Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24, 1638 – Leeuwenhoek Blinded

When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born in Delft in the Netherlands, the baby seemed well enough: he cried, he reacted to his mother, he ate and grew. As little Antonie grew, his family came upon troubled times. Two of his sisters and his father died, and Antonie suffered a terrible fever that would blind him by his sixth birthday. The boy recovered, but he now faced a terrible handicap.

In 1640, Leeuwenhoek's mother remarried, and he was sent to a monastery in Germany that cared for the blind. While unable to read, Leeuwenhoek would be taught songs and oral passages from the Bible by the monks. He was considered the brightest of the children in the care of the monks, and they came to give him special privileges. Sometime when Leeuwenhoek was about sixteen, he was with a scribe who told him about the illuminations in the book he read to Leeuwenhoek and offered him to touch the gilt and thick medieval paints. Leeuwenhoek's later letters described the sensation of feeling images as almost as if he could see again with his mind's eye.

When he became sixteen, the monks encouraged Leeuwenhoek to pursue a trade beyond simple manual labor. He considered several options before becoming a draper, being able to measure by a grooved ruler he carved himself, having the monks check its accuracies for him. When his skills were approved, he moved home to Delft and secured an apprenticeship with a cloth merchant. While he worked, he considered his system of grooves and the illuminations, and, by 1653, he developed a method of “writing by texture.”

Leeuwenhoek worked in business until he had built enough capital to set himself up as a teacher. He did not know Latin, and he had never attended university, but his drive to develop a written alphabet for the blind pushed him. Over the course of months and perfected over years, he built a set of mirrored letters. His method of writing was to etch each backward to be used as a mold. He experimented with systems of carving wood and pouring wax, but the wax was prone to melt under the warmth and pressure of fingers. Lead proved too soft, and tin plates warped. Finally he settled upon glass, and the glass books he produced became the first written code for the blind.

Leeuwenhoek's school attracted the attention of parents of blind children among the growing middle class of the early Enlightenment, and he soon found himself with no shortage of students. His methods spread across Europe and were translated to match the alphabets of French, English, and German. Only two of his original glass books are known to survive due to breakage and the glass being worn down by generations of fingertips. In place of glass, Leeuwenhoek experimented later with typesetting machines into plates of alloys, adding mechanical engineering and metallurgy to his life's impressive list of feats.

His contributions to science are held among the greatest of the Enlightened Age. Along with the creation of calculus, natural law, and principles of physics. It would not be until the Industrial Revolution that discoveries in biology and anatomy would catch up with the science of microbiology founded in part by Charles Darwin, whose theory of the sexual reproduction of microorganisms would cause scandal among the Victorian world, though later contribute to Sir Alexander Fleming's germ theory.

In reality, Leeuwenhoek was healthy. He became the apprentice of a cloth merchant and eventually set himself up as a draper, where he saw a magnifying glass with a 3x power. Inspired, Leeuwenhoek would develop more and more powerful microscopes over his lifetime, building over 250 of them and grinding 500 lenses. Considered an amateur by the scientific elite, his discoveries with microscopes capable of 275-500x magnification included: bacteria (called “animacules”), protists, spermatozoa, and great expansions on the work of Robert Hooke.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23, 1812 – Malet's Coup Accidentally Succeeds

Claude Francois de Malet loved his country and felt that so much more could come from a France not chained under autocratic rule. When he had come of age at seventeen, he had enlisted as a Musketeer, as was common for minor nobles like himself to do under the reign of the Bourbons. Louis XVI disbanded the guard in 1776, and Malet realized the abuse of power one man could hold.

When the French Revolution began, he found common interest among the republicans. His family disinherited him, but Malet was content to fight for his own way and the way of his countrymen. He volunteered for the revolutionaries' army and became captain in the Army of the Rhine. Malet reenlisted after his first tour lapsed, and he fought valiantly until 1802 with many honors, being promoted to brigadier general in 1799.

Malet returned to France and found that the Revolution for which he had fought much of his life had given way to a new heavy-handed system. As the Consulate came to power, Malet voted against Napoleon as the First Consul. While a member of the Legion of Honor and thus a powerful enemy, Napoleon worked to push Malet's vehement voice away from public ears. Napoleon crowned himself emperor, and Malet resigned from service. Despite their differences, both Napoleon and Malet worked toward the greatness of France, and Malet accepted governorships in the Kingdom of Italy. He served in Italy for several years before being sent to prison for ten months in 1807 on charges not even considered in court as he was released without trial in 1808.

Returning to Paris after yet another stint of national service abroad and now seething from lost months of his life, Malet found himself arrested on suspicion of being a member of the Philadelphes, a society of Masons who had dedicated themselves to republicanism and, especially, opposition to Napoleon. From 1810, he sat under house arrest and began to plot. He built a network of allies and careful forgeries that would overthrow the dictator upon the false news of his death. Even if Napoleon were to return, Malet felt that the people of France would consider not taking back the emperor. When Napoleon marched on Moscow, Malet knew his chance had come.

October 23, 1812, Malet escaped and released his fellow conspirators from their prisons with forged documents, the presence of his general's uniform, and his sense of command. He marched to the barracks of the Gendarmerie, woke up the troops, and displayed further forgeries of orders to establish a republican Paris. The provisional government was established, and Malet's plan went smoothly.

Word of the coup filtered to Napoleon, who was sitting atop the ashes of Moscow. He passed command of the remnants of the Grande Armée to Marshall Joachim Murat and returned to Paris by fast-moving sleigh. Near Krasnoy, Russian snipers spotted the sleigh, thought it a messenger, and shot the passengers dead. After the disappearance of the emperor, emergency patrols would be launched, and his blood-soaked sleigh would be found November 14. When the news spread of the emperor's actual death, the Russians launched a renewed campaign against the devastated French troops.

In Paris, the news of Napoleon's death would be met with confusion. Malet worked to weave his lies and the truth into powerful propaganda that the French determined one was a false report, but no one knew which. In either case, they already had their provisional government established, and there was no need for a Napoleon II.

With the return to the republic, Malet worked to rally the army and peacefully disassemble Napoleon's web of satellite states, puppet kings, and forced alliances. While many in Europe called for a Sixth Coalition to defeat France wholly, the Continent was weary of war. Malet swore to fight defensively for French soil, but the diplomats were eager to take back their conquered lands without further bloodshed. A new balance of power was struck at the Treaty of Leipzig in October of 1813. Britain assumed dominance of the seas, Austria regained its holdings in Germany and Italy, and Russia grew in influence over Poland and Finland. France, meanwhile, would rebuild.

Malet was said to have “retired” France, and several groups rose up in dissension about his parceling up of the empire. Still, he argued if he had fought, the Coalition would have torn France apart, and his righteous anger proved that the age of old empires had come to an end. The colonies of Spain and Portugal would gain independence, and Germany under the Bavarians then Italy would unify themselves into European powers. Malet would die in 1826, not seeing the latter two actions, but living long enough to see the establishment of a new generation of free Frenchmen. Their republican ideals would spark waves of revolution across Europe in the 1830s and again in the 1850s, gradually dissolving the power of autocracy.

In its place, a sense of nationalism would grow up, sparking competition and, in the 1870s, the Great War. As the Prussians balked under Bavarian rule to began a civil war, all of the nations of Europe drew sides to divide the Continent and cost over a million lives. New systems would rise from its shadow, such as anarchism, communism, and progressive republicanism.

In reality, Napoleon did return to Paris. He quickly resumed power as the people loved him, but he was annoyed that no one had called for the continuation of his dynasty. Malet and his conspirators were gathered before trial on October 29 and executed by firing squad.

Friday, October 22, 2010

October 22, 1633 – Hans Putmans Rethinks His Strategy

China faced a great time of turmoil in the twilight of the Ming dynasty. Europeans from the West encroached on imperial power while war with Manchuria emptied the coffers and piracy limited trade that would produce tax-income. If Emperor Chongzhen were going to win the war in the north, he needed to secure the seas to the south.

In 1628, the pirate Zheng Zhilong, leader and founder of the Shibazhi, a powerful organization of eighteen pirates, defeated the Ming fleet. Zheng had undergone an impressive life: he studied business in Macau at 18, was baptized into Catholicism, translated among the Dutch, worked under famed pirate Li Dan (“Captain China”), inherited the pirate's empire, and grew it to an even more impressive stance. Upon his display of mastery of the seas, rather than fight continual losing wars against him, the Emperor took Zheng on as a major general. In 1633, Chongzhen promoted him to Admiral of the Coastal Seas and charged him with establishing seas free from piracy.

This event would be a boon for Chinese business, but the monopoly would challenge the lucrative Dutch control of trade with Japan. Hans Putmans, governor of Formosa (Taiwan), decided to end the Emperor's action before it could be started and launched a sneak attack on Zheng's fleet in harbor. On July 7, 1633, he destroyed much of the fleet.

