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The Aragones and Genoese

Independence and French Rule

Armed Forces


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History & Heraldry


The Aragonese & Genoese


From times immemorial the pope was the nominal ruler of the island. In 1077 he charged the bishop oif Pisa with the administration of it. In the next two-and-a-half centuries the Pisans established their influence on the island  but they were thwarted by the Genoese. In 1284 these defeated the Pisans in the naval battle of Meloria.

On 14 April 1297 Pope Boniface VIII made a kingdom of the island and enfeoffed James of Aragon with it. With this a new erea of unrest was initiated. The result was that neither Aragon nor Genoa could establish its authority.

A banner for Corsica only appears in the time of Pedro IV (1336-’87). It is depicted in the Armorial  de Gelre and it is a black moor’s head with a white scarf on a yellow field. Probably the banner was meant to be the banner of the united kingdoms of  Sardinia and Corsica, the titles of which occurring always together in the royal title. (i.e VAL[en]NC[ia] SARDIN[ia] ET CORSICA AC COMITIS BARC[i]M[ona]).  The colours are, in that case, the imperial colours, referring to the time that Enzio, a son of Frederick II was a king of Sardinia.

About a connection with St. Maurice who was always depicted as a moor, nothing can be proved but it must be pointed out that St. Maurice was the patron saint of the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, at least from the time of the Ottonians onward. This again points at the time of Enzio.[1] On the other hand there may be a connection with the arms of Aragon (Argent, a cross Gules between four moor’s heads (proper)) which is known from a seal of 1281, the moor’s heads however not having a scarf.


The moor’s head on a yellow field may be called the Aragonese arms of Corsica.









ç 1365 ca. Arms (banner).: D’or au buste de more imberbe de sa. tortillé d’arg. L.: corse. (Gelre n° 641 (fol. 62). repeated by Bergshammer n° 3305.)


King Alfonso V (1416-’58) retired from the island in 1420 and left  its administration in the hands of a vice-king, Vintencello d’Istria. In 1434 he was made a prisoner by the Genoese and executed.

Afterwards Aragonese rulke was but nominal. The Genose put the island in 1453 in the hands of the Banco di San Giorgio. With a short interruption from 1556-’59, when the island was occupied by France, the Genoese could effectuate their rule until 1731. Emperor Charles VI nominally owned the island from 1729 until 1733 and accordingly bore the title of  “King of Corsica”.

The arms of Corsica were inherited from the Aragonese kings by Emperor Maximilian I who made Albrecht Dürer depict it on his Triumphal Arch in 1515. The field, initially yellow or gold, became white or silver in the early 16th century but about an exact date nothing can be said.

The white version is in the Armorial of Virgil Solis and in the work of Martin Schrot and it is also depicted in some other places. [2]



1515 Arms.: A moor’s head with a headscarf. (A. Dürer Maximilian’s Triumphal Arch, 1515).


Arms of Corsica between the arms of Cordoba and Murcia. On the Dedication Medal of the City of Nürnberg to Charles V, 1521

1555 A.:  Argent a moor’s head with a headscarf Argent. L.: CORSICA. Virgil Solis Wappen-büchlein fol iii

In 1581 Martin Schrot gives in his Wappenbuch: Arms:  Corsica. Der schilde weiß/ der Mornkopff schwarz/ die binden gelb. 

The version with the white or silver field of the arms may be called the Genoese version of the Corsican arms.

In the next centuries the arms used were sometimes the Aragonese and sometimes the Genoese version.

The arms of Sardinia and Corsica in alliance.

From: Insularum Sardinæ et Corsicæ by Frederik de Wit (1721-’78)


For the rest the arms were apparently not used on the island itself and it also not known if the Banco di San Giorgio had a coat of arms different from the arms of Genoa (Argent, a cross Gules).

Nevertheless a throne or governor’s chair has been preserved showing the achievement of Genoa, the de facto ruler of the Island. This shows the achievement of Genoa on its back.


Photo Danny Tolenga

Back of the Governor’s chair of Corsica

Showing the achievement of Genoa: Argent, a cross Gules, crowned an suppoorted by two griffins.

(Coll. Museum Bastia)


This achievement is the successor of the achievement of Aragon the former owner of Corsica. An achievement for Corsica itself was only designed in the time of the sovereignty of the island. It was succeeded by the achievement of the Kingdom and Republic of France.


Independence and French Rule


In 1729 a revolt against the Genoese rule broke out on the island and in 1731 the leaders Luigi Giuafferi and Giacinto Paoli proclaimed the independence of the island.

In 1736 a German adventurer Theodore baron Von Neuhof landed with a cargo of arms and supplies. He succeeded to be crowned king by the Corsicans on 15 April 1736 as King Theodore I in Alesdani. In the single year of his reign he struck coins and gained some military victories. Also he founded an Order of Chivalry the Ordre de la Deliverance.

Von Neuhof (re-)introduced the arms with the moor’s head on the island. It was printed on his coins and was made a part of his royal arms. His royal achievement was:

Courtesy Universiteitsblibliotheek Amsterdam

Achievement of  Theodore I, King of Corsica, on a map of the Island of Corsica.

(Renier & Iosué Ottens, Geographes a Amsterdam (1736).


Arms: ½: D.: Sable, a chain of three links per pale Argent. S.: Argent, a moor’s head Sable with a  scarf, earring and necklace Argent.

Crown: A royal crown of five hoops.

