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.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Weapon That Almost Won the Kaiser the War

When most think of German submarine achievements, they think of World War II with the Battle of the Atlantic, the great “aces” like Kretschmer, Topp, Schepke, Prien and so on and the famous words of Winston Churchill who said that the u-boat menace was the only thing that made him worry Britain might lose the war. However, while the German submarine fleet of World War II was larger and faced a more experienced foe, it was the u-boats of the Imperial German Navy in World War I that set most of the records, that developed the first weapons which the most successful of World War II were built upon, where the tricks of the trade were first developed and the Kaiser’s u-boats actually came much closer than most people realize to winning the First World War all on their own. This is all the more remarkable considering that, at the outset of World War I, not many people saw the submarine as possessing much potential. The leadership of the German High Seas Fleet tended to look down on submarines as being of little practical value and at the start of the war Germany actually possessed far fewer submarines than the British did. The Germans had never shown much interest in submarines compared to the Americans, French, British or Italians. However, it was the Kaiser’s submarines who would show the world, for the first time, what submarines were capable of.

Otto Hersing
At the start of the war, doubts about the viability of the u-boats seemed to be confirmed. The early models were all small, coastal boats which handled poorly and were driven by kerosene-powered engines that produced a telltale column of smoke that made them easy to spot. The first boats to be equipped with diesel engines were also so innovative that they were initially fairly unreliable as they were still working the bugs out. Their first war patrols were a complete failure, some being forced to return to port with engine trouble, one being sunk and none having any success against the British. The naysayers, which included Grand Admiral Tirpitz, seemed to have been proven right. However, they soon had reason to doubt that assumption when, on September 5, 1914, U-21 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Otto Hersing became the first submariner to sink an enemy warship with a free-swimming torpedo when he successfully attacked the British cruiser HMS Pathfinder, sending her to the bottom with a single torpedo that hit near the magazine causing a massive explosion that quickly sent the ship plunging beneath the waves. This got some attention but many could still dismiss it as a lucky shot.

However, the next victory for the u-boats would be so spectacular that everyone, in Britain and Germany, had to start taking them more seriously. That same month, on September 22, Oberleutnant zur See Otto Weddigen in the elderly, kerosene-powered U-9, encountered three British cruisers off the Dutch coast. He had spent the night on the bottom, to give his men a break from the heavy seas and his batteries were not fully recharged when he encountered the enemy but he submerged his boat and prepared for an underwater attack. After moving in to a hair-raisingly close range of 500 meters U-9 hit HMS Aboukir with a single torpedo, sending her to the bottom. The British all assumed the ship had hit a mine and stopped to pick up survivors. Weddigen then targeted HMS Hogue and soon hit her with two torpedoes, sending her to the bottom. However, the sub briefly broke the surface and was spotted by the remaining cruiser, HMS Cressy, which opened fire on the u-boat. However, Weddigen turned his boat around and fired the two torpedoes from his stern tubes. These were spotted by the British, but U-9 was so close that there was no time to avoid them and HMS Cressy was mortally wounded. Weddigen then brought his boat around to finish off the enemy cruiser with his remaining torpedo after which he returned to port to reload. He and his crew of the U-9 had sunk three British cruisers in less than an hour!

Captain & crew of the U-9
Upon returning to Germany, the men of the U-9 were bona fide war heroes. The Kaiser was thrilled and every member of the crew was decorated with the Iron Cross, Second Class and Weddigen additionally received the Iron Cross First Class. The U-9 itself was given the honor of displaying the Iron Cross on its conning tower. In the second month of the war the submarine had just proven itself in a major way and no one would be quite so dismissive of them again. In addition, more success was on the way and both Hersing and Weddigen were well on their way to becoming two of the most celebrated submarine commanders of the war. And, although anti-submarine warfare was necessarily in its infancy, they faced a powerful enemy with the largest fleet in the world and in these early days of the war it was the Royal Navy that was the primary target of the German submarines rather than the merchant fleet. In October of 1914 the U-26 under Kapitanleutnant von Berckheim sank a Russian cruiser, the Pallada, followed, a few days later, by Otto Weddigen taking out yet another British cruiser, HMS Hawke.

