Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Martial Prowess of Imperial Austria

I have touched on this subject before but I think it is an issue which deserves going into further detail. As I have said before, one of my pet peeves is people who denigrate military service and, perhaps worse, those who denigrate the military achievements of entire countries or nations. Quite unjustly, Imperial Austria is one of those which often falls victim to this and, in the case of Austria, as with some others, the Austrians themselves, and their sympathizers, can sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help in refuting such a stereotype. One famous phrase that many pro-Austrian people often repeat is, “Others make war, but thou, O happy Austria, only marry”. This is in reference to the fact that the Austrian empire grew and expanded mostly through dynastic alliances and inheritance rather than conquest. This is true to a large extent but only up to a certain point. Some of the territory Austrians and Austrian-sympathizers made a great fuss about holding on to over the years was not gained by marriage but by war or political “horse-trading”.

Austrian grenadiers on the attack at the Battle of Essling
The point, which is true, is that Austria was never a thoroughly militaristic sort of country in the way that their fellow Germans in Prussia were. However, the Prussians tend to rank in a class by themselves in that regard and any comparison on that front is rather unfair. Yes, unlike Prussia, life in Imperial Austria did not revolve around the army but that does not mean the Austrians were without military achievement or great military heroes. However, another problem, aside from the stereotype of Austrians being more interested in music than the military, is that Austria does not fit into such a neat, national box as Prussia or France or The Netherlands. Where does the story of the Holy Roman Empire, old Germany, end and the story of Austria begin? Who is Austrian and who is not? This may seem arbitrary to some but it would seem ridiculous to me to restrict the story of Austrian military achievement to the German-Austrians just as it would be ridiculous to say that Napoleon should not rank as a great military figure of France simply because the blood in his veins was not French. So, some great names will be mentioned here who were not German-Austrians but who fought for the House of Hapsburg, who were part of the Imperial Austrian power structure and who won their victories with the troops, Germans, Magyars, Slavs and the like, which were under the Austrian Crown.

Marshal Wallenstein
One could go back quite a way depending on, again, where one chooses to differentiate Austria and what became the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary from what had been the First German Reich. Emperor Charles V, for example, was quite a successful war leader and he was a Hapsburg but he was born in Belgium, was King of Spain and was overall so cosmopolitan that it would be hard to reduce him simply to the label of “Austrian”. He is as much a figure of Spanish history as he is of Austrian or German history and his larger-than-life presence is well represented by his famous quip that he spoke ‘Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse’. Later, in the Thirty Years War, Johann Graf von Tilly proved quite a successful military commander, fighting for the House of Hapsburg and he too was born in what is now Belgium and learned his trade from an Italian, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, who also fought for the Hapsburgs and who was considered the greatest soldier of his time. Alongside Graf von Tilly, it was Albrecht von Wallenstein who gained the greatest fame as commander of Imperial forces in the Thirty Years War and he was a native of Bohemia. One can argue over his merits as a man but as a military commander his record of success speaks for itself.

Montecuccoli
A commander who often seems to be overlooked who fought for the House of Hapsburg and who became something of a legend in his own time (even if often forgotten today) was an Italian from Modena, Raimondo Count of Montecuccoli. Here was a man who fought against the Pope, the Hungarians, the French and the Swedes in his long military career before gaining his greatest fame in battles against the Turks. Today he is not often remembered but he was ranked alongside Turenne and Conde of France as one of the greatest military leaders of his time (the mid 17th Century) and both of whom he faced at the end of his career. His victories, often won against extremely uneven odds were so remarkable that the Emperor made him a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and awarded him the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Prince Eugene of Savoy
Certainly though, when one looks at the military history of Austria, one name can easily be given as a starting point due to how he was revered by the men who came after him in the ranks of what was ultimately the military forces of the Austrian Empire and later Austria-Hungary. That name was, again, an Italian one rather than a German one but one thoroughly associated with Austrian military glory and that was, of course, Prince Eugene of Savoy. It says something that this man, who first offered his sword to the King of France only to have it refused, would one day have his portraits hanging in Austrian military barracks for generations and as late as World War II both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had warships named in his honor. Prince Eugene of Savoy was one of the great captains of military history and alongside the Duke of Marlborough from Great Britain won his greatest fame in the War of Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War to American readers). He was one of the most influential military commanders in world history and certainly can be easily classified as part of Austrian military history because his figure loomed so large throughout the rest of the Hapsburg reign over central Europe. Whether in the period of Empress Maria Theresa, Emperor Francis I or Emperor Francis Joseph, it was Prince Eugene of Savoy who was looked to as the example of great, victorious, military leadership for Austrian army commanders to emulate.

Austrian infantry, 1740
Even with Prince Eugene of Savoy though, it is easy to look simply at his famous victories in the War of Spanish Succession and forget that most of his military career was spent fighting the Turks in the east. For all those who would denigrate the military abilities of the Austrians and other members of what became the Dual-monarchy of Austria-Hungary, one need only look at the very, very long period of bitter warfare that raged throughout the Balkans against the overwhelming might of the Ottoman Turks against which the Hapsburg lands stood as a bulwark in defense of Christendom. If the Austrians are such poor soldiers, one could justly ask how exactly it was that the Turks were ultimately pushed back from the very gates of Vienna to Constantinople? They certainly did not pack up and meekly march home of their own accord. This was only accomplished by a long series of conflicts in which men like Savoy and Montecuccoli and others, leading Austrians, Slavs and Magyars at times, defeated and pushed back what had been the most powerful empire in the world in its time. In centuries past it would have seemed laughable to portray the Austrians as effete music-loving dandies after so many years, even centuries, of being on the front line of the war for the very survival of western civilization. The country was known as “Ostmark” for a reason; it was the eastern barrier against which the invaders never passed.

Baron von Laudon
Moving into the 18th Century, Austria was not without military heroes and military achievements there either, it is only that they often tended to be overshadowed by others. A couple of examples will illustrate this. One was the Austrian Generalissimo Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon. Never heard of him? Perhaps not, but you probably have heard of the Prussian King Frederick the Great. Well, Baron von Laudon was someone the fearsome Frederick probably wished he had never heard about because he was just about his most troublesome adversary. For military history experts, Baron von Laudon is known as one of the greatest captains of his time but, to the broader public, he was simply outshined by Frederick the Great. The undefeated Russian general, Alexander Suvarov, credited von Laudon with being his teacher in the art of war. Baron von Laudon himself had also learned some of his trade from another highly competent foreigner in Austrian service, Maximilian Graf von Browne, a son of Irish exiles. Although they were not always on good terms, Franz Moritz Graf von Lacy was another Austrian commander of the period worthy of mention. He played no small part in the great victory at Breslau for Empress Maria Theresa and later became a close confidant of Emperor Joseph II. Field Marshal Leopold Joseph von Daun was the third member of this trinity of Austrian military heroes and one who also defeated Frederick the Great at such battles as Kolin and Hochkirch. Empress Maria Theresa referred to him as the “savior of her states” and such sentiment was not unwarranted.

