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Sampiero Corso: Corsica’s Valiant Warrior and Controversial Patriot

Italian CondottieriSampiero Corso: Corsica’s Valiant Warrior and Controversial Patriot

Sampiero Corso (Sampiero di Bastelica), trained in the Bande Nere under Giovanni dei Medici, is depicted by sources as both a valiant warrior, politician, and sincere patriot for Corsican independence, and as a restless man, driven only by revenge and his own personal interests.

Indice delle Signorie dei Condottieri: ABCDEFGIJLMNOPQRSTUVZ

Sampiero Corso: A Complex Figure in Corsica’s Fight for Independence

Sampiero Corso (Sampiero di Bastelica) of Bastelica.

Born: 1498, May
Death: 1567, Januery

Year, monthState, Comp. venturaOpponentConductActivity AreaActions taken and other salient facts
1522
………ChurchComp. venturaTuscany, MarcheHe serves in the company of Giovanni dei Medici. He opposes the troops of Francesco Maria della Rovere, Malatesta, and Orazio Baglioni, whose objectives are, for the first, the reconquest of the Duchy of Urbino, and for the two brothers, the conquest of Perugia.
Apr.FranceEmpireLombardyHe participates in the Battle of Bicocca. After the defeat, Sampiero Corso protects Lautrec’s retreating French forces with his actions.
………During this period, he comes into conflict with another captain of the Bande Nere, Giovanni di Torino. Giovanni dei Medici tries to reconcile the two captains, and seeing the futility of his attempts, gives them half a cloak and a broadsword each, and locks them in a room without witnesses. Sampiero Corso is slightly wounded on the forehead; his rival allows him to bandage himself and the duel resumes. In one assault, the condottiero, in turn, allows his opponent to pick up the sword he had dropped; finally, Medici intervenes, finding the two captains lying on the floor unconscious. Both are treated and compelled to reconcile.
1524FranceHe defends Marseille.
1527FlorenceEmpireTuscanyHe remains a member of the Bande Nere.
1530EmpireFlorenceTuscany
1536
………FranceEmpireEmiliaHe defends Mirandola.
………PiedmontHe is assigned by Guido Rangoni to guard Savigliano.
June300 infantryPiedmontHe distinguishes himself in the defense of Fossano, where he commands 300-400 Italian infantry. While overseeing a bastion with 50 men-at-arms from Villebon, he is attacked by the imperial forces led by Antonio di Leyva. Noticing that the trenches in front are poorly controlled by the enemy, he suddenly assaults them with Wartiz: 25-30 imperial soldiers are killed, and the rest flee towards di Leyva’s camp. The fleeing enemies collide with their reinforcements, creating chaos that the French cavalry exploits. His men retreat with minimal losses (three or four dead) and capture a Neapolitan captain commanding 300 infantry. Sampiero Corso and Wartiz are both wounded by arquebus shots, the former in the hand and the latter in the foot. As the siege operations continue, Antonio di Leyva bombards the city’s defenses and sends a trumpeter to initiate surrender negotiations, which the French accept due to a lack of gunpowder and provisions.
July300 infantryFranceHe defends Marseille. While commanding 160 cavalry and 300 arquebusiers, he is defeated and captured at Tarbes (along with Montejean and Boisy) by Valerio Orsini, Paolo Luzzasco, and Zuchero.
1537
Aug. – Sept.PiedmontHe moves to Savigliano with Giovanni di Torino and 1,000 Italian infantry; along with the latter, he clashes with the enemy, capturing four standards and taking three captains prisoner. Alfonso d’Avalos is forced to abandon the operations. According to Brantôme, around this time, Corso proposes to the King of France to kill Emperor Charles V upon his return from an expedition to Tunis.
1541FranceEmpire500 infantryPiedmont, FranceHe is transferred to France with Giovanni di Torino after spending seven months defending Carignano. He serves under the command of Piero Strozzi and is stationed in Burgundy near Cambrai.
