William Wilberforce: Abolition Speech

By the late 1780’s the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade as well-established and had done much to publicise the cruelties involved in a business from which many had not only prospered but come to take for granted; but for the most part they were Quakers, Methodists, or members of other non-conformist sects who were not themselves entirely trusted. They required someone not only free of the criticism of non-conformity but could also represent them in and bring their case before Parliament. They alighted upon the Yorkshire MP William Wilberforce, a 29 year old evangelical Christian of the Established Church respected for the humanitarian values he espoused and whose own objections to slavery were unequivocal and well-known.

A mild-mannered man with a trusting nature who disliked confrontation he took some persuading but the iniquities of the slave trade were to him undeniable. He agreed to bring a Bill before Parliament for its abolition, though some doubted that he was the man who could bring it to fruition. But as it transpired conviction and perseverance would prove worthy substitutes for any lack of aggression or sense of outrage on his part.

William Wilberforce delivered his speech to the House of Commons on 12 May, 1789. It was to prove the opening salvo in a long campaign to which he would devote the rest of his life, first in abolishing the slave trade which occurred in 1807 and then slavery itself which was abolished in 1833, just three days before his death.

His 1789 Abolition Speech was a landmark moment in parliamentary history and was widely reported in the national press. This is one of those reports:

 Mr. Wilberforce now rose and said:—

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;—when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;—when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade. I wish exceedingly, in the outset, to guard both myself and the House from entering into the subject with any sort of passion. It is not their passions I shall appeal to—I ask only for their cool and impartial reason; and I wish not to take them by surprise, but to deliberate, point by point, upon every part of this question. I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty—we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business.

Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasoning of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction. “Their apartments,” says Mr. Norris, “are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. The right ankle of one, indeed is connected with the left ankle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they are turbulent, by another on their wrists. They have several meals a day; some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery; and by way of variety, another meal of pulse, and. according to European taste. After breakfast they have water to wash themselves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime-juice. Before dinner, they are amused after the manner of their country. The song and dance are promoted,” and, as if the whole was really a scene of pleasure and dissipation it is added, that games of chance are furnished. “The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, which they are plentifully supplied with.” Such is the sort of strain in which the Liverpool delegates, and particularly Mr. Norris, gave evidence before the privy council. What will the House think when, by the concurring testimony of other witnesses, the true history is laid open. The slaves who are sometimes described as rejoicing at their captivity, are so wrung with misery at leaving their country, that it is the constant practice to set sail at night, lest they should be sensible of their departure. The pulse which Mr. Norris talks of are horse beans; and the scantiness, both of water and provision, was suggested by the very legislature of Jamaica in the report of their committee, to be a subject that called for the interference of parliament. Mr. Norris talks of frankincense and lime juice; when surgeons tell you the slaves are stowed so close, that there is not room to tread among them: and when you have it in evidence from Sir George Young, that even in a ship which wanted 200 of her complement, the stench was intolerable. The song and the dance, says Mr. Norris, are promoted. It had been more fair, perhaps, if he had explained that word promoted. The truth is, that for the sake of exercise, these miserable wretches, loaded with chains, oppressed with disease and wretchedness, are forced to dance by the terror of the lash, and sometimes by the actual use of it. “I,” says one of the other evidences, “was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women.” Such, then is the meaning of the word promoted; and it may be observed too, with respect to food, that an instrument is sometimes carried out, in order to force them to eat which is the same sort of proof how much they enjoy themselves in that instance also. As to their singing, what shall we say when we are told that their songs are songs of lamentation upon their departure which, while they sing, are always in tears, insomuch that one captain (more humane as I should conceive him, therefore, than the rest) threatened one of the women with a flogging, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful for his feelings. In order, however, not to trust too much to any sort of description, I will call the attention of the House to one species of evidence which is absolutely infallible. Death, at least, is a sure ground of evidence, and the proportion of deaths will not only confirm, but if possible will even aggravate our suspicion of their misery in the transit. It will be found, upon an average of all the ships of which evidence has been given at the Privy Council, that exclusive of those who perish before they sail, not less than 12½ per cent perish in the passage. Besides these, the Jamaica report tells you, that not less than 4½ per cent. die on shore before the day of sale, which is only a week or two from the time of landing. One third more die in the seasoning, and this in a country exactly like their own, where they are healthy and happy as some of the evidences would pretend. The diseases, however, which they contract on shipboard, the astringent washes which are to hide their wounds, and the mischievous tricks used to make them up for sale, are, as the Jamaica report says, (a most precious and valuable report, which I shall often have to advert to) one principle cause of this mortality. Upon the whole, however, here is a mortality of about 50 per cent. and this among negroes who are not bought unless (as the phrase is with cattle) they are sound in wind and limb. How then can the House refuse its belief to the multiplied testimonies before the Privy Council, of the savage treatment of the negroes in the middle passage? Nay, indeed, what need is there of any evidence? The number of deaths speaks for itself, and makes all such enquiry superfluous. As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.

 

 

 

 

 

Robespierre’s Speech at the Festival of the Supreme Being

Maximilien Robespierre was not a Godless man most atheists aren’t rather driven by an incoherence of thought regarding a Divine unable it seems to compensate them for their own inadequacies and a fear of the unknown without one they clamour for alternatives.

In his pursuit of virtu and a revolution uncorrupted by the humanity in whose name it had been made Robespierre had become a peddler of death; the Church had been broken on the anvil of his revolution and reconstituted to be part of it and thousands of priests had been sent to their deaths as a result. But it was not enough, it did not provide solace, it had not been made in his image – the Revolution could not survive without the stamp of Divine approval!