Johannes Feldkirchener
The British, having denied the problem as long as possible, were suddenly thrown into a panic, sending out new orders, rerouting ships and even moving the home fleet from their anchorage in Scapa Flow until it could be fortified against submarine attack. On October 18, 1914 Kapitanleutnant Wegener in U-27 became the first submariner to sink an enemy submarine when he took out the British boat E-3. Two days later U-17 became the first sub to sink an enemy merchant ship when the freighter Glitra was stopped, inspected, had her crew off-loaded and was then sent to the bottom. November was less successful for the u-boats with more being lost but as the year ended the submarine had more than proven its worth and more Germans began to believe that it could be the key to defeating the Royal Navy. The sinking of the Glitra was also a pivotal event. With the British enforcing an ever tighter blockade of the entire North Sea, the Germans began to think of changing their strategy of submarine warfare to target merchant ships bound for the British Isles rather than Royal Navy warships.

Still, British overconfidence allowed the Germans to score some stunning victories. At the start of January, 1915 HMS Formidable, sailing with no escort destroyers, was sunk by U-24. The British responded with more patrol ships, wider use of anti-submarine nets and by laying more mines in areas u-boats had to cross through. At the time, there was little more they could do as this was before the use of underwater search gear or weapons such as the depth charge. For a British surface vessel, if you spotted a sub on the surface you shot at it of course and if you spotted a periscope you charged it, ramming the submarine and ripping it in half. Ships were also ordered to sail in a zigzag pattern and to show extra caution when traveling near waters where u-boats were most likely to be on the prowl. These measures were actually fairly effective and of all the German u-boats lost in action in World War I the majority were victims of mines and the Royal Navy did their best to lay belts of mines across the English Channel as well as the northern entrance to the North Sea, from Scotland to Norway, to bottle-up the u-boat menace.

Kaiser Wilhelm II
February of 1915, however, saw the German submarines adopting the new strategy of targeting the British merchant fleet rather than the Royal Navy. Kaiser Wilhelm II declared all the waters around the British Isles to be a war zone, effectively declaring a counter-blockade to match the British blockade of the North Sea. The Germans were also able to make use of ports in Belgium for their submarine fleet. During the war the Imperial German Navy maintained five u-boat and one u-cruiser flotillas in Germany itself, two u-boat flotillas in Flanders operating from Belgian ports, two u-boat flotillas in the Mediterranean operating from Austrian ports and one half-flotilla in Turkish waters operating out of Constantinople. As the German subs embarked on their first campaign against merchant shipping they also had several new, larger and more powerful sub types to work with. In February 1915, eight merchant ships were sunk, five by U-8 alone. In March there were 29 sunk, in April 33 and in May 53 with several warships being sunk as well during that time. The Germans also began their own mine laying operations with the UC-type submarines, particularly in the waters around France.

Walther Schwieger
However, there were also problems. In May of 1915 the U-20 under Kapitanleutnant Walter Schwieger torpedoes the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. 1,201 passengers were killed, including 128 Americans which caused an uproar in the United States against Germany, something the British took full advantage of in their propaganda even though the ship had been carrying war materials and was thus a legitimate target. The German high command was forced by political pressure to order submarines not to attack neutral ships or passenger ships even if they were under the flag of a country at war with Germany. Nonetheless, the u-boats still proved highly effective and in the next four months 365 merchant ships were lost to submarine attacks. If u-boat successes of that scale continued they would soon be sinking ships faster than the British could replace them and Britain would be forced to sue for peace or face starvation of both her populace and her war industries. However, in due time two more passenger liners were sunk, one of which again had American passengers and another which was sunk by Walter Schwieger, making him quite a hated figure among the Allies and their sympathizers. The outcry from the United States forced the German high command to pull back and order all u-boats to operate strictly in accordance with the rules which stated that a ship had to be stopped, inspected and the crew offloaded before being sunk.

