The Russian Tsars

The Russian Tsars
Arists: Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926) Title: Tsar Ivan The Terrible Date: 1897 Medium: oil on canvas Dimensions: 247 x 132 cm Current location: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Artist: Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926)
Title: Tsar Ivan The Terrible
Date: 1897
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 247 x 132 cm
Current location: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

IVAN THE TERRIBLE was one of the most significant and controversial figures in Russian history, Ivan IV, or Ivan the Terrible as he is more commonly known, changed the face of Eastern Europe forever. In power for over 50 years, Ivan left behind a complicated legacy; on one hand as an unparalleled military leader and on the other, the military successes the achieved were marred by mental instability.

Ivan IV was responsible for turning Russia from a Medieval state into a vast empire and world power spanning over a million square miles and all the while his mental state grew increasingly volatile throughout his life as he carried out the ruthless oppression of his people. Amongst Ivan’s most significant contributions to history was his creation of the Tsardom, the autocratic and centralised form of rule, which would dominate the Russian Empire for centuries to come. Prior to his accession to the throne, the title of Russia’s ruler was the Grand Prince. Ivan however, changed everything. Proclaiming himself the Tsar of all the Russia’s, he added a religious dimension to his power. Not only was he his subjects’ political leader but also their religious leader, answering only to God. This new religious component to Ivan’s power enabled him a sense of authority afford to none of his predecessors, surrounding him with an aura of invincibility, ensuring that any threats to his power could remain suppressed.

As successful as this element of his rule was, it was however, not the only way Ivan kept his subjects in check. Ivan earned his terrifying reputation through relentless oppression he inflicted upon his people, particularly the Boyar Elite-the noble families, whom he perceived as a threat to his power. In the 1560’s, Ivan established the Oprichnina, essentially a state within a state, which was the head quarters to the brutal secret police known as the Oprichniki who carried out several arrests and executions of those Ivan believed to be conspiring against him. As Ivan’s mental state deteriorated, these acts of barbarism became increasingly common. His oppression reached a crescendo with the Massacre of Novgorod in 1570, a brutal purge, with 60,000 people murdered under Ivan’s command another major factor in the city’s decline from its position of prominence. Ivan’s worsening mental state had taken its toll and would impact his personal life as much as it would his political one.

One of the defining incidents of Ivan’s life was delivering a fatal blow to his own son and heir, Ivan Ivanovich. A competent military operative, Ivan Ivanovich was present at the Massacre of Novgorod amongst other conflicts. Their relationship became increasingly strained during the Livonian War, a conflict marred by Ivan’s string of failures. In the midst of the conflict, Ivan IV physically assaulted his son’s pregnant wife, causing her to miscarry. His son angrily confronted him, with the conversation eventually shifting to Ivan’s military failures. Furious over what he perceived as insubordination, he struck his son in the head with his sceptre, a wound he would never recover from. Ivan died three years later from a stroke during a chess match in 1584. The murder of his son left his other son Feodor as his heir who was less physically and mentally abled than Ivan, proving incapable of ruling, and thus Russia entered the ‘Time of Troubles’, a catastrophic phase during which a third of the population died from famine while the region descended into civil conflict.

Despite his incredible military accomplishments, Ivan’s reign had a severely detrimental effect on Russian society. His creation of the autocracy set the precedent for centuries of oppression under future Tsars. Furthermore, his mental instability hampered any virtues he may have held as a leader, giving way instead to his increasingly paranoid state, undoing any good he brought about through acts of sheer barbarism.

Portrait of Peter the Great by Godfrey Kneller (1698). Given as a gift to the British monarchy

Portrait of Peter the Great by Godfrey Kneller (1698). Given as a gift to the British monarchy


Nearly a century after Ivan the Terrible’s death, another highly influential leader rose to power under the title of Tsar, Peter the Great, also known as Peter Alexeyevich. His contributions to Russian society were amongst the most significant of any ruler. As a brilliant military leader, he expanded Russia’s territory, establishing his Empire into a world power. Furthermore, he spearheaded a cultural revolution, enabling the Russian Empire to keep pace with the Enlightenment, an evolution of intellectual thought, prevalent in Western Europe during the 18th century.

Peter’s early life was unconventional. He became joint sovereign of Russia at the age of 10 with his older brother Ivan V, who died ten years later. Due to his young age, the actual ruling of the Empire was managed by members of the elite during which a turbulent time ensued with many forces vying for power, resulting in the death of those close to Peter who were killed during conflicts. When Peter eventually assumed full control of his Empire, it was in a shambolic state, years behind the rapidly developing Western European powers. In what would prove to be the defining achievement of his reign, Peter set about implementing a series of modernising measures to allow the Russian Empire to catch up with its rivals to become a world power in its own right. These changes were broad in scope, covering a variety of different areas which included an update of the Russian alphabet and the adoption of the Julian calendar. Having cultivated a variety of Western European advisors, he also sought to turn the Russia Empire into an economic power by stimulating industry, allowing a bourgeoisie social class to emerge. These changes would prove to be vital in the Empire’s transition from an archaic sprawling mass into a world power.

Peter was also renowned for his capabilities as a military leader. Under his rule, the Russian Empire’s territory expanded significantly by the acquisition of key regions including Estonia, Latvia and Finland, as well as registering victories over Sweden. Most important, however, after a series of major conflicts, was his defeat of the Ottoman Empire. This allowed the Russian Empire access to the Black Sea, a vital territorial victory. Furthermore, he founded the city of St Petersburg, a significant milestone which acted as a buffer zone of sorts between West and East.

Despite Peter the Great’s numerous personal shortcomings, known for his ruthlessness and often oppressive behaviour towards his subjects, his legacy is regarded as highly impressive, turning the Russian Empire into a force to be reckoned with through rapid and effective modernisation. Few Russian rulers have left a legacy considered as great as his.

Catherine II by Fedor Rokotov

Catherine II by Fedor Rokotov


Also known as Yekaterina Alexeyevna or Catherine II,  Catherine the Great was the Russian Empire’s longest-serving and best known ruler, her reign lasting 34 years highly influenced by Peter the Great’s drive for modernity. Catherine came to power during a troubled time in Russian history following a coup d’etat during which her husband Peter III was killed.

Her reign coincided with a period of prosperity in the Russian Empire, whilst she oversaw its significant territorial expansion. Under Catherine’s rule, Russia annexed several territories along the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. Furthermore, following the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire gained the most significant stake in land. Furthermore, following a war against the Ottoman Empire, she gained significant territorial gains which further consolidated her power and reinforced sentiments of patriotism throughout the Empire.

Notably, she began the Russian annexation of Alaska, forming Russian America. Her victories rested on a combination of strong interpersonal diplomatic capabilities alongside military prowess, the latter in part due to the strategic placement of a number of highly successful military leaders such as Grigory Potemkin.

In terms of domestic affairs, Catherine oversaw the establishment of several new towns and cities whilst simultaneously reforming the Russian governorate system. She also attempted to integrate several Western European ideas into the fabric of Russian society. As a renowned patron of artistic and cultural endeavours, she counted such significant figures as Voltaire amongst her acquaintances and was an accomplished writer in her own right, composing literary works across many genres. This reconciliation of Western European ideology within Russian society gave birth to the Russian Enlightenment. The period also saw the significant secularisation of the Russian bureaucracy a result of which detracted power from the Church which allowed the State a number of additional resources in terms of land, resources and manpower (the peasantry.)

Catherine showed a sense of patronage towards education. Although she failed in her bid to implement a national school system, she nonetheless heavily revitalised Russia’s antiquated education system and transformed the curriculum of military schools to encompass a wide range of fields such as science and the arts. Furthermore, she established the Smolny Institute, both Russia and Europe’s very first state higher educational institution for women. Whilst falling short of her all her ambitions at educational reform, her accomplishments were substantial.

Building on the foundations of Peter the Great’s implementation of reform, Catherine the Great left behind a highly impressive legacy in the pantheon of Russian rulers, playing a pivotal role in Russia’s transition into a global power while overseeing significant reforms domestically, consequently, many historians consider her reign as Russia’s Golden Age.



Commonly referred to as the Tsar Reformer, Alexander II left behind a polarising legacy. While some consider him, along with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, as the Russian Empire’s most important reformers, others doubt the substantiality of this claim.

Coming to power in 1855 following the international humiliation of the Crimean War, during which his reactionary father, Nicholas I plunged the Empire into domestic and international turmoil; those issues which were deep seated within the fabric of Russian society became glaringly apparent and reform was essential. Alexander II, aware of these failings, acknowledged the urgent necessity for reform and set about overseeing its implementation across a variety of different fields.

First and foremost was the issue of Russia’s serfdom. Despite comprising an estimated 40% of the Russian population, the serfs had very few rights; bonded to the land-owning gentry, forced to make regular payments in labor and goods. The poor status of serfs across the the Russian Empire caused mounting resentment amongst their communities thereby resulting in turmoil in a number of other spheres in which they were engaged, most notable the ineffective operation of the Empire’s economy and military. Thus the first major piece of reform legislation Alexander II passed was the Emancipation Decree of 1861, which was finally forced through after years of protracted negotiation and compromise. While the Emancipation Decree was, contextually at least, a major political undertaking, its limitations have come under criticism. The Decree freed 20 million serfs and allowed them the rights of citizens, that is the right to freely marry, right to vote etc. However, most were left with little means to survive on with land allotments highly insufficient and worse still they were saddled with heavy redemption payments to their former landlords. This meant the bulk of the profit they would reap from their meagre supplies would be taken, leaving them little means to survive on let alone prosper.

Arguable, Alexander II’s other reforms were more successful. The military reforms, considered a priority after the Crimean War, saw the Russian Empire’s army completely revitalised. Rather than limited to the the peasantry, compulsory conscription was introduced to people of all social classes. Military education was significantly improved and corporal punishment amongst the military was banned.

Judicial reforms were also implemented in 1864, influenced by the French Justice system. A model was put into place allowing open trials as well as a jury system deemed as more just. Other important reforms included economic and local government reforms, which were generally successful.Despite these reforms, revolutionary sentiments grew considerably during Alexander II’s reign, with many seeing his reforms as half-measures. In the later years of his reign he survived several attempts on his life by revolutionaries, the severity of which prompted him to back-track on a number of his reforms. In 1881, he was finally assassinated in a bombing carried out by a member of People’s Will, a revolutionary populist group attempting to encourage mass-revolution. Ironically, on the day of his assassination, he was on his way to sign a piece of legislation establishing a parliamentary body.

Alexander II’s death proved to be a devastating blow for reform in Russia. Following his death, civil liberties were hugely oppressed and police brutality became increasingly prevalent. His son Alexander III, traumatised by his father’s death and encouraged by his autocratic mentors, reversed several reforms, hampering Russia’s development. Indeed, it was not until after the 1905 Revolution when a parliamentary body would come into being. While Alexander II introduced several significant reforms, his commitment to the autocracy hampered their effectiveness, leading ultimately to their failure.

Tsar Nicholas II, in the uniform of a Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet, c. 1909

Tsar Nicholas II, in the uniform of a Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet, c. 1909


As the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II witnessed centuries of oppressive autocracy collapse under his rule. There is much debate as to whether he was personally responsible for his own downfall or he fell victim to the multitude of external factors, at the time unfolding across the Russian Empire.

Nicholas II acceded the throne in 1894 and for the majority of his reign struggled to escape the imposing shadow of his father and predecessor in power, Alexander III. An intimidating and fiercely reactionary autocrat, Nicholas II struggled to live up to his father’s reputation. Many of the poor decisions he made were influenced by this misplaced ambition, lacking the personal character to reign in the way his father had.

During Nicholas II’s reign, several long-simmering political tensions boiled over. The oppressive Tsarist regime was reaching the end of its rope as opposition became more wide-spread and organised, capable of dismantling the regime. This was further intensified by several political events, which served to damage Nichols II’s reputation. The first of these was the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904 during which the Russian military was completely outmanoeuvred by the Japanese and despite several costly defeats, Nicholas II insisted on dragging the conflict on for longer, believing that Russia could still win. This misguided approach worsened the defeat and leaving 50,000 dead.

The costs of the war coupled with a variety of other factors lead to a sharp increase of protest in the following years, reaching its apex with the 1905 Revolution. The catalysing event of this nation-wide wave of protest was the Bloody Sunday Massacre. A peaceful protest on the Winter Palace that ended in bloodshed, with thousands estimated to have been killed. While the revolution
was not entirely successful, it saw Nicholas II forced to make several concessions as outlined in the October Manifesto. These included the establishment of a parliamentary representation in the form of the State Duma, Russia’s first elected parliament, whilst an indication of significant social progress, proved to be short-lived.

Nicholas II was unable to reconcile his firm commitment to the Tsarist autocracy and backtracked on several of his promises, issuing the Fundamental Laws not long afterwards to uphold his absolute power as Russia’s ruler leaving the State Duma virtually powerless – unable to pass through any effective legislation without the Tsar’s approval. This contributed significantly to anti-Tsarist sentiments amongst the general public, which continued to intensify over the following years.

Even though revolution was inevitable long-before the First World War, many see this as the event that finally caused the Tsarist regime to collapse. The War had a devastating effect on Russia with nearly 1.5 million dying in the conflict. The Russian Army were caught in several devastating theatres of conflict, the Battle of Tanenburg being its most costly. Completely unprepared, the logistics of transporting soldiers and supplies across thousands of miles of terrain to the battlefields were grossly underestimated. Perhaps most disastrously, Nicholas II assumed leadership of the military.

His lack of experience and competence hampered the Russian war effort significantly. Meanwhile, in Russia the court was in complete disarray under the control of Rasputin, a mysterious confidante of the Tsar left in charge during his absence. Food supplies were running short and public outcry was stronger than ever – revolution was imminent.

The Revolution of 1917 was a long, drawn-out affair, split into two distinct rebellions. The first of which was the February Revolution, catalysed by protests on International Women’s Day. The Tsar returned from the battlefields of the war when the revolution was in full-swing, previously detached from public opinion. Initially dismissive of the severity of the situation, eventually he relented, and towards the end of the Revolution agreed to abdicate ending centuries of Russia’s Tsarist autocracy.

