This Day in History

November 25, 1491
Final Surrender
Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization (Textbook) 
The following 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.

One of the greatest, most revolutionary changes not only for Europe but for all the world occurred in the late 15th century in that western outpost of Europe, the Iberian Peninsula. The little Christian kingdoms of that land — Castile, León, Aragon, and Navarre — had not been at the center of learning and culture, like France. They had not given birth to the Renaissance or been the seat of the Church, like Italy. None of these Iberian states had served as the great political arm of the Church, like Germany. For over 700 years, the Iberian Peninsula had been divided between Christian and Muslim realms, which had been locked in the struggle called the Reconquest. That struggle, in the late 15th century, was about to end and a new task to open for the Christian powers of Iberia.

The Iberian Peninsula at the time of 
the conquest of Granada
When Enrique IV, king of Castile and León, died in 1474, the crown went to his sister, Isabel. Enrique IV had been a weak king, and during his reign the Castilian nobles had ignored his authority. Castile was torn by many factions, and when Isabel became queen, she faced a war with Portugal. That country’s king, Alfonso V, was betrothed to Enrique IV’s daughter Juana and claimed the Castilian throne for her. The war ended in 1479, and in 1480 Juana entered a monastery. From thenceforth, Isabel I was the unquestioned queen of Castile and León.

In 1469, Isabel had married Fernando, who became king of Aragon in 1479. Though the two kingdoms, Castile-León and Aragon, would remain separate, Isabel and Fernando agreed that they would rule them together as if they were one kingdom. Fernando also was lord over Barcelona and Valencia. Thus, all of the Iberian Peninsula, except for Portugal and Navarre and the Moorish kingdom of Granada in the south, came under the rule of the two monarchs. Thus began the united kingdom of Spain, which Isabel and Fernando (to whom Pope Alexander VI gave the title the “Catholic Monarchs”) ruled wisely and well.

The “Catholic Monarchs,” Fernando and Isabel
Not long after Isabel had secured her queenship, however, the Moors of Granada seized the city of Zahara, which belonged to the “Catholic Monarchs.” This was a declaration of war that Isabel and Fernando could not ignore — and it gave them the pretext of ending Muslim rule in Iberia once and for all.

In 1482, Fernando and Isabel’s forces took the Muslim city of Alhama. So began the last war of the Reconquest, which had begun in the eighth century. Isabel raised funds for the war, recruited armies, provisioned troops, and organized what are said to be the first field hospitals in European history. Fernando directed his and Isabel’s armies, as well as the strategy of the war.

Not all, however, went well for the Catholic Monarchs. The Christian forces suffered two serious defeats, but they did not give up the struggle. In 1489 Isabel even pawned the crown jewels of Castile to raise cash for the war. For 10 years, the Spanish forces fought, conquering Granada city by city. Finally, in 1491, Fernando and his army laid siege to the beautiful Islamic city of Granada, after which the Moorish kingdom was named.

The Alhambra palace in the city of Granada
The siege of Granada lasted nearly two years. Finally, though, the Moorish power was spent. On November 25, 1491, the last Islamic ruler of Al-Andalus, Muhammad XI (known by his nickname, “Boabdil”) surrendered. The gates of Granada were thrown open to receive the city’s new Christian rulers on January 2, 1492. The long Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula was at an end.

Music of Muslim and Christian Spain

A recording of music from 13th century Muslim Al-Andalus.

A recording of music from the time of the reign of Queen Isabel of Castille, performed by Hesperion XII, under the direction of Jordi Savall.

This Week in History

November 16, 1632:
Death of a Gallant Young King
By 1629, it appeared that Emperor Ferdinand II and the Catholic League had broken the power of the German Protestant princes. But once again, foreign powers interfered. Fearing the possible destruction of the Protestant cause in Germany and hoping to seize some of the northern German states for himself, the Lutheran king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus, decided to enter the war.

