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The Taiping Revolt



This uprising, which started in 1850 and ended fourteen years later, was the greatest peasant rebellion in China in the 19th century. The 18th had seen a rise in China’s population from 150 to 350 million – more than double – and by 1850 the figure had risen to 450 million. This extraordinary fertility was not matched by any increase in cultivable land, so the peasants, among whom the population rise was marked, were worse off than they had ever been. The majority could not pay their bills, taxes or rents, and were therefore dispossessed and homeless. Something had to give.

What happened was a series of peasants’ revolts lasting twenty years from 1850. Part of the North China Plain, between the Huai and Yellow rivers, came under the control of the Nian rebels. In Yunnan the Chinese Muslim population rose up between 1862 – 1873, and the Miao natives revolted in the Kweichow mountains from 1854 – 72. (more…)

US President Monroe & his Doctrine



James Monroe was born in Virginia in 1758, and became the 5th President of the United States. He did not shine as a diplomat but he did manage to orchestrate the Louisiana Purchase (q.v.), one of the most important facets of US history. He became Madison’s Secretary of State in 1811, and was active in the Anglo-American War of 1812-14.

In 1817 he became President, worried by the question of slavery, because though he was not officially an abolutionist he knew that this canker on the American soul was evil. When black people were occasionally freed he encouraged sending them to Liberia, and got that country’s capital Monrovia named after him. (more…)

The Girondins

Jacques Brissot /

Jacques Brissot /

In the General History blogsite many posts have appeared dealing with different aspects of the French Revolution; there will have been many references to Jacobins and Girondins, both being a kind of politically-motivated club or political party with a multitude of members, who either smiling or snarling at each other helped to cause the Revolution. We have dealt extensively with the Jacobins, and now it is the turn of the Girondins.

The majority of these deputies came from the department of Gironde in south-west France – whence the name. They were occasionally called ‘Brissotins’ after their leader Jacques Brissot: it was he who played a significant part in persuading the Assembly to declare war on Austria in 1792. Brissot thought such a conflict would arouse enthusiasm for the Revolution, which had begun in July 1789 with the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris. (more…)

By | 2015-01-19T18:42:27+00:00 January 19th, 2015|French History|0 Comments

Henry VI of England, sad man and king

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Henry was born in 1421, and became King of England at the age of one. He had two reigns, due to the Wars of the Roses. The first lasted from 1411 to 1461; he was noted for his piety and general air of preferring to be left out of things. He was the only son and child of a very famous warrior, Henry V, who after the Battle of Agincourt married a daughter of the French King – Catherine of Valois. This sturdy couple managed to produce only our subject, a weakly child, disposed to illnesses and madness. During his infancy and adolescence his tutor the Duke of Bedford (a younger brother of Henry V) was regent, while another uncle, Humphrey of Gloucester was Lord Protector of England. Nothing of these three redoubtable men showed in the future Henry VI. The one useful thing he managed successfully was the founding of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge.

Some Urban Popes

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio /

Maffeo Barberini painted by Caravaggio /

Three French popes and one Italian, dating from the eleventh century, the thirteenth, fourteenth and finally the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, form up for inspection in this post:

Urban II (Jacques Pantaléon) was born in Troyes around 1200. He was Bishop of Verdun by 1253 and Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1255. His most important contribution to the Roman Catholic church, and onwards into world history, is that he introduced the Feast of Corpus Christi for the first time in the year 1264.

Urban V ( Guillaume de Grimoard) was born circa 1310 in Grisac, and became Abbot of Saint Victor in Marseilles. He was elected pope in the conclave at Avignon in 1362, at the comparatively young age of around 52. He was not satisfied with the splitting of the Papacy and made determined efforts to get it back to Rome. He succeeded in this but briefly, though he had to return to Avignon only a short time before his death in 1370.

Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) was Italian born in 1568. Elected pope in 1623, his significance in church history is that he was a stalwart support to Cardinal Richelieu (q.v.) in his conflicts with the Hapsburgs during the Thirty Years War (q.v.). When France formed an alliance with Protestant Sweden in 1631 he turned a blind eye, preferring to carry out much ecclesiastical reform, including a revision of the breviary. Not pleased with many hymns, he re-wrote them himself. He beamed on all missionary work, and condemned the works of Galileo as heresy, and Jansenism as heretical. Here was an odd thing, because it is known that he enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Galileo. Jansenism by the way was a heretical movement within the Church starting in both France and Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It followed the works of one Cornelius Jansen, though these were based on the theories of Saint Augustine, promoting an ascetic way of life, and denouncing luxury. The Barberini family was disliked to the point of hatred by another pope, Innocent X (q.v.).

