Ewuare the Great - King of Benin

Ewuare the Great - King of Benin
Ewuare the Great - King of Benin

Oba Ewuare the Great of West Africa was one of the most celebrated kings of Benin. However, since most of the history of Benin during this period was oral, it is sometimes difficult to separate legend from reality in the accounts of this powerful and charismatic monarch.

Known as the first of the warrior kings of West Africa, Ewuare belonged to a group of 15th and 16th century kings of Ife origin who transformed Benin City from a group of small villages into a thriving metropolis. Ewuare’s three brothers, Egbeka, Orobiru, Uwaifiokun, occupied the throne of Benin for 70 years.

After succeeding Uwaifiokun, Ewuare continued to reign for 33 years. As oba, Ewuare designated his eldest son as the heir-apparent, discontinuing the practice of collateral transmission to the throne. Ewuare subsequently bestowed the title of Ihama upon his family.

Ewuare is credited with conquering at least 201 surrounding towns and villages during his reign. By the time his new subjects had been resettled, Ewuare’s kingdom had grown from a small group of villages to a substantial kingdom.

To solidify his position, Ewuare built a palace and fortified the city’s defenses. He also proceeded to rid the Beninese government of hereditary tribal heads. In their place, Ewuare created a patrimonial bureaucracy in which freemen served as military and administrative chiefs.

Ewuare did not strip these chiefs of all powers, however, but divided Benin into departments and placed each department under the control of a group of chiefs. Ewuare also persuaded the tribal chiefs to allow their firstborn sons to serve him in the palace.

Together, Ewuare and his son and successor Oba Ozolua were responsible for establishing a viable foreign trade in Benin. Consequently, by the time the Portuguese arrived in Benin in 1486, trade was already well established. After the arrival of the Europeans, Benin became the entry point for arms and other European goods designated for transport to points around Africa.

Oba Ewuare was a monarch of wide interests and was responsible for establishing a number of religious and cultural rituals. He was also widely known for his celebration of Beninese arts. During this period, art in Benin was practiced chiefly by hereditary craftsmen who lived in the palace.

To honor members of the royal family, Ewuare had brass smiths cast the heads of the royal family, both past and present, on a variety of objects. According to Beninese lore, Ewuare preferred the likenesses of himself created by brass smiths to those created in other forms because he believed he looked younger in the brass casts.

It was common practice at the time to depict all kings as young men rather than the way they looked later in life. The technique used by the brass smiths of Benin combined European techniques with those handed down among the Ife people.

Ewuare also had a more practical side and was responsible for massive architectural innovations and extensive town planning in Benin. The monarch was a great lover of ceremony, and he established the practice of holding annual ceremonies in which the participants wore elaborate costumes and used ritualistic paraphernalia to depict various religious and cultural elements.

Ewuare commanded the Beninese people to wear distinctive facial markings that identified them according to their status and barred all foreigners from the palace. Among the Beninese people, Ewuare was highly esteemed for his introduction of coral beads, which became an essential part of royal symbolism.

The Beninese people also greatly admired Ewuare for his discovery of red flannel, which he had probably received from a source with European connections. Under Ewuare, ivory and woodcarvings became common in Beninese works of art. Somewhat surprisingly, Ewuare was also interested in herbology and was a noted herbologist.

Dedicated to building up the treasures of Benin, Ewuare founded the Iwebo Palace Association, which was given the responsibility for caring for all royal regalia. However, during Ewuare’s reign, the royal store-houses were twice burned down, and an untold number of priceless relics were destroyed.

Further historical relics were lost to history when the royal storehouses were looted in the early 18th century under the rule of Oba Ewuakpe and when they were again burned during the reign of Oba Osemwede in the early 19th century.

In Benin, the Emeru were designated as caretakers of all iru, the sacred brass vessels used in Beninese rituals. The more contemporary irus were replicas of those used during Ewuare’s time when it was believed that the vessels had mystical powers that allowed spirits who resided in the vessels to affirm the prayers of the faithful in audible voices.

These vessels were placed on the Ebo n’Edo shrine in Ewuare’s palace. According to the legend of the iru, after Ewuare died, a successor broke the pots in an attempt to discover what was inside. Because the spirits supposedly fled from the broken pots, new vessels were cast. Thereafter, the royal family was required to mimic spirit voices during ceremonies.

Another legend has it that Ewuare predicted that if a king named Idova ascended to the throne of Benin, the country would experience a major change in government. He declared that he did not know whether the change would be for good or ill. When Oba Ewuakpe became king in 1700, it was noted that his given name was Idova.

Whether Oba Ewuare had had some premonition of what would happen during Ewuakpe’s reign, or whether events were a result of his being expected to institute major changes, Oba Ewuakpe responded to political conflicts by initiating a number of reforms in Benin. However, the monarch later fell out of favor with the people. When his mother died, he ordered that human sacrifices be made in her honor. Outraged, the people rebelled and thereafter boycotted the palace.

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus of Rotterdam
Erasmus of Rotterdam
Desiderius Erasmus was an internationally acclaimed celebrity and the greatest European scholar during the 16th century. Despite the polemics of the Protestant Reformation, he could make friends among kings and lords in every land and on all sides of the central questions of his day, and this trait led him to reside in Holland, France, England, Switzerland, and Italy.

His pursuit of Christian humanism and his intellectual curiosity led into a lifetime of travel and writing, seeking to promote the values of the Italian Renaissance in northern Europe.

Erasmus was born in Rotterdam on October 27, 1466, as an illegitimate child. His father was Roger Gerard, who later became a priest, and his mother Margaret, the daughter of a physician. One of the major Catholic renewal groups of the Low Countries, the Brethren of the Common Life, adopted him and no doubt generated in him an unpretentious and broadminded orientation toward spirituality.