On 8June 1794, before a man-made mountain in the Champ de Mar in Paris he addressed the crowd that had gathered to watch the inaugural Festival of the Supreme Being. His self-righteous manner and the soaring nature of his rhetoric led many present to believe that the Supreme Being he was referring to was himself. It was to prove a turning point for the once all-powerful Robespierre as criticism of him began to grow and just six weeks after he had appeared to invoke the Almighty as justification for the Terror he had unleashed he was arrested and guillotined by those once his supporters who no longer shared his vision for France and had begun to fear for their own lives:

The day forever fortunate has arrived, which the French people have consecrated to the Supreme Being. Never has the world which He created offered to Him a spectacle so worthy of His notice. He has seen reigning on the earth tyranny, crime, and imposture. He sees at this moment a whole nation, grappling with all the oppressions of the human race, suspend the course of its heroic labours to elevate its thoughts and vows toward the great Being who has given it the mission it has undertaken and the strength to accomplish it.

Is it not He whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants? Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice?

He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.

It is He who implanted in the breast of the triumphant oppressor remorse and terror, and in the heart of the oppressed and innocent calmness and fortitude. It is He who impels the just man to hate the evil one, and the evil man to respect the just one. It is He who adorns with modesty the brow of beauty, to make it yet more beautiful. It is He who makes the mother’s heart beat with tenderness and joy. It is He who bathes with delicious tears the eyes of the son pressed to the bosom of his mother. It is He who silences the most imperious and tender passions before the sublime love of the fatherland. It is He who has covered nature with charms, riches, and majesty. All that is good is His work, or is Himself. Evil belongs to the depraved man who oppresses his fellow man or suffers him to be oppressed.

The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness. Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!

Republican Frenchmen, it is yours to purify the earth which they have soiled, and to recall to it the justice that they have banished! Liberty and virtue together came from the breast of Divinity. Neither can abide with mankind without the other.

O generous People, would you triumph over all your enemies? Practice justice, and render the Divinity the only worship worthy of Him. O People, let us deliver ourselves today, under His auspices, to the just transports of a pure festivity. Tomorrow we shall return to the combat with vice and tyrants. We shall give to the world the example of republican virtues. And that will be to honour Him still.

The monster which the genius of kings had vomited over France has gone back into nothingness. May all the crimes and all the misfortunes of the world disappear with it! Armed in turn with the daggers of fanaticism and the poisons of atheism, kings have always conspired to assassinate humanity. If they are able no longer to disfigure Divinity by superstition, to associate it with their crimes, they try to banish it from the earth, so that they may reign there alone with crime.

O People, fear no more their sacrilegious plots! They can no more snatch the world from the breast of its Author than remorse from their own hearts. Unfortunate ones, uplift your eyes toward heaven! Heroes of the fatherland, your generous devotion is not a brilliant madness. If the satellites of tyranny can assassinate you, it is not in their power entirely to destroy you. Man, whoever thou mayest be, thou canst still conceive high thoughts for thyself. Thou canst bind thy fleeting life to God, and to immortality. Let nature seize again all her splendour, and wisdom all her empire! The Supreme Being has not been annihilated.

It is wisdom above all that our guilty enemies would drive from the republic. To wisdom alone it is given to strengthen the prosperity of empires. It is for her to guarantee to us the rewards of our courage. Let us associate wisdom, then, with all our enterprises. Let us be grave and discreet in all our deliberations, as men who are providing for the interests of the world. Let us be ardent and obstinate in our anger against conspiring tyrants, imperturbable in dangers, patient in labours, terrible in striking back, modest and vigilant in successes. Let us be generous toward the good, compassionate with the unfortunate, inexorable with the evil, just toward every one. Let us not count on an unmixed prosperity, and on triumphs without attacks, nor on all that depends on fortune or the perversity of others. Sole, but infallible guarantors of our independence, let us crush the impious league of kings by the grandeur of our character, even more than by the strength of our arms.

Frenchmen, you war against kings; you are therefore worthy to honor Divinity. Being of Beings, Author of Nature, the brutalized slave, the vile instrument of despotism, the perfidious and cruel aristocrat, outrages Thee by his very invocation of Thy name. But the defenders of liberty can give themselves up to Thee, and rest with confidence upon Thy paternal bosom. Being of Beings, we need not offer to Thee unjust prayers. Thou knowest Thy creatures, proceeding from Thy hands. Their needs do not escape Thy notice, more than their secret thoughts. Hatred of bad faith and tyranny burns in our hearts, with love of justice and the fatherland. Our blood flows for the cause of humanity. Behold our prayer. Behold our sacrifices. Behold the worship we offer Thee.

 

Robespierre Justifies the Terror

In a speech to the National Convention in Paris on 5 February 1794, Maximilien Robespierre, leading member of the Jacobin Club and de facto First Citizen on the Committee of Public Safety, explained the political philosophy that lay behind his use of Terror to defeat the enemies of the Revolution:

Citizen-representatives of the people, some time ago we set forth the principles of our foreign policy; today we come to expound the principles of our internal policy.

After having proceeded haphazardly for a long time, swept along by the movement of opposing factions, the representatives of the French people have finally demonstrated a character and a government. A sudden change in the nation’s fortune announced to Europe the regeneration that had been effected in the national representation. But up to the very moment when I am speaking, it must be agreed that we have been guided, amid such stormy circumstances, by the love of good and by the awareness of our country’s needs rather than by an exact theory and by precise rules of conduct, which we did not have even leisure enough to lay out

It is time to mark clearly the goal of the revolution, and the end we want to reach; it is time for us to take account both of the obstacles that still keep us from it, and of the means we ought to adopt to attain it: a simple and important idea which seems never to have been noticed. . . .

For ourselves, we come today to make the world privy to your political secrets, so that all our country’s friends can rally to the voice of reason and the public interest; so that the French nation and its representatives will be respected in all the countries of the world where the knowledge of their real principles can penetrate; so that the intriguers who seek always to replace other intriguers will be judged by sure and easy rules.