By | 2014-12-23T15:57:21+00:00 December 23rd, 2014|Church history, French History, Italian History|0 Comments

Some Innocent Popes

Innocent IV /

Innocent IV /

From the twelfth century to the eighteenth century several Popes called Innocent stand out: they are:-

Innocent III (Lotario dei Conti di Signi). He was Pope from 1198 to 1216, and as he was born in 1160 this shows he became papal at the early age of thirty-eight. Historians agree that his pontificate was a high point of the temporal and spiritual supremacy of the Roman see (the Vatican). He was certainly powerful, being able to judge between rival emperors in Germany; at one point he actually deposed one – Otto IV.

   This Innocent excommunicated the awful King John of England, who had refused to recognise the Pope’s appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. He also set up the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215. (more…)

By | 2014-12-23T12:29:42+00:00 December 22nd, 2014|Church history, French History, Italian History|0 Comments

New France & the North American fur trade

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada /

Fur trading with Native Americans in Canada /

The name ‘New France’, which sounds rather arbitrary, was the name given to all the North American territories France claimed to own between 1524 and 1803. In reality, it is a term used for the north/eastern colonies. In 1534 Cartier placed a cross in the name of the King of France on a shore of Gaspée Lake, taking all that territory for France. It was not to be, however, though Quebec, founded in 1608 by Champlain, was used as a base for exploration and fur trading. The same man got a large (and very cold) lake in the northern United States (New York State) named after him.

   Quebec naturally became the centre of operations for the French colony in Canada. In 1663 it was a royal province with a Governor, responsible for defence matters in particular and foreign relations in general. Justice was administered there, and there was a bishop to look after Catholic spiritual affairs.

   Somehow, perhaps because of typical French regimentation and bureaucracy, Quebec had no opportunity to develop early expressions of the sense of community, togetherness and responsibility that was perhaps more typical of the early English colonies in North America. One of the French, Jean Talon, did however encourage and support fishing, farming and lumber work. The latter led to ship-building activity. Tar and potash were produced and the French colonies’ future seemed assured and proficient.

The Fur Trade

The lengthy history of the fur trade in North America is closely linked with exploration of the continent, and the struggle between France and Britain to control it. At first the trade was centred along the banks of the St. Laurence River and the Atlantic coasts around Newfoundland and Acadia in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Furs were brought to the trading posts by Native Americans (q.v.) attracted by cheap trinkets and other goods manufactured for the purpose. It was not fair exchange, but the Native Americans did not know this yet.

   Samuel de Champlain (see above) established himself at Quebec and enjoyed successful contact with the Algonquin and Huron tribes (q.v.), aiding them in their age old conflict with the Iroquois (q.v.). With exploration and opening up of new territories spreading fast it was known by the end of the seventeenth century that something had to give; the French were sandwiched between the British colonies to the south and the formidable Hudson’s Bay Company (founded 1670), though the latter had in fact been set up as a result of information from two disaffected French traders.

   Meanwhile, the Iroquois were bringing trade into British hands at Albany; the French responded by building a chain of forts and trading posts, which should have brought under their control the Great Lakes region and the upper Mississippi as well as the valleys of the Ohio. But then, in 1763 came the cession of New France to Britain.

   In the early years of the nineteenth century the north-western fur trade was much contested between the ‘independents’, organized by the North West Company. For instance, the Company opened up new trade routes right across the continent to the Pacific coast, only to find John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company already established, plus branches of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The two Canadian companies merged in 1821, while the HBC organized the fur trade on a continental basis, surrendering its lands to the Dominion in 1869. This did not prevent it from becoming the most important economic force in the north.

A Swedish royal dynasty (1523 – 1818)

Garbo as Queen Christina with two male friends /

Garbo as Queen Christina with two male friends /

The Vasa dynasty provided monarchs for Sweden, with only two exceptions, from the beginning of the sixteenth century to just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (q.v.). The Vasa were only minor royalty, but gained the throne with Gustav I. He it was who smashed the Danish-dominated Kalmar Union, and led Sweden through the Reformation.

