This Day in History

October 25, 1415:
The Longbow and Agincourt
Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization (Textbook)
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

For another six years after the Battle of Sluys, the English and French fought no important battles. In 1346, however, Edward III crossed the English Channel with 15,000 men and captured the city of Caen in Normandy. The English then moved east, pillaging the country as they went. Philip, with an army of about 20,000 men, moved north. On August 26, 1346, the English and the French met at Crécy, near the Flemish border.

15th century depiction of the Battle of Crécy
At Crécy, Edward III’s army used a new weapon, the cannon. The cannon used by the English, however, was not the powerful weapon it would become. It was a crude, smooth-bore gun capable of only short-range firing of two- to three-pound iron balls. But Edward’s cannon caused panic in the French cavalry lines, scaring and crippling horses and men with bouncing blows.

Image of a longbowman, from the 
village sign for Crécy
A more effective English weapon was the longbow, a five-foot-long bow of seasoned yew that could fire a deadly rain of arrows in half the time it took to load, crank, and fire a crossbow. At Crécy, rain and damp spoiled the bowstrings of the French crossbowmen while the English longbowmen kept theirs dry by rolling them up under their helmets. The French cavalry milled around, unable to move in unity against the English lines, because the English longbowmen sent barrage after barrage of arrows against them, hitting horses as well as men. The horses panicked and fell back, crushing the foot soldiers behind them and leaving the troops open to the English assault. Because of the longbow, Crécy was a resounding English victory.

In the ten years after the Battle of Crécy, the English and French engaged in a few skirmishes but no great battles. In 1356 Edward III’s son, Edward the “Black Prince” (so named for the color of his armor), led a small force from Guienne in the south of France and met the French in battle at Poitiers. Again, the longbow gave the victory to the English, who captured John II “the Good,” who had become king of France in 1350.

King John II of France
With King John a prisoner in England, his son Charles, the Dauphin, took over the government of France. Charles was an able and courageous leader who successfully resisted the English. In 1360, King Edward III and Charles signed the Treaty of Brétigny, in which Charles gave Edward the French territories of Aquitaine, Calais, and Ponthieu. In return, Edward gave up all claims to the French crown. The treaty said King John was to be ransomed. But when the French could not pay the required ransom, the chivalrous old French king, whom the English had freed in order to raise the needed funds for his release, voluntarily returned to England. He had made an oath that he would not try to escape, and he kept it. King John died in London in April 1364.

After the death of John the Good, the Dauphin became king as Charles V. The new king was an able ruler who, despite the peace treaty, continued the war with England.With the help of his commander in chief, Bertrand du Guesclin, Charles was able to take back many of the territories he had given to England in the Treaty of Brétigny. By 1380, the English held only the coastal towns of Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Calais.

When both Charles V and Guesclin died in 1380, France faced an uncertain future. The new king, Charles VI, was weak and mentally unstable. Furthermore, instead of having a strong adviser like Guesclin to guide him, the king was surrounded by men interested only in their personal advantage. Under Charles VI, France was thus not prepared to resist the energetic kings who soon would sit on the English throne.

John of Gaunt
In the years following Edward III’s death in 1377, matters did not look too good for England either. The new king, Richard II, was only 10 years old when he ascended the throne. (Richard was the son of Edward the “Black Prince,” who had died some years earlier.) For a time, all went well for England under Richard, who had his uncle — John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster — to guide him. But, eventually, the young king replaced Gaunt with a group of self-interested nobles, of whom the barons did not approve. Finally, Richard was forced to submit to the barons and dismiss his friends. Several years passed until, in 1397, Richard was able to overcome his enemies and rule with nearly absolute power in England. But Richard exercised this power foolishly and made powerful enemies.

King Henry V
Richard II in the end had so little support that he could not defend himself when his cousin, Henry Hereford, led a rebellion against him in 1399. Henry was John of Gaunt’s son who, when his father died, was supposed to inherit the duchy of Lancaster. Instead, fearing Henry as a rival, Richard had sent him into exile. Returning from exile, Henry Hereford faced little opposition and forced Richard to surrender to him. The king was arrested and most probably murdered in prison. Hereford took the throne as Henry IV, thus establishing a new ruling house — the House of Lancaster. Richard II was the last of the Plantagenet kings of England.