Held in captivity alongside his family for months, Nicholas II and his family were eventually assassinated in July 1917 by the Bolsheviks in part due to his crimes as well as to prevent the autocracy from resurfacing in the future.

While Nicholas II doubtlessly bears a significant share of responsibility for the Russian Empire’s decline and eventual collapse, the Revolution had been inevitable for decades. It is arguable a more imposing and competent leader could have prevented this from happening for a longer period of time, but it would have certainly unfolded regardless. Through incompetence and ineffectual rule, the end of the autocracy accelerated under Nicholas II’s rule.

A Brief Introduction to the Industrial Revolution

A Brief Introduction to the Industrial Revolution



This guide is split into three sections:

1. Causes
2. Events
3. Effects


Although bears little in common with any other revolution due to its lack of political context, the Industrial Revolution was nonetheless one of the most significant periods of upheaval in recorded history. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing of goods was done on a very small scale with very basic tools. Furthermore, the majority of people lived in rural regions, far from the cities. Industrialisation was a period of significant technological innovation, which lay the blueprint for several key industries in the modern world, which we now take for granted.

The Industrial Revolution had its roots in Britain in the late 18th century. There were several key reasons for Britain’s prominence regarding industrialisation. Firstly were the country’s vast resources of fossil fuels such as coal and iron, pivotal materials in the emerging industries. Secondly was its status as the world’s most powerful colonial empire, allowing it access to other raw materials as well as a strong network of markets. Leading the charge, Britain’s contributions to Industrialisation would eventually change society.


The only surviving example of a Spinning Mule built by the inventor Samuel Crompton

The only surviving example of a Spinning Mule built by the inventor Samuel Crompton

There were several innovations, which were products of the Industrial Revolution. Arguably the first significant innovation was in textiles. In the 1760s, James Hargreaves invented the spinning engine, or “jenny”, which enabled multiple items of clothing to be produced at the same time by spooling thread. This enabled the mass production of clothing, which prior to this point was hand and custom-made. Further innovations in textiles included the power loom, invented by Edmund Cartwright in the 1780s. These, amongst others, would prove to be incredibly historically significant.

The iron industry was arguably the most important facet of the Industrial Revolution. Several discoveries were made regarding cheaper, more efficient ways of mass-producing iron and steel. These materials were instrumental in industrialisation as the foundations of innovative new methods of construction. This allowed developments in architecture, engineering and technology to unfold at a rapid rate.These innovations in the iron industry would prove to be instrumental in the development of communication, transport and infrastructure. Indeed, the steam engine in many ways is considered the defining achievement of the industrial revolution. The steam engine not only powered machines, which significantly improved productivity in factories, but also trains and ships, which would prove to be hugely important. As more complex ships were built, it became far easier, quicker and more efficient to travel between continents. In the case of Britain, the bastion of the industrial revolution, this proved to be important in the establishment of infrastructure and communication between its various colonies. The steam train was of huge importance as well in a more localised sense. It allowed travel between far-apart areas on the same landmass to be far more easily facilitated. This allowed people to traverse distances at a speed previously thought impossible and also allowed goods and materials to be more easily distributed over a wide range of areas.

example of Steam Engine Locomotives developed during the time of Industrialization

Example of Steam Engine Locomotives developed during the time of Industrialization

As a result, communication links became far more sophisticated. This was further improved by the invention of the electric telegraph by Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke. This innovation allowed communication to become even more direct. The cable laid across the Atlantic in 1866 allowed communication links between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres to be strengthened significantly. The world was rapidly changing and becoming increasingly linked through these innovations. Resources could be spread all across the globe and the ability to communicate far more quickly and easily helped the industrial drive in Britain spread across the globe.

Map of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable route

Map of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable route


The Industrial Revolution laid the foundations for a more globalised world. In modern times, all countries across the globe are linked through developments, which began during industrialisation. The drive to industrialise Britain expanded soon after its beginnings, the world catching up with its developments at a fast rate. The society we live in today owes much of its contributions and failings in a broad spectrum of fields to the incredible period of innovation that was the Industrial Revolution.


main image: c/o creative commons: A Roberts loom in a weaving shed in 1835. Note the wrought iron shafting, fixed to the cast iron columns Illustrator T. Allom – History of the cotton manufacture in Great Britain by Sir Edward Baines,

Roman Britain

Roman Britain


55 BC marked a dramatic change in the history of the island of Britain. The island was inhabited at the time by a collection of Celtic tribes, loosely connected culturally and ethnically but strongly independent of each other, perhaps joining together infrequently into small alliances but never as one nation. Before 55 BC, the island was regarded to the ‘civilised world’ as mysterious, wild, and almost mythical. Plutarch, Greek biographer and essayist, wrote that it “provided much dispute among many writers over whether its named and story had been made up, since it had not and did not now exist”. However, 55 BC was the year to end debate, as Caesar became the first Roman leader to launch an invasion of the island. Although Caesar’s invasions left no soldiers behind, and no territories occupied, the reach of the Roman empire had touched the island, and the attention of Rome would never be far away.

Hadrian's Wall, Walltown Crags, Martyn Wright, Flickr Creative Commons

Hadrian’s Wall, Walltown Crags, Martyn Wright, Flickr Creative Commons

Following the successful invasion of Britain by the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD, Rome steadily expanded her territories north, as far as Scotland, and into Wales. The general Agricola achieved some successes here, but unrest further south made true consolidation of the far north impossible. Therefore, a symbolic border was set at Hadrian’s Wall, although the Roman territory did encroach further north intermittently over the subsequent few centuries.

Control of Britain was always turbulent, and later in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD Britain became the perfect breeding ground for rebellions against Rome, and usurpers to the Emperor. With increased barbarian incursions occurring both in Britain and elsewhere within the Empire, there was a steady decline of Roman Britain. By the early 5th century AD, Roman imperial control of the province had been transferred to local municipalities and warlords, until the island began to fall gradually to Saxon rule. Nevertheless, distinct Roman cultural influences remained, including those on mythology, government and the economy. This Romano-British culture resisted Anglo-Saxon rule, and potentially provided a basis for the legend of King Arthur.

Invasions of Julius Caesar

Under Caesar’s governorship of Transalpine Gaul, which he had been allocated as one of three provinces to govern following his consulship in 59 BC, Roman control extended further north than ever before. At the time, Transalpine Gaul had consisted only of the area just beyond the Alps, in what is now South-East France. However, during the Gallic Wars Caesar had pressed north, fighting against the Belagae, a tribe who occupied modern Belgium. Following success here, and with little time remaining in the campaigning season, Caesar took the decision to make a small reconnaissance into Britain in 55 BC, in preparation for a later, and larger, punitive expedition. This was provoked by Briton aid being extended to Caesar’s Gallic enemies.

Caesar sent Gaius Volusenus to scout the coast, as even local traders were unable, or unwilling, to provide information about Britain. With an area near Dover chosen, Caesar rapidly mobilised two legions and launched an amphibious landing, leaving behind his cavalry to provide later reinforcement.  Fighting was fierce, with the Roman infantry, who were stalled by the deeper water, being attacked by Briton missiles and chariots. Whilst Caesar’s use of warships, which were novel and frightening to the Britons, as mobile batteries for his slingers and archers bought enough space for the infantry to group together on solid land, full pursuit of victory could not be achieved without the cavalry, who whose arrival was blocked by storms, which also destroyed many of Caesar’s ships. Acknowledging a potentially dire situation, Caesar withdrew to Gaul as soon as the weather allowed, demanding hostages to be sent to him there. Despite little tangible achievement, the landing in Britain earnt Caesar a thanksgiving (supplicatio) of twenty days in Rome.

Seven Wonders, Sandwich, Kent, Barry Marsh, Flickr Creative Commons

Seven Wonders, Sandwich, Kent, Barry Marsh, Flickr Creative Commons

A second invasion was planned for 52 BC, for which Caesar had newer, shallower shops designed, for easier disembarkation. Moreover, he gathered a much larger force of five legions, with two thousand cavalrymen, and a rear-guard of three legions, and two thousand cavalrymen, who were stationed in Gaul. Caesar’s landing between Deal and Sandwich in Kent was uncontested, and his men advanced immediately, achieving victory in a battle inland, probably on the River Stour.

Further advance was hindered by another storm, which caused great damage to the fleet. Having repaired his ships, Caesar marched again against the Briton forces, who were united under Cassievellaunus, one of the tribal chiefs. The Britons were defeated by heavy Roman infantry on two occasions, leading Cassievellaunus to resort to guerrilla tactics. These defeats caused several tribes, most notably the Trinobantes, to defect. Following another defeat at his stronghold, reckoned to be the hill fort at the Devil’s Dyke in Hertfordshire, Cassivellaunus was forced to sue for peace.

Whilst no Roman troops were retained in Britain to further Caesar’s interests, he did leave Commius, a Gallic chief who had been his loyal envoy to the Britons during the war and whom he made King of the Atrebates, the largest Briton tribe at the time, based in modern Hampshire.

The invasion of Claudius

Emperor Augustus had planned further invasions of Britain in 34, 27 and 25 BC, but circumstances had proved unfavourable, and instead a diplomatic relationship between Britain and the Roman empire followed. Augustus’ involvement is suggested in his Res Gestae¸ an inscribed list of his accomplishments, which note two individuals, an Artaxares of the Britons, and a Dumnobellaunus, also likely from Britain, as probable refugees who came to him. It is likely the Romans aimed to influence Britain by balancing the interests of the Atrebates and Cattuvelauni, the two major tribes In the South of England, so that neither became too powerful or dominant.

This diplomatic relationship changed in 43 AD when Emperor Claudius launched an invasion of Britain in support of Verica, the exiled King of the Atrebates. Aulus Plautius led the campaign for Claudius, likely with four legions – Legio II Augusta, Legio IX Hispana, Legio XIV Gemina, and Legio XX Valeria Victrix – totalling about 200,000 men, and a similar number of auxiliaries. This invasion consisted of two major battles, the first at a river crossing thought to be near Rochester, on the River Medway, and the second occurring at the Thames. The battle on the River Medway lasted for two days and was notable for the actions of Gnaeus Hosidius Geta who, after almost being captured, turned the battle decisively. For his work, he was awarded a triumph, an unusual honour for a man who had not yet been consul. At the second, on the Thames, the Romans either built or utilised an existing bridge successfully, despite incurring some losses when a Batavian (German tribe) auxiliary unit swam the river and further casualties in the marshes of Essex. Here, Plautius halted, sending messages for Claudius to join him. Upon arrival, Claudius led a victorious final assault upon the Cattuvelauni, capturing their capital Camulodunum (Colchester). With this victory, many kings surrendered. According to the inscriptions upon the arches of Claudius, which were commemoratively erected throughout the empire, eleven of the surrenders occurred without Roman losses.

Colchester Roman Ruins, Silent Penguin, Flickr Creative Commons

Colchester Roman Ruins, Silent Penguin, Flickr Creative Commons

The future emperor Vespasian was to lead the Legio II Augusta as far west as Exeter, fighting, according to the historian Suetonius, thirty battles. The Legio IX Hispania went north to Lincoln, establishing a northern border here, which loosely followed the Fosse Way, forming a lateral Roman road across Britain. Whilst several long, difficult and costly campaigns were launched in Wales, the more difficult terrain meant it was not until Vernaius’ and the Suetonius’ campaigns that victory was achieved in 60 AD. Most notorious was the massacre of the Druids on Anglesey, who dressed in all in black, allegedly to defend their alters of human sacrifice.


Further consolidation of Wales was prevented by the rebellion of Boudica. Her husband, Prasutagus, was king of the Iceni tribe, an independent ally of the Romans. However, upon his death the Romans annexed Iceni territory, flogging Boudica and raping her two daughters. This sparked a hatred and resentment that would provoke a revolt by the Iceni, supported by, amongst others, the Trinovantes tribe in 61/0 AD. Whilst the Roman governor, Suetonius, was in Wales, Boudica destroyed the Roman capital of Camulodunum (Colchester), before advancing onto Londinium (London) and Verulanium (St Albans). Boudica’s advance forced Seutonius to abandon both, following the defeat of a detachment of the Legio IX Hispania.

An estimated 70,000 – 80,000 soldiers were killed during this conflict, with Cassius Dio describing the slaughter by the Iceni: “they hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body.”

Boudica statue in London, Aldaron, Flickr Creative Commons

Boudica statue in London, Aldaron, Flickr Creative Commons

Boudica, the queen of the Iceni, was finally defeated by Suetonius in 61 AD, taking poison to avoid capture by the Romans. She has since become an iconic figure of Briton folk culture, with a status of her in her chariot, along with her two daughters, now standing by Westminster Bridge.


Northern Campaigns

Further campaigns extended Roman control northwards as far as Eburacum (York), before the governorship of Agricola. Finding that several previously defeated and subdued tribes had reclaimed independence, Agricola used military might to consolidate Roman rule throughout Britain, with campaigns in northern Wales and against the Brigantes of northern England consolidating previous territory. Agricola then moved further north, into Scotland. Archaeological remains show forts along the Gask Ridge, a line close to the Highland Ridge, which were built between 70 and 80 AD. How comprehensively Roman control was maintained before Agricola’s military interventions is unclear, but between 79 and 84 AD he consolidated power here, pushing increasingly far north with both an army and fleet, winning a significant battle at Mons Graupius, probably in Aberdeenshire.

Following Agricola’s recall to Rome in 84 AD, the Roman empire’s interest in the far north appears to have disappeared. The Gask Ridge was abandoned, with evidence of burnings of forts from around 105 AD indicating trouble from the northern tribes. Finally, in 117, an uprising in the North, which lasted for two years, resulted in the emperor Hadrian taking the decision to erect Hadrian’s Wall in 120. Following emperor Trajan’s great expansion of the Roman empire, especially to the East, his successor, Hadrian, adopted a policy of withdrawal and consolidation of Roman territory. The establishment of Hadrian’s Wall can be seen as evidence of this.

In 142, following northward expansion, Emperor Antoninus Pius commissioned a second, lesser-known, wall to be built built further north, slightly south of the Gask Ridge. However, this lasted for only two decades after revolts by the Brigantes, which forced the wall to be abandoned in 162 – 3.


