House of Stuart (England)

The Stuart dynasty ruled England at a time when the power of the absolute monarchy was declining in England and the powers of representative government were increasing.

The Stuart dynasty came into power in England with the death of the last Tudor dynasty, Queen Elizabeth I, in 1603. Elizabeth died without an heir, forcing the English government to ask the Stuart family of Scotland to assume the throne of England.

The Stuarts were related to the House of Tudor, as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth were cousins. Despite the fact that Mary was executed for treason in 1587, her son James Stuart (James I), the king of Scotland, was chosen to succeed Elizabeth. This choice brought the Crowns of Scotland and England under one monarch, despite the fact that they remained two separate kingdoms.

James was a firm believer in the powers of an absolute monarch, as is evidenced by his writings and speeches to the English parliament. When James came to the throne of England, he had to contend with financial difficulties and clashes with Parliament over the prerogatives of the monarchy.


These issues arose as James attempted to raise new revenues by imposing taxes on his subjects without the approval of Parliament. James was also upset by the fact Parliament was against his choice of a potential bride for his son because she was Catholic and Spanish. This hostility occurred as a result of the tensions between Protestant England and Catholic Spain.

James was so infuriated by the Parliament’s creation of the Great Protestation in 1621, a list of privileges the English parliament claimed it was entitled to, that he dissolved Parliament and arrested four individuals responsible for this action.

Charles I succeeded his father to the thrones of Scotland and England when James died in 1625. Parliament continued to attempt to place restrictions on the power of the king by issuing a Petition of Rights in 1628.

The petition placed limitations on the king’s power to raise revenue without the permission of Parliament, required the permission of subjects to house soldiers in their homes, placed restrictions on the king to impose martial law, and restricted the king from arresting a subject without laying proper criminal charges.

Charles signed this petition because he wished to obtain funds from Parliament, but he soon illustrated his desire to subvert the petition by acquiring as much money from his subjects as possible without assembling Parliament through the extension of existing taxes.

The attempt by Charles I to rule England without the assent of Parliament caused many problems and violated the traditional institutional basis of English law. Charles also made many enemies by imposing Anglican conformity on the populace and taking away the pulpits of the Puritans.

Dissolution and Recall of Parliment

It was the desire of the archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, to impose Anglican conformity on the Presbyterian Scots that led to the English Civil War. Charles prepared to move an army into Scotland in 1638 to create a settlement to this religious dispute with the Scots.

Charles could not afford this army, and Parliament refused to give Charles any more money unless he rectified the grievances that had occurred during his and his father’s reigns. Charles refused to accept this ultimatum and dissolved Parliament in May 1640, but he was forced to recall Parliament as he needed funds to subdue the Scottish army.

When Parliament was assembled in October 1641, it attempted to place further restrictions on the ability of the king to raise revenue and stipulated the abolishment of certain administrative courts. Parliament also demanded the king to convene Parliament every three years and commanded Charles to remove certain individuals from power.

This last demand eventually led to the execution of Laud and one of Charles’s councilors, Thomas Wentworth, the earl of Strafford. Charles attempted to intimidate Parliament by ordering the imprisonment of five individuals who held influence in the House of Commons, but they fled. Charles chose to take drastic measures against Parliament and assembled an army at Nottingham in 1642, leading to the start of the English Civil War.

English Civil War

The English Civil War lasted from 1642 to 1649, as the Stuart cause gained a lot of support from the northern and western sections of England and the rural areas. The parliamentary forces possessed a great deal of support from southern and eastern England certain urbanized areas of the country.

A Puritan named Oliver Cromwell was instrumental to the parliamentary cause as his armies won important victories at Marston Moor in 1644 and Naseby in 1645 and forced Charles to flee to the Scots for assistance.

This move by Charles was disastrous as the Scots handed him over to the parliamentary forces in exchange for 400,000 pounds. A debate ensued in regard to the future of Charles and the English political system. While this debate raged, a Scottish army was assembled in support of Charles but was quickly defeated. This gave the radicals another excuse to preside over a trial of Charles, which found him guilty and executed him on January 30, 1649.

The king’s son, Charles II, attempted to restore his family’s claim to the English and Scottish thrones by allying with the Scots. Charles II won Scottish support by guaranteeing the Scottish Kirk (church) instead of imposing Anglican conformity, but his army was defeated, forcing him to flee to the continent.

Following the English Civil War, Cromwell used his influence in the army and English politics to take control of the English government by assuming the position of Lord Protector. The death of Cromwell in 1658 and the subsequent political problems the English faced were enough for Parliament to seek a restoration of the Stuart monarch in 1660.

Charles II returned to England but had to accept the limitations imposed on royal authority by the English parliament. Anglicanism was made the official religion of England and Ireland, but Scotland was allowed to retain their Presbyterian Kirk.