Emperor Ferdinand II
France had been encouraging Gustavus Adolphus to join the German Protestant cause.  Cardinal Richelieu thought that if the king of Sweden were successful against the emperor, the Protestant German states could separate from Austria and its Habsburg rulers. The empire then would be permanently divided and the Habsburg power weakened. At the same time he was trying to undermine the emperor, Richelieu made a treaty with the Protestant Netherlands, whose people were revolting against their overlord, the Habsburg king of Spain.

King Gustavus Adolphus
Gustavus Adolphus was a valuable ally to the Protestant German princes. He had equipped a new army of soldiers who were trained to use the most modern firearms and rapid horse-cavalry attacks. In June 1630, Gustavus’s army landed in Germany. To resist the Swedish king, Emperor Ferdinand needed the aid of the German princes — but even the Catholic princes had grown dissatisfied with Ferdinand. In particular they feared that, with Wallenstein and his powerful mercenary army, the emperor could become all-powerful in Germany. To enlist the princes’ support, Ferdinand agreed to dismiss Wallenstein. The command of the imperial and Catholic League forces went to Tilly, now an old and sickly man. In August 1630, the German electors agreed to support the emperor. Later, however, the Protestant electors, including the powerful elector of Saxony, withdrew their pledge and joined forces with the Swedes.

Cardinal Richelieu
In January 1631, Cardinal Richelieu agreed to fund Gustavus Adolphus if he pledged to carry on war against Ferdinand for a period of four years. But, at first, Gustavus Adolphus would not join battle with Tilly; so, instead of fighting the Swedes, Tilly laid siege to the important city and fortress of Magdeburg. On May 20, 1631, as Tilly stormed Magdeburg, the city went up in flames, possibly as a result of arson. The city’s destruction was so great that Tilly had no base and no food supply for his army, and he retreated toward southern Germany. Protestants blamed the fire on Tilly, who became known in central Germany as “the Butcher of Magdeburg.”

It was not until September 1631 that Tilly met Gustavus Adolphus on the field of battle, at Breitenfeld in Saxony. The combined armies of Gustavus Adolphus and the elector of Saxony destroyed Tilly’s army, opening the way for an invasion of Bavaria. After Tilly’s defeat, Ferdinand once again appointed Wallenstein as commander of the imperial army, leaving the Catholic League forces under Tilly’s command. But Wallenstein did nothing as Gustavus Adolphus’s rapidly moving army marched south toward Bavaria. The Swedish army drove Tilly’s forces from the field in a battle on the Lech River in Bavaria on April 15, 1632, and Tilly was mortally wounded.

Death of Gustavus Adolphus at Lützen
After Tilly’s death, Wallenstein alone was left to defend the imperial cause. But Wallenstein avoided fighting Gustavus Adolphus. It was not until November 16, 1632, that the Swedish king forced Wallenstein into battle at Lützen in Saxony. The fight, however, went against the Swedes. Shortly before noon that day, Gustavus Adolphus himself was struck in the arm by a musket ball as he led a cavalry charge. He fell to the ground — his men fled — and he was left on the field. The young king may have bled to death as he lay wounded, or he may have been killed by an enemy foot soldier. Only on the day following the battle did the Swedish army learn that Gustavus Adolphus had died. The Swedish king, who had become known for his gallantry and mercy to captives, had achieved the legend of a hero in his short lifetime. Catholic and Protestant Europe alike fondly remembered the dashing young king, mounted on his horse at the head of a cavalry charge.

Light to the Nations, Part I: Development of Christian Civilization (Textbook)
The above excerpt comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian CivilizationFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here

This Day in History

November 10, 1799
Coup of 19th Brumaire
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook)  
The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.
Much had changed in Europe while Napoleon was fighting in Egypt. At first, the French republic had achieved success after success in war. In March 1798, French armies overran Switzerland and forced the cantons to accept a centralized, republican government called the Helvetic Republic. In Italy, King Fernando IV of Naples declared war on France; in October, Neapolitan troops were able to enter Rome, but a French counterattack drove them from the city. When news of the defeat reached Naples, Fernando and his court fled by ship to Palermo in Sicily. For over two months, southern Italy had no government. Though the poor of Naples were devoted to their king, the nobility and educated classes surrendered to the French and established a republic — called the Parthenopean Republic.

