Richelieu,

The War Spreads 1625 -1648

THE BLOOD-LETTING in Germany aroused new ambitions in many of the kings of Europe. In Denmark and Sweden, the strong Protestant king: who were taming opposition at home began looking to Germany as a land ripe for conquest. Furthermore, in attacking Germany they were also attacking the hated power of Roman Catholicism. Quickest of all to act was Christian IV, king of Denmark. Christian did not doubt that he was equal to the task. At the age of five he had learned fencing and the use of firearms‚ waking at five each morning and practicing long hours. He became king when he was eleven, but did not really rule Denmark until he was fully grown up. Then he held a glorious coronation to celebrate his manhood. Surrounded by his courtiers and the ambassadors of the Protestant princes, he was proclaimed king. With his royal sword, he hacked at the air in four directions to show how he would protect the four corners of his kingdom and he grasped the Bible to show that he was a defender of Protestantism. Christian had a wild zest for life and loved a good fight, but he refused to allow too much disorder in Denmark. He ordered bishops and clergymen not to break their beer cups on their neighbour’s heads during funerals; noblemen who broke the heads of royal guards had to pay the damages. To keep order, Christian raised the hangmen’s pay, to a dollar a head, with an extra dollar for torture and four dollars for burning a witch. He also laid down laws to protect the Danes against the plague. Mothers were not to throw their babies in wells, lice-infested heads were to be washed in strong lye and children were to drink beer instead of water. Altogether, Christian proved to …

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bohemia

The Thirty Years War 1618 – 1625

EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN I of the Holy Roman Empire walked up to a wild lion and pulled out its tongue; his enemies set his house on fire, tried to poison him and ambushed him twenty times; wild bears attacked him three times, stupid servants ignited powder kegs near him and five boats capsized under him, but always he escaped unharmed. He was a greater general than Julius Caesar, a brilliant musician, scholar and inventor. All these stories were proof that Maximilian was a great hero — but they were written by authors whom Maximilian himself hired to do the job. He supplied some of the plots himself and he made sure the stories were properly heroic. Then he had them illustrated by the finest artists of Europe. In real life, Maximilian was indeed a bold soldier and a fine hunter and he was also a shrewd emperor. He did not have much power and one reason he had tales written about him was to encourage the German princes and dukes to give him more authority. Maximilian’s powers were weak because the Holy Roman Empire — Germany as it was later known — was a freak among European lands. The empire was as wealthy as other lands. It had a great trading league, the Hanse; the wealthiest bankers in Europe, the Fuggers; and more people than any neighbouring land. It even had fierce professional soldiers, the Landsknecht‚ who were feared throughout Europe. The empire was made up of scores of petty governments — principalities, dukedoms, margravates, landgravates and cities — which were united under the emperor only in the loosest way. Even its name was freakish, for the Holy Roman Empire was not particularly holy, it was far from Rome and it was so divided into tiny kingdoms that it was almost …

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France Becomes a Great Nation 1453-1631

WHEN MORE than a century of war between England and France ended in 1453, it was the French king, Charles VII, who was victorious. Although he had driven the English out of France, Charles found himself the king of a sad land. During the wars the great French nobles had fought among themselves as bitterly as they had fought the English and they had become so powerful that they no longer respected their king. France itself was devastated, the people poor and hungry. Paris had been half ruined. Wolves prowled the city by night and twenty-four thousand houses stood empty. Charles worked hard to restore order, setting aside special hours each day for special problems. He organized a permanent army to make himself independent of the nobles, but he found the nobles had no intention of letting him be independent. Many of them rebelled and his own son Louis joined them. Charles died in 1461 and Louis became king — and before long Louis, too, had trouble with the nobles. One great duke, Charles the Bold of Burgundy, even imprisoned Louis in a castle until the king promised to satisfy all the nobles’ demands. After he was freed, however, Louis broke all his promises. He was astoundingly lucky; one by one his greatest rivals  died and he inherited their lands. As he gathered in more lands and more power, Frenchmen grew to fear him. They called him the Spider King. Louis’ successors turned to fighting wars in Europe to win new glory for France. Francis I was so successful that he even hoped to be elected the next ruler of the great Holy Roman Empire. He did his best to buy up the votes of the princely electors, but all his gold could not match the riches of the powerful …

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Ferdinand and Isabella Unite Spain 1469-1700