The major problem concerning the return of the Stuart dynasty to the English throne was the Stuart family’s Catholic leanings. Charles II was influenced by the French court and his French mother, and in 1670, he allied with Louis XIV, king of France, against the Dutch. This agreement also stipulated Charles II would proclaim himself a Catholic when the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism diminished in England.

This agreement was a successful move in regard to foreign policy for this victory against the Dutch allowed the English to acquire the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and confirmed the superiority of English naval power over the Dutch.

Charles II died in 1685 without leaving any legitimate heirs to succeed him, causing his Catholic brother James II to ascend the thrones of England and Scotland. The accession of James II concerned some members of Parliament for they feared a Catholic monarch would stay on the throne of England for some time. James II compounded this fear by making it legal for Catholics to hold governmental positions in 1687.

It is impossible to determine whether he sought to restore the absolute powers of the monarchy, but he intended to bring Catholicism back to England. This concern over a Catholic monarch became particularly acute when James II had a son in 1688, who would certainly be raised in the Catholic faith.

The Whigs and a number of Tories engineered a plan to remove James II by inviting James II’s daughter Mary, who was Protestant, and her husband, William of Orange, to invade England and seize the English throne. William, who was looking for English support against the French, agreed to this and went ashore at Torbay on November 5, 1688, with an army numbering approximately 14,000 soldiers.

Support for James II dwindled as the English gentry and populace wanted a Protestant heir to assume the throne after James II died. This lack of support forced James II to flee to France, thereby forfeiting the Stuart claim to the English and Scottish Crowns.

Sugarcane Plantations in the Americas

Sugarcane Plantation
Sugarcane Plantation

The histories of African slavery and sugar production in the Americas are inextricably bound together. The plantation economies of the Caribbean and Brazil, which together received approximately 80 percent of the estimated 10 million African slaves transported to the Western Hemisphere from the 1490s through the 1860s, were dominated by sugar production.

As an expansive scholarly literature since the 1960s has made plain, sugar and slavery are the keywords of much of Brazilian and Caribbean history and together have shaped the cultural, economic, political, social, and demographic history of the Atlantic World in many profound ways.

The origins of sugarcane (Saccarum officinarum L.), a type of grass, have been traced to New Guinea in around 8000 b.c.e. By the first century c.e., it was grown across much of southern Asia and the Pacific. By 1000 c.e., its production and consumption among the elite had spread through much of the Mediterranean world, largely in consequence of the spread of Islam.


In the 1400s, the Portuguese and Spanish developed important templates for later New World plantation sugar production on their Atlantic islands: the Portuguese in São Tomé and Madeira, the Spanish in the Canaries. Before the encounter with the Americas in 1492, both were employing African slave labor to produce sugar and developing processing techniques that, after 1492, were transplanted wholesale to the sugar-producing zones of the Western Hemisphere.

Christopher Columbus is credited with taking the first sugarcane to the New World in 1493 from Spain’s Canary Islands. Soon Hispaniola had largely reproduced the industrial processing techniques developed in the Atlantic and made its first shipments of sugar to Europe around 1516.

By the mid-1520s, large quantities of sugar were being shipped from Brazil to Lisbon. The sweet granular substance proved a sensation among its elite customers, and demand skyrocketed. Cultivation and processing of sugar quickly spread throughout the Antilles and the Brazilian littoral as well as to Mexico, Paraguay, and South America’s Pacific coast.

Early Spanish efforts in the Caribbean ended largely in failure, though by the 1580s the French and English began plantation sugar production using African slave labor in the Lesser Antilles. Large-scale slave-based commercial sugar production in the Caribbean did not take off until after 1650, on the islands claimed by the French, English, and Dutch.

The English example is instructive. Sugar from Barbados began arriving in England in the mid-1650s. In the 40 years from 1660 to 1700, annual English consumption rose from 1,000 to 50,000 hogsheads, while export rose from 2,000 to 18,000 hogsheads. By the 1750s, the vast bulk of the 110,000 hogsheads imported annually were being consumed at home.

The peak of British West Indian sugar exports to England was in 1774, with nearly 2 million hundredweight. Growth rates for the French were comparable. For the Portuguese, the 1600s was the century of sugar, as their coastal plantations in Brazil spread rapidly inland, especially in the Northeast. Demand seemed insatiable, and production grew apace.

Sugar making, especially in its New World incarnation, has been aptly described as an industry that depends on farming and factory production. Through a series of complex steps requiring substantial skill and technical infrastructure, the cane juice was extracted from the stalk by mechanical means (crushing, chopping, etc.).

After the juice was boiled and cooled numerous times, with precise temperatures and timing, the end product consisted of a granular precipitate of the plant’s naturally occurring sucrose, ranging in color from dark brown to white. Its labor demands were intensive and immediate; for optimal production values, the cane juice must be extracted from the plant within 24 hours of its harvest.