1542FranceHe distinguishes himself at the Siege of Perpignan with Giovanni di Torino. He ambushes some Spanish companies escorting herds of cattle and repels the adversaries. The Dauphin of France, the future King Henry II, who witnessed the action, gifts Corso a gold necklace and money to the soldiers of his company.
1543
………FranceAt Marolle-les-Braults with Piero Strozzi.
AutumnFranceHe joins the defense of Landrecy (Landrecies) with three standards of Italian infantry, eluding the surveillance of the imperial forces.
………PiedmontHe participates in an attack on Cuneo, where his company’s lieutenant and ensign are killed; Sampiero Corso is wounded in the face by a stone.
1544
Apr.PiedmontHe takes part in the Battle of Ceresole Alba.
JulyFranceHe supports Brissac’s action with his arquebusiers amidst the vineyards of Vitry-en-Artois. He is defeated by the Landsknechts led by Guglielmo di Furstenberg.
1545
………FranceHe is positioned at the defense of Saint-Cyr-en-Talmondais, where he saves the life of Brissac. He then retreats to Vitry-en-Artois, while in a church, 300 infantrymen are killed by the Germans.
………Italy, FranceA duel brings him back to Italy; driven by ambition, he accepts diplomatic assignments, which lead to his imprisonment as soon as he sets foot in Corsica. He is suspected of colluding with the exiled Cesare Fregoso to seize the fortress of Bonifacio and incite rebellion on the island. Consequently, he is arrested by the Genoese and imprisoned in Bastia. He will only be freed later through the intervention of King Henry II of France.
1546
Dec.PiedmontHe arrives in Rivoli with his infantrymen, accompanied by Francesco Claramonte and other captains. All the troops are then dismissed.
1547
Apr.The sovereign entrusts him with the command of the Corsican infantry, while Piero Strozzi is given command of the Italian infantry and the Duke of Nevers takes charge of the Landsknechts.
1549
Sept.FranceHe leaves Corsica to travel to Provence. His vessel is captured by a Barbary galley between Ajaccio and Calvi. During the skirmish, he is wounded in the thigh and arm. The galley stops near Ajaccio to negotiate the ransom of the prisoners. The Corsican regains his freedom after a payment of 1,200 scudi.
1551
MayFranceEmpireEmiliaHe passes through Modena and joins Piero Strozzi, heading to Parma with Giovanni di Torino and Cornelio Bentivoglio to aid Duke Orazio Farnese.
June250 infantryEmiliaHe participates in the defense of Mirandola.
Oct.PiedmontHe is sent by Brissac with a company of Italian infantry to assist the Count of Benne, whose lands are situated between Fossano and Mondovì.
1552
Jan. – JulyFranceEmpire, FlorenceTuscanyHe takes part in the defense of Siena.
………FranceHe distinguishes himself in several skirmishes during the defense of Perpignan.
1553
Aug.TuscanyHe participates with Termes and Paulin de la Garde in the war council held at Castiglione della Pescaia, where they decide to attack Corsica with the assistance of Dragut‘s Ottoman fleet. Sampiero Corso is promised the lordship of Leca.
………FranceGenoa, EmpireField MarshalFranceAfter landing in Corsica, he enters Bastia and besieges the citadel. Upon securing its surrender, he heads towards Corte, where he sends Alessandro da Lento with a large number of infantrymen. He then sets his sights on Calvi, defended by Vincenzo Fieschi and Oberto Spinola. Soon, Sampiero Corso finds himself leading 4,000 men who have rallied around him to fight the Genoese.
Repelled from Calvi, he moves towards Ajaccio: Termes appoints him as his lieutenant. The city is abandoned by the enemy; the houses are looted and destroyed, and any Genoese who fall into Corsican hands are killed. He then joins forces with the French and the Turkish fleet, which is besieging Bonifacio. After the fall of Bonifacio, he returns to Ajaccio. Termes assigns him the task of building a bastion to counter Luciano Spinola, who has entered Bastia. He is appointed maestro di campo (Field Marshal) of the army. He continuously provokes the Genoese with skirmishes, surprising two companies of Spanish infantry. These troops, aided by the Genoese from Bastia, eventually overpower him and seize the fort. He frequently clashes with Chiappino Vitelli and Carlotto Orsini, who inflict significant losses on his forces. He is accused of the death of Giovanni di Torino, whom he allegedly had killed by one of his soldiers near San Fiorenzo (Saint-Florent).
