In 1970, serious trouble boiled up again when the Prince Sihanouk was knocked off the throne by a Cambodian communist guerilla force called Khmer Rouge. This brutal, well-organised group was inevitably opposed to an American invasion of Eastern Cambodia, and rapidly gained control of the entire country by 1975. The ‘government’ was led by a man called Pol Pot, noticeably insane, who announced the dramatic transformation of his country into what he called ‘Democratic Kampuchea’. His aim was to move the masses out of urban areas into the countryside, where they could be usefully employed in tilling the soil, if they could find some, and could irrigate it if there was nearby water. To control the new agricultural population Pol Pot invented thousands of new ‘agricultural cooperatives’ managed by his specially trained uncivil servants, while at the same time just as many ‘bougeois elements’ (previous owners of land) were eliminated. (more…)
Revolutions are a regular feature in all history, human nature being what it is. The careful student can probably find a revolution of some kind every year since records began, but in 1848 there were FOUR in Europe alone – In France, Italy, the Habsburg Empire and the greater part of what was then Germany. Reasons for these violent upheavals were failure of crops, especially that of the potato; pathetic cereal harvests, resultant food shortage and high prices, and a reduced demand for manufactured items, which in turn led to massive unemployment. In today’s enlightened days governments are better equipped to deal with such serious matters, but they were notably short of political and economic measures in the first half of the nineteenth century. (more…)
Any family that distinguishes itself for eight hundred and seventy-five years must have something special, and the Italian family d’Este has it. Appearing first in the misty beginnings of the eleventh century, they became rulers of the city of Ferrara near the end of the twelfth. Their iron rule stayed firm until 1598, when Ferrara was incorporated into the Papal States.
The first Marchese or marquess was Azzo d’Este (1205 – 1264), whose absolute authority seems to have been established by the last year of his life. The office of Signore or Lord was made hereditary during the time of his son, Obizzo, who annexed the territories of Modena and Reggio. Niccoló III, born 1383, brought peace and security to the area; his sons Leonello, born 1407, Borso, b. 1413, and Ercole, b. 1431 were mainly known as fervent patrons of the arts, as well as being scholarly students of the humanities. The daughters of Ercole, Isabella, b.1474 and Beatrice, b. 1475 continued this peaceful tradition. The first married Francisco Gonzaga (q.v.) of Mantua while the second married Lodovico Sforza (q.v.) of Milan, thus uniting three of the grandest (and richest) Italian families. (more…)
This beautiful, doomed woman was the sister of the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, and of Prince Ernest of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the daughter of Princess Alice of Great Britain, which made her a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Her other sisters were Princess Victoria of Battenberg (who became Marchioness of Milford Haven), and the Princess Henry of Prussia.
Elisabeth was tall and slim, with a gentle expression that hid a will of steel. She married the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovitch, fourth son of Tsar Alexander II. In 1891 her husband was made Governor-General of Moscow, and Elisabeth became a much loved figure in both St. Petersburg and Moscow. In February of 1905, as the Grand Duke was crossing the Senate Square in a carriage, a terrorist took his opportunity and threw a bomb, which blew both the carriage and the Grand Duke to pieces. Elisabeth was working at one of many charities in a workroom in the Kremlin and heard the violent explosion.In the square, she found the badly hurt coachman and two dead horses, but the vehicle and the Duke were scattered over the snow. Some of his fingers, still wearing rings, were found on the roof of of one the great houses facing the square. (more…)
Christian I was born in 1426 and became King of Denmark in 1448, King of Norway in 1450 and Sweden in 1457. In case this seems greedy he was also the founder of the Oldenberg royal line, being a son of the Count of Oldenberg and his lady Hedvig, the heiress of Schleswig and Holstein. He was monarch by election in Denmark, succeeding Christoph (of Bavaria to ensure more complication). Norway wanted him to replace their king, one Karl Knutsson (of Sweden to complicate matter more), and he was crowned king in Sweden too, though Karl K. was offended and ousted him in 1464.
To complicate the issue more the people elected him sovereign ruler of Schleswig/Holstein. It is all quite wondrous, for Christian was not a good king; he spent too much on himself and his glittering court, and was therefore always broke. When he married his daughter Margaret to James III of Scotland, he was expected to provide a dowry of 60,000 guilders. Not being able to find the complete sum he mortgaged the Orkneys and Shetland, getting 8000 guilders (which he never repaid). He did, however, found the University of Copenhagen in 1478: where did the money come from? Dying in 1481, he was succeeded by his son Hans I. (more…)
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. (more…)
Pope Francisco recently reached the throne of Peter because his predecessor decided, wisely perhaps, to retire from the Papacy before his death – a rare festivity in the Roman Catholic faith. Francisco is proving to be an excellent leader of the millions of Catholics on this planet. It is true that he is more popular with poor, ordinary people than the richer among us, following the fashion set first by John Paul II and staunchly sustained by the wise old pianist priest who was and still is a musician of world class. In fact, and this has nothing to do with the article you are now reading, I often find it sad that Ratzinger chose the Papacy instead of the concert hall. (more…)
After Federal Germany’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in May, 1955, the Federal German Armed Forces came into being under the name Bundeswehr. At first, it consisted of 101 new recruits, the rest perhaps a bit wary because total disarmament had been in force since Germany’s capitulation had ended the War in Europe in 1945.
The new army was utterly different to any that had gone before; the Bundeswehr was and is subordinate only to the German Parliament. Conscripts were seen as ‘citizens in uniform’. The new force was virtually encased within the NATO command structure, but the Bundeswehr very rapidly became the biggest single element in NATO, with 340,000 soldiers and 8,600 tanks of the latest design. There were more than 100,000 airmen flying or servicing more than 400 aircraft. There were also nearly 40,000 seamen in the newly structured navy. (more…)
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. (more…)
Even in 2015, some two hundred and fourteen years after his death, the name Benedict Arnold can inspìre in thinking Americans either an adverse or admiring reaction. “Traitor!’ “Outcast!” some will cry, curling the lip as if he were something disgusting: whereas some will say, “Brave man!” or “Good fellow!”. It seems to be automatic reaction, not necessarily based on fact.
Benedict Arnold was born in 1741; when the American Revolution(q.v.) broke out he chose to fight for the colonists against the British, and at the siege of Quebec distinguished himself for his courage and tenacity in battle. His reward was promotion to Brigadier-General – an essentially American army rank which means a field officer in command of a brigade. (more…)