The 1685 Incident Between Genoa And France That Caught The Attention Of The United States’ Founding Fathers

During the powerful and expansionist reign of the French King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), the king became annoyed with the Republic of Genoa over the city’s alliances and military aid to France’s enemies, especially Spain. In particular, King Louis XIV was angered by an arrangement that Genoa had with Spain in which the republic built ships for the Spanish Armada. The French king’s bitterness over Genoa’s shipbuilding arrangement with Spain was exacerbated by Genoese refusals to allow the French to traverse through Genoa’s territory. As diplomacy, by itself, was failing King Louis XIV, the French ruler ultimately decided to unleash his military against the Republic of Genoa. Around May, 1684, French troops besieged the Genoese city and demanded that the republic hand over four ships that Genoa had been intending to deliver to the Spanish. That smaller detail aside, the French were also calling on Genoa to come to the negotiating table and reassess its geopolitical loyalties. Genoa, at first, refused the French demands, and therefore King Louis’s forces began bombarding the city. French troops shelled Genoa with approximately 14,000 projectiles over a span of ten days, forcing the republic to bow to the French demands and finally begin negotiating.

King Louis XIV of France, flexing his power, demanded that the leader of Genoa at that time, Doge Francesco Mario Lercaro, make a personal visit to the French court in the wake of Genoa’s surrender. Such a trip was forbidden by Genoese law and precedent, but as the city was under duress, Genoa decided to break the norms and Doge Francesco Mario Lercaro indeed made the journey to the French court. The doge reached King Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles around May 15, 1685. Interestingly, this uncomfortable trip by Genoa’s head of state was remembered by founding fathers of the United States of America, who used the incident as an example of the perils that could be faced by their own individual state governments if they did not align together under a strong overarching federal government of the United States. John Jay (c. 1745-1829) cited the historical story in one of his essays for the Federalist cause, writing, “In the year 1685, the state of Genoa having offended Louis XIV, endeavored to appease him. He demanded that they should send their Doge, or chief magistrate, accompanied by four of their senators, to France, to ask his pardon and receive his terms. They were obliged to submit it for the sake of peace. Would he on any occasion either have demanded or have received the like humiliation from Spain, or Britain, or any other powerful nation” (The Federalist No. 3). Although King Louis embarrassed the Genoese government and showed his strength by pushing them around, he also wanted to impress Doge Francesco Mario Lercaro. After being shown the splendor of Versailles, the doge was sent away with a gift of tapestries, art and jewels.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (cropped image labeled “Louis XIV confère l’Ordre de St-Louis à des officiers,” by an unknown 19th century artist, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Paris Musees Collections).



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