King Henry II of England

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     King Henry II ruled England from October 25, 1154 to July 6, 1189. His reign lasted 34 years.

     Henry was born on March 5, 1133 in Le Mans, France. His mother was the Empress Maude, and his father was Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. His mother was Queen of Normandy, having inherited the title from her father. His mother was the only child of King Henry I. Henry wanted Maude to become Queen of England, but Stephen, her cousin, defeated her in a civil war. Eventually, though, Henry won his right back into the succesion, and after Stephen died, Henry became King of England.

     Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Duchess of Aquitaine. Therefore, Henry was the ruler of more lands in France than the French king was. At the time Henry came to the throne, England was in an anarchy and the barons of England were in rebellion. Henry quickly fixed this, and gained control of his kingdom. Henry also adopted many Norman laws into the English bureacracy, greatly improving the government.

     Henry also engaged in several succesful wars. He invaded Scotland, capturing and conquering Cumbria and Northumbria. Wales and Ireland also fell to Henry, although the Welsh nobles still rebelled against their English overlords.

     One thing in which Henry was unsuccesful in was curving the power of the church. Henry appointed his friend, Thomas Beckett, as Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Catholic Church in England. When Beckett refused to follow and abide by laws that reduced the power and influence of the church, Henry ordered him exiled. Beckett eventually came back to England, but still refused to yield any power. Henry had enough of Beckett, and in 1170, four of Henry’s knights murdered Beckett in his own cathedral. This caused an uproar throughout England, and for the rest of Henry’s reign the church and the English people resented him.

     Towards the end of his reign, Henry’s son, Richard, led a revolt against him. Eventually, Richard, aided by Phillip II of France, defeated Henry and forced him to abdicate the throne on July 4, 1189. Two days later, Henry died of a jousting injury.

Interesting Fact #1: Henry was the first of the Plantagenent rulers of England. This royal dynasty originated in France and ruled England until the 15th century.

Interesting Fact #2: Henry was called Henry Fitzempress because of his mother, Empress Maude.

Interesting Fact #3: Henry had a terrible temper. It was probably this temper that led to the murder of Thomas Beckett. In a fit of rage, Henry shouted: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nurtured and promoted in my household who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric!” After he said this, Henry’s soldiers travelled to Canterbury and murdered Thomas Beckett.

Credits: http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-kings/king-henry-ii-biography.htm, http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon26.html, 5,000 Years of Royalty by Thomas J. Craughwell

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Queen Nzinga Mbande of Ndongo and Matamba

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Queen Nzinga Mbande

     Nzinga Mbande was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba people from 1624 until her death in 1663. She ruled for 39 years.

     Nzinga was born sometime in 1583 to Ngola Kilaunji and Guenguela Cakombe in Ndongo, an kingdom located in what is now Angola. As a child, Nzinga was the envoy for her brother, the Ngola, at various peace conferences with Europeans. At the time, Portuguese colonists were attempting to take away native African land, capture and sell Africans into slavery, and destroy the Africans and their culture, as they were considered inferior and subhuman. At one conference, a peace treaty was made with the Portuguese settlers of Luanda. As a sign of good will, Nzinga converted Christianity, was baptized, and changed her name to Anna de Sousa. The Portuguese, however, broke the treaty and attacked Ndongo in 1623.

     Nzinga urged her brother, the King of Ndongo, to retaliate against the Portuguese. Her brother refused, angering Nzinga – he was proving to be an ineffective ruler. Nzinga decided to take the fate of Ndongo in her own hands. She poisoned her brother and declared herself Queen of Ndongo. She married the chief of the Matamba and Jaga people, and eventually came to control their lands. She made an alliance with the Dutch, whose presence in Africa was also threatened by the Portuguese. Nzinga raised an army, and fought valiantly against the Portuguese. But, Portuguese reinforcements from Brazil arrived in Luanda, and beat Nzinga and her army.

     Nzinga retreated back to Mbande. The Portuguese, seeing that Mbande would never be conquered until Nzinga died, abandoned their war with her. Nzinga ruled Mbande until her death. She died peacefully on December 17, 1663, at the age of eighty. Today, Nzinga is remembered as a visionary leader and one of the greatest female rulers of Africa.