Graf von Daun
It is rather unfair that these men should be so overshadowed by King Frederick the Great of Prussia. “Old Fritz” certainly deserves his exalted place in the pages of military history. He and his Prussians worked military miracles but surely that should also mean that defeating so great a genius as Frederick was no mean feat and he was defeated on several occasions by the Austrian commanders mentioned above. Their victories were hard fought and fairly earned and they should not be shrugged off. However, it was also with the rise of Prussia that Austria becomes more easily set apart and the First German Reich had not long to live even on paper. As the reign of Emperor Joseph II came to a close the French Revolution erupted and it set events into motion which ultimately brought down the First Reich and caused to rise up in the aftermath the Austrian Empire. During those struggles the Austrians fought many battles, knew victory as well as defeat but also added glorious events and figures to the pages of their own military history. During what became known as the Napoleonic Wars, of course, the figure of Napoleon himself looms the largest and deservedly so, he was one of the best that ever was. However, it also took military leaders of the highest quality to eventually defeat him and Austria was not unrepresented in that group.

Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen
Most people today may be more familiar with names such as the British Duke of Wellington or the Prussian Marshal Bluecher, perhaps even Russia’s old, one-eyed General Kutuzov but another name that should be just as familiar (even if it often is not) is that of Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen. He was the brother of Emperor Francis I and the greatest Austrian military commander of his time and a very major thorn in the side to the French Emperor. He was certainly among the most capable of the enemies of Napoleon and gained fame for winning victories at such battles as Rastadt, Amberg and Wurzberg. He was not so successful in Italy but, upon returning to the Rhine, was victorious again at Biberach and Stockach. He was not always victorious but his victories merit him being better known than he is. The Duke of Wellington, after all, only faced Napoleon once, at Waterloo, administering his last defeat. Well, it was the Archduke Charles who gave Napoleon his first major defeat at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. He was also a gifted military administrator and implemented important reforms to the Austrian army that would pay dividends for a long time to come. It is probably no exaggeration to say that Archduke Charles was the most capable and persistent of Napoleon’s continental enemies.

Joseph Graf Radeztky
There were other, less lofty, Austrian commanders who earned laurels in the wars with France and it was many of the younger officers who tasted battle then who would command Austrian troops in the next great crisis that the empire faced, which was the Revolutions of 1848. The one figure who stands out the most, in this period of Austrian military history, was probably Field Marshal Joseph Graf Radetzky von Radetz. He was a beloved and highly successful general who was adored by his troops and played a critical part in a time of crisis that could easily have doomed the Austrian Empire. However, this is where unfair and unkind stereotypes can sometimes feed upon themselves. Probably his greatest hour of fame and glory came when his unflappable leadership proved the decisive factor in defeating the Italians in their first war for independence. In the years since, however, as many people have unfairly denigrated the military abilities of the Italians, defeating them has come to be seen as no great achievement and thus Graf Radetzky is all too often overlooked or dismissed as being of relatively little importance. Such thinking is an injustice to two peoples at the same time. As regular readers here will know, the stereotype of the Italians as being ‘no good at war’ is totally false. The Italians were darn good soldiers and defeating them was no small achievement. If one looks at the battles in which Graf Radetzky and his Austrians faced off against King Carlo Alberto and his coalition of Italians, one can easily see how close the Austrians came to defeat. The situation was, perhaps, not always as bad as it seemed but probably any other commander would have been panicked by the situation as it developed and pulled back, surrendering the victory to the Italians. Not Graf Radetzky. He kept his cool, was never flustered and so managed to pull off a decisive and hard fought victory for the Austrian Empire. It is unfortunate that the Austrians themselves often seemed to take such hard fought victories for granted as the government was almost always quick to give the military a lower priority when it came to spending. Later Austrian defeats, such as at the hands of the French and Italians and later the Prussians were due in large part to the army having been neglected by the civilian government. However, even in those days the Austrians still proved themselves excellent soldiers. The volunteers who went to Mexico, for example, to fight for Emperor Maximilian earned a matchless reputation and could often be found in the vanguard of any attack, acting as a sort of shock troops for the Imperial Mexican forces.

Finally, however, we must come to the First World War and it is perhaps this conflict which is most responsible for the unfair reputation Austria has come to have in military matters. It can sometimes seem that the only thing anyone remembers about Austria-Hungary in World War I was the phrase of one frustrated German that his country was ‘shackled to a corpse’, referring to Austria-Hungary. Hopefully longtime readers will know and new readers will look back at old posts to familiarize themselves with why this is unfair in greater detail. Suffice it to say that Austria-Hungary generally appears weak only because it was invariably compared to the German Empire which had none of the disadvantages that Austria-Hungary had to deal with. Austria-Hungary had a government that tended to spend less on the military whereas in Germany, with Prussia dominant, the army always came first. Germany was a nation-state whereas Austria-Hungary was a multi-ethnic patchwork with an extremely complicated organizational structure and bureaucratic infrastructure that was difficult to manage in the best of times. Germany had two major fronts to deal with, Austria had at least three and whereas Germans were all pulling in the same direction throughout all but the very end of the war, Austria-Hungary contained many dissident elements that were all too willing to be enticed by the enemy.

Count Conrad von Hoetzendorf
In any event, when evaluating the part of Austria-Hungary in World War I (a conflict which the Hungarian half of the empire was not happy about being a part of in the first place), there are a few things that should be kept in mind. For one, Austria-Hungary was undoubtedly a major military power, in fact one of the most militarily powerful countries in the world in 1914. The army was large, professional and they had superb artillery (which the Germans themselves made use of). The effective commander of the Austro-Hungarian army, Field Marshal Conrad von Hotzendorf, was probably the most respected military leader of his day, referred to as the greatest strategist in central Europe and was held in very high esteem even by the Germans. His plans have since often been criticized as overly ambitious and unrealistic but few care to remember that the ultimate campaigns by which Germany led the way to victory on the eastern front were all in keeping with his original strategies. It should also be kept in mind that Russian intelligence had obtained the Austrian plans before the war began, putting Austria-Hungary at quite a disadvantage. Nonetheless, some early victories were achieved, though at a great cost.

Arz von Straussenburg
One of those who distinguished himself was Colonel General Viktor Graf Dankl who won a hard fought, 3-day battle against the Russians at Krasnik, the first major victory for Austria-Hungary in the war (most of his army, by the way, was made up of Slovakian and Polish troops). The Gorlice-Tarnow offensive was also a major victory for Austria-Hungary though many, unfairly, tend to discount any victory achieved in cooperation with the Germans as being attributable solely to Germany rather than Austria-Hungary. This is quite an injustice considering that, for example, the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive was planned by Conrad von Hotzendorf though it was a German general who commanded the combined forces in the operation. Field Marshal Svetozar Boroevic von Bojna, a Croat - Serbian Orthodox officer from what is now Croatia, was considered one of the best defensive generals of the war and Colonel General Artur Arz von Straussenburg also distinguished himself in a number of victories, earning the respect of his countrymen as well as the Germans for his actions against the Russians and Romanians. His role as chief of staff, against Italy, did not go so well but it was not solely due to him.