Becoming part of the Roman Empire brought an influx of immigrants to Britain, and with them new culture, trade and religion. The most tangible indicator of Roman rule was the army, who, including their families and households, amounted to 125,000 people by the end of the 4th century, out of a total population of 3.6 million. The army camps became new focal points and urban centres, which is reflected in the etymology of many modern British cities, as the ending ‘-chester’ or ‘-cester’ comes from the Latin for camp, castra. Therefore, the development of urban centres was often derived from the security and economic benefits of close proximity to a Roman garrison.

Whilst the presence of the army was the most obvious indication of Roman power, it is perhaps the construction of Roman infrastructure that marked the most enduring legacy of Roman influence, as Britain became connected to an unprecedented degree by Roman roads. Additionally, within cities cultural landmarks of Roman life remain, with examples including the theatre at Verulanium, the amphitheatre at Caerleon, the palace at Fishbourne, and the baths at Aquae Sulis, now modern Bath.

Roman Fort Ruins in London, Dun.can, Flickr Creative Commons

Roman Fort Ruins in London, Dun.can, Flickr Creative Commons

The influences of the Roman empire can also be seen in trade and imports to Britain, such as pottery and wine from Gaul, preserved olives and olive oil from southern Spain and salted fish from the western Mediterranean and Brittany. To facilitate the transaction of imports, Roman coinage was used, and has been found in many excavations.

Furthermore, the reach of the Roman empire into Britain brought civic immigration, breaking down borders and the exclusivity of local cultures and identities. Whilst few Romans from the metropole emigrated to Britain, people from provinces within the empire did, such as the 5,500-string Sarmatian cavalry who were brought to Britain in 175. Such people would have had a strong presence, making centres such as Londinium ethnically diverse municipalities.

Exemplified in the site of Bath, Romanisation brought with it the merger of local Briton religions with Roman deities. ‘Aquae Sulis’ means the ‘Waters of Sulis’, an ancient Briton deity who was worshipped at the site. By constructing baths adjoining to a temple on the site, the Romans encouraged the worship of a goddess of their own, Minerva, and in doing so linked the two. The polytheistic pantheons of both cultures made religious assimilation far simpler for the Romans than in monotheistic cultures, such as Judaea. With civic immigration, foreign deities also became popular in Britain. An example is Mithras, adapted from Iranian Zoroastrian religion, whose worship involved secret, underground cavers used as temples. These are now preserved in the London Mithraeum.

Roman Baths, City of Bath, PapaPiper, Flickr Creative Commons

Roman Baths, City of Bath, PapaPiper, Flickr Creative Commons


Britain would later serve as an excellent base for potential usurpers to, and rebels from, the Roman empire. Due to its administration as a single province, and its separation from the main continent of the empire, Roman governors of Britain had a unique amount of autonomy. Furthermore, because of troubles posed by northern and western tribes in Britain, a large garrison, of three legions, was required to govern the island. The combination of relative administrative autonomy and the large military presence meant governors of Britain could pose a threat. Consequently, control over Britain was frequently wrought with difficulty.

The death of emperor Commodus in 192 provoked a civil war within the empire with multiple players, one of whom was Clodius Albinus, then governor of Britain. Whilst Septimius Severus successfully defeated Clodius Albinus, it highlighted the problem posed by Britain. Severus had witnessed the danger of such a large British garrison, and its presence was necessary due to barbarians “rebelling, over-running the land, taking loot and creating destruction” during his further campaigns in 208 – 209. As a result, Severus took the decision to split the province into Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior.

This division proved successful for several decades, until further unrest within the Roman empire made it particularly vulnerable to rebellion. Therefore, in 259 the “Gallic empire” was established in Britain and parts of Gaul, after Postumus, the commander of the empire in the West, rebelled against emperor Gallienus. It was not until 274 that emperor Aurelian reunited the empire. Marcus Aurelius Probus, emperor from 276 to 282, spent most of his reign dealing with Britain, during which time Bosonus, a half-Briton, claimed himself emperor at Cologne and from 286 to 296 a Britannic empire was announced, led by Carausius.

So as to address the issue of British trouble, the province was transformed into a diocese under Diocletian’s reforms, to be headed by priests and praetorian prefects. It was subsequently split into four regions. Under this administration, roles were devolved, and governors stripped of military command, being allocated civic duties. However, this did not prevent Britain from being a breeding ground for rebellion. In 306, Constanine I used Britain as a springboard from which to successfully claim the throne of the Western empire, and later the usurpers Magnentius, in 350 – 353, and Magnus Maximus, in 383 – 388, both used the island as a successful base for rebellion.

Roman Withdrawal and Sub-Roman Britain

Unrest in Britain encouraged further incursions by the Saxons from Europe, Picts from Ireland and the Scots. A last punitive expedition was led in 399, but by 401 a withdrawal had been ordered, as troops were needed to defend against the threat of the king of the Visigoths, Alaric I, who would later sack Rome in 410. Nevertheless, a Romano-British culture continued to exist under the rule of warlords and local municipal administrations.

In 466, the ‘Groans of the Britons’ was issued, an appeal to Aetius and the Western empire for aid, and defeat at the Battle of Deorham (Durham) signalled the death-knell of the Roman empire’s influence, after which time the cities of Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester fell. This allowed Saxon influence to spread across the breadth of the island, to the Irish Sea.

Whilst our knowledge of the history of this period is limited, several traditional stories endure of the long struggle by the remaining Romano-British against the invading Saxons. One such tale is that of Vortigern, labelled by Bede as king of the Britons, who is alleged to have invited the Saxons, Angles and Jutes to form an allegiance against the Scots and Picts, only to be turned against by the Saxons, and is kingdom invaded. Another is the legend of Arthur, who is, in later sources, credited with victory at Mount Badon in 490, a victory which kept the Saxons at bay for several decades. Some historians believe this to have developed from a Welsh warlord who fought the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century.

Nevertheless, the remaining Romano-British peoples were eventually occupied by the Angle and Saxon tribes, forced into Cornwall or Wales or chose to emigrate to Brittany or to Galicia, in northern Spain. Thus Roman rule over Britain ended and the majority of the island taken over by the new Saxon culture. However, Roman influence had still reigned for nearly four centuries and its place in British identity sealed even up until the modern day.

Main image: Roman Tower at Dover Castle, John K Thorne, Flickr Creative Commons

By Wilfred Sandwell

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition

One of the darker periods of Spanish history is the Spanish Inquisition, which entrenched Spain for over 350 years. Also known as The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, it was created in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

Following their kingdom-uniting marriage, the famous Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel had a huge project ahead of them. Not only did the two kingdoms of Aragón and Castilla become one amongst mixed opinions, but the monarchy was closing in on the remaining Moorish kingdoms with the end of the Reconquista. It was intended Catholic orthodoxy be maintained in their kingdoms whilst replacing the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control.

To manage, unite and strengthen their enlarging and culturally diverse kingdom it was decided the means of unification would be through Catholic orthodoxy. Therefore in 1478, permission was requested from Pope Sixtux IV to establish a special sect of the Inquisition – permission he reluctantly granted, which began the Spanish Inquisition.

What followed was an era of severe censorship, paranoia, torture, autos-da-fé, death, and the persecution of heretics or anyone who deliberately disagreed with the principles of the Catholic church lasting lasted until 1834.

This period became the most substantive of the three different manifestations of the wider Christian Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition.  This Inquisition operated in Spain and in all Spanish colonies and territories, which included the Canary Islands, the Spanish Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America. The Inquisition was originally  intent was to  ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam. Regulating the faith of the newly converted intensified after royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1501 ordered Jews and Muslims to convert or leave Spain.

The monarchy feared the intervention of Jewish and Moorish alliances from oversees  and forced non-Catholics to choose between conversion to or expulsion from the country to abolish any possibility of dissent. Those suspected of practicing Protestantism, non-Catholic-approved sexual acts, black magic or any other activity the monarchy deemed a threat, also were among the persecuted.

Within a few years later suspicions and paranoia arose again.  This time regarding the loyalty of those conversos (converted Jews) and moriscos (converted Moors) to Catholicism. The Inquisition persued converts with suspicion, obsessed with the notion they had only convert to escape persecution, were continuing to practice their own religion covertly planning to undermine the church.

The inside of a jail of the Spanish Inquisition, priest supervising his scribe while men and women are suspended from pulleys, tortured on the rack or burnt with torches. Etching.This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom

Religious Turmoil

Much of the Iberian Peninsula was dominated by Moors following their invasion of the peninsula in 711 until they were finally defeated in 1492. The re-conquest did not result in the expulsion of Muslims from Spain, instead producing a multi-religious society comprised of Catholics, Jews and Muslims. Larger cities such as Granada, Seville, Valladolid, the capital of Castile, and Barcelona, the capital of the Kingdom of Aragon, had large Jewish populations centered in juderias(Jewish Quarters).

The period was known as the Reconquista and produced a moderately peaceful co-existence with intermittent periods of conflict among Christians, Jews and Muslims in the peninsular kingdoms. There was a long tradition of Jewish service to the Aragon crown: Ferdinand’s father John II named Abiathar Crescas a Jew,  as court astronomer and many other Jews occupied important posts both religious and political even Castile itself had an unofficial rabbi.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the fourteenth century in some parts of Spain there was a wave of anti-Semitism, encouraged by the preaching of Ferrant Martinez, archdeacon of Ecija. The pogroms of June 1391 were incredibly bloody: in Seville, hundreds of Jews were killed the synagogue completely destroyed and there were similar numbers of victims in other cities, such as Cordoba, Valencia and Barcelona

The Jewish Population

Wood engraving by Bocort after H.D. Linton.

Wood engraving by Bocort after H.D. Linton

Towards the end of the 15th century, the Reconquista was drawing to an end, nearly finished, however, the desire for religious unity became more of a pervasive force.. Spain’s Jewish population, amongst the largest in Europe became a target.

Over the centuries, the Jewish communites throughout Spain had flourished and grown in numbers and strength , despite  anti-Semitism surfacing from time to time. During the reign of Henry III of Castile and Leon (1390–1406), Jews faced increased persecution and were pressured to convert to Christianity. The pogroms of 1391 were especially brutal, and the threat of violence hung over the Jewish community in Spain. Faced with the choice between baptism and death, many converted and many others were killed. Those who adopted Christian beliefs—the so-called conversos (Spanish: “converted”)—faced continued suspicion and prejudice.


One of the consequences of these disturbances was the massive conversion of Jews. Prior to this, conversions were rare, motivated more by social than religious reasons. From the fifteenth century a new social group appeared: conversos, also called new Christians,  distrusted by Jews and Christians alike. By converting, not only could Jews  escape eventual persecution, but also obtain entry into many offices and posts  prohibited to Jews be means of new, more severe regulations.

Many conversos attained important positions in fifteenth century Spain. Among them, physicians Andres Laguna and Francisco Lopez Villalobos (Ferdinand’s Court physician), writers Juan del Enzina, Juan de Mena, Diego de Valera and Alonso de Palencia, and bankers Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez (who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus) were all conversos. Conversos face much opposition but managed to attain high positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, at times becoming severe attackers of Judaism. Some received titles of nobility and as a result, during the following century it was claimed that virtually all Spanish nobility descended from Jews.

Inquisition Begins

Alonso de Hojeda, a Dominican from Seville, convinced Queen Isabel that crypto-Judaism existed among Andalusian conversos during her stay in Seville between 1477 and 1478. A report, produced at the request of the monarchs by Pedro González de Mendoza, archbishop of Seville and by the Segovian Dominican Tomás de Torquemada, confirmed this allegation. The monarchs decided to introduce the Inquisition to uncover and do away with false converts requesting the Pope’s assent. On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV spread the bull Exigit sinceras devotionis affectus, establishing the Inquisition in the Kingdom of Castile. The bull gave monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors. However, the first two inquisitors, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín were not named until two years later, on September 27, 1480 in Medina del Campo.

At first, the activity of the Inquisition was limited to the dioceses of Seville and Cordoba, where Alonso de Hojeda had detected converso activity. The first Auto de Fé was celebrated in Seville on February 6, 1481, where six people were burned alive. Alonso de Hojeda gave the sermon himself and following this the Inquisition grew rapidly. By 1492, tribunals existed in eight Castilian cities: Ávila, Cordoba, Jaén, Medina del Campo, Segovia, Sigüenza, Toledo and Valladolid.

Establishing the new Inquisition in the Kingdom of Aragón was more difficult, the population of Aragón being adamantly opposed to the Inquisition. Ferdinand did not resort to placing new appointments; rather he breathed new life into the old Pontifical Inquisition, submitting it to his direct control. In addition, differences between Ferdinand and Sixtus IV prompted the latter to spread a new bull downright prohibiting the Inquisition’s extension to Aragon. In this bull, the Pope unambiguously criticized the procedures of the inquisitorial court.

The cities of Aragón continued to resist, and even saw periods of revolt, for instance in Teruel from 1484 to 1485. However, the murder of the inquisidor Pedro Arbués in Zaragoza on September 15, 1485, caused public opinion to turn against the conversos in favor of the Inquisition. Pedro Arbués  was an official of the Spanish Inquisition who was assassinated in the La Seo Cathedral of Zaragoza in an alleged plot by conversos and Jews. He was quickly venerated as a saint by popular acclaim, and his death greatly assisted the Inquisition and its Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada, in their campaign against heresy and crypto-Judaism. In Aragón, the inquisitorial courts focused specifically on members of the powerful converso minority, ending their influence in the Aragonese administration. Between the years 1480 and 1530, the Inquisition saw a period of intense activity. The exact number of trails and executions is debated, but it is said to be approximately 2,000 people.

Expulsion Of The Jews

A 1508 woodcut of the Inquisition

A 1508 woodcut of the Inquisition

Jews who continued practicing their religion were not persecuted by the Holy Office, however, it was suspicious of them because it was thought that they urged conversos to practice their former faith. In the trial at Santo Niño de la Guardia in 1491, two Jews and six conversos were fated to be burned for practicing an allegedly sacrilegious ritual.

