England Tightens Her Grip, 1763 – 1765

There had been few serious misunderstandings between the colonies and the mother country before the French and Indian War, but that was mainly because England had allowed the colonies to do pretty much as they pleased. They had been free to set up their own governments, make their own laws, have their own armed forces, print their own paper money and manage most of their local affairs as they saw fit. England’s American colonies had enjoyed far more freedom and independence than had any of the colonies of France or Spain. Not that England planned it that way. She had merely neglected the colonies for well over a hundred years. At first she had neglected them because they were small and far away and did not seem very important. Later she had neglected them because she was busy fighting one war after another with her most serious rivals, France and Spain. England had finally brought that struggle to an end with the great victory in the French and Indian War. It was the kind of victory she had been trying to win for seventy years. She won Florida from Spain and Canada and the wilderness east of the Mississippi from France. On the other side of the world, England had won French possessions in India as well. Her powerful navy ruled the seas and she was the strongest nation on earth. At the same time, the war had left England with many problems. She was deeply in debt, yet she had to support a large navy to protect her vast empire. To provide business for her many new factories, she had to find ways of increasing her trade with the colonies. England could no longer afford to neglect her American colonies. She had to tighten her grip on them and …

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American Revolution – Trouble in Boston 1770

EVEN AFTER IT HAPPENED, few people in colonial Boston knew the boy’s name. He was just a barber’s helper, but everyone heard about him on the night of the trouble. On that night he set off an angry mob by pointing his finger at a British guard and the violence that followed became a famous incident in American history. The date was March 5, 1770. Boston was then occupied by British troops. The troops had been brought in to keep order and to force the people to pay taxes they did not want to pay. The people of Boston hated the troops and insulted them at every opportunity. Boys threw snowballs at them and called them “lobsters” because their long red coats were almost the color of boiled lobsters. On the night of the trouble, the barber’s helper started things off by calling a British officer names. He became so insulting that a British soldier on guard duty nearby finally lost his temper and struck the boy on the head with the butt of his rifle. News of the attack spread quickly to shops and taverns. Within an hour small bands of men were roving the streets looking for trouble with the hated redcoats. They met a large band of redcoats who were also out looking for trouble. The badly outnumbered civilians soon took to their heels. To get more people into the streets someone rang a church bell, Boston’s way of sounding the fire alarm. People who came out of their houses to help fight the fire were told about the boy who had been struck down by a British soldier. That was too much. They searched for the barber’s helper and found him. The boy repeated his story, probably exaggerating to win more sympathy from the crowd. He …

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Russia Under the Tsars 1462-1796

IN THE LAST PART of the fifteenth century, the monks and courtiers of Moscow began to say that Moscow was destined to become the “Third Rome.” The first Rome, they said had been great as the centre of Christianity; but when the Romans had recognized the pope, Rome had been punished by destruction. The second Rome had been Constantinople, the centre of the Orthodox Church; but Constantinople, too, had briefly recognized the pope, and it, too, had fallen. Now Moscow, where the Orthodox faith still remained pure, was to become the Third Rome — the great centre of the Christian world. It would remain so, “for two Romes have fallen, the third stands and a fourth will not be.” Once Moscow had been small and unimportant, but the dukes of Moscow had been bold and ambitious, seizing every opportunity to make Moscow stronger. Sometimes they acted more like thieves than princes. Grand Duke Daniel once invited another prince to dinner, pretending friendship. When the guest arrived, Daniel threw him into prison and seized his lands. Daniel’s son, Ivan, who was called Ivan Moneybags, made Moscow the home of the Metropolitan, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ivan Moneybags also became the tax collector for the Tatar overlords and he kept a good part of the taxes, for himself. Other dukes stole or bought or conquered new lands to make Moscow greater. THE BOYARS So, when Ivan III became Grand Duke in 1462, he inherited one of the most powerful kingdoms of Russia. Ivan acted very much as though he believed the story of the Third Rome. He married Sophia, niece of the last Byzantine emperor. He put the two-headed eagle of Rome on his own state seal. He sometimes even called himself tsar, which was the Russian way of …

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The Rise of Prussia 1594 – 1786

AT THE END of the 16th century, Brandenburg and Prussia were unimportant German lands, but the ruler of Brandenburg was clever and farsighted. He was John Sigismund, the head of the Hohenzollern family. In 1594 John Sigismund married the daughter of the idiot duke of Prussia. In 1618, when the duke died, John Sigismund became ruler of Prussia as well as Brandenburg. There must have been many people who laughed at John Sigismund. Brandenburg was worth little, they must have thought, so why did he want an even less valuable Prussia. The nobles were the real power in both Prussia and Brandenburg and ruled almost like kings. They did not pay taxes and they treated their peasants like slaves, whipping and imprisoning them as they wished. The Brandenburgers were backward and poor. Their land was sandy and infertile; they had no great ships or ports, few industries, little trade. Their capital, Berlin, was an unimportant provincial town. Prussia was even poorer and it lay on the frozen, marshy lands north of the Polish capital, Warsaw. Prussia was separated from Brandenburg by 200 miles of hostile territory and Swedes and Poles fought for the entire area. The Poles even claimed John Sigismund as their underling. Like earlier dukes of Prussia, he had to travel to Warsaw and kneel before the king of Poland before the Poles would accept him as duke. In 1618, when the Thirty Years War began, John Sigismund’s weak, divided lands were completely unprotected. John Sigismund died two years later and was succeeded by George William, a timid duke. The war went on, Brandenburg and Prussia were overrun and George William did not know what to do. By the time he died in 1640, it seemed that his lands would be forever torn by war, by religious strife …

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The Sun King 1642 – 1715

ALL HIS LIFE Cardinal Richelieu had been a sick man, but by the spring of 1642 he was dying. He carefully made his will, leaving to the king his elegant town house, eight sets of tapestries‚ and three beds. On December 2, he received the last sacraments of his church. “Does your Eminence pardon your enemies?” asked the priest and Richelieu answered, “I have no enemies but those of the State.” When Louis XIII learned that Richelieu had died, he said, “A great statesman is dead.” To take Richelieu’s place, Louis chose Jules Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu’s own choice for his successor. A Sicilian and a clever diplomat, Mazarin had entered Richelieu’s service in 1639 and had adopted French citizenship. He was black-eyed, handsome and seemed as pleasant and reasonable as Richelieu was stern. He took up Richelieu’s work with energy. A year later, Louis XIII died of tuberculosis. He left his four-year-old son, Louis XIV, to rule France in name: the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria became regent and Mazarin continued to direct policy. The magistrates of the parlement, or high court, of Paris now looked forward to having their advice taken by the agreeable cardinal‚ who seemed so easy-going. The parlement quickly learned that Mazarin was as hard as Richelieu. They and the great lords began to hate him, to call him a thief, a buffoon, a peddler, an Italian imposter. To add to their annoyance, the long war against the Hapsburgs had been costly and they resented the high war taxes. In 1648 the parlement of Paris rebelled and demanded reforms and more power. Mazarin ordered the parlement’s leaders arrested and sent a guard to seize old Pierre Broussel, the most honest and popular of the magistrates. Broussel was eating lunch with his five children when  the guard …

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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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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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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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