This Week in History

Coronation of the Dream Emperor:

May 21, 996

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.

Emperor Otto III, from a manuscript called the “Gospels of Otto III”

When his mother, the Princess Theophano of Byzantium, died in 991, Otto III was only 12. Two churchmen, the bishops of Mainz and Hildesheim, took control of the young king’s education. Otto was educated in Roman history and literature and raised even less in the German way than his father had been.

Young Otto was deeply influenced by the Cluniac reform movement. He became enthusiastically religious, seeking out holy places and inspired hermits. The state of the Church during his time seemed to him to call for a champion and house cleaner. Further, from his mother’s teaching Otto had inherited the Byzantine ideas of the sacredness of the empire. The young king’s mind was filled with glowing images of a kingdom of God on earth, in which pope and emperor ruled in harmony over a world of peace and prosperity. His ideals were generous, noble, and unselfish, even if they were impractical for so troubled an age. (more…)



This Week in History

A New Government for Germany and Austria’s Defiance: May 18, 20, 1848

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. It continues the story of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. To see the four previous installments of this series, please see posts for February 25, March 11, March 15, and March 18.  For ordering information on our books, please go here.

Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria (also king of Hungary, Bohemia, and Lombardy-Venetia)

On March 14, 1848, the day following Metternich’s resignation, the [Austrian] government agreed to form a National Guard — which, like the Paris National Guard during the French Revolution, would be entirely under the control of the revolutionaries. The next day, the government suggested forming a central committee of all the local diets in the empire, but this did not please the revolutionaries. Nor did they like a constitution the Council of State suggested in late April, because it gave the imperial government too much control over the making of laws.

Impatient with the government, students and national guardsmen began forming revolutionary committees. On May 15, 1848, these committees joined to form a Central Committee to organize all revolutionary activities and to direct the city government of Vienna. The Council of State at first refused to recognize the revolutionary committee; but when students and workers again took to rioting, the ministers gave in. They recognized the Central Committee as legal and agreed to call a National Convention or Reichsrat (imperial assembly) to draw up a constitution for all of the Austrian Empire, except Hungary and Lombardy-Venezia. Delegates to the Reichsrat would be elected by universal manhood suffrage.

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This Week in History

Frémont Turns Back: May 8, 1846

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.

John Charles Frémont

In December of 1845, a party of about 16 armed men led by Captain John Charles Frémont of the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers arrived at Johann Sutter’s fort on the Sacramento River. Frémont’s party included the explorer and trapper, Kit Carson.

It was Frémont’s second journey into California. He had first come to California in 1843 through Nevada, westward over the Sierra Nevada, and through central and southern California. From California, he made his way home via Santa Fé in New Mexico. Frémont wrote a detailed report of his expedition that not only gave details of topography, flora, and fauna, but revealed the feeble hold Mexico had on California. The report won fame for Frémont as the “Pathfinder.”

Frémont’s father-in-law was the pro-expansionist senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton; the former ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, was Frémont’s patron. After Frémont returned from his first expedition in 1844, Poinsett introduced him to both General Winfield Scott, who promoted Frémont to captain, and to President Polk. It was with the backing of such powerful men that Frémont undertook his second expedition into California. Ostensibly it was just another topographical expedition, like the first. (more…)



This Week in History

The Battle of Chancellorsville:

May 1-4, 1863

This text comes from our 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.

Fredericksburg, Virginia, March 1863

The turn of the year 1863 found the Army of the Potomac mired in Virginia clay at Falmouth, on the left bank of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg. The morale of the men was low — they had not been paid in months, the camps were rife with sickness, the food was bad, and Burnside was still in command. At least a quarter of the men were absent without leave, and the rest, who stayed, waited sullenly for an end to the rain, snow — and mud.

The Army of Northern Virginia still stared defiance from the hills above Fredericksburg. Their case however was more desperate than the Federals’. In ragged clothes and without shoes, with even less food and pay than their Northern brothers, rebel soldiers were in a miserable state. Many (about 40 percent) were absent without leave, some answering desperate appeals from hungry family at home, others just sick of the blood, cold, and mud.

General Joseph Hooker

Prospects brightened for the Army of the Potomac in the spring when Lincoln replaced Burnside with General Joseph Hooker. Called “Fighting Joe,” Hooker boasted that his “plans” were “perfect.” “May God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none,” he boasted. Hooker boosted his men’s morale, not only with fighting words but by cleaning up the camps and, more importantly, by supplying them with food and pay.

Hooker had a good plan to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, once and for all. He would divide his enormous force — 185,000 men — and while a large contingent under General Sedgwick pretended to make a frontal attack on Lee at Fredericksburg, Hooker would secretly lead another, larger force northwest, cross the Rappahannock farther upstream, and attack Lee from the rear. In this way, Hooker thought he and Sedgwick, like a hammer and anvil, could between them crush the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

General Robert E. Lee, however, was not fooled. He had an uncanny ability to read the character of his opponent and guess what he might do. After Hooker began his march up the river on April 27, Lee did a daring act — he divided his small force of 60,000, leaving 10,000 to face Sedgwick at Fredericksburg, while he led the remainder west to face Hooker. Military strategists thought dividing a smaller force in the face of a larger one the height of foolishness, but Lee was not governed by textbook strategy. He was in a desperate situation that called for desperate measures. (more…)



This Week in History

Voltaire’s Philosopher Becomes King: May 31, 1740

Prince “Fritz,” the “Philosopher King”

The following comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. It continues a story we began last August, which you may read here. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

Reconciled at last with his father, Fritz had to attend to his duties as crown prince. One of these duties was to marry. The match Friedrich Wilhelm chose for his son was the Princess Elizabeta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the niece of the Habsburg empress. Fritz was not happy with this marriage; but to please his father, he went along with it. The couple were married in 1733 and, three years later, went to live at an estate called Rheinsberg.

Fritz spent some of the happiest years of his life at Rheinsberg. There, friends visited him; he was entertained each day by musical concerts and plays (often by Voltaire), and he enjoyed conversation in French (the only language spoken at Rheinsberg) and French cooking. He became an avid buyer of books (for which he ran up great debts), studied “philosophy,” conducted experiments in physics and chemistry, and continued his attempts at composing good French verse.

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