March 31, 1492, only three months after the reconquest, concluded with the fall of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella publicized a decree ordering the expulsion of Jews from all their kingdoms. Jewish subjects were given until July 31, 1492 to choose between accepting baptism and leaving the country. Although they were allowed to take their possessions with them, land-holdings, of course, had to be sold.  Gold, silver and coined money were surrendered. The reason given to justify this order was that the proximity of unconverted Jews served as a reminder of their former faith and persuaded many conversos to relapsing and returning to the practice of Judaism.

The number of the Jews that left Spain is not recorded and therefore difficult to accurately estimate. Historians cite figures between 300 and 800,000.  Nevertheless, more populist estimates are significantly lower. Henry Kamen, who wrote the book, “The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, estimates that of a population of approximately 80,000 Jews, about one half or 40,000 chose emigration. The Spanish Jews emigrated mainly to Portugal, where they were later expelled in 1497 as well as to Morocco. Much later, the Sefardim, descendants of Spanish Jews, established thriving communities in many cities of Europe, North Africa and mainly in the Ottoman Empire.

The most intense period of persecution of conversos lasted through 1530. From 1531 through 1560, the percentage of conversos among the Inquisition trials lowered significantly, down to 3% of the total. There was a rebirth of persecutions when a group of crypto-Jews were discovered in Quintanar de la Orden in 1588.  The last decade of the sixteenth century saw a rise in denunciations of conversos. At the beginning of the seventeenth century some conversos who had fled to Portugal began to return to Spain, fleeing the persecution of the Portuguese Inquisition that was founded in 1532. This translated into a rapid increase in the trials of crypto-Jews, among them a number of important financiers. In 1691, during a number of Autos de Fe in Mallorca, 36 chuetas, or conversos of Mallorca, were burned.

Repression Of Moriscos

The Inquisition did not exclusively target Jewish conversos and Protestants. Moriscos, who were converts from Islam, suffered its rigors as well, although to a lesser degree. The moriscos were concentrated in the recently conquered kingdom of Granada, Aragon, and Valencia. Officially, all Muslims in Castile had been converted to Christianity in 1502; those residing in Aragon and Valencia were obliged to convert by Charles I’s decree of 1526.

In the first half of the century, many moriscos were under the jurisdiction of the nobility, so persecution would have been attacking the economic interests of this powerful social class.  However, even though the moriscos were mostly ignored by the inquisition in the first half of the century, things changed in the second half of the century under Phillip II. Between 1568 and 1570, the revolt of the Alpujarras occurred, which was repressed with unusual harshness. Beginning in 1570, in the tribunals of Zaragoza, Valencia and Granada, morisco cases became much more abundant. In Aragon and Valencia moriscos formed the majority of the trials of the Inquisition during the same decade. In the tribunal of Granada itself, moriscos represented 82 percent of those accused between 1560 and 1571.  However, the moriscos did not experience the same harshness as Jewish conversos and Protestants, and the number of capital punishments was proportionally less.

Cruelty To Protestants

During the sixteenth century, Protestant reformers bore the brunt of the Inquisition. Interestingly, a large percentage of Protestants were of Jewish origin.

The first target were members of a group known as the alumbrados of Guadalajara and Valladolid. The trials were time-consuming, and ended with prison sentences of different lengths. However, no executions took place. In the process, the Inquisition picked up on rumours of intellectuals and clerics who, interested in the Erasmian ideas, had allegedly strayed from orthodoxy.  Juan de Valdés was forced to flee to Italy to escape the Inquisition, whilst the preacher, Juan de Ávila spent almost a year in prison.

The first trials against the Protestants influenced by the Reformation took place between 1558 and 1562 in Valladolid and Sevilleas, at the beginning of the reign of Philip II, against two communities of Protestants from these cities.  These trials signaled a notable escalation of Inquisition activities. A number of enormous Autos de Fe (the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates) were held. Some of these were presided over by members of the royal family, and approximately one hundred people were executed. After 1562 the trials continued but the repression was reduced. It is estimated that only a dozen Spaniards were burned alive for Lutheranism through the end of the sixteenth century, although some 200 faced trial. The Autos de Fe of the mid-century virtually put an end to the largely diminished Spanish Protestant population.

Torture Methods

Torture was used only to get a confession and wasn’t meant to actually punish the accused heretic for his crimes. Some inquisitors used starvation, forced the accused to consume and hold vast quantities of water or other fluids, or heaped burning coals on parts of their body. But these methods didn’t always work fast enough for their liking.

Strappado is a form of torture that began with the Medieval Inquisition. In one version, the hands of the accused were tied behind his back and the rope looped over a brace in the ceiling of the chamber or attached to a pulley. Then the subject was raised until he was hanging from his arms. This caused the shoulders to pull out of their sockets. Sometimes, the torturers added a series of drops, jerking the subject up and down. Weights could be added to the ankles and feet to make the hanging even more painful.
The rack was another renowned torture method associated with the inquisition. The victim had his hands and feet tied or chained to rollers at one or both ends of a wooden or metal frame. The torturer turned the rollers with a handle, which pulled the chains or ropes in increments and stretched the subject’s joints, often until they dislocated. If the torturer continued turning the rollers, the accused’s arms and legs could be torn off. Often, witnessing someone going through this intense torture on the rack was painful enough to extract another person’s confession.

Whilst the accused heretics were on strappado or the rack, inquisitors often applied other torture devices to their bodies. These included­ heated metal pincers, thumbscrews, boots, or other devices designed to burn, pinch or otherwise mutilate their hands, feet or bodily opening. Although mutilation was technically forbidden, in 1256, Pope Alexander IV decreed that inquisitors could clear each other from any wrongdoing that they might have done during torture sessions.

Inquisitors needed to obtain a confession because they believed it was their duty to bring the accused back to the faith. A true confession resulted in the accused being forgiven, but he was usually still forced to clear himself by performing penances, such as pilgrimages or by wearing multiple, heavy crosses.

Inquisition torture chamber. Mémoires Historiques (1716)

Inquisition torture chamber. Mémoires Historiques (1716)

If the accused didn’t confess, the inquisitors could sentence him to life imprisonment. Repeat offenders were people who confessed, then retracted their confessions and publicly returned to their sacrilegious ways.  They could be ‘abandoned’ to the ‘secular arm.’ (what does this mean?)

Capital punishment allowed for burning at the stake. In some cases, accused heretics who had died before their final sentencing had their corpses or bones dug up, burned and cast out. The last inquisitorial act in Spain occurred in 1834, but all of the Inquisitions continued to have a lasting effect on Catholicism, Christianity and the world as a whole.

The Nazis & The Holocaust

The Nazis & The Holocaust

Who Were The Nazis?

The Nazis, abbreviated from the National Socialist Germany Worker’s Party, rose from the civil unrest in the interwar years in Germany. Spearheaded by Adolf Hitler for the majority of its lifetime, the Nazi Party at its core was fascist in nature, forming from the various nationalist paramilitary movements such as the Freikorps. They were focused on establishing a strongly united ‘people’s Community (Volksgemeinschaft) comprised of only those they considered to be racially pure. These racially pure individuals were known as ‘Aryans’. The notion of community became increasingly obscured by the highly racist views of the Nazis, which remains the party’s defining attribute.


Indeed, racial minorities, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, political dissidents were all treated with hostility and barbaric brutality. It was the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews however for which they are most notorious. The Party grew increasingly anti-Semitic over its lifetime, with powerful figures such as Hitler blaming the race for many of Germany’s troubles. While the Nazis fell from political dominance towards the end of the Second World War, their ideology of Nazism remains present in a number of grassroots right-wing groups across the world.

Adolf Hitler

While not the chief innovator of Nazism, Adolf Hitler’s name has become almost completely synonymous with the ideology. Indeed, as the leader of the Nazi Party for nearly the entirety of its existence, he played a more influential role than any other figure in directing its historical course. Of Austrian origins, Hitler was a veteran of the First World War, having enlisted out of national duty after a failed career as a painter.


It remains ambiguous to ascertain as to when he developed the racist views, which lead to his involvement with the Nazi Party, although it was believed to have been during his time as a young man in Vienna, which was dominated by racial prejudices in the pre-war years. Following his discharge from the army on medical grounds, he settled in Munich, where he became increasingly involved in grassroots right-wing politics, influenced by figures such as Dieter Eckhart and Anton Drexler, who greatly shaped Nazism. Hitler gradually ascended the ranks of the NSDAP, his oratorial abilities earning him increasing levels of support. He wove populist ideas with the use of scapegoats such as the Jews for Germany’s problems. Hitler eventually usurped control from the Weimar Government, who had been in power since the end of the First World War and became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933. Gradually removing any limits from absolute control, Hitler eventually ushered in a drastic reshaping of the German nation. He rearmed Germany, which had been stripped of its armaments in reparation for its role in the First World War. He also went about the annexation of various European territories, most notably the ‘Anchluss’ or reunification with the country of Hitler’s birth-Austria. While the British went about the policy of appeasement for the majority of this period, the annexation of Poland was a key trigger in the Second World War. Fighting unfolded across the globe for six years. By the end of 1944, Nazi Germany was on the defensive from both the Allied Nations (Britain, France and the US) and the Red Army (the USSR). Recognising the Red Army as the more dominant military force, Hitler instead focused his attentions on the Allies. This proved costly, as by spring of the following year the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin. With defeat imminent, Hitler and his long-time lover Eva Braun committed suicide in their safety bunker, the Nazi Party collapsing entirely shortly thereafter. Indeed, despite his defeat, Hitler’s legacy of hatred remains intact as one of the most widely reviled figures in history.

Goebbels, Himmler & Goering

While Hitler was doubtlessly the most key figure in the Nazi Party, a number of his associates played pivotal roles in the movement as well, helping enforce the ideology’s racist oppression of non-Aryans and propagate the iron-fisted rule of the Nazis. Perhaps the most well-known of these figures was Joseph Goebbels, arguably the most trusted member of Hitler’s inner-circle, known for his unwavering devotion to the Fuhrer. Goebbels’ chief responsibility was as the head of the Propaganda Ministry, tasked with ridding the nation of any non-German influences. Among the first and most notable of these measures were the widespread book burnings, which were a symbolic and physical act of Nazi Germany’s breaking away from any foreign and purportedly ‘corrupt’ influences. In his position, Goebbels saw that all aspects of media, arts and information remained under Nazi control, thus virtually eradicating freedom of speech and expression, whilst strengthening the Nazis’ influence in nearly all spheres of life. A highly anti-Semitic figure, Goebbels was a key figure in organising violence against Jews from the beginning, orchestrating the boycott against Jewish businesses, which lead to the outbreak of Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) against the Jews. Goebbels assumed a number of additional roles during the Second World War, rousing the Nazis’ supporters with his oratorial abilities. As possibly Hitler’s closest associate, he was named his successor following his suicide. However, this was short lived. With defeat remaining imminent, Goebbels poisoned his family before committing suicide himself a mere day after Hitler’s suicide.20120218062519!Hitler,_Göring,_Goebbels_and_Hess

Few figures played a more direct role in the Holocaust than Heinrich Himmler. The director of the SS, the Nazi Party’s brutal paramilitary force, Himmler transformed the group into an effectively organised battalion of over a million men. Favoured by Hitler for his organisational abilities, he became one of his most trusted associates. As the leader of the Ministry of the Interior, Himmler oversaw the direction of Nazi Germany’s police and security forces, most notably the brutal secret police-the Gestapo. As the Holocaust was enacted, Himmler was tasked by Hitler with forming the Einsatzgruppen, overseeing the facilitation of concentration camps across Nazi territory. By extension, Himmler oversaw the genocide of over six million Jews in addition to several other minorities in the brutal Concentration Camps. Thus, Himmler’s role in the barbaric atrocities of the Nazis is arguably second to only Hitler himself. Realising the inevitability of defeat, Himmler began diplomatic discussions with the Allies against Hitler’s orders and was subsequently removed from power and arrested. Following Hitler’s suicide and the downfall of the Nazis, Himmler was captured by the British military, taking his own life while in custody. Hermann Goring was another figure within Hitler’s inner circle of great importance and influence. A hero in the Germany air force during the First World War, Goring’s responsibilities in the Nazi Party were primarily involved with the military. His most notable contribution to the Nazis was his establishment of the Gestapo, the secret police, who upheld control of the civilian population through fear and intimidation. Additionally, the chief instructor of the Four Year Plan, he was responsible for the German economy as World War II drew nearer. However, by 1940, his powers steadily declined. Having already handed control of the Gestapo to Heinrich Himmler, his chief responsibility for the majority of the Second World War was leader of the Luftwaffe-the German Air

Force. His standing decreased due to a succession of military failures, particularly those of the Luftwaffe. Following this, Goring retreated from the Nazi hierarchy up until hearing of Hitler’s plans to end his own life. Appealing to Hitler by telegram, he requested to be his successor, which was interpreted as an act of treason, leading to his arrest. Following the end of the war, Goring was one of the key Nazi figures convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, only to poison himself before the sentence could be executed.

The SS

Translated literally as the ‘defence corps’, the SS was one of the most brutal and powerful organizations within the Nazi Party. Initially a small squadron tasked with protecting key figures within the NSDAP, it was revitalised under Heinrich Himmler, gradually evolving into one of the most powerful tools of Nazi oppression. Comprised of over one million employees at its peak, the SS became synonymous with the Nazi ideology, enacting many of the Party’s heinous war crimes during the Second World War, and by extension the Holocaust. Having gradually assumed control of all other police and security forces over its existence, the SS subsequently assumed a variety of violent responsibilities. Thus, the organization was divided into two central groups-the Algemeine- SS (General SS) and the Waffen-SS (Armed SS). The former would generally handled local and racial matters, with the Gestapo being under their control. The latter’s responsibility included regulation of the concentration and death camps, which began to sprout up as the Holocaust was set into motion. As an auxilliary tool of the Nazis’ violent impact on Europe, they were recognised as a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal and dissolved at the end of the Second World War, all but extinguishing their reign of terror.

Why Persecute The Jews?