Austrian submarine U-5
All too often it is forgotten that while the Germans may have ultimately taken the lead on the Russian front, Austria-Hungary contributed to virtually all of those victories as well as those in the south. The Austro-Hungarian forces also performed well, overall, on the Italian front despite often being heavily outnumbered with only the mountainous terrain as a major advantage. Austria-Hungary produced a number of “ace” fighter pilots during the war and showed considerable talent at sea despite having only limited forces. The Austrian submarine fleet, though few in number, actually had a higher ratio of hits per torpedoes fired than the German submarines did with Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp (later made famous by “The Sound of Music”) becoming the most successful Austrian submarine commander of the war. Austria-Hungary, though ultimately defeated, put up a heroic fight against long odds against the Russians, Serbians, Italians, Romanians and others while also sending military forces to assist the Germans on the western front and the Ottoman Turks in the Middle East. All things considered, it is quite amazing that Austria-Hungary was able to do as well as they did for as long as they did against the powerful forces arrayed against them.

Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic
World War I, sadly, brought with its termination the end of Austria-Hungary, the end of the Austrian Empire (the Kingdom of Hungary lingering for a while in name at least) but even with the defeat and collapse of 1918 the military legacy of Imperial Austria was still felt for some time after. Some of the young officers who learned their trade fighting for the Kaiser of Austria would also rise to prominence in World War II. Some, like the aforementioned Ritter von Trapp, refused to serve after the union with Nazi Germany, but others still fought for their country regardless of their opinions about the government. Three Austrians would rise to the rank of Colonel-General in the German armed forces of World War II and one of the most notable was General Lothar Rendulic. Rendulic served in Yugoslavia, Scandinavia and on the Russian front as a divisional, corps, army and army group commander, earning the nickname of “The Austrian Fireman” even though, while born in Austria, he was ethnically Croatian rather than German-Austrian. He earned quite a reputation as a commander who could come into a bad situation and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Of course, not all of his record is good but on the purely military side of things, he was one of the best and he first learned his trade fighting for the Austrian Emperor rather than the Austrian corporal.

There are, of course, many other names that could be mentioned and other victorious battles that could be talked about, from the Siege of Vienna in 1529 to Caporetto in late 1917 but hopefully the point has been made. Austria may not have the reputation of being a militaristic power (or even desire such) but that does not mean it lacks in ability. Austria has a long and illustrious military history full of many great war leaders and great achievements. It is extremely unfortunate that most of it has been lost thanks to the current Austrian republic which does not even seem to consider defense of the national territory to be a priority, preferring to leave itself at the mercy of others respecting its position of absolute neutrality. True, Austrian leaders gained much by marriage but Austria made war quite often as well and has a record that any Austrian can be justly proud of. I also know from experience that there are those who are going to accuse me of "forgetting" their favorite Austrian military figure. I can hear you now asking, "Why didn't you mention Prince Schwarzenberg or Andreas Hofer or..." whoever your choice may be. I did not, of course, forget them but mentioning every Austrian who achieved military success would make this already lengthy post turn into a rather large book. And that fact should make the point quite well that those who denigrate the martial prowess of Imperial Austria are the ones showing themselves woefully ignorant of the actual facts of the matter.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Happy 90th Birthday to Her Majesty!


Happy 90th Birthday to Her Majesty!
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

God Save Our Gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God Save the Queen!

Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Restoring the Army of the Kingdom of Portugal

When one thinks of the glory days of Portugal it is only natural to think of the “Age of Exploration” when the Portuguese were truly leading the world in new discoveries in navigation, cartography and the opening of new trade routes which made Portugal the first “global” power as well as, for a time, probably the wealthiest country in Europe. However, as competition for Portuguese dominance in trade increased, first from the Dutch and later from the Spanish, French and English, the fortunes of Portugal understandably declined. Too many, however, tend to view that decline as permanent. As with many southern European nations, Portugal also tends to be discounted as a military power. However, the soldiers of the Kingdom of Portugal came to enjoy a very high reputation and at a time when, on the surface, it would have seemed the least expected and that was during the period of the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars. The monarch, Queen Maria I, had lost her senses, her uncle and consort King Pedro III predeceased her and her son and heir (later King John VI) was beset by difficulties. The military had fallen into disrepair and the ruling Council of Regency was notoriously corrupt and inefficient. Yet, great changes took place that brought the Portuguese armed forces to a new level of proficiency.

Those changes took place under the leadership of a British officer, William Carr, Viscount Beresford who was appointed Marshal of the Portuguese army. Lest any object to the presence of a British general it should be kept in mind that Portugal had a history of having professional foreign soldiers command the army, usually Germans, of varying degrees of talent. Nor was Portugal alone in this as foreign commanders were quite common in armies from Naples to Russia. In the British army, during the American War for Independence, it was only by means of a hasty promotion that the senior most officer of the forces fighting for the British Crown was a Hessian. Marshal Beresford was, thankfully for Portugal, also an extremely adept administrator. Other generals might have been more capable as battlefield commanders but perhaps none could match Viscount Beresford when it came to organization, logistics and all of the less glamorous work of soldiering. The Duke of Wellington himself stated that if anything should have befallen him during the Peninsular Campaign it was Beresford who he would have wished to succeed him, so confident was he in his abilities.

When Beresford was put in command of the Portuguese forces, he faced a monumental task as the Portuguese civilian government and the previous (also foreign) commanders had left the army in a chaotic state. Troops were poorly trained, officers were poorly educated, discipline was erratic and the regular issuance of pay, food and uniforms was abysmal. Morale was, not surprisingly, terrible as a result and it is only amazing that the Portuguese army had not fared even worse in the French Revolutionary Wars up to that point. However, Beresford and others who arrived to reform this mess found one element that had potential and fortunately it was the one element indispensable for making a good army and that was the quality of the average Portuguese soldier or potential soldier himself. When the Portuguese were conscripted to construct a major fortified line across the country, the British officers of the Royal Engineers were amazed by their fortitude. They worked tirelessly for long hours, with little pay, far from home and yet never complained or made any difficulties. Other British officers described the Portuguese troops as invariably, “patient good-tempered people, therefore very susceptible of discipline under good officers; and when so are very steady under arms…”

The revival of the Portuguese army, although often overlooked, was one of the most magnificent military accomplishments of the period. Beresford brought in capable British officers to replace elderly Portuguese ones and to train the younger Portuguese officers to a higher standard. Every British officer had a Portuguese officer above and below him in rank and every Portuguese officer had a British officer above and below him. Bringing order out of the chaos of the logistical system worked wonders. The soldiers pay was increased and, more importantly, was regularly delivered. The troops received proper food and uniforms on schedule and discipline was evenly enforced. This brought about an immediate improvement and even those British officers, such as William Warre, who had initially looked down on the Portuguese troops, drastically changed their opinions. Warre himself came to state that, of the Portuguese soldiers, “None are certainly more intelligent or willing, or bear hardships and privation more humbly”. The Duke of Wellington himself gave the Portuguese more credit than the British in this dramatic transformation, saying that rather than the training the British officers provided, it was simply the matter of seeing that the army was properly cared for which allowed the natural talents and strengths of the Portuguese soldiery to shine through.