1554
………FranceWith the fall of San Fiorenzo into the hands of Andrea Doria, he is sent to strengthen the defenses of Bonifacio. He takes command of 5,000 Corsicans and the Italian infantry still fighting for the French. At Silvareccio, he moves through the mountains towards Vescovato to attack the Landsknechts led by the Count of Lodrone. As he is about to ford the Gollo River, he is driven back by Corsican infantry fighting for the Genoese. The skirmish results in 150 dead and many wounded on both sides. He himself is wounded by a shot from an arquebus. After being treated for his injuries in Bastelica, he recovers and joins forces with Angelo Santo Corso, commanding 1,000 French and Italian infantry, 3,000 Corsican infantry, and 200 cavalry. Together, they block the Genoese, led by Alessandro da Verona and the commissioner Paolo Casanova, in Balagna, near Belgodere. The opposing captains and 1,000 infantrymen are captured.
Aug.Tuscany, FranceHe opposes the Imperial forces in the Sienese territory. After being defeated at Marciano alongside Piero Strozzi, he returns to Corsica. His increasingly authoritarian behavior alienates the other Corsican captains. Following a confrontation with Termes, he is ordered to embark for Provence and return to France.
………
AutumnFranceHe returns to Corsica, where Giordano Orsini now commands the operations in place of Termes. Leaving Ajaccio, he moves to Balagna. During a raid, he narrowly avoids capture by the men of Leonardo Giustiniani. He hides in the woods until a peasant provides him with a horse, allowing him to retreat safely to Ajaccio.
1556FranceHe is recalled to France. At court, he has conflicts with Giordano Orsini, who opposes his return to Corsica.
1557FranceIn Corsica, he opposes the plans of the new viceroy, Giordano Orsini, who aims to rebuild the fortress of San Fiorenzo. He also resists Orsini’s efforts to strengthen Biguglia, and there are rumors of a possible reconciliation between him and the Genoese. He resumes traveling across the island, risking capture by his enemies. Eventually, some royal commissioners mediate and reconcile him with Orsini. Following this, Sampiero Corso returns to France.
1558FranceHe is sent back to Corsica and tries in vain to persuade the Turkish admiral, Piali Pasha, to besiege Villafranca (Villefranche) and Nice, which belong to the Genoese. He stops in Bastelica and, with the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, he also benefits from the general amnesty.
1561FranceThe Genoese, under pressure from the King of France, return 2,475 scudi to him, which had been confiscated due to his rebellion, along with the value of a house belonging to Francesco Ornano, which was also seized. He begins his efforts to incite rebellion in Corsica. He sends trusted individuals to Bonifacio and Ajaccio and establishes contacts with the rebels and Genoese exiles, particularly with his friend Aurelio Fregoso.
1562
Apr. – JuneTurkeyHe departs on an embassy to Constantinople to meet with Sultan Suleiman. Officially, his mission is to request a loan, but in reality, he hopes to secure the assistance of the Ottoman fleet for his intervention in Corsica. By the end of June, he arrives in Algiers. During this period, he once again demonstrates his violent nature by killing his nephew, Telone da Bastelica, in a duel.
………FranceHis wife, Vannina d’Ornano, surrenders to the Genoese to protect her property and children after a bounty is placed on Sampiero Corso‘s head. The ship on which she attempts to flee is intercepted by Corsicans near Cap d’Antibes. Vannina d’Ornano is taken to Aix-en-Provence and then to Marseille, where she is strangled by her husband, not out of jealousy. Sampiero Corso then seeks refuge in Constantinople.
