This Week in History

Waterloo: June 18, 1815

Last week, we told the story of one of Napoleon’s first great victories, the Battle of Marengo — a victory that ended almost in defeat. This week we tell of his last battle, Waterloo, where he went down in definitive defeat. 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.

Emperor Napoleon I in 1812

Following his return to the imperial throne, Napoleon failed to make peace with the allies. He had offered to respect the boundaries of France drawn up by the Congress of Vienna if it would recognize his government; but the allies ignored him and resolved on war. Perhaps Napoleon’s greatest sorrow, however, was the Austrian court’s refusal to return his son to him. And very bitter too was the news that Empress Maria Louisa had sworn never to see Napoleon again.

Though sorrow had seemed to rob Napoleon of some of his old energy, he did not neglect preparations for the war he knew would come. By June, he had gathered an army of 200,000 men. On June 12, Napoleon left Paris to lead this army against the Seventh (and last) Coalition of his foes. They had gathered an army of 500,000 in Belgium in order to rid Europe, once and for all, of Napoleon Bonaparte. (more…)



This Week in History

Napoleon’s Near Disaster at Marengo: June 14, 1800

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.

Napoleon Bonaparte as first consul of French republican government called the Consulate

While the cardinals wrangled over who would be the next pope, Napoleon Bonaparte turned his tireless energy to bring lasting peace to France. This was a daunting task, for France again faced war from without, and rebellion from within. Angry over the Directory’s persecution of religion, the Vendée had again risen in rebellion; meanwhile, the allied powers were threatening to invade France to place Louis XVIII on the throne he claimed was his own.

How did Napoleon meet these challenges and threats? As for the Vendée, he showed tolerance. He promised the Vendeans complete freedom of religion and, in February 1800, they laid down their arms. To the allies, however, he would not be so gentle. With them, he would meet force with force.

Napoleon’s campaign against the allies would be twofold. He appointed the talented general, Jean Victor Moreau, to command the “Army of the Rhine,” and sent him to fight the allies in Germany. Napoleon himself, however, would lead the second force, the “Army of the Reserve,” into Italy. During the first months of 1800, he gathered his forces; in April, he began his march into Italy. (more…)



This Week in History

The King Condemns Voltaire:

June 10, 1734

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.

Voltaire in 1736

In the Paris salon of the Duchess of Maine, François-Marie Arouet began the literary career that would make him the most famous philosophe in Europe. The year was 1715, and Arouet had just returned to Paris from The Hague in the Netherlands. Arouet had mixed with aristocratic freethinkers before going to The Hague; for though he belonged to the middle class, his mother had friends among the nobility.

The duchess of Maine’s salon was a distinguished one, but also quite dangerous for a young man like Arouet. The Duchess was a bitter enemy of the Duke of Orléans (the regent of King Louis XV, who in 1715 was still only a boy). Under the duchess’s influence, Arouet wrote poems mocking the regent—a dangerous thing to do, as Arouet soon learned. Because of his lampoons, Arouet was forced to leave Paris in May 1716. Shortly afterward, he was allowed to return; but in 1717 he was arrested and sent to the Bastille. Some anonymous lampoons had surfaced, and the government thought Arouet had written them.

Arouet might have gotten on better if he had followed his father’s advice and become a lawyer. But the young man loved literature, especially stage plays, and he was eager to earn fame as a writer. While in the Bastille, he spent his time working on two plays that he hoped to publish under a pen name he had chosen for himself— Arouet de Voltaire. (more…)



This Week in History

The Fall of the Paris Commune:

May 28, 1871

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.

Archbishop Darboy

“Let us go, my friends, for the sake of God.”

Thus Pére Captier encouraged his companions, who were going, they were certain, to their death. Captier was the superior of a house of Dominicans who ran the College of Arcueil, near Paris. On May 19, 1871, a group of “citizens” representing the “Commune” of Paris had arrested Captier with four other Dominicans (Fathers Bourard, Cottrault, Delhorme, and Chatagneret) as well as eight lay professors and servants of the college. Six days later, the 12 men were taken first to a fortress on the outskirts of Paris and then to a prison within the city. Along the way they were jeered at and insulted, though they were accused of no crime. They now made their confessions, to prepare for another journey.

“Let us go, my friends . . .”

It was about five in the afternoon of May 25. One by one, the prisoners were led into the streets that on all sides were filled with armed men. These men now opened fire on the prisoners. Captier fell, mortally wounded. Bourard, Cottrault, Delhorme, and Chatagneret were cut down, as were the three professors (Monsieurs Gauquelin, Voland, and Petit) and the five servants (Aimé Gros, Marce, Cheminal, Dintroz, and Cathala). For 24 hours the bodies remained on the street, insulted by passersby, though a few paid the fallen the respect due to martyrs. (more…)



This Week in History

The Defenestration of Prague:

May 23, 1618

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.

Threefold portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, by Philippe de Champagne

Cardinal Richelieu wanted not only to make his king all-powerful in France, but to make France the supreme nation in Europe. To do this, Richelieu had to weaken the power of the Habsburgs, the most powerful ruling family in Europe.

Indeed, the Habsburgs were most powerful. The Habsburg archduke of Austria was king over Bohemia and Hungary, as well as the emperor ruling, in title at least, over all Germany. His cousin, the Habsburg king of Spain, ruled the Netherlands, northern Italy, Naples, and the vast Spanish dominions in North and South America, rich with gold and silver. Habsburg lands surrounded France to the west and the south, and Spanish fleets could attack France at any port on its long Atlantic coastline.

So powerful were the Habsburgs, so completely did they surround France, that Richelieu could not simply declare war on them. But he could take advantage of Habsburg troubles and use them to weaken Habsburg power. And the Austrian Habsburgs soon had plenty of trouble. It all began with a revolt in Bohemia. (more…)