The previous, lackluster performance of the Portuguese military was attributed almost entirely to the fact that they were poorly fed, poorly equipped and poorly disciplined and so, not surprisingly, performed poorly as a result. However, once they were kept properly fed, clothed and paid, they performed extremely well and keen observers of military quality were astounded by the sudden change. There were still the occasional problems as with any army but by 1812 the Portuguese military had gained a great reputation as one of the best fighting forces in the field at the time. The Duke of Wellington, in overall command of the forces allied against France on the Iberian peninsula, was quite proud of the Portuguese and their solid reliability on the battlefield, famously referring to them as “the fighting cocks of the army”. The infantry was dependable, the light infantry was quite good, the cavalry less so and the field artillery improved considerably. The militia, as was almost universally true, was not considered front-line capable but were well used for defending fortified positions, “being possessed of innate courage” as one British officer noted of them.

The Portuguese army performed well and in vital campaigns for the liberation of their country and the offensive into Spain. After some subsequent defeats for the Spanish it was only the Anglo-Portuguese forces under the overall command of Wellington that kept the war going on the Iberian front. The Portuguese constructed the famous “Lines of Torres Vedras” to protect Lisbon and they played an important part in the sally from this line that saw Marshal Massena defeated at the Battle of Busaco on September 27, 1810. When the allies were able to go back on the attack in a major offensive, ultimately driving the French out of Portugal and Spain entirely, the Portuguese army performed very well and their quality was universally praised. Once the subject of numerous insults, once they were properly cared for, the Portuguese army was recognized as one of the best of the period. The raw material had been there all along and only neglect had caused it to become hidden due to the incompetence of the civilian government. The Portuguese gave good service for the remainder of the Peninsular War and ended the conflict with a high reputation.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Clash of Monarchies: Queen Anne's War

Many people today have an astounding ignorance of their own history. Glorying in themselves they are nonetheless completely disconnected from what it was that made them who they are and how the world we know today came to be. In the United States this is reflected by how relatively little attention is given to colonial history. Thorough studies of history tend to start with the creation of the United States of America and follows the story from there. However, this was, obviously, the culmination of the earlier colonial history of North America and one cannot understand how modern America came to be what it is now without understanding that colonial period. Had things gone differently in the days of the North American colonies of Britain, France and Spain there might not be a United States or, if there had been, it might be populated by a totally different people with a different legal system, a different language and so on. One of the often overlooked periods which illustrates this point was Queen Anne’s War.

Queen Anne, King Louis XIV & King Philip V
What is known in America as Queen Anne’s War is known in Europe as the War of Spanish Succession. The last Hapsburg King of Spain had died and King Louis XIV of France put forward a grandson of his to be the first of a new line of Bourbon monarchs for the throne of Spain. This caused a great deal of opposition. The Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I wanted to maintain his own dynasty on the Spanish throne or at least to retain certain Spanish possessions, particularly in northern Italy, for the Austrian Hapsburgs and other powers such as the British under Queen Anne were concerned that this Bourbon proposal would effectively make Spain and the whole Spanish empire a subsidiary of the Kingdom of France. The British, Dutch and a few others feared this would make France far too powerful and thus a threat to their own security and interests. So it was that the powers of Europe formed up into two warring camps, the most prominent players being France and Spain on one side and Austria and Britain on the other.

Of course, war in Europe also meant war in America for the colonial subjects of Britain, France and Spain. Since it occurred during the reign of Queen Anne, the conflict was known among the British colonists as “Queen Anne’s War”. Even though the colonial footholds of the various European powers were still rather small at the time it all kicked off in 1702 there was, nonetheless, a rivalry over who would ultimately come to dominate the North American continent. The outbreak of Queen Anne’s War saw the British colonies having more strength at hand than their enemies, British settlement being more rapid and widespread than the French or even the Spanish, at least in North America but the British colonies also had weaknesses of their own. They were potentially surrounded by enemies and with the French and Spanish working together against them, there was a real fear that the colonies of the British Crown might be thrown off the continent altogether at worst or at least be severely restricted to a small strip of the east coast.

In looking at the opposing forces one thing which must be kept in mind is that the Europeans in general were still a small minority of the American population at the time. Somewhat like the Franco-British rivalry in the subcontinent of India, the bulk of most of the fighting forces who participated in Queen Anne’s War would be Native Americans as both the British and the Franco-Spanish factions tried to enlist American Indians to their cause and to encourage them to attack the other side. This also represents a pivotal moment in American history since many of the most advanced Indian tribes did their best to remain neutral in the conflict. Given the circumstances, and the benefit of hindsight, we can see that if some of these powerful native forces had not held themselves aloof but firmly taken a side it might have considerably altered the course of American history and had a significant impact on the eventual fate of the American Indians of the eastern seaboard in particular.

Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville
The war began in America in the south on battlegrounds that many people have crossed since, totally unaware that the ground they walk so casually on was once the setting of a vicious struggle for the control of a continent. The Spanish had long been established in Florida but in 1702 were increasingly alarmed by the growing presence of the British in what is now South Carolina after the establishment of the port city of Charleston. The British, likewise, were concerned by the possibility of the Spanish in Florida joining forces with the French in Mobile, Alabama to attack them from the south. Such concerns were well justified as the noted French explorer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, had proposed just such an action which he termed the “Project sur la Caroline” which involved uniting the various Indians tribes of the region into a massive offensive to wipe out the southern British colonists. This was a matter of long-standing regional rivalry and had nothing to do with the argument over the Spanish throne in Europe and a campaign to put this project into effect was launched before the war in Europe actually began.

Iberville, in Mobile, had cultivated good relations with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Natchez and other nearby Indian nations for this very purpose and when France and Spain, previously rivals, found themselves on the same side Iberville approached the Spanish authorities about arming the Apalachee Indians to attack the British in South Carolina. The plan was approved and a Spanish-led expedition under Francisco Romo de Uriza set out in August of 1702 from Pensacola, Florida to strike at British trade posts in the Carolina backcountry. The British Governor of South Carolina, James Moore, was fairly well informed about these plots and had time to organize an effective defense. In October a force of about 400 mostly Creek Indians with a handful of British under Anthony Dodsworth ambushed the Spanish-led force of about 800 Apalachee Indians at the Battle of Flint River in what is now western Georgia. It was a sweeping victory for the British and Creeks with more than half of the Spanish-Apalachee army being killed or captured.

Spanish artillery in Castillo de San Marcos
Governor Moore decided to take the fight to the enemy and, with the benefit of war having broken out officially, organized a counter-offensive against the Spanish port at St Augustine, Florida. This resulted in the siege of St Augustine, one of the major actions of the war when Governor Moore with (estimates vary) a little over a thousand British and allied Indians (Yamasee, Alabama and Tallapoosa) besieged St Augustine on November 10, 1702. The British were successful in their approach and Spanish resistance was mostly limited to small but hard fought rear guard actions. The Spanish commander, Governor Jose de Zuniga y la Cerda had only a little over 200 professional soldiers plus all able bodied men of 1,500 civilians conscripted into service. However, he learned from two enemy prisoners, captured early on, that Governor Moore had not brought a great deal of supplies with him and was armed only with light artillery. This made the Spanish confident that they could withstand a siege until help arrived from Pensacola, Cuba or from the French at Mobile.

