French Occupation of Corfu (1797-1799)
In June of 1796, the French occupied Verona. 18th of April 1797 saw Napoleon Bonaparte and the Emperor of Austria decide that Venice should be limited around the Venetian sea and the Ionian Islands. After a bloody defeat of the French in Verona, Napoleon, under this motive, turned against the Venetians. On 1st of May 1797, Napoleon declared war and on the 12th of May, Venice surrendered. The last commander of Venice in Corfu was Charles Avrilios Widmann. The Venetians were incapable of defending their colonies. Napoleon had the advantage to take over all of the colonies. He also sent the Corsican Commander Enselm Gentili. On the 27th of June, the French fleet arrived in Corfu, which was being welcomed with enthusiasm, as Gentili declared that the French had come to establish Democracy. The temporary Town Hall, which was established as the greatest authority, consisted of all the social classes and religions. Eight committees were created with executive powers: 1) Public Security, 2) Health, 3) Provisions, 4) Commerce and Art, 5) Economical, 6) Police, 7) Public Education and 8) Military. The 5th of July saw the Tree of Freedom planted in the square of Corfu and the flag of Saint Marc (of the Venetians) was burned and replaced by the 3coloured flag, symbol of the equality and brotherhood’s liberty. On 6th of July, the Libro D’Oro was also burned as well as the aristocratic diplomas, titles and emblems. After that, the nobles were being accused of the disaster of the Tree. On 1st of November 1797, the adjutant of Napoleon, Evgenios Beauharnais, arrived in Corfu and, during the same day, the annexation of the island to the French Democracy was announced by the temporary Town Hall. Napoleon ordered the administrative division of the islands. The prefecture of Corfu included the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos, Othoni, as well as Vouthroto and Parga of the mainland.
The prefectures had a complete system of administration. There was also a committee of 5 people, which administrated the following parts of each prefecture: Commerce and Art, Police, Games, Theatre, National Guard, Public buildings, Water reservoir, Military settlements, supplying, furniture and foodstuff’s, Health and Prison supervision, Public and private schools, Religion and Customs. The prefectures divided into municipalities and a Commissar was ruling the administration. Corfu Town was divided in 4 departments: Greece, France, Epirus and Commerce. Corbignu was the General Commissar of the prefecture of Corfu and Gentili was the General Commissar of all prefectures. The French organized the establishment of the public or “National” Schools, where the French language was being taught, they confiscated the Latin church lands, they established the National Library, ordering the first librarian, Ioanni Marmora (30th of May, 1798) and the National Printing House (11th of August, 1798) with the French Director Jounene.
The enthusiasm of the Ionian people for the French administration was getting lower. The heavy taxes, the contemptuous attitude to religion, the traditions, the customs, as well as the bandit action of the French soldiers were the most important reasons. The disaffection of the nobles was also growing in conspiracy with the Austrians. In 1797, Italy was assigned to Austria under the convention between France and Austria. The residents of the Ionian Islands became alarmed, as the enemies of the French occupation declared that the rest of the colonies would follow the same way. On 28th of July the new Commissar, Comeyra, tried to reorganize the administration of Corfu, but soon J. Briche had replaced him. On 15th of January 1798, the General Louis-Francois-Jean Baron de Chabeau replaced Gentili and exiled the former Russian Officer, Andrew Polyla and the Catholic Bishop, Francisco Fenzi under the motivation of the Ionians in revolt against the French.
French & Ali Pasha
During 1797, Ali Pasha was after a friendship with the French for the benefit of his interests. He convinced them of his sincerity, but the French did not wish to covenant the land in Epirus to him. On the other hand, the General Gentili allowed the Turkish boats to pass through the narrow way along Corfu, which was not allowed by the convention of Passarovich (1718). On 25th of October 1798, Ali Pasha besieged Vouthroto, the French moved from the mainland to Corfu and Ali became the conqueror of Epirus.