For the rest of his life, Erasmus never was enticed by the outward show of formal religion, whether it came from Catholic pomp or Protestant sectarianism. He never held an office in the church, even though he was offered the cardinal’s hat by the pope; he also rejected the pandemonium caused by the likes of Martin Luther, Henry VIII, and Ulrich Zwingli.

At first, he spent time in a religious order, though he probably chafed at requirements that he remain in a monastery under a superior. What attracted him were the disciplined study and fraternal companionship a monastic life afforded. He found an excuse to leave when he took up a position with a local bishop and later obtained permission to study theology in Paris.

It was not theology that interested him as much as the life of intellectual stimulation and possibilities of travel. After leaving the monastery, he never looked back. In the university he gravitated toward literature and humanism of the Renaissance more than toward the theology and philosophy of Scholasticism.

He made friends with Italian scholars in Paris, who kept him informed about the intellectual currents of the Renaissance. His skills at Latin and his need for income led him into contact with English students, who in turn invited him to England. At the age of 33, he accepted their invitation and emigrated there.

The English intellectuals he met included John Colet, Sir Thomas More, John Fisher, and Archbishop Warham, men of the “New Learning” school who were interested in reviving the Greek and Latin classics instead of the hidebound studies of medieval Europe.

Erasmus began to realize that such a philological methodology could also be applied to the church fathers and the scriptures, the literary pillars of his traditional Catholic faith. His object was not to undermine the established religious doctrines of his time, but simply to make the writings more available and understandable to the broader public.

Erasmus discovered the advantages of travels and friends in high positions. Whereas other scholars had to worry about financial support and institutional approval, Erasmus attracted the favor of benefactors in many countries, especially those who were outside the church hierarchy. This new life afforded him independence of thought, though it meant that he never lived in one place more than eight years.

His celebrity status as an intellectual can only be compared to the likes of Herodotus among the ancient Greek and Persian officials or Voltaire among the Enlightenment thinkers. He was a trendsetter in bringing the ideas of the Renaissance to northern Europe. His book of commonplace wisdom, Adagia, propelled him into the limelight and was published more than 12 times between 1500 and 1535 in several languages.

On the topic of religion he wrote Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of a Christian Knight), a book that found its way throughout Europe. This book attempted to make Christianity practical by teaching about how to choose virtuous life. For Erasmus, this choice did not come through rite or ceremony; nor was it mental speculation or Scholastic dialectic, but it was learned through practice and imitation of Christ.

However, Christ was Savior, as well as supreme teacher, and only Christ and conversion of heart could make Christian life possible. Enchiridion stays within Catholic bounds by stressing the need for the external church as a peaceful and orderly environment where such learning about Christ can occur.

Erasmus’s most lasting contribution lies in the field of biblical studies and patristics. He can only be compared to Origen and Jerome, Christian scholars of the third and fourth centuries. He compiled the manuscripts that led to five new editions of the New Testament.

His historical-critical methodology for studying the Bible laid the groundwork for a new generation of interpretation and modern thinkers. He edited and commented on many writings of the church fathers. These include Jerome (1516), Augustine (1529), John Chrysostom (1530), and Origen—his favorite—(1536), and also Athanasius and Ambrose.

Erasmus died a Catholic in Basel, a Protestant city, without Catholic last rites and was buried under a cathedral that had been converted to a Protestant church. Many of his writings were put on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Trent as supportive of the Protestant critique of the Catholic Church. Protestants maintained that they brought into the light what Erasmus had already hinted at in the dark.

Yet Erasmus never refused to submit to the Catholic Church. He feared that the Protestants’ invectives against the church destroyed the irenic atmosphere so necessary for learning and dialogue. He also believed that the church was in spite of its flaws the necessary environment where virtue could be lived out. He stood in the lonely middle ground, saying that the Apostles Creed held both groups together.

As early as 1516, his opposition to Luther was known. Finally, in 1524 he wrote De libero arbitrio (On free choice) against Luther’s ideas, arguing that the consensus of the church was authoritative for biblical interpretations. By the end of his life, Erasmus had alienated many erstwhile Protestant friends and allies, including Luther, Zwingli, and Henry VIII.

The principles that animated his life and inspired a whole generation of thinkers were his respect for conscience and the rule of reason over coercion and military might. Both of these principles proved to be impossible to live out in the politics of the Reformation. He saw his best friend in England, Thomas More, executed by Henry VIII for these humanist ideals, the year before his own death.

Epidemics in The Americas

Epidemics in The Americas
Epidemics in The Americas

The European encounter with the Americas after 1491 set in motion a demographic catastrophe among indigenous peoples across the hemisphere, specifically epidemic and pandemic diseases against which native peoples had no biological immunities, and a crucial component of the larger Columbian exchange between the Old World and New.

The precise characteristics and magnitude of this catastrophe remain a matter of scholarly debate. Population estimates for the Americas on the eve of the encounter vary widely. The most reputable estimates fall between 40 and 100 million for the hemisphere as a whole, a population reduced by an estimated overall average of 75 to 95 percent after the first 150 years of contact, with tremendous variations in time and space.

Colonial Latin America and The Circum-Caribbean

Central Mexico is the most intensively studied region regarding the impact of European diseases on indigenous demography. Where in 1520 there lived an estimated 25 million native peoples, in 1620 there lived some 730,000—a decline of 97 percent, attributed overwhelmingly to disease.

Similar catastrophes unfolded across the hemisphere. The most precipitous decline is thought to have occurred in the Caribbean, where the precontact indigenous population of several millions had been all but exterminated by the 1550s.

Such diseases spread rapidly in all directions, preceding and accompanying military incursions, weakening indigenous polities, and facilitating the process of conquest and colonization in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Andes, Brazil, New England, and beyond. This process of demographic catastrophe, an unintended consequence of the European encounter with the Western Hemisphere, affected every aspect of the subsequent history of the Americas.

