This astute man was born in 1767, in Extremadura, a well-named rocky wilderness bordering Portugal, with the vastness of Andalucía to the south. As a very young man he became a guardsman accompanying the Spanish royal family, and is said to have had an affair with Queen María Luisa. This may seem unlikely, given the almost god-like position royal persons had in Spain in the eighteenth century, and their total separation from ordinary people. Nevertheless, young Godoy got on well enough with the King, Carlos IV to become his trusted confidant. Stranger things have happened. Continue reading
Dreyfus was born into a Jewish family in France in 1859. The fact of his Jewishness was to prove a main factor in his future. He chose the army as a career, and became an officer. In 1894 he was accused of passing military information to Germany, a traditional enemy of France for centuries. The accusers claimed they found writings in Dreyfus’ own hand revealing important military secrets. A court martial found Dreyfus guilty; he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the jail on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. This notorious internment camp was used by the French to get rid of her worst criminals, and was almost impossible to escape because the island was (and is) circled by maneating sharks.
Later a new army chief was apppointed, one Colonel Picquart, who discovered in 1896 that the court martial had been a farce, and that the real spy had been Major Esterhazy, who moved in illustrious circles. Picquart was promptly sent to serve in Tunisia and in effect instructed to keep his discoveries to himself. Thus began the ‘Dreyfus Case’ – one of the most intriguing in the history of France. Continue reading
Though it has been put into the shadow by the Franco-Prussian War, this was one of the most important conflicts in the 19th century, because it overturned the balance of power, at least in Central Europe. The gains achieved by Prussia made her richer and better-populated than all the other Germanic states combined. It became obvious to interested observers that an eventual unification of Germany, under the leadership of Prussia, was a certain bet for the future. Continue reading
Ypres is a place in Belgium, known mainly by Great War enthusiasts who are taken on guided tours. In October and November of the first year of the war a major German offensive to outflank the British Expeditionary Force had to be stopped – and it was – but the battle area was left still dominated on three sides by German armies, commanding the heights. This was the first Battle of Ypres.
The second took place in April and May 1915, and was notable for the first use of poison gas by the Kaiser’s armies. This gas was chlorine-based, and gas masks on the heads of allied soldiers were also seen for the first time. They did not work as efficiently as the boffins had predicted. Thousands of troops had to be invalided back into France and Britain, suffering from the gas, which left them crippled in mind and body. In terms of strategy, this second battle at Ypres forced the British to shorten their line of defence in what was called ‘The Ypres Salient’. Continue reading
Napoleon Bonaparte gave his name to the civil code of 1804. Subsequent battles – Trafalgar, Waterloo etc. did not affect the Emperor’s Code, which has influenced existing legal codes in Belgium, Spain, Holland, Switzerland and Italy, as well as several states outside Europe.
Before the Revolution (q.v.) there were law systems differing from each other in France – according to geography, Roman law in the south, customary or traditional law in the north. Some effort had been made to codify and make more effective and logical the law during the ancien régime (q.v.) and even during the Revolution. The idea was to create a uniform system which could apply to all France. No efforts were successful, mostly because during the Great Terror all law was thrown to the winds. It needed the powerful personality of Napoleon himself to provide the driving force; he was personally present, and presiding, during more than fifty of more than a hundred sessions of the Council of State, called precisely to discuss the Penal Code. Continue reading
This French Protestant intellectual and statesman was born in 1787; he was an infant when the revolutionaries guillotined his father during The Great Terror (q.v.). When the Revolution was over and the Bourbon dynasty restored, François served Louis XVII in 1814, thinking that the Allied powers would deal effectively with Bonaparte. When the ex-Emperor of the French left house arrest on the island of Elba and returned to France to start the Napoleonic Wars over again, the French King ran away, and Guizot had to wait for Wellington and Blucher to finish Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) before resuming normal service. Continue reading
He was a descendant of Louis XIII (the king in The Three Musketeers), and the eldest son of the Duke of Orléans. Both father and son openly supported the French Revolution, and actually voted for the death of Louis XVI. Both liked to be called Philippe Égalité, inspired one assumes by the revolutionary chant ‘Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité. At the age of nineteen he fought in the French Revolutionary Wars (q.v.) at Valmy and Jemappes, but with his commander Dumouriez plotted to restore a French monarchy, albeit a constitutional one. Unfortunately his father was blamed for this and despite his nickname of Égalité he was arrested and guillotined in 1793. Young Philippe was just twenty years old.