Three of Gustav’s sons followed him as King – Erik XIV, John III and following deposition of John’s son Sigismund III Vasa – Charles IX. Charles’ son Gustav II Adolf became a famous soldier and statesman whose daughter Christina abdicated in 1654 in favour of her cousin Charles X Gustav. Christina was played by Greta Garbo in a Hollywood film made about the queen.

Charles son, another Charles (XI) managed to introduce absolute monarchy in the French style of that epoch, but the Swedes were having none of it, abolishing absolutism after the death of Charles XI’s childless son, who was yet another Charles (XII). This Charles’ sister Ulrika in turn abdicated, and thus produced a breach in the line witrh the accession of her husband Frederick I. His successor Adolf Frederick descended from Charles XI’s sister, but his son Gustav III had a good deal less of the Vasa blood in him. The Vasa Dynasty ended with Charles XIII, who weakly died without heirs of any kind.

The VASA Dynasty

1523 – 60 Gustav I

1560 – 69 Erik XIV

1569 – 92 John III

1592 – 1604 Sigismund

1604 – 11 Charles IX

1611 – 32 Gustav II Adolf

1632 – 54 Christina

1654 – 60 Charles X

1660 – 97 Charles XI

1697 – 1718 Charles XII

1718 – 20 Ulrika Eleanora

1720 – 51 Frederick

1551 – 71 Adolf Frederick

1771 – 92 Gustav III

1792 – 1809 Gustav IV Adolf

1809 – 1818 Charles XIII

The royal house of Sweden then became Frenchified, when the country invited Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, one of Bonaparte’s marshals to become King Charles XIV John. The present monarchs of Sweden belong to this dynasty, and those of Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Belgium all descend from the marshal’s son Oscar I and his queen, Désirée Clary.

François P.G. Guizot



This statesman was born 1787, not a safe time to be born anywhere in France. His father was killed by the guillotine during the Terror (q.v.); somehow François survived to serve Louis XVII after the Bourbon Dynasty (q.v.) was restored. Following the subsequent murder of the Duc de Berry, son of the future Charles X (1820) he lost his position in the Council of State, and went over to the Liberals. (more…)

By | 2014-10-20T10:08:49+00:00 October 20th, 2014|French History|0 Comments

Who were ‘the Free French?’



Germany attacked France in May, 1940. 136 German divisions faced 125 British, French and Belgian ones. The Germans had over two thousand tanks, but even their commander admitted half were obsolete. The Allies had a little more than three thousand six hundred tanks, among which the French armour was better than anything the Germans had. But they had many more aircraft. Only the French, with their thousand aeroplanes, could provide much opposition. 400 British fighters, mostly Hawker Hurricanes were based in France. The French seemed paralysed by ther audacity and skill of Guderian’s Panzer tanks and troops, and watched with their mouths open as the Panzers crossed the Meuse,, open a fifty-mile gap in the Allied front, and then raced along the valley of the Somme towards the channel (q.v.). By 20 May they had got there. Gamelin, the French commander, seemed immovable and was replaced by a seventy-three year old – Weygand, who had been sitting in Syria. By 28 May the Germans were in Calais, cutting off the French, British and Belgian forces in the north from the remainder of French forces. The Dutch and the Belgians surrendered. The British got to Dunkirk where, miraculously, they evacuated nearly four hundred thousand troops back to English shores, unfortunately leaving tanks and ammunition behind, as there was not sufficient time to load them on to the Royal Navy ships sent, along with hundreds of small motor and sail craft which had also crossed the Channel to help. Meanwhile the French retreated to the Loire, thus separating themselves from those still holding the Maginot line, which Guderian had contemptuously avoided. In June two million Parisians left their homes and scuttled south, joining the six million who had already fled from northern France and Belgium. Weygand was replaced by Marshall Petain, who instantly accepted German surrender terms. The Atlantic coast and all Northern France were to be occupied and controlled by German forces. The rest of the country would be governed, hand in glove with the Germans, by Petain, in what became known as Vichy France. The French Army had been beaten in six weeks. (more…)

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