In the English-speaking world, the predominant view for centuries regarding Indian depopulation in postconquest Spanish America centered on the “Black Legend” of Spanish atrocities, a view most forcefully articulated and propagated by the Spanish bishop Bartolomé de Las Casas in the 1500s.

By the early 2000s, a scholarly consensus had emerged that the principal cause of indigenous population declines was in fact pandemic and epidemic diseases. The exact sequence and timing varied greatly from place to place. Every locale had its unique history of demographic decline, with periodic outbreaks of various pathogens: smallpox, measles, typhus, influenza, yellow fever, diphtheria, bubonic plague, malaria, and others.

Far and away the deadliest killer was smallpox, the first documented New World outbreak occurring in the Caribbean in 1518. Spanish friars, reporting to King Charles V in January 1519, estimated that the disease had already killed nearly one-third of Hispaniola’s Indians and had spread to Puerto Rico. In these earliest outbreaks, influenza probably accompanied the spread of smallpox.

By the early 1520s, three principal disease vectors, mainly of smallpox and influenza, were spreading rapidly through indigenous populations. One had entered through northern South America near the junction with the Central American isthmus, and by the late 1520s had spread far into the interior along the northern Andes.

The second had entered along the gulf coast of Mexico, from Yucatán to present-day Veracruz, and by mid-1521 was decimating the population of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. By the late 1520s, this second vector had bifurcated, spreading south into Central America and north into western and northern Mexico, where it was poised to sweep farther north.

The third disease vector was launched with the first exploratory expeditions along the Pacific coast of Central America and Peru, beginning in the early 1520s. By the late 1520s, this third vector had also bifurcated, spreading north through Nicaragua and Guatemala, and in less than a decade racing 3,000 miles south down the Andes, reaching as far as southern Bolivia.

A fourth set of vectors began spreading inland from the Brazilian coast from the beginning of permanent settlements in the early 1550s. By the late 1550s and early 1560s, the epidemics had spread along much of the Brazilian coast and were sweeping into the interior.

Widespread death from disease weakened indigenous polities, engendering profound cultural crises and facilitating processes of conquest and colonization. The most dramatic and extensively documented such instance occurred in Tenochtitlán during the conquest of Mexico, where a major smallpox outbreak coincided with the Spanish invaders’ siege of the island city.

From May to August 1521, as many as 100,000 of the city’s inhabitants succumbed to the disease. The smallpox virus typically enters the victim’s respiratory tract, where it incubates for eight to 10 days, followed by fever and general malaise, then the eruptions of papules, then vesicles, and finally large weeping pustules covering the entire body, followed soon after by death.

Scholars agree that this smallpox epidemic, occurring just as their empire and capital city were under assault by the Spanish and their Indian allies, fatally weakened the Aztec capacity to mount an effective resistance.

A similar if distinctive dynamic is thought to have unfolded before and during the conquest of Peru. Again, the timing of the Spanish invasion could not have been more propitious. Less than a decade before the incursion of Francisco Pizarro in 1532, the vast Inca Empire was in relative tranquility under a unified ruling house.

Around 1525–28, at the height of the Inca Huayna-Capac’s northern campaign against recalcitrant indigenous polities around Quito, an unknown pestilence, probably smallpox, ravaged the northern zones. During this epidemic, the Inca was struck by fever and died.

Spanish chronicler Pedro de Cieza de León recorded that the first outbreak of the disease around Quito killed more than 200,000 people. Other chroniclers offered similar descriptions of a wave of pestilence in the northern districts during this same period.

Huayna Capac’s death set in motion a crisis of dynastic succession and civil war that Pizarro deftly exploited to the Spaniards’ advantage. Contributing to the spread of the disease was the Andean tradition of venerating the mummified corpses, as thousands of indigenous Andeans came into contact with the dead Inca and those who ritually had prepared his body.

During this early period, more politically decentralized zones including the Central American isthmus, the Maya regions, northern South America, and the Brazilian coast and hinterlands were also severely stricken, facilitating Spanish and Portuguese incursions less by exacerbating elite divisions or shattering cosmologies than by the sheer magnitude of the deaths.

Almost everywhere that Europeans intruded, indigenous polities, societies, and cultures became profoundly weakened by maladies with no precedent and no cure, as emphasized repeatedly in scores of locales by a diversity of Spanish, mestizo, and indigenous chroniclers.

The second major pandemic to sweep large parts of the Americas was measles, beginning in the early 1530s. From the Caribbean islands the pathogen quickly spread to Mesoamerica, South America, and Florida, causing mortality rates estimated at 25–30 percent. Outbreaks of bubonic and pneumonic plague began erupting around the same time.

In the mid-1540s, came another series of waves of epidemics across large parts of Mesoamerica and the Andes. The precise bacterial or viral agents responsible for the “great sickness” that swept Central Mexico in the 1540s remain the subject of debate, though the evidence suggests typhus, pulmonary plague, mumps, dysentery, or combinations of these.

There is little disagreement that the death rates thus generated were extremely high, as upward of a million natives in New Spain succumbed to the collection of epidemic diseases in the 1540s. By this time, bubonic plague, typhus, and other pathogens had spread to the Pueblo Indians in the Southwest and to Florida.

The spread of epidemic diseases swept inland from Florida beginning in the 1520s and perhaps earlier. The odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his small party of shipwreck survivors across the U.S. South and Southwest (1528–37) is thought to have introduced numerous diseases to the native inhabitants.

In particular, the expedition of Hernando De Soto from Florida through the North American Southeast to the Mississippi River Valley (1538–42) is believed to have wreaked tremendous ecological damage, introducing previously unknown pathogens across large parts of the interior.

By the time of sustained European encounters with these regions, beginning in the 1680s, the dense populations and many towns and settlements described by De Soto more than a century before had vanished, leaving behind a landscape largely denuded of its human inhabitants.