The Spanish Governor was right and the few light field pieces that Governor Moore had brought did very little damage at all to the thick stone walls of Castillo de San Marcos (recently built just for this very possibility of an attack out of Charleston). A Spanish relief force from Cuba arrived first and Governor Moore was forced to abandon the siege on December 30. Casualties were light all around but the immense cost of the failed expedition cost Moore his governorship whereas the Spanish governor received thanks and a promotion from the new Bourbon King of Spain Philip V. However, the Spanish had not seen the last of James Moore but, for the time being, the focus of the war shifted to the north. 1702 saw British naval forces under Commodore John Leake attack French  villages on Newfoundland around Plaisance. Not unlike today this was an area that was home to a major fishing industry and it was much more economically important in those days and France and Britain would struggle for control of Newfoundland throughout the war. Closer to the bulk of the English-speaking population was the threat to New England. As with the Georgia-Florida frontier in the south, the boundary between French and British territory in the north was ill-defined. Each side claimed much but seizing it and holding it was what really mattered. In the absence of a large population of settlers, this meant that the key was winning the friendship of the natives.

Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville
The French, being very much lacking in settlers compared to the British, were, by necessity, always a little more aggressive in this regard than their English-speaking counterparts and had worked hard to forge friendly ties with the powerful Wabanaki Confederacy (covering parts of what is now Maine, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec). Throughout 1703 the French governor of Acadia, Michel Leneuf de la Valliere de Beaubassin led about 500 natives from the Confederacy with a handful of French-Canadian militiamen in a series of raids against the British colonies in New England. It would not be possible to relate the details of this entire campaign but it almost wiped out Maine for good and resulted in huge tracts of land being destroyed and hundreds of people being massacred or taken captive (men were generally killed, women and children were often as not taken as captives). The human cost, which measured in the hundreds, may not seem like much today but, given the sparse population of the time, it was immense and had a major impact.

Major Ben Church
This was followed up, in early 1704, by significant raid led by Jean-Baptiste Hertel de Rouville with about 300 men (250 Indians and 50 French, give or take) against Deerfield in the Massachusetts Bay colony. The town was completely destroyed, most of the colonists being killed other than the roughly 100 who were taken captive and brought to a Caughnawaga village near Montreal where most were sold to the Mohawk. Unlike the offensive in Maine (then a detached part of Massachusetts), the Deerfield raid hit closer to home for the British settlers and prompted retaliation. It was simply impossible to defend every frontier cabin and small village with the colonial militia and so, it was reasoned, the only option was to strike at the French in Acadia who were inciting the Indians against them. Major Benjamin Church led a group of roughly 500 militia, including a smattering of Indians allied with the British and raided several French and Indian settlements in what is now Nova Scotia in the summer of 1704. Though perhaps not much remembered today it was Church who established the first foundations of “special forces” later made famous by Robert Rogers from whom the modern U.S. Army Rangers honor as their originator.

It was also in 1704 that the war heated up again in the south as the former Governor of South Carolina, James Moore went on a rampage. His costly invasion of Florida which had failed to take St Augustine from the Spanish was highly unpopular and he found himself out of a job but still determined to take the fight to the enemy. To put a stop to Spanish efforts to unite the southern Indian tribes against the British, Moore set out on a raid aimed at the total devastation of these tribes, particularly the Apalachee who were allied with the French & Spanish. Fighting only one battle, he encountered little resistance and his raid was brutal but effective, breaking the power of the Spanish in the region and bringing British control right up to the Franco-Spanish presence in Florida and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, making Pensacola and Mobile vulnerable to British or, more likely, British-backed Indian attacks. Moore himself claimed to have killed over a thousand natives of all varieties and taken away as captives many more. The Spanish presence, centered on the numerous missions established in the region, was wiped out and the Indian population that survived was forced to relocate or shift allegiance to Britain.

Col. James Moore on a pillaging expedition
It was an ugly business to be sure but probably not as bad as the official accounts suggest. Moore likely embellished his “body count” to boost his image as a ‘slayer of savages’ and most of those taken captive probably went willingly as they naturally tended to take the side of whoever was strongest in the region. The Spanish had failed to protect them and so they would go with the English. In any event, as winter came on the focus of the war shifted back to the north where the British colonists were trying to do something in response to the numerous French and Indian raids on their territory. In the winter of 1705 some 275 American/British colonial militia under Colonel Winthrop Hilton raided and sacked the village of Rale where they had hoped to catch a French Catholic priest who had been blamed for instigating the Indians against them. Rale was destroyed but the priest had been alerted and escaped capture. Meanwhile, throughout the year forces of France and the Wabanaki Confederacy continued their attacks on British settlers, particularly in northern Massachusetts. Counter-raids were launched but these usually accomplished nothing as the French forces were based too far away.

Daniel d'Auger de Subercase
Meanwhile, there seemed to be a climax building in the struggle for Newfoundland. In retaliation for the previous English attack, the French and their local Indian allies hit back and in February of 1705 besieged Ft William at the English town of St John’s. The French Governor of Plaisance, Daniel d’Auger de Subercase, led about 450 French/Canadians and Indians of the Mikmak and Abenakis tribes while inside Ft William the British Lieutenant John Moody had only about 50 or 60 men under his command. An effort to take the fort by surprise failed and the siege was just as miserable, if not more so, for the French than for the British who held out quite well. Subercase tried various tricks to undermine his enemy but the harsh winter was ultimately the decisive factor. Waiting for naval support that never arrived, the French were forced to abandon the siege in March and fall back with their captured loot. Down but certainly not out, the French and Indians simply returned to raiding English settlements on the island.

The bloodshed in Newfoundland continued into 1706 when the British retaliated by sending a Royal Navy task force to destroy the French fishing industry on the north coast. The most critical action of the year though, would be in the south where the Spanish launched another offensive, more serious this time, aimed at Charleston, South Carolina itself. A Franco-Spanish attack force, primarily organized and funded by King Louis XIV, assembled in Havana, Cuba, departed for St Augustine, Florida where they picked up reinforcements and then proceeded to Charleston, arriving in September. The force consisted of 330 French & Spanish regular troops, 200 Spanish militia and about 50 Indians carried by six privateers. Again, the primary instigator of the operation was d’Iberville who received permission for the offensive from King Louis XIV late the previous year but, while the King dispatched some troops, he required d’Iberville to front most of the money for the expedition. However, most of his forces had been used to attack the British West Indies and he was only able to enlist minor Spanish support for the Carolina offensive.

Colonel William Rhett
Unfortunately for the Franco-Spanish task force, a British privateer had spotted them on their way north and was able to give the British authorities in Charleston advance warning of the attack. Governor Nathaniel Johnson called out all the local militia, assembling about a thousand men under Lt. Colonel William Rhett. They fortified the outer islands and even built a small defensive fleet including one fire ship. All in all, Charleston was about as well defended as possible and would have the advantages of fighting on the defensive as well as having their enemies outnumbered. The first Franco-Spanish invasion force landed on September 9 near the Charleston “neck” and on James Island but were quickly driven off by the American militia, the survivors returning to their ships and retreating. Another ship, which had been delayed, landed her forces on September 12 under General Arbousset but they were quickly beset by the British/American forces and learned too late that they had no support. Their ship was captured and the troops ashore, including the French general, were forced to surrender. Had the attack been successful, and if the element of surprise had not been lost it might well have been, the history of the American south might have unfolded quite differently.