King Fernando IV of Naples
This new republic, however, had a very short life. French victories, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and the Directory’s decision in September 1798 to draft more men into the army convinced the monarchies of Europe that they had to destroy the French republic or be destroyed by it. By December 1798, Great Britain, Russia, and Austria had formed a new coalition against France. War began in March 1799, and over the next few months, allied armies were able to roll back the French conquests in Italy. In June, the Parthenopean Republic fell after an existence of only five months, and Fernando IV resumed his reign over Naples.

In France, many thought that the Directory was leading the republic into ruin. There had been continuous war, and France was losing everything she had won. The problem, many thought, was the government. Both the Council of Ancients and the Council of 500 were filled with incompetent men, many of whom used their offices to enrich themselves. Most of the directors themselves were corrupt and venal. The whole thing had become very unpopular. What could be done to restore glory to France and assure a lasting peace for the republic?

Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès
One man who asked such questions was Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès. Since the days of the Oath of the Tennis Court, Sieyès had been a keen, firsthand observer of the revolution. He had been a member of the first French Assembly and a delegate to the Convention. In 1795, when Hébert and Chaumette established the worship of Reason, he had renounced his faith and priesthood to escape the guillotine. Since the establishment of the Directory, he had served as a diplomat; and in May 1799, he replaced Rewbell as one of the five directors of France.

Sieyès was known for his rather fanciful constitutional ideas. But in the fall of 1799, he came up with a very workable plan of government to replace the Directory. The plan was workable because it was so simple. The directors would be replaced by three men called consuls, who would act as dictators over France. Sieyès was able to interest others in his plan – his fellow director, Roger-Ducos; the apostate bishop and current foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord; and Napoleon’s brother, Lucien Bonaparte, president of the Council of 500. These men, and others, now secretly planned a coup d’etat. They only awaited someone who had the character and popularity to serve as their leader. But who would that be?

Lucien Bonaparte
The answer came on October 9, 1799, when Napoleon returned to France from his Egyptian adventure. Landing at Fréjus, a small port on the southern coast of France, the Little Corporal began a seven-day, triumphal march to Paris. Everywhere cheering crowds came out to meet him; at night the towns were brilliant with lights to welcome the man who stood for France victorious and proud. No sooner had Napoleon arrived in Paris than his brother told him of the plot and the part he, Napoleon, could play in it. Talleyrand, too, approached Napoleon. Soon the Little Corporal was concocting plans with Sieyès to overthrow the government.

Joachim Murat
Joining Napoleon in this desperate and dangerous plot were men who had served, or would serve, him as soldiers. There was Jacques Etienne MacDonald, who had been made governor of Rome in November 1798, and Joachim Murat, the cavalry officer who had helped Napoleon save the Convention on the 13th Vendémiare and had just returned with him from Egypt. These two, with Berthier, the conqueror of Rome, came to Napoleon on 18th Brumaire (November 9) to prepare for the great event. They doubtless agreed with the words Napoleon spoke that day — words that, in a few hours, were printed and posted all over Paris. Speaking as if to the government, Napoleon said, “What have you done with the France which I left so high? . . . Where is the fruit of the victories that I had won? Where are those 100,000 of my young companions-in-arms? They are dead!”

The next day — 19th Brumaire of the Year VIII (November 10, 1799) — Napoleon, leading troops from Paris, conducted the members of the two legislative councils to the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. The legislators would not hold their meeting in Paris because of rumors of a Jacobin plot against them. Meeting in two separate buildings, the Council of Ancients and the Council of 500 debated throughout the day, while Napoleon and Sieyès waited to spring their trap. At dusk, about 5:00 p.m. of that cold, autumn day, Napoleon formed his men into two columns and, to the beating of drums, surrounded the chambers of the 500. The soldiers, with bayonets lowered, entered the chambers and put the terrified delegates to flight.