Germans sang the praises of the submarine
This, of course, deprived the submarine of the element of surprise and forced them to surface where they were most vulnerable. Even an unarmed freighter could ram and sink a u-boat and the British also began using “Q-ships” which were disguised as harmless merchant vessels but carried hidden guns. When a u-boat surfaced to stop the ship and inspect the cargo for war materials, the guns would be revealed and open fire on the vulnerable submarine. As a result, when these rules were in place, the German u-boats were forced to, effectively, fight with one hand tied behind their backs. Nonetheless, 1915 also saw the expansion of the submarine campaign into the Mediterranean where French, Austrian, Italian and British submarines also operated. Germany was to obtain some of her greatest submarine successes in this theater of the naval war. Yet, as 1915 came to a close and 1916 opened, the naval situation was becoming increasingly critical for Germany.

Erich von Falkenhayn
The British blockade of the North Sea was stopping at least three times as much shipping to Germany as the German submarine cordon was stopping from reaching Britain. The people were beginning to suffer greatly and more and more important figures in the German military high command were urging the Kaiser to throw off the shackles and resume unrestricted submarine warfare with a ‘sink on sight’ policy regardless of the objections of neutral powers (especially the United States). The German army Chief of Staff, Colonel General Erich von Falkenhayn, urged for such a campaign to coincide with his massive offensive aimed at Verdun in the hope that, together, they could crush the Allied will to continue the struggle and force them to make peace on German terms. The politicians, however, warned the Kaiser that such a move could bring the United States into the conflict and with such overwhelming might arrayed against them, Germany would surely be doomed. As a result, the Kaiser approved the Verdun offensive but refused to remove all of the restrictions for the submarine campaign. Admiral Tirpitz, the man who had once said Germany had no need of submarines, was so upset by the decision that he resigned in protest.

on the hunt
Still, the German u-boats started their 1916 campaign with some success, both with coastal boats and mine-laying subs. However, after a passenger ship was mistaken for a troop carrier and sunk on March 24, 1916 by the coastal sub UB-29 there was such an outcry, with U.S. President Wilson threatening to break off diplomatic relations with Germany (usually a precursor to war) that the Kaiser was forced to cancel even the limited leeway he had allowed his submarine commanders and order them to strictly follow the traditional prize rules. This was all the more infuriating given that the British were steadily improving their anti-submarine tactics and their “Q-ships” had already sent a number of u-boats to a watery grave. One such vessel, the Barralong, even hunted down and massacred all the surviving sailors of one such hapless u-boat on the grounds that if the Germans were allowed to live they would report the incident to their superiors and the British deception would be revealed. German losses mounted with one boat, UC-5, even being captured intact after running aground. Still, the u-boats managed to sink over 150 ships in 1916 before Admiral Scheer ordered them all to return to base on April 25.

The following month a new plan was approved that would see the u-boats return to taking on their original enemy; British warships. The idea was for a portion of the German High Seas Fleet to lure out their British counterparts into a death trap of mines and waiting submarines. It seemed like a good plan but delays and mechanical trouble foiled the first attempt to put the plan into effect and the second attempt, in August, likewise did not go as planned and resulted in the Battle of Jutland, the only major clash of the British and German main fleets during the war. The only contribution by the German submarines was the sinking of two light cruisers. These frustrations, combined with the increasing privation of the German people caused by the British blockade put pressure on the Kaiser to authorize a return to unrestricted submarine warfare for a renewed campaign against British merchant shipping in an effort to starve them into submission.

However, the threat of American intervention proved too great so that, while another submarine campaign against merchant shipping was authorized, it would have to be done under the restrictions of the traditional prize rules. It was a disappointment but still, there were victories to be had as within four months 290 merchant ships were lost to u-boat attacks. The Germans also had an increasingly diverse arsenal of boats at their disposal with small, coastal submarines to hunt in waters closer to home (such as the Channel), medium-sized boats that could prowl all around the British Isles and even larger submarines that could hunt as far away as the U.S. coast. U-41, for example, sent five ships to the bottom off the American coast during this campaign. The type-UBIII proved the most successful and would be the forerunner of the type-VII that would be the backbone of the German u-boat fleet in World War II.

