin rulers of Sicily in 1282, the Pope granted Corsica to Aragon.
In the next century and a half, the local nobility, the autonomous communities and Genoa contended for power, while every so often an Aragonese effort to make good the grant of 1297 added a complication to Corsican politics. The last of these, and one of the most sustained, took place between 1418 and 1432. During the course of an earlier power struggle in the mid-14th century that had been precipitated by one of the Aragonese interventions, the local communities in the centre of the island, where noble power had long been weak, banded together to form the Terra di Commune, a kind of autonomous democratic republic, which managed to survive until the 18th century.
Genoese interests on the island had been represented by a commercial consortium between 1378 and 1407; then in 1453 the Casa di San Giorgio, a bank, became the principal Genoese political power in the island. The early years of its rule saw its power limited or removed by rivals, such as the Duchy of Milan, which controlled Genoa, 1463-1478. A member of the Genoese family of Campo Fregoso, which had twice held Corsica earlier in the century, tried in 1477 to recover power. The later part of the Bank’s rule saw a French occupation 1553-9. On the whole the Bank as ruler seems to have behaved with a large degree of sensitivity to its own interests and insensitivity to anyone else’s.
The Genoese Republic took the government of the island back in the 1560s, but the vigour had gone out of the Republic and the island stagnated.
French troops had occupied part of the coastline of Corsica during the 1550s, when France was at war with Spain, but withdrew in 1559. During the 18th century Corsican nationalists rebelled against Genoa in the Forty Years’ War (1729-69), and French troops twice intervened in the island, 1738-41 and 1748-53, in support of Genoa. The Corsican nationalists controlled much of the island, 1755-68, under their leader Pascal Paoli. Unable to cope, the Republic of Genoa sold the island to France in 1768, Paoli resisted, but fled the island in 1769, the year in which the most famous of Corsicans and future Emperor of the French was born, a Frenchman by birth, just about.
Corsica continued under military rule until 1786. It formed a gouvernement, but one where, unlike the rest of France, the governor was the active head of the province (even those governors in other provinces who were powerful were usually most influential at Court and were generally absent from their provinces). The intendant in Corsica conversely was weak, most intendants only staying briefly before moving on to better things. Presumably as French rule became secure the normal pattern of French provincial government would have prevailed, and the intendant would have become the principal officer, but the Revolution intervened.
Paoli was recalled in 1790 and in 1792 was given command in the island. He was out of sympathy with Jacobinism, and encouraged the British occupation of the island, 1793-6, dying in exile in Britain in 1807. Britain again occupied the island in 1814 but it was returned to France in 1815. Fascist Italy claimed the island and occupied it in 1942 after the Allied invasion of French North Africa. The island was freed in September 1943.