While the heinous racial hatred and genocide enacted by the Nazis throughout the entirety of their time in power extended to a number of minorities, no race was treated with quite as much intense hatred as the Jews. It is difficult to determine to what extent this virulent strain of anti-semitism was directed by Hitler himself, who was highly vocal about his hatred towards the Jews. The most commonly accepted explanation for the eruption of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany was due to the resentment towards Jewish success in the interwar period, when Germany was in economic and social turmoil. The Nazis perceived the Jews as having an increasing monopoly on German cultural and professional life. Subsequently, the Jews became a scapegoat for the ills of the German people, their relative success becoming misconstrued as being detrimental to the success of Germans. As the Nazis continued to consolidate power, their grounds against the Jews became increasingly absurd, with eugenics factors playing increasing importance. Howeve of the most horrifying aspects of the Nazis’ dark legacy wer, the origins of the Nazis’ anti-Semitism doubtlessly lay in resentment over Jewish success in the interwar period.

Concentration CampsWWII-Holocaust

Onas their implementation of concentration camps. Initially constructed to imprison and torture political opponents at the beginning of Hitler’s tenure as Chancellor in 1933, they eventually complemented the Nazi disturbing racial policy and eventually imprisoned the ‘racial undesirables’ under Nazi rule. With Heinrich Himmler and the SS now in control, they exhibited unprecedented degrees of brutality towards their subjects. Holding 45,000 during their initial construction, they held over 700,000 prisoners at their peak in the beginning of 1945. They had a number of depraved functions, being centrally utilised to ‘punish’ racial minorities with gruelling and inhumane manual labour, but also to hold prisoners of war. There remains a distinction however between the concentration camps and the extermination camps, which were introduced later.

The Final Solution

Indeed, the extermination camps were established following the Nazis’ decision to entirely extinguish the Jewish population under Nazi control through genocidal measures. This decision, commonly termed ‘The Final Solution’ was a key turning point of the Second World War, leading to the Holocaust, one of the most definitive and violent events of modern civilization. There is some ambiguity over the origins of the Final Solution, yet most agree that it was a decision of much pre-mediation rather than a more spontaneous decision. Once enacted, the Final Solution saw millions of Jews killed in the newly-established Extermination Camps. Some of which, such as Treblinka served the dual function of a Concentration Camp, but the majority functioned for the sole function of extermination. The most notorious of these was Auschwitz, in which 1.1 million people were killed, primarily Jews. Over 3 million people were killed in the gas chambers of these death camps, which used poisonous chemicals carbon monoxide and Zyklon B. The Final Solution ushered in the Holocaust, the worst and most enduring of the Nazis’ many atrocities.

End Of The Nazis

Despite the widespread control and oppression the Nazis exhibited over its subjects through fear
and intimidation, it was the Second World War it triggered itself, which proved to be its great
downfall. Indeed, while there are a number of key factors to consider, in short, the ruthless
efficiency with which the Nazis ascended to power became increasingly overburdened by the
economic inviability of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Despite initial success in Western
Europe, during which the Nazis annexed parts of France and Belgium, they had accumulated too
many enemies. The Allied counter-offensive, strengthened by American military support in 1944,
saw the Nazis control of Western Europe gradually extinguished.d-day

Furthermore, the formidable Red Army of the Soviet Union pressured Nazi Germany from the East following an ambitious invasion of the USSR in 1941. Trapped by both sides, both the Allies and the Soviets invaded Nazi Germany at the beginning of 1945, significantly weakening the regime as they did so, liberating the camps. With defeat imminent, Hitler committed suicide. Although Goebbels briefly succeeded him, he too committed suicide a day later. Having lost its leadership, total Nazi surrender followed a week later.

Main Image: tsaiproject, Arbeit Macht Frei, Flickr Creative Commons

Who Were The Vikings?

Who Were The Vikings?

Often misconstrued in contemporary times as a culture of bloodthirsty yet noble savages, the Vikings’ historical legacy is in fact far more complex and important. A race originating from modern day Scandinavia, the Vikings expanded their influence throughout Europe through the implementation of their unparalleled seafaring abilities. A pivotal element of European history, particularly in Scandinavia, the Viking Age extended from roughly 793-1066 AD. The Vikings used their seafaring skills to embark on nautical journeys of trading, raiding and conquest from which their bloodthirsty perception was cultivated. Despite this, the Vikings left behind a number of impressive historical achievements and innovations in a number of cultural spheres, including artistic and military ones.

Viking Beliefs

There is very little historical evidence detailing the Vikings’ religious beliefs and rituals. However, we do know that they adhered to a multi theistic pagan religion. Owing to the ‘Codex Regius’, the most substantial historical source regarding Viking religion, we know that the Vikings believed that the world of mortals was one of nine realms, bound together by the mystical ash tree Yggdrasil.


“The Ash Yggdrasil” (1886) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine.

The most important of these realms were Asgard, the home of the Viking gods and Midgard, the home of the mortals. The sophistication of Viking mythology suggests the culture’s detailed complexity. Towards the end of the Viking Age however, the expansion of Christianity all but erased pagan beliefs from the region, with the race eventually converting to the Abrahamic religion.

Viking Sea Skills

Due to the plethora of archaeological evidence, we can discern that there were a variety of differently designed naval vessels built by the Vikings. The most important and well-known of these was undoubtedly the Long Ship, which was equipped with both sails and rows of oars. The Long Ship’s design was tailored for warfare, attributing it with speed and agility to efficiently navigate the waters whilst also having a large capacity to allow deployments of troops in the event of invasion. Other important Viking sea vessels included the Karve, built for more peaceful means such as trading and the Knarr, similar to the Longship but built for long-lasting sea-faring voyages. As a result of the Vikings’ superior construction and navigation capabilities, they were able to accomplish unparalleled feats of seafaring for their time, their most notable accomplishment being the traversing of the Atlantic Ocean to North America, the first Europeans to do so.

Viking Weapons

Despite there being minimal archaeological evidence of Viking weaponry, there are still sufficient records to create a fairly detailed impression of the importance of armaments to Viking culture. Indeed, custom dictated that all free Norsemen were encouraged and required to own and carry weapons at all times, with the armaments reflective of a man’s social stratification. Whereas a more wealthy individual would often carry an entire armoury of weapons-spear, wooden shield, battle axe/sword. The spear was used by all different kinds of social classes due to its cheapness. It was commonly used amongst the peasantry as well as the warrior elite. Contrastingly, swords were far more expensive to build and were thus more indicative of one’s high social standing. They would be used in battle alongside shields, which bore a distinctive circular design. These were made of wood and often reinforced with materials such as leather or sometimes even iron. Other weapons included the axe, a cheaper and more common alternative to the sword, which was also used as a tool, and the bow and arrow, which similarly had multiple purposes, used in both battle and hunting.

Viking Conquests

Due to their military capabilities, reinforced by their seafaring and weaponry strengths, the Vikings were able to embark on a period of brutal conquest across the Atlantic. It is believed that the Vikings were motivated into expansion of their territory out of retribution against Christian Europeans for their own conquests on the Viking homestead. While some believe these conquests were triggered by overpopulation, thus facilitating the need for expansion, there is no definitive evidence to prove this. Perhaps the most notable Viking expansion was into Great Britain. This began at the end of the 8th century as the Vikings targeted monasteries. These raids became more and more damaging, with the Vikings eventually overrunning the majority of Anglo-Saxon England following the seizure of York. However, Viking control over the British Isles was to be somewhat intermittent, lost entirely following the failed invasion by Norwegian King Harald Hadrada. Viking conquests occurred throughout mainland Europe as well, notably in Normandy, Iberia, Eastern Europe and even the Middle East. Their settlements in the North Atlantic region are arguably more impressive. Maintaining impressive colonies in Iceland and Greenland, the Vikings were also the first known colonists of North America. Led on an expedition by Leif Erikson, Viking ships landed in the New World-namely Newfoundland in Northeastern Canada. While not a particularly long-lasting colony, the Vikings’ ability to traverse the Atlantic hundreds of years before any other European civilisation illustrates the strength of their seafaring abilities. While their conquests were less rooted in the notions of empire building than other major historical civilizations, they are nonetheless highly impressive.

What Happened To The Vikings?

There is a sense of ambiguity attributed to when the Viking Age effectively ended. As they weren’t a specific empire, it is difficult to compare them to other cultures. However, as the Vikings were defined by their bombastic military raids of other cultures, one can determine that when these raids ceased, then so did the Vikings. Thus, 1066 is often attributed as the end of the Viking Age. This marked the last significant Viking raid into European territories with the Battle of Stamford Bridge wherein Norwegian King Harald Hadrada was killed in a bid to seize control of English territory.

Battle of Stamford Bridge. From 13th century Anglo-Norman manuscript.

Battle of Stamford Bridge. From 13th century Anglo-Norman manuscript.

Other factors included the increasing prevalence of Christianity in Viking lands, which gradually began to eradicate Norse influence, taking moral argument with the Viking preoccupation with violent raids. In addition, whereas at the beginning of the Viking Age, mainland European territories lacked strong, centralised and organised authority, leaving them vulnerable to the Viking’s shock tactics. By the end of this period however, these European territories had long-exceeded the Vikings in military organization and sophistication, thereby allowing them to effectively repel Viking attacks. Now somewhat outdated, the Vikings were unable to keep up with fast-changing times and faded into history.

Viking Ruins

While the Vikings did not leave behind an illustrious empire, they nonetheless spread their influence across the globe due to the prevalence of their seafaring raids. Subsequently, Viking ruins are dotted throughout Europe and beyond, extending from the Eastern fringes of the continent to the Canadian coast. Notable Viking ruins include Oseberg, a ship grave in Norway wherein several of the burnt ships in Viking funerals were excavated, Ribe, believed to be the oldest Scandinavian city in existence and most impressively L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada discovered in the 1960’s, which served as the first definitive proof of Viking influence in North America.


Wellington vs Napoleon

Wellington vs Napoleon

In 1814, it seemed that twenty five years of war in Europe was finally coming to an end with the surrender of the Emperor Napoleon and his banishment to the Mediterranean island of Elba. The European powers began the task of restoring their continent to normality and peace.

However, on 1 March 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed in France. Nineteen days later he was in Paris and resumed his title as Emperor. His army rallied to him. The soldiers who had been captured during the years of fighting had been released enabling Napoleon to reform his Grande Armée. The Duke of Wellington and European allies had to reassemble their armies and prepare to resume the war to overthrow the Emperor yet again.

Bonaparte at the Siege of Toulon, 1793, toile d'Édouard Detaille, Musée de l'armée.

Bonaparte at the Siege of Toulon, 1793, toile d’Édouard Detaille, Musée de l’armée.

Napoleon and Duke of Wellington – two old enemies and the greatest captains of their age, whose armies fought against one each other on the Iberian Peninsula during the Peninsular War – meet for their final battle at Waterloo.

Napoleon scored major victories with a modernised French army and drew his tactics from different sources. His campaigns are studied at military academies the world over, and he is regarded as one of history’s great commanders. While considered a tyrant by his opponents, he is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic code, which laid the administrative and judicial foundations for much of Western Europe. Yet, he was a man of paradoxes, his naked ambition led to costly wars with 6 million dead across Europe. Eventually, his ambition outreached his ability, leading to his humiliation in the severe Russian winter and later against the British at Waterloo.

The Duke of Wellington is best known military leaders associated with the Napoleonic Wars. He gained renown for his gruelling, five-year campaign against the French on the Iberian Peninsula, during the Peninsular War, but he is best known for leading the allies against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. He was a careful and conservative general who frequently won battles in difficult circumstances and inspired discipline and loyalty in his troops. As a well-respected commander, he gravitated naturally toward politics and became a leader of the Tory party after the War, and eventually Prime Minister.


Wellington and Napoleon were born in the same year 1769. They saw their first action within a year of one another. As soldiers they gave particular regard to topography and the study of maps and were at ease with mathematics; all important given that trigonometry had a crucial pivotal function in the placement of artillery on the battlefield.

But there the similarities end.

Napoleon v Wellington2


Napoleon commanded far larger armies than Wellington. His Russian force was nearly ten times larger than the largest ever commanded by Wellington. But he also lost far more men- 370,000 in the Russian campaign and 200,000 horses. Wellington was proud that his losses were far fewer.

Napoleon was an original supporter of the French Revolution, a strong opponent of the Bourbon monarchy and responsible for many reforms, including the abolition of slavery, which he announced overnight on his reinstatement as Emperor after his escape from Elba. Although on the battlefield, he was master of the gross personal insult, his uplifting his pre battle proclamations inspired huge loyalty and dedication from his troops. His most famous quote about the English, that they were ‘’a nation of shopkeepers’’, was one of many. He felt “the aristocracy are absolute masters, and the moment any reform threatens their power or privileges they raise the habitual cry: The foundations of the constitution are being destroyed’’. And again: ‘’The English seem to prefer the bottle to the society of women; after dinner they dismiss the ladies from the table and remain for hours drinking and intoxicating themselves’’. Napoleon and Wellington never corresponded with each other and never met. Napoleon won 60 of his 70 battles. Wellington fought far fewer but never lost. Waterloo was to be the last battle for them both.


The Battle of Waterloo by Clément-Auguste Andrieux.

The Battle of Waterloo by Clément-Auguste Andrieux.

Napoleon’s arrogance, lack of focus, reliance on tried and tested but old methods, and a tendency for over reach, was to cost him dearly at Waterloo. Wellington’s reverse slope technique, which meant many of his men were simply not visible to French artillery, was a perplexing new problem for Napoleon. It contributed to the inability of his forces to break Wellington’s line, a key defensive aim of the British general until Prussian reinforcements arrived. Bad luck, such as the weather, didn’t help Napoleon, as it slowed and blunted his attacks, as his half mile long infantry attack formations of troops 175 wide and ten deep, were cut down in the mud. Then Wellington arranged his troops in defensible squares on the battlefield, where they fended off charging cavalry, used by Napoleon in a last ditch attempt to break the line. But there was no longer any backup support from an exhausted infantry. And, in the end Napoleon,  failed to spot  General Blucher’s  90,000 Prussian troops , whose late but timely arrival were pivotal to the French defeat, and whose participation on the battlefield were always crucial to Wellington’s plan.