Zheng reacted with a cunning plan to rebuild his fleet: use locals. He set up recruitment with two pieces of silver for each man volunteering for service, five if the battles with the pirates and Dutch went long. Though not expert sailors, they were organized into 16-man fire-boats that were easily maneuverable and sailed. For each Dutch ship destroyed, the boat would be given a bounty of 200 silver pieces. Each Dutch head brought in would be traded for 50 silver pieces.

With more than one hundred fire-boats on the prowl, Putmans and his pirate allies faced gradual attrition over the summer and into fall. By October 22, Putmans' fleet of twenty warships had been dwindled to nine. When he and his fleet spotted the Chinese warships approaching, Putmans made the split decision to retreat to the safety and regroup. While he might have won the battle, the war was against his favor.

Instead, Putmans decided to fight fire with fire: this was to be an economic war. He took on volunteers at three silver pieces each and promised bounties half-again as much for destroyed Chinese ships and heads of Chinese crew. Through the rest of fall, the south sea turned into a bloodbath, attracting pirates from as far away as Arabia. The Dutch East India Company questioned Putmans' wild expenses, but the governor assured stockholders that the small debt would be a valuable investment. By the time shipping slowed for winter, the war had become a stalemate.

Putmans and Zheng both rebuilt their fleets and launched into one another early in 1634. While the Chinese had English-made cannon, the Dutch ships had been able to produce more firepower from their Formosan smiths. On April 2, 1634, the fleets met in a decisive battle that ended with the capture of Zheng. Rather than execute the enemy, Putmans offered to hire Zheng away. Zheng said that he would only join the Dutch if given an exorbitant ten million pieces of silver, but Putmans surprised him by agreeing. The Company balked, but Putmans silenced them with promise to pay out of his own earnings in addition to yearly installments.

Zheng came to dominate trade while Putmans worked to develop Formosa, building plantations and settlements. He set up a “blood tax”, forcing natives to give up children as slaves, which produced profitable cheap labor for the Company. In 1644, the Ming Dynasty fell to the uprising of Li Zicheng, and Putmans made his move. Using Zheng's connections, the two masterminded a Dutch invasion of the south of China, establishing a huge new sphere of influence. Zheng was made the governor of the land, becoming almost a king as he worked to improve profits for the Company.

The Dutch came to control the Far East, while the French and, especially, English attempted to challenge their power, but fast alliances with Zheng and his legacy of pirates made the Dutch all but invincible there. Over the next century, great wealth poured into the Netherlands from the East, which they in turn invested back into imperial growth. Despite attempts to keep the locals under thumb, Japan would eventually come to their own industrial revolution and challenge Dutch authority in the Dutch-Japanese War through the 1930s. The carefully cultivated resources came under Japanese control, though fleetingly as their choice of allying with Hitler's Axis would end in surrender under atomic barrage.

In reality, Putmans' fleet met with that of Zheng Zhilong and was destroyed. Zheng ordered his crews to focus on the more threatening Dutch ships and, once those were defeated, to mop up the rest of the pirate menace. Three Dutch ships were lost, forcing Putmans to retreat and surrender the strait to Chinese control. He continued his governorship of Formosa, developing the island at the cost of native lives. Zheng, meanwhile, gained enormous wealth from his victory and would gain further wealth by switching allegiances to the Manchu in 1646. He would later be executed by the Qing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21, 1962 – Kennedy Approves Nuclear Action

At 10:00 AM, President John F. Kennedy met with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and approved the plan to threaten preemptive nuclear strike. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union had never been tauter. Since World War II, the two superpowers had checked one another and maintained aggressive military build-up, though the Americans found themselves greatly outpaced by the Russians as the '50s progressed. Russians first caught up by developing their own atomic weapons after the war. In '48 and '49, America and its allies had cowed the Russian attempt at fencing West Berlin with the Berlin Airlift, keeping them from leading world affairs. Korea had turned into a draw, though Communism continued to spread in places such as French Indochina. By '56, however, the USSR had come to the forefront with their launch of Sputnik.

The Russian lead in the Cold War struck closer to home when, in 1959, Castro and his Communist regime overthrew Batista in Cuba, just miles from the Florida coastline. While Cuba and the Soviet Union were establishing relations, the US moved forward with plans to establish missile bases in Turkey, which became operational in April of 1962. Just months later, the Soviet Union would begin its own missile bases in Cuba. In September of 1962, American U-2 high-altitude spy planes discerned these bases, and reports were presented to the president. On October 21, he made his decision for action.

Kennedy had considered the use of a naval quarantine, but a blockade was considered an act of war under international law. While the Russians might not dare consider it so great, they might also consider the action too little to be a threat to their activities. The Russians might even step up to the challenge with their own “Cuban Airlift” as a thumbed-nose toward the Americans. International embarrassment was the lesser of evils if missiles were to be launched from Cuba, but the Cold War had long been a game of nerves.

Monday, October 22, Kennedy gave a televised address about the discovery of the weapons. He concluded by telling the Soviet Union that America would strike if these bases were not disassembled immediately. Truman had authorized nuclear attacks on Japan as well as several key supply lines in Korea, and Kennedy would authorize attack on every known Soviet missile base, Cuban, Russian, or any other member of their bloc. He likened the situation to discovering a man with a gun, and he insisted Premier Khrushchev “put the gun down.” If not, he would “shoot the gun-hand.”

Internationally, the threat was taken in a variety of reactions. Many questioned validity of the spy photos, others applauded America for taking action, and far more feared what might come. Khrushchev wrote a letter of reply, saying, “I must say frankly that the measures indicated in your statement constitute a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations...We reaffirm that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes in order to secure [the] Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor. I hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace.”

Kennedy replied that no nuke was merely defensive; Khrushchev scoffed and waited for America to blink. The two stood at an impasse for nearly a week until October 27, when Castro's forces shot down a U-2 spy plane. Kennedy noted the evidence of fully operational missile bases that, if merely defensive, would not need to shoot down spy planes. Khrushchev said the same about the American missiles in Turkey. While there may have been a diplomatic action to dismantle both, an accidental flight of a U-2 plane over Soviet airspace caused a dogfight between Soviet MIG fighters and American F-102s, whom Kennedy granted permission to fire.

The war began as the fighters fired nuclear-tipped missiles over the Bering Sea. Limited missile exchanges followed, destroying bases in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Europe, and the United States. Submarines were blown up by charges in both navies. After the horrific volley, utter devastation gave way to cries from the UN to stop the madness. World War 3 would last two days and cost thousands of lives, ultimately millions as the world began to deal with radioactive fallout.

The display of aggression also caused a worldwide movement for the banning of nuclear weapons. Through the course of the Sixties and early Seventies, the governments of the world would give up their atomic arms and return to heavy traditional weaponry for defense (China being the last, finally persuaded by Nixon's system of economic benefits). For countries developing new weapons, sanctions would slow them or military action would put a stop to the programs.

After a short era of good feelings, however, the Cold War would creep up again with the USSR moving into Afghanistan in 1979. The war would prove costly and ultimately contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union. As the only remaining superpower, the United States would undergo the extremely expensive position of policing the world and being aware of potential developers of nuclear programs. Under the administration of George W. Bush, America would occupy both Iraq and Iran under suspicion of weapons of mass destruction. Many fear that these costly wars may do to the US what Afghanistan did to the Soviets.

In reality, Kennedy ordered the blockade. Several ships would test it, including a Soviet submarine that was shaken by US Navy depth charges, but eventually Khrushchev and Kennedy would agree to dismantle bases in Cuba in exchange for the closing of bases in Turkey and Italy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 1740 – Austrian Throne Left Empty

For dinner, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria, and ruler of too many duchies to list, decided he would like some mushrooms. Delighted, he shared them with his daughter and heir, Maria Theresa, whom he had kept near him for fear of his death since 1738. He had worked throughout his reign to secure the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which would allow a daughter to secure the throne of Austria. Female rulers, while sometimes seen in Europe such as England's Elizabeth and Poland's Jadwiga, were simply unheard of in the traditions of the ruling empires of the Continent. All of Charles' work would be undone in a quick lapse of thought as the mushrooms would prove poisonous.

Charles died, and Maria Theresa followed him soon after. It was believed that Maria Theresa was pregnant, but autopsy upon a royal was forbidden, and there was no reasonable way to be sure beyond the whispers of her nurses. Maria Theresa's husband, Francis Stephen, stood to directly inherit the titles, but he was distrusted by many of his people, and his claims were hardly locked in iron-clad law. Instead, a surge of Austrian nobles, as well as the Hapsburgs in Spain, looked to take up the throne. Civil war would break out in the empire and then all through Europe in what became known as the War of the Austrian Succession.

