History of the Low Countries

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Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount Turenne

The name could hardly sound more French, and yet Henri was the grandson of William of Orange ‘The Silent’, which should make him at least a Netherlander. Henri’s grandfather had earned his nickname by keeping his mouth firmly shut about French plans to murder every Protestant in France and the Netherlands. This Hitler-style plot had had success only in Paris in the form of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (24 August, 1572 q.v.). Henri was born in 1611. (more…)

‘Stadhouder’: what was a ‘stadholder’?

The names in Dutch and English are similar; this was the office of the chief executive of the Dutch Republic when Holland was a republic and not, as it is now, a Monarchy. Once, the Stadholder had been the King’s representative (and military commander) in any one of the many districts.

When the northern part of the Netherlands, also called the Low Countries because most of the land was below sea level, broke formally (and finally violently) with the Spanish king in 1581 the provincial assemblies or stads decided that they would appoint their own Stadholder. (more…)

The EIGHTY years war

There have been wars that lasted a few days; the Great War lasted a terrible four years, and the Second World War six. There was a thirty year war that nobody needed, except perhaps for giving employment to soldiers, but many died where they stood and were not recorded as thinking it worthwhile. The Punic Wars took forty-three years to complete, and Rome won them all anyway. It is possible to find a war endured by its participants for eighty years (1568 – 1648) and naturally the conflict was over Habsburg domination. (more…)

Catalunya, the Revolt of Cataluña & the Count-Duke of Olivares

Catalonia (English spelling), Cataluña (Castilian spelling) and Catalunya (Catalán spelling) all refer to the same autonomous region, made up by the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lérida and Tarragona (the last three in Spanish spelling). Catalonia was united with the Kingdom of Aragón from the year 1337, and developed a huge trading empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The Catalans have always been known for hard work, and their principal port, Barcelona, is among the best in the world. (more…)

The Ist Duke of Berwick, illegitimate and Jacobite

James Fitzjames was born in 1670. His father was James II of England and VII of Scotland, younger brother of Charles II. His mother was Mrs Arabella Churchill, one of the latter James’s numerous mistresses, the Stuart brothers being highly sexed and beyond doubt very attractive to women. (more…)

English monarchs from the Norman Line to the Windsors

The Crown of St. Edward / theguardian.com

The Crown of St. Edward / theguardian.com

Before a Norman Duke successfully invaded England, there had been in the Danish or Viking Line six kings including the last two, Edward the Confessor (started building Westminster Abbey) and Harold II (very much a Viking, killed at the Battle of Hastings). Then it goes as follows:-

Norman Line: William the Conquerer 1066-87 – William II known as Rufus, murdered perhaps at the order of Henry I followed by Stephen and then Henry II (first of the Plantagenet dynasty, who had four sons, three of whom were revolting for one reason or other – Richard Lionheart, John and Geoffrey who was never King. After these came Henry III (1216 – 72 fifty-six years in which he did not do much for anybody including himself but was father of Edward I who did a great deal and was one of England’s greatest kings whatever Mel Gibson says. He had a son who became Edward II who did unsuitable things with male favourites such as the Despensers, ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a Gascon knight called Piers Gaveston. All three favourites were bumped off by the Barons, as was poor Edward, murdered in Berkeley Castle at the orders of his wife and Mortimer. Then came Edward III 1327 – 77, another long reign and a great King, though he was indeed the son of Edward II. After him came twenty-two years of Richard II, who started well by extinguishing the Peasants’ Revolt, but went wrong, made himself disliked by his barons, and got murdered in 1399 just in time for the – (more…)

The Thirty Years War

The death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden / lookandlearn.com

The death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden / lookandlearn.com

The British were involved in this nasty episode, though only on the margins. All wars are horribly wasting, but this one could be taken as the best example. It was about religion, which hardly comes as a surprise. It is amazing that most human conflict since the death of Christ has come about because of differences of opinion and dogma, when Christ taught that all men should love each other. How humans have reacted during the centuries after His death is hardly His fault. (more…)

The Merchant Adventurers

MerchantThis early fifteenth century name was coined to cover English merchants engaged in the export/import trade. The first of these was made official in 1407. After this, internationally-based English companies flourished throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The idea derived from a haphazard collection of merchants in the major British ports, mostly selling wool and cloth to the continent of Europe, but specializing in business with Antwerp in the Netherlands. Some of these acquired royal charters in ports like Bristol (1467) and the Port of London (1505) as well as settlements (which would eventually transform themselves into Consulates) in the foreign ports, always concentrating on business.

With this kind of organization at full speed, the merchants became dominant in foreign trade, which did nothing to increase their popularity or that of England. Their rivals were ousted, especially merchants in the Hanseatic League (Cologne, Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen etc.). The Merchant Adventurers’ ships began arming themselves with cannon, and arming the sailors themselves. In the reign of monarchs such as Elizabeth I, some other European states started calling the Merchant Adventurers by a different name – pirates. It is certainly accepted that the Queen encouraged her Adventurers to be adventurous, and this sometimes involved armed attacks on foreign ports, especially Spanish ones.

In 1611 the Merchants made Hamburg their centre of operations, but their base had always been London. They were the forerunners of the great chartered companies, but declined in importance in the eighteenth century.

The Battle of ‘the Bulge’

American infantry moving in the Battle of the Bulge / wikipedia.org

American infantry moving in the Battle of the Bulge / wikipedia.org

I happened to see a new DVD of an old film with this title last night. It was a typical Hollywood presentation, cost a fortune, was directed oddly enough by an Englishman, Ken Annakin (but not Skywalker). The script was quite literate, the acting good as always. The customary Hollywood absence of anyone British or Canadian in scenes supposedly from the Second World War was adhered to. I remember a Spielberg epic called Saving Private Ryan in which the director even managed to make it appear that the Normandy Invasion of 1944 was entirely American. The GIs had two beaches in Normandy, and the British/Canadians etc. had three, but no hint of this appeared in the movie. It was a bit like this in The Battle of the Bulge (1965). Henry Fonda and Robert Ryan played the military heroes, backed up by James Macarthur and of course Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas and there went your first ten million dollars off the budget before the camera was turned. (more…)

Caustic Congresses III: the Peace of Utrecht (1713)


Great men conferring / dailykos.com

Great men conferring / dailykos.com

Of all the peace conferences that turned caustic almost at the moment of signing, the Peace of Utrecht which ‘ended’ the War of the Spanish Succession (q.v.) wins a prize. The year was 1713; the comparatively peaceful eighteenth century was just beginning. The seventeenth had been full of blood and thunder.

The Congress met at Utrecht in the Low Countries without the presence of Austria. Philip V (Felipe Quinto) stayed as King of Spain but had to renounce his claim to the French throne, and to accept the loss of Spain’s European empire. Later, Austrian emperor Charles VI found he could not carry out his plans for expansion without allies, and accepted the terms of Utrecht at Rastadt and Baden in 1714, one year later. (more…)

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