Henry IV was an able and energetic king. In 1413, his equally able and energetic son, Henry V, succeeded him as king. At the same time, in France, Charles VI had grown insane. He could do nothing as his kingdom was torn by civil war between the supporters of the duke of Burgundy and the “Armagnacs,” supporters of the duke of Orléans. In 1415, Henry V took advantage of the civil unrest in France and landed an army at Calais. On October 25, 1415, at Agincourt in northern France, Henry’s outnumbered forces defeated the heavy armored French cavalry, slaughtering many of the leading nobility of France. As at Crécy and Poitiers, so at Agincourt; it was the longbow that gave the English the victory over French chivalry.

A 15th century depiction of the Battle of Agincourt

Music of the Ars Subtilior

This piece, composed about the year 1400 by the French composer, Johannes Symonis Hasprois, is an example of a style called the Ars Subtilior (“more subtle art”), characterized by a complex rythmnic and melodic style. 

The North American Martyrs

The following is an excerpt from our recently published high school e-book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. 

Like other Jesuit missionaries who would come after him, Père Jean de Brébeuf not only worked among the Indians but shared their way of life, including living in a wigwam both in summer and in the dead of winter. When spring succeeded one harsh winter, he and another Jesuit, Père de Noue, traveled by canoe with a band of Huron Indians to the Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, where for two years Père Brébeuf labored among the Huron, but met with no success. In 1629, when Québec surrendered to the English, Brébeuf had to return to France.

Jean de Brébeuf
At home in France, amid all the comforts of civilization, Père Brébeuf did not forget Canada. He returned in 1633 and set out again for the Lake Huron country. After a journey of 30 days through dense forest, beset by Indian enemies, Brébeuf and another Jesuit, Père Antoine Daniel, reached Lake Huron. There Brébeuf labored for 16 years, deprived of the French society and civilization he had always known. Then, in 1647, his Jesuit superiors transferred him to another mission near Québec.

That same year, 1647, war broke out between the Iroquois and the Huron, and two missionaries, trying to reach the Huron country, were captured. One of the missionaries, the Jesuit Isaac Jogues, had penetrated as far as Sault Ste. Marie, the outlet to Lake Superior (the northernmost of the Great Lakes). He had hoped to work among the Indians of the region and to carry the Gospel to the Sioux who lived at the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Instead, another task, and a greater glory, awaited him.

File:SOJ-Isaac Joques--from oil portrait by Donald Guthrie McNab.png
Isacc Jogues
On August 3, 1642, the Mohawk, a tribe of the Iroquois nation, captured Père Jogues at Tres-Rívìeres on the St. Lawrence and took him a captive to their village on the Mohawk River, about 40 miles north of Fort Orange (later named Albany, New York). For a year and one month he remained in the Mohawk village, where he was treated as a slave and suffered terrible tortures, including having several of his fingers burned or chewed off. It was the Dutch Protestants from Fort Orange who finally freed Jogues. They carried him by ship down the Hudson River to New Amsterdam. From there he took ship for France.

But Père Jogues was not one to flee danger. Instead of remaining in France, he returned, in 1644, to Canada and asked to be sent as a missionary to his former captors, the Mohawk. This was not a particularly good time for a French missionary to enter Mohawk lands. Sickness had broken out among the Iroquois, and blight had struck their crops. The Indians blamed their troubles on Jogues, whom they called a sorcerer. Although knowing full well the danger that awaited him among the Mohawks, Jogues did not turn back. Abandoned by the Huron men that had accompanied him and with only one companion, Jogues met the Iroquois. They captured him, stripped him naked, and slashed him with their knives. Finally, on October 18, 1646, the Indians felled the priest with a tomahawk stroke and cut off his head. They fixed the head on a pole and threw his body into the Mohawk River.

Père Brébeuf, meanwhile, had been working among the Huron. Though in 1642 the Iroquois made peace with the French, their war with the Huron continued. The Iroquois attacked not only Huron settlements but burned the Huron missions and slaughtered the missionaries. On March 16, 1649, they captured Jean de Brébeuf.

Père Brébeuf did not utter a groan during the tortures that followed. After beating him with clubs, the Indians tied him to posts. Kindling a fire at the missionary’s feet, they slashed his body with their knives and, in mockery of baptism, poured scalding hot water over his head. Around his neck they tied a collar of red-hot tomahawk heads and thrust a hot iron rod down his throat. When Jean de Brébeuf at length expired, the Indians cut out his heart and ate it, for they wanted to partake of his courage.

