History for the Rest of Us

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Jan 28, 2013

Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedon and Olympias, daughter of Neoptolemus of Epirus, was born at Pella, 356 B.C. His mind was formed chiefly by Aristotle, who instructed him in every branch of human learning, especially in the art of government. Alexander was sixteen years of age when his father marched against Byzantium, and left the government in his hands during his absence. Two years afterward, he displayed singular courage at the battle of Chæronea (338 B.C.), where he overthrew the Sacred Band of the Thebans. “My son,” said Philip, as he embraced him after the conflict, “seek for thyself another kingdom, for that which I leave is too small for thee.” The father and son quarrelled, however, when the former divorced Olympias. Alexander took part with his mother, and fled to Epirus, to escape his father’s vengeance; but receiving his pardon soon afterward, he returned, and accompanied him in an expedition against the Triballi, when he saved his life on the field. Philip, being appointed generalissimo of the Greeks, was preparing for a war with Persia, when he was assassinated (336 B.C.), and Alexander, not yet twenty years of age, ascended the throne. After punishing his father’s murderers, he marched on Corinth, and in a general assembly of the Greeks he caused himself to be appointed to the command of the forces against Persia. On his return to Macedon, he found the Illyrians and Triballi up in arms, whereupon he forced his way through Thrace, and was everywhere victorious. But now the Thebans had been induced, by a report of his death, to take up arms, and the Athenians, stimulated by the eloquence of Demosthenes, were preparing to join them. To prevent this coalition, Alexander rapidly marched against Thebes, which, refusing to surrender, was conquered and razed to the ground. Six thousand of the inhabitants were slain, and 30,000 sold into slavery; the house and descendants of the poet Pindar alone being spared. This severity struck terror into all Greece. The Athenians were treated with more leniency. Alexander, having appointed Antipater his deputy in Europe, now prepared to prosecute the war with Persia. He crossed the Hellespont in the spring of...

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

Jan 22, 2013

REIGNED 558-529 B.C. The early life of Cyrus the Persian, like that of many another famous conqueror, is lost in a cloud of fable. According to Herodotus, to whom we owe the earliest account, Astyages the King of Media was warned in a dream that some danger threatened the kingdom from the offspring of his daughter Mandane, who as yet was unmarried. In order to remove the danger, whatever it might be, as far as possible from his throne, Astyages married his daughter to a Persian named Cambyses, who took her with him to his own country. But after his daughter’s marriage Astyages had another dream, which was interpreted by the priests to mean that his daughter’s child was destined to reign in his stead. Alarmed by this prophecy he sent for his daughter, and when in course of time she bore a son, he ordered his trusty lieutenant Harpagus to carry the child to his own house and kill it. Harpagus took the infant as he had been ordered to do, but moved by the pleadings of his wife he determined to commit the rest of his bloody instructions to other hands. He therefore called one of his herdsmen, and ordered him to expose the child on the bleakest part of the mountain and leave it to perish, threatening him with the most terrible penalties in case of disobedience. But the herdsman and his wife were no more proof against pity than Harpagus and his wife had been, and while they stood swayed between their wish to save the child and their fear of disobeying Harpagus, fortune happily provided an escape for them. The wife of the herdsman brought forth a dead child, and this they determined to substitute for the living infant, and to bring up the grandson of Astyages as their own. The exchange was accomplished, and after some days the servants of Harpagus, sent to inquire if their master’s commands had been obeyed, were shown by the herdsman the body of a dead child exposed on the rocks and still wearing the rich clothes and ornaments in which it had been brought to his house. Harpagus was thus enabled to...

Henry V

Henry V

Dec 12, 2012

KING FROM 1413-1422 Of all the kings that England ever had Henry V was perhaps the greatest favorite among the people. They liked him because he was handsome and brave and, above all, because he conquered France. In his youth, Prince Hal, as the people called him, had a number of merry companions who sometimes got themselves into trouble by their pranks. Once one of them was arrested and brought before the chief justice of the kingdom. Prince Hal was not pleased because sentence was given against his companion and he drew his sword, threatening the judge. Upon this the judge bravely ordered the prince to be arrested and put into prison. Prince Hal submitted to his punishment with good grace and his father is reported to have said, “Happy is the monarch who has so just a judge, and a son so willing to obey the law.” One of Prince Hal’s companions was a fat old knight named Sir John Falstaff. Once Falstaff was boasting that he and three men had beaten and almost killed two men in buckram suits who had attacked and tried to rob them. The prince led him on and gave him a chance to brag as much as he wanted to, until finally Falstaff swore that there were at least a hundred robbers and that he himself fought with fifty. Then Prince Hal told their companions that only two men had attacked Falstaff and his friends, and that he and another man who was present were those two. And he said that Falstaff, instead of fighting, had run as fast as his legs could carry him. There was real goodness as well as merriment in Prince Hal. And so the people found; for when he became king on the death of his father he told his wild companions that the days of his wildness were over; and he advised them to lead better lives in future. As Henry V, Prince Hal made himself famous in English history by his war with France. Normandy…had belonged to Henry’s ancestor, William the Conqueror. It had been taken from King John of England by the French king, Philip Augustus, in 1203. Soon...