We must take far-sighted precautions to return the destiny of liberty into the hands of the truth, which is eternal, rather than into those of men, who are transitory, so that if the government forgets the interests of the people, or if it lapses into the hands of the corrupt individuals, according to the natural course of things, the light of recognized principles will illuminate their treachery, and so that every new faction will discover death in the mere thought of crime. . . .

What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them.

We seek an order of things in which all the base and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions are awakened by the laws; where ambition becomes the desire to merit glory and to serve our country; where distinctions are born only of equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where our country assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual proudly enjoys our country’s prosperity and glory; where every soul grows greater through the continual flow of republican sentiments, and by the need of deserving the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the adornments of the liberty which ennobles them and commerce the source of public wealth rather than solely the monstrous opulence of a few families.

In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honour, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice of scorn of the unlucky, self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul over vanity, love of glory for the love of money, good people in place of good society. We wish to substitute merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glamour, the charm of happiness for sensuous boredom, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a people who are magnanimous, powerful, and happy, in place of a kindly, frivolous, and miserable people – which is to say all the virtues and all the miracles of the republic in place of all the vices and all the absurdities of the monarchy.

We want, in a word, to fulfil natures desires, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny. Let France, formerly illustrious among the enslaved lands, eclipsing the glory of all the free peoples who have existed, become the model for the nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed the ornament of the world – and let us, in sealing our work with our blood, see at least the early dawn of the universal bliss -that is our ambition, that is our goal.

What kind of government can realize these wonders? Only a democratic or republican government – these two words are synonyms, despite the abuses in common speech, because an aristocracy is no closer than a monarchy to being a republic. . . .

Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are of their own making, do for themselves all that they can do well, and by their delegates do all that they cannot do for themselves. . . .

Now, what is the fundamental principle of popular or democratic government, that is to say, the essential mainspring which sustains it and makes it move? It is virtue. I speak of the public virtue which worked so many wonders in Greece and Rome and which ought to produce even more astonishing things in republican France – that virtue which is nothing other than the love of the nation and its law.

But as the essence of the republic or of democracy is equality, it follows that love of country necessarily embraces the love of equality. . . .

But the French are the first people of the world who have established real democracy, by calling all men to equality and full rights of citizenship; and there, in my judgment, is the true reason why all the tyrants in league against the Republic will be vanquished.

There are important consequences to be drawn immediately from the principles we have just explained.

Since the soul of the Republic is virtue, equality, and since your goal is to found, to consolidate the Republic, it follows that the first rule of your political conduct ought to be to relate all your efforts to maintaining equality and developing virtue; because the first care of the legislator ought to be to fortify the principle of the government. This everything that tends to excite love of country, to purify morals, to elevate souls, to direct the passions of the human heart toward the public interest, ought to be adopted or established by you. Everything which tends to concentrate them in the abjection of selfishness, to awaken enjoyment for petty things and scorn for great ones, ought to be rejected or curbed by you. Within the scheme of the French revolution, that which is immoral is impolitic, that which is corrupting is counter-revolutionary. We deduce from all this, a great truth – that the characteristic of popular government is to be trustful towards the people and severe towards itself.

Here the development of our theory would reach its limit, if you had only to steer the ship of the Republic through calm waters. But the tempest rages, and the state of the revolution in which you find yourselves imposes upon you another task.

We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now, in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people’s enemies by terror.

If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, amid revolution it is at the same time both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue. It is less a special principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most pressing needs.

It has been said that terror is the mainspring of despotic government – does your government then resemble a despotism? Yes, as the sword which glitters in the hands of liberty’s heroes also resembles the one with which the lackeys of tyranny are armed. Let the despot govern his brutalized subjects by terror; he is right to do this, as a despot. Subdue liberty’s enemies by terror, and you will be right, as founders of the Republic. The government of the revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny. Is force made only to protect crime? And is it not to strike the heads of the proud that lightning is destined? . . .

To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to pardon them is barbarity. The rigor of tyrants has only rigor for a principle; the rigor of the republican government comes from charity.

Therefore, woe to those who would dare to turn against the people the terror which ought to be felt only by its enemies! Woe to those who, confusing the inevitable errors of civic conduct with the calculated errors of perfidy, or with the conspirators’ criminal attempt leave the dangerous schemer to pursue the peaceful citizen! Perish the scoundrel who ventures to abuse the sacred name of liberty, or the redoubtable arms which liberty has entrusted to him, in order to bring mourning or death into patriots’ hearts! This abuse has existed, one cannot doubt it. It has been exaggerated, no doubt, by the aristocracy. But if in all the Republic there existed only one virtuous man persecuted by the enemies of liberty, the government’s duty would be to seek him out vigorously and give him a dazzling revenge. . . .

How frivolous it would be to regard a few victories achieved by patriotism as the end of all our dangers. Glance over our true situation. You will become aware that vigilance and energy are more necessary for you than ever. An un-responding ill-will everywhere opposes the operations of the government. The inevitable influence of foreign courts is no less active for being more hidden, and no less baneful. One senses that crime, frightened, has only covered its tracks with greater skill.

You could never have imagined some of the excesses committed by hypocritical counter-revolutionaries in order to blight the cause of the revolution. Would you believe that in the regions where superstition has held the greatest sway, the counter-revolutionaries are not content with burdening religious observances under all the forms that could render them odious, but have spread terror among the people by sowing the rumour that all children under ten and all old men over seventy are going to be killed? This rumour was spread particularly through the former province of Brittany and in the departements of the Rhine and the Moselle. It is one of the crimes imputed to Schneider the former public prosecutor of the criminal court of Strasbourg. That man’s tyrannical follies make everything that has been said of Caligula and Elagabalus credible; one can scarcely believe it, despite the evidence. He pushed his delirium to the point of commandeering women for his own use – we are told that he even employed that method in selecting a wife. Whence came this sudden swarm of foreigners, priests, noble, intriguer of all kinds, which at the same instant spread over the length and breadth of the Republic, seeking to execute, in the name of philosophy, a plan of counter-revolution which has only been stopped by the force of public reason? Execrable conception, worthy of the genius of foreign courts leagued against liberty, and of the corruption of all the internal enemies of the Republic!