Brébeuf and Jogues were not the only martyrs of this period. Among those killed by the Iroquois were Père Jean Lalende, in what is now New York, in 1646; Père Antoine Daniel in Canada, in 1648; and Brébeuf’s companion, Père Gabriel Lalement in Canada, in 1649. With Brébeuf and Jogues, the Church honors these men as saints, under the title, the North American Martyrs.

Additional Resources:
St. Isaac and the Indians by Milton Lomask
Saints of the American Wilderness by John A. O’Brien 
Saint Among the Hurons: The Life of Jean de Brebeuf by Francis, Talbot, S.J.
The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century by Francis Parkman
 Jean de Brebeuf by Joseph P. Donnelly (out-of-print, check library)

This Day in History

October 14, 1066:
Duke William Conquers England 

St. Edward the Confessor
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The History of Christian Civilization For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Early in 1066, the childless old Saxon king of England, Edward the Confessor, died without settling the questions of who should inherit his throne. Two men claimed the crown of England. One was Edward’s nephew, Harold. The other was William, the duke of Normandy in northern France.

King Harold, 
from the Bayeux Tapestry
Fearing Duke William, the Saxon nobles of England elected the Saxon prince Harold as king. Refusing to give up his claim to the English throne, William set out with all his forces, sailed across the channel separating England from France, and landed near the town of Hastings. The new Saxon king, Harold, and his major nobles and warriors were in the north near York, putting down a rebellion and repelling an invading force of Danes. After defeating the invaders and putting down the rebellion, Harold and his men turned south to meet William. Fifteen days later, they reached the channel coast and Hastings.

Duke William,
from the Bayeux Tapestry
After arriving too late in the day on October 13, 1066, to begin battle with the Normans, the Saxons drew up the shield-wall and waited until morning. The next day Harold’s men, exhausted by their battles in the North and the forced march to Hastings, fought off several attacks by William’s archers and repeated charges of the Norman armored horsemen. But in the end Harold’s men were worn down by the Normans’ persistence. In late afternoon, Harold’s brothers were both killed. The royal guard surrounded the king and tried to protect him from his enemies, but King Harold was struck down as night fell over the field. Many of the nobility of Saxon England died along with their king at Hastings. The English surrendered at last, on October 14, 1066. 

William moved quickly against all possible resistance in England and to prevent the English council from electing another king. William had himself crowned kind of England in Westminster Abbey in London on Christmas Day, 1066.

The Battle of Hastings, from the Bayeux Tapestry

Music from the Early 11th Century

This piece comes from a manuscript, Carmina cambrigensia (“Cambridge songs”). It dates to the early 11th century. The notes following the video are interesting and provide the words of the song — though only in Latin.

De Luscinia ‘Aurea Personaet Lyra‘ (early 11th century)

Additional Resources:
Activities for the study of the Bayeux Tapestry
William the Conqueror coloring page

The Bayeux Tapestry: The Norman Conquest 1066 by Norman Denny (for children)

The Bayeux Tapestry by David MacKenzie Wilson
The Battle of Hastings by Stephen Morillo (contains primary sources)
William the Conqueror by Hilaire Belloc
1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth
The Golden Warrior by Hope Muntz (historical fiction)

This Day in History

October 5, 1824
Coronation of an Unloved Pope 

Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook)This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Following the end of the Carbonari rebellion in the Two Sicilies in 1821, governments throughout Italy took severe measures against Liberals and members of revolutionary societies. Such measures were very severe in Habsburg-controlled regions, especially Milan, for Metternich thought governments should show no mercy to the forces of revolution and anarchy. Yet, no ruler was more brutal than Fernando I, the Bourbon king of the Two Sicilies. He had one rather savage military commander, Colonel Guglielmo del Carretto. Once, after putting down a rebellion, Carretto not only ordered many executions but also paraded the heads of rebels through the villages where their kindred, wives, and children lived. For his victory over the rebels, Fernando made Carretto a marquis and granted him a pension.

Fernando I
Yet, repression only seemed to increase the numbers of those who longed for the “liberation” of Italy. Cruelty merely hardened their hearts to further resistance. Their numbers, however, were not overwhelmingly great. Mostly drawn from the middle class, Liberals and revolutionaries did not include the vast majority of the peasantry. And though they agreed on some things (all Liberals wanted an end to Austrian rule in Italy, for instance) they differed on other matters. Some fought for a united Italian government, while others wanted to form a federation of Italian states. The more radical wanted to overthrow all monarchies and establish republics, while the more moderate favored constitutional monarchy. Then there was the problem that a rebellion in one part of Italy would find no support in any other part of the peninsula, and so was easily crushed. 