Wellington’s home, No 1 London, on the corner of Hyde Park, still contains memorabilia and trophies   from Waterloo, the battle that defined him. They sit alongside grand masters from Caravaggio, Rubens, Raphael and Velasquez, gifts from the Spanish Royal family after Wellington’s earlier victories over the French in the Peninsular Wars. By far the greatest single item of Napoleon in Wellington’s extensive collection was Antonio Canova’s eleven foot statue of the Emperor as the Roman god of War, Mars, in the pose of a Hellenic athlete, standing naked but for a fig leaf and a cloak, which today stands at the foot of the main staircase at Apsley House. Also here is Napoleon’s sword, paintings of Napoleon and Napoleonic battle standards from Waterloo.

While Wellington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Allied Army of Occupation of France after Napoleon’s defeat, Napoleon was exiled by the British to St Helena, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic. ‘’ If I hadn’t been foolish enough to let myself be beaten at Waterloo, all would be well’’, he said.’’ I can’t even now conceive how that defeat happened. But don’t let’s talk any more about that’’. Wellington and Napoleon’s funerals were epic affairs as the too titans competed even in death. Napoleon died on St Helena in 1821 and was eventually entombed in a grand ceremony nearly 20 years later in Les Invalides in Paris. Wellington was to outlive him for more than 30 years, dying in his sleep at the age of 84 in 1852. He was entombed at St Pauls and his funeral was watched by a million people who lined the route from Greenwich.

Main image: Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler.

The English Civil War

The English Civil War

 One of the most important and violent periods in British history, the English Civil War was a series of closely related conflicts during the 17th Century, which saw the monarchy deposed and abolished for the first time in history. Replaced by the Commonwealth, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, the republican period was relatively short-lived, but nonetheless proved to be a major turning point in the monarchy’s history.

What Caused The War?

There were numerous different causes for the eruption of tensions in the English Civil War, ranging from long-gestating institutional reasons as well as the more immediate actions of the King Charles I.

Tensions had begun to emerge between the King and Parliament during the reign of Charles I’s father James I. James I, having acceded the throne following the death of Elizabeth I, oversaw the unification of the English and Scottish Kingdoms, having held the latter position initially. The Scottish Parliament was comparatively weak and submissive to the King’s demands, something which James I expected of the English Parliament following his accession to the throne. He led a lavish and indulgent lifestyle, which created tensions between himself in the Parliament, whilst leaving its financial resources depleted. Furthermore, his belief in the divine right of the King left him ignorant to the concerns of Parliament. However, he had a notably even-tempered and peaceful manner, which prevented tensions from erupting during his reign.

The financial strains placed on parliament by the monarchy only escalated during the reign of Charles I, who shared a similar patronising disdain towards parliament to his father. Charles I led a similar lifestyle of excess, and is known today for his patronage of the arts, which placed a substantial financial cost on Parliament. Regularly running out of funds to keep up with his lifestyle, Charles I attempted to forcibly tax his subjects in order to generate sufficient capital. These intensified tensions significantly, with Charles I’s pig-headed disposition further fuelling hostilities towards him. Charles I’s disdain towards parliament saw him not call upon it for a decade in a period which is known as the ‘personal rule of Charles I’. His personal traits exasperated the long-gestating political tensions between monarchy and parliament.

A significant, inter-related issue, which helped trigger the Civil War was religious discord. Specifically, conflict between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism had been raging throughout the continent for over a century. There was a deep-seated animosity towards Roman Catholics within England in light of recent conflicts such as the Thirty-Years War, the Gunpowder Plot and most significantly the Spanish Armada. Charles I’s marriage to Henrietta Maria of France, a practicing Roman Catholic did little to endear him to the Protestant Parliament. Charles I himself, much like his father, believed in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and practiced a lavish form of Anglicanism, which alienated Protestants significantly, who felt he was being corrupted by Catholicism. His religious fanaticism backfired significantly when he attempted to impose his positions upon his Scottish subjects, which led to the First Bishops’ War, one of the most embarrassing military defeats in English history, which saw him abandon this proposition.

This diverse combination of factors had undermined any faith in Charles I and to a greater extent, the monarchy itself. Tensions reached a boiling point in 1642 as civil warfare finally broke out.

Charles I

One of the most notorious monarchs of all time, Charles I ruled for a tumultuous 25 years and is famously known as the only British King to be successfully deposed and executed. Charles I’s reign was defined by conflict. Throughout his reign, he quarrelled incessantly with the Parliament over a number of issues. He had inherited his father’s love for opulence as well as his religious fanatacism, which alienated him from the Protestants around him during a sensitive time of conflict with Roman Catholicism. His unwavering belief in the divine right of Kings saw him come into repeated conflict with Parliament, while his inefficient policies enacted to support his lavish lifestyle caused significant resentment and opposition towards him develop. A tyrannical figure ignorant to the changing landscape around him, Charles I remains one of the most significant monarchs in British history. His rule coincided with one of the biggest periods of upheaval in the country’s history.

Oliver Cromwell

Battle of Naseby, 14 June 1645. The victory at Naseby of the Parliamentarian New Model Army under Fairfax and Cromwell over the Royalist army commanded by Prince Rupert marked the decisive turning point in the English Civil War. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Battle of Naseby, 14 June 1645. The victory at Naseby of the Parliamentarian New Model Army under Fairfax and Cromwell over the Royalist army commanded by Prince Rupert marked the decisive turning point in the English Civil War. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

The other most significant figure in the English Civil War was Oliver Cromwell, who remains one of the most divisive figures in the country’s history. Cromwell’s early life is shrouded in mystery but he emerged as a major player during the English Civil War on the side of the Parliamentarians, demonstrating clear skill as a military commander. He quickly rose up the ranks and was instrumental to the defeat of the royalists. Following the execution of Charles I, Cromwell was the head of the Commonwealth of England under the title of Protector. His subsequent reign was incredibly polarising, with some dubbing him a liberator while most critical of his genocidal tendencies.

Cavaliers Vs. Roundheads

In simple terms, the English Civil War was a conflict between Royalist and Parliamentary forces. The Royalists, as the name suggests were those loyal to Charles I and were dubbed ‘Cavaliers’, an initially derisive term created by their opponents which they later adopted. The Parliamentarians were nicknamed the ‘Roundheads’ again an initially derisive nickname which was later embraced. These two forces came into conflict over a number of reasons, but the main cause was the division over how the country was to be run. The Cavaliers supported the absolute monarchy proposed by Charles I whilst the Roundheads supported a reformation and a more balanced distribution of power between the Crown and parliament.

Oxford: The Royal Capital

With tensions rising and battle lines drawn, Charles I and his supporters found themselves ousted from their home of London and forced into establishing a new base elsewhere. In 1642, Oxford became the new home for Charles I’s Court, serving as the main Royalist base of support throughout the Civil War.

The Main Battles

There were a number of critical battles during the English Civil War, however, three in particular defined the narrative of the conflict.

The Battle Of Edgehill – 23 October 1642

This was the Civil War’s first significant military battle. Taking place in Southern Warwickshire, the battle marked a major escalation in tensions following the breakdown of relations between the King and Parliament earlier in the year. In the intervening months, both the Cavaliers and the Roundheads spent time amassing military support. Charles I, known for his belligerence, decided to force a direct confrontation with his foes and marched towards London. The Roundheads, lead by the Earl of Essex, assembled to prevent the King’s advance. The conflict was known for the poor organisation and experience of troops on both sides, and both forces underestimated the distance between one another. The battle ultimately proved to be inconclusive, with the King unable to force his way through the Earl’s army. This battle is seen as key in elongating the conflict, preventing both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians from gaining an early advantage.

The Battle Of Marston Moor -2 July 1644

The most famous battle during the English Civil War, the Battle of Marston Moor was a major turning point in the conflict. Taking place in England’s North near York, a Royalist stronghold, the battle saw the conflict sway in favour of the Roundheads. The combined Parliamentarian and Scottish forces exceeded those of Charles’ Royalists. Despite Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a brilliant military figure leading the Royalist forces, they found themselves outmanoeuvred . Despite securing early gains, the Royalists grew complacent and left themselves vulnerable to a surprise attack lead by none other than Oliver Cromwell. The defeat destroyed Prince Rupert’s reputation but more importantly saw York fall to the Parliamentarians, effectively ending Charles’ control over Northern England. Furthermore, the success strengthened Cromwell’s reputation, solidifying his status as a major Parliamentary leader and paving the way to his future as leader of the Commonwealth.

english-civil-warBattle Of Naseby – 14 June 1645

Considered to be the most important and decisive battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Naseby effectively sealed Parliamentary victory. Taking place in a village in Northampton, the battle began as the Parliamentarian New Model Army, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax stormed Oxford, the base of the Royalists, while King Charles engaged them directly instead of retreating. This decision proved to be a significant and costly miscalculation. The tactical nous of Cromwell and Fairfax once again outmanoeuvred the Royalists, inflicting devastating losses and a fatal loss of morale upon them. The Battle had essentially left the Royalists depleted of men and resources and tipped the scales of the conflict decisively in favour of the Parliamentarians. Within a year, the First English Civil War had ended.

Defeat For The King

Following the Battle of Naseby, Charles I was left in an especially vulnerable position. His armies and vital resources had been depleted to a significant degree. Although he attempted to reignite his campaign against the Parliamentarians by galvanising his support base in the Midlands, he still did not have sufficient resources. He was handed over to the Parliamentarians, escaping in 1646, after which he allied himself with the Scottish, only for this to fall through as they handed him over to the Parliamentarians after striking a deal.

The Second Civil War soon broke out whilst Charles was in captivity as divisions emerged within the Parliamentarians which he exploited to his advantage. He managed to convince the Scottish to back a Royalist plot against the Parliamentarians, and they invaded England while a number of scattered uprisings emerged across the country. All of these were quashed by the Parliamentarian New Model Army, which ended any chance of a decisive Royalist victory. Imprisoned and defeated, Charles awaited trial.

The Trial

Always casting a deluded figure, Charles I still believed he had wriggle room to negotiate his way back into power, but his more radical opponents such as Cromwell had other ideas. He was accused of high treason, with his prosecutors citing his misuse of power to benefit himself over the country. The war had seen 300,000 people die, which was laid upon Charles. Charles I, refused to accept the validity of the trial, continuing to believe in hid divine right. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death.

The Execution

Charles I’s execution was a more sombre affair than a celebratory one. After bidding farewell to his younger children Elizabeth and Henry, he was executed on 30 January 1649 at the Palace of Whitehall. He was beheaded in one stroke by an executioner whose identity remains a mystery to this day. His head was sewn back to his body and he was privately buried in Windsor.

Art Sale Of The Century

Known for his extravagant lifestyle, Charles I was a major patron of the arts and known for an immense collection of art, considered by contemporary standards to be one of the most valuable and extensive in existence. Due to the major financial strains placed on the country’s economy by Charles I, which were exacerbated during the war, these works were sold off under Oliver Cromwell’s orders as a means of raising capital. The paintings were dispersed throughout the world and were only reunited under a single exhibition very recently in 2018.

The Puritan Rule Of Cromwell

Having played a major role in the Parliamentarians’ success over the Royalists, Oliver Cromwell eventually rose to the status of Protector of the Commonwealth, an Republican institution established in the absence of the Crown. Immediately after Charles I’s execution, the Commonwealth was ruled by a Council, while Cromwell oversaw the end of the Irish Confederate Wars, a hugely controversial chapter of his life which saw him lead an effort to extinguish a coalition of Irish Roman Catholics and Royalists. The conflict saw hundreds of thousands of Catholics dead while Ireland fell under England’s control. Cromwell oversaw a series of Penal Laws enacted against Roman Catholics in the Commonwealth, a major part of his Puritanical rule.

Eventually, he was appointed Protector of the Commonwealth by his fellow leaders inn 1653 and he remained a proactive leader, aggressively enacting Puritanical policies at home and abroad. In the American colonies, he oversaw his subjects’ submission to the Puritans. Despite being a polarising figure, he had the firm backing of Parliament, who even offered him the Crown, which he eventually refused.

Cromwell’s rule was known for being highly austere, informed by the Puritanical Christian values of himself and his supporters. Policies included the banning of Christmas celebrations amongst many other bizarre rules.

Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658. His funeral was ironically as lavish as his royal predecessors who he so adamantly opposed. He was succeeded by his son Richard, which lead to the final phase of the English Civil War

The End Of The Commonwealth

Richard’s succession of his father was met with immediate controversy. It would be an exaggeration to describe him as incompetent but it was clear he lacked the leadership qualities of his father. Critically, he lacked the essential support of the New Model Army, who ousted him from power after a mere seven months. In his place, the Rump Parliament returned to power under the leadership of Charles Fleetwood.

Internal conflicts plagued the Rump Parliament, as Fleetwood and John Lambert sought to suppress it and claim power as the Committee of Safety. They lacked public support, which hindered these efforts. They had alienated Republicans and Presbyterians and most critically, the military. The power vacuum had left the country in a state of escalating instability.

George Monck, a major General during the Civil War, lead a renewed Parliamentary effort to restore the monarchy, seeing it as the only way to restore stability to the government. A confrontation loomed between Monck’s forces and the Committee of Safety, but the latter fell apart entirely.

Eventually, Charles II, Charles I’s exiled son, returned to the throne in 1660, thus beginning the Restoration.

The Restoration

Following Charles II’s accession to the throne, a period known as the Restoration began. He consolidated control over the English, Irish and Scottish monarchies while a major cultural and political change occurred across the country.

The Restoration is known for a period of cultural renewal, relaxing a number of hardline Puritanical policies enacted under Cromwell’s rule. The period was known for reviving the flagging arts of literature and theatre. Charles II was known as a less absolutist leader than his father and agreed to concessions regarding religious tolerance. He also oversaw the reintroduction of a political cabinet. He enjoyed considerable popular support upon his coronation.

Domestically, he enjoyed many successes, and continued to expand Britain’s overseas empire. He enjoyed success in this regard despite incurring major losses in the Anglo-Dutch War.

Overall, Charles II was considered to be one of Britain’s most successful monarchs, stabilising the Crown and the country after many years of change and uncertainty. The Reformation set the country on a path of development for years to come.

Revenge: What Happened To Cromwell’s Head?