Two Categories of Labor Needed

Sugar production thus required two broad categories of labor: one in the field to cut and haul the cane to the mill, and another in the mill to process the juice into granulated sugar. These labor requirements in turn created two broad strata of slave laborers: more numerous field slaves, among whom mortality rates were exceedingly high (in 17th-century Brazil, an average of 90 percent of imported African slaves died during their first seven years in the colony), and a smaller number of skilled slaves, who tended to receive more preferential treatment. Among mill slaves, industrial accidents were common, as many were crushed to death in the grinders and burned in the mill’s many boilers and kettles.

As sugar production skyrocketed so did the importation of African slaves into the sugar-producing zones. The relationship between the two was direct, as most scholars agree. In 1645, before widespread sugar production had taken root, Barbados counted 5,680 African slaves; by 1698, with sugar production having grown by more than 5,000 percent, its slave population exceeded 42,000.

Jamaica counted 1,400 African slaves in 1658; by 1698, their numbers had risen to over 40,000. Slave population growth rates in Antigua, Saint-Domingue (later Haiti), and other English, French, and Dutch sugar islands were comparable. The vast majority slaved in the sugar economy.

In 17th-century Brazil, sugar plantation slavery came to form the central pillar of the colonial economy. Similarly, one of the colony’s core social institutions became the engenho (same root as the English engine), which came to mean both the machinery of the mill itself and the larger plantation complex.

The sugar harvest (safra in Portuguese, zafra in Spanish) began toward the end of July and continued without stop for the next eight or nine months. Slaves were divided into crews: one to cut and haul cane to the mill, another to process the cane into sugar.

Water power turned the grinding mill in larger engenhos, oxen in smaller engenhos. The highest strata of workers consisted of the boiler technicians and artisans, who could be either slave or free. The average engenho had from 60 to 80 slaves, though some counted more than 200.

Overall slave mortality rates averaged from 5 to 10 percent annually but were higher among field slaves. Sugar planters became the dominant social class in Brazil and almost everywhere else where sugar production formed the basis of the colonial economy.

Caribbean and Brazilian sugar production generated ripple effects throughout the Atlantic World. Large quantities of West Indian sugar were exported to Britain’s North American colonies, where most of it was distilled into rum. The West Indian trade also fueled the North American colonial economy through its large and growing demand for lumber, foodstuffs, and other goods produced for export to the sugar islands.

Rum exports to Britain similarly skyrocketed, from 100,000 gallons in 1700 to 3,341,000 gallons in 1776. The effects generated by West Indian sugar production on the British and British North American economies were enormous and remain the topic of ongoing scholarly research and debate.

In his book Capitalism and Slavery (1944), West Indian historian Eric Williams was the first to propose a direct causal relationship between the growth of African slavery in the New World, dominated by sugar production, and the development of capitalism in Europe, particularly in Britain. Spawning a huge debate and literature, this book has been challenged in many specific points.

Yet the overall thrust of his thesis—that sugar, slavery, and British capitalism all emerged together as part of the same process of social transformation—has stood the test of time, its main arguments retaining credibility in the scholarly community six decades after the book’s publication.

African Slavery Expands

After the French acquisition of the western portion of the Spanish island of Hispaniola in the Treaty of Ryswick of 1695 (henceforth Saint-Domingue), sugar production and African slavery exploded. By the 1760s, slave imports averaged between 10,000 and 15,000 per year.

By 1787, the number exceeded 40,000 per year. By the time of the French Revolution in 1789, Saint-Domingue was populated by an estimated 500,000 slaves, more than two-thirds born in Africa, vastly outnumbering both whites and mulattoes.

Known in France as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” Saint-Domingue had quickly become the world’s largest sugar producer, with more than 800 sugar plantations, many with hundreds of slaves. Decadal mortality rates among slaves on Saint-Domingue in the mid- and late 1700s are estimated at more than 90 percent.

The more than 10 million African slaves transported over nearly three centuries to work in New World plantation agriculture, most in sugar production, has been called accurately the largest forced migration in the history of the world.

The African diaspora, fueled in large part by an insatiable European demand for sugar, coffee, tobacco, and other tropical plantation export commodities of the Americas, profoundly shaped every aspect of African, European, and American history, especially in the Caribbean and Brazil. The long-term historical effects of Europe’s sweet tooth remain readily apparent across the Americas, Africa, and the broader Atlantic World.

Suleiman I the Magnificent - Ottoman Sultan

Suleiman I the Magnificent
Suleiman I the Magnificent

Suleiman (r. 1520–66) ruled the Ottoman Empire when it was the most powerful empire on earth. He came to the throne after his father, Selim I (the Grim), had expanded Ottoman territories to the east and west. Although he was only in his 20s when he became the sultan, Suleiman already had experience in the field as a military commander and as an able administrator in Balkan and Crimean territories.

Suleiman was known as “the Magnificent” in Europe, and among his subjects as Kanuni (the lawgiver) for his codification of Ottoman laws. Known for his fairness and honesty, Suleiman granted extensive local autonomy to his far-flung provinces, maintaining close regulation only over taxes and the regulation of trade.