In deceitful hands all the remedies for our ills turn into poisons. Everything you can do, everything you can say, they will turn against you, even the truths which we come here to present this very day. . . .

Such an internal situation ought to seem to you worthy of all your attention, above all if you reflect that at the same time you have the tyrants of Europe to combat, a million and two hundred thousand men under arms to maintain, and that the government is obliged continually to repair, with energy and vigilance, all the injuries which the innumerable multitude of our enemies has prepared for us during the course of five years.

What is the remedy for all these evils? We know no other than the development of that general motive force of the Republic – virtue.

Democracy perishes by two kinds of excess: either the aristocracy of those who govern, or else the popular scorn for the authorities whom the people themselves have established, scorn which makes each clique, each individual take unto himself the public power and bring the people through excessive disorders, to annihilation or to the power of one man.

The double task of the moderates and the false revolutionaries is to toss us back and forth perpetually between these two perils.

But the people’s representatives can avoid them both, because government is always the master at being just and wise; and, when it has that character, it is sure of the confidence of the people.

It is indeed true that the goal of all our enemies is to dissolve the Convention. It is true that the tyrant of Great Britain and his allies promise their parliament and subjects that they will deprive you of your energy and of the public confidence which you have merited; that is the first instruction for all their agents.

We are beginning a solemn debate upon all the objects of the Convention’s anxiety, and everything that can influence the progress of the revolution. We adjure it not to permit any particular hidden interest to usurp ascendancy here over the general will of the assembly and the indestructible power of reason.

               

Danton Rallies the People

Other than his one time friend and colleague Maximilien Robespierre no one did more to shape and guide the French Revolution than Georges-Jacques Danton; a towering figure shabbily attired, passionate in his appetites and who required no acoustic accompaniment to make his voice heard he did not prepare his speeches in advance and with no eye on posterity seek their publication in the press and elsewhere. Instead he intervened when he felt the situation required it often to devastating effect as with the attack on the Tuilleries Palace and the Prison Massacres.

Delivered to the National Assembly on 2 September 1792, at a time when the advancing Austrian and Prussian Armies threatened the very survival of the revolution itself Danton’s speech was typically sharp and to the point – the French people had to be rallied, they needed to fight as never before:

It is gratifying to the Ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved. All are stirred, all are excited, and all burn to fight. You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.

One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities. Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and, march to the defence of the country. At such a moment you can proclaim that the capital deserves well of all France. 

At such a moment this National Assembly becomes a veritable committee of war. We ask that you concur with us in directing this sublime movement of the people, by naming commissioners who will second us in these measures. We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms will be punished with death. We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here. The tocsin that we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country. To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!

The same day as Danton delivered his fiery oration the fortress town of Verdun surrendered, but the revolutionary spirit would revive and a little over two weeks later the Prussians would be checked at Valmy and the tide of the war begin to turn.

 

The King’s (Charles I) Speech from the Scaffold

Just after ten in the morning on 30 January 1649, after walking his dog in St James’s Park and having consumed a glass of claret and some bread for breakfast Charles I was led from his place of incarceration at the Palace of St James to the Banqueting House in Whitehall and his place of execution. There he waited patiently while the Parliament that had passed sentence of death upon their King finalised the legislation that made it legal. In the meantime, the King requested an extra shirt should any shivering on such a cold day be mistaken for fear on his part.

As the clock struck twelve with flags fluttering in the breeze and the drum roll sounding a heavy beat he was escorted by armed guards to the scaffold. There he looked out upon a vast but subdued crowd mournful as if they could not quite believe their eyes and did not like what they saw.

Before meeting his fate the King would speak but he would address his words to Dr William Juxon, his former High Lord Treasurer who at his request had accompanied him to the scaffold rather than the people confident then that his words, and indeed the defence that had been denied him at his trial would be heard and faithfully recorded:

I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here.

Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good King, and a good Christian. I shall begin first with my innocence. In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this for, all the world knows that I never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the Militia they began upon, they confess that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if anybody will look to the dates of Commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the Declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me I hope in God that God will clear me of it, I will not, I am in charity. God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament; there is no necessity of either, I hope that they are free of this guilt; for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed; so that by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope (and pray God) that they may too; yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that Gods Judgments are just upon me. Many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary; I will only say this, That an unjust sentence (Strafford) that I suffered for to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me; that is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian; I hope there is a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causes of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavour to the last gasp the Peace of the Kingdom. So, Sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here that will carry it further, that they may endeavour the peace of the Kingdom. Now, (Sirs) I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way; first, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is by way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for Conquest, (Sir) in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just Cause, either for matter of wrong or just Title, and then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first: But if it be only matter of conquest, there is a great robbery; as a Pirate said to Alexander, that He was the great robber, he was but a petty robber: and so, Sir, I do think the way that you are in, is much out of the way. Now Sir, for to put you in the way, believe it you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the King his due (that is, my Successors) and the People their due; I am as much for them as any of you: You must give God his due by regulating rightly His Church (according to the Scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly now I cannot, but only this, a national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.

For the people, and truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as anybody whomsoever. But I must tell you, that their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their Gods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an Arbitrary way, for to have all Laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore, I tell you, (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) That I Am the Martyr of the People.

In truth, Sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse me.

I have delivered my Conscience. I pray God, that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the Kingdom and your own Salvations.

I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.