Supporters: Two savages armed with clubs

Order: De la Deliverance.


The cross of the order consists of a red, golden rimmed cross charged with a seven-pointed black star with golden rims, each point charged with the chain of the arms, recharged with another, golden, star on which is a silver-rimmed purple medallion with a naked Justitia, a sword in her right, and a balance in her left hand and standing with her right feet on a globe.

The cross is hanging from a blue ribbon and its surrounded by the legend: CERMOIRIES & ORDRE  DE CHEVALERIE DU ROY THEODORE PREMIER.


On the following 14 September already Von Neudorf had to flee Corsica, With the help of France the Genose restored their rule (1741) but they proved unable to establish their authority. A coin from that time shows the crowned arms with the moor’s head, the Von Neuhof supporters replaced by two tritons


In 1753 a democratic constitution was adopted by the Corsican leader Giovan Pietro Gaffori.  The same year however he was assassinated.

Two years later Pasquale Paoli [3] landed on the island and founded an independent democratic state there. On 24 November 1762 he made the Consulta de Corte adopt a coat of arms. It is a moor’s head proper with a scarf argent on a field also Argent.

The supporters are two bearded sea-monsters (i.e. winged tritons!) with clubs. [4]


Achievement of Corsica

as on the frontispiece of “Giustificazione della rivoluzione di Corsica combattuta dalle riflessioni di un genovese e difesa dalle osservazioni di un corso” In Corti MDCCLXIV


In 1768 the Genose sold their rights on Corsica to France which occupied it in May of the next year after the Battle of Ponte Novu of 8-9 May 1769 which marked the end of the confrontations between Pascal Paoli and the armies of the King of France by opening the road to Corte, the capital of the Corsican nation. Banners captured at Ponte Novu show the field Argent, the shield royally crowned, the supporters two cherubs armed with clubs. [5]


Banner of Pascal Paoli, captured at Ponte Novy, 1768

(coll. Museum Bastia)


Until the revolution of 1789 Corsica was a province of France and its arms became: Or, a moor’s head Sable with a headscarf Argent.

Arms of Corsica on a map of France, 1768


 In 1790 Corsica was made a french Département by the National Assembly. For this Département a coat of arms was adopted consisting of a parti of France and Corsica with the mottoes: LA LOI and LE ROI in base. The same year Paoli returned.


Photo Danny Tolenga

Arms of the Département Corse 1791-‘94

Adopted by deliberation of  the government of the Département of Corsica on 25 March 1791.

Coll. Museum Bastia


In May 1793 Paoli convened the National Assembly in Corte which meant open rebellion. A french army under Bonaparte was defeated. Paoli then called the English for help and in June 1794 the Corsican Assembly agreed with an Anglo-Corsican Kingdom. Its arms were an alliance of the royal arms  Great Britain and Corsica.

Photo Danny Tolenga

Arms of the Anglo-Corsican King (1794-’96)

As on the shield of  The Marine Office / Scagno di Marina. (Coll. Museum Bastia).

The dexter arms are those of King George III and the motto reads: AMICI E NON DI VENTURA


Vice-King  became Sir Gilbert Elliot. Since then the Elliots have the arms of Corsica on a chief of their arms. [6]

The arms of the Earls Minto after 1794

The crest, supporters and motto omitted


In August 1796 the British retired from the island and the same year the French occupied it again. Bastia was occupied for a short time by the English in 1814 but in 1815 Corsica came definitively to France.


After 1815 the arms of Corsica remained Or, a moor’s head sable until, after the end of WWII, the french heraldist Robert Louis made a new version, amongst others to be printed on stamps in 1946. He made a famous design, still in use today, with the moor’s head on a white background.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay



Also he made an achievement (in fact the emblem of a government of Corsica), taking the Paoli achievements with the tritons as an example:


On the island the arms are very popular and the flag is often seen. It is also frequently used by the Corsican National Liberation Front


Armed Forces






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© Hubert de Vries


[1]  In this context we should point at the arms with the moor’s heads from Estonia and to the arms of the Algarve  with three moor’s heads.

[2] For example on the stained glasses of the Royal House (Broodhuis constructed 1514-‘36) on the Grote Markt in Brussels. Here the the moor’s head is  depicted on a white as well as on  a yellow field.  Later however, the arms of Corsica disappeared from the Habsburg repertory of arms.

[3]  Pasquale di Paoli *1725-†1807

[4]  Pinoteau, Hervé: Vingt-cinq ans d’Études Dynastiques. Paris, 1982, pp. 58-63.

[5]  Banner  in the Musée de l’Ethnographie in Bastia.

[6]  Elliot Murray Kynynmound (Earl of Minto): Quarterly, 1st and 4th grand quarters, quarterly 1st and 4th ar. a buglehorn sa. stringed and garnished gu., on a chief az. three mullets of the first for Murray, 2nd and 3rd az. a chev. ar. between three fleurs de lys or for Kynynmound, 2nd and 3rd grand quarters, gu. on a bend engr. or, a baton az. within a bordure vair, for Elliot; over all a chief of augmentation ar., charged with a moor’s head couped in profile ppr., being the arms of Corsica. Crest - A dexter arm embowed, issuant from clouds, throwing a dart all ppr. Motto (over crest) - Non egat arcu. Supporters - Dexter an Indian sheep, sinister a fawn, both ppr. Motto - Suaviter er Fortiter. (Burke).

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