Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

You Say Mortella And I Say Martello

Odd name Martello. Italian by the sound of it. So why did we give that name to the forts we built along the south and east coasts at the beginning of the 19th century? Last night- thanks to Sam Willis' Channel 4 series about castles- I found out.

In 1794 two British warships- HMS Fortitude and HMS JUno- with 106 guns between them- attacked the Tour de Mortella on the French island of Corsica. The 16th century round tower- built by the Genoese as a defence against Barbary pirates- had a tiny garrison and only two cannon, but managed to see off the British attack with the loss of only two men. When- a few years later- the British military were thinking about defending the coast against invasion by the French they remembered the Tour de Mortella and decided they'd like some of the same- but- as Willis pointed out- being Brits- with a high-minded contempt for all things continental- they couldn't be bothered to get the name right.

A Martello tower. This one is at Seaford.
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