Exiling himself to the safety of Austria, he stayed, gaining a reputation as an homme du monde, until he returned to France in 1814, where he found himself extremely rich, mainly due to the Milliard of King Charles X. This was compensation paid officially by the government to those emigrants who had left France before or during the Revolution and had had their lands sequestered. Philippe was very much the man about town, elegantly dressed if a bit of a fop; he had ten children whom he is said to have cherished, and an easy way with the ordinary people of Paris. Continue reading
The essential difference between a (strictly) democratic republic and a monarchy is that the first is a government elected by people who have the correct age and the right to do so, accepting that the politicians chosen then elect among themselves a President who will preside over the people and them. Almost all, though not quite all monarchies embrace a hereditary Head of State – a descendent within a royal family which may or may not be a dynasty. Both presidents and monarchs hope to be popular with the population they rule. If they prove unpopular with the politicians they will be removed by them under one pretext or other – often by violent means. This seems to be a rule of History.
The radical Republic that governed France between the end of the 19th century until 1940 was both stable and conservative, though plagued by sometimes bewildering changes of administration. No party could rule without the support of the Radicals, suitably armed with doctrines composed by the appropriately named Léon Bourjeois in his book La Solidarité published in 1896. This volume, not much discussed today, tried to find a middle way between socialism and capitalism, in an attempt to replace the outmoded idea of laissez-faire, roughly translated as ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ – the classic conservative view. Continue reading
The ‘gentry’ in English history were and are middle to upper class folk, untitled except for the odd baronet or hastily-dubbed knight, owning land, serving as magistrates, being ‘squires’ of villages. They were the backbone of English rustic life, fighting and often giving up their lives for their king; on the reverse side they frequently plotted against their king, and were usually axed for their pains.
The Tudors, obscure and nearly penniless squires from North Wales, would have remained obscure were it not for the fact that one of them, a handsome young man called Owen, had got himself into service in the royal household. He was about twenty-six years old when it is said he ‘caught the eye’ of a widow only a year or two younger; but she was the widow of Henry V – that gallant royal winner of the battle at Agincourt, the third great victory for England in the Hundred Years War against the French after Creçy and Poitiers. Henry had died young and left his wife, Catherine of Valois, herself a French princess as well as ex-Queen of England, at the London court. Just how young Owen managed to ‘catch her eye’ is not noted, but it is said that he fell drunk into her bed (a likely story!), or that she saw the good-looking youth bathing without the benefit of clothes in the River Thames. An historian of the time, who apparently knew Catherine well, wrote that she was ‘unable fully to curb her carnal passions’ when confronted with the superb sight of young Owen disporting himself in the water. Continue reading
Gracchus Babeuf was one of the first communists in history, not counting almost mythical characters such as such as Spartacus. He was born the son of a poor office clerk about twenty years before the beginnings of the French Revolution. Being outspoken about his political beliefs, he was in prison during most of the Great Terror (q.v.). The problem he had with the Jacobins (q.v.) was that he believed in the Revolution but thought that it should and must secure the best of life’s blessings for all the French people, not just its surviving leaders. With the Jacobins, however, he thought that ownership of private property produced inequality and that the only way to establish real equality was to to introduce communal management of property, abolishing any private possession. As a matter of fact these ideas were more radical than those of the Jacobins, whose plan was to take all private property away from its owners by force and then re-establish it with themselves as the new owners. Continue reading