Austria proved itself unable to secure a ruler. Its coffers had been emptied by the expenses of the War of the Polish Succession and the Russo-Turkish War. Charles had ignored suggestions to focus on restoring the imperial treasury as well as expanding the military, which had dwindled to 80,000 soldiers who had not been paid in months. Instead, Charles focused on the security of his Pragmatic Sanction, but now there was no ruler at all. Austria unable to defend itself, Frederick the Great of Prussia would begin the international move carving up the empire with his invasion of Silesia on December 16. The Hungarian Diet would declare its independence early in 1741 and drop out of the war.

The rest of Europe would hurry to grab what it could. France and Spain turned on each other and fought bitterly over duchies in northern Italy. Frederick, meanwhile, began a campaign to unite the German states not as Holy Roman Emperor, but as Emperor of Germany, a Kaiser as he called it. Saxony would initially fight, then yield, as would most of the others. England joined Spain against France in a bid for domination in the colonies of North America and India. Russia, meanwhile, became embroiled in a two-front war with Sweden while attempting to block the Prussians' move south.

When the war ended and the dust settled on battlefields in 1756, Europe reached a new balance of power. Spain made great gains in Italy, Germany stood united under the Prussian crown, and Russia gained a sphere of influence in the Balkans. The French were removed from North America while the British came to dominate Canada and India. Expenses would be charged upon the colonies, spurring a reprisal from the American colonists that demanded representation to determine their taxes. As one of his last actions before his death, George II promoted new ministers of parliament from the colonies, a rash decision in the minds of many, but what he considered best rather than leaving the matter to his grandson who would “foul it up.”

Austria itself would become a shadow with only its lands west of the Alps under the new Austrian King Leopold. The many subordinate peoples broke free and named their own kings, which each had to be approved by the Great Powers to ensure a return to European stability.

In reality, Maria Theresa survived her father. The Pragmatic Sanction divided Europe as many supported the Austrian succession while Prussia's Fredrick the Great led the dispute against it, seizing Silesia. After years of war and the deaths of thousands, much of the status quo would return to Europe despite extravagant battle plans. Spain took a few duchies in Italy in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 while Prussia kept Silesia, but few questions had been answered. These matters would be brought up again in the Seven Years' War less than a decade later.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 19, 1950 – Chinese Invade Korea; Truman Approves The Bomb

Extra UN patrols sent by United States General MacArthur came upon massive Chinese troop movements across the Yalu River, the border between China and Korea, the latter of which had been torn apart by war for years. MacArthur had been haunted by nightmares of the Chinese invading, throwing back the UN peacekeeping force that had battled the Communist North Koreans since June. Because of his nightmares, the general had courteously met with President Truman in Washington on October 15 and advised an end to the war before an estimated 300,000 Chinese troops in Manchuria and 120,000 along the Yalu turned the war against the UN.

While MacArthur’s estimates were the entire troop strength for the region, most of whom would stay for defensive reasons, Truman noted such an escalation to the war. His approval rating had come into question over the Korean War with the Americans wondering if they had blundered into an unending war in miniature to World War I. At MacArthur’s humble request, Truman agreed to consider the using America’s atomic bombs, despite the risk that it may spark outright war with Russia.

Upon returning to Korea, MacArthur redoubled his aerial patrols to spy on Chinese movements. Chinese troops in the “People’s Volunteer Army” had moved secretly, mostly through the night under camouflage, but the overwhelming number of spotters finally picked them moving across the Yalu as lights flickered on water. MacArthur relayed the information to Truman, who ordered the move of nuclear weapons to airfields. At the disastrous defeat of the Battle of Unsan at the beginning of November, it became obvious that the Chinese meant total war. Truman approved MacArthur’s use of the atomic bomb, but only at key locations within northern Korea.

Since Unsan had been a surprise attack, MacArthur repaid in kind with seven atomic bombings of military positions on November 20. The strikes were followed by the Home-by-Christmas offensive on the 24th of November, turning what could have been a disastrous ambush into an overwhelming rout. Further atomic bombings destroyed key passes to China, irradiating the landscape and making troop movements possible only with protective gear. The trapped Chinese armies began to surrender while others made desperate attempts to escape through radiation-infested lands.

Appealing to Stalin, Mao began the campaign opposing the United States’ use of nuclear weapons. The USSR was the only other country to have an atomic bomb and the only that could challenge the might of the US. The Cold War had been obvious even before the end of Hitler’s regime, and now it had come to actual conflict. Stalin declared war December 12, and strikes in Europe against American allies began immediately.

Truman caught the blame for starting the Red War (also known as World War 3), and he would spend the rest of his term defending his decision. If he had not acted, he noted that the two nations would continually stockpile ever-more-powerful weapons until one destroyed the other or itself. Atomic weapons would play a key role, but the vast majority of the fighting would be traditional bombings, armor offenses, and infantry marches. For the third time in four decades, Europe would be torn apart by warfare. The Korean theater would serve as a radiation-protected launching ground against eastern Siberia and China, where the US Navy would also see support from new bases in Japan. In recently invaded Tibet, Chinese troops newly arrived in October of 1950, were driven out by NATO-supported Tibetan troops.

Facing a new war, perhaps even worse than that against Hitler, the West turned to the leaders that had gotten them through the last. Churchill was reelected Prime Minister in 1951, and the Americans elected General Eisenhower as President almost unanimously. Russia held to Stalin until his death in 1954, while the Chinese supported Mao until his Great Wall program to turn all of China into defense began logistical collapse. Credited with lasting leadership and bringing the front to the enemy first, the Capitalists of the world won the war with the liberation of Moscow in 1955 and then the overthrow of Mao in 1957.

With the restructuring of the world along the grounds of the Pax Americana, economic and technological improvement flourished over the course of the latter part of the twentieth century. In 2010, the radiation levels of the first of the cobalt-based nuclear weapons used in Korea have depleted to livable standards. The world looks forward to new areas of Germany, the Ukraine, Manchuria, and Siberia becoming survivable once again for renewed development after the world’s bloodiest war.

In reality, MacArthur had been discourteous to Truman, forcing the president to meet him at Wake Island on the 15th. Throughout the war, MacArthur would be eager to use up to thirty-four atomic bombs on China, but Truman would allow no more than the threat. In the week-long Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River, Communist forces would regain all North Korean territory above the 38th Parallel. MacArthur was relieved of command April 11, 1951, for his aggressiveness toward pushing for total war against the Communists. Ceasefire would be declared on July 27, 1953, but the war continues to this day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 18, 1912 – Serbia Refuses to Yield in Albania

With the growth of nationalism in the course of the nineteenth century, ancient empires began to split along the seams of peoples that had been stitched together by rule of force for centuries. The Holy Roman Empire had disintegrated, much of it becoming reborn as the German Empire. Italy reunited after some 1500 years since the Romans. Later, in the Balkans, the various peoples of the mountainous peninsula began to erupt against centuries-long Ottoman domination.

Nations like Romania and Serbia had successfully broken away from the Ottomans, while the neighboring empire of the Austrian-Hungarians had pushed administration upon Bosnia-Herzegovina to bring it to a more European rule. Bulgaria stood ready to unite the Bulgars under their Tsar Ferdinand, having set up a state of their own in 1878.

The “Great Powers” of Europe, the dominant empires in the world, scanned the political situation and waiting for opportunities to conduct influence toward their goals. Russia stood ready to expand into a pan-Slavic rule, uniting the Balkans under their sphere and gaining significant ports. Austria-Hungary wanted to keep the balance with the Ottomans, using them as a pendulum to guide Serbian nationalism away from imperial lands. Germany and France both wanted influence in the eastern Mediterranean, the former with the Ottomans as a puppet state and the latter with political control in the Levant.

Modernist thought struck the Ottoman Empire at home with the Young Turk movement pushing a new constitution in 1908. Struggles between Bulgarian/Greek freedom fighters and the Ottoman army in Macedonia had continued since 1904, but now was the time for action. Bulgaria named its tsar, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Italy began the path for victory in the Italo-Turkish War in 1911, gaining much of the Ottoman Mediterranean territories.

In 1912, war would spread like plague through Eastern Europe. With the Turks falling to Italian forces, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro rose up as the Balkan League. Austria-Hungary was uncomfortable at seeing their counterpart begin to fall and hoped to reign in the battles by declaring an ultimatum against Serbian troops that had pushed south into Albania. The Serbs reportedly “spat” at the ultimatum and continued their liberation and division of Balkan territory among the League.

German Kaiser Wilhelm II had vowed support to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and, with such imperial clout, the Austrians joined the Balkan War against the League. In response, the Russians excitedly went to war in support of the League they had helped establish. France and Britain both took up neutral positions despite France's longtime alliance with Russia and Britain's not-so-secret unease at any Russian expansion, which had been seen in the Crimean War only decades before.