 

 

Beware the Ides of March

By 47 BC, Julius Caesar had defeated his opponents in Rome. Those who had posed a threat to him were dead, either killed in battle, executed, or made to commit suicide. He still had enemies he knew, but those to whom he had displayed leniency were both beaten and subjugated. He was the power now in Rome not the Senate and in February, 44 BC, he declared himself Dictator for Life.

There were many however, who had pledged their allegiance with scant sincerity. Two men in particular, Brutus and Cassius, believed it was their responsibility to act and the course of action they decided to take – assassination.

With as many as 60 Senators involved in the plot it was difficult to keep their plans secret but Caesar dismissed the rumours  and ignored the warning he received to ‘Beware the Ides of March.’

Nicolaus of Damascus, a close friend of King Herod, was not present in Rome at the time of Caesar’s murder but he knew many of those who were involved. This is his account of events as they were told him:

“The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others’ homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt as he was going along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favourite walks. Another idea was for it to be done at the elections during which he bad to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius; they should draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and for others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that would be that, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen prepared for the attempt. But the majority opinion favoured killing him while he sat in the Senate, where he would be by himself since non-Senators would not be admitted, and where the many conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.”

“His friends were alarmed at certain rumours and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, ‘What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honoured you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.’ This swayed Caesar and he left.”

“Before he entered the chamber, the priests brought up the victims for him to make what was to be his last sacrifice. The omens were clearly unfavourable. After this unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests made repeated other ones, to see if anything more propitious might appear than what had already been revealed to them. In the end they said that they could not clearly see the divine intent, for there was some transparent, malignant spirit hidden in the victims. Caesar was annoyed and abandoned divination till sunset, though the priests continued all the more with their efforts.

Those of the murderers present were delighted at all this, though Caesar’s friends asked him to put off the meeting of the Senate for that day because of what the priests had said, and he agreed to do this. But some attendants came up, calling him and saying that the Senate was full. He glanced at his friends, but Brutus approached him again and said, ‘Come, good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men, and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty power has seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favorable omen.’ He convinced Caesar with these words, took him by the right hand, and led him to the Senate which was quite near. Caesar followed in silence.”

“The Senate rose in respect for his position when they saw him entering. Those who were to have part in the plot stood near him. Right next to him went Tillius Cimber, whose brother had been exiled by Caesar. Under pretext of a humble request on behalf of this brother, Cimber approached and grasped the mantle of his toga, seeming to want to make a more positive move with his hands upon Caesar. Caesar wanted to get up and use his hands, but was prevented by Cimber and became exceedingly annoyed.

That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him. First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.

Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey’s statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded thirty-five times, he breathed his last. ”

 

 

The Death of Lord Nelson

Lord Horatio Nelson was a British hero long before the moment of his greatest triumph. His victories at the Battle of the Nile and Copenhagen had seen to that. He had the affection of the people even if his very public affair with the married Emma Hamilton, a woman of dubious repute, had scandalised polite society and left his own wife abandoned and humiliated. It made him not entirely trusted as a man of doubtful character but when Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to add Britain (that Nation of Shopkeepers) to his list of conquests he was the one man his country could turn to.

On 21 October, 1805, at Cape Trafalgar off the Spanish coast his British Fleet engaged the combined Fleets of France and Spain. Outnumbered and outgunned he would compensate for the disparity with daring and audacity. Aware that the French Admiral Villeneuve was wary of him following their earlier encounter at the Nile when he captained one of the few French ships to avoid destruction or capture Nelson decided stretch his nerves to breaking point. He would forego the usual broadside bombardment to attack head-on in two parallel columns penetrate the French line, surround and destroy piecemeal in a close quarter engagement all guns blazing.

It was a plan unorthodox, unpredictable, daring, and brilliant – it had that Nelson Touch.

On the day of the battle Nelson, contrary to the advice of his Captain’s who claimed it made him too clear and obvious a target, chose to wear his Admiral’s uniform. He had earned the right he said, and it was good for morale.

The attack began with a signal to his ships, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

For hours the two Fleets battered away at each other while Nelson coolly observed the bloody and confused melee from the quarter-deck of his Flagship HMS Victory alongside Captain Hardy. But it was a dangerous place to be especially since the Victory had become entangled with the French Redoubtable and the sharpshooters of both ships high in the rigging were fully engaged.

Dr William Beatty was a physician aboard the Victory who helped tend to the Admiral’s wounds and would not long after the battle provide a detailed account of the day’s events:  

“Lord Nelson and Captain Hardy walked the quarter-deck in conversation for some time after this, while the enemy kept up an incessant raking fire. A double-headed shot struck one of the parties of Marines drawn up on the poop, and killed eight of them; when his lordship, perceiving this, ordered Captain Adair, to disperse his men round the ship, that they might not suffer so much from being together. In a few minutes afterwards a shot struck the fore-brace-bits on the quarter-deck, and passed between Lord Nelson and Captain Hardy; a splinter from the bits bruising Captain Hardy’s foot, and tearing the buckle from his shoe. They both instantly stopped; and were observed by the Officers on deck to survey each other with inquiring looks, each supposing the other to be wounded. His lordship then smiled, and said: ‘This is too warm work, Hardy, to last long;’ and declared that ‘through all the battles he had been in, he had never witnessed more cool courage than was displayed by the Victory’s crew on this occasion.’

About fifteen minutes past one o’clock, which was in the heat of the engagement, he was walking the middle of the quarter-deck with Captain Hardy, and in the act of turning near the hatchway with his face towards the stern of the Victory, when the fatal ball was fired from the enemy’s mizzen-top. The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Captain Hardy, who was on his right (the side furthest from the enemy) and advanced some steps before his lordship, on turning round, saw the Sergeant Major of Marines with two seamen raising him from the deck; where he had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood his lordship’s clothes were much soiled. Captain Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: ‘They have done for me at last, Hardy.’ – ‘I hope not,’ answered Captain Hardy. ‘Yes,’ replied his lordship; ‘my backbone is shot through.’

