What are worth the Bonapartes’ letters
prior to their rise?

By Jean Defranceschi

The answer is in Napoléon’s correspondence to be published. In the letter to Joseph Fesch of (February or March) 10th, 1790, Bastia, for example.

The hypocrisy of this letter is quite obvious for whoever simply takes time to read it in the light of the works on Corsica, i.e. the social and national context it refers to. Indeed, which explanation can be given to the title " Monsieur le vicaire général  " knowing that the title did not exist in the diocese of Ajaccio before the Revolution and that it was introduced in application of the « Constitution civile du Clergé » voted only on July 12th, 1790, which would be three months after the supposed date of the letter? Fesch was then an archdeacon of the cathedral of Ajaccio; and remained so until December 26th, 1790 when the chapter was suppressed.

From this moment, the future « Cardinal des Gaules » turned back as a simple abbot among others, was no more than a member of the municipality of Ajaccio engaged in the revolutionary movement. We can see him intervening as such, on February 27th, 1791, to lead the monks of the city, and even of the district of Ajaccio, to take the oath in the Constitution. Fesch only reached this office on September 27th, 1791, i.e. eighteen or nineteen months after the sending of the above letter: that was after the election of the constitutional bishop in the person of Ignazio Francesco Guasco, delayed until May 8th, 1791, but also after the latter’s consecration by the archbishop of Aix, his return to Corsica, and the implementation of the new bishop's palace.

From this moment, Joseph Fesch's name is always accompanied with the title of « vicaire général » for the district of Ajaccio. The date of this letter may not be sure, but it is not possible to modify it without questioning the whole rest … (See « Napoléon Bonaparte – Correspondance générale -Tome Ier : Les Apprentissages 1784-1794 », Paris, Fayard, 2004, p.84)


Jean Defranceschi, Directeur de recherche au CNRS has done his whole career in the l’Institut d’Histoire de la Révolution Française (Faculté des Lettres, Paris I, Sorbonne). He has got a thèse de 3 ème cycle on La Corse française du 30 novembre 1789 au 30 juin 1794 from the Université Paris I, Sorbonne and a doctorat d’état on Recherche sur la nature et la répartition de la propriété foncière en Corse de la fin de l’ancien régime au milieu du XIXème siècle from the Université Paris I, Sorbonne.

He is a fellow of the Société des Etudes Robespierristes (Sorbonne), of the Institut Napoléon and the International Napoleonic Society.

He is the author of 45 publications in scientific revues, 5 books and co-author of the Dictionnaire Napoléon. He participated to several international congresses in France but also in the United States, as well as various TV shows in France and in the United states. He is the author of numerous media papers. He also contributed to the collection « Patrimoine du Pays ajaccien ».