Lothar von Arnauld
Along with the Atlantic and British coastal waters, the Mediterranean also proved to be a fertile hunting ground. It was there that the most successful submarine commander of all time, Kapitanleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere, achieved his greatest victories. In one cruise, lasting three weeks, he sank more than fifty ships, mostly with his deck gun (he expended only four torpedoes during the voyage) as he very gallantly followed all the prize rules even when he was not obliged to. Before the war ended, Kptlt. Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere would sink almost half a million tons of Allied shipping. They also had an impact on the land war as, in 1915, Kptlt. Otto Hersing in U-21 sank two British battleships, under extremely difficult conditions, which were shelling Turkish positions during the Gallipoli campaign. This stunning loss forced the Royal Navy to withdraw most warships from the area, robbing the Allied troops of valuable fire support in their offensive. Ten German subs were lost during the 1916 campaign but they managed to sink 768 ships with a further 178 being badly damaged. This, along with the worsening situation on the home front and the rejection by the Allies of an offer to talk peace, added urgency to calls for resuming unrestricted submarine warfare. After all, if they could accomplish this with the restrictions on their boats, surely without them they could swiftly force Britain to capitulate.

Max Valentiner
With the war situation becoming more and more critical, Kaiser Wilhelm II finally felt he had no other choice but to re-authorize unrestricted submarine warfare in February of 1917. Everyone knew it would likely provoke the United States to enter the war but with Germany rapidly running out of manpower and the public approaching widespread death by starvation, that was a risk that would simply have to be taken. Once the “grey wolves” were unleashed, the results were dramatic and immediate. Before the month of February 1917 was out German submarines had sunk over 250 ships, in March over 300 were sunk and April saw 413 ships sent to the bottom. British imports had been reduced by 75% of what they had been in 1916, shipyards were swamped and many neutrals refused to risk entering British waters. British ports were likewise clogged with merchant ships that refused to put back out to sea for fear of being sunk by German u-boats. The Kaiser’s naval experts had predicted that their campaign would bring Britain to her knees within six months, by the halfway mark, it looked like they were well on their way to doing just that. German u-boat production was also increasing so that they were more than able to make up their own losses. However, as feared, this campaign had consequences and April of 1917 also saw the United States declare war on Germany after an ill-advised German effort was uncovered to induce Mexico to make war on America.

Walther Forstmann
It would be some time, of course, before American strength would be felt on the battlefield but the British were getting better at anti-submarine warfare against the Germans, with ever more effective minefields, increased use of naval aviation and, most importantly, moving merchant ships in convoys protected by destroyers that forced u-boats to attack on the surface at night. Still, the number of Germans subs lost to enemy action remained well within the capacity of Germany to replace them. Nonetheless, British countermeasures were improving. The Germans also had a slight disadvantage just in terms of bad timing. They had developed large, long-range “u-cruisers” that carried heavy deck guns for surface combat and these became available just when unrestricted submarine warfare was revived and thus there was no great need for resorting to surface action or for the extra personnel these boats carried as prize crews for captured ships. The German submariners were also only improving with time, becoming masters of their craft and from May to July of 1917 some 795 merchant ships were lost to them compared to only minor losses of their own. For comparison, the Germans sank about 50 ships for every one of their u-boats lost to enemy action.

Otto Weddigen
The u-boats were tantalizingly close to their goal and yet that goal was slipping away from them, particularly as the industrial output of the United States was thrown into the balance against them with all of the ships of the American merchant marine and their immense capacity for building more. In desperation, the Germans drastically increased the construction of new submarines, funneling as much of their dwindling resources as possible into the project with 95 new boats on order. Hunting also shifted from the Atlantic to coastal waters but this also coincided with increasing losses as the British massively increased their use of naval mines and were making better mines than ever before. These weapons took the heaviest toll of all on the German u-boat fleet. As 1917 gave way to 1918 these trends continued and soon submarine construction was barely able to keep up with the rate of attrition. The Allies had managed to gain the upper hand and were to keep it until the end of the war came in November. From January to November of 1918 shipping losses to German u-boats fell from 123 to 15.