In the German Imperial War Council of December 8, it was realized that the fitness of the German army was not what the Kaiser had hoped, and victory would not be quick. The Austrians found themselves simply holding fronts against Russia and the Balkan League. While the first two years of war were grim, Germany and Austria arose in 1914 with a huge military push through Poland. Russians pursued scorched earth, but the speed of the German army checked their age-old tactic. Hundreds of thousands of Russians would die as the Germans marched toward Moscow before the Czar called for armistice.

In the south, Austria found itself stretched and finally broken. The empire collapsed into anarchy that even anti-Serbian sentiment could not resolve. At the Treaty of London in 1917, a new eastern Europe was drawn up. Many new nations stood independent: Albania, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belorussia, and Lithuania. Much weakened, Russia erupted into civil war between Communist and Tsarist factions that lasted until foreign Allied troops settled the matter in the favor of the Tsar in 1919, with the new independent nation of Ukraine being founded. The Ottoman Empire, too, would succumb to the rash of revolution through the 1920s that were said to be akin to those of the 1790s and 1840s. Nationalism broke up the empire, which caused the Great Powers to grab influence in the Middle East where they could.

The twentieth century would see effective reform of the imperial system, guaranteeing more social rights, but the overall rule of monarchs balancing one another continued. Some said that the settling of the Eastern Question saved the kings of Europe, but many historians scoff at the idea of a war so vicious that it would cause the end of constitutional monarchy as Europe's inherent political system.

In reality, Serbia acceded to the October 18 ultimatum. Austria-Hungary did not wish to become part of the war due to its own internal struggles, especially after Germany withdrew their boast of military readiness until “mid-1914.” By that time, all of Europe had built up such war machines that the spark of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke ignited the “War to End All Wars.” In the meantime, the Balkan League had settled much of themselves through the First Balkan War against the Ottoman Empire and then the Second against Bulgaria to settle disputes over land.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 17, 1806 – Dessalines Survives Assassination Attempt

The nation of Haiti had undergone a brutal past. Its natives had been wiped out by plagues brought by the Spanish, and its primary colonists had been pirates, specifically on the nearby island of Tortuga. In 1664, the French West India Company formally claimed the western side of Hispaniola and established a lasting colony. Plantations grew up and prospered from the blood and sweat of African slaves.

When the French Revolution broke out, revolution spread to Haiti as well. Freed black men claimed rights as citizens, and war spread as planters, supported by the British, tried to keep power from the mulattoes. While the slaves gained their freedom amidst the battles, war with France arose as Napoleon moved to reconquer Haiti and rule eastern Hispaniola directly. Much of Napoleon's expedition was destroyed by disease, and the vicomte de Rochambeau fought brutal tactics of tit-for-tat atrocities with the rebel leader Dessalines until the final Battle of Vertières in 1803 led to French surrender.
Dessalines continued to maintain power after the war from republican ideals and even proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti on October 6, 1804. He went about a pogrom of massacre on the whites of the island early in his rule. Planters and the white upper class fled or faced brutal execution, leaving behind the class of gens de couleur, wealthy, darker skinned freed men, as the higher class of the island. While many called for republican reform, Dessalines held his power and imposed a system of tyranny, practical slavery, to keep the sugar and coffee plantations running to pay for the new government.

Conspiracies began to rise up against Dessalines. He had served the country well, but now he had grown consumed by his power. Henri Christophe, a military subordinate to Dessalines, began a revolt in the north with his own autocracy while gens de couleur leader Alexandre Pétion worked to champion democracy in the south. On October 17, 1806, Dessalines began the march out of Port-au-Prince where he had been containing the ideals of Pétion to put down by force the rebellion of Christophe. An ambush sprung around him, but Dessalines managed to dodge assassins' bullets, rally his men, and route the assailants.

The march to the north crushed Pétion's rebellion. While he exacted victory, Dessalines pondered how it could be that his beloved Haitians would rise up against him in an attempt of assassination. He was a hard man of sharp discipline, but that had been what allowed the defeat of Rochambeau in the fight for independence. He demanded a great deal from his people, but government was expensive, and an economy crippled without forced workers would reduce the island to poverty and anarchy.

Dessalines returned to Port-au-Prince with a parade in his honor. He met with Pétion (whom he would later execute as a member of conspiracy) and took a good deal of republican advice. Launching into a new propaganda campaign, Dessalines related to the people how hard work was necessary and vowed to ensure that payment returned to the people. The elected bureaucracy expanded to meet needs of food, clean water, housing, and health, and taxes could be paid in cash or by “voluntary” work on the state plantations. Meanwhile, Dessalines worked to fix the fear and anger of the people upon differing targets, which had worked well against the French and later all whites. He turned against the Spanish Empire, then against the “terror” of the Dominicans to the east. Later invasion would unify the island once again in 1822.

The emperor died in 1827 and was succeeded by Jean Pierre Boyer, Emperor Jean I, who would rule until his overthrow in 1843. While many hoped for a return to the liberal ideals of the revolution, the rule of the state had become ingrained over generations. Strong government held the island, working to keep Santo Domingo united under Haiti and forcing internal improvements through construction projects and public factories. For centuries to come, the island of Hispaniola would be viewed at times as a model of stability and productivity for Latin America while at other times a tropical Orwellian police state.

In reality, Dessalines was slain by his assassins in 1806. Haiti was split between Christophe's kingdom in the north (modeled after Fredrick the Great's Prussia) and Pétion's republic to the south. The two would unite after Christophe's suicide from the pressure of unruly people, and instability would haunt Haiti with 32 coups in its 200 years amid numerous factions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16, 37 AD – Emperor Gaius Dies

According to historian Philo of Alexandria, only months into his rule, young Emperor Gaius became ill with a terrible fever. The populace of Rome was driven to public mourning at the dark news of their beloved new emperor. After years of heavy taxes and harsh discipline under Tiberius, the young Gaius had been a breath of fresh air. As soon as he was named emperor, he freed many of Tiberius's captives accused of treason, gave bonuses to the military, and began reforms throughout the empire. He was friendly with his family, such as keeping his oaf uncle Claudius around him despite the man's clear deformities. Gaius even adopted his former co-heir and grandson of Tiberius, Gemellus, as his own son.

Gaius had picked up the nickname “Caligula” from his youth following his father in the German campaigns. He had been given a miniature uniform complete with armor, and the much-amused troops called him “Little Boots.” As he had come to adulthood, he had shed the nickname, and only those most disrespectful toward the emperor used it. Instead, the people loved their emperor. When word of his illness spread, people waited patiently every morning outside the palace gate for news. Each day, a black flag was hung to show that he had not yet recovered. Temples were flooded with sacrifices, and well-wishers picketed the palace holding signs that read, "Gods, take my life for his!"

Shortly before his death, Gaius proclaimed his sister Drusilla (with whom there were horrid rumors of incest, but surely only rumors) as heir. When he succumbed to the fever, Drusilla herself announced to the people and proclaimed a week of mourning. Temples were closed, the Senate would not meet, and market days were canceled. During this time, Drusilla worked to secure her position. Rome had never had an empress or queen, and when the Senate reconvened, there would be much intrigue against her. Instead, she pushed political maneuvering so that she would step aside from direct rule (though inheriting great wealth), which would set up Gemellus as emperor. The grandson of Tiberius was much lauded, though few knew anything about him. He had been kept distant from the rest of the highly political family; his coming of age ceremony had not even been celebrated until he turned 18, four years after it should have. Gemellus was not much used to attention and fell on the support of many advisers. They pulled his attention in many different directions, and it was Drusilla who kept him most in power. Upon her death of fever, like her brother, in the spring of 38, Gemellus became something of a rubber stamp.

The weak emperor led a push from the Senate for a return to the Republic. Seneca, one of their leaders, conducted a plan where Gemellus cut back on the payment of soldiers while Senate bills began to grant bonuses. With the army's loyalty changed to the Senate, the senators began to strip his powers, breaking the rule of imperator into the many offices it had been before Julius and Augustus had collected them. Taxes notoriously increased to pay for the growing bureaucracy, causing people to wish again for the rule of the lost Gaius, which caused Gemellus to make a sudden push to retake power. The political maneuver failed, and Gemellus was stripped of his final title, the family name Caesar, and made senator in a bill to reestablish rule by many.

With its focus of power upon internal affairs, the empire began to disintegrate. Britons remained independent when many in Rome felt a single campaign could take hold of the whole island. Conquered German barbarians from the north declared an end to their tribute, and the Senate debated the issue to death. War in the east allowed the Parthians to march into Roman Syria, which finally spurred action from the General Titus, son of General Vespasian who had helped defend the border from Briton raids. After years of fighting, Titus made great demands on the Roman coffers if he were to win this war, and the Senate instead opted to sue for peace. Armenia was granted to the Parthians, and Titus set about building forts in the east to protect Asia Minor as well as the Judaeans, who had held close to Rome in fear of Parthian invasion. Over the next few generations, the Jews would rebel as well, winning their freedom and reestablishing Judaean kings.