Captain Hardy ordered the seamen to carry the Admiral to the cockpit. . .

His lordship was laid upon a bed, stripped of his clothes, and covered with a sheet. While this was effecting, he said to Doctor Scott, “Doctor, I told you so. Doctor, I am gone;” and after a short pause he added in a low voice, “I have to leave Lady Hamilton, and my adopted daughter Horatia, as a legacy to my country.” The surgeon then examined the wound, assuring his lordship that he would not put him to much pain in endeavouring to discover the course of the ball; which he soon found had penetrated deep into the chest, and had probably lodged in the spine. This being explained to his lordship, he replied, “he was confident his back was shot through.”

The back was then examined externally, but without any injury being perceived; on which his lordship was requested by the surgeon to make him acquainted with all his sensations. He replied, that “he felt a gush of blood every minute within his breast: that he had no feeling in the lower part of his body: and that his breathing was difficult, and attended with very severe pain about that part of the spine where he was confident that the ball had struck; for,” said he, “I felt it break my back.” These symptoms, but more particularly the gush of blood which his lordship complained of, together with the state of his pulse, indicated to the surgeon the hopeless situation of the case; but till after the victory was ascertained and announced to his lordship, the true nature of his wound was concealed by the surgeon from all on board except only Captain Hardy, Doctor Scott, Mr. Burke, and Messrs. Smith and Westemburg the assistant surgeons.

The Victory’s crew cheered whenever they observed an enemy’s ship surrender. On one of these occasions, Lord Nelson anxiously inquired what was the cause of it. When Lieutenant Pasco, who lay wounded at some distance from his lordship, raised himself up, and told him that another ship had struck, which appeared to give him much satisfaction. He now felt an ardent thirst; and frequently called for drink, and to be fanned with paper, making use of these words: fan, fan and drink, drink.

He evinced great solicitude for the event of the battle, and fears for the safety of his friend Captain Hardy. Doctor Scott and Mr. Burke used every argument they could suggest, to relieve his anxiety. Mr. Burke told him ‘the enemy were decisively defeated, and that he hoped His lordship would still live to be himself the bearer of the joyful tidings to his country.’ He replied, ‘It is nonsense, Mr. Burke, to suppose I can live: my sufferings are great, but they will all be soon over.’ Doctor Scott entreated his lordship ‘not to despair of living,’ and said ‘he trusted that Divine Providence would restore him once more to his dear country and friends.’ — ‘Ah, Doctor!’ replied lordship, ‘it is all over; it is all over.

An hour and ten minutes however elapsed, from the time of his lordship’s being wounded, before Captain Hardy’s first subsequent interview with him. . . They shook hands affectionately, and Lord Nelson said: ‘Well, Hardy, how goes the battle? How goes the day with us?’- ‘Very well, my Lord,’ replied Captain Hardy. . . ‘I am a dead man, Hardy. I am going fast: it will be all over with me soon. Come nearer to me. Pray let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair, and all other things belonging to me.’ . . .Captain Hardy observed, that ‘he hoped Mr. Beatty could yet hold out some prospect of life.’ – ‘Oh! no,’ answered his lordship; ‘it is impossible. My back is shot through. Beatty will tell you so.’ Captain Hardy then returned on deck, and at parting shook hands again with his revered friend and commander.

His Lordship became speechless in about fifteen minutes after Captain Hardy left him. . . and when he had remained speechless about five minutes, his Lordship’s steward went to the surgeon, who had been a short time occupied with the wounded in another part of the cockpit, and stated his apprehensions that his Lordship was dying. The surgeon immediately repaired to him, and found him on the verge of dissolution. He knelt down by his side, and took up his hand; which was cold, and the pulse gone from the wrist. On the surgeon’s feeling his forehead, which was likewise cold, his Lordship opened his eyes, looked up, and shut them again. The surgeon again left him, and returned to the wounded who required his assistance; but was not absent five minutes before the Steward announced to him that ‘he believed his Lordship had expired.’ The surgeon returned, and found that the report was but too well founded: his Lordship had breathed his last, at thirty minutes past four o’clock; at which period Doctor Scott was in the act of rubbing his Lordship’s breast, and Mr. Burke supporting the bed under his shoulders.

 

 

 

 

A Mexican Remembers the Alamo

In 1835, Texas belonged to Mexico but there was a growing sense in the region that it needn’t be so. A recent influx of Americans with their clearly defined notions of liberty and Mexicans already resident disgruntled at the autocratic rule of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna saw tensions mount and following a series of skirmishes with the Mexican Army it was forced to abandon the region. Their absence saw an expression of anger become a fully-fledged movement for independence. But the Mexicans would be back.

Santa Anna had no intention of entering into negotiation with those he considered little better than pirates and by early 1836 he had returned with a fresh, fully-equipped and formidable army determined to crush the rebellion. The Texians, a rag-tag collection of regular soldiers, volunteers, and adventurers were nevertheless just as determined to be free.

By the last week of February, Santa Anna’s army stood before the Mission Station known as the Alamo, a broken down, ramshackle old Church and its surround that had been hastily fortified for defence. Inside were some 200 mostly volunteer fighters under the command of William Barret Travis.  Also at the Alamo were two legendary figures of the West, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Their presence would make for an exhaustive mythology intended for the most part to praise but also to demean.

Santa Anna would offer no quarter and those defending the Alamo would die to a man, whether some did so less heroically than others is irrelevant in that they were all killed in the cause they were fighting for. There are then few descriptions of the fighting from the Texian side other than the memories of the women and non-combatants who survived.