IT WAS Wednesday, October 18, 1469 and Princess Isabella of Castile and Prince Ferdinand of Aragon were being married. At the end of the beautiful ceremony, the two thousand guests cheered and the entire city of Valladolid began a week of celebration. Isabella was overjoyed, for she loved her husband and he loved her. They seemed well matched. Isabella was eighteen, tall, blonde and blue-eyed – “The handsomest lady I ever beheld‚” one nobleman said. Ferdinand was slightly shorter than his wife, but he was handsome. Isabella was intelligent, very religious and strong-willed. Ferdinand, too, was intelligent and he was extremely shrewd. The happy couple talked for long hours, went riding, played chess and their love grew. Isabella was glad to escape from the royal court of her brother, King Henry IV of Castile. Castile was the largest of the several kingdoms that made up Spain and under Henry IV it was probably the worst ruled. Isabella hated Henry’s court. The nobles were proud, ignorant and insolent; some were fierce warriors, the rest seemed lazy. Most of them taxed their peasants harshly, then spent the money on magnificent lace-trimmed clothes, on drinking and fighting. King Henry himself set a bad example. He was cruel, he loved to watch spectacles and fires, he let his guard of wild Moorish soldiers insult the young Spanish ladies. When their fathers complained, he told them they were insane and had them whipped in public. The nobles could get anything they wanted from Henry. Sometimes he gave them blank checks to take any sum they wished from Castile’s treasury. Henry was a weak king and became known as Henry the impotent. In the provinces, the nobles were even more unruly. Around Seville, the Duke of Medina-Sidonia and the hot-headed Marquis of Cadiz were at war, …

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tudor

England under the Tudors 1485-1603

IN AUGUST of 1485, Henry Tudor landed on the Welsh coast to fight King Richard III for the crown of England. Henry was twenty-nine years old, lean and golden-haired, with a merry face. He was head of the Lancaster family, which had so far been defeated by King Richard’s family, York, in the Wars of the Roses. Henry was counting on help from many Englishmen and Welshmen who hated Richard. They believed Richard had hacked his way to the throne by murdering his nephews, they resented his taxes and rich living and they called him the “great hog” or “great boar.” Many Welshmen immediately joined the Lancaster chief, hopefully shouting, “King Henry! King Henry!” and “Down with the bragging white boar!” Henry marched north into England, gathering new followers. Richard mocked Henry’s troops as a few “faint hearted Frenchmen and beggarly Britons.” Even so, he raised a large army and advanced to Bosworth Field near Henry’s camp. When Richard roused his troops for battle on the morning of August 21, they stretched out, as a chronicler said, “a wonderful length,” so that the sight of the massed footmen and horsemen sent a thrill of horror through Henry’s camp. On a knoll overlooking the countryside, Henry stirred his men to fight. He told them not to be dismayed by Richard’s large army. Painting to Richard’s camp, he said that there was a thief who had stolen the crown and now must surely fail. Against “yonder tyrant” his soldiers must advance “like true men against traitors . . . scourges of God against tyrants.” Then Henry led his men to the attack. They marched with the archers in the centre and the foot soldiers on the right protected by a marshy bog. They advanced so that the sun was behind them and …

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Adventures in the New World 1519 – 1620

“I DID NOT come to till the soil like a peasant,” said Hernando Cortez. “I came to find gold.” His words echoed the thoughts of almost every Spaniard in the New World. The discovery of the sea route to the West had set off a great treasure hunt. Colonizing and slaughtering, building and plundering, the gold-hungry Spaniards won a Spanish Empire of the West. Conquistadores‚ they were called — the conquerors. None of the treasure-hunters was more cunning or ambitious than Hernando Cortez‚ who came to the island of Hispaniola in 1504. It was not until 1519 that the governor of Hispaniola sent him on an expedition to explore the coast of Central America. Cortez sailed with five ships, 500 soldiers, eleven cannon and fifteen horses. The fleet anchored near the coast of the territory called Mexico and the men went ashore to build a settlement. Cortez ordered the ships dismantled so that none of his men could go back to Hispaniola, then set off on a march inland. Mexico was a vast country whose Indians had built a highly organized civilization and Cortez had a force of less than 500 men. He was a skillful leader; besides, he had firearms and horses –and good luck. Not long after he began his march, a horde of Indians swept out of the hills to attack the Spaniards. As soon as the Spanish cavalry appeared, the Indians fled to safety. As one soldier later wrote, the Indians, “who had never before seen a horse, thought that steed and rider were one creature.” One tribe after another surrendered. They had been conquered by the people called the Aztecs and many of them offered to join Cortez in the fight to destroy the Aztec empire. As the Spaniards and their Indian allies pushed on …

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Columbus

A New World and a New Sea 1492-1522

ALONG THE DUSTY SPANISH road leading north from Granada plodded a mule. On its back, bouncing and cursing his luck, sat a glum Italian sea captain. Four years before, Captain Cristobal Colon — the English would call him Christopher Columbus — had come to Spain on horseback, like a gentleman. He had been received at court, granted audiences with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and invited to describe his daring plan to sail west across the Ocean Sea to India. Royal advisers had asked to study his maps and the charts on which he had plotted a course and he had waited, full of hope. The king was busy chasing Moslems out of Granada and the pious queen was more interested in church matters than exploration. Although everyone was polite and encouraging, no one offered the gold Columbus needed for his expedition. At last, gathering up his maps, he set out for the court of France. This time, like a peasant, he rode on the back of a mule, the only mount he could afford. Some miles out of Granada, Columbus heard behind him the sound of galloping hoofs. Then a horseman in royal livery reined in beside him and called for him to stop. He must turn back, the horseman said. The queen wished to hear again his plan to sail to the Indies. One royal adviser had not forgotten Columbus’ maps. When he heard that the captain was leaving Spain, he had rushed to Queen Isabella and urged her to hire Columbus to sail under the Spanish flag. Portugal, he reminded her, was profiting richly from such expeditions. He added, if Columbus found a route to the East, there would be a splendid opportunity to convert the heathen Indians and Chinese to Christianity. The queen agreed and asked …