Victory Over European Rivals

In 1527, Suleiman had over 80,000 trained men in military service and with better guns and horsemen than his European rivals, the Ottomans quickly seized Belgrade after the Battle of Mohács and moved on to lay siege to Vienna in 1529.


But Suleiman failed to defeat his main rival Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, or to take Vienna. As the Ottoman troops retreated from the city they were reputed to have left sacks of coffee, already popular among the Ottoman urban elite and a commodity that would soon enjoy widespread favor in the west as well.

Although Suleiman also failed in the attempt to take Malta, he ruled all of the Balkans and Hungary, as well as most of the territory around the Black Sea, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and much of North Africa. He rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, parts of which still stand.

Suleiman I the Magnificent in the Battle of Mohács
Suleiman I the Magnificent in the Battle of Mohács

The Austrian diplomat Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq described in lavish detail the grandeur of the Ottoman court under Suleiman. Europeans praised Suleiman’s serious demeanor and culture, as well as his ability to discuss literature and philosophy in several languages.

A contemporary of the other great monarchs of the age, Charles V of Spain, Francis I of France, and Henry VIII of England, Suleiman made practical alliances with Francis I to counter the power of Charles V and was a major participant in European diplomacy.

Marriage

Suleiman married a favorite slave from Russia, Hurrem Haseki (The Joyous One), known in Europe as Roxelana. Suleiman was deeply in love with Hurrem, and he wrote her moving love poems under the penname of muhibbi (beloved).

However, Hurrem, as well as her mother-in-law and a rival wife, became powerful political forces in their own right and plotted ruthlessly for their particular favorites to become Suleiman’s successor. Hurrem outmaneuvered her rivals so that her favorite son, Selim II, would become sultan. Believing Hurrem’s allegations about intrigues by his more capable sons, particularly Mustapha, Suleiman ordered their murders.

Suleiman was devastated when Hurrem died and had the famed Ottoman architect Abdul-Menan Sinan build a magnificent mausoleum in her memory. Sinan also designed the massive Suleimaniya complex in Istanbul as a lasting monument to the great sultan.

Hurrem Haseki
Hurrem Haseki

Although already in his 70s, Suleiman again led his troops into battle in what became another failed attempt to take Vienna in 1566. After the ailing Suleiman died on the battlefield, his commander kept the death a secret from the troops, who kept on fighting, until Suleiman’s son, Selim II, had been safely installed as the new sultan. Selim inherited an empire at its zenith of power but failed to equal his father’s distinction as either an administrator or military leader.

Sunni Ali - Founder of West African Songhai Dynasty

Sunni Ali
Sunni Ali

Sunni Ali was an African ruler who founded the Songhai Empire in the 15th century. He was the hereditary ruler of the kingdom of Songhai, which existed from the 11th century and was centered in the city of Gao on the Niger River in the southeastern part of the present-day Republic of Mali.

In 1335, Gao, as the kingdom was also called, fell under the influence of Mali, the predominant Sudanic state of the time. (The Sudan is the grassland region of West Africa between the forest area of West Africa and the Sahara, on a south-north axis. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean on the west to the Red Sea on the east.) Mali had been the dominant regional power since the mid-13th century.

After Sunni Ali ascended the hereditary throne of Gao in 1464, he transformed the kingdom of Gao into the empire of Songhai, even though the Songhai people were a numerical minority in the new empire he created. At its height in the mid-16th century, Songhai was the greatest empire in Sudanic history, with an area of more than 1 million square miles.


It stretched from the Niger bend in the east (on the borders of the contemporary states of Niger and Nigeria) to the Senegal headwaters in the west and from Timbuktu and the Sahara in the north to Jenne and the forest belt in the south. In creating this empire, Sunni Ali completed by 1470 the destruction of Mali, which had been declining for about 100 years.

As in the case of the predecessor empires of Ghana and Mali, the economic basis for the empire of Songhai under Sunni Ali was the trans-Saharan trade route. This so-called Silent Trade of goods was based on a trade route that ran north-south from North Africa to West Africa.

Goods from Europe and the Muslim world, such as cloth and salt, would be exchanged for gold derived from West African mines at Wangara and Bouke (in the present-day Ivory Coast). The traders from the north would leave their goods on a riverbank.

If the gold miners from West Africa approved of the amount, they would leave gold and take the goods. The gold would be deposited the next day on the riverbank for the traders from the north. Usually no words would be exchanged in these transactions. Songhai benefited from the tariffs imposed on these goods, which passed through its territory.

In establishing his empire, Sunni Ali made use of his well-armed cavalry, which was very efficient. His army also had an infantry. In addition, Sunni Ali developed a powerful navy, a fleet of ships manned by Sorko fishermen (the people who had cofounded Ghana).

In 1468, he ousted the nomadic Tuareg from Timbuktu, the major Sudanic city between the Sahara and the Sudanic belt. In the process, he pillaged the city, an oasis of Muslim learning as the headquarters of the famous Islamic university of Sankore, and killed many priests and scholars during these attacks, thereby earning the enmity of the Islamic establishment.