This account is from a serving Officer in Santa Anna’s army:

“On this same evening, a little before nightfall, it is said that Barret Travis, commander of the enemy, had offered to the general-in-chief, by a woman messenger, to surrender his arms and the fort with all the materials upon the sole condition that his own life and the lives of his men be spared. But the answer was that they must surrender at discretion, without any guarantee, even of life, which traitors did not deserve. It is evident, that after such an answer, they all prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Consequently, they exercised the greatest vigilance day and night to avoid surprise.

On the morning of March 6, the Mexican troops were stationed at 4 o’clock, A.M., in accord with Santa Anna’s instructions. The artillery, as appears from these same instructions, was to remain inactive, as it received no order; and furthermore, darkness and the disposition made of the troops which were to attack the four fronts at the same time, prevented its firing without mowing down our own ranks. Thus the enemy was not to suffer from our artillery during the attack. Their own artillery was in readiness. At the sound of the bugle they could no longer doubt that the time had come for them to conquer or to die. Had they still doubted, the imprudent shouts for Santa Anna given by our columns of attack must have opened their eyes.

As soon as our troops were in sight, a shower of grape and musket balls was poured upon them from the fort, the garrison of which at the sound of the bugle had rushed to arms and to their posts. The three columns that attacked the west, the north, and the east fronts, fell back, or rather, wavered at the first discharge from the enemy, but the example and the efforts of the officers soon caused them to return to the attack. The columns of the western and eastern attacks, meeting with some difficulties in reaching the tops of the small houses which formed the walls of the fort, did, by a simultaneous movement to the right and to left, swing northward till the three columns formed one dense mass, which under the guidance of their officers, endeavoured to climb the parapet on that side.

This obstacle was at length overcome, the gallant General Juan V Amador being among the foremost, meantime the column attacking the southern front under Colonels Jose Vicente Minon and Jose Morales, availing themselves of a shelter, formed by some stone houses near the western salient of that front, boldly took the guns defending it, and penetrated through the embrasures into the square formed by the barracks. There they assisted General Amador, who having captured the enemy’s pieces turned them against the doors of the interior houses where the rebels had sought shelter, and from which they fired upon our men in the act of jumping down onto the square or court of the fort. At last they were all destroyed by grape, musket shot and the bayonet.

Our loss was very heavy. Colonel Francisco Duque was mortally wounded at the very beginning, as he lay dying on the ground where he was being trampled by his own men, he still ordered them on to the slaughter. This attack was extremely injudicious and in opposition to military rules, for our own men were exposed not only to the fire of the enemy but also to that of our own columns attacking the other fronts; and our soldiers being formed in close columns, all shots that were aimed too low, struck the backs of our foremost men. The greatest number of our casualties took place in that manner; it may even be affirmed that not one fourth of our wounded were struck by the enemy’s fire, because their cannon, owing to their elevated position, could not be sufficiently lowered to injure our troops after they had reached the foot of the walls. Nor could the defenders use their muskets with accuracy, because the wall having no inner banquette, they had, in order to deliver their fire, to stand on top where they could not live one second.

The official list of casualties, made by General Juan de Andrade, shows: officers 8 killed, 18 wounded; enlisted men 52 killed, 233 wounded. Total 311 killed and wounded. A great many of the wounded died for want of medical attention, beds, shelter, and surgical instruments.

The whole garrison were killed except an old woman and a negro slave for whom the soldiers felt compassion, knowing that they had remained from compulsion alone. There were 150 volunteers, 32 citizens of Gonzales who had introduced themselves into the fort the night previous to the storming, and about 20 citizens or merchants of Bexar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death of the Borgia Pope

Long before Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI on 11 August, 1492, he already had a reputation for corruption both financial and otherwise. It was said that he had bribed his way to the Papacy and had sired as many as ten children by the many mistresses he had at his beck and call, though he recognised only four.  Indeed, there were few vices his many enemies were not willing to attribute to him among them fraud, murder, and incest. Political chicanery and the ruthless grab for power were the hallmark of his time in office and to be an enemy of the Borgia’s was to establish a case for retribution both against oneself and one’s family. It was rarely ignored.

No less notorious was the lavish lifestyle and the many parties (which some described as little better than orgies) that now became part and parcel of everyday life in the Vatican. It seemed to many that his sacred duty as a successor to St Peter and God’s Representative on Earth were but secondary to his pursuit of pleasure and relentless self-aggrandisement. Yet for all the hedonism he was one of the most effective men ever to sit upon the Petrine Throne. He successfully guided the Papacy through troubled times while both securing its position and enhancing its power. Mother Church would in the end owe him a great deal but this did not mean that his passing would be greatly mourned, and it wasn’t.

Johann Burchard worked within the Vatican overseeing official ceremonies and functions. Frequently in the presence of the Pope he witnessed his final illness and the moment of his death. This is his account of the Borgia Pope’s demise and its immediate aftermath:  

“On Saturday morning, August 12th, the pope felt unwell, and at about three o’clock in the afternoon he became feverish. Fourteen ounces of blood were taken from him three days later and tertiary fever set in. Early on August 17th, he was given some medicine, but he worsened and at about six o’clock on the following morning, he made his confession to Don Pietro Gamboa, the Bishop of Carinola, who then celebrated Mass in His Holiness’s presence. After he had made his own communion, he gave the pope the Host as he sat in his bed and then completed the Mass. The service was also attended by five cardinals – Serra, Francesco Borgia, Giovanni Castelar, Casanova and de Loris of Constantinople – to whom His Holiness stated that he felt ill. At the hour of Vespers he was given Extreme Unction by the Bishop of Carinola, and he expired in the presence of the datary, the bishop and the attendants standing by.

