Time of Troubles and Michael Romanov by Andrew Hart
November 1, 2010, 5:57 pm
Filed under: history

Michael I (or Mikhail I) was the first Russian tsar from the house of Romanov.  His ascent to the throne ended a tumultuous period of Russian history known as the Time of Troubles.

The Troubles indirectly began because Ivan the Terrible had a penchant for killing his legitimate heirs.  In addition to bludgeoning to death his long-groomed tsarich Ivan in a fit of rage, he allegedly had his younger son Dmitri stabbed to death. This would soon become problematic, as Ivan left his tsardom to his challenged son Feodor I, whose most remarkable trait was his love of traveling Russia for the pleasure of ringing church bells across the land.  When Feodor died childless in 1598, Ivan’s Rurikid line died with him.

Feodor wasn’t much of an administrator, and most of the duties of the tsar were already under the purview of Boris Godunov (whose life would later become the subject of a Modest Mussorgsky opera).  A Great National Assembly (the Zemsky Sobor) named Godunov as Feodor’s successor, and he kept up the empire until 1605.  But he was merely a boyar and many of the nobles (including the influential Romanov family) didn’t feel it necessary to obey him.  There were also several terrible harvests and Cossack raids.

Remember Dmitri, that son of Ivan who got stabbed?  Well, around 1600, various alive people started pretending to be him.  These pretenders became known as the False Dmitris.  The First False Dmitri was the most successful.  He riled up some papists and some Poles and invaded Russia under the auspices of Polish King Sigismund III Vasa.  He married a Russian noblewoman and was the nominal tsar for nearly a year.

But that didn’t last long.  The Rurikids still had a card up their sleeve: Vasiliy Shuisky.  He took advantage of the revelry after False Dmitri I’s marriage and formed a conspiracy to massacre Dmitri and thousands of his Polish supporters in Moscow.  Shuisky was understandably a bit wary of Poles, having murdered thousands of them and killed their beloved False Dmitri.  So he signed an alliance with Sweden.

Bringing Sweden into the affair really annoyed Sigismund, who invaded Russia in full.  Oh, by the way, Poland had a new favorite Dmitri now: False Dmitri II.  The Poles’ first task was to lay a crushing siege on Smolensk.  Shuisky abdicated and fled after he and his Swedish allies were routed at the Battle of Klushino.  At this point (around 1611), Poland occupied most of Russia.  Some wanted False Dmitri II on the throne, but Sigismund decided to take the crown for himself and to convert the Russians to Roman Catholicism.  This was, as one might assume, unpopular among the Russians.

Remember the Swedes?  When last we encountered them, they were getting their asses handed to them at Klushino.  Well, they set up their own little Russian enclave in the northwestern city of Ivanogorod (very close to Sweden) and installed their very own False Dmitri III as their puppet ruler.  They were also incensed at Sigismund’s audacity and started fighting the Ingrian Wars against Poland-controlled Russia.  Sweden and Poland kept fighting over Russia for thirteen years until the Peace of Stolbovo (1617) ended the Ingrian Wars.

Soon thereafter, Russians under merchant-hero Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitri Pozharsky decided that it was time to expel the Poles once and for all.  The Russians fought the Poles into the Kremlin, from which they surrendered on November 4, 1612.  The Dmitryiad Wars didn’t officially end until the Peace of Deulino (1619).

Now that Russia was a country again, it elected a new tsar: Michael Romanov.  Michael was the son of a powerful Muscovite noble named Feodor Romanov.  Back when Godunov was elected, Feodor was a popular candidate.  Boris saw Feodor as a rival and forced him to take monastic vows under the name Filaret (Feodor’s wife Xenia Shestova took similar vows as “Martha”; she was later known as The Great Nun Martha).

Filaret was named Patriarch of Moscow (the highest office in the Russian Orthodox Church) by False Dmitri I, and continued to serve in that office sporadically until his son was appointed tsar.  Michael was only a teenager when he was elected, and Filaret held much of the power in Russia during Michael’s reign.

Michael was also legendarily saved from Polish invaders by Ivan Susanin, who sacrificed his life so that the future tsar could live.  This legend is the basis for Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar.