Napoleon on the 19th Brumaire
When news of the coup was announced in their chamber, the Ancients voted to adjourn both councils for three months. In their place they appointed three men — Sieyès, Ducos, and Napoleon — as consuls to govern France. To make all of this look legal, Lucien Bonaparte gathered a small number of the 500, who, in a session that same night of 19th Brumaire, approved the new government.

Thus began the Consulate, as the new government of France came to be called. On December 15, 1799, the “Constitution of the Year VIII” established a government of three executives, each having the title of consul, and together holding all power in France. Along with the consuls, the constitution established a three-house legislature — an 80-member Senate of men over 60 years old, a 100-member Tribunate, and a 300-member Legislative Body.

Yet this was the government only as it appeared on paper. Three consuls there were, but only one among them had the title of First Consul. Three consuls there were, but only one came to hold the reins of power. In 10 years’ time, France had gone from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy to a republic; now it was a dictatorship of, really, only one man. And that one man was the Little Corporal himself, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon as First Consul

This Week in History

November 3-4, 1867
Triumph of the “Vampire of Italy” 
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook)

The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.
The pope’s army was very small — no more than four thousand men. It was only this small force that stood between him and the tens of thousands Italy could gather for an army of conquest. The treaty with Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX thought, would not restrain King Vittorio Emanuele….

King Vittorio Emanuele II
… King Vittorio Emanuele II’s prime minister, Urbano Rattazzi, had told Garibaldi to go forward with plans for the conquest of Rome. Though the Italian government was still pledged to defend the papal state against any invader, Garibaldi went openly through Italy gathering recruits. And though the Italian government said it knew nothing about what Garibaldi was up to, the old warrior received supplies from the government and transported his army on trains openly provided by the railroad of the kingdom of Italy.

At last, on September 29, 1867, Garibaldi, leading 10,000 to 12,000 Redshirts, invaded the Papal States. Garibaldi’s forces quickly overran the first villages they came to. Though these villages were protected only by small bands of papal police, Garibaldi treated his battles as great victories and sent out a proclamation, calling on the Roman people to rise up against the government. But a surprised Garibaldi soon learned that very few of the pope’s people were willing to rise up against that “vampire” and “tyrant,” as Garibaldi called the pope. The Roman people, in fact, were cold to Garibaldi and his army. The only response Garibaldi received to his call for revolution was a series of bombs set off by insurgents in Rome on October 22, including the blowing up of the Serristori barracks of the Papal Zouaves in Rome by two Roman citizens. The barracks at the time held only 27 Zouaves. These were members of the Zouave military band, all of whom (including some boys) were killed.
A papal Zouave

When “news” of the invasion reached the Italian government, it sent an army of 40,000 to the frontier of the Papal States. The Italian army, however, did not try to stop Garibaldi, nor did it invade. Its purpose was not clear. But some thought it would seize the Papal States after Garibaldi took Rome and claim them for King Vittorio Emanuele — just as Cavour had done with Naples in 1860. But Garibaldi received his first check when six thousand of his Redshirts attacked several hundred members of the Legion of Antibes at the fortified town of Monte Rotondo, about 17 miles northeast of Rome. Greatly outnumbered, the hard-fighting French legionaries held off the Redshirts for 27 hours but at last were forced to retreat. The Redshirts moved in and ransacked the town, plundered and defiled the church, and terrorized the people. So great was the destruction in Monte Rotondo that Garibaldi himself rebuked his men with the sternest words. But it was no use; the “Liberator of Italy” could not control the many desperate men (bandits and other criminals) who served in his army.

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Though a victory for Garibaldi, the Battle of Monte Rotondo benefited the papal army. The legionaries had so badly bruised the Redshirts that Garibaldi hesitated several days before making his final push against Rome. In the meantime, about two thousand French troops had arrived at the papal port of Civitavecchia and joined General Kanzler’s papal forces in Rome. (When it learned of Garibaldi’s invasion, the French government had forced Napoleon III to send a force to Rome to aid the pope.) By November 2, Kanzler had an effective force of 5,000 men: 1,500 Papal Zouaves, another 1,500 Papal regulars, and 2,000 French troops under Baron de Polhès. With these forces, Kanzler planned to march against the enemy’s army of about 10,000 men.