running on top
In spite of this downward trend, German successes had cemented the submarine as the most feared weapon in the minds of the Allies and when the Germans first approached the Americans about ending hostilities (the terms proposed by America being much more lenient compared to those of the British or French) the first condition the Americans imposed was that submarine attacks must cease immediately before any talks could be held. As a result, on October 20, 1918 the German high command ordered all u-boats to return to port. The German navy planned, instead, on a final battle with their surface ships, planning to go down in a blaze of glory rather than surrender their ships to the Allies. However, this never happened as the German sailors, some of them infected by communist propaganda from Russia, mutinied, the first act of what would grow to be the German Revolution that brought down the Second Reich and all its subsidiary monarchies. It is worth noting, however, that the German u-boat crews remained loyal to their Kaiser to the bitter end and were even ordered to fire on any German ship flying the revolutionary flag, such was their reliability.

When World War I finally came to an end, Germany still possessed quite a large number of submarines. They had, after all, never been defeated outright on their own and over 170 u-boats remained ready for action when hostilities ended. Which is not to say they did not suffer losses of course. Of the 350 submarines Imperial Germany produced during the war, about 180 were lost in action and of the 13,000 sailors who served on the u-boats 5,354 were killed in action. Nonetheless, they had given incredible service and deserve to be recognized for it even as their World War II counterparts tend to receive more attention. In fact, of the top ten German submarine commanders of all time, six were sub captains of the Imperial Navy in World War I including the top three most successful sub commanders in the entire history of naval warfare; Kptlt. Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere, Kptlt. Walther Forstmann and Kptlt. Max Valentiner. Overall, the Kaiser’s submarines had destroyed more than 11 million tons of Allied shipping during the war and damaged a further 7.5 million tons, an incredible achievement if ever there was one.

cheering U-Boat crew in 1916
Yet, even given that the Imperial German u-boats had done so much damage, even though the Imperial German submarine commanders outperformed all others (in the world), many still do not know just how close they came to winning the war for Germany. While historians tend to focus on things like the First Battle of the Marne or Operation Michel (and the Second Battle of the Marne) and so on, the German u-boats were the key element that came closer to winning the war than any of them. To understand this, one need only look at the situation in April of 1917, just after America entered the war when the German unrestricted u-boat campaign was at its height. Admiral William S. Sims of the U.S. Navy traveled to London to meet with First Lord of the Admiralty Sir John Jellicoe to begin working out the Anglo-American naval relationship and he was shocked to learn just how bad things were for the British. Sims was informed that, at that point, the British had only enough food stocks on hand to last another six weeks!

UB-4, coastal submarine
When German submarine strategists predicted that they could crush Britain with an unrestricted u-boat campaign within six months, that is how close they came to success with Britain a mere six weeks from ruin. Now, keeping that in mind, also consider that for long periods during the war the German submarines were restricted by the prize rules and at times were not hunting merchant ships at all but were focused on engaging the Royal Navy and one can clearly see how the German submarine clearly held the potential to have won the war for the Central Powers practically single-handed. With a total of more than 11 million tons of Allied ships destroyed, think what they could have accomplished if they had focused entirely on merchant shipping from day one and if they had waged unrestricted submarine warfare from the very beginning. The only conclusion is that they would almost certainly have won a swift and stunning victory. Clearly, of all the innovative weapons that emerged from the First World War, none of them came so close to truly changing the course of world history as did the submarine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence

One of the most unfortunate members of the Medici family to rule over Florence was Duke Alessandro, the recognized only son of Lorenzo II de‘ Medici. There has been some speculation as to his actual parentage and the identity of his mother is not known for certain at all. In any event, he was the recognized son and heir of Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino which, as far as the law was concerned, is all that matters. He was born on July 22, 1510 but though he was the first to come to rule Florence based on heredity, as a monarch, that did not happen immediately after the death of his father in 1519. Rather, power effectively passed to the Medici who held the highest office of all Pope Clement VII who appointed Alessandro’s cousin, Ippolito de’ Medici, to rule Florence on his behalf. It was also Pope Clement who had arranged the marriage of Alessandro’s (legitimate) half-sister Catherine to King Henri II of France. Many accounts describe Alessandro as unprepossessing but not in a flattering way and he was the focus of a great deal of criticism both from within his own family as well as the republican and overall anti-Medici forces in Florence.