Dec.TurkeyThe Genoese commissioner, Niccolò Grimaldi, decides to have Sampiero Corso killed. A slave named Mamot volunteers for the task, gaining his freedom in return. He leaves two companions as hostages and sets out for Constantinople to assassinate Sampiero Corso before the Turkish fleet sets sail for Corsica. Meanwhile, Sampiero Corso is condemned in absentia, and his properties are confiscated again. At the request of Genoa, King Philip II of Spain sends the military engineer Giovan Giacomo Paleari, known as il Fratino, to Corsica to oversee the strengthening of the defenses of the gulfs of San Fiorenzo and Ajaccio.
1563
………FranceHe returns to the French court upon hearing that 400 Corsicans, led by Achille da Campocasso, have left the Maremma to move to Corsica.
JuneCorsicaGenoaFranceHe entrusts the administration of his assets to Thomas Lancre, a Marseille merchant of Corsican origin and supplier of arms to the Algerians. He sets sail from Marseille with a galley provided by his Ottoman allies and a frigate. He is accompanied by only 25 French officers and 11 Corsicans. Genoese-imposed taxes—a 3% levy on property and a one-lira tax per individual—stir unrest that facilitates Sampiero Corso‘s intervention. He lands in the Gulf of Valinco, near Ajaccio, while other Turkish ships capture Porto Vecchio. The commander, along with his followers, takes Olmeto and the Castle of Istria. He seizes Vizzavona and forces Niccolò Negro to abandon Corte and retreat to Bastia. He also captures the tower of Venzolasca near Vescovato. Napoleone di Nonza, who defends it, is killed along with all his men after surrendering. Sampiero Corso enters Vescovato, defeats the Genoese nearby, and marches on Oreto to fortify Petriera di Caccia; Niccolò Negro retreats again. The commander pursues the enemies from the Ponte della Leccia to Volpajola, defeating them a second time. In the battle, 300 Genoese, including Niccolò Negro, are killed, and many are taken prisoner. These prisoners are treated humanely. Subsequently, he proceeds to Brocca, reaches Renno, captures Porto Vecchio, and returns to the Castle of Istria. After these victories, many Corsicans join his forces, including Giorgiucolo di Caccia and Lucio dalla Casabianca, with 500 men. He promises them freedom, tax relief, and employment. A fierce conflict ensues, lasting nearly three years. The animosity is so intense that a captured Genoese commander is fed to dogs by the Corsicans.
July – Sept.FranceStefano Doria lands at San Fiorenzo, capturing and setting fire to Volpajola. Despite this, Sampiero Corso manages to halt the advance of his adversaries. However, his assault on the Genoese camp at Vescovato and an attempt to capture San Fiorenzo prove unsuccessful. Concerned about the military situation, he orders the execution of Pier Giovanni d’Ornano, whom he blames for the defeat, and imprisons Pierandrea da Casta. Pierandrea manages to escape and joins the Genoese. In his efforts to find a strong ally for Corsica, Sampiero Corso offers the lordship of the island to various princes, including Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy, Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici of Tuscany, and even the Papal States. He receives aid from Marseille and Livorno.
Oct.FranceThe Spanish fleet intervenes, and the Genoese capture Caselle, where Napoleone di Santa Lucia, his steadfast companion, is killed. Sampiero Corso then undertakes the systematic destruction of all locations that could benefit the Genoese. He recaptures Vescovato, and in Aléria, a ship loaded with munitions sent by Cosimo de’ Medici arrives. He intercepts a supply convoy heading to Corte, and takes control of Belgodere and Sartène.
Nov.FranceHe is forced to withdraw from Cervione after two hours of intense fighting. However, he compensates for this setback by occupying the Castle of Corte.
Dec.FranceHe reconquers the Castle of Istria but is wounded in the ear by an arquebus shot. The Genoese penetrate the Pieve of Ornano, and Stefano Doria defeats Sampiero Corso at Cauro. The enemy advances to Bastelica, setting fire to the houses, including those belonging to Sampiero Corso. In the aftermath, Achille da Campocasso, Lucio dalla Casabianca, and Anton Paolo Castellano either defect from his ranks or return to their lands, choosing to remain neutral in the ongoing conflict.