Although Oliver Cromwell died by natural causes and remained in power at the time of his death, his corpse did not enjoy the same pleasantries. Having been buried in Westminster Abbey following a lavish ceremony, his body was dug up after Charles II assumed the throne, on Parliament’s orders. Following this, his body was posthumously executed, publicly hanging for a day. The corpse was then decapitated and placed on a spike where it remained for decades.

The head was struck by lightning, falling off its spike and regularly switched hands between a number of wealthy private collectors. Eventually, it was found in the 20th Century and buried at the University of Cambridge.

The head is a major political symbol, initially functioning as an ominous warning to those who thought of again usurping the monarchy. Some dismiss its authenticity, and this issue has promoted endless debate over centuries.

Daily Life In Puritan England

One of the main beliefs of the Puritans was that if you worked hard, you would get to Heaven. Pointless enjoyment was frowned upon. Cromwell shut many inns and the theatres were all closed down. Most sports were banned. Boys caught playing football on a Sunday could be whipped as a punishment. Swearing was punished by a fine, though those who kept swearing could be sent to prison.

Sunday became a very special day under he Puritans. Most forms of work were banned. Women caught doing unnecessary work on the Holy Day could be put in the stocks. Simply going for a Sunday walk (unless it was to church) could lead to a hefty fine.

To keep the population’s mind on religion, instead of having feast days to celebrate the saints (as had been common in Medieval England), one day in every month was a fast day – you did not eat all day.

Cromwell divided up England into 11 areas; each one was governed by a major-general who was trusted by Cromwell. Most of these generals had been in Cromwell’s New Model Army. The law – essentially Cromwell’s law – was enforced by the use of soldiers.

Cromwell believed that women and girls should dress in a proper manner. Make-up was banned. Puritan leaders and soldiers would roam the streets of towns and scrub off any make-up found on unsuspecting women. Too colourful dresses were banned. A Puritan lady wore a long black dress that covered her almost from neck to toes. She wore a white apron and her hair was bunched up behind a white head-dress. Puritan men wore black clothes and short hair.

Cromwell banned Christmas as people would have known it then. By the C17th, Christmas had become a holiday of celebration and enjoyment – especially after the problems caused by the civil war. Cromwell wanted it returned to a religious celebration where people thought about the birth of Jesus rather than ate and drank too much. In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Traditional Christmas decorations like holly were banned.

Cromwell And The Irish

Despite being a highly religious man, Cromwell had a hatred for the Irish Catholics. He believed that they were all potential traitors willing to help any Catholic nation that wanted to attack England.

He used terror to ‘tame’ the Irish. He sent an army there and despite promising to treat well those who surrendered to him, he slaughtered the people of Wexford and Drogheda who did surrender to his forces. He ordered that all Irish children should be sent to the West Indies to work as slave labourers in the sugar plantations. He knew many would die out there – but dead children could not grow into adults and have more children. Cromwell left a dark stain on the history of Ireland.

A Short History Of The Moors

A Short History Of The Moors

Granada – the word in Spanish means pomegranate – a fruit brought to Spain by Moslem tribes from North Africa in the 8th century. They were known as the Moors and they came to Europe from what is now known as Morocco.

For nearly 800 years the Moors ruled in Granada and for nearly as long in a wider territory of that became known as Moorish Spain or Al Andalus. In Granada, where the Moors first came in 711, they built a fortress palace known as the Alhambra. It was never conquered by their enemies but in 1492 the Moors surrendered their citadel, by then the last outpost of Moorish Spain, to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel. It would bring to an end an era and mark the beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition.

But the Moors left behind a rich architectural and cultural legacy still apparent throughout the Iberian Peninsula and beyond today.

The Romans

Before the arrival of the Arabs, the Romans had built a small city on the western outskirts of its empire called Volubulis. Previously part of the North African Carthaginian Empire, it became part of the Roman Empire after Juba, the 2nd a local Berber king, married the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra.

Thought to have been constructed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries during the reign of Emperor Caligula, it was buried by an earthquake in 1755 ,and wasn’t discovered again until just over 100 years ago, in 1915. Volubilis grew from a provincial outpost to a substantial capital on the outskirts of an empire, known as Roman Mauretania covering an area of about 100 hectares. It was important enough to have its own triumphal arch, the Gate of Tangier. It also contained small palaces and substantial houses with exquisite mosaic floors, still here today.

The Arabs Arrive

The Arabs invaded Morocco in 683, inspired to spread their new religion Islam. In 786 Arab leader, Idriss the 1st, who claimed direct descent from the Prophet Mohammad, arrived in V

Moulay Idriss

Moulay Idriss

olubilis and it marked the beginning of the end of the Roman city.

The local Berber tribes converted from Christianity and Idriss the 1st was buried in the hilltop town of Moulay Idriss, just three kilometres away. It’s still regarded as one of Morocco’s most holy sites. Then a small force of Arab and Berber warriors embarked series of raids across the Strait of Gibraltar into Southern Spain

The Omayads

So rapid was the Moors expansion into Spain that soon a capital was established in the city of Cordoba. The driving force behind the new Moskem settlement was Prince And Al Rahman who escaped here with his family after the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus in 725, and it’s replacement by the Baghdad based Abbasid dynasty,

He made  the Meskita mosque the centrepiece of this new caliphate, which he began building on the site of a church 30 years after his arrival. It combined indigenous designs with those that borrowed features from the Great Mosque of Damascus.

The Idrisids

Fountain at Place Nejjarine, Fez, dating from the Idrisid dynasty.

While And Al Rahman consolidated his power in Spain, in Morocco it was Idriss the 2nd, the son of Idriss the 1st, who who went on to establish the city of Fez, which remains to this day one of the great strongholds of the Islamic faith. Two thousand Arab families came to settle here in 814 followed by 8000 Arab families from Spain.

Fez is famous for its medieval Medina with its labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. This giant walled city, home to 70,000 people, is still the world’s largest urban car-free zone and everything today still needs to be brought in by hand pulled carts or even donkeys.

The heart of the city is the 9th century Kairaouine mosque, established in 859, which is also the sanctuary for tomb of Idriss the 2nd. The mosque contains what is thought to be the oldest university in the world. Over the centuries the mosque has been encased by the Medina surrounding it.

After the death of Idriss the 2nd a new dynasty came to power and they would found another great city and make it their capital. For nearly 500 years, and in particular during the 10th century, Cordoba was a beacon a civilisation – cultural capital that lived peacefully with a multi-ethnic population, including Jews and Christians.

The Almoravids

What is known today as the pink city, or Marrakech, was founded in 1062 by a Berber dynasty known as the Almoravids. Their most charismatic leader was Yousef Ben Tachfine.

The Almoravids constructed a 20-kilometre, eight-metre high mud wall around the city in 1126 , giving it thee distinct colour which survives to this day. Its has been repaired and rebuilt many times in the 900 years since.

The Almoravids introduced an ingenious underground irrigation system that still supports a vast palmerie outside Marrakech The Almoravid version of strict orthodox Islam spread across Morocco and into neighbouring Algeria.

And at the age of 80, Youssef Ben Tachfine launched a series of daring invasions of the Iberian peninsula.

Moorish Forts

To protect their newly won territory the Moors built giant fortress palace complexes known as “Alcazabas”. Construction of some like old Alcazaba at Malaga had begun more than 200 years earlier, during the reign of Al Rahman’s Cordoba based dynasty, but the Almoravids embellished the Alcazaba adding many of the hundred towers that survive to this day.

The Alcazaba of Malaga

The Alcazaba of Malaga

A series of fortified gates took visitors into the inner sanctum of the palace grounds. The Moors were renowned for their gardens, and the use of water delivered by simple but ingenious irrigation methods to create and ambiance of peace and tranquility to their surroundings.

The Moors also built more practical structures used for defense only. Further north west on the banks of the Guadiana River in Merida, where the Romans had built a massive bridge (the longest surviving from the ancient world), the Moors constructed an Alcazaba on the side of a previous Visigoth fortress.

And in Seville on the banks of the river Guadalquivir you find the “Torre del Oro” watchtower built in 1221. It is still there today.

The Moors territory stretched as far north as Zaragoza, near Barcelona, where they constructed a fortress palace which hundreds of years later would be occupied and converted by Spanish monarchs. Many conquests of the Iberian peninsula were launched from the modern day capital of Morocco, Rabat.

But right from the start the battles between Moors and Christians seesawed over the decades, a pattern which would be repeated over the centuries As early as the 11th century Moors would return from Spain on the occasion of military defeats and in Rabat they settled at the Rabat harbour entrance in an area known as the Kasbahs of the Ouidas. The unique blue and white washed homes of the refugees are still there today

Back in Fez, the Almoravids also embellished the city, in addition to their capital Marrakech. Skilled craftsmen were imported from Spain and countless new public buildings and fountains were erected. By 1145 there were 10,000 shops and 785 mosques.

But today very few monuments from a century of Almoravid rule remain. In Marrakech, the most significant is a small shrine known as the Koubba, now undergoing restorative work.

The Almorads

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

The Almoravids successors, the Almorads, were also Berbers but when they overthrow the Almoravids in 1147, they plundered and destroyed the Almoravid legacy, a trend that would be repeated over the centuries.

The most famous and expansive Almohad sultan was Yacoub el Mansour, who is remembered too for his victories over the Spanish and as a builder of great Mosques

Mansour’s most famous mosque was the Koutoubia in Marrakech. It’s 70-metre high tower became a prototype of the genre, it’s influence apparent in Moroccan minarets constructed since the 12th century. The design was also copied in the Moors’ Spanish territories.

The Marinids

After the death of Mansour, the Almorads were in turn overthrown by the Marinids, who achieved fresh victories in Spain and conquered Algeria. They made Fez their capital in 1248.

The Marinids were responsible for the Medersas, or Islamic boarding schools, that can be visited today. Medersa Bou Inania in Fez was built between 1351 and 1357 by Merinid Sultan Bou Inan. It’s been impressively restored with elaborate tile work and beautiful cedar lattice screens.

Bou Inan also built a medersa in Meknes completed a year later in 1358 . This is typical of the exquisite interior design common to Merimid monuments. Religious students 10 to 14 years of age slept in tiny rooms on the first floor.

Under the Merinids, many refugees arrived in Fez from Spain, as battles with Christian Spaniards intensified. The refugees settled on the other side of the river in a quarter known as Al Andalous. Among those arriving were skilled Granada craftsmen whose work can still be seen today.

Ceramics workshops still produce the intricate hand made tiles that decorate so much here and are now made for export. Copper work is also a proud artisan tradition, as is leatherwork. Tanneries within the Medina still process skins for leather goods.

Jews were among the refugees escaping to Fez following persecution in Spain. At one time a quarter of a million lived here in a specially created Mellah, or Jewish quarter. Their old houses remain, their open balconies looking into the street.

Less than a hundred Jews remain today, a bygone era symbolised now by the Jewish cemetery, where a sea of blindingly white tombs stretches down the hill from the Mellah.

The Merinid Sultans who welcomed the Jews were buried in far grander surroundings on a hilltop overlooking Fez. But the Merinid dynasty grew unpopular, protected by Syrian mercenaries and their tombs were ransacked and made ruinous long ago

The Merenids lost power because they started losing wars in Spain – and then ports in Morocco. Raising taxes to try to introduce new bronze cannons to keep up with European technology, they became hugely unpopular.

Merenid Tomb ruins, Fez

Merenid Tomb ruins, Fez

Seville’s massive cathedral, the world’s largest, is itself a former mosque. Its giant bell tower, the Giralda, used to be a minaret. The tower is 342-feet-high and remains one of the most important symbols of the city as it has been since medieval times. The Almorads used the Koutubia in Marrakech as a model for the Giralda. The tower’s first two-thirds is the former minaret built between 1184 and 1198. The upper third is Spanish Renaissance architecture. After Seville was taken by the Christians in 1248, the mosque was converted into a church. The final third of the building is an outstanding example of the Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.

In Rabat, Yacoub el Mansour’s great unfinished work, known as Hassan’s Tower, was to be the greatest mosque in western Islam. Mansour died before when it was half built and it remains in that state today.

Granada, The Alhambra And The Inquisition

Meanwhile in Southern Spain, or Al Andalus, today’s Andalucía, the Moors had continued building. It’s an architectural legacy that can still be seen today in the winding alleys of the old Jewish quarters, particularly in the Andalusian cities in the south such as Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. One of Moorish Spain’s most spectacular buildings, the Alhambra Palace, still stands.

Work had begun on the Alhambra fortifications in 889. But the complex evolved over several centuries with work on its three palaces not completed until the end of the 14th century.

In 1492, the Emirate of Grenada was the last bastion of Moorish Spain to fall to the La Reconquista led by the crusading Isabel and Ferdinand.

The last Moorish Emir, Boabdil, surrendered to the Spanish monarchs on the plains below the fortress. The Alhambra itself was never taken but the royal standard of the Catholic monarchs soon flew from the watchtower atop the fortress citadel. The Catholic monarchs then moved into what was the most exquisite of buildings that the Moors had created during their 800-year-rule.

The Alhambra complex is vast, covering 35 acres, and has a number of grand features. The protective Alcazaba, or fortress, at its western end is the oldest part of the complex and built on an isolated and precipitous headland making it impossible to take. The rest of the plateau comprised a number of earlier and later Moorish palaces enclosed by a fortified wall and 13 defence towers.

After the Reconquista, the Spanish monarch Charles the 5th built a giant Renaissance palace right in the heart of the complex. To this day it sits uneasily amongst the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra.

The main entrance to the Alhambra was the Gate of Judgement. Built in 1348 with its massive horseshoe-shaped arch, the Hand of Fatima, with fingers outstretched against the evil eye, is carved above the entrance.

The royal palace complex consists of three main palaces. The oldest is the most modest, and was used for business and administrative purposes. The Hall of the Ambassadors is the largest room and was used for welcoming important visitors.

Bou Inania Madrasa, Meknes

Bou Inania Madrasa, Meknes

The entire complex overlooks the old district of Albayzin where Muslims continued to live for decades after the Reconquista.

Soon after the last Moors were overthrown, the Inquisition intensified and religious minorities tolerated under Islam were driven out too or killed – victims of a blood and barbarous witch hunt by inquisitors.