Don Cesare, (the Pope’s illegitimate son), who was also unwell at the time, sent Michelotto with a large number of retainers to close all the doors that gave access to the pope’s room. One of the men took out a dagger and threatened to cut Cardinal Casanova’s throat and to throw him out of the window unless he handed over the keys to all the pope’s treasure. Terrified, the cardinal surrendered the keys, whereupon the others entered the room next to the papal apartment and seized all the silver that they found, together with two coffers containing about a hundred thousand ducats.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, they opened the doors and proclaimed that the pope was dead. In the meantime, valets took what had been left behind in the wardrobe and the apartments, and nothing of value remained except the papal chairs, some cushions and the tapestries on the walls. Throughout the whole of the pope’s illness, Don Cesare never visited his father, nor again after his death, whilst His Holiness for his part never once made the slightest reference to Cesare or Lucrezia.”

Burchard helped dress the Pope’s leaving it in a courtyard before leaving to attend to other business:

“I returned to the city after eight o’clock in the evening, accompanied by eight of the palace guards, and in the vice-chancellor’s name I ordered Giovanni Caroli the messenger, on pain of losing his office, to go with his fellow messengers to inform all the clergy in Rome, secular priests and monks alike, that they must assemble early next morning at five o’clock in the papal palace for the funeral procession from the Sistine Chapel to the Basilica of St Peter’s. Two hundred tapers were prepared for those who would assemble for the pope’s funeral.

Next morning, I had the bier brought into the Sala del Pappagallo and there set down. Four confessors recited the Office of the Dead as they sat on the window-frame with their hands resting on the pope’s litter, which was supported by paupers who stood at hand gazing at the body. I placed a folded mattress on the bier and covered it with a fine new pall of bright purple brocade i With the help of three others, I took hold of the bier and moved it into a position between the high altar and the papal seat so that the pope’s head was close to the altar. There we shut the bier in behind the choir. The Bishop of Sessa, however, wondered if the ordinary people might not climb up to the body there, which would cause a great scandal and perhaps allow somebody who had been wronged by the pope to get his revenge. He therefore had the bier moved into the chapel entrance between the steps, with the pope’s feet so close to the iron door that they could be touched through the grill. There the body remained through the day, with the iron door firmly closed.

After dining, the cardinals appointed for the task and with the aid of the Chamber clergy made an inventory of the valuables and the more precious moveable goods that had belonged to Alexander. They found the crown and two precious tiaras, all the rings which the pope wore for Mass, the credence-vessels for his use in celebrating and enough indeed to fill eight coffers. Amongst all these things were the golden vessels from the recess of the apartment adjoining the pope’s bedroom about which Don Michelotto had known nothing, as well as a small cypress box, covered in strong cloth and containing precious stones and rings to the value of about twenty-five thousand ducats. There were also found many documents, the oaths of the cardinals, the bull for the investiture of the King of Naples, and a great number of other bulls.

In the meantime, the body of the pope had remained for a long time, as I have described, between the railings of the high altar. During that period, the four wax candles next to it burned right down, and the complexion of the dead man became increasingly foul and black.

Already by four o’clock on that afternoon when I saw the corpse, again, its face had changed to the color of mulberry or the blackest cloth and it was covered in blue-black spots. The nose was swollen, the mouth distended where the tongue was doubled over, and the lips seemed to fill everything. The appearance of the face then was far more horrifying than anything that had ever been seen or reported before.

Later after five o’clock, the body was carried to the Chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre and placed in its coffin next to the wall in a corner by the altar. Six labourers or porters, making blasphemous jokes about the pope or in contempt of his corpse, together with two master carpenters, performed this task.

The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope’s mitre at his side, rolled his body up in an old carpet, and pummelled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists. No wax tapers or lights were used, and no priests or any other persons attended to his body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon

The River Rubicon which runs from the Apennines to the Adriatic Coast near Rimini may not be geographically significant. It hardly cuts a swathe through the landscape but it would nonetheless lend its name to one of the most significant events in history.

In his ten years as Governor of Gaul Julius Caesar had enhanced his military reputation to the point where it outshone even that of his former friend and now great rival Pompey who de facto ruled in Rome. In doing so he had amassed a vast fortune which he used to buy influence and support in the city.

With Gaul subdued and his return imminent the Senate in Rome acted to curb Caesar’s ambitions.  He was ordered to resign his command, disband his army, and return to civilian life. If he refused then he would be  declared an Enemy of the People and every Roman citizen would be obliged to do him harm. Moreover, Pompey was charged with enforcing the edict should it be ignored.

Caesar received news of the Senate’s decision while at Winter Quarters at Ravenna in Northern Italy. He now faced a stark choice either do as the Senate demanded thereby ending his political career or disobey them and plunge Rome into civil war. T

The law forbade him to lead an army across the River Rubicon and march it south but upon learning that his political allies in Rome had been forced to flee the city he felt he had no choice. With just one Legion at his back he crossed the Rubicon, the die had been cast, he had gone beyond the point of no return.

This is the Roman historian Suetonius’s account of that fateful decision:


“When the news came
 to Ravenna, where Caesar was staying, that the interposition of the tribunes in his favour had been utterly rejected, and that they themselves had fled Rome, he immediately sent forward some cohorts, yet secretly, to prevent any suspicion of his plan; and to keep up appearances, he attended the public games and examined the model of a fencing school which he proposed building, then – as usual – sat down to table with a large company of friends.

However, after sunset some mules from a near-by mill were put in his carriage, and he set forward on his journey as privately as possible, and with an exceedingly scanty retinue. The lights went out.. He lost his way and wandered about a long time – till at last, by help of a guide, whom he discovered towards daybreak, he proceeded on foot through some narrow paths, and again reached the road. Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those he about him, saying: ‘still we can retreat! But once past this little bridge nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’

As he hesitated an incident occurred – a man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the “Advance!” with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!’

Accordingly he marched his army over the river; then he showed them the tribunes of the Plebs, who on being driven from Rome had come to meet him, and in the presence of that assembly, called on the troops to pledge him their fidelity; tears springing to his eyes [as he spoke] and his garments rent from his bosom.”

 

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