1565
Jan.FranceHe takes advantage of his opponents’ inaction and marches towards Sartène, where Ercole d’Istria is located. He lays siege to the fortress there.
Feb.FranceAfter 35 days, Sartène falls into his hands as the defenders surrender under terms. Sampiero Corso executes the commander and 40 soldiers. The garrison of the Castle of Istria receives similar treatment. He attempts to secure the assistance of Turkish corsairs who frequent the waters around Corsica. He travels to Linguizzetta to meet with a corsair, but the corsair is quickly driven off by the fleet of Francesco Giustiniani. Strengthened by numerous Corsican exiles from Lazio and Tuscany, he moves to Moriani and captures the Tower of Padulella. One by one, he seizes all the towers up to Mariana, threatening Bastia itself. Stefano Doria emerges from Bastia with 2,500 infantry and 400 cavalry. The Genoese captain is defeated near the village of Carbonaccia, suffering the loss of 300 men.
Mar.FranceThe Corsican notables decide to send ambassadors to Pope Pius IV and King Philip II of Spain to explore the possibility of peace. Sampiero Corso undermines this initiative by secretly dispatching his own envoy to France in search of support.
MayFranceStefano Doria attacks him again, forcing him to take refuge in Asco. Meanwhile, Turkish corsairs appear in the waters around Corsica and assist the Corsicans in attacking the Tower of Paludella. However, Andrea Centurione‘s fleet prevails over the Turks.
JulyFranceStefano Doria orders the burning of the crops in Pietralba, Caccia, Asco, Giovellina, Omessa, Soverin, Bozo, and Serra. Over the course of fifteen days, the Genoese destroy 123 villages.
Aug.FranceHe rushes to Corte and frantically gathers new forces to block the enemy’s advance. However, the Corsicans fighting for the Genoese force him to retreat. Corte is captured by the adversaries after two days of fierce battles. Sampiero Corso retreats to Omessa, where he engages the Genoese again, inflicting heavy losses on them at Luminanda. Stefano Doria withdraws to Bastia, while Sampiero Corso returns to Santa Lucia.
Sept.FranceThe Corsican notables now agree to send two ambassadors to France to seek assistance and funds.
Oct. – Dec.FranceDesertions and betrayals among the Corsicans continue. Sampiero Corso takes revenge on those who fall into his hands; he orders the strangulation of a man, along with his wife and four children, for being accused of revealing his plans to the enemies through a letter.
1566
Jan.FranceThe two ambassadors return from France with 12,000 scudi, three cavalry standards, and eight infantry banners, bearing the motto “Pugna pro patria” (Fight for the Fatherland). Sampiero Corso goes to Altiani and calls for a new assembly. This gathering reignites the old factional hatreds between the Rossi (Red) and Neri (Black) factions among the islanders, which had been dormant for years.
………FranceHe offers Corsica to the King of France, who sends him additional funds. In response, he travels through towns and villages, temporarily stemming the tide of desertions. Meanwhile, some Corsicans secretly make an agreement with the Genoese to assassinate him.
Oct.FranceA plot aimed at his assassination fails.
Dec.FranceHe moves to Ornano, where the population begins to show signs of abandoning his cause.
1567
Jan.FranceMichelangelo, Giovannantonio, and Giovan Francesco d’Ornano, coming from Ajaccio, move against him. Sampiero Corso orders his son Alfonso to seek safety and confronts his enemies. Giovannantonio d’Ornano wounds him in the neck with a shot from an arquebus. As Sampiero Corso draws his sword, a servant of his named Vitolo, who has been bribed with 150 scudi, shoots him in the back with another arquebus. He falls from his horse, and the d’Ornanos overpower him and deliver the final blow. They sever his head from his body, burn the remaining part of his corpse, and, in a gruesome act, his entrails are consumed by his enemies. His head is sent to Ajaccio to the commissioner Francesco Foscari. His ashes are later buried in Bastelica.