Local and regional studies show endless variations on these more general themes, with wave after wave of epidemic diseases wreaking demographic havoc for centuries after the initial encounter. In Brazil, the creation of numerous disease vectors along the coast from the 1550s to the 1650s, diseases often carried by African slaves, generated repeated epidemics of smallpox, typhus, and other pathogens that dramatically reduced populations in the interior.

The disease chronology of northwestern Mexico in the first half of the 17th century illustrates the more general pattern of repeated outbreaks, which in this case were recorded in 1601–02, 1606–07, 1612–15, 1616–17, 1619–20, 1623–25, 1636–41, 1645–47, and 1652–53.

In his classic study of the postconquest Valley of Mexico, Charles Gibson recorded major disease outbreaks every few years, with 50 major epidemics from 1521 to 1810, an average of a major epidemic every six years.

Colonial North America

The Pilgrims in Massachusetts and the first Europeans to settle on the coast of Maryland and Virginia found a nearly empty country. Almost nine-tenths of the former Native American populations had been wiped out by smallpox in an epidemic of 1618–19.

John Winthrop, the leader of colonial Massachusetts, commented in 1684: “For the native, they are neere all dead of the small Poxe, so as the Lord hathe cleared our title to what we possess.” This Puritan leader and others felt that this disease was God’s plan to make land available for Europeans by eliminating the Native Americans who had previously occupied it.

Smallpox followed the priests, explorers, traders, soldiers, and settlers from Europe into the heartland of the North American continent. The Hurons were affected in 1640, the Iroquois in 1662. In British North America, smallpox indirectly promoted the growth of institutions of higher learning. Wealthy colonial families sent their sons to England to educate them.

Many of these young men, born in North America, did not have the immunity to smallpox their fellow students in England possessed. Enough of these young men from the colonies contracted and died from smallpox while being educated in Europe that colonial North Americans founded their own colleges, including Harvard, William & Mary, and Yale.

In some cases, smallpox was spread to North American indigenous peoples intentionally, as a form of germ warfare. During the American Revolution, American troops were victims of the disease during a campaign in Quebec. George Washington successfully had the susceptible American troops inoculated. British troops, who had grown up in England and Ireland, had immunity to the disease.

By the time George Vancouver explored the Pacific coasts of what would become Washington State and the Province of British Columbia, he found entire villages of Native Americas in ruins and deserted with skeletons lying all around. By the 20th century, smallpox had wiped out as much as 90 percent of the preconquest Native American population.

In sum, the impact of hitherto unknown European diseases on indigenous societies unleashed a demographic cataclysm across the Western Hemisphere, representing one of the most important chapters in the history of the postconquest Americas, whose characteristics and impacts scholars are still grappling to comprehend.

Encomienda in Spanish America

Encomienda in Spanish America
Encomienda in Spanish America

Encomienda ranked among the most important institutions of early colonial Spanish America. Described as a kind of transitional device between the violence of conquest and the formation of stable settler societies, encomienda has been the topic of enormous research and debate among scholars.

Rooted in the verb encomender (“to entrust”, “to commend”), an encomienda was a grant of Indian labor by the Crown to a specific individual. Holders of such grants, called encomenderos, were said to hold Indians in encomienda or “in trust.”

The institution and practice of encomienda originated during the Spanish Christian reconquest of Iberia from the Muslims (718–1492 c.e.), creating an institutional template that was quickly transferred to the New World after 1492. Unlike its Iberian predecessor, encomienda in the Americas did not include land grants, except occasionally in marginal areas.

Instead, it was primarily a mechanism of labor control that also permitted the Crown to maintain the legal fiction that Indians held in encomienda were technically free, were not chattel, and could not be bought or sold. It also served as an effective way to reward conquistadores and others in service to the Crown, including priests and bureaucrats.

The term encomienda was often used interchangeably with repartimiento (“distribution” or “allotment”) during the early years of conquest and colonization, though the two were legally distinct. The later practice of compelling subject Indian communities to purchase Spanish goods, common in the 17th and 18th centuries, was also called repartimiento. Later forcedsale repartimiento had little relation to the institution of encomienda.

The first substantial effort to codify encomienda in the New World were the Laws of Burgos (1512–13), which required encomenderos to “civilize,” “Christianize,” protect, and treat humanely Indians held in encomienda. A vast corpus of subsequent laws, proclamations, and edicts further refined and limited the institution. The practical effect of these laws was minimal.

In practice encomienda was akin to slavery, especially during the early years of the conquests. Abundant evidence exists of the abuses and mistreatment inflicted upon encomienda Indians, who were bought and sold, worked to death, and in other ways treated for all practical purposes as slaves.

These abundant abuses prompted some Spaniards to condemn the institution as unchristian, most prominently the priest Bartolomé de Las Casas, beginning in 1514. In response to this simmering debate, in 1520 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V decreed that the institution of encomienda was to be abolished. In the Americas the decree had little practical effect, as most encomenderos and officials ignored it.

The Crown, concerned that encomenderos not become a permanent aristocracy, continued its efforts to impose strict limits on the institution, culminating in the so-called New Laws of 1542–43, which from the perspective of encomenderos were far more draconian than the Laws of Burgos issued 30 years earlier.

The major features of the New Laws included provisions preventing the inheritance of encomiendas; the forbidding of new grants, requiring royal officers and ecclesiastics to give up their encomiendas; and prohibitions against Indian enslavement for whatever reason.

The New Laws provoked an outcry across the colonies, especially in Peru, where factions of colonists rose in rebellion against them. In 1545–46, three years after they were issued, the New Laws were repealed as unenforceable.

Encomienda nevertheless died a slow death over the next half-century. The principal cause for its decline was not royal decree but Indian depopulation. Grants of Indian labor became moot when there were so few Indians left to grant.

Encomienda lasted less than a century in most areas, enduring into the late colonial period only in peripheral regions such as Yucatán. The transition from encomienda to hacienda (private landownership) was neither direct nor clearcut, and comprises another major arena of scholarly research and debate.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I is regarded as one of the greatest monarchs in English history, reigning as queen of England and queen of Ireland from 1558 until her death in 1603, and, in name only, styling herself as queen of France.