In contrast, his conquest of Jenne, although prolonged, was less violent. Utilizing the navy and siege engines, he took seven months and seven days to complete the blockade of the city. Jenne was the southern counterpart of Timbuktu as it was the connecting link between the Sudanic belt and the forest belt.

After 1480, Sunni Ali had established his empire and stepped up military campaigns against nomadic peoples who threatened the economic basis of the empire. The Tuaregs who menaced Timbuktu were harassed. The Mossi who sacked the gold town of Wangara were similarly harassed and driven back into their Upper Volta homeland between 1483 and 1486. (Until gold and silver began to arrive in large amounts in the mid-1500s from Mexico and Peru, West African gold was the major source of coinage for Europe and the Middle East.)

The Fulani were also pushed back to their home territory in northern Niger, Guinea, and Senegal. In fact, Sunni Ali drowned in 1492 after an expedition against the Fulani.

The empire that Sunni Ali founded lasted in part because of the administration he developed. The conquered territories were made into provinces whereby their hereditary rulers became governors of the newly created vassal states of the empire of Songhai.

Therefore, the empire that Sunni Ali created was a centralized state with some degree of local autonomy for outlying areas. In addition, places like Timbuktu and the Muslim provinces received special government.

It was Sunni Ali’s lukewarm practice of Islam that incurred the wrath of the ulema, the Muslim scholars. He was only nominally Muslim and did not neglect traditional Songhai religious practices, which his own people continued to observe.

He also did not make Islam the state religion. These actions, in combination with the sack of Timbuktu, earned him enduring hostility from Arab/Muslim historians. This enmity was a cause for the overthrow of Sunni Ali’s dynasty the year after his death.

Swiss Confederacy

Battle between Austria and Austria and the Swiss Confederacy
Battle between Austria and Austria and the Swiss Confederacy

Modern Switzerland dates from 1848. Previously, its government was based on an agreement or confederacy among three Swiss cantons in 1291. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, new technology had opened up Alpine passes and with this, trade appeared.

This whetted the appetite of ambitious dynasties, especially the Habsburgs, based originally in northern and central Switzerland, to attempt to control the trade, which meant control of the cantons.

In response, the rural forested cantons of Uri and Schwyz (from which the name Switzerland derives), which had received judicial autonomy from neighboring counts and dukes and were directly under the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, northern Italy, Bohemia, the Low Countries, and parts of eastern France) joined, with the district of Unterwalden to form the confederacy.


They felt threatened by the encroaching Habsburg power and joined to defend one another. Victories at Morgarten (1315), Sempach (1386), and Nafels (1388) caused the Habsburgs basically to abandon their designs on Switzerland and concentrate on their new seat of power in Austria.

The military successes encouraged the expansion of the confederacy or confederation beyond its rural forested core during the 14th century, including the cities of Luzerne/Lucerne, Zurich, and Berne, so that by 1400 there were eight members and by 1460 much of what is now northern and central Switzerland was included. By that date, the confederacy had reached the Rhine.

The golden age of the confederacy came between 1475 and 1515. It was instrumental in the defeat of Charles of Burgundy, who aspired to reestablish a middle kingdom between France and Germany. In 1499, it received de facto if not de jure independence from the Empire (Germany).

Its initial success in the Italian wars added towns in southern Switzerland such as Lugano and Locarno under the confederacy. After their defeat by the French at Marignan in 1515, the confederacy ceased to be a major military power, although individual Swiss acted as mercenaries for centuries. By this time, there were 13 members, including Basle.

Three Centuries of No Expansion

For the next three centuries, there was no official expansion of the old Swiss Confederacy, although French-speaking districts in southwestern Switzerland, such as Fribourg, Geneva, Vaud, and Valais, were in alliance with it, as was the partly French-speaking Neuchâtel. In addition, the partly Italian-speaking canton of Grisons in the southeast, as well as the Italian-speaking Ticino, became associated with the Swiss confederation.

In 1648 the Swiss Confederacy received the formal recognition of its independence from the Empire. Ultimately, the French-speaking areas that had been associated with the confederacy entered as full cantons after the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815.

At the same time, Grisons and the Italian-speaking areas that had been subordinate to the older Swiss cantons received full rights and were admitted as equal cantons with splits in existing cantons raising the total to the present 22. It was at this time that the country became officially known as Switzerland.

At this date, the country achieved its present frontiers and went from an exclusively German-speaking land to a country in which approximately 30 percent of the population was French- and Italian-speaking and on equal terms with the German majority.

Nonetheless, the country remained a confederacy or confederation in structure. Each canton had its own form of government whether democratic, oligarchic, or absolute; each could impose its own internal customs duties; and each could make its own alliances within and without the confederacy.