Intesting Fact #1: Nzinga’s name means “twisted” in the language of Ndongo. Her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck when she was born.

Interesting Fact #2: According to legend, Nzinga execute her lovers when she lost interest with them, so as to “honor” their love.

Interesting Fact #3: Nzinga’s alliance with the Dutch was the first African-European alliance against another European power.

Credits: http://www.dismalworld.com/serial-killers/queen-zingua-of-angola.php, http://www.fact-index.com/a/an/ann_nzinga_mbande.html, http://www.bookrags.com/biography/anna-nzinga/,

Craughwell, Thomas J. 5,000 Years of Royalty: Kings, Queens, Princes, Emperors & Tsars. New York: Tess, 2009. Print.

Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

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19th-Century Painting of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico

      Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico reigned from April 10, 1864 – June 19, 1867. His rule laste 3 years and 21 days.

     Maximilian was not a Mexican, but instead an Austrian. He was born in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 1832. His mother was Sophie of Bavaria, and his father was Archduke Franz Karl of Austria. As a child, he was sickly and was often ill. However, he was known for his curious nature, cleverness, and sharp mind. His older brother, Franz Joseph, became Emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1848, making Maximilian the Archduke of Austria. In 1853, Maximilian married Charlotte of Belgium.

     Mexico was recovering from The War of The Reform. The country had taken loans from Britain, Spain and France to finance the civil war, and was in the process of paying them back when in 1861 President Benito Juarez suspended the payments. His goal was to improve the infrastructure of Mexico before paying off the loans. Napoleon III of France was angered by this, and asked Maximilian if he wanted to rule Mexico. Maximilian said no. In 1864, Napoleon joined forces with Britain and Spain to ship soldiers to Mexico. Eventually, Mexico City was captured and the country was under French “control”. Napoleon approached Maximilian again, asking him the same question, but this time telling him that Mexico was stable and the Mexicans welcomed him into their country. This was, however, a lie. Mexico was still extremely unstable and the Mexican citizens were revolted by the idea of having a European rule their country.

     The naive Maximilian accepted Napoleon’s offer. He arrived in Mexico in 1864. He was crowned at the Catedral Metropolitana in Mexico City, along with his wife Charlotte. The conservatives and clergy of Mexico supported Maximilian, but they had little power. Maximilian was aghast when he saw the disparity between the rich and the poor in Mexico. Because of this, he supported the social reforms of Benito Juarez. This angered the conservatives, and the liberals of Mexico were still not pleased. Seeing this increasingly volatile situation, Charlotte travelled to France, Austria, and Rome to ask for aid. She was refused. Maximilian soon realized that he had no allies and his subjects were becoming increasingly disloyal and rebellious. Charlotte fled to Europe, but Maximilian stayed in Mexico, determined to rule the country he had been given.

     France had long ago withdrawn their forces from Mexico. Now, the liberals of Mexico, led by Benito Juarez, began to take up arms and rebel against Maximilian. In early 1867, Mexico City fell to Juarez’s liberals. Maximilian retreated, but was eventually captured. When it was announced he was going to be executed, dozens of European monarchs appealed to Juarez to spare Maximilian’s life. Juarez, however, would not turn the other cheak. On June 19, 1867, Maximilian was shot to death.

Interesting Fact #1: Avenida Reforma, an important street in Mexico City, was ordered built by Maximilian.

Interesting Fact #2: Maximilian’s older brother, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, reigned for 67 years, longer than any other Austrian monarch, and the third longest reign in the history of Europe.

Interesting Fact #3: Maximilian had multiple affairs during his lifetime. His first affair was with a German countess, but she was deemed unworthy of him by his family. His most well-known affair was with a Portuguese noblewoman, Maria Amalia of Braganza. She died before they could be engaged.

Credits: http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/19thcenturylatinamerica/p/maxaustria.htm, http://www.mexonline.com/history-maximilian.htm, http://www.austrianinformation.org/march-april-2007/2007/4/23/maximilian-i-of-mexico.html, Picture: http://www.corbisimages.com/Enlargement/CS002921.html

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany

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      Wilhelm II was the Kaiser (German for Emperor) of Germany from June 15, 1888 to November 18, 1918. He reigned for 30 years.

