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The Conviction of de Rais. September 15, 1440.

Even if there had been nothing else unusual about the Breton nobleman Gilles de Rais (1404–40), his outstanding career as a soldier in the Hundred Years’ War and as a comrade in arms of Joan of Arc would have been enough to guarantee his place in history. Today, though, those achievements can only be seen in the shadow of the secret life he led as the perpetrator of more than a hundred gruesome child murders, a rampage which made him arguably the first serial killer in recorded history. The early life of Gilles de Rais was marked by tragedy. Both his parents died about 1415: his father, Guy de Laval, was killed in a hunting accident that de Rais may have witnessed, and his mother, Marie de Craon, died of an unknown cause. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, Jean de Craon. As a young...

The Battle of Pinkie. September 10, 1547.

The Battle of Pinkie, also known as the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on 10 September 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland. The last pitched battle between Scotland and England before the Union of the Crowns, it was part of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing and is considered to have been the first modern battle in the British Isles. It was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as “Black Saturday“. A highly detailed and illustrated English account of the battle and campaign authored by an eyewitness William Patten was published in London as propaganda four months after the battle. In the last years of his reign, King Henry VIII of England tried to secure an alliance with Scotland by the marriage of the infant Mary, Queen of...

The Sacrifice of Stamira. September 1, 1173.

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa bore a long-standing grudge to Ancona, one of the Italian Maritime Republics, for its assertion of independence. Ancona had already stubbornly and successfully resisted an earlier attempt of Imperial occupation in 1167. Moreover, to counterbalance the power of the Holy Roman Empire, the Anconitans made a voluntary submission to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, and the Byzantines maintained representatives in the city. In the later part of May 1173 the Imperial forces, commanded by Christian von Buch, Archbishop of Mainz, laid siege to Ancona. In preparation for this step, the imperial troops had previously requested and obtained the naval alliance of the Republic of Venice. Despite the ongoing conflict between the Empire and the Italian cities associate...

The Montgolfier brothers´ montgolfière. June 4, 1783.

The Montgolfier brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne were born into a family of paper manufacturers founded in 1534 in Ardèche, France. Of the two brothers, it was Joseph who was first interested in aeronautics; as early as 1775 he built parachutes, and once jumped from the family house. He first contemplated building machines when he observed laundry drying over a fire incidentally form pockets that billowed upwards. Joseph made his first definitive experiments in November 1782 while living in Avignon. He reported some years later that he was watching a fire one evening while contemplating one of the great military issues of the day—an assault on the fortress of Gibraltar, which had proved impregnable from both sea and land. Joseph mused on the possibility of an air assault using tr...

The Battle of Tsushima. May 27, 1905.

The Russo-Japanese War was fought during 1904 and 1905 between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea. The major theatres of operations were the Liaodong Peninsula and Mukden in Southern Manchuria and the seas around Korea, Japan and the Yellow Sea. Russia sought a warm-water port on the Pacific Ocean for its navy and for maritime trade. Vladivostok was operational only during the summer, whereas Port Arthur, a naval base in Liaodong Province leased to Russia by the Qing dynasty of China, was operational all year. Since the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japan feared Russian encroachment on its plans to create a sphere of influence in Korea and Manchuria. Russia had demonstrated an expansionist policy in the Siberian Far...

Maria Theresa, Queen. May 12, 1743.

She started her 40-year reign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740. Charles VI paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and spent his entire reign securing it. Charles VI left behind a weakened and impoverished state, and upon his death, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and France all repudiated the sanction they had recognised during his lifetime. Frederick II of Prussia (who became Maria Theresa’s greatest rival for most of her reign) promptly invaded and took the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia in the seven-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession. In defiance of the grave situation, she managed to secure the vital support of the Hungarians for the war effort. Over the course of the war, despite the loss of Silesia an...

The Battle of Pavia. February 24, 1525.