Elizabeth was born the second daughter of King Henry VIII. King Henry had the marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, annulled as she had given birth to a daughter, Mary, and he had started a romance with Anne Boleyn, whom he married.

She gave birth to Elizabeth on September 7, 1533, and although Anne Boleyn was pretty, intelligent, witty, clever, and a devout Protestant, her inability to give Henry VIII a son essentially caused her to be executed, although the charge leveled against her was incestuous adultery.

As a result, Elizabeth, who was three when her mother was executed, grew up secluded from the court. When Henry VIII died in 1547, he was succeeded by his sickly son Edward VI. By this time Elizabeth could speak and read not only English and Latin, but also ancient Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish.

She managed to keep a low profile during the reign of Edward VI and tried to do the same during the reign of her older sister Mary, after Edward had died in 1553. Mary, however, was a devout Roman Catholic and determined to rebuild the Catholic Church in England. Elizabeth, by contrast, was Protestant but she was careful to keep herself removed from plots against her Catholic sister.

The most serious of these was Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554, which sought to depose Mary and replace her with Elizabeth. Even though she was not involved, Elizabeth was, nevertheless, arrested and placed in the Tower of London, making the entry by boat through “Traitor’s Gate.”

The death of Mary on November 17, 1558, led to Elizabeth’s succeeding to the throne. She was crowned on January 15, 1559, by Owen Oglethorpe, bishop of Carlisle, as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole, had already fled and refused to take part in the coronation.

It was to be the last coronation where the Latin service was used; all subsequent coronations except that of George I in 1714 were in English. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth enacted the Act of Uniformity whereby all churches had to use the Book of Common Prayer.

In the same year, she also signed into law the Act of Supremacy whereby all public officials had to acknowledge, by oath, Elizabeth’s right, as sovereign, to be head of the Church of England. In these two acts, her main adviser, who would remain as such for the rest of her reign, was Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley).

There were many stories regarding whether Queen Elizabeth I wanted to marry. Certainly she enjoyed a long affair with Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, whom she appointed as master of the Queen’s Horse.

She was acutely aware of her sister’s bad move in marrying Philip II of Spain, and anxious not to marry any foreign Roman Catholic prince, although there were moves made by the French. With constant plots against Elizabeth, she faced trouble in Scotland from Mary, Queen of Scots, who was her first cousin once removed. Mary was the granddaughter of Margaret, sister of Henry VIII.

Mary was, however, unpopular in Scotland and after the death of her first husband in France, she returned to Scotland, where her second husband was murdered, most probably by the man whom she was subsequently to marry, Lord Bothwell. Mary was hounded out of Scotland, fleeing to England, where she was arrested and held in close confinement for the next 18 years.

In 1569, the Northern Rebellion led by Thomas Howard, the fourth duke of Norfolk; Charles Neville, the sixth earl of Westmoreland; and Thomas Percy, the seventh earl of Northumberland, failed, although it led to Elizabeth’s being excommunicated by the pope.

With Elizabeth allying herself to the Protestants in France and the Netherlands (United Provinces), she viewed the developments in Europe with concern, especially when Philip II of Spain became the king of Portugal after the last Portuguese king, Henry, died childless.

There was also a rebellion in Ireland, and when Sir Francis Walshingham, Elizabeth’s main spymaster, uncovered the Babington Plot implicating Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was put on trial for treason, sentenced to death, and beheaded on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay Castle.

With Mary having willed her lands to Philip II, Elizabeth was facing a major threat from the Spanish king, who was also angered at the way in which English ships attacked his treasure ships and others bringing wealth from the Americas. Francis Drake, who circumnavigated the world in 1577–79, Walter Raleigh, and John Hawkins, and Martin Frobisher were among the “sea dogs” preying on the Spanish ships.

In 1588, Philip II sent a massive navy and expeditionary force known as the Spanish Armada against England. By a mixture of luck and good planning, the Spanish Armada was crushed, with a few ships managing to escape around the northern coasts of Scotland and Ireland.

Queen Elizabeth I’s speech at Tilbury, rallying her soldiers and sailors, is one of the most famous in history: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too.”

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I, known as the Elizabethan age, was also a period of great prosperity in England, with the Levant Company leading to the later formation of the East India Company. Many books were published, and many playwrights, notably William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, wrote large numbers of plays.

During the 1590s, Elizabeth continued to receive threats to her rule in Ireland, and in 1599 a plot was mounted by Robert Dudley’s stepson, Robert Devereaux, the earl of Essex, who had emerged as Elizabeth’s new favorite. Essex was executed on February 25, 1601. Elizabeth gradually came to see that her heir would be King James VI of Scotland, and when she died on March 24, 1603, James succeeded her.

Edward VI - King of England

Edward VI - King of England
Edward VI - King of England
Edward VI was the only son of Henry VIII, king of England, born from his marriage to his third wife, Jane Seymour, on January 28, 1537. He succeeded to the English throne at age nine by his father’s last will and by the parliamentary statute of 1543, and died unmarried at the age of 16 on July 6, 1553.

The young king inherited from his father a constitution, under which he was not only the secular king but also the supreme head of the Church of England. However, the kingdom was deeply divided among factions of great nobles in the court, and, in the countryside, the people were unsettled by the direction of the religious policy under the new king.

In spite of his lovable personality, good education, and well-respected intellectual capacity, the young king could hardly design and dictate policies on his own. Edward Seymour, the duke of Somerset and the king’s maternal uncle, ran the kingdom as lord protector in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) for the first three years.

After his dismissal from the court in 1549, John Dudley, the earl of Warwick, who became duke of Northumberland in 1551, ruled the nation as the chief minister under the pretense that the king had assumed full royal authority.