The following year, the British in South Carolina, building on the advances made by former Governor Moore, struck back in retaliation by instigating Indian attacks on the Spanish in Pensacola. However, 1707 was to be a year of frustration for both sides. In May, Governor Joseph Dudley of Massachusetts dispatched 1,600 men under John March to besiege Port Royal, the capitol of French Acadia (modern Nova Scotia) but despite having the French vastly outnumbered, the attempted siege failed. In the aftermath, the French planned to retaliate with a massive raid on New Hampshire, however, such an attack depended on local Indian tribes cooperating and few were willing to support it. Instead, the French resumed the raids on northern Massachusetts, eventually leaving the region totally devastated before the war was finally over. The French also struck back on Newfoundland in 1708 when French and Indian forces captured St John’s, however, they lacked the strength to hold such a prize and so simply destroyed everything they could and returned home.

Francis Nicholson
The British and colonial American authorities were bedeviled by the French and Indian raids but at a loss as to a way to stop them. Two notables, Francis Nicholson and Sam Vetch finally enlisted the support of Queen Anne for an offensive into Canada in 1709. One invasion force was to move on Montreal via Lake Champlain while another was to hit Quebec from the sea. However, a lack of naval support (due to the ships being diverted to Portugal) meant that the operation had to be abandoned. Undeterred, Nicholson went to London along with some American officials and Indian chiefs to enlist support for another such attack. The Indians proved a sensation in London society and Nicholson was granted an audience with Queen Anne who was impressed enough by his proposal to agree to support another offensive against the French in Canada. The only other major actions of the year were Indian attacks in the south, instigated by the British, against the French at Mobile, Alabama, though they proved not much more than an irritation.

In 1710 Nicholson was finally able to have his attack, this time a more serious effort to take Port Royal, Acadia which he did in September. With 3,600 British and American colonial troops, a considerable army for the time and place, Nicholson was able to capture Port Royal in one week. French Acadia was thus to become Nova Scotia (New Scotland). Buoyed by this success, Nicholson again went to London where he again urged Queen Anne to authorize an attack on Quebec. One again, the Queen is convinced and approves his plan but, once again, the operation had to be called off after the ships critical to the operation were dashed in the dangerous approaches. Minor raids and attacks would continue as the war in Europe carried on until 1714 but the major actions in America came to an end. The last significant engagement being the Battle of Bloody Creek in 1711 when a small group of New England militia were ambushed and wiped out (killed or captured) by a mixed force of Indians allied with the French in Acadia. It was part of the on-going effort by the French to weaken the British hold on the region but France simply lacked the resources in America to make much of an impact.

Pieter Schuyler
One more area, however, must be looked at as it had the potential to be extremely significant. For those paying close attention, you may be wondering about other areas of the British colonies that have not been mentioned alongside New England, the Maritimes and the southern colonies. Well, the middle colonies were far from the action but New York was not. The French/Canadians didn’t want to attack New York for fear that the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, with whom they had recently made peace, would side with the British and oppose them. New York businessmen, likewise, were making a great deal of money on the fur trade with the French and wanted no war with them. Peter Schuyler, the Commissioner of Indians for the British Crown in Albany, New York tried to persuade the Iroquois to join with the British/Americans for an attack on Canada but was rebuffed, the Iroquois deciding to stick to neutrality and sit out the conflict. So, New York was fairly quiet during the course of the war but it was due entirely to the decisions of the Iroquois and it was they who had the potential to change the course of history.

Mohawk chiefs met by Queen Anne
The Iroquois were, if not the biggest, probably the most well-organized and established coalition of Indian tribes in the region, perhaps in the whole of eastern North America at the time. They had been through some hard times recently and feared that if they engaged themselves on one side or the other of the conflict, other competing Indian tribes would take up with their enemies and encroach on Iroquois land. If the Iroquois had decided otherwise, if they had decided to take up arms with the French against the British it would have changed the entire nature of the conflict and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they could have wiped out the British colonies at least in New York and New England, leaving the remainder in a poor position to withstand attacks by the French and Spanish. Further, if they had done so, the British might ultimately have been evicted from North America entirely, leaving only the Spanish and French to deal with who had a much more tenuous hold on their North American possessions due to the far fewer settlers they attracted to the region.

Many historians therefore agree that if the Indians, particularly those in or around the Iroquois Confederacy, had managed to come together and took decisive action against the British North American colonies, they might have changed the course of history and established themselves as the dominant force on the continent. Queen Anne’s War is thus regarded by many as the last chance the Native Americans had to stem the tide of European colonization and the countries we know today as the United States and Canada might not ever have come into existence at all. It is a worthwhile lesson in the basic facts that actions have consequences and that the world we know exists because of the decisions made by people in the past, decisions which determined what they would do and what they would not do. Sometimes taking no action at all can have major repercussions in the unfolding of history.

The Peace of 1714, Treaty of Utrecht
Queen Anne’s War thus ended with far more having been decided than most of those who dismiss it as nothing more than a series of ultimately inconsequential Indian raids seem to realize. It secured the southern border with Spain for the British colonies, preserved the British foothold on Newfoundland and British control over Acadia which would prove very important later on. It saw the passing of the last realistic chance the Native Americans had to assert themselves as the dominant force on the continent, severely set back the Spanish presence in Florida, kept South Carolina in British hands and determined the geopolitical battlefield in North America for the next war that was soon to come. During Queen Anne’s War the fate of the European presence in North America, to some degree, hung in the balance, depending on what decisions were taken by the local Indians. In the next conflict, the French and Indian War, would be decided whether the future of North America would belong to people who spoke English or who spoke French.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Soldier of Monarchy: Field Marshal Robert, First Baron Napier of Magdala

One of the most accomplished soldiers Britain has ever produced, Robert Napier had a colorful career that spanned the globe in the service of the British Empire. Born in Ceylon on December 6, 1810, the son of a British officer, he was educated at the Addiscombe Military Seminary before being given a commission in the Bengal Engineers in 1826. After further education he was posted to India in 1828 and did a great deal of good with the Royal Engineers there in improving the infrastructure for farming. He earned promotion to captain before being sent to England due to poor health but he was soon back again to participate in the First Anglo-Sikh War. Napier saw action at the Battles of Mudki, Ferozeshah (where he was badly wounded the first of many times) and Sobraon from 1845 to 1846. He received further promotion and was chief engineer at the siege of Kote Kangra in the Punjab. When, not long after, the Second Anglo-Sikh War broke out, he directed the siege of Multan in 1848 and was again wounded but still had enough fight in him to be on hand for the storming of the place and the fall of Chiniot. For his service at the Battle of Gujrat and the final surrender of the Sikh forces he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

After further service in more battles on the Northwest frontier of India he attained the brevet rank of colonel and was wounded again in the Indian Mutiny during the two efforts to relieve Lucknow, a desperate siege that captivated public attention in Victorian Britain. Once again, his injury was not sufficient to keep him out of action and he was on hand for the final victory at Lucknow in 1858. His star still rising, he was deputy commander of the march on Gwalior and commanded a brigade at the Battle of Morar. After the capture of Gwalior it was Napier and his men who pursued the retreating rebels and, with only 700 men, wiped out a force of 12,000 rebels at the plains of Jaora Alipur. Given the command of a division in the aftermath of this success he aided in the capture of Paori, totally defeated Prince Ferozepore at Ranode and secured the final victory for the Raj by forcing the surrender of Man Singh and Tatya Tope in early 1859. By the time the Indian Mutiny was over, Robert Napier had covered himself in glory and was one of the most respected officers in the British army with a reputation for doing much with little.