The sun had not yet risen on November 3, 1867, when Kanzler, Polhès, and their five thousand men marched out from Rome. They were moving against Monte Rotondo, a six hours’ march away. Their road, the ancient Roman Via Nomentana, passed through rugged, hilly country dotted with vineyards and orchards. Along the road, between the papal army and Monte Rotondo, lay the hilltop town of Mentana, where the Redshirts had their first outposts and where Garibaldi himself was in command. 

Map of the Battle of Mentana
Battle was joined about 1 p.m., when the Zouaves under the command of Lt. Col. Chaumette stormed a hillside position beside the Via Nomentana and forced the Redshirts to withdraw behind the walls of a farm called Vigna Santucci. Though the farm was a strong position, Chaumette and the Zouaves were determined to take it. But it was a hard fight, and after a while Chaumette saw his men wavering. “Forward, my Zouaves! Charge with the bayonet!” he cried; and, seeing the French in reserve, he added, “and remember, the French army is looking on!” Their courage rekindled, the Zouaves cried, “Long live Pius IX!” and drove the enemy from Vigna Santucci. Seeing the impetuous Zouaves pursuing the retreating Redshirts, General Kanzler ordered his entire army forward, including the French reserve. By nightfall, the enemy had taken refuge within the walls of Mentana castle while the papal army encamped below them, waiting only for morning to renew the battle.

But the next morning brought no battle. That night, Garibaldi had abandoned his men in Mentana and fled to Monte Rotondo; from there, he and what remained of his army escaped across the border. Discovering Garibaldi’s flight, the Italian army withdrew from the border. By late morning of November 4, it was clear that the invasion had ended. The Papal States had been saved for the pope.

Pope Pius IX
Those Redshirts in Mentana who surrendered that morning of November 4, 1867, doubtless feared revenge from the papal army. What they discovered to their surprise was field hospitals set up to tend not only the wounded of the papal troops, but the wounded of the enemy as well. The Redshirts received not revenge, but mercy. More surprised were the wounded Redshirts taken to the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, when one day they received an unexpected visitor — the pope himself. “Behold me, my friends!” said Pius. “You see before you the ‘Vampire of Italy,’ of whom your general has spoken. What! All of you have taken up arms against me, and you find only a poor old man.” Pius promised to send each one, with clothing and shoes, back to his home, but only on one condition — that “you will make a spiritual retreat for my sake. It is the pope who asks this of you,” he said.

In the coming days and weeks, Pope Pius extended a general amnesty to all who had taken part in the invasion. Only the two men who had destroyed the Zouave barracks were held for trial. After a year, both were condemned and executed — a deed for which the Italian government and Liberal opinion throughout Europe criticized the pope.

King Vittorio Emanuele’s government might well complain, but not about the execution, for it had lost a golden opportunity to make Rome the capital of Italy. Not only had the invasion failed, but in France, citizens were demanding that the French army remain in Rome to guard the pope. On December 4, 1867, the French Legislative Body commanded Napoleon III to send more troops to Rome, and the emperor complied.

Thus, by the beginning of 1868, French troops were again stationed in Rome, protecting the pope. Besides the French army, volunteers from France, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, and Canada came to Rome to join the pope’s volunteer forces. It thus appeared that, with such an army at his disposal, the pope’s kingdom would remain secure for years to come.

Music from a Little Known Composer 
The German composer, Hermann Goetz, composed this Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, in 1867 — the year of the Battle of Mentana.