Edward the Black Prince

Edward the Black Prince

Nov 27, 2012

LIVED FROM 1330-1376 One of the most famous warriors of the Middle Ages was Edward the Black Prince. He was so called because he wore black armor in battle. The Black Prince was the son of Edward III who reigned over England from 1327 to 1377. He won his fame as a soldier in the wars which his father carried on against France. The early kings of England, from the time of William the Conqueror, had possessions in France. Henry II, William’s grandson, was the duke of Normandy and lord of Brittany and other provinces, and when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine she brought him that province also. Henry’s son John lost all the French possessions of the English crown except a part of Aquitaine, and Edward III inherited this. So when Philip of Valois became king of France, about a year after Edward had become king of England, Edward had to do homage to Philip. To be king of England and yet to do homage to the king of France—to bend the knee before Philip and kiss his foot—was something Edward did not like. He thought it was quite beneath his dignity, as his ancestor Rollo had thought when told that he must kiss the foot of King Charles. So Edward tried to persuade the nobles of France that he himself ought by right to be the king of France instead of being only a vassal. Philip of Valois was only a cousin of the late French King Charles IV. Edward was the son of his sister. But there was a curious old law in France, called the Salic Law, which forbade that daughters should inherit lands. This law barred the claim of Edward, because his claim came through his mother. Still he determined to win the French throne by force of arms. A chance came to quarrel with Philip. Another of Philip’s vassals rebelled against him, and Edward helped the rebel. He hoped by doing so to weaken Philip and more easily overpower him. Philip at once declared that Edward’s possessions in France were forfeited. Then Edward raised an army of thirty thousand men, and with it invaded France. The Black Prince...

Robert Bruce – King of Scotland

Robert Bruce – King of Scotland

Oct 25, 2012

KING FROM 1306-1329 The most famous king that Scotland ever had was Robert Bruce. He lived in the days when Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III were kings of England. During the reign of Edward I the king of Scotland died and thirteen men claimed the throne. Instead of fighting to decide which of them should be king they asked Edward to settle the question. When he met the Scottish nobles and the rivals, each of whom thought that next day he would be wearing the crown, Edward told them that he would himself be their king. Just then an English army marched up. What could the nobles do but kneel at the feet of Edward and promise to be his vassals? This they did; and so Scotland became a part of Edward’s kingdom and Baliol, one of the rivals who claimed the Scottish throne, was made the vassal king. Some time after this Edward ordered Baliol to raise an army and help him fight the French. Baliol refused to do this, so Edward marched with an army into Scotland and took him prisoner. He was determined that the Scotch should have no more kings of their own. So he carried away the sacred stone of Scone (scoon), on which all kings of Scotland had to sit when they were crowned, and put it in Westminster Abbey in London, and there it is to this day. It is underneath the chair on which the sovereigns of England always sit when the crown of England, Scotland, and Ireland is placed upon their heads. It is said to have been the very stone that Jacob used for a pillow on the night that he saw, in his dream, angels ascending and descending on the ladder that reached from earth to heaven. Edward now supposed, as he had this sacred stone and had put King Baliol in prison, that Scotland was conquered. But the men whom he appointed to govern the Scotch ruled unwisely and nearly all the people were discontented. Suddenly an army of Scots was raised. It was led by Sir William Wallace, a knight who was almost a giant in size. Wallace’s men...

Louis IX – King of France

Louis IX – King of France

Oct 18, 2012

KING FROM 1226-1270 After the time of Barbarossa and Richard Cœur de Lion lived another great Crusading king. This was a grandson of Philip II, named Louis IX, who became sovereign of France in 1226. He was then only eleven years old, so for some years his mother ruled the kingdom. A few years after he had begun to reign Louis decided to make his brother Alphonse the governor of a certain part of France. The nobles of the region refused to have Alphonse as governor and invited Henry III of England to help them in a revolt. Henry crossed to France with an army to support the rebellious nobles. He was duke of Aquitaine and Gascony; so that although he was the king in England he had to do homage to the king of France for his possessions in that country, and fight for him if called upon to do so. Louis gathered an army and hastened to meet the English troops. He drove Henry from place to place, until at last he forced him to make terms of peace. The rebellious nobles who had invited the English king to France soon after swore allegiance to Louis and afterwards he had little trouble in his kingdom. Once Louis was dangerously ill and his life was despaired of. Finally he was believed to be dying and his wife and chief officials gathered round his bed to await the end. Suddenly he roused himself and said in a feeble voice, “The cross! The cross!” They laid the cross upon his heart and he clasped it fervently. For a while he slumbered. When he awoke he appeared much better. In a day or two he was entirely well. He then made a solemn vow that in thankfulness for his restoration he would go on a Crusade to the Holy Land. Louis lived at a time when everybody was full of the Crusading spirit. A few years before he was born even the children in France and Germany started out upon a Crusade of their own. It is called in history the “Children’s Crusade.” Several thousand left their homes and marched toward the Mediterranean. They thought that...