The two chief ministers shared similar interest in moving the Church of England toward Protestantism. In 1547, Parliament repealed the Six Articles, enacted in 1534 by the Reformation Parliament, to keep Catholic doctrines and practices in the Church of England. In 1549, the publication of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and the adoption of his 42 Articles by Parliament pushed the Anglican Church closer to Calvinism.

In 1552, Parliament enacted the Act of Uniformity, requiring all Englishmen to attend Calvinist-styled Anglican Church services. Moreover, Parliament stopped enforcing laws against heresy, permitted priests to get married, and even confiscated the property of Catholic chantries, where for centuries, local priests had been praying for souls wandering in purgatory.

To the Protestants in the Continent, these policy changes made England a safe haven and an escape from persecution by the Catholic Church. In England, the Protestants welcomed the reforms, although they felt that the policies did not satisfy their Calvinist needs. The Catholics, however, were shocked by their loss of properties, privileges, and powers and were provoked into rebellions in 1549.

Edward VI coat of arms
Edward VI coat of arms
Neither of the two chief ministers was a master of statesmanship. They failed to curb runaway inflation and continuous devaluations of English currency. They lacked competence in pacifying domestic unrests caused by enclosure of land and worsening living conditions of the rural poor.

They appeared shortsighted and clumsy in maneuvering diplomacy to meet increasingly complicated challenges from other European nations. Most of all, they mismanaged the young king’s marriage, the great affair of the state.

The duke of Somerset invaded Scotland in 1547, intending to conclude the negotiation, which had begun under Henry VIII, for the marriage of Edward VI to Mary of Stuart, the four-year-old daughter of King James V.

Although the duke defeated the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie, the Scots betrothed the princess to Francis, the dauphin of the French throne, in 1548. After the fall of Somerset, the duke of Northumberland appeared to be actively negotiating a marriage of Edward to Elizabeth, the daughter of French king Henry II, in 1551.

The marriage never materialized. In 1553, rumors spread around the diplomatic circle in Paris that the duke was going to manage a marriage between Edward VI and Joanna, a daughter of Ferdinand, the brother of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Despite his apparent busy diplomacy, the duke was secretly carrying out a plan of his own, probably with the king’s knowledge, that would enable Lady Jane Grey, his daughter-in-law and the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, to succeed Edward and thus disinherit Mary I, the Catholic sister of the king, who had been bastardized by her father but later placed to succeed her brother in his last will.

Following the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen with the military support of her father-in-law. However, much of the nation, though favoring a Protestant ruler, rallied against the conspiracy of the duke of Northumberland. The “reign” of Lady Jane Grey lasted only nine days, and Mary I eventually succeeded to the throne in 1553.

The dramatic turn toward Protestantism under Edward VI and the even more dramatic restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary have been viewed as the major aspects of the so-called mid-Tudor crisis by many historians.

Edo Period in Japan

Edo Period in Japan
Edo Period in Japan

The Edo period in Japanese dates between 1600 and 1867. It denotes the government of the Tokugawa Shogunate from Edo. The shogunate was officially established in 1603 with the victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu over supporters of Toyotomi Hideyori in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). The Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan for more than 250 years with iron fists and tight discipline.

Ieyasu had centralized control over the entire country with his strategic power sharing arrangement between daimyo (feudal lords) and samurai (warriors). Daimyos were ordered to be present every second year in Edo to give an account of their assigned work.

Tokugawa Ieyasu promoted economic development through foreign trade. He established trading relations with China and the Dutch East India Company (Indonesia/ Batavia). While Osaka and Kyoto became emerging centers for trade and handicraft production, his capital Edo became the center for supply of food, construction, and consumer items.

To ensure its control, the shogunate banned all Japanese people from travel abroad in 1633. Japan thus was isolated except for limited commercial contact with the Dutch in the port of Nagasaki. All Western books were banned in Japan.

Despite Japan’s cultural isolation from the rest of the world, new indigenous art forms such as Kabuki theater and ukiyo-e, woodblock prints and paintings of the emerging urban popular culture, gained increasing popularity. Intellectually the most important state philosophy during the Edo period was Neo-Confucianism. Neo-Confucianism stressed the importance of morals, education, and hierarchical order in the government.

A rigid class system also took shape during the Edo period with samurai at the top, followed by the peasants, artisans, and merchants. Below them were outcasts (burakumin) or pariahs or those who were deemed impure. Neo-Confucianism contributed to the development of kokugaku (national learning) that stressed the study of Japanese history.

In 1720, with the lifting of the ban on Western literature, some Japanese began studying Western sciences and technologies, rangaku (Dutch studies). The fields that drew most interest were related to medicine, astronomy, natural sciences, art, geography, languages, as well as physical sciences including mechanical and electrical engineering.

External pressure on Japan grew toward the end of the 18th century. The Russians tried to establish a trade link with Japan to export their Russian goods, particularly vodka and wine. Other European nations also became interested.

Finally the United States forced Japan to open to the West when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Edo Bay with a flotilla of warships. Meanwhile, anti-Tokugawa sentiments had been growing that demanded the restoration of imperial power.

In 1867–68, the Tokugawa government collapse was partly due to foreign threat and to tensions that had been growing against a political and social system that had outlived its usefulness. The shogunate surrendered power in 1867 to Emperor Meiji, who began the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Johann Maier von Eck

Johann Maier von Eck
Johann Maier von Eck
Johann Eck is best remembered for his debates with Martin Luther during the initial period of the Reformation. He was born Johann Maier in the city of Eck in southern Germany on November 13 (some say November 15), 1486, and later took the name of his city as his surname. At age 12, he entered Heidelburg University and went on to Tübingen, where he received his master’s degree.

He continued his studies in both theology and classical languages. In 1508, at age 22, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. In 1510, at age 24, he received a doctorate in theology. After receiving his doctorate, he went to the University of Ingolstadt in southern Germany as a full professor.