Rome would decline, breaking off piecemeal as a province became unprofitable with defense outgrowing taxes and income. Germans expanded through Europe, as did the Huns, and later Arabs arising from the Middle East. When the German horde began to encroach into Italy itself, the Romans turned back to their old system of dictators in time of troubles, electing the famous Constantine to defend the city. Constantine would manage to secure the oldest provinces, but much of the rest of the empire had already fallen. Instead, he consolidated and fortified Italy, which would remain a united force through the Middle Ages. Because of his fanatical support of Christianity, it would be dubbed the “Holy Roman Empire.”

In reality, Caligula survived his illness. His reign would be listed among the cruelest in human history with him openly mocking the Senate, torturing innocent citizens, and performing unbelievable acts of violence toward his own family. His evil would be balanced with generous festivals and keeping the army well paid, thus loyal. Finally conspiracies would form against him, succeeding as Cassius Chaerea of the Praetorian Guard stabbed Caligula for too many insulting nicknames. In the chaos, the soldiers would elect Claudius, who would prove a competent ruler and secure the rule of emperor in Rome for centuries.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15, 1818 – “Napoleon” Arrives at St. Helena

Emperor Napoleon I had taken Republican France from its position being torn apart like a steak by dogs and nearly conquered Europe. From 1803 to 1815, he had consolidated power in France, launched expeditions, and broken apart five Coalitions united against him. Many of these lands came under his direct rule while he set up his siblings as kings over satellite states such as Naples and Westphalia. In 1812, he turned on Russia, a former ally and former enemy, in a catastrophic invasion that would signal the beginning of the end for his rule.

The Sixth Coalition of Austria, Bavaria, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia, Saxony, Sicily, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Württemberg united in 1814 to finally defeat Napoleon. He was banished to the island of Elba, where he would later escape and be welcomed back to France. The Europeans fought him again, and the loss at Waterloo in 1815 led to Louis XVIII being restored while Napoleon was once again exiled, this time to Saint Helena in the southern Atlantic, one of the remotest islands in the world.

While all of this went on, Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, had served as a dashing captain for the British so successful in battle that the French had nicknamed him “Le Loup des Mers”, “The Wolf of the Sea.” In 1814, a news story broke that Napoleon had been killed by Cossacks, which charged the populace and make the stocks in the Exchange skyrocket. As the hoax was proven, the investigation turned up several men who had sold at great profits, including Lord Cochrane, his uncle, and his stock-broker. Anonymous tips caught the hoaxer, who was tied to Cochrane by having visited him the day the story appeared. Cochrane was condemned, though the evidence was circumstantial and he had simply told his broker to sell whenever his stock had raised one percent, much lower than the profits he would have made if planning a fraud. He was dismissed from the Admiralty, expelled from Parliament, lost his knighthood, fined, imprisoned for a year, and made to stand in the pillory for one hour.

Humiliated and betrayed by what he felt was “higher authority than the Stock Exchange”, Cochrane decided to leave the United Kingdom. In May of 1817, Bernardo O'Higgins requested Cochrane's assistance in the Chilean War of Independence. Cochrane agreed and arrived in Chile in November of 1818 and would become commander-in-chief of the Chilean navy. He had brought his wife and children with him, along with an older, balding manservant who, when asked, said he was Corsican. As time went on, it became obvious that the man was Napoleon Bonaparte, and he was quickly granted position as general.

When news of the great dictator in South America arrived in London, the British were shocked. On October 5, 1818, the man supposed to be Napoleon had arrived in St. Helena. While on the journey, the man had often been drunk and several times flew into rages, shouting in Italian that “this was not what had been agreed.” His guard expected better of the former emperor and took him as whining about the demands of past treaties. At St. Helena, he continued to drink, shrugging the offered friendship of the Balcombe family and routinely spitting at Governor Hudson Lowe. An investigation began, and it was found that Cochrane had used the last of his political favors to sneak Napoleon away and replace him with a Genoan drunkard who had been paid a hefty sum.

The Crown launched an expedition to fetch the rogue emperor, but by the time they had arrived in 1820, the Chileans had won their war and secured Bernardo O'Higgins as leader. Napoleon had served as an adviser in the war, saying often, “I have ruled. I don't intend to try it again.” Instead, he spoke long hours with O'Higgins, telling tales and giving advice on how to keep his people in love with him. The expedition did not carry a declaration of war, and, as Chile guarded the emperor, they returned to England, leaving the warning that if Napoleon ever left Chile, he would be arrested and hanged. Cochrane was dubbed a traitor, to which he laughed and replied, “Only to those who have betrayed me.” He would live out his days as a wealthy plantation owner with numerous Chilean titles.

Napoleon did not leave Chile. Many historians consider him using O'Higgins as a puppet as well as another great warrior, Simón Bolívar, who first visited him in 1825. Napoleon admired the young general and president, talking with him and analyzing his battles. Napoleon offered his advice on maintaining order and encouraged O'Higgins to create a tight alliance with Bolívar's nations of Gran Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia. It is said that the fast and harsh end to the 1828 movement in Bolivia against Bolívar was plotted in the mind of Napoleon, remembering his days in the streets of Paris with cannons full of grapeshot.

Napoleon died in his palace in Santiago June 8, 1838. His visage is popular among coinage in South America, as are banners baring his insignia. It is said that much of Latin America's military stability and keen justice system belong to Napoleon's influence.

In reality, it was Napoleon who came to St. Helena. He was under strict guard, and the island would be surrounded and patrolled by warships during his time there. Cochrane plotted to rescue Napoleon and bring him to the Chilean war effort, but Napoleon died in 1821 after months of ill health. After victory in Chile, Cochrane would serve in the Brazilian and Greek navies before finally returning to Britain and being reinstated under Queen Victoria.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 14, 1066 – Battle of Hastings begins the Anglo-Norman War

The English Crown had been tossed into the air, and three would-be kings fought to catch it. Edward the Confessor had no son to take over the throne, which meant that less legitimate bids for the throne could now be heard. Harold Godwinson, the primary landowner in England, had the best claim to the throne; he was proclaimed as such upon Edward's death and accepted by the people. William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that Harold had sworn upon holy relics to support him after being sent as an emissary from Edward in years past to judge William as a successor. Harold denied the claim, but it was enough to give William the blessing of the Church. King Harald III of Norway also made a bid, saying that the crown belonged to him because of an agreement with old King Harthacnut in the 1040s. It was the weakest of the bids, but he was supported by Harold's brother Tostig. He had already added Denmark to his realms, and England would make another powerful Nordic nation.

After a summer of staving off William's fleet with an army on the Isle of Wight, Harold retired toward London just in time to learn of Harald's invasion. He made a forced march and met Harald's army at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, which had long been Viking soil. Before the battle, Harold bravely, though covertly, rode up to Harald and his brother Tostig, offering an earldom if Tostig would turn on the Norwegian. Tostig asked what would be given to Harald, and the rider, King Harold himself, replied, “Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men.” The battle ensued, and Harold won victory, killing both Tostig and Harald.

With the Norwegian army destroyed, Harold turned back south to face the fleet of William, who had invaded as quickly as he had the chance. The Norman had some 7000 men in his army, powerful knights and mercenaries. Harold had a similar number, primarily ax men, and the advantage of defense. Harold fortified a ridge at Hastings and readied their defensive shield wall, which stopped the onslaught of Norman arrows, even those from the cutting edge technology known as crossbows.

The Norman infantry charged uphill, and the English fought back, throwing rocks and javelins. Unwounded by the barrage of arrows, the English held firm and drove the Normans back. Harold's men, including his two surviving brothers, began pursuit. In the confusion, William fell, but his triumphant stand and tossing his helmet rallied his soldiers to counter-attack. Harold's brothers were slain, and the Normans charged with additional arrow barraged. William aimed directly for Harold, who realized that he alone was the English heir to the throne with his brothers gone. Norway had been deprived of its king in battle, and now England might, too.

Calling for a last desperate defense, Harold began the retreat. The rearguard took heavy casualties from the Norman knights, who took up pursuit until they were caught on steep ground in the night and were slaughtered in ambush at the Malfosse or “Bad Ditch.” The Normans had won the battle, but Harold and the English were still a force. Morale sank, but Harold reminded his men that they had lost to Harald at Fulford and then smashed him at Stamford Bridge. He who had bravely rode up alone to face Harald would lead them to victory no matter how many battles it took.