Sources

-“Chi lo ha esaltato come guerriero, come politico, come patriota ardente e sincero; chi ha visto in lui solo violente passioni, sete di vendetta, interesse personale.” VOLPE

-“Grandissimo guerriero.” SOZZINI

-“Valoroso uomo in guerra, siccome quegli che dei primi anni della sua gioventù si era sempre esercitato nell’armi.” BOTTA

-“Buonissimo colonnello.” ALBERI

-“Personnage vaillant rt experimenté.” DU VILLARS

-“Brave et vaillant capitaine.” MONLUC

-“Soldato valoroso.. uomo irrequieto e crudele, animato da odio feroce contro Genova.” VITALE

-“Bravo soldato, che di basso stato era co’ suo valore, e le honorate fatiche in tante guerre in diverse parti, divenuto ricco e famoso; ma sì come era di sua natura inquieto e altiero molto, non seppe riposarsi e quietarsi co’l mondo.” ROSEO

-“Venne in altissimo rinomanza.” BOSI

-“Bellicoso ed accorto.” A. MOROSINI

-“Guerreggiando al soldo de’ Francesi, era riuscito uno de’ più forbiti soldati di quel tempo.. Huomo di singolar perizia negli affari della guerra, d’animo intrepido, di somma sagacità e di accortezza in tutte le bisogne, e di più altre rare ed eccellenti qualità ornato, le quali avvegnache per molto tempo colla fede e l’amore verso la repubblica illustrate havesse, tuttavia essendosi poi appoco appoco lasciato accecare all’interesse proprio, ed ingannare alla passione ed all’odio, che contro alcuni Genovesi cittadini haveva, ne venne per la slealtà verso i suoi padroni, e per la crudeltà più che barbara usata contro Genovesi nelle guerre, e ne’ tumulti dell’isola lo splendore di costanti virtù in ultimo ad oscurare.” MERELLO

-“Rinomato capitano corso.” PAOLINI

-“Fu.. uno dei più celebri capitani del tempo ed ebbe parte principale in storici avvenimenti.” ALLODOLI

-“Il nome di prode fra i prodi acquistò e mantenne.” VARESE

-Con Giovanni di Torino ed altri condottieri “Braves gens..gens de bien et d’honneur qui se sont si bien faicts cognoistre en nos guerres passées.” BRANTOME

-“Huomo di molto valore.” LAZARI

-“Gran guerriero.” G.A. PECCI

-Alla battaglia di Marciano. “Di san Pier Corso ver luogotenente,/ che cento volte il dì fu circondato,/ De gl’inimici, e da diverse genti,/ Che si sentia percosso da ogni lato,/ E poco gli giovò d’esser valente,/ Star non potendo a tanto paragone,/ Si rese a loro, e si fe lor prigione.” Da “La rotta di Piero Strozzi” in GUERRE IN OTTAVA RIMA

-“Sampiero nel secolo XVI fu il campione dell’indipendenza corsa, come nel secolo XIV lo era stato Arrigo della Rocca e nel secolo XVIII lo fu Pasquale Paoli. Arditezza, coraggio a tutra prova e non comune abilità politica militare erano le sue virtù.” DONAVER

BIOGRAFIE SPECIFICHE

-M. Merello. Della guerra fatta da’ francesi e de’ tumulti suscitati poi da Sampiero de la Bastelica nella Corsica.

-R. Russo. La ribellione di Sampiero Corso.

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Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani
Roberto Damiani è l'autore del sito Condottieri di ventura.