This Week in History

The Death Day of a Queen

Who was Nobody’s Fool: April 1, 1204

Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, as she appeared on the obverse side of her seal

At Henry I’s death, civil war engulfed England. Neither the Norman nor the English barons wanted King Henry’s chosen heir to be their king. This heir was Henry Plantagenet, the son of Matilda (King Henry I’s daughter) and Count Geoffrey Plantagenet. From Geoffrey, Henry Plantagenet inherited the French fiefs of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, as well as Normandy. After the civil war in England ended, Henry came into his inheritance there as King Henry II. (From Henry’s family name, we call his line of English kings the Plantagenets.) He controlled not only England and a large portion of northern France, but much of southern France as well. As lord of the four French fiefs, Henry II controlled a large section of France. Before becoming king he had, in 1152, married Eleanor of Aquitaine — heiress to the French provinces of Poitou,Guienne, Gascony, and most of southern France. This marriage made Henry the most powerful man in western Europe.


This Week in History

Milan and Venice Expel the Austrians: March 22, 24, 1848

Why was the imperial government in Vienna powerless to stop the rebellion? [Please see our story on the Vienna rebellion here.] After all, it had a strong army that had crushed rebellions in Italy — why could it not do the same in its capital city, Vienna? Why were the rebels there able to do as they wished? Why did rebellion have its way?

An Milanese illustration from 1848: An Austrian soldier depicted as a pig

Perhaps the chief reason was that the Austrian army was busy elsewhere — in Italy. Anti-Austrian feeling had long been simmering in Habsburg-controlled regions of Italy — in Lombardy and Venezia (both ruled directly from Vienna) as well as Tuscany, Parma, and Modena, which were ruled by Habsburg princes. Anti-Austrian feeling was especially strong in Milan, the capital of Lombardy, where many citizens longed for independence and Liberal freedoms. The Austrians had been hard masters.

News of the Viennese uprising and the downfall of Metternich got the trouble going in Milan. On March 18, 1848, a crowd of about 10,000 Milanese gathered in front of Milan’s town hall. It was not a peaceful gathering (many were armed), and soon a large number of the demonstrators had broken into the government palace and forced the vice-governor to give in to their demands.


This Week in History

The Prussian King Bows to the Dead:

March 21, 1848

King Friedrich Wilhelm IV

In the years following the end of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the people of the German Confederation had been fairly happy and prosperous. They had little political freedom, but that did not seem to bother most Germans very much. Liberals there were, and revolutionary types; but these did not exert a great deal of influence over much of the German population.

The late 1840s, however, were hard years for Germany. In 1845 and 1846 there had been poor harvests, and a blight destroyed the potato crop. Such disasters increased the price of goods at a time when businesses and factories in the cities were laying off workers. Just as in England, the industrial revolution was dramatically changing the lives of many people in the German cities. Workers often lived in poverty and in squalid conditions, and losing a job meant homelessness and hunger. If factories were not hiring workers, there was nowhere to turn for employment; for factories had put many small craftsmen and tradesmen out of business. It is not surprising, then, that many German workers looked to socialism and democracy for a solution to the hardships the Liberal capitalist economy had brought on them.


This Week in History

The Fall of Metternich: March 13, 1848

Revolutionary students in the streets of Vienna, March 1848

In only a few days, Kossuth’s speech to the Hungarian Diet made its way the 50 or so miles from Pressburg to Vienna. There it was copied and spread around the city. News of the Paris revolution had already created much excitement among students of the University of Vienna, and now Kossuth’s speech worked like a call to battle. Reform not only of Hungary, but of all Austria! Constitutional government! Religious freedom! Students were ready to take up arms to force Austria and her Habsburg rulers at long last to enter the 19th century.

It was March 13, 1848. Delegates representing the people of Lower Austria had been summoned to meet in Vienna. They were gathering in their assembly hall, the Landhaus, when they heard from outside a rumbling of voices. An immense crowd of students and poor workingmen had surrounded the Landhaus. A student had been proclaiming Kossuth’s speech to the great, enthusiastic mob. The delegates could hear the angry cries — “Down with Metternich! Down with Metternich!” (more…)

This Week in History

Hungary against the Habsburgs:

March 3, 1848

Lajos Kossuth

For many years, Hungary and Austria had shared the same monarch (who was emperor in Austria, but king in Hungary), but not the same laws. Unlike Austria, and the rest of the Habsburg domains, Hungary had her own constitution. Hungary had her own diet, which was supposed to meet every three years in the city of Pressburg (or Poszony or Bratislava), located on Hungary’s border with Austria.

Hungary had performed great and important services for her Habsburg rulers, both in the wars against Friedrich the Great of Prussia and in the struggle against Napoleon. Hungarians had suffered much for their Habsburg kings.