William pressed, sending Harold from Sussex back to London, but the campaign season ended as winter came on. The Normans took losses from dysentery, with even William himself falling ill, but fresh troops arrived from across the English Channel. Harold called up reinforcements himself, attempting to unite the English in defense, but many nobles held that the dispute was a family matter between Harold and William. Some nobles politicked with Normandy over the winter and became supporters of William.

In spring, war resumed in what many called William's War or the Anglo-Norman War. Harold had the home-field advantage while William had international support from the Church's blessing. The armies checked one another, devastating southern England and at one point even driving Harold as far as Chester. Finally, in 1072, Harold drove William from England back across the Channel.

The war had been won, but it had crippled England. Normandy survived with enormous debts, but whole towns of England had been put to the torch. While they would rebuild and grow in strength, they would be outpaced by their Celtic neighbors to the north with the rise of Robert the Bruce in 1306. His brother Edward became king of Ireland in 1316, affirming his position in 1318 by handily defeating an army of Irish lords backed by the English at the Battle of Faughart. In later wars with the English, the Bruce would add Wales to their holdings and eventually merge the clans under one crown in the Gaelic Union.

The English were pushed farther and farther southeast until they were something of a republican city-state around London ruled by their Parliament.

In reality, Alfred was killed at Hastings. William would march on London and be crowned king on Christmas Day. Normans would achieve noble control over the Saxons, beginning the complicated mix of language and culture that eventually gave us the fluid modern English.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13, 54 – Britannicus Named Heir to Claudius

The imperial reign of Claudius had been a great boon for the Roman Empire. After the golden age of Augustus, they had trudged through the fascist militarism of Tiberius and then faced the shocking insanity of Caligula. Claudius, believed by many to be a bumbling, stammering cripple, proved to be an effective leader upon his election by the Praetorian Guard. In the chaos ensuing from the assassination from Caligula, the Senate had been in an uproar, but Claudius' steady nerve affirmed his position.

Through his reign, Claudius had expanded the empire with conquests in Britain, earning him the honorific “Britannicus”, which he refused for himself but accepted for his oldest surviving son. He built public works such as aqueducts and conducted religious and judicial reform. Claudius's improvements went deeper still, furthering natural history with his own study and adding three letters to clarify the Roman alphabet. However, his reign was not without its shadows, such as the coup planned by his wife Messalina, mother of Britannicus, and her husband by bigamy, Gaius Silius. Britannicus, though still son of the emperor, was downgraded in opinion.

Claudius remarried, this time to his niece Agrippina the Younger to secure his position further by becoming a member of the Julian as well as Claudian family. Her son, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, was a direct descendant of Augustus, and Claudius happily adopted him. Domitius was two years older than Britannicus, and public opinion fell gladly upon the handsome older lad. While publicly the marriage was satisfactory, Claudius and Agrippina argued constantly. As Britannicus approached manhood, the emperor considered divorcing her and having his oldest natural son be his official heir. The current will stated for Domitius and Britannicus to be co-heirs, an obvious problem.

On October 13, 54, Claudius died. It looked as if age and ill health had caught him, but many were suspicious of Agrippina and her many contacts who were skilled in the art of poison. Agrippina worked to perfect the transition of her son to be the lone emperor and under her control. She ordered the execution of Claudius's former slave, Narcissus, now a freedman who was loyal to the emperor, upon his return. Narcissus knew that his end would come, and he began a plan to burn all of Claudius's papers, but assassins caught him before his work could begin.

The papers were searched, and a will discovered that named Britannicus the lone heir and gave bonuses to the Praetorian Guard in celebration of his coronation. Agrippina moved to have the will annulled, but the threat of the Praetorians losing their income kept her actions at bay. Several months of stalled waiting crept through Rome until Britannicus officially gained manhood and his throne. Upon his ascent, he called for exile of Agrippina and Domitius alike, citing suspicions of conspiracy and illegal execution. Later, Domitius would be suspected of murdering his mother while she was boating.

Rome celebrated their young emperor, who took up advisers such as Seneca and Burrus, who was later banished as part of a conspiracy surrounding Britannicus's distant cousin Faustus. Britannicus treated Faustus well, and further suspicions never arose. With power continuing to consolidate as he grew, Britannicus worked to reform punishments and taxes. He did not spend as much as many said he should on city improvements, instead always looking toward the borders of Rome for expansion. Britain revolted under Boudicca, but Britannicus's generals put down the rebels and saved his namesake. Later, Rome went to war with Parthia over influence in Armenia. While advisers recommended peace because of struggles with grain supplies and the imperial budget, Britannicus conferred with his general Vespasian, and the invasion of Parthia began.

The next few years were tough in Rome with troops continually pouring eastward, but the plunder more than paid for the military action. Vespasian's son Titus, a friend from childhood of Britannicus, put down a revolt in Judaea and secured the loot from their golden temple as a side-expedition from the conquest of Parthia. The Flavian family would remain close to the Claudians for the rest of their dynasty.

The fire of 64 awoke Britannicus's attention to Rome itself. Its origin was blamed on Parthian agents, sending public opinion in great favor for the expensive war. With the shiploads of gold brought back from the Parthian palaces, Britannicus set to rebuild Rome better than before. City-planning and administration of the enormous empire consumed the remainder of Britannicus's rule.

Emperors would continue through Britannicus's son Julius Claudius in a dynasty that would last another century. Parthia would revolt successfully in the late-100s, and plague and drought would cause uproar throughout the empire in 235. With the assassination of the emperor and many of his senators, the empire would shatter into rival states such as Africa/Hispania, Italia, Gaulia, Germania, and Palmyrene. Civil war crippled these states, allowing outsiders such as the Rus, Kush, Celts, and Parthians to conquer lands away from them.

Political power became increasingly decentralized and destabilized, bringing a new dark age. The many religious groups each with their own figure, such as Isis, Christ, and Mithras, fought for supremacy while warlords secured territory through fear of force. It would not be until the introduction of trade along defended routes carved by the Nordic Vikings that prosperity returned to Europe in the ninth century.

In reality, Domitius would become emperor and be called “Nero.” Narcissus succeeded in burning Claudius's papers, and it is unknown whether he put into written contract that he had begun to favor Britannicus. Britannicus himself was co-heir, though not of age at the time of Nero's ascension, and would be murdered days before his fourteenth birthday and manhood.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12, 1692 – Phips Orders Inquisition

Upon his confirmation as Governor of the Massachusetts colony on May 4, 1692, William Phips found a state of uproar. Settlers hungry for land to feed their growing families pushed north and westward into the frontier, provoking attacks from the Indians. Internally, panic had seized the town of Salem and seemed to be spreading as witchcraft had violently found its way into the colony.

On May 29, he ordered a Court of Oyer and Terminer to settle the matter. He appointed judges to listen to the accusations promoted by girls afflicted with seizures and weigh their opinions against the supposed witches. By June 8, Bridget Bishop was the first witch convicted, later to be hanged. While Phips, the former sea captain, anticipated the court to be the end of witchcraft, it only spread more panic. Suspicions arose that the fear of witches brought false accusations that led to great advantages when the accusers seized valuable property.

Through the summer, witch after witch was accused and many were hanged. Several died in prison and others while undergoing torture to secure confessions. After all, if a witch were to confess, the soul might be saved while the body was punished. Better an innocent soul to be in Heaven than a guilty person freely walking the earth under the Devil’s domain. While the puritanical logic seemed sound, the system came under increasing question.

The Mathers, Cotton and his father Increase, were some of the first to speak up over the questions of “spectral evidence” used in the court. As early as June 15, Cotton Mather, wrote to the court warning of hearing testimony that was “spectral”, or simply dreams and visions made by the accuser that could so easily be fabricated. His advice was mostly ignored, though the name was held in esteem. Cotton is often understood as something of the beginning of the crackdown on witchcraft by the publication of his book Remarkable Providences in 1688, which brought the notion of warning dreams to the minds of so many.

On October 3, Increase Mather, who was President of Harvard College, publically denounced spectral evidence. When he had heard the opinion of Mather, Phips decided that the rampant trials had gone so far as madness. He placed a moratorium on proceedings and cited the “danger some of their innocent subjects might be exposed to” based on this lack of evidence that may simply have been fear-mongering by the accusers in a letter to the Privy Council of the Crown. In same letter, he outlined his plan to begin a new system of finding and judging witches.

The same day, October 12, Phips asked Cotton Mather to head an inquisition to establish a logical and “scientiffik” method of determining witchcraft. Cotton agreed, and the formal study of witch-hunting came to the colony. Initially, Cotton worked on the cases at hand, advising the Court of Oyer and Terminer until its dissolution weeks later. By the end of the month, most of the prisoners were released and higher court proceedings ruled further accused witches innocent. Several witches, however, were proven guilty.