The Grand Inquisator, Tomas de Torquemada, ran 100,000 trials, burnt 2,000 at the stake and advised Ferdinand and Isabel to issue the edit of expulsion. This led to 100,000 Jews converting to Christianity and another 200,000 who didn’t being forced to leave the country.

The Alhambra, the most famous of Moorish palaces, may still be here today but after the Reconquista inquisitors tried to eradicate Muslim culture too, carrying out mass baptisms, burning Islamic books and banning the Arabic language. By 1500, about 300,000 Muslims had been baptised and converted under threat of expulsion. But these Moriscos, as they were known, were eventually expelled 100 years later.

The Christian victory over the Moors in Spain in 1492 had therefore resulted in mass exodus from the Iberian peninsula of both Moslems and Jews.

White Slaves

For more than 100 years embittered Moriscos, as they were known, were among those that took to the seas off the Iberian peninsula pirating European ships and enslaving their crews. The white slaves they captured were destined to slave prisons in North Africa like the one at Sale, next to Rabat, still here today. Its estimated that over a period of 100 years, 30,000 Europeans were captured and sold into Slavery. The Morisco raiding parties stretched as far east as Italy, where pirates attacked shipping along its western coast.

And it wasn’t just European slaves being seized by Moors. Moorish slaves were also taken by Europeans and sold in slave markets in port cities like Livorno. Here, a sculpture known as The Four Moors shows Ferdinand dei Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, towering over four shackled Moorish slaves. These giant bronze statues created by Tuscan sculptor Pietro Tacca, a pupil of Giambologna, were erected between 1623 and 1629. The statue of the Duke, the founder of Livorno who made a name for himself fighting the pirates, was erected 25 years earlier.

Although diminished of their Spanish territories the Moorish empire nevertheless remained a powerful economic force in North Africa in the 17th century. But it was trading goods rather than slaves that made Moorish cities such as Marrakech wealthy.

In the Medina of Marrakech one can still find many Caravanserais – nearly 150 still survive – where valuable merchandise was stored and where the merchants and traders who brought these cargoes from inland Africa could also stay in lodgings on the first floor.

The Saadians

The great beneficiaries of this lucrative trade, particularly in sugar, was Morocco’s new dynastic rulers: the Saadians.

Medina walls, Rabat

Medina walls, Rabat

Overlooked by the Merinids, Marrakech in the late 16th century enjoyed a renaissance under the new Saadian dynasty. They established a Jewish Mella or quarter in 1558, where 6,000 Jews were relocated. Today, as with other mellahs in Moroccan cities, most Jews have left – just a small synagogue remains.

However, the Jews impact on cultural and commercial life in the city is felt to this day. The Al Badi Palace, a 360-room palace commissioned by famous Saadian sultan, Ahmad Al Mansour, was considered a wonder of its time. Featuring sunken gardens and reflective pools it was decorated in gold, turquoise and crystal, treasures all plundered by the later Allouite sultan, the infamous Moulay Ismail, who used them for his own palace in Meknes. Saadian sultan Al Mansour spared no expense in his glorious mausoleum. Also buried here were 60 members of his family and trusted Jewish advisors

Al Mansour died in spendour in 1603, but Moulay Ismail – who had plundered the palace – had the mausoleum walled up as well. It was only discovered by aerial photography nearly three hundred years later in 1917. Even today the tombs are only accessible through a small passageway in a nearby mosque.

Today, there are only traces in Marrakech of the refined tastes of Saadian artisans where original features have been painstakingly restored to their amazing colours, an indication of the vibrant decorations for which the Saadians were reknowned. Many of these Moorish architectural concepts come together in the traditional house or Riad, which form much of the accommodation in Medinas in Moroccan cities today.

The Allouites

When they assumed power from the Saadians, the Allouites – led by sultan Moulay Ismael – moved the capital from Fez to Meknes . The new sultan would become one of the most famous rulers in the history of Morocco.

Not lacking in ambition, Ismail built 12 grand palaces enclosed by 25 kilometres of walls and ramparts. Modelling himself on Louis XIV his summer palace was meant to be equivalent of Versailles.

Moulay Ismail made sumptuous gardens watered by great reservoirs and built the Gate Bab Mansour which still claims to be the grandest gate in all of Morocco. The inscription above its elaborately carved entrance reads:”I am the most beautiful gate in Morocco. I am like the moon in the sky. Property and wealth are written on my front.”

To support his vast army, Ismail built huge reservoirs which watered both the city and the massive stables, which could house 12000 cavalry horses. The animals were waited on hand and foot with a groom and a slave for each horse to ensure that all their needs were met. Today, the site is overrun with stray cats

Moroccan Palace Entrance

Moroccan Palace Entrance

When he died many of Ismail’s grand projects were either incomplete or fell into ruins. But Moulay Ismail’s legacy remains undiminished. Four hundred years later the grand square where Moulay Ismail expected an army of 150000 slaves from Sudan, is a very different place – the thriving heart of modern city.

Modern Day

Today, Moulay Ismail´s magnificent walls are not used for war or defence. Instead, the walls enclose a beautiful golf course that was built by Ismail’s Allouite descendent, Hassan II.
Hassan II modernised the country adopting market-based economy where tourism was developed and encouraged.

His son, the current king, Mommmad VI, even built a surfing club in Rabat. But the royal family grip on power remains undiminished.

Hassan II died in 2003, and is buried in a magnificent tomb in Rabat, next to his father, Mohammad V, who was the last Sultan of Morocco before the title was changed to King in 1957.

The legacy of the Moors lives on both in Morocco and in the great buildings left behind in Spain and beyond. This remains of the worlds most enduring dynastic civilisations.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution

The French Revolution is one of the most important instances of political upheaval in history, marking France’s transition from Empire to Republic after centuries of monarchy. Lasting a period of ten years, the French Revolution was a time of violence and major change, which not only changed France profoundly but also reshaped the entire world, suggesting the vulnerability of monarchies and paving the way for republics as a common means of ruling.

What Caused The Revolution?

The French Revolution was borne out of a diverse range of causes, some long-term factors, others more short-term catalysts. These causes covered a wide range of themes, including economic, political and social ones.


If there were to be a chief instigator behind the eruption of the French Revolution, it would arguably be the rampant social inequality within France. The country was plagued by extreme poverty, which was exacerbated by a cruel and antiquated feudal system. The peasantry, the vast majority of whom worked in agriculture, were forced into paying taxes to the nobility and to the clergy. This ensured they would be unable to support and often feed their families. Despite far outnumbering the clergy and the nobility, the peasantry did not own near as much land.

By contrast, the nobility owed no taxes to the state at all despite their far superior wealth. The clergy, itself mainly comprised of members of the bourgeoisie and the nobility, was similarly exempt from these punitive measures. The growing power of the nobility and its seeming immunity to taxation, especially in such trying times, lead to a rapid intensification of class resentment, which played a significant role in the French Revolution


liberty-leading-the-people-by-eugene-delacroixAn additional long-term cause was the sense of cultural change unravelling around Europe. The French Revolution fell into the broader period known as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’, which had promoted ideas such as equality and individualism, which directly challenged the institutions of the Catholic Church and the French Monarchy. The archaic ideas represented by these institutions were steeped in tradition and the ideas espoused during the Enlightenment resonated with a disenfranchised population. The successful implementation of these ideas in America created a blueprint for apparent success, which gave further impetus to the French.


Closely tied with the social factors were the economic distress across France during the Revolutionary period. The taxation of the peasantry had increased to an enormous extent due to the state’s high debt levels. This was due to the French support of the American Revolution, which had left the state’s economy in a fragile and near-bankrupt position. The monarchy’s inability to deal with this vast debt played a major role in fuelling resentment towards it. The peasantry, already burdened by heavy taxation, were pushed to the very brink by these new measures, which could be viewed as a means of supporting the lavish lifestyles of the upper echelons of society. The exemption of the nobility and the church from taxation not only complicated the economic situation but intensified resentment.


A major factor behind the collapse of the monarchy were its inherent political flaws and its failures to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape. Despite the continuation of the inhumane and ineffective taxation system, there had long been a recognition amongst certain ministers at revising it. There were propositions in taxing the nobility in addition to the peasantry, which was met with hostile resistance amongst the aristocracy, undermining a critical area of support for the monarchy. It was opted to deregulate the grain market, which had disastrous effects. This drove the price of bread up massively during period of poor harvest and triggered the Flour War, a period of political unrest in 1775, which is viewed by many as a catalysing event in the French Revolution. The indecisiveness of Louis XIV and his court proved particularly costly, and undermined bases of political support and leaving him vulnerable to the looming revolution.

Life At Versailles

A major reason for the seething and fast-rising resentment towards the French monarchy was the sheer excess and opulence of the royal court and the aristocracy. This excess was exemplified by the lifestyles of King Louis XIV and his wife Marie Antoinette. The Royal Court was renowned for lavish parties, excessive feasts and unbridled hedonism. This was in stark contrast to the rampant poverty and hunger of the peasantry. The ignorance of the Royal Court to grasp the severity of this problem played a significant role in their downfall.

Louis The XVI

The final King of France, Louis XVI is a more complicated figure than he initially appears. Often villainised as the epitome of upper class excess and tyranny, he was far more intelligent than he is often portrayed. The early parts of his reign were marked by a genuine effort at reform as he clearly understood the fast-rising hostilities. Despite these positive attributes, Louis XVI clearly played a role in his own undoing. His indecisiveness rendered him unable to fully grasp the severity of public outrage while a number of misguided policies he implemented only intensified resentment towards him. His excessive lifestyle also did him no favours, and fed into the image of a tyrannical exploiter of the masses.

marie-antoinetteMarie Antoinette

Louis XVI’s wife, best known for her misguided, enduring words: ‘Let them eat cake’, epitomised the class conflict as much as her husband. A member of Austrian Royalty, she married Louis XVI at a young age, she was an initially popular figure. Her fall from grace arguably even more staggering than that of her husband. Marie Antoinette, according to her detractors, encapsulated the ignorance, excess and hedonism associated with the royal family and the upper class, criticisms that are at least partially valid. Her ignorance to the plight of the peasantry, opposition to political reform and lavish lifestyle made her a clear enemy to those seeking change.

Storming Of The Bastille

Arguably the most pivotal moment of the French Revolution was the Storming of the Bastille, commemorated in modern times by the holiday Bastille Day. Taking place on 14 July 1789, this saw tensions escalate from an uprising into a full-fledged revolution. The Bastille was a major prison in Paris, which symbolised the idea of Royalist tyranny. At the time, there were only seven prisoners held captive in the Bastille, however the storming was a far more symbolic victory than a tangible one. It represented the seizure of one of the most oppressive sites in the country-a symbol of the royal abuse of power. The incident had significant reverberations across the country, triggering the ‘Great Fear’, a period of mass panic throughout the country, which saw tensions escalate into a full-scale revolution.

Arrest Of The Monarchs

In the aftermath of the Bastille, Louis XVI saw his grip on power weakened significantly. The leader’s power had transferred from that of an absolute monarch to a constitutional monarch, meaning power was more equally weighted between himself and parliamentary officials. Louis XVI remained an indecisive and unpopular figure during this final period of his rule. The death of Honore Gabriel Riqueti, the Count of Mirabeau, a major figure in the Revolution and a mediator between the Crown and the politicians, further compromised Louis XVI’s standing. He found his powers increasingly hamstrung by a more powerful government and grew increasingly detached from their modernising attitudes.

By 1791, a mere two years later, Louis XVI and his family attempted to flee from their predicament and trigger a counter-revolution, but these plans were quashed as they were arrested in the town of Varennes. This proved to be a major turning point in the Revolution and significantly intensified public animosity towards the monarchy and effectively sealed their fate.

The Guillotine

One of the most potent symbols of the French Revolution was the guillotine, a method of execution which left its victims decapitated. This was the means by which many enemies of the Revolution met their fates, including the King and Queen Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The Guillotine has polarised people as a symbol during the Revolutionary Period, with some viewing it in a celebratory light due to its role in overthrowing the monarchy while others view it in a more objectionable light due to its association during the Terror which followed.

The Execution Of The Monarchs

Following their arrest, the monarchs were imprisoned in the Tour de Temple, an old Medieval fortress in Paris. While they were imprisoned, the National Assembly declared the abolition of the monarchy whilst establishing France as a Republic. Charged with treason for his attempts at subverting the First French Republic, Louis XVI was sentenced to death by the Convention, who voted in overwhelming favour of his execution due to the wealth of evidence against him. Louis XVI was executed in January 1793, with records showing he went to his death in a dignified manner. His widow Marie Antoinette was imprisoned for several months thereafter before meeting her own execution in October. With the monarchy extinguished, a new Republic loomed ahead. Despite this, the conflict was far from over.

The Terror

With the monarchy vanquished and the First French Republic promptly established in its place, the transition into peaceful democracy was complicated by continued tensions between a number of warring factions. Civil war was escalating while external armies were closing in on a country gripped by chaos. The government, facing enemies on all fronts, decided to impose Terror to maintain their grip on power in increasingly fraught times. Those they deemed enemies to the Revolution were arrested and executed en masse. Under the leadership of the notorious Maximilien de Robespierre, the Committee of Public Safety assumed a virtually dictatorial position, vanquishing enemies from a variety of different positions to their own. During this period it is estimated that 17,000 people were executed while over 300,000 were arrested.

execution-french-revolutionWhat Happened Next?

The period known as the ‘Great Terror’ was brought to an end with the event known as the Thermidorian Reaction on 27 July 1794, which saw the downfall of Robespierre and his extremist underlings. Robespierre and several others were arrested and executed. Filling in the power vacuum was a council otherwise known as the Directory, who could not quell the ongoing instability, causing further economic distress and continuing on costly military efforts abroad. The Directory’s mismanagement caused in its own downfall in 1799 when a coup led by Napoleon Bonaparte was successfully carried out. Napoleon’s coup is generally considered to be the end of the French Revolution, ushering in a new period of French history dominated by military incursions abroad. Regardless, the French Revolution remains the definitive turning point in the country’s history, its effects continuing to resonate within the country and far outside its borders.