Having proven himself on the battlefields of India, his next assignment would see him win further victories in East Asia. After the First Opium War, Chinese attacks on the British and other westerners continued as well as the drive for the further opening of trade. This resulted in the Second Opium War or Arrow War which saw Great Britain and the France of Napoleon III teaming up to take on the Great Qing Empire. In January of 1860 Napier was given a divisional command with the main British expeditionary force in China and that summer fought with distinction at the Battle of the Taku Forts. This opened the way to Peking and the Chinese forts along the Pearl River fell like dominos in the aftermath. The following month Napier and his men fought their way into Peking itself and in response to continued resistance demolished the “Old” Summer Palace in October. Napier was raised to the brevet rank of major-general and shortly thereafter the permanent rank of colonel. (FYI: a “brevet” rank essentially means that one has the authority of a higher rank than you actually hold but not the salary!) Having further distinguished himself in China, Napier was soon back in India where he was given command of the Bombay Army and received further promotion to lieutenant-general. He even served as Viceroy of India for a short time after the death of Lord Elgin until his replacement arrived.

It was, however, his next assignment that would see General Napier rise to his greatest fame and which would usher him into the ranks of the aristocracy. Having won victories in India and China it was time to give Africa a try. A rather ugly scene had developed after a local scoundrel managed to usurp the throne of Abyssinia and declare himself “Emperor Tewodros II” (not an uncommon occurrence). However, rather than restricting himself to terrorizing his own people (though he did plenty of that), Tewodros II tried to gain recognition from the crowned heads of Europe and when Her Majesty Queen Victoria did not immediately reply to his letter, he took captive what Europeans he could get his hands on (an envoy and some missionaries) and held them hostage in barbaric conditions. The British had not the slightest interest in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) but a lesson had to be meted out lest every savage chieftain in all the dark corners of the world should get ideas. A rescue expedition was arranged and Lt. General Robert Napier was given command, setting out for the Ethiopian highlands in January of 1868.

Napier had at his command about 13,000 British and Indian troops, quite an expedition for the time, causing some to refer to the episode as the most expensive ‘affair of honor’ in British history. With a huge population to draw upon, Tewodros should have been able to swamp the Anglo-Indian force with numbers but this was not to be as, although he has achieved hero status today (God knoweth why), he was disliked if not reviled by a great many of his countrymen (even his wife couldn’t stand him). As a result, the Anglo-Indian force probably had more trouble simply with the rugged, wild terrain than they did with the Ethiopian army, many of whom fled from the ranks of the vicious and erratic emperor rather than confront the invaders. Napier also established friendly contact with numerous local chiefs, even enlisting some of them to help supply his army as Tewodros was extremely unpopular amongst most of the local potentates, most of whom viewed him as illegitimate and most of whom also wanted his job. When Napier informed him that the British Empire had no desire to add Abyssinia to their list of colonial holdings but were merely out to rescue the hostages and teach the upstart emperor a lesson, most were only too happy to cooperate with their invaders.

After more of his army had ran away rather than face combat, Tewodros was only able to scrape together 9,000 men to confront Napier at the pivotal Battle of Magdala. The British did not think that Tewodros would be so stupid as to leave his defensive positions to attack their superior force but he was and the disciplined ranks of British and Indian soldiers cut them down in volley after volley of rifle fire. The horrific losses made Tewodros release two of the hostages with an offer of peace but General Napier was having no half-way measures and demanded the release of all the hostages and the unconditional surrender of the emperor. Being unwilling to humble himself, Tewodros refused and after an opening bombardment, Napier ordered his men to storm the enemy fortress. Resistance was crushed, Tewodros shot himself in a last act of cowardice and his remaining troops promptly surrendered. Nearly 2,000 Ethiopians had been killed or wounded while Napier’s army suffered only 20 men wounded, two of whom later died. The hostages were rescued, the town was razed to the ground, the locals learned never to cross the British Empire and General Napier was the hero of the hour. For his extremely successful campaign Napier was ennobled by Her Majesty Queen Victoria  with the title of First Baron Napier of Magdala in honor of his victory.

Civilian honors came his way as well and in 1870 Lord Napier was appointed Commander-in-Chief, India with the rank of full general. In 1876 he was made Governor of Gibraltar and, when stepping down from that post in 1883, was promoted to the rank of field marshal. Lord Napier had achieved fame in India, China and Africa, becoming one of the greatest military heroes of the Victorian age and a symbol of the military success of the British Empire around the world. In his old age he was made honorary colonel of the Third London Rifle Volunteer Corps, commandant of the Royal Engineers and was made Constable of the Tower of London in 1887. After a colorful life and very successful military career, Lord Napier passed away from influenza in London on January 14, 1890 and was buried, like a military hero, with all due honors in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Anti-Papal Profile: Anti-Pope Felix V (Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy)

Once upon a time in Europe there was a major Catholic embarrassment known as “the Great Schism”. It came as a result of what is known as “the Babylonian Captivity” or the “Avignon Papacy” when the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon in France which produced a succession of French pontiffs who were seen as little more than the tools of the French Crown. That ended with Pope Gregory XI and when he died the people of Rome were determined to have a Roman pontiff rather than a French one. They were quite forceful about it and so the cardinals elected a rather unpleasant fellow (not exactly a Roman but a southern Italian deemed ‘close enough’) who took the name Pope Urban VI. The French, however, did not like that and so declared his election invalid, the cardinals electing another pope, a warrior-cardinal (Robert of Geneva), who took the name Pope Clement VII. He is what is known as an “Anti-Pope” or an invalid pope. This was the beginning of the “Great Schism” which saw Catholic Europe split into feuding factions, at one point with three different men all claiming to be the “true” Pope at the same time. It was a major embarrassment and it is not surprising that anti-Popes tend to be viewed as ‘bad guys’ in Catholic history.

Popes, popes, everywhere a pope!
However, that is not necessarily true. Pope Urban VI, for example, while undoubtedly the valid, legitimate pontiff, was a rather unsavory character and most who had to deal with him found him a rather vindictive, bullying jerk. Pope Clement VII, on the other hand, though nicknamed “the butcher” in his earlier, military career just because of a trifling incident involving the massacre of a few thousand people, was widely considered the much better man, a very nice fellow who treated people well, was forgiving toward his enemies and genuinely considered himself the valid pontiff. Practically any Catholic history will, in fact, relate that while Urban VI was the correct pope, Clement VII would have made a better one. Not every anti-Pope was an ambitious usurper, thirsty for power but rather were sometimes men of sincere piety who, in a confusing and tumultuous time, were prevailed upon to accept the papal crown as a duty to the Church and Christendom. The “Great Schism” was, thankfully, mostly ended with the election of Pope Martin V in 1417, however one rival remained and there would be a couple more before it was all over. The man regarded by history as the last of the anti-Popes is an illustration of a good, devout man being caught up in a situation not of his making which left him on the wrong side of Church history but still with a good reputation.