In 1683, Cotton published Wonders of the Invisible World, a guide to his methods of witch-catching. He drew upon numerous sources including first-hand accounts from Salem as well as Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus. Cases against witches could only be drawn on concrete grounds, of which Cotton gave numerous examples. Over the next year, the hysteria of witchcraft settled to vigilance, and Cotton’s investigators traveled throughout the colony researching potential Sabbats, familiars, and unruly women suspected of cavorting with evil powers.

Through the eighteenth century, the numbers of witches found among colonists would dwindle, especially as laws limiting the powers of women were enacted. The investigators gradually shifted their attention to obvious witches in the shaman of the Indians. In numerous altercations, these shamans would fall under assassination, attack, and arrest to end their devilish ways. In the times leading up to the Revolution, the investigators used their skills to root out rebel spies among the Loyalists, leading to a brutal covert war of military intelligence. The American victory ended the work of Mather’s Investigators, and lingering anger over their dominance aided in the passing of many parts of the Bill of Rights, especially in the First (which legalized white magic as religious practice), Fifth, and Seventh Amendments.

In reality, Phips simply shut down the witch hunt. He prohibited arrests and worked toward the pardon of many supposed witches. When the courts were dissolved, the hysteria died away, leaving a lingering spirit of guilt. August 26, 1706, Ann Putnam Jr, who was not one of the first but one of the loudest accusers, stood before Salem Village church and asked forgiveness for her part in what had been a very dark prank.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 11, 1809 – Meriwether Lewis Defeats Muggers

The life of Meriwether Lewis had taken a sour turn. Growing up in rural Georgia, Lewis had found a keen mind in natural history and skills as an outdoorsman. After graduating from university at Liberty Hall and joining the Virginia militia, he joined the American military formally in 1795 as a lieutenant. Lewis would serve there for six years until being hand-selected as an aide by President Thomas Jefferson, where he would comment on political matters from the military’s point of view. In 1803, he would begin his most famous project: the expedition to the Pacific along with his former fellow soldier, William Clark and the Corps of Discovery.

Upon their successful return to civilization in 1806, Lewis and Clark were hailed as heroes. Clark was made an agent of Indian Affairs and led militia in Missouri, including several campaigns in the War of 1812. Lewis, meanwhile, received a reward of 1,600 acres of land and appointment as Governor of the Louisiana Territory. He settled in St. Louis, where his administration met with mixed success. While he made great progress in the fur trade and road-building, the pressure of settlers against Indian uprisings as well as the inanity of politics and slow mail drove him to drink heavily.

In 1809, issues arose with his expense reports to the War Department, and questions of abuse of power were reviewed. Lewis set out for Washington to absolve these issues, at first planning a boat trip from New Orleans, but then deciding to go overland along the Natchez Trace. On October 10, he and his servants stopped at Grinder’s Stand, an inn some 70 miles from Nashville.

He was agitated from the stress of his administration and the weight of arguing his case for expenses. The innkeeper’s wife, Mrs. Grinder, would describe him as talking to himself, as if practicing conversation with a lawyer. He excused himself from dinner and retired early, though he was unable to sleep. After midnight and under the influence of a good deal of drink, he finally began to rest, but a noise startled him as robbers were infiltrating his room. He jumped to stop them, grabbing his pistol from its holster and firing.

By a great miracle, the charging Lewis dodged the robbers’ counterattack except for a bullet that pierced his left arm. Much of their attention was drawn to a whiskey bottle he had thrown in their direction, which broke and emptied. He shot one in the leg and bludgeoned the other with the butt of his gun, causing them to flee into the night. Just after they left, he caught Mrs. Grinder’s watchful eye peeking through the wallboards. Lewis summoned his servants and decided to leave immediately.

Facing what may have been his death, Lewis suddenly felt reinvigorated. His position as governor had stifled him, whereas it was nature that kept him strong. He vowed never to drink again and would conjure the image of the broken whiskey bottle whenever the urge struck him. Rather than staying in inns, he led his servants on an expeditious hike, following the trail but seeking new way stations hinted on the map. He arrived in Washington before expected and used the time for an appointment with President James Madison.

In an hours-long talk with Madison, Lewis resigned his position as governor and set forth a plan: a renewed Corps of Discovery aimed at furthering exploration and establishment of trails for effective settlement and, more importantly in his opinion, exploitation of natural resources. Madison approved, and the Department of Discovery would be later created under act of Congress. While the political matters were settled, Lewis sold land to pay his debts to the War Department and began to write in earnest to edit and publish the journals of the original Corps of Discovery. Money gained from the publication was routed into accounts to further Lewis’s dream. Later publications would contribute to the financial success of his expeditions.

Lewis would direct the Corps until his death while attempting to navigate the Grand Canyon in 1841. His direct contributions to the natural history of the West would serve as a great foundation for the later work of botanists, biologists, and geologists. Indirectly, his efforts through the Discovery Department enabled the construction of the intercontinental railway in 1857 as well as the managed rushes to discoveries of mineral wealth being translated into established cities, navigable and irrigated waterways, and roadways that would enable the fast transport of goods and soldiers throughout the West.

Jefferson, while writing about Lewis in a letter, would sum him up effectively as, “A man made for planning but not for rule.”

In reality, Meriwether Lewis died of heavy bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds believed to be suicide. Clark and Jefferson, who both had known Lewis, found the possibility of suicide somberly realistic. Historians debate the issue, but it is sound that Lewis stands as one of the greatest contributors to North American naturalistic study.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 10, 1471 – Christian I Secures Danish Rule over Kalmar Union

The Kalmar Union had formed thanks to the complicated intermarriages of Scandinavian royalty. Margret I of Denmark married Haakon VI of Norway (son of Magnus IV of Sweden and Norway), meaning that their son Olav had direct claim to the crown of Denmark and Norway as well as a strong bid for Sweden. Olav's young death meant that the crown would be given to an elected regent, who nearly always was Danish. While many Swedes balked, soldiers and fear of growing German power kept them in line. In 1397, the union was made formal by the Treaty of Kalmar, which created what hoped would be eternal united strength for all Scandinavia under one crown.

The crown passed from Margret of Denmark to Eric of Pomerania and back to John of Denmark. The Swedes struggled under Danish rule, specifically upset over routine wars against southern Baltic nations, disrupting trade and keeping valuable Swedish iron ore in storehouses. All-out revolt sparked the Engelbrekt Rebellion, which ejected Danes from Sweden as new ideas of democracy were creeping in. The peasants were willing to fight for something they could call their own, and such a power base gave rise to election of Sten Sture the Elder. War broke out between his forces and the Dane-favored older aristocracy, prompting Christian I of Denmark to step in with Danish regulars and German mercenaries.

Their armies met at Brunkenberg, just north of Stockholm. Sten planned a pincer movement with his lieutenants: Sten would sweep in from the west while Nils Sture attacked from the forest on the northeast and Knut Posse marched from the city itself. Christian marched into the trap and suddenly found himself surrounded.

In the midst of battle, a musket ball hurled toward Christian's face, and he moved slightly enough for it to graze his cheek. The terror of near-death gave way to a feeling of powerful courage, as if God had given him a sign to cast out the rebels. He rallied his troops and began a charge toward Klara monastery, where some of his men had been cut off from the rest of the army. The other Danish forces held while Christian routed Nils and regrouped with the lost regiments. They moved from the north toward Sten, flanking him and causing his loyal army of farmers and miners to break under Danish might. When word spread that Sten had been killed in battle, the movement crumbled, and Knut Posse's army surrendered after considering a desperate defense in Stockholm.

The Battle of Brunkeberg would prove to be a great emblem for the Kalmar Union. Christian spread propaganda about his victory and commissioned sculptor Bernt Notke to carve a statue of Michael the Archangel slaying demons that had rebelled against Heaven. Refocusing Swedish economic policy toward autocracy, he squelched the growing ideals of democracy and reaffirmed Denmark as the leader of the Scandinavians. Wielding the might of the Kalmar Union, the Danes would gradually conquer southward and come to hold the Baltic Sea as their own.

Denmark would further its sphere of influence with great victories in the Fifteen Years' War (1618 to 1633), bringing about the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and the establishment of free states within the Germanies and much of the Protestant north under their political sway. France, Spain, and Austria would unite against the growing Protestant threat over the next century in a series of wars that would ultimately lead to the forced breakup of the Union. They would attempt a new, more covert Holy Roman Empire under the guise of diplomacy and pitting Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian princes and dukes against one another for the next century.

During his conquests of Europe, Napoleon would reestablish unity for each of the people groups, but keep them under separate, hand-chosen kings. Disunited, but finally at peace, the Scandinavians would prosper greatly as they caught up to latter parts of the Industrial Revolution.