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Vasco da Gama

Prince Henry’s School 1415 – 1499

IN 1415, WHEN ALL OF CHRISTENDOM belonged to one church and Christians battled pagan Turks instead of one another, a force of Portuguese marines set sail for the coast of Africa. They planned to attack a town called Ceuta. A stronghold that guarded the narrow passage connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic, Ceuta was the end link in the chain of fortresses and well-armed ports that the Turks had tightened around the southern and eastern boundaries of Europe. Held in by this chain, European merchants could not trade in the luxury-filled markets of the east, pilgrims could not journey to Jerusalem and missionaries could not carry the word of God to the countless “lost souls” of Africa and the Indies. While the Turks held Ceuta, it was dangerous for the merchants of northern and southern Europe merely to trade with one another. So the king of Portugal sent out an expedition of his toughest marines. At their head he placed his own son, Prince Henry, who was young but skilled in the tactics of war. With a favourable wind driving his ships at top speed, Prince Henry caught the Turks by surprise. He sank their fleet, destroyed their docks‚ burned their town and triumphantly sailed home to announce that the sea routes were free once more. The king rewarded his son by naming him master of the Naval Arsenal at Sagres, the port of Lagos and all of the Cape of St. Vincent, the rocky headland that jutted like a pointing finger from southern Portugal into the Atlantic. Prince Henry was delighted. Ships and the sea were his love and his life and he had many ideas for the fleet that now was his to command. These ideas were the beginning of a great age of exploration. They would …

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Henry VIII

Defender of the Faith 1521 – 1603

OF ALL THE RULERS OF EUROPE, none was more eager to please the pope, more anxious to prove himself a loyal son of the Church, than Henry VIII, the handsome young monarch of England. Henry was one of the first to offer his soldiers when the pope formed a Holy League to fight the Turks (and to frighten off the French kings, who had developed the unfortunate habit of invading Italy every few years). Henry never actually sent the troops. To show that he meant well, he wrote a strongly worded book about the duties that men owed the pope and the treachery of Lutherans who dated to question the leader of the Church. “What serpent so villainous,” he wrote, “as he who calls the pope’s authority tyrannous?” It was a most impressive and learned book and no wonder. Much of it was the work of Henry’s scholarly friend Thomas More. When it was published in 1521, the pope rewarded the king by giving him the title “Defender of the Faith.” Henry was delighted with his new title, though not surprised. After all, he was used to being the best at everything he did. He wrote music which the palace musicians insisted was exactly the thing to play at court. He amazed his poets with the excellence of his verses, danced more skillfully than the most light-footed of his courtiers, killed more deer and wild beats than the best of his huntsmen and thought deeper thoughts than the philosophers in his universities — or so his courtiers said. It did not occur to him that people praised him merely because he was the king. Indeed, his one problem was to make use of his many talents when it took so much time to rule his kingdom. He did the best …

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loyola

The Counter Reformation 1521-1648

THE BLAST OF MUSKETS and the clang of swords against armour echoed across the plains of Italy, Spain and the Lowlands. Warriors of the king of France were clashing with the Spanish infantry and German knights of the Holy Roman Emperor. Control of the nations of Europe was the prize both nations sought. They schemed and plotted; their generals planned campaigns; their soldiers marched out to victory or defeat. Victories counted for little, for much of Europe’s future was decided by another, different kind of war – a war for the minds and souls of men. Village squares and royal council chambers, churches, university lecture halls and schoolrooms were the battlefields of this new war. Its troops were armies of preachers whose battle-songs were hymns and whose weapons were Bibles and textbooks. Reformers were on the march, Lutherans and Calvinists. Their thundering voices shook the domes of ancient cathedrals and wakened bishops dozing in their palaces. The Reformers won no easy victories‚ however. The forces of the pope were also on the march and the strongholds of the Church were well defended. Frightened by rebellions in Germany and Switzerland, the Catholic leaders in Rome took further measures to strengthen the Church. “There is but one way to silence the Protestants’ complaints‚” a learned churchman told the pope “and that is not to deserve them.” Lowly monks and the powerful cardinals alike began to talk of reform, of hard work, of honesty and godliness. Gradually there were deeds to match the talk — a great Church house-cleaning that one day would be called the Counter-Reformation. Meanwhile, in Europe’s towns and colleges‚ new soldiers of the Church appeared. Their uniforms were the simple black robes of monks, but their minds were as keen as dueling swords — much too sharp and smooth, …

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