Leopold II
But not everyone was discontent in Italy. Under the Habsburg grand duke, Leopold II, Tuscany was one of the happier realms on the peninsula. Leopold was no friend of Liberalism and was deeply opposed to constitutions; still, his government was mild and his people fairly prosperous. King Carlo Felice of Piedmont-Sardinia was also no friend to “political liberty,” but he was able to provide peace and security to his people.

The same could not be said for the Papal States. It was not that the papal government was cruel or that its people were terribly oppressed. Indeed, the government of the pope was on the whole rather mild — and its taxes were low. The papal government, too, showed a genuine concern for the common good of its citizens and even provided free health care to those who needed it. Yet the papal officials were often incompetent, and the courts were not properly run, which led to confusion and injustice in law cases. Finally, laymen in the middle and upper classes resented the fact that the clergy held the top posts in the pope’s government.

Under Pope Pius VII, Cardinal Consalvi had carried out some reforms of the government of the Papal States. But when Cardinal Annibale Della Genga was crowned pope as Leo XII on October 5, 1824, all thoughts of reform came to an end. A good man, Leo XII worked to improve the condition of the people of the Papal States by establishing public works and lowering taxes. Like Pius VII before him, Leo tried to rid his realm of the bands of brigands that infested much of Italy. To rid his government of corrupt officials, Leo set up the “Congregation of Vigilance” to hear and examine complaints made against the government.

Yet, Leo XII acted as if the best way to fight Liberals was simply to defend old ways and customs, without questioning whether they were truly good or proper for the times. Leo XII had lived through all the horrors of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Like many others his age, he thought that, to avoid similar evils, he had to insist on the duties Christians owed to rulers. “Jesus Christ never spoke of the forms of government,” he once said, “but simply enjoined obedience to authority.”

Rome at the time of Leo XII
Some of Leo XII’s ministers used harsh measures against revolutionists. When one remembers that groups like the Carbonari used murder and assassination to achieve their ends, it is not surprising that governments reacted harshly against them. Still, a papal official such as Cardinal Rivarola in Ravenna at times punished the innocent with the guilty and used a group called the “Army of the Holy Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ” to achieve his ends. Called the Sanfedistithe so-called army arose in southern Italy during the Napoleonic Wars to fight in the cause of King Fernando I. Devoted to the Catholic Faith, the pope, and to absolute monarchy, the Sanfedisti nevertheless carried on guerilla-style warfare and, like the Carbonari, committed atrocities. During Leo XII’s reign, officials like Rivarola imprisoned hundreds and condemned others to death — though, in the end, those condemned to death were usually pardoned.

Although the Liberal middle class disliked Leo XII because of his conservatism, the lower classes in Rome objected to his attempts to regulate popular amusements in Rome. So by the time he died on February 10, 1829, Leo was greatly disliked.

Bel Canto from 1824

Bel Canto (“beautiful singing”) is the name given to the ornate style of singing that characterized opera in the first half of the 19th century. The excerpt, below, from an opera by Gaetano Donizetti,L’ajo nell’imbarazzo, is an example of the Bel Canto style. This opera was first performed in January of 1824 and became Donizetti’s first great success. Cardinal Annibale Della Genga may have heard it — if he attended opera performances.

Cecilia Fusco – Donizetti - L’ ajo nell’imbarazzo – final aria – 1963

This Day in History

October 1,1823:
Freedom for a Treacherous King 
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook)This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Though the vast majority of those who had fought in the Spanish resistance against Napoleon had done so out of love for their homeland and devotion to their Catholic Faith, most of the resistance leaders (members of the bourgeoisie, scholars, and military officers) were thorough Liberals. After establishing a junta, these leaders had in 1812 drawn up a constitution that granted most governmental power to a legislature (called the cortes) and very little power to the king. The king had the power to sign bills into law, but no power to make laws. He had only a suspensive veto power: he could delay bills becoming laws, but he could not stop them entirely.

Proclamation of the Constitution of 1812
The Spanish “Constitution of 1812,” as it was called, was in some ways very similar to the French Constitution of 1791. But it differed from France’s constitution in some very important ways. The Constitution of 1812 said, for instance, that the “Catholic Apostolic Roman and only true faith” was the religion of the “Spanish nation.” The state, the constitution said, should protect the Church and prevent the practice of any other religion. It allowed for freedom of the press, except that publications were not permitted to attack the Catholic Faith. Yet, like the French constitution, the Constitution of 1812 did not allow the nobility or the Church to have representatives in the one-house cortes. This meant that these two estates no longer had any legal means to protect their interests and rights.

