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Siege of Nice
Part of the Ottoman-Habsburg wars
Siége de la flotte turc.jpg
French fleet with Barbarossa at the Siege of Nice 1543.jpg
Top: In the Siege of Nice in 1543, a combined Franco-Ottoman force captured the city.
Bottom: Ottoman depiction of the siege of Nice by Matrakçı Nasuh.
Date 22 August 1543[1]
Location Nice
Result Ottomans and French capture Nice
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svgHoly Roman Empire
CoA fam ITA savoia.svg House of Savoy
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg Ottoman Empire
Flag of France (XIV-XVI).svg France
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg Khayr ad-Din Barbarossa
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg Salih Reis
Flag of France (XIV-XVI).svg François de Bourbon
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg 100 galleys
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg 30,000 soldiers
Flag of France (XIV-XVI).svg 50 galleys

The Siege of Nice occurred in 1543 and was part of the Italian War of 1542–46 in which Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent collaborated in a Franco-Ottoman alliance against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Henry VIII of England. At that time, Nice was under the control of the Charles III, Duke of Savoy, an ally of Charles V.[2] This is part of the 1543-1544 Mediterranean campaign of Barbarossa.[3]


The siege

Letter of Suleiman to Francis I about the plans for the Siege of Nice, written in mid-February 1543.

In the Mediterranean, active naval collaboration took place between France and the Ottoman Empire to fight against Spanish forces, following a request by Francis I, conveyed by Antoine Escalin des Aimars. The French forces, led by François de Bourbon, and the Ottoman forces, led by Barbarossa, joined at Marseilles in August 1543,[4] and collaborated to attack the city of Nice.[5][6] In this action 110 Ottoman galleys combined with 50 French ones.[7]

The Franco-Ottomans laid waste to the city of Nice, but were confronted by a stiff resistance which gave rise to the story of Catherine Ségurane. They could not however take the castle.[8] The force finally retreated upon learning that an Imperial army was on the move to meet them.

Barbarossa is known to have complained about the state of the French ships and the inappropriateness of their equipment and stores.[8] He famously said "Are you seamen to fill your casks with wine rather than powder?".[9]

The Turks in Toulon

Afterwards, the Ottomans were offered by Francis to winter at Toulon:

"Lodge the Lord Barbarossa sent to the king by the Great Turk, with his Turkish Army and grands seigneurs to the number of 30,000 combattants during the winter in his town and port of Toulon... for the accommodation of the said army as well as the well-being of all this coast, it will not be suitable for the inhabitants of Toulon to remain and mingle with the Turkish nation, because of difficultues which might arise"
Instruction of Francis I to his Lord Lieutenant of Provence.[10]
Barbarossa's fleet wintering in the French harbour of Toulon, 1543.

During the wintering of Barbarossa, the Toulon Cathedral was transformed into a mosque, the call to prayer occurred five times a day, and Ottoman coinage was the currency of choice. According to an observer: "To see Toulon, one might imagine oneself at Constantinople".[11]

Throughout the winter, the Ottomans were able to use Toulon as a base to attack the Spanish and Italian coasts under Admiral Salih Reis.[8] They raided Sanremo, Borghetto Santo Spirito, Ceriale and defeated Italo-Spanish naval attacks. Sailing with his whole fleet to Genoa, Barbarossa negotiated with Andrea Doria the release of Turgut Reis.[12]

A cannonball fired by the Franco-Turkish fleet, now in a street of Nice.

