This Week in History

San Fernando Conquers Cordoba:

June 29, 1236

The following is an excerpt from our text, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For information on ordering this or our other texts, please go here.

Fernando III became king of Castile in 1217, at the age of 19, one year after the death of Pope Innocent III and five years after the Iberian Crusade. Thirteen years later, he inherited the crown of León. King Fernando III was a great war leader. Never once in his 35-year reign did he lose a battle against the Moors. But Fernando was more than a great warrior; he was a devout Catholic who fasted, did penances, and sometimes spent whole nights in prayer. It is for this he is remembered in Spain as San Fernando — St. Fernando.

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King Fernando III of Castile

King Fernando was also a just ruler. It is said of him that he was careful not to overtax his subjects, saying he feared the curse of one poor woman more than an army of Moors.

Fernando was at war with the Moors throughout his reign. One of his greatest triumphs was recovering the fabled city of Córdoba, the former seat of the caliphs of Al-Andalus. Córdoba had been the capital of the Islamic West, fabled for its wealth, its scholars, and the caliph’s huge library of some 400,000 books.

The reconquest of Córdoba began in an unexpected way. On their own initiative a small group of young Castilians, who lived in Ubeda on the Christian borderlands, attacked the great city in the off-season for war. Disguised as Moors, the men, led by a young knight named Domingo Muñoz, scaled the walls of Córdoba in the midst of a storm and took the city by surprise on the night of January 7, 1236. After gaining control of a major suburb, the intrepid group sent a messenger to the Castilian king. They would try to hold their precarious position, they told the king, until he could arrive with an army.


This Week in History

The Revolution Crushes the Socialists: June 23-27, 1848

The following is an excerpt from our text, Light to the Nations II:The Making of the Modern World. It continues the account of the 1848 revolutions in France that one may read here. For information on ordering this or our other texts, please go here.

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Alphonse de Lamartine, by Henri Decaisne

The leader arising from the confusion of the February revolution in Paris was an aristocrat who had become famous not only for his Romantic, meditative poetry but also for his eloquent opposition to Louis Philippe. A member of the Chamber of Deputies since 1833, Alphonse de Lamartine had been an important voice for government reform. He had opposed the death penalty, called for the emancipation of slaves in the French colonies, and backed other reforms. Though he had been a supporter of constitutional monarchy, he now led the Chamber in rejecting the Count of Paris as king.

The Chamber of Deputies had dissolved the monarchy and now appointed a provisional government. Lamartine, three other deputies, and the radical republican Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin were to govern France until elections could be held for a new legislature. No sooner had these men been sworn in, however, than they learned that socialists and anarchists had seized Paris’s Hôtel de Ville and proclaimed their own provisional government. Undaunted, Lamartine set out for the Hôtel de Ville to speak with the socialist leaders. The result was an agreement by which the socialists and anarchists recognized Lamartine’s government, and Lamartine agreed to allow the socialist leader Louis Blanc to join the provisional government.


This Week in History

El Cid Conquers Valencia: June 15, 1094 

The following text comes from our text, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For ordering information and this and our other books, please go here.

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A 12th century depiction of King Alfonso VI of Castile

Alfonso VI’s fame was surpassed only by one other man of his time, whom Spanish legend presents as a loyal soldier and vassal. He was Rodrigo Díaz, called El Cid Campeador, meaning, “the Lord, Master of the Battlefield.”

When the Cid was in his thirties, he had helped Alfonso’s brother – Sancho, then the king of Castile — to seize León, which belonged to Alfonso. When Sancho was slain, Alfonso, who became king of both Castile and León, held a grudge against the Cid. In 1081 the monarch banished the Cid, forcing him to earn a living in foreign lands.

The Cid and a few followers who went into exile with him became full-time, professional soldiers— mercenaries who hired themselves out to any lord, Christian or Muslim, who would pay them. The Cid and his men fought Al-Andalus Muslims, African Almoravids, and occasionally fellow Christians.


This Week in History

Cortés Driven from Mexico:

June 30-July 1, 1520

This text comes from our high school text, 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.

A mural by Diego Rivera depicting Aztec Tenochtitlán

From Cholula, the Spaniards climbed to higher elevations. After passing between two great volca­noes, Popocatepetl (“the hill that smokes”) and Ixtaccihuatl (“white woman”), they gained their first sight of the valley of Mexico. Below them stretched the great lake, with Tenochtitlán in its midst; and far away on the northeast bank, rose the city of Texcuco. One of the soldiers, Bernal Díaz, wrote he had never seen a sight as lordly and beautiful as Tenochtitlán. “And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things we saw were not a dream,” he later wrote. So beautiful was Montezuma’s city, with its great buildings and tem­ples, that fear filled the hearts of Cortés’ men. But buoyed by their commander’s confident spirit, they recovered their courage and proceeded onward toward the city. Marching across the great causeways that connected Tenochtitlán with land, the 400 Spaniards with their 6,400 Indian allies beheld beautiful floating gardens and the vast population surrounding the lake and swarming on its waters in innumerable canoes. It was, as Díaz had said, a dream city, pulled into life from the romantic tales of chivalry so beloved to the stern soldiers of the Crown of Spain.

Montezuma welcomed Cortés and his men into the city and and showed them every hos­pitality. He allowed the Spaniards to visit the marketplace and the great teocalli. In the last place Cortés and his men saw signs of human sacrifice — hearts of victims, some still warm, set on the altars of the gods. Montezuma, whose religious sensibilities were more eclectic than those of the Spaniards, allowed the Spaniards to have a chapel in their quarters where Mass could be offered. (more…)

This Week in History

Election of a “Liberal” Pope:

June 16, 1846

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 Gregory XVI

The cardinals who gathered in Rome for the conclave in June of 1846 faced a most dangerous situation. The last years of the reign of Pope Gregory XVI had not been peaceful. There had been murders of policemen and Swiss mercenary soldiers. In the mountains, the strength of the guerilla bands was growing. On August 15, 1843, a band of guerillas attacked a column of papal troops. The pope’s government responded by declaring martial law and by executing several of the captured insurgents. In September of 1845, a band of revolutionaries who had gathered in Paris and Algiers tried to take the city of Rimini. They failed, and papal troops secured the city.

Luigi Cardinal Lambruschini

Pope Gregory XVI died on June 1, 1846, unwept for, unlamented. Who would succeed him? Would the cardinals choose another pope like Leo XII or Gregory XVI? Or would the cardinals give in to the spirit of the times and choose a “Liberal”? The cardinals themselves were divided on this question. There were the staunch anti-Liberals, called the zelati (“zealous ones”), who wanted a pope like Gregory XVI. These cardinals favored Gregory XVI’s secretary of state, Cardinal Lambruschini. Opposed to this group were the “Liberals,” who favored two candidates—Cardinal Pasquale Tommaso Gizzi and the archbishop of Imola, Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti.

Despite their disagreements, the cardinals knew they had to come to a decision quickly. The Carbonari and others might take advantage of the fact that there was no pope to stage a revolution—just as had happened in 1831, at the election of Gregory XVI. So it was that on June 16, only one day after they had gathered for the election, the cardinals had made their decision.

That day, they chose Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti to open and count the ballots; and as he did so and saw one ballot after another with his name written on it, he could not finish. “Brethren,” he cried, “spare me, take pity on my weakness! I am unworthy.” (more…)