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

This Week in History

The Pope Defies Hitler: March 14, 1937

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 XI

For Adolf Hitler, the Catholic Church was the greatest obstacle to the triumph of National Socialism in Germany. It was for this reason that, even while he was violating the concordat, Hitler was careful not to cast it aside. Hitler did not want to annoy Catholics too much; at the same time, he wanted to pressure them to give up their opposition to him and accept National Socialism as the religion of Germany.

But from 1933 to 1937, Hitler faced steady opposition from bishops, priests, and laymen, both inside and outside of Germany. Standing with them were stout Evangelical Christians who refused to worship Hitler instead of Christ or abandon the Bible for Mein Kampf. One result of the Nazi persecution was that Catholics and Protestants learned to respect one another. Though neither side abandoned its beliefs, both sides forgot the animosity they had for each other. They were joined in a common front against a common “antichrist,” Adolf Hitler. Continue reading

This Week in History

Fall of the Alamo: March 6, 1836

This text comes from our high school book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

Last Week’s “This Week in History” featured the story of how Texas was annexed to the United States. What made this annexation possible was a revolution, nine years earlier, by Texans (or “Texians,” as they were then called) against Mexico. Probably the most famous event of this revolution was the defense of the Alamo in San Antonio and its conquest by Mexican forces commanded by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico. The following account of the fall of the Alamo comes from our high school textbook, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.

Santa Anna

In his latest transformation — into a conservative dictator — Santa Anna had decided that he had to do something about Texas. Liberalism was triumphant there. The laws were not being observed. Anglo-Americans, like a barbarian horde (that’s how the Mexicans saw them), were crossing the border illegally. To remedy the situation, Santa Anna sent an army under General Martín Perfecto de Cos north to enforce obedience to the law. Learning of Santa Anna’s plans from Lorenzo de Zavala, who had gone north to warn the Texians of the general’s approach, Stephen Austin, now released from imprisonment, called on Texians to take up arms. Sam Houston was made general of a Texian army. In early October 1835, Cos arrived with 1,200 troops at San Antonio de Bexár; he fortified the city, including the old Franciscan mission church, San Antonio de Valero, known as the Alamo. Throughout October and November, armed Texians and some Tejanos arrived at San Antonio de Béxar and lay siege to the city.

On December 4, Texian colonel Benjamin R. Milam gathered the Texian army and, the next day, assaulted Cos’ position in the city. For five days battle raged as the Texians pushed their way into San Antonio. Finally, on December 10, Cos surrendered. The Texians occupied the city and fortified the Alamo. Continue reading