Eck was a humanist in the tradition of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and was well versed in Greek and Hebrew. He was interested in many theological topics, and when the monk Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg in 1517, he at first received a cordial reception from his fellow humanist Eck. Luther’s expectation in his posting of the Ninety-five Theses was a debate with fellow academics and church theologians, and he hoped for gradual reform of the Roman Catholic Church.

As Luther’s writings became almost instantly popular, Eck saw Luther’s theology as both wrong and dangerous for the Roman Catholic Church and decided to take action against Luther. In 1518, he circulated among other academics a work attacking Luther’s theology titled Obelisci and in it accused Luther of being a follower of John Huss, a Bohemian reformer from the previous century who was burned at the stake for his views.

Luther’s fellow professor Carlstadt responded to the Obelisci with a document refuting Eck and declared himself ready to meet Eck in a public disputation. This series of debates took place at the University of Leipzig, beginning in June 1519, and continuing through July.

The debate was academic in style (as would befit university professors). Eck clearly won the debate against Carlstadt, forcing Luther to defend his doctrines. While Eck and Luther were more evenly matched in intellect and debating ability, most agree that Eck won the debates.

Returning to Ingolstadt, Eck attempted to get the other universities to condemn Luther’s theological writings but failed. He continued to write against Luther and in 1520 went to Rome to help with the official Catholic attack on Luther. Eck was a significant contributor to the papal document ExsurgeDomine (Arise, O Lord), which condemned Luther’s teaching as heretical.

Eck continued to write and campaign against Luther as well as other Protestants, particularly Ulrich Zwingli. Eck debated supporters of Zwingli in 1526 near Zürich, Switzerland. He never succeeded in his goal of bringing about a clear condemnation of Luther by the political authorities. Luther was seen in the eyes of many Germans as a champion for Germany against the influence of Rome and was simply too popular among both the nobles and common persons to be suppressed effectively.

Eck is also known for his translation of the Bible into German, published in 1537. (Luther had published his own translation into German about 10 years previous.) Roman Catholics normally used the Latin Bible, but Eck as a humanist followed Erasmus and others in promoting the Bible in the vernacular, the language of the people. Eck died on February 13 (some say February 10), 1543, in Ingolstadt.



The Cossacks originally settled in the southern steppes of Europe and into Russia. As early as 1380, the Cossacks along the Don River are recorded as fighting with the Russian grand duke Dmitri against the Mongols. On September 8, 1380, Dmitri won a decisive victory over the Mongols at Kulikovo by the Don River, effectively marking the end of Mongol rule over much of Russia.

By the 16th century, the Cossacks had merged into two large autonomous bands, the Don Cossacks and the Zaporojie, who lived along the bends of the river Dnieper. (Zaporojie is translated as “below the bend in the river.”) Other historians have pointed to additional areas of Cossack settlement as time progressed, including areas in which entire settlements of Cossacks resided.

While surrounded by the power of the growing Russian state of Poland in addition to the Crimean Tartars (or Mongols), the Cossacks still managed to keep a large measure of independence because of their military prowess.

Many serfs, or slaves, ran off to join the Cossacks because the measure of freedom enjoyed under the Cossack leaders (called atamans or hetmans) was not found anywhere else in Russia or East Europe during that period. The word Cossack is derived from the Turkic term kazak, meaning “free man.”

Most of the Cossacks were of Slavic descent, and the majority Christian, usually of the Russian Orthodox faith. The Cossacks were governed by the Rada, or Legislative Assembly, led by the ataman. During wartime, the ataman served as the supreme war commander.

The Cossacks realized that keeping their freedom meant keeping their military skills at a high degree of readiness. Their lifestyle reflected the influence of the Mongols before them. Boys were given weapons almost as soon as they could hold them and taught to ride sometimes before they could even walk.

Indeed, the main strength of the Cossacks came from the quick charges they could execute on their horses. The atamans staged sham battles with the younger boys to accustom them to a military life from as early an age as possible. Brave and daring boys were noticed by the leader and were marked from an early age for advancement.

Cossacks began to use their centralized position to raid the domains of the nations growing around them, although most of their attacks were directed toward the Muslim Tartars of the Crimea and the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, when the frontiers of the powers in East Europe were so fluid, each county could see the value of the Cossacks as frontier troops, perfectly suited to counter raiders from enemy lands.

centralized position
centralized position

In 1569, Poland and Lithuania formally became the Union of Lublin. Lithuanian grand duke Jogaila ruled the united monarchy as Ladislas (Władysław) II Jagiello, first of the Jagiello dynasty. The pact that set the state for his marriage to the queen of Poland stipulated that he become a Roman Catholic, the religion of Poland.

In 1596, the Union of Brest united the Russian Orthodoxy of Lithuania with the Roman Catholicism of Poland to form what was known as the Uniate Church. The Uniate Church began a persecution of Orthodox believers who would not convert, and perhaps thousands fled to the Sech Commonwealth of the Cossacks.

In 1645, Ladislas IV sought to involve the Cossacks, who by now were within the boundaries of Polish power, in war against the Ottoman Empire. When his plans were revealed, the Cossacks feared becoming the scapegoats for the two countries.

In addition to the continued persecution of the Orthodox Church, the exposure of Ladislas’s secret treaty led the Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnitsky to rise up against Poland in 1648, the very year that the Treaty of Westphalia sought to bring peace to Europe by ending the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48).

Khemelnitski formed an alliance with the Tartars and the Zaporojie Cossacks and led an invasion of Poland. Polish serfs rose up when Khmelnitski approached. For six years, the rebellion ravaged Poland and the Ukraine. Thousands of Poles and Jews were massacred in some of the most savage butchery ever seen in Europe.

Finally in 1654, seeing that the destruction of the Polish Kingdom was beyond his means, Khmelnitski took the irrevocable step of making an alliance with Czar Alexei, the second of the Romanov dynasty. Tragically for the Cossacks’ love of freedom, Khmelnitski had exchanged one master for another, the Polish king for a Russian czar.

