Category Archives: French History

The revolt of Portugal

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the guardian.com

Sunrise over an older part of Lisbon / the guardian.com

The first king of this tiny country, washed by the Atlantic, and blessed with fine seamen, navigators and harbours, was Alfonso I, in 1139, but the Portuguese Empire as such began in the fifteenth century. Portuguese ships were making voyages of discovery right round the world. Perhaps her immediate neighbour, Spain, felt that Portugal should belong to her, and by 1580 she did. This situation, most unpopular with the Portuguese, lasted from the above mentioned date until 1668. The French invaded in 1807, and the monarchy was overthrown. Most of the Empire vanished with the loss of Brazil, Goa and Macao.

That union of crowns in 1640 brought nothing but unrest in Portugal, partly because the people quickly noted that Spain was not ready (or able) to defend and protect the vast Portuguese possessions overseas. When troubles started up (again) in Cataluña, powerful Portuguese were encouraged to gather round the standard of the Duke of Braganza. They proclaimed him King Joao IV during an uprising in the capital, Lisbon in December, 1640, which ended with the murder of the Spanish Viceroy Vasconcellos. This was a serious mistake, for Vasconcellos was a personal friend and confidant of the all-powerful Conde-Duque de Olivares, the Spanish minister who managed Spain for the King. No-one, perhaps not even the King, had more power than Olivares at that stage. Continue reading

Further thoughts on Thomas Becket, martyr and saint

O'Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

O’Toole & Burton (right) as the King and Thomas Becket in the famous movie / mrfalk.18.wordpress.com

Thomas Becket, or Thomas à Becket as he was called by my teacher of History, was not a Saxon. He was a son of a wealthy Norman merchant (born 1118), and as Norman as his friend and king, Henry II. Thomas read Canon Law at the University of Bologna, where his teachers found him a first-class student, digesting books when he was not drinking or whoring. It may have been his ability to keep up glass by glass with the young Henry Plantagenet that cemented (he thought) his friendship, and caused Henry to make Thomas his Chancellor, the holder of the royal seal, and high on the list of very powerful men in England, an island he had chosen to make his home. Continue reading

Burgundy: Kingdom,Duchy and House

An artist's impression of Burgundian knights in gothic armour / pinterest.com

An artist’s impression of Burgundian knights in gothic armour / pinterest.com

Burgundy, a region of France, was first a kingdom after the collapse of the Roman Empire, roughly speaking the fifth century. It was incorporated into the Carolingian Empire, divided by the Treaty of Verdun, and finally combined with the Kingdom of Provence in the tenth century.

Dukes of Burgundy, though sometimes richer than kings of France, and owning more land, towns, hamlets and troops, were in fact officially vassals, as indeed was the King of England. Even Henry II Plantagenet paid hommage to the French king; Burgundy was the greates of these vassals. Many dukes tried to gain independence from the royal family, and were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their purpose. No French king, however wealthy or in need of finance, was able to trust a Duke of Burgundy. Continue reading

Alsace/Lorraine & Schleswig/Holstein

These two tongue-twisters used not only to twist tongues, but eject furious spittle from the pursed mouth of European statesmen and politicians. The problem is not only of dual nationality and two different languages, but also historic bickering between countries traditionally seeing each other as treacherous enemies.

Alsace is a part of North/East France, comprising Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. They lie on the frontier with Germany. Thus enters the traditional loathing of the French for the Germans, and vice-versa. Alsace was a simply a part of France (Lorraine) before finding itself fairly suddenly a part of the German Empire: the fault lies with treaties, as usual: The Peace of Westphalia (1648) and Treaty of Rijwijk (another tongue-torturer, 1697) handed over most of Alsace to France – but in 1871 it was re-annexed by Germany! As if this were not complicated enough, Alsace was subsequently returned to France in 1919 (Treaty of Versailles of immortal memory), and then, though this may difficult to believe, regained by Germany during the Second World War! Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Virgin Queen’)

The queen in 'the Armada Portrait', note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The queen in ‘the Armada Portrait’, note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The only half-decent member of the infamous Tudor dynasty was Elizabeth, born in 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. It is a matter for debate from whom Elizabeth inherited the worst genes, though it is admitted that Anne never went to bed with Henry until he was properly divorced from Catharine of Aragon and a marriage between them had taken place; the Catholic Church had meanwhile been assaulted and robbed, Thomas More and others had been shortened by a head etc. etc. Continue reading