Pontiac’s War and the Paxton Boys by Andrew Hart
October 13, 2010, 6:45 pm
Filed under: history

In 1763, a bunch of American Indians were annoyed at British General Jeffrey Amherst (of namesake college fame; he had previously risen to prominence during the French and Indian Wars as the primary British assault leader on the fort at Louisbourg).  Amherst limited the number of gifts that the British gave Native Americans and strictly regulated the amount of gunpowder that the Brits sold to them.

These policies led to tension that boiled over into war.  The tribes that fought against the British were largely divided into three groups: those in the Great Lakes regions, which was known then as the “pays d’haut” or “Upper Country,” which included the Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Huron; those in Illinois Country, like the Miami and Kickapoo; and those in Ohio Country, like the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo.  Pontiac was a Huron chief.  The Iroquois Confederation, which was allied with the British in the Covenant Chain, largely did not participate.

The war began when Pontiac convinced a number of warriors from the Upper Country to besiege Fort Detroit, which was located at the present-day location of its namesake Michigan city.  The Brits learned of the plans and repelled the attack, but failed to consolidate their victory in the ensuing Battle of Bloody Run, which was a triumph for Pontiac.

After Pontiac escaped British hands at Bloody Run, he urged his followers to attack smaller forts.  Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, Miami, and Ouiatenon, all in present-day northern Ohio, fell.  In Ohio Country, Forts Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, and Venango all fell.  In far northern Michigan, Pontiac’s troops controlled the ridiculously named Fort Michilimackinac.

Shawnee attacking Fort Pitt encountered substantial resistance and besieged the stronghold.  An outbreak of smallpox among the besieged inhabitants of the fort gave Amherst and British Colonel Henry Bouquet and  the idea of using the smallpox-blanket strategy to ethnically cleanse the American Indian populace.  While evidence suggests that Amherst did attempt to wipe out populaces of both hostile and neutral Native American populaces, it is not clear whether it worked.

The Indian troops broke off the Siege of Fort Pitt to intercept a group of Colonel Bouquet’s forces in what came to be the Battle of Bushy Run.  Bouquet won a decisive victory.

Just over a month later, a force of Indian warriors attacked a supply train along the Niagara Falls portage, and then routed two companies sent from Fort Niagara.  Around seventy traders and troops were killed in this so-called Devil’s Hole Massacre.

Sometime during the winter of 1763, a group of men around the area of Paxton, in western Pennsylvania, decided that the British and colonial governments weren’t doing enough to ensure their safety.  So they took “justice” into their own hands, forming the “Paxton Boys” vigilante group.  Much to the chagrin of governor John Penn and noted Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin, the Paxton Boys massacred twenty Susquehannocks, fourteen of whom were in jail in protective custody.

In the summer of 1763, Amherst was replaced in command with Major General Thomas Gage.  Gage secured the Treaty of Fort Niagara with some of the warring Senecas, and proceeded to order two expeditions to combat Pontiac, led by Bouquet and John Bradstreet.

Bradstreet negotiated a treaty at Presque Isle that greatly angered both Gage and Bouquet because of the unilateral liberties that Bradstreet took in coming up with it.  Bradstreet also chopped up a peace belt before negotiations, which disgusted most of the Native American negotiators.

Eventually, Pontiac signed a treaty with the British at Fort Ontario, which concluded the war without any cessions or territorial changes.  The British decided that the war signaled that colonial and native populaces should be kept apart, and thus issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in the aftermath of the war.  The Proclamation forbade pioneers from moving past the Appalachian Mountains, and would set the stage for future violence.

the disparate impact test by Andrew Hart
February 17, 2010, 1:55 am
Filed under: history, law

I’m dreading my undergraduate research right now, so how about I post a little summary of part of it.

Griggs v. Duke Power is a landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case.  It is perhaps the foundational case in the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case centers on a policy of Duke Power Company for internal promotions.  The company required all employees transferring out of the lowest-paying department to have a high school degree, and to pass two aptitude tests.  Willie Griggs filed suit on behalf of many black employees of Duke Power, asserting that the tests discriminated against African American employees.

