This Week in History

Napoleon Reconciled with God:

May 5, 1821

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Pope Pius VII

Pope Pius VII did not forget Napoleon in his exile on the island of St. Helena. “It would be to my heart a joy like nothing else,” the pope wrote to Cardinal Consalvi in 1817, “if I could help in lessening Napoleon’s sufferings. He can no longer be dangerous to anyone. I could only wish that he may not cause anybody remorse.” Pius asked Consalvi to ask Great Britain’s prince-regent, George IV, to ease Napoleon’s sufferings. But the pope’s greatest gift to Napoleon was to send a priest, the Abbé Vignali, to Saint Helena. Pius had learned that Napoleon wanted to be reconciled to the Church.

Napoleon’s life on St. Helena had not been a happy one. The rocky, barren, wind-swept island was grim enough; but Napoleon’s residence, Longwood, was damp, unhealthy, and not shaded by any tree. Water had to be carried to the house, and the nearest water source was three miles away. Napoleon did receive visitors, and he had companions who shared his exile, but the island’s governor would not allow him to speak with the island’s inhabitants. Far worse, the British kept from him all news of his son, now named the Duke of Reichstadt, and of the former empress of France, Maria Louisa. Continue reading

This Week in History

A Brave Bishop Leaves Prison:

April 22, 1839

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Friedrich Wilhelm III, king of Prussia

It was silent night, November 20, 1837. By order of the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm III, troops surrounded the archiepiscopal palace in Köln, on the lower Rhine in Germany. Escorted by police, the governor of the province entered the palace and arrested the 64-year-old archbishop, Clemens August von Droste-Vischering. After being taken from his diocese, the archbishop was imprisoned at the fortress of Minden, about 147 miles northeast of Köln. Such was the price Clemens August had to pay for defending the rights of the Church against the Prussian government.

In Prussia, it had long been the custom in mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants that the mother raised the daughters in her religion while the father raised the sons in his. This seemed an amicable way to deal with a rather difficult issue, but it ignored the fact that religion is about truth. The Catholic Church could not allow the children of a Catholic parent to be raised in what the Church recognized as a false religion. So it was that in 1830, Pope Pius VIII ruled that the Church would not bless any mixed marriages unless the non-Catholic spouse agreed that the children would be raised Catholic. It was because he refused to disobey the pope in this matter that Archbishop Droste-Vischering was imprisoned by the Prussian government in the fortress of Minden. By refusing to submit to the Prussian law, Droste-Vischering was defending not only Catholic marriage practice, but the right of the Church to be free from interference by the state. Continue reading

This Week in History

Crusaders Sack Constantinople:

April 12, 1204

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. To peruse sample chapters of our books, go hereFor ordering information on Light to the Nations I and our other texts, please click here.

Pope Innocent III, from a 13th century fresco

Innocent III’s goal, when he became pope in 1198, was to continue the reform of the Church as begun by his predecessors on the Throne of Peter. But the failure of the Third Crusade to recover Jerusalem made another crusade to the Holy Land the pope’s first priority. In the very year he became pope, Innocent ordered another crusade. Knights from France and Germany, led by Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, pledged to take up the cross.

The crusaders’ goal was first to conquer Egypt, the center of Turkish Muslim power, and from there to move against Jerusalem. The crusader leaders came to an agreement with the Italian city-state of Venice to transport their army by ship to Egypt. The crusaders, however, could not pay the entire amount the Venetians demanded. Seeing an opportunity, the Venetians said they would forgive the amount the crusaders still owed – if they helped Venice attack the Christian city of Zara, in Dalmatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. The crusaders agreed and, in November 1202, Zara fell to the combined crusader and Venetian force. Sorrowful at the news of the fall of Zara, Pope Innocent excommunicated the leaders of the crusade for turning their arms against fellow Christians. Continue reading

This Week in History

Congress Declares War “for Democracy”: April 6, 1917

This text, which we offer in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

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A captured U-boat on the Thames near London, 1918

By early 1917, the British blockade of Germany was beginning to have dire consequences on German civilians. Plagued by food shortages, the German people’s morale suffered and their enthusiasm to continue the war flagged. To counter the British blockade effectively, the German government decided it must resume its own blockade of Great Britain. In late January, the German government communicated, along with its minimum terms for peace, an announcement that on February 1 it would commence unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied and neutral ships sailing into the restricted “war zone.” On February 3, President Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.

Germany knew it was gambling — unrestricted submarine warfare could bring the United States into the war on the side of the Entente. Still, the German government hoped that it could break Britain’s power before America could assemble her war power. On his side, Wilson still was unwilling to push Germany into any hasty action that would force the United States to enter the war. The president even ordered a slow down on military preparedness measures. But events would not wait on the president’s desires. Continue reading

This Week in History

Assassination of a Tsar: March 23, 1801

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Mikhailov Palace, St. Petersburg

It was night. All was quiet in the Michailov Palace in St. Petersburg. The members of the imperial family were in their beds, asleep—all except the grand prince, Aleksandr Pavlovitch Romanov. He would not sleep that night. Agitated and fretful, he paced his room, fully clothed, waiting. At last, he threw himself on his bed. The night seemed endless.

The reigning tsar and emperor of Russia, Pavel (Paul) I, had made the Mikhailov Palace into a sort of fortress. The short, balding, and ugly Pavel had had a difficult life. His mother, Katerina the Great, had deposed his father, Tsar Pyotr III, who then was killed under strange circumstances. Katerina reigned for the next 34 years— years during which her son, Pavel, thought he rightly should have been ruler.

Tsar Pavel I

Upon becoming tsar after Katerina’s death in 1796, Pavel proved that he was not an entirely bad ruler; indeed, many of his policies had been wise. Yet Pavel was insane, and his insanity led him into acts of cruelty and into a strange admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte. Pavel had made many enemies, powerful enemies – Russian nobles and leaders of the Russian army. To protect himself, he had raised towers and battlements around the Mikhailov Palace.

It is said that Tsar Pavel feared his own sons, the Grand Prince Aleksandr and his brothers, and was contemplating imprisoning them. At least, this is what Pavel’s enemies may have told Aleksandr. Such a tale, along with Pavel’s increasing insanity, were perhaps what convinced the grand prince to agree to a plot that the tsar’s foes had suggested to him—the deposition of his father. Continue reading