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Corsican regiment in the service of France (XVIth century)

Last modified: 2017-05-31 by ivan sache
Keywords: corse | corsica | moor's head | regiment | sampiero corso | cross (white) |
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Historical background

Since 1453, Corsica was administrated by the St. George's Bank, a private organisation which constituted a laws unto itself in the Republic of Genoa, the nominal ruler of Corsica.
From 1485 to 1505, the Bank fought a war against the Corsican feudal lords. Several Corsicans exiled to France, and King François I (1494-1547) appointed a Corsican regiment in service of France, commanded by Sampiero d'Ornano (1498-1567, a.k.a. Sampiero Corso).
Sampiero Corso (1498-1567) was of humble origins and started his career in the service of Italian condottiere (chiefs of troops of mercenaries). He joined the French army in 1536 and was appointed Colonel des Corses by King François I in 1547. He accumulated a lot of goods and money and married in 1545 Vanina d'Ornano, heiress of one of the most famous Corsican lineages. In 1553, Sampiero contributed to the conquest of Corsica by France. After the return of Corsica to Genoa in 1559, Sampiero moved to Marseilles, where he attempted to rouse Corsica to revolt against Genoa. In 1563, he found that Vanina was about to leave to Italy with the household fortune. He recaptured her in Marseilles in August 1563 and strangled her. The next year, he went back to Corsica and waged war against Genoa with the secrete support of Queen of France Catherine de Medicis. In January 1567, he was betrayed by one of his fellows and murdered into an ambush by three cousins of Vanina in La Rocca. His son Alphonse (1548-1610) was later appointed Marshal of France by King Henri IV (1553-1610). Two other members of the Ornano family were also appointed Marshal of France, Jean-Baptiste (1581-1626), son of Alphonse, and Philippe Antoine (1784-1863).


  • Pierre Guiral & Félix Reynaud (Eds.). Les Marseillais dans l'histoire, Privat (Toulouse, 1988)
  • Encyclopaedia Universalis

Sampiero and Vanina's story has inspired several writers, in spite of being mostly a sordid case of theft, murder and revenge. The opera Sampiero Corso by Henri Tomasi was created in Corsican language in the opera of Marseilles in fall 2005.

Ivan Sache, 26 December 2005

Regiment flag

[Corsican regiment]         [Corsican regiment]

Flag of Corsican regiment, two reported versions - Images by Ivan Sache & Pierre Gay, 5 August 2002

In his essay on the Moor's head, Jérôme Potentini said that Sampiero, Colonel of the Corsican regiment in the service of the King of France (1547), was reported to have used a black flag with a white cross and a Moor's head in the center. The Moor's head was allegedly added to the regiment flag to distinguish it from the flag used by Piemontese bands.
The military historian Poli, however, believes that report was erroneous and that the Moor's head was added by modern authors. He claims that France would not have tolerated mercenaries using an Aragonese symbol.

Ivan Sache, 5 August 2002