The Supreme Court reversed the finding for Duke Power at the District Court of Appeals.  The Court argued that the aptitude test and educational requirements were not job-related, and that they had the effect of halting promotions of a disproportionate number of black workers.

This finding ushered in the “disparate impact” test for Title VII law.  This test prevents employers from using what appear to be neutral measures, such as educational requirements or aptitude tests, that have a disproportional impact on a protected minority under Title VII.  Employees must show that tests have a legitimate work-related function; in the case of Griggs, Duke Power could not show this legitimate function.

The Court signaled in the Griggs decision that it would read Title VII broadly.  It set up a test that allowed broad latitude for plaintiffs to bring suit against companies for more than just overt discrimination.  It also gave teeth to the federal regulatory commission created by Title VII, the EEOC.  Under the disparate impact test, the EEOC could use statistical data from employment practices to bring suit against employers.  Even if individuals were not aware that they were the subject of discrimination, the Griggs decision allowed the EEOC to prosecute employers engaging in discriminatory practices.

The Stockholm Bloodbath by axeloxenstierna
June 9, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

As every schoolchild knows, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark used to be part of the “Kalmar Union”. The Kalmar Union, which began in 1397, was a personal union. This meant that the three countries would share the same king (same head of state), but would each have their own government. Thus, the same monarch would have different advisers and different ministers in each country in which he was king, and these advisers and ministers were supposed to govern their countries as if they were independent from each other.

The head of the Kalmar Union was the royal dynasty of Denmark, who therefore also served as Kings of Norway and Kings of Sweden. Since the Kalmar kings were usually in Copenhagen, regents were often used to govern Norway and Sweden. The greatest of the Swedish regents is generally agreed to be Sten Sture the Elder, who served two separate terms between 1470 and 1503. Sture the Elder ruled Sweden so well and attained such popularity with Swedes that he enjoyed far greater power than any regent before him; some historians consider Sweden de facto independent during his time in office. He was able to finance a war against Russia without Kalmar support; indeed, the King of Denmark actually sought to ally with Russia against the power of Sture the Elder.

Sten Sture the Elder died in 1503, but his name and deeds lived on. Indeed, today in the center of Stockholm’s historical district, there is a cafe named in honor of Sten Sture the Elder. If you go inside, you can see a picture of him:

In 1514, an ambitious new King came to the Kalmar throne: Christian II of Denmark. Christian II was intent on turning the Kalmar Union from a personal union (where countries only have the same king in common) to an actual union (where countries also have the same government in common). Because Christian II was Danish, this meant turning Norway and Sweden into provinces of Denmark, which would be exploited for the greater glory of Copenhagen.

This required cracking down on Swedish autonomy, which had blossomed under Sten Sture the Elder. Because the Swedes had grown accustomed to being their own masters, they reacted poorly to such centralizing policies. In fact, a rebellion in Sweden broke out under the command of the old regent’s son: Sten Sture the Younger. Noble and peasant alike joined the anti-Danish revolt.

Christian II invaded Sweden to crush the revolt. At the Battle of Bogesund in January 1520, the Danes were victorious and Sture the Younger was mortally wounded. Christian II then moved on Stockholm, which was filled with Swedish nobles who had supported the rebellion.

Christian II made them a promise: submit to Denmark, and they will receive civil immunity for their support of Sture the Younger. The nobles accepted this, and in celebration of the king’s clemency, a feast of several days length was held. The nobles all became quite comfortable with the situation and let their guard down. Then, at the end of the feast, a new guest showed up: Gustavus Trolle, Archbishop of Stockholm.

Remember, Christian II had given the nobles civil immunity: immunity from prosecution in the king’s courts. But like most medieval countries, Sweden also had separate church courts. Christian II didn’t give any immunity from church courts; in fact, he couldn’t. Archbishop Trolle, head of the church courts in Sweden, announced that all of the nobles who had supported Sten Sture the Younger were heretics and would be tried in a church court immediately. Him and Christian had planned this trap beforehand. Trolle was followed into the dining room by a small armed force who seized the nobles. A perfunctory show trial was held, and all of the nobles were sentenced to death for heresy.