As a result, tensions ran high during the period of 1815 to 1847 between the liberal, urban and mostly Protestant cantons and the traditional rural and mostly Catholic cantons. Eventually, disagreement came to a head when the Catholic cantons objected to the suppression of the monasteries and formed an alliance called the Sonderbund (after its seven members).

The federal diet declared this alliance a violation of the 1815 constitution and war broke out. The Sonderbund was defeated, and in 1848 a new constitution was adopted that had the effect of ending the old structure of the confederacy.

Two Chamber Assembly

In place of the old Swiss Confederacy diet composed of representatives of the cantons, there was a two-chamber assembly, with one chamber composed of representatives of the people and the other chamber composed of representatives of the cantons. (It was modeled on the U.S. system.)

Unlike the old confederacy, there was a relatively strong executive chosen at the federal level called the Federal Council. It was composed of seven members chosen by the assembly for three years and not by the cantons.

Also unlike the old Confederacy, economic power was placed at the center so that individual cantons could no longer make separate economic arrangements. Changes in the constitution and other matters of national interest were decided by plebiscite and referendum voted on by all of the citizens not through the decisions of various cantons as in confederacy days.

The Swiss Confederacy lasted from 1291 to 1848. It came into existence as the result of new economic and political developments in the High Middle Ages; it ended because of new economic and political developments associated with the evolution of the nation-state in modern times. The old confederacy with 13 cities and small village communities dominating a country was no longer feasible.

Tabin Swehti

Tabin Swehti
Tabin Swehti

Tabin Swehti was the Burmese king who helped to unify the country as part of what is known as the Second Burmese Empire or the Toungoo dynasty, created by his father, Minkyinyo, in 1486 and lasting until 1752.

However, it was Tabin Swehti who was responsible for unifying the kingdom and identifying and adopting cultural institutions under which the country and its people could live together.

Burma was divided into territories held by different ethnic minorities, principal among whom were the Burmans, the Shans, and the Mons. Tabin Swehti was a member of the numerically largest Burman group but he recognized the need to forge a sense of national unity to persuade the Mons in particular that they should be part of his state. He ascended the throne in 1531 and at once set out to defeat the Shans in Upper Burma. The Shans were members of the Tai family, which had migrated to the region.


Having achieved this goal, Tabin Shwehti established his capital at Toungoo on the river Sittang and then dispatched a military campaign to conquer the Irrawaddy delta region and, in particular, the Mon capital of Pegu. By 1544, he had not only achieved this but defeated a Shan counterattack at Prome to the north and arranged for his coronation as king of all Burma at the ancient city of Pagan.

This represented the peak of Tabin Swehti’s career for he was later defeated in his next two campaigns, first against coastal Arakan to the west and then against the rebellious Siamese Tais of Ayutthaya, bolstered by Mon refugees from Pegu. Disappointed, the king is said to have turned to drink for consolation and was assassinated in 1550.

He was succeeded by his brother-in-law and chief general, Bayinnuang, who was responsible for extending Burmese power to an even greater extent. Nevertheless, Tabin Swehti is credited with uniting regions of Burma that had been torn apart since the Mongol invasion in the second half of the 13th century.

Tabin Swehti’s conquest of the Mons was long and bitter. Pegu was only taken after recourse to a stratagem after four years of bitter conflict. He recognized that the Mons had a high culture (and had enjoyed a period of independence of their own since the Mongol conquest) and did what he could to conciliate them.

This inspired him to take up a number of Mon practices and cultures, including adopting the Mon hairstyle. His legacy was to provide a unified state that formed the basis of further expansion and the reduction of internecine conflict.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

There are very few buildings in the world more famous than the Taj Mahal, a queen’s mausoleum in Agra, India. The sense of romance that the Taj Mahal invokes was developed as a result of British fascination with this structure during the late 18th century and has continued into the 21st century.

This monument was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan after his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died while giving birth in 1631. Shah Jahan was deeply affected by her passing, and her body was carried from Burhanpur to Agra to be entombed until the completion of the Taj Mahal.


In 1631, Shah Jahan began the construction of the Taj Mahal. Despite the fact that a massive labor force was involved in its construction, it took approximately 17 years to complete the main structure. A small village of artisans was created near the site in order to accommodate their immediate needs. In fact, many of the materials used for the construction of the Taj Mahal originated from China, Egypt, and Tibet, and a large number of people were involved, including Europeans.

The layout of the Taj Mahal has symbolic meaning; its main gate symbolizes a barrier between the outside world and the purity and serenity of the inside world. It is constructed of white marble, the color of purity. The use of water in the garden also symbolizes purity, emphasizing the belief that the Taj Mahal is a holy site. As one enters the heart of the mausoleum, Islamic prayers can be read above the doorway, which are recited before a person of the Islamic faith dies.

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

It has been rumored that Shah Jahan wanted to construct a black marble mausoleum for himself beside his wife’s. But his son and successor, Aurangzeb, did not fulfill his wishes, and he was buried in a separate crypt beside his wife. The architecture and decorating of the Taj Mahal epitomized the highest achievement of the Indo-Islamic artistic style.