     Wilhelm was born on January 27, 1859 in Berlin to Victoria of the United Kingdom, the daughter of Queen Victoria, and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who would later go on to become Kaiser Friedrich III of Germany. During her pregnancy, Vicky, as his mother was called, suffered a fall. This was thought to cause a traumatic birth, which resulted in Wilhelm being born with a withered arm. This deformation apalled Vicky, and she would always look down on her son as inferior because of it.

     Wilhelm grew up in a tumultuous family. His mother, who favored his other brothers over him, hated Wilhelm, and always turned her nose up at him. His father was jealous of Wilhelm. Wilhelm possesed superior military skills than his father did, and when he joined the German military, was promoted faster than his father had been. This caused a rift between Wilhelm and his parents. It also influenced Wilhelm’s political beliefs. His parent’s were liberals, and Wilhelm eventually became a conservative, wanting to seperate from his parents.

     In 1871, Wilhelm’s grandfather united Germany and formed the German Empire. Then, when his grandfather died in 1888, Wilhelm’s father succeeded to the throne. However, the now Kaiser Friedrich III was suffering from throat cancer, and died later that year. On June 15, 1888, to his mother’s horror, Wilhelm became Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

     Wilhelm had always fostered a love of the navy. His mother was British, so when he travelled to Britain, he always made a point of viewing the Royal Navy and its ships. Because of his fasicination with maritime warfare, Wilhelm endeavored to build the greatest navy in the world and make Germany the foremost naval power. He built a large navy, larger than any Germany had seen before, and aggresively pursued imperialism. He claimed land in Africa for Germany, and established German colonies in the Pacific.

     When his grandmother, Queen Victoria, died on January 22, 1901, Wilhelm travelled to her bedside and wept. He mourned for weeks after his death, as he had loved her more than he had ever loved his mother.

     In 1914, after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which was the native country of the assassin. Wilhelm decided to support his Austro-Hungarian ally in their war against Serbia. However, Russia, seeing a fellow slavic country in peril, declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Then, France, Russia’s ally, declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany, forming the Central Powers. When Germany invaded neutral Belgium, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Great Britain had an alliance with Belgium, as it was their connection to continental Europe. The German chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, regarded Britain’s alliance with Belgium as a “mere scrap of paper”. Great Britain, Belgium, Russia, France, and eventually the United States would form the Allies. This was the beginning of World War I.

     Eventually, 4 million Germans died in the war. In 1918, seeing that the war was hopeless, Wilhelm ordered his generals to surrender. The Versailles Treaty officially ended WWI, and Wilhelm abdicated the throne. He lived out his final days in exile at Huis Dorm, a manor house in the Netherlands. He died there on June 4, 1941.

Interesting Fact #1: Wilhelm had a daschund named Senta who died in 1927 at the age of 20, or 140 in dog years.

Interesting Fact #2: King George V of Great Britain, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were all first cousins and grandsons of Queen Victoria.

Interesting Fact #3: Wilhelm was thought to be a repressed homosexual, suffered from depression, had a hot temper, and had a hand fetish. When meeting someone, he would always kiss their hand instead of shaking it.

Kaiser Wilhelm II

Works Cited:

“BBC – History – Historic Figures: Wilhelm II (1859 – 1941).” BBC – Homepage. Web. 29 Dec. 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilhelm_kaiser_ii.shtml.,
MacDonogh, Giles. The Last Kaiser: the Life of Wilhelm II. New York: St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.,
Dowswell, Paul, Ruth Brocklehurst, and Henry Brook. The World Wars: [an Introduction to the First & Second World Wars]. London: Usborne, 2007. Print.,
World War I – Trenches on the Web. Web. 29 Dec. 2010. http://www.worldwar1.com/.,
Kaiser Wilhelm II. Digital image. Global Regional. Web. 29 Dec. 2010. <http://www.globalregional.de/1GR_Spezial/Tavistock/Tavistock_Pics.html&gt;.

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