According to legend, not a single Swede could be found to carry out the execution of the Sture the Younger supporters. So Archbishop Trolle employed a German named Jorgen Homuth. In total, about 82 people were beheaded or hanged in a small square in central Stockholm. This is the famous “Stockholm Bloodbath”. The executions happened in this small square in central Stockholm:

(the well in this picture is from the 1600’s and was not there at the time of the bloodbath)

As for Sten Sture the Younger, his corpse was dug up and burned at the stake for heresy as well. Christian II had established complete Danish dominance over Sweden.

But it was short-lived. Instead of breaking the spirit of the Swedes, the bloodbath sparked a second rebellion led by the nobleman Gustavus Vasa. This second revolt was successful: the Kalmar Union was dissolved, and Gustavus Vasa became king of a completely independent Sweden.

above: Gustavus Vasa

There was one problem: Trolle was still Archbishop of Stockholm, the highest church office in all Sweden, and no Swede could tolerate the occupation of that office by so infamous and hated a man. King Gustavus Vasa tried to depose Trolle, but Pope Leo X refused to allow this. Only the Pope had the power to depose bishops.

Conveniently for Sweden, it was the early 1520’s, and Lutheranism had just been invented in Germany. So King Gustavus Vasa broke from the Catholic Church, declared Sweden to be a Lutheran country, and then dismissed Trolle from his church position. The end result of the Stockholm Bloodbath was the fall of Catholicism in Scandinavia.

To this day, Archbishop Trolle is considered one of the greatest villains in all of Swedish history. His name is a by-word for traitor, much like Quisling in nearby Norway.

Medieval Peasant Rebellions, Part 2: Transylvania by axeloxenstierna
May 19, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

The Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary was something of a superpower in Eastern Europe from its foundation in the 900’s to as late as 1490. But like its neighbor, Poland-Lithuania, Hungary was decentralized and unable to field a large professional army — unlike its new neighbor to the south, the Ottoman Empire.

In 1514, the Hungarian government, at the urging of the Pope, decided to finance a crusade against the Ottoman Empire. Instead of raising its own force, the Hungarian government ordered a petty nobleman named Gyorgy Dozsa to go and raise an army of peasants, with the promise that they would pay him later with the money needed to clothe, feed, and supply the army. Dozsa was able to raise a substantial force of social dregs in Transylvania and provide it with rudimentary military training. But the funding never came. According to legend, the Hungarian nobility — who truly controlled the country — instead demanded that the peasants go back to toiling the fields.

At this point, Dozsa decided that instead of a crusade, he was going to lead a peasant rebellion. Pretty much everybody in Transylvania who had some disagreement with the ruling nobility joined the movement — including nascent religious reformers. Because the Kingdom of Hungary didn’t actually have an army, Dosza had free reign over anywhere he could march to. His followers captured over a half-dozen forts and cities in Transylvania, frequently impaling local nobles and bishops.

Finally, the Kingdom of Hungary was able to raise a force of mostly foreign mercenaries under the command of a young Janos Zapolya (not yet Janos I Zapolya), and Dozsa was defeated and captured at the Battle of Temesvar.

Dozsa was executed in a most curious manner. Six of his followers were intentionally starved for a number of days. Then, Dozsa was placed on a throne made of heated iron and made to wear a similarly heated iron crown. This had the result of slowly cooking him. Then, his starving followers were released into the room. According to legend, the famished peasants were unable to resist the smell of cooking flesh, and Gyorgy Dozsa was eaten alive by his own supporters.

Here are some woodcuts of his execution:

Fourteen years after Dozsa got eaten, the last independent King of Hungary died while retreating from a massive military defeat at the hands of Suleyman the Magnificent. Most of Hungary became an Ottoman province. Transylvania, however, was turned into an autonomous Ottoman satellite, whose purpose was to serve as a buffer between the Turkish and Austrian empires. The new Principality of Transylvania was ruled by elected princes, most of whom came from the major Transylvanian noble families that Dozsa had rebelled against. Indeed, many Transylvanian nobles converted to Calvinism, and Transylvania became one of the first countries in Europe with complete freedom of worship.