Barbarossa found the Toulon base very pleasant and convenient, could refit his ships at the expense of France, and could maintain an effective blocade of Christian shipping. The Lord Lieutenant of Provence complained about Barbarossa that "he takes his ease while emptying the coffers of France".[8] The Ottomans finally departed from their Toulon base on May 1544 after Francis I had paid 800,000 ecus to Barbarossa.[13] Five French galleys accompanied Barbarossa's fleet, on a diplomatic mission to Suleiman.[13] The French fleet accompanied Barbarossa during his attacks on the west coast of Italy on the way to Istambul, as he laid waste to the cities of Porto Ercole, Giglio, Talamona, Lipari and took about 6,000 captives, but separated in Sicily from Barbarossa's fleet to continue alone to the Ottoman capital.[14]

It seems the involvement of Francis I to this joint effort with the Ottomans were rather half-hearted, as many European powers were complaning about such an alliance against another Christian power.[8] Relations remained tensed and suspicious between the two allies.[8]

A French-Habsburg peace treaty was finally signed at Crépy on 18 September 1544, and a truce was signed between the Habsburg and the Ottomans on 10 November 1545.[8] The Habsburg emperor Charles V agreed to recognize the new Ottoman conquests, and accepted to pay tribute in some unconquered territories in Hungary.[8] A formal peace treaty was signed on 13 June 1547, after the death of Francis I.[8]

Catherine Ségurane

Memorial in bas-relief to Catherine Ségurane

Catherine Ségurane (Catarina Ségurana in the Niçard dialect of Provençal) is a folk heroine of the city of Nice, France who is said to have played a decisive role in repelling the city's siege by Turkish invaders allied with Francis I, the Siege of Nice, in the summer of 1543. At the time, Nice was part of Savoy, independent from France, and had no standing military to defend it. Most versions of the tale have Catherine Ségurane, a common washerwoman, leading the townspeople into battle. Legend has it that she knocked out a standard bearer with her beater and took his flag.

However, according to one commonly told story, Catherine took the lead in defending the city by standing before the invading forces and exposing her bare bottom. This is said to have so repulsed the Turkish infantry's Muslim sense of decency that they turned and fled. However, in Turkish culture, the practice of "mooning" is considered odd or absurdly immoral but never offensive and most probably as a sexual teasing, especially when performed by a female.

Catherine's existence has never been definitively proven, and her heroic act of mooning is likely pure fiction or highly exaggerated; Jean Badat, a historian who stood witness to the siege, made no mention of her involvement in the defense. Historically attested defense of Nice include the townspeople's destruction of a key bridge and the arrival of an army mustered by a Savoyard duke, Charles III. Nevertheless, the legend of Catherine Ségurane has excited the local imagination. Louis Andrioli wrote an epic poem about her in 1808, and a play dedicated to her story was written by Jean-Baptiste Toselli in 1878. In 1923, a bas-relief monument to Catherine was erected near the supposed location of her feat. In Nice, Catherine Segurane Day is celebrated annually, concurrent with St. Catherine's Day on November 25.


  1. ^ Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies J. B. Harley p.245 [1]
  2. ^ The Ottoman Empire and the world around it Suraiya Faroqhi p.33
  3. ^ History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey by Ezel Kural Shaw p.102 [2]
  4. ^ A New General Biographical Dictionary, Volume III by Hugh James Rose [3]
  5. ^ Subjects of the Sultan by Suraiya Faroqhi p.70
  6. ^ The Ottoman Empire and early modern Europe by Daniel Goffman p.xxi
  7. ^ The Cambridge History of Islam, p.328
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i History of the Ottoman Turks Edward Shepherd Creasy p.286
  9. ^ Suleiman the Magnificent - Sultan of the East by Harold Lamb p.229
  10. ^ Lamb, p.229
  11. ^ Crowley, p.74
  12. ^ Piracy Angus Konstam, p.85
  13. ^ a b Crowley, p.75
  14. ^ Crowley, p.75-79


  • William Miller The Ottoman Empire and Its Successors, 1801-1927 Routledge, 1966 ISBN 0714619744
  • Peter Malcolm Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, Bernard Lewis The Cambridge History of Islam Cambridge University Press, 1977 ISBN 0521291356
  • Roger Crowley, Empire of the sea, 2008 Faber & Faber ISBN 9780571232314

External links



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