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, later known as John of the Cross, was born in 1542 in Fontiveros, a small town north of Ávila, Spain. John’s father died when he was three and his mother was left to provide for her three sons, one of whom died in childhood.

From the age of nine to 22, John lived in Medina del Campo, where he was fortunate to have the help of Don Alonso de Toledo, who provided him with a job as an orderly in a hospital and who paid for his studies at the Jesuit school.

In 1563, John entered the Carmelite monastery of Santa Ana in Medina del Campo; from there he was sent to study for the priesthood at the University of Salamanca.

He was an excellent student, yet he always found time to dedicate to prayer and to helping the poor. John was ordained a priest in 1566. A year later, he met Teresa of Ávila and, at her urging, he joined in her efforts to reform the Carmelite order in Spain.


The story of the life of John of the Cross is intertwined with the story of the life of Teresa of Ávila. Teresa was born into a well-to-do family in Ávila, Spain, in 1515. Hers was a generation when the Reconquista Christians threw out Muslim overlords of Spain. It was a time of knights, chivalry, and fierce religious devotion reflected in her own writing and ideals.

She entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in 1535. After 20 years in the convent, at the age of 39, Teresa experienced a deeper conversion and a desire to return to the primitive Carmelite rule of Mount Carmel. The Carmelite order in Spain had lapsed in the observance of the rule of poverty, prayer, and seclusion lived out by the first hermits. Teresa felt called by God to bring about a reform in the practices of her religious order. She established her first house for nuns in 1562.

She was looking for someone to help her with the reform of the friars when she heard about John. She arranged to meet John in 1567 and convinced him to join her cause. He inaugurated the first house of Discalced (barefoot) friars in Durelo, Spain, in 1568.

The friars adopted the more ascetic and contemplative observance of the primitive rule that involved a very simple lifestyle and many hours of prayer. They made some changes to the rule that allowed them to leave the monastery to preach and to hear the confessions of the nuns. John traveled extensively in his work to reform the order.

The efforts made by Teresa and John to bring about reform were met with mixed response. While many supported their efforts, some were threatened by the changes they were making. John was arrested several times by his own religious brothers. He spent nine months as a prisoner in a six-by-10 room at the monastery of the Carmelite friars in Toledo.

During his imprisonment, John composed some of the poetry for which he would later be famous. After his escape from prison, John was elected superior of the Monastery of Calvario. For the next eight years, he served as superior of various houses of the Discalced friars in Andalusia, traveling extensively in his efforts to support the reform.

In 1589, he left Granada and went to Segovia, where he lived until he became ill in 1591. As a result of the painful medical practices of his day and the scandalous neglect of the prior who held an old grudge against him, John’s condition worsened. He died at the age of 49 in the year 1591. His body was moved in 1603 to Segovia, where it still resides.

Sainthood Declared

John was declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1726, and he was made a doctor of the church in 1926. He is best known for his poetry and prose reflecting his spiritual wisdom and his profound, very personal relationship with God. His major works are four books that consist of prose commentary on four of his most famous poems: The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love.

The remaining of John’s correspondence with others gives a taste of the personal, affectionate relationship that he had with those he counseled. John was an artist, a mystic, and, above all else, he was a lover of Christ, who lived a life of charity and service to others.

Teresa is most known for her instruction on spirituality and prayer. Her most important works include Interior Castles, The Way of Perfection, Foundations, and her own account of her life. All of the correspondence between John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila has been lost or destroyed.

Thirty Years’ War

Thirty Years’ War
Thirty Years’ War

The Thirty Years’ War was a series of wars, escalating from armed clashes of German princes to military confrontations involving all major European monarchs from 1618 to 1648. It was a crucial stage in the ongoing European wars of religion between Catholicism and Protestantism.

It was also the first civil war in continental Europe that mixed religious conflict with traditional princely territorial ambitions and emerging sentiments of national unity and transnational geopolitical balance of power.

In 1617, Ferdinand of Styria (1578–1637), the Habsburg heir apparent to the imperial throne of the Holy Roman Empire, was elected to be king of Bohemia. The Calvinists, the majority in Bohemia, revolted against their new Catholic king.


In May 1618, a group of Calvinist noblemen threw the two most hated Habsburg councilors from the Hradschin Castle’s window into a ditch, severely injuring both. This incident, termed the “defenestration of Prague,” put the Calvinists in temporary control over Bohemia and spread the religious conflict into surrounding principalities.

In 1619, Ferdinand succeeded to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire as Emperor Ferdinand II. In Bohemia, the Calvinists openly rejected Ferdinand as their king and offered the Crown to Frederick V of the Palatinate. In response, Ferdinand II secured support from the papacy and the Catholic kings of Spain and Poland and formed an alliance with Maximilian I, duke of Bavaria (1573–1651) and leader of the German Catholic League.