In the 20th century, Transylvania was transferred to the new country of Romania. This meant that after WW2, when new Communist regimes began searching history for peasant heroes to legitimize their rule, Dozsa became revered by not one, but two communist parties.

In Red Hungary, he was upheld as a proto-Marxist-Leninist-Kadarist and began appearing on communist currency and inspirational artwork:

In Red Romania, he was re-christened Gheorghe Doja. The city where he was defeated — Temesvar in Hungarian, Timisoara in Romanian — became home to a monument to him:

Indeed, today one of the major streets in Timisoara is named for Doja. A google image search for “Gheorghe Doja Strada” reveals that it seems to be home to a sizable population of stray dogs.

Throw them some warm meat if you’re ever there.

Medieval Peasant Rebellions, Part 1: Germany by axeloxenstierna
May 12, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

In the 1400’s, there was a series of peasant rebellions in Germany, mostly along the Rhineland. Most of them were purely local events: quickly defeated and of little historical significance.

The interesting thing about them is that many of them used a common symbol: the bundschuh, which is German for “bound shoe”. Quite literally, the peasants would march around carrying flags with tied shoes on them. While the Bundschuh rebellions of the 1400’s failed to accomplish anything, their symbolism lived on for at least a hundred years.

In the early 1500’s, there emerged a new peasant leader named Joss Fritz. He led three separate rebellions, each of which were quite large and threatening. One of the reasons he was able to gain such a large following was because he appropriated the bundschuh symbolism of the previous generation; the symbol and memory of the old rebellion had grown far in excess of anything the original bundschuh rebels had actually done.

A generation later, the Peasant’s War rocked Germany; but by this time, much of it was fueled by anti-clericalism, such as the “Prague Manifesto” of radical anabaptist preacher Thomas Muentzer. Because of this religious subtext, the Peasants War was much less of a class conflict than its predecessors. Indeed, one of the most colorful leaders of the Peasants War was an eccentric knight named Gotz von Berlichingen, who is famous for having a mechanical arm.

Here is a modern drawing of what his arm may have looked like:

Here is a prosthetic metal arm from around the time of Gotz von Berlichingen, though it is not his:

The Peasants were hoping to gain the support of Martin Luther, whose opposition to the Roman Church was a major inspiration. Instead, Luther wrote a book titled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, which included such lines as:

“The peasants have taken upon themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man; by this they have merited death in body and soul…thus they become the worst blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy name


Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.


I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants.”

With Luther cheering them on, the authorities were able to engage the peasants at the Battle of Frankenhausen, at which the peasants were slaughtered.

And thus the German peasant rebellion faded into history. Until East Germany came along.

Like most Eastern European communist regimes, the DDR rehabilitated old peasant rebels and made them into prophets of Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism. Statues of Joss Fritz went up all over East Germany, even though he wasn’t even from there.

And as for Thomas Muentzer, he of the burning religious faith?

He ended up on the currency of an avowedly atheist regime:

Commie Parades by axeloxenstierna
March 24, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

Communists sure loved parades. Here are some commie parades from around the world.

The most famous such parade is, of course, the Soviet one through Red Square on the anniversaries of the October Revolution. Here is footage from 1986:

Another Soviet one: Brezhnev’s funeral parade. Near the end, you can see Yuri Andropov watching from the top of Lenin’s tomb:

Here is a Hungarian May 1 parade from 1964. There are some great parade floats here. My favorite are the papier-mache globe with the Communist parts of the world covered in red plaster, as well as the guy who is carrying what appears to be a brick chimney and fireplace. If you watch until the end of the video, you can see Janos Kadar being interviewed by state television while he watches the parade.

Of course, this post would not be complete without North Korea. Here is a recent North Korean military parade — complete with what appears to be an OFFICIAL English voice-over that praises Kim Jong-Il!

But the true absurdity of the North Korean regime cannot be captured without this video of a North Korean children’s parade, complete with colorful uniforms and a changing animated background.