Fernando VII

The Spanish clergy, nobility, and even the peasantry opposed the Liberals, not only due to the Constitution of 1812 but also because the cortes had abolished the Inquisition and seized Church lands. Backed by the bulk of the Spanish nation, Fernando VII abolished the constitution and the Liberal cortes. The king also abolished individual liberties granted by the constitution and the cortes, reestablished the Inquisition, and enacted measures against Liberals that even Metternich thought were too harsh.

For five years Fernando VII reigned as absolute monarch of Spain. But these years were far from prosperous. In the Spanish domains in North and South America, revolutions against Spanish rule broke out, and the government had a hard time putting them down. In Spain, the government faced bankruptcy, and the army was discontent with the king. Liberals from the middle class and the army formed secret societies, such as the Freemasons, in which they plotted against the government.

Open rebellion against the government broke out in 1819, when soldiers in the seaport of Cádiz mutinied. The mutiny turned into a general insurrection that, in January and February 1820, spread to Seville, Barcelona, Saragossa, and Asturias. By March, Fernando VII was frightened enough to take a royal oath to support the Constitution of 1812. “Let us advance frankly, myself leading the way, down the constitutional path,” said the king.

Prince Klemens von Metternich
For two years following the insurrection, a liberal cortes  governed Spain while forces opposed to Liberalism plotted against the government. Despite his oath to respect the constitution, Fernando VII sought ways to overthrow the cortes and reestablish absolute monarchy. The cortes‘s attacks on the freedom of the Church and the practice of religion, moreover, united the clergy and lay Catholics against the government.

The triumph of Spain’s Liberal revolution worried Metternich. He feared that if the revolution were successful in Spain, it would inspire similar movements in the rest of Europe. At a congress of the Quadruple Alliance held at Troppau in Silesia in 1820, Metternich had supported a protocol that would allow the alliance to intervene in countries whose governments had gone Liberal. Such intervention, said the protocol, should be peaceful; but it could also be “by arms, to bring back the guilty state into the bosom of the Great Alliance.” Great Britain alone had opposed this protocol, while Prussia and Russia eagerly supported it. Backed by the Troppau Protocol, Metternich in 1822 called for intervention in Spain.

At another congress that met in October 1822 in Verona, Italy, the powers of the Quadruple Alliance debated whether to intervene in Spain. Great Britain continued to oppose such intervention but was again overruled by Prussia, Russia, Austria, and France. In early 1823, these powers sent separate notes to Spain’s governmental ministers, demanding that they abolish the Constitution of 1812 and restore all of Fernando VII’s kingly powers. When the Spanish ministry refused, the Quadruple Alliance prepared for war.

In the early months of 1823, a French army under the command of Louis XVIII’s nephew, the Duke of Angoulême, crossed the Pyrenees into Spain. Unlike the French forces under Napoleon, however, Angoulême’s army was greeted with praise and even support by most of the Spanish people; for the common folk of Spain either knew little about Liberalism or were hostile to it. In May, after Angoulême took Madrid, the cortes, with the king as their prisoner, fled south to Cádiz, to which the French laid siege in June. Finally, on October 1, 1823, after Fernando promised to grant them a general pardon, the revolutionaries released him and surrendered the city to the besiegers.

Yet, no sooner had Fernando VII regained power than he broke his word to his former captors. Vowing death to all opponents of his government, the king ordered the arrest of all those who had rebelled against him in 1820, who had supported the Liberal cortes, or who favored the Constitution of 1812. During the king’s purge, hundreds of Spaniards were arbitrarily arrested and then executed; many more were exiled or thrown into prison. So harsh and despotic were Fernando’s measures that they disgusted the allies who had restored him to power. But finally, Fernando achieved his goal. His persecution, for a time at least, broke the power of the Liberals in Spain.

Completed After Four Years…

In 1823, Ludwig van Beethoven completed his setting of the Mass, called the Missa Solemnis, which he began composing in 1819. Though thought by some to be one of Beethoven’s greatest works, the Missa Solemnis is not as frequently performed as his Ninth Symphony or the Eroica. Here is Beethoven’s Mass, performed by the Dresden State Opera Orchestra and the Dresden Staatskapelle, under the direction of Christian Thielemann.

Beethoven - Missa Solemnis in D major, Op 123 – Thielemann