H. GOETZ – Piano Concerto n. 2 in B Flat Major op. 18. P. Baumgartner, piano

This Day in History

November 1, 1914
A Plea for Peace — Ignored 
Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern World (Textbook) 
This week, we continue our commemoration of the centenary of World War I. The following 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.
Pope Benedict lost no time setting out to win the world for Christ. Four days after his election, he called on the warring European powers “to be satisfied with the ruin already wrought” and to make peace. On November 1, the Feast of All Saints, the pope issued his first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, in which he laid out the “aim” of his reign – “to strive in every possible way that the charity of Jesus Christ should once more rule supreme amongst men.”

Benedict XV
The nations of Europe were at war, said Ad Beatissimi, because, “in the ruling of states,” governments had abandoned “Christian wisdom” and Christian moral ideals. Instead of seeking spiritual goods, men were “striving for transient and perishable things” — wealth, power, and false glory. These were “the causes of the serious unrest pervading the whole of human society.” But if these were the causes, what was the solution? A return to Christ and his charity. “All then must combine to get rid of [the causes of the unrest],” said the pope, “by again bringing Christian principles into honor.” Only through Christ would men “have any real desire for the peace and harmony of human society.”

The encyclical Ad Beatissimi was not the last time the pope spoke out about the war. Over the next four years, he called for peace while condemning the violence that was destroying Christendom. In several statements, Benedict called the war “an unparalleled scourge,” “a carnage which is without example,” “this monstrous spectacle,” “a horrible plague.” In December 1914, he called on the warring powers to observe at least a Christmas truce “to pierce this darkness of warring death with at least a ray, one ray of the divine sun of peace.”

World War I anti-German propaganda
But, instead of heeding the pope, the French and English criticized him because he did not condemn the Germans, and the Germans censured him for not condemning the French and English. Each side, in fact, thought the pope was supporting its enemy. Why did Benedict say nothing about the German invasion of Belgium, demanded the Allies? English newspapers had been printing accounts of horrible acts allegedly committed by Germans — why didn’t the pope condemn these? Benedict replied that since only the English and French were reporting German war crimes, he could not verify if the reports were true or not. (In fact, the reports of German  atrocities were greatly exaggerated.)

Neither the Allies nor the Central Powers accepted Benedict’s explanation that he had to remain an “impartial” judge between the warring sides. “The Roman Pontiff, as Vicar of Jesus Christ, who died for men, one and all, must embrace all the combatants in one sentiment of charity,” Benedict said on January 22, 1915. “And as the Father of all Catholics he has among the belligerents a great number of his children for whose salvation he must be equally and without distinction solicitous.” Benedict said he would condemn “openly every injustice by whatever side it may have been committed.”

Probably the chief reason the warring powers ignored the pope was because he called for “peace without victory.” All sides must lay down their arms, said Benedict, even if they were not victorious in the “murderous struggle” and gained nothing from it. Each side, however, would accept peace only when its enemy was defeated. They wanted a “German peace” or an “English” or “French peace,” not what the pope demanded — the peace of Christ.

Sidney Sonnino
A secret treaty signed in London on April 26, 1915, between the Entente and Italy gave the Allies another reason to ignore Benedict. In this treaty, the Allies agreed to recognize Italy’s claims to Trentino, the South Tyrol, Trieste, Istria, and northern Dalmatia (all Austrian lands) if Italy joined the Allies. But Italy’s foreign minister, Sidney Sonnino, made his own demand — that the pope have no say in any talks to end the war. The Allies agreed and included Sonnino’s demand in the secret treaty.

On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on her former ally Austria-Hungary, thus abandoning the Triple Alliance and openly joining the Entente. The Entente powers now would not discuss peace with the pope, for it would violate their treaty with Italy. A third, Italian front against the Central Powers was very useful to the Allies, so they were quite willing to ignore the pope’s calls for a just peace.

The Music of an Eager Recruit  

When in August 1914, the French-Basque composer, Maurice Ravel, learned that war had been declared, he hastened to complete a composition at which he had, theretofore, been working at in dilatory fashion. He wanted to join the French army. He completed the piece, the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello in A minorin September and then, a month later, joined the army. Here is a recording of the trio, performed by the Amsterdam Chamber Soloists.