In November 1620, Catholic forces invaded Bohemia and defeated Frederick’s Union at the Battle of White Mountain. The Bohemian phase of the Thirty Years’ War ended with Catholic victory in 1623. Emperor Ferdinand recovered his Bohemian throne, and Maximilian acquired Palatinate after Frederick was deposed and his Union dissolved.

In 1625, as the triumphs of the Catholic forces enabled Ferdinand to restore centralized monarchical power over Austria and Bohemia, Christian IV (r. 1588–1648), Lutheran king of Denmark and duke of Holstein, intervened to rescue the German Protestants.

Spanish Cavalry officer
Spanish Cavalry officer

However, his army was no match for the Catholic League. Ferdinand secured assistance not only from Tilly, but also from Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Bohemian nobleman, who was a Lutheran by birth, then a converted Catholic, and now an ambitious mercenary with an eye on the Bohemian Crown lands.

After a series of military victories, Tilly and Wallenstein scattered the renegade German princes and compelled Christian IV to make peace in 1628. The Danish phase of the war ended again with Catholic victory. In 1629, Emperor Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution. The edict outlawed Calvinism, restored the former ecclesiastic territories to the Catholic Church, and restricted the right of legal appeal to the imperial diet by the Protestant princes.

The edict alienated the German Protestant princes. Meanwhile, the alliance between Spain and the Empire alarmed Lutheran king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (r. 1611–32) and King Louis XIII of France (r. 1610–43) and his chief minister, Armand-Jean du Plessis, duc and cardinal de Richelieu.

Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden

In the summer of 1630, the Swedish king, encouraged by the French Cardinal Richelieu and supported by the German Protestant princes, invaded Germany. After winning a few noteworthy battles in the early stage, he crushed Tilly’s Catholic League army in the battlefield at Breitenfeld in September of 1631.

Facing this defeat, Ferdinand was forced to turn to Wallenstein, who had been disgraced by the German Catholic powerhouses for his greedy and fast expansion of personal power. In November 1632, Wallenstein led his newly formed army, engaged the Swedish force at the Battle of Lutzen, and killed King Gustavus Adolphus on the battlefield. He then entered into a secret negotiation with the Swedes.

Because of his treachery, Ferdinand deprived him of his command and ordered his assassination in February 1634. The Swedish phase of the war ended with the Treaty of Prague of 1635, under which the Edict of Restitution was suspended and the Empire’s constitutional order was restored to pre-1618 conditions.

6 November 1632 - the Leu von Mitternacht, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, fell in the Battle of Lützen, 20 miles southwest of Leipzig
6 November 1632 - the Leu von Mitternacht, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden,
fell in the Battle of Lützen, 20 miles southwest of Leipzig

Louis XIII and his cardinal became increasingly disturbed by any possible settlement that would give the Habsburgs in Europe opportunities to mount attacks against France—from Spain in the south, the Netherlands in the north, and from a number of Habsburg territories in the east. A few days before the Treaty of Prague was finalized, France declared war on Spain. In retaliation, Spain invaded France and defeated Sweden, the French ally, at the Battle of Wittstock in 1636.

Meanwhile, the German Imperial armies, now combining the Catholics and the Protestants allied with a new sense of national unity, marched into France, forcing the French back in Alsace and Lorraine, ravaging Burgundy and Champagne, and threatening Paris. The French, supported by Dutch Protestants, carried out a few successful counterattacks but could not gain a clear advantage over the enemy.

However, the deaths of Emperor Ferdinand (1637), Cardinal Richelieu (1642), and Louis XIII (1643) gradually slowed down the momentum of the war, and both the new emperor Ferdinand III and the new cardinal Mazarin under the child king Louis XIV began to work toward a peace settlement in 1643.

The German people, after suffering from three decades of havoc of war, political treacheries, religious bloodshed, and economic devastation, had to live miserably for another fives years to see peace.

The Peace of Westphalia was finally reached in October 1648, composed of a set of treaties among the enemies in the Thirty Years’ War. It reorganized Germany into a very loose confederation with a unified diet and unified army.

Battle of Rocroi 1643
Battle of Rocroi (1643)

The emperor remained in place symbolically as feudal overlord for the purpose of recognizing and protecting “German Liberties.” The peace legalized Calvinism, gave it equal status as Catholicism and Lutheranism, and recognized the rights of religious minorities in the electorates and principalities.

In short, the peace treaties announced little new but redrew a constitutional framework, which would guarantee a decentralized Germany for another two centuries. However, the territorial changes defined in the treaties did help the rise of Prussia to challenge the traditional authority of Habsburg Austria in the Holy Roman Empire.

In Europe, the peace marked the rapid decline of support for prolonging the ongoing wars of religion, and fresh sentiments of national unity, national interest, and national defense would gradually reshape European peoples and states. It also helped promote transnational cooperation and alliance.

The immediate consequences of the Thirty Years’ War in European geopolitics were the isolation and decline of Spain and the rise of France as the dominant power till the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century.