The papal representatives sent to oversee the boy were extremely unpopular with the anti-Medici faction as well as, again, elements within the family such as Clarice Strozzi, daughter of Piero di Lorenzo (“the Unfortunate”), who railed against Alessandro as being unworthy of the Medici family name and against his papal guardians as well. There would also be tensions between the cousins, Alessandro and Ippolito, when, later in life, Alessandro caught Ippolito in the arms of his half-sister Catherine as the two had a forbidden romance which was ended with her being sent to France and Ippolito into the service of the Church. The status of Alessandro as Gran maestro of Florence was largely nominal but wider events taking place in Italy would soon see him raised to a higher status but not before enduring quite an ordeal. For the time being, the power of Pope Clement VII kept him safe at home but the threat of an alliance between the Pope and the King of France invited the opposition of the formidable German Emperor Charles V, also King of Spain, who dispatched a powerful Spanish-German army to invade the Papal States and attack Rome to ‘teach the Pope a lesson he would never forget’.

That campaign culminated in the 1527 “Sack of Rome” which must rank as one of the most horrific acts of rampant savagery and horror in all of human history. The accounts are numerous and often too lurid to repeat such that the imagination itself would be overwhelmed in describing the barbarity that occurred. The Emperor himself, who was not present of course, was shocked but not so shocked as to fail to take advantage of the situation and force the Pope into submission. Likewise, in the city of Florence, the anti-Medici elements saw the sacking of Rome and the violent destruction of the power of the Pope as their great moment of opportunity. They took to the streets shouting slogans and singing songs in thanks to the downfall of the Pope. The papal envoy, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, took the Medici family and children, Alessandro as well as Ippolito, but leaving little Catherine behind for some reason, and quickly fled Florence for safer environs. An effigy of Pope Clement VII was torn to pieces in the street and a republican government was restored under a new anti-Medici leader.

This was not the first time that the effort at a Medici monarchy had been undone by a republican restoration in Florence (Piero di Lorenzo had presided over that dubious honor) and those with cool heads did have reason to hope. They had only been overthrown, after all, because the imperial troops had conquered Rome but the fact was that Pope Clement VII was still alive and, after having been put in his place by the Emperor, would have what amounted to German support rather than opposition so long as he did nothing to displease the Hapsburg monarch. Indeed, Florence was never far from the thoughts of Pope Clement VII and as soon as he and Emperor Charles V concluded the Treaty of Bologna by which the Pope absolved the imperial forces for their actions in Rome, agreed to crown Charles V “Emperor of the Romans” by his own hand and, it went without saying, promising again not to take sides with the French against Charles. In return, the Emperor gave the Pope territory taken from the Republic of Venice and agreed to help restore the Medici family to power in Florence.

That was good news for Alessandro, but he looked likely to have been in for a soft landing in any event as Emperor Charles V had entertained another ducal throne for him. The Sforza Duke Francesco II of Milan had been appointed to that position by the Emperor when the Emperor’s Spanish forces had driven out the French in the Italian Wars. However, Francesco II had turned against the Emperor in the latest unpleasantness, allying with Florence, Papal Rome, the French and so on. As a result, once his forces were victorious, the Emperor had considered placing Alessandro de’ Medici on the ducal throne of Milan but the Republic of Venice objected to the idea and, after paying the Emperor a considerable bribe, Francesco II was allowed to return. So, it was back to Florence after all for Alessandro but he would have an equal rank anyway. First, of course, was the detail of actually taking the city which was the last of the Italian states still holding out in opposition to the Emperor.