The ‘White Terror’

Jean Cottereau, leader of the 'Chouans' / en wikipedia.org

Jean Cottereau, leader of the ‘Chouans’ / en wikipedia.org

It is a common misconception that the French Revolution (q.v.), the ‘Terror’ and the fall of Robespierre and other leading Jacobins, led immediately to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and his very nearly successful bid to make that country supreme in Europe, by waging war on almost everybody else. But the fact is that in 1794 revenge became briefly sweet for those whose lives and properties had been seriously affected by the Revolution.

The so-called ‘White Terror’ was an attack launched against the terrorists, and all who could properly be accused of doing well out of the French Revolution. White was a Bourbon colour, and some historians have taken this as indicating the movement for revenge as a royalist adventure, but this is not strictly true. Very few wanted a restoration of the old régime; they simply wanted to settle old scores. Clever men had taken advantage of the Terror, grabbing land and property by force and murder, including Church lands. Many had appointed themselves as government officials, with powers emanating from the awful force of the ‘Terror’ itself. Continue reading

An infamous trio, Darnley, Bothwell & Rizzio

These three sixteenth century men had a lot in common, though the first had royal blood, the second noble blood, and the third was a foreign commoner. What they had in common was Mary Queen of Scots. All four would have spectacular or gruesome ends.

The explosive end of Lord Darnley / groteskology.blogspot

The explosive end of Lord Darnley / groteskology.blogspot

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was an Anglo-Scottish aristocrat who married as her second husband the ill-fated Mary Stuart, whose first husband had been a king of France.This matrimony produced a son, the future King James VI of Scotland and First of England – founder therefore of the reigning Stuart dynasty. Darnley was tall, athletic and handsome, but weak in mind and spirit. At his marriage to Mary he was Earl of Ross and Duke of Albany, both ancient Scots titles dotted about in the works of Shakespeare. This young man quite liked his very tall wife (Mary was six feet high in her silk stockings), but then he liked all women equally, and spent much time in bedchambers other than his wife’s. He was arrogant, debauched and made a present to his wife of a venereal disease. He was, like so many ladychasers, insanely jealous, and it was his jealousy of Mary’s young Italian secretary, David Rizzio, that caused his downfall. Continue reading

Further thoughts on John I

Angry John signs while elderly Marshal supervises / britishromanticism.wikispaces

Angry John signs while elderly Marshal supervises / britishromanticism.wikispaces

King John has the worst reputation of any English king, and there is plenty of competition. He was a crooked legislator, greedy, consumed with ambition of the despicable kind; he is proved to have murdered his nephew Arthur (son of Geoffrey) with his own hands in the boy’s prison cell. The boy was still in his teens, and after strangling him John tied a stone to the body and threw it in the River Seine. He brought constitutional crisis to England before and during his reign. Robin Hood was a mythical figure, but it is no coincidence that stories about the legendary outlaw proliferated during the reign of King John. Continue reading

More thoughts on that Yalta Conference

The 'Big Three' from l. to r. 'Exhausted', 'Dying', and 'Exuberant' / spartacus.educational.com

The ‘Big Three’ from l. to r. ‘Exhausted’, ‘Dying’, and ‘Exuberant’ / spartacus.educational.com

In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator. Continue reading

Action Française (1899)

Charles Maurras / lactionfrancaise. net

Charles Maurras / lactionfrancaise. net

In one of our recent posts we described the case of Alfred Dreyfus, and discussed how much the prevalent anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century influenced it. When the case was apparently over, observers noticed the appearance of a new movement, almost a Jacobin club, calling itself Action Française. It was an extreme right-wing and nationalist movement, dedicated to promote anti-Jewish feelings in France. Anyone who had spoken out against Dreyfus – advocates, journalists, politicians etc. – was encouraged to join. Many adherents were of middle or upper class origin, but by far the largest percentage came from what is known as the petite bourgeoisie, translatable (though it is better not) as the lower-middle classes. Continue reading