The Battle of Pavia, fought on the morning of 24 February 1525, was the decisive engagement of the Italian War of 1521–26 between the Kingdom of France and the Habsburg Empire of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor as well as ruler of Spain, Austria, the Low Countries, and the Two Sicilies. The French army was led by King Francis I of France, who laid siege to the city of Pavia (then part of the Duchy of Milan within the Holy Roman Empire) with 26,200 troops since the month of October. The French infantry consisted of 6,000 French soldiers and 17,000 foreigners: 8,000 Swiss mercenaries, and 9,000 German-Italian black bands. The French cavalry consisted of 2,000 knights and 1,200 lances fournies. Charles V sent a relief force of 22,300 troops under the nominal command of the Flemish Charles de La...

Risorgimento. February 18, 1861.

Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century. The process began with the revolutions of 1848, inspired by previous rebellions in the 1820s and 1830s that contested the outcome of the Congress of Vienna, and was completed when Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The term, which also designates the cultural, political and social movement that promoted unification, recalls the romantic, nationalist and patriotic ideals of an Italian renaissance through the conquest of a unified political identity that, by sinking its ancient roots during the Roman period, “suffered an abrupt halt [or loss] of its politica...

The Source of the Nile. November 14, 1770.

James Bruce was born at the family seat of Kinnaird, Stirlingshire, and educated at Harrow School and Edinburgh University, and began to study for the bar, but his marriage to the daughter of a wine importer and merchant resulted in him entering that business instead. His wife died in October 1754, within nine months of marriage, and Bruce thereafter travelled in Portugal and Spain as part of the wine trade. The examination of oriental manuscripts at the Escorial in Spain led him to the study of Arabic and Ge’ez and determined his future career. In 1758 his father’s death placed him in possession of the estate of Kinnaird. On the outbreak of war with Spain in 1762 he submitted to the British government a plan for an attack on Ferrol. His suggestion was not adopted, but it led t...

Neville´S Cross. October 17, 1346.

On 7 October the Scots invaded England with approximately 12,000 men. Many had modern weapons and armour supplied by France. A small number of French knights marched alongside the Scots. It was described by both Scottish and English chroniclers of the time, and by modern historians, as the strongest and best equipped Scottish expedition for many years. The border fort of Liddell Peel was stormed and captured after a siege of three days and the garrison massacred. Carlisle was bypassed in exchange for a large indemnity and the Scottish army moved east, ravaging the countryside as they went. They arrived outside Durham on 16 October and camped at Beaurepaire Priory, where the monks offered the Scots £1,000 (£910,000 as of 2019) in protection money to be paid on 18 October. The invasion had b...

The Battle of Lepanto. October 7, 1571.

Venice had attempted to check Ottoman expansion in the eastern Mediterranean until 1540 but then, exhausted and despairing of support, made a humiliating peace with Süleyman I. His successor, Selim II, was determined to acquire the Venetian outpost of Cyprus and, when the Venetians refused to cede the island, invaded it in 1570. Venice appealed for help to Pope Pius V, who had tried since 1566 to form an alliance of Roman Catholic states. France and the Holy Roman Empire were preoccupied with the sweeping changes wrought by the Reformation. Spain offered hope, but Philip II, with an empty treasury, was faced with revolts in Andalusia and the Netherlands. Venice also deeply distrusted Spanish influence in Italy. Pius, however, was committed to drawing Spain, Venice, and the smaller Italian ...

The Battle of Arnemuiden. September 23, 1338.

The Battle of Arnemuiden was a naval battle fought on 23 September 1338 at the start of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. It was the first naval battle of the Hundred Years’ War and the first recorded European naval battle using artillery, as the English ship Christophe had three cannons and one hand gun. In the early 14th century, France and England were pitted against each other over claims to the French throne. The House of Plantagenet which ruled England claimed the throne while the ruling House of Valois in France was determined to oppose the claim at all costs. This led to a protracted military conflict between the two kingdoms. Most of the battles of the Hundred Years´ War were fought on mainland Europe although a few, including the Battle of Arnemuiden,...

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