Under the Romanovs, the 17th century saw a tightening of the control of Russia over the Cossacks. The Russians saw the Cossacks as excellent troops to be used against the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

The Cossacks carried out fierce raids against the Tartars and in 1663, Turkish sultan Mohammed IV sent a large army against the Zaporojie Cossacks. Although the Zaporozhians were asleep after a drinking bout, one aroused himself in time to see the Turks approaching. Incredibly, the Cossacks were able to fend off their attackers and force them to retreat.

Eventually, the tension between Russian rule and the Cossacks’ desire for freedom led to the rebellion of Stephan (Stenka) Razin in the last years of Czar Alexei’s reign. Razin turned against the Russians in 1670, beginning what became a full-fledged Cossack revolt.

Although many Cossacks joined him, others allied themselves with the Russians, whose disciplined troops soon crushed Razin’s uprising at Simbirsk. After undergoing torture in Moscow, Razin was beheaded in 1671. Ever after, he became a symbol of Russian resistance to tyranny.

The son of Czar Alexei, Peter I, or Peter the Great, recognized the military potential of the Cossacks, despite their rebelliousness. In 1696, Peter seized the Black Sea port of Azov from the Turks, thanks to his Cossack allies.

The greatest test of Peter’s reign came in the Great Northern War against King Charles XII of Sweden (1700–21). Ivan Mazeppa was the leading Cossack hetman at the time, and he reestablished the Cossacks as an important factor in eastern European affairs, balancing the ambitions of Poland and Russia.

When Peter decisively defeated Charles at Poltava in July, Mazeppa was forced to flee. Mazeppa died of natural causes in September 1709, before Peter could catch him. After Mazeppa, the Cossacks became a part of the Russian Army, even raiding Berlin in the army of Czarina Elizabeth during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) against Frederick II of Prussia.


However, the Cossacks’ love of liberty would lead to one more rebellion before the close of the 18th century. When Elizabeth died in 1762, her son Peter III was overthrown and killed in a palace coup by his wife, Catherine. Catherine, who would be known to history as Catherine the Great, was faced in September 1773 with the rebellion of the Don Cossack Emelian Pugachev.

To the serfs of Russia, little better than slaves, Pugachev seemed to be their champion, as he fought against the oppressing landlords. In March of 1774, Pugachev was defeated by Catherine’s troops at Orenburg; as was Razin, he was executed by beheading.

The rebellion of Pugachev was the last real defiance against the loss of the Cossacks’ liberty. It is one of the great ironies of history that in later years, the Cossacks would become some of the most ruthless defenders of the Russian despotism against which they once had fought so bravely.

Hernán Cortés - Spanish Conqueror

Hernán Cortés - Spanish Conqueror
Hernán Cortés - Spanish Conqueror

Famed for his ruthlessly brilliant leadership in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Hernán Cortés (Hernando [or Fernando] Cortez) occupies a peculiar position in Mexican national memory, remembered by all but revered by none. A contemporary of Niccolò Machiavelli, Cortés through his exploits in Mexico earned the reputation as one of the early modern era’s most Machiavellian of historical actors.

Born in Medellín, Estremadura, Spain, in 1485, of minor nobility, his mother related to the family of Francisco Pizarro, Cortés studied briefly at the University of Salamanca before opting for a life of militarism and adventure in the recently discovered Americas.

In 1504, he journeyed to Hispaniola, and soon after, from 1511, participated in the conquest of Cuba under Governor Diego Velázquez. His successes earned him a substantial encomienda, sufficient to provide a steady stream of revenue for the rest of his life, though his adventures and conquests had only begun.

In 1518, after much behind the scenes maneuvering by Cortés, Governor Velásquez appointed him to head an exploratory expedition to the Mexican mainland. Over the next three years (1519–21), Cortés revealed the extraordinary courage, ambition, single-minded determination, and political cunning for which he became justly renowned. Time and again, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, he managed to turn the political and military tide to his favor.

Among his most brilliant maneuvers were his swift recognition and deft exploitation of the political divisions between the Aztecs and their subject polities; his keen perception of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II’s psychological weaknesses and the stratagems he devised to exploit them; his instillation of a sense of unity of purpose and inevitability of victory among his men; his winning over of members of the Narváez expedition sent by Governor Velázquez to bring him to heel; and his successful representation of himself to King Charles V and the court as a loyal subject acting only on behalf of church and king.

This latter capacity is especially apparent in the five lengthy letters Cortés dispatched to King Charles from 1519 to 1526, reporting on and justifying his actions. After reducing Tenochtitlán to rubble, he continued the conquests, sending expeditions north, west, and south into northern Central America.

Hernán Cortés and the Aztec
Hernán Cortés and the Aztec

His appointment as governor and captain-general of New Spain in 1522 was considered the high point of his life, along with his admission into the Order of Santiago in 1525. In 1524–26, he headed an expedition overland through the Maya zones into Honduras, along the way executing his prisoner, the Aztec lord Cuautemoc, in 1525.

The expedition a disaster, he returned to Mexico City in 1526 only to find that his enemies had gained power at his expense. Journeying to Spain (1528–30), he was appointed marqués of the Valley of Oaxaca by King Charles, who granted him the colony’s largest encomienda (of 23,000 Indians), making him one of the richest men in all of Spain’s dominions.

Upon his return to New Spain in 1530, his enemies again had gained the upper hand, including (from 1535) Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, among others, against whom he spent years in fruitless squabbling and defending himself in a long series of accusations and judicial inquiries.

After embarking on an expedition to the Pacific and discovering and naming California in the late 1530s, he once again returned to Spain in 1540 to continue to press his claims, was largely ignored by the court, and died.

Insights into Cortés’s political and military brilliance during the conquest of Mexico, and his political shortcomings later in life, can be gleaned from his five letters, along with the narrative of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and a range of other accounts.