The siege of Florence began on October 24, 1529 when the German, Spanish and assorted Italian forces paid by the Pope all under the command of the Prince of Orange set to work building fortifications, bringing up artillery and shelling the city. The republican forces were considerable but not in the best frame of mind. Many of the well-to-do citizens had fled at the first sign of trouble and a number of the troops employed by the Florentine government deserted rather than face the imperial forces. After a time a relief army tried to come to the aid of Florence but was defeated by the Prince of Orange (though he was killed in the battle) and the fate of the city was sealed. On August 10, 1530 the city surrendered and the restored republic was promptly dismantled. For Alessandro de’ Medici it was his moment of glory, returning to power and being given the title “Duke of Florence” by Emperor Charles V. His enemies were executed or exiled, at least the most vocal and prominent ones, and the future looked promising for the frizzy-haired nineteen-year old. In fact, his uncle the Pope had also bought for him the title “Duke of Penne” from Charles V and hoped that he might pull off another advancement for the House of Medici by marrying Alessandro to the Emperor’s illegitimate daughter Margaret.

At first, Duke Alessandro acted with the advice of elected councils, trying to calm the nerves of the defeated republicans. However, he soon showed that he was not about to forget all that had transpired. He disarmed the populace, confiscating all weapons even if they were purely ornamental, and built a large new fortress to help ensure that he would not be chased out of town again. The large bell which had symbolized the republic in Florence (Americans might think of it as being in the same vein as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) was melted down and, you have to love this, cast into medals showing the figures and symbols of the House of Medici. The republican opposition, needless to say, became increasingly furious and just exactly what sort of man Duke Alessandro was depends almost entirely on whose side of the story you choose to believe.

Some wanted to assassinate him but the fear of another war which might be sparked by such a thing dissuaded the hot-heads and so the enemies of the Duke decided to send a representative to Emperor Charles V to implore him to give Florence justice by removing the man he had just set over them. To carry out this mission they chose Alessandro’s own cousin, with whom he was constantly feuding, Ippolito, by then a cardinal. However, he had not gone far when he fell ill and died which, of course, many attributed to poison given to him by Duke Alessandro. In any event, other delegates were dispatched and they made their case to Emperor Charles V. They described Alessandro de’ Medici as the most horrible tyrant, trampling their rights, killing their men, raping their women and just about every crime one could imagine. However, that Charles V might hear both sides of the story, one of Alessandro’s advisors, Francesco Guicciardini was on hand to paint a very different picture of the Duke. He said that he would not try to make reply to every horrific accusation made by the complainants, “but His Excellency’s virtue, his fame, the opinion of him held throughout the city, of his prudence, of his virtuous habits, are a sufficient reply”.

Historians have, themselves, debated which image of Alessandro is more correct. Emperor Charles V, if deemed a sufficient judge of character, seems to have found no merit in the accusations made by the critics of Alessandro. Not only were their charges not accepted but the Emperor fulfilled the wish of the late Pope Clement and agreed to have his fourteen-year old daughter Margaret married to Duke Alessandro; an illegitimate Hapsburg for an illegitimate Medici. The two were married in 1536 and, based on her later life, she might have been just the sort of woman Alessandro needed. However, the two would not have a long, married life together. As far as his private life was concerned, Alessandro had one mistress who gave birth to his three children, and was allegedly lured away by the promise of a romantic rendezvous with a famously beautiful widow, Laudomia, by her brother, Lorenzino de’ Medici (a distant cousin of Alessandro) who then assassinated Alessandro on January 6, 1537. He was only 26-years old but had lived quite a colorful life. Lorenzino said he had done the deed to restore the republic but, if genuine, it certainly did not work and he was killed in Venice several years later.

The ducal throne passed to Cosimo I de’ Medici, son of the famous “Giovanni of the Black Bands” who had died fighting against the imperial invasion on behalf of Pope Clement VII and the Italian states. The recently married and recently widowed Margaret of Austria was promptly married to the Farnese Duke of Parma (grandson of Pope Paul III) the following year. She was later put in nominal control of the Netherlands by her half-brother King Philip II of Spain and had he taken her advice might have averted rebellion there. As for Alessandro de’ Medici himself, again, an assessment of him is difficult as the most prominent accounts of him come from his enemies who describe him as harsh, incompetent and licentious yet this is to be expected. Historians, trying to take a more impartial view have argued back and forth as to what sort of man he really was with some concluding that he was a much better ruler than his detractors have claimed. However, he was certainly significant as the first Medici to be Duke of Florence and though his time in power was tumultuous the Medici would go on to solidify themselves and ultimately unite the surrounding region into the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
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