That man was Amadeus VIII, Count and later Duke of Savoy. He was born on September 4, 1383 to Count Amadeus VII of Savoy and Bonne of Berry (granddaughter of King Jean II of France). His father died in 1391 leaving him Count of Savoy at an early age but his mother acted as his regent until he was old enough to rule in his own right. As the Count of Savoy he was quite a successful ruler. He enlarged his domains, oversaw economic prosperity, earned a reputation for being mild-mannered and just as well as being quite religious. With the Hundred Years War still raging between England and France, he tried several times to arrange a negotiated end to the conflict though to no avail. When the “Great Schism” broke out, he was very troubled by it, more so than most because of his pious nature. He had been such a success and had such a great reputation that, in 1416, Sigismund of Luxembourg, the Holy Roman (German) Emperor gave him an aristocratic promotion, raising him to the status of Duke of Savoy. Later, he also conferred on him the title of Count of Geneva. Earlier he had married Mary of Burgundy and had a happy home life, fathering nine children. However, his world fell apart when his beloved wife died in 1422 and Duke Amadeus VIII turned his back on the world.

Amadeus VIII retired, though he retained his title, handing power over to his son Louis, to live a contemplative life as a hermit in Ripaille on the shores of Lake Geneva. He took five knights with him to live by a monastic code he devised as the Order of St Maurice, which, combined with another, is still one of the senior chivalric orders of the Italian Royal Family today. He was thus mostly out of touch from that time on though he had kept up with the events of the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence. It was this council, in opposition to Pope Eugene IV, which elected him (Anti-)Pope on October 30, 1439. It was not a position he had sought for himself and it took a period of negotiations before he could be prevailed upon to accept the papal crown. The primary motivation of the electors seems to have been the wealth and prestige they thought Amadeus would bring with him to their cause. He finally accepted and was duly installed as Pope Felix V on November 5, 1439.

"Pope" Felix V
Anti-Pope Felix V renounced his secular titles and was crowned by Cardinal d’Allamand in 1440. For the first few years of his pontificate his secretary was Aeneas Sylvinus Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II. The actual pope, Eugene IV, excommunicated him of course and he found no widespread popular support for his position beyond his own lands in Savoy and across Switzerland. Those who did acknowledge him as the rightful pope included the Dukes of Austria, Tyrol, Bavaria-Munich, the Count-Palatine of Simmern, the Teutonic Order and a handful of religious orders and universities in Germany. Most of those who appointed cardinals refused to take their places and as Pope Eugene IV gave way to Pope Nicholas V support for Felix V fell away further. He was also frequently at odds with the Council of Basel over financial matters which is the one area that tends to taint his reputation. Still, no one could find that he had acted in bad faith or could show any evidence of serious defects in his character. His position continued to deteriorate though through 1442 and 1443 after which he increasingly became isolated and ignored. Efforts to establish a papal court and control over the Church bureaucracy ended in frustration and finally the pretense came to an end in 1449 when he submitted to the authority of Pope Nicholas V on April 7.

Nonetheless, it was not all that bad an end for anti-Pope Felix V. Because of his good name and recognition that he had been misled rather than acting purposely malicious, Pope Nicholas V was inclined to be forgiving. He appointed Amadeus of Savoy Cardinal of St Sabina and made him his permanent Apostolic vicar-general for the lands of the House of Savoy as well as the dioceses of Basel, Strasbourg, Chur and others. The papal schism had ended and there seemed to be few hard feelings about it, so a happy ending all in all. Amadeus VIII carried on in ecclesiastical office, under the legitimate pontiffs, until his death on January 7, 1451 at the age of 67.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hollow Words for the King of Romania

As most will have probably heard by now, HM King Michael I of Romania has been diagnosed with cancer and has, at age 94, decided to retire and hand over his duties as head of the former Romanian Royal Family to his daughter Crown Princess Margarita, who he intends to succeed him. This is, of course, sad but the tributes that came pouring in when this news was made public rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it shouldn't but it did, particularly that coming from President Klaus Iohannis. He said that he hoped the former monarch would make it through this difficult time, that he hoped the younger members of the family would carry on his tradition of service to Romanian society and added that, "It is important, especially in these difficult times, not to forget the courage and dedication that the king has shown towards his country since 1927". I'm sorry, but that was, for me, too much to take from such a quarter.

Yes, it is true that King Michael I has given a lifetime of dedication to his country and it is also true that the former monarch has contributed a great deal to Romanian society but if the President really meant what he said, if he truly understood and appreciated that lifetime of dedication and those years of contribution to Romania after the fall of communism (such as lobbying western leaders to admit Romania into NATO) he would not be president at all would he? Where was this appreciation for King Michael I when, certainly since the fall of the Soviet Union, the opportunity arose to give the former monarch his legitimate "job" back? King Michael was, lest we forget, forced to abdicate his throne by the communists with threats of his people being massacred if he refused. He was betrayed, robbed and forced into exile. Post-communist governments may be better than the monstrous regime that deposed him but they continued to uphold their crime of usurping the position of their rightful king. The President singing the praises of the former monarch now, at the end of his life, rings very hollow to me and I find it, frankly, disgusting.

The King, as mentioned, worked for Romania even after he was allowed to return to his own homeland, helping the various governments in areas to which he was particularly able. How did they repay him, by returning a tiny fraction of what had been stolen from him in the first place? They were happy to accept his service but refused to restore him to his proper status. I think it's disgusting that they would praise him now after using him for their own purposes while denying him justice. The King, after all, never sought power but simply hoped to be restored as a constitutional monarch presiding over a representative government. Yet, even that was denied him and those who dismiss 'ceremonial monarchs' would do well to ask themselves why this was. I have less of an issue with the praise given by the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel who said, "the king is a symbol of the history of the Romanian people and of national dignity" except to say that King Michael could have just as easily been a symbol, not only of history, but the living connection of the historic Romania to the present and future Romania.

Finally, I will simply say that one can blame others all they please (it's a popular pastime these days) but the fact is that the Romanian government is responsible for their own actions and for what goes on in Romania today. Since the fall of the "Iron Curtain" they have had plenty of time to have done right by their former king, he certainly gave them no cause to oppose him, he showed himself ready to serve in any capacity, to help rather than to challenge and they simply chose to take advantage of him, availing themselves of his experience, his contacts and his persona while denying him his very birthright. I think it's disgusting. Rather than all of their hollow words of praise, the only thing I am interested in hearing from any Romanian president is his resignation and the restoration of the Crown and Kingdom of Romania. It should have happened already and I fear, as King Michael fades away, the chances of justice being done will become poorer rather than better.
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