In reality, King Christian I would be hit by the musket ball, causing him to lose several teeth and order his guard to retire from the battle. They attempted to retreat to Käpplingen Island, but the hastily-built bridge was destroyed by Sten's troops, causing havoc while the rest of the Danes were defeated. To commemorate the battle, before which Sten said he prayed to St. George, he would commission the statue of St. George and the Dragon for Storkyrkan Church. Sten was assured as viceroy of Sweden, beginning the downfall of the Kalmar Union and the prelude to rule by the Vasas, who would assume power after Sten's death in 1503. After more altercations with Danish invasion, the Swedes would finally rise to dominate northern Europe in the 1600s.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October 9, 1002 – Smallpox Introduced to the New World

The discovery of the New World by Europeans came as something of an accident in 985. Viking Bjarni Herjolfsson was sailing to Greenland to visit his father after wintering in Iceland when bad weather caught his ship, blowing it far off course to a land covered in trees. It seemed good for settlement, but Bjarni and his crew decided to leave the discovery for their intended goal of Greenland.

Leif Eriksson, son of the famous Erik the Red who had helped found Greenland, became fascinated with the rumors of rich lands to the west. He put together an expedition, buying Bjarni's boat (after all, it had been lucky enough to find the land the first time, so perhaps it was favored) and crewing it with 35 men. According to the Grœnlendinga saga, Leif asked his father to head the expedition, but the elder man refused, saying signs had shown that he was too old for such adventures. Leif would lead himself. At the last moment, he decided to bolster his crew with two more Vikings, one of whom had recently arrived from Spain.

The expedition sailed for days, finally coming upon a land covered in flat rocks, perhaps today's Baffin Island. They proceeded further south to the wooded Markland (Labrador) and at last arrived at the warm and fruitful Vinland (Newfoundland). The Vikings settled there among wild grapes and streams full of salmon, staying the winter. While there, it became obvious that the Viking from Spain had contracted the new and strange plague that was there, causing horrid blisters over the skin and high fevers. They cast him out of their settlement, making him seek help from the native Skraeling. From the sagas, it is believed the natives killed the man, but they became infected with what would later be called “smallpox” as it infected Europe.

Leif's expedition would return to Greenland with a wealthy cargo, even collecting a shipwrecked Viking and adding his wares to theirs. Earning the nickname “Leif the Lucky”, he would not return to Vinland, citing the dangerous peoples there. Other Vikings such as Thorvald, Karlsefni, and the treacherous Freydis would mount expeditions to Vinland, but no permanent settlement would ever take root. Meanwhile, the smallpox plague would sweep through the New World, wiping out some ninety percent of the population.

Nearly 500 years later, an Italian sailing for Spain would re-discover the lands west of the Ocean. Christopher Columbus would begin establishing trading posts and exploring. While the natives were at a severe disadvantage facing Conquistador firearms and steel, the sheer numbers of the population kept Spanish influence in check. The disastrous expedition of Cortes against the Aztec Empire would prove this, causing the deaths of hundreds of Spaniards and a military crackdown that would keep the Aztecs in power and limit relations with the Spanish to suspicious trade.

The Spanish gradually gained a sphere of influence over Middle and South America, but they could not establish the empire they hoped. Trade made them wealthy, but hardly more so than the Portuguese and their trade route around Africa as well as their trading posts in Brazil. In North America, the French would come out best, working well with the locals and harvesting furs for rich trade. The English made repeated attempts at settlement but were wiped out at Roanoke, Jamestown, and Charleston. Religious Separatists would found a plantation in Plymouth, which existed only at the mercy of the local tribes.

Eventually European technology would prove overwhelming, and the Americas would be carved up among the powers as they would do with Africa and Southeast Asia. Rule would be colonial rather than hardy frontiersmen in an empty land with tribes establishing treaties and forming military alliances while European maps gradually filled in gaps.

After the World Wars, industrialized Europe would grow tired of imperialism. Those colonies that could be kept were organized into commonwealths while the others were set into somewhat spontaneous political independence. Much of Aztec land would stand stolid, if backward, while the Incan princes maintained political domination over much of South America. In North America, tribes such as the Nez Perce, Cherokee, and Iroquois Confederation would form functional and profitable nations, other tribes in the Great Plains and Southwest found themselves plagued by warlords. Genocide in the Americas is a common issue brought before international committees on Third World charity.

In reality, small pox had not yet spread to the Vikings and would not have a conduit into the New World until the coming of the Spanish. The native population faced terrible plague that wiped out numerous tribes. This power vacuum allowed European powers to exert further control to establish cultural-revolutionizing empires and simply take up the now-empty land with wave upon wave of settlers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8, 1871 – Great Lakes Fires Blamed on Meteors

In the early night hours of Sunday, October 8, a fire started on the O'Leary property at 137 DeKoven Street that would spread to destroy some four square miles in Chicago and kill hundreds of people. There had been something of a drought, not much in the way of concern for local fire departments, but enough to propel destruction among wooden buildings on a strong wind. With its sudden start and widespread disaster (famously, even the Moody church burned), citizens were highly suspicious of arson and searched for a scapegoat.

At the time, Michael Ahern was a reporter for the Chicago Republican. He had heard the rumor that the O'Learies (Catholic immigrants, prime targets for suspicion already) had negligently allowed their cow to kick over a lantern and then letting the fire go out of control. Other stories told of sneaked smokes by youngsters and thieves starting the blaze while attempting to steal milk. Ahern was about to write a story blaming specifically Mrs. O'Leary as some "colorful copy" when he came upon an even more exciting topic.

Fires had started suddenly throughout the Great Lakes region nearly simultaneously over the weekend. Peshtigo, WI, and surrounding villages had undergone an enormous blaze that killed some 2,000 people and torched millions of acres. Urbana, IL, over one hundred miles south of Chicago had also burned, as had Holland, Mansitee, and Port Huron in Michigan. Even Windsor, Ontario, in Canada burned on the 12th. News about the disasters trickled out slowly, but various cases of eyewitnesses noted smokeless balls of blue fire falling from the sky. After some consideration, Ahern wrote a shocking story that the origin of the Chicago fire had come from the heavens.

Other tabloids picked up the notion, and the idea seared into the Chicagoan public imagination. Scientific persons scoffed at a "rain of meteors" since they would be cool to the touch by the time they landed, but few listened to them. Instead, as Chicago underwent an incredible reconstruction program, observatories and atmospheric study stations were included. In 1882, a more serious proposal of the meteors was announced, and now the scientific community listened. Some began to argue for the mysterious "ball lightning", but the suggestion was now officially in the journals. By the time of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, a great wealth of knowledge was collected in the Meteor Hall, which afterward would be donated to Northwestern University.

Two decades later, Robert H. Goddard, a sickly part-time instructor at Clark University began soliciting funding for experiments with rockets. While the Smithsonian offered a princely sum of $5000, Northwestern seized the chance and offered funding as well as a position and student aides. Rockets, the departments affiliated with the study of the cosmos thought, would allow for first-hand exploration of outer space. With his arrival in Chicago, Goddard began intensive plans for high-altitude meteorological instruments and, eventually, designs for a possible, though impractically expensive, orbital rocket. Arguments about propulsion in vacuum dominated much of the rest of Goddard's career.

When the Nazis proved rocketry for military use was successful in the Battle of Britain, the US Army and Navy hurried to update Goddard's designs. While students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked on programmable trainers leading to computing, research at Northwestern led to development of “The Eagle,” or what a jealous Werner von Braun would later call the “V-3.” After the war, USSR would begin the Space Race by launching Sputnik, but Americans would swiftly turn and beat the Russians to the first man in orbit with Alan Shepard. Continual challenges would put men on the Moon with the Apollo program in 1963 and a short-term research station on Mars in 1974. The funding for exploratory rocketry along with the Cold War. By that time, short-range space-travel would prove profitable with hour-long sub-orbit intercontinental flights, zero-g tourism, communication and observation satellites, and Solar Energy Collection stations.

In reality, Ahern wrote the story blaming Mrs. O'Leary for the fire. In 1893, he would boastingly confess that he had made up the tale. Catherine O'Leary would die in 1895 of pneumonia, though descendants would say spending the rest of her life under public distrust caused her death from broken heart. Robert Wood would reexamine the meteor theory in 2004, claiming that it might have been methane released from the breakup of Biela's Comet, which would give a brilliant meteoric display in 1872.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 7, 1849 – Poe Remarries

The life of Edgar Allan Poe had been as bleak as many of his poems. His father had abandoned the family shortly after his birth, and his mother died of tuberculosis the next year. He was taken in by the Allan family, wealthy Scotch merchants in Virginia. While the Allans never formally adopted him, Poe was given the middle name of Allan in recognition of his foster parents. He had a youth of mixed fortune: traveling with the family and being well educated, but being alternately spoiled and brutally disciplined by his foster father. Poe would attend the University of Virginia for one year before dropping out, claiming that his foster father had not given him enough of an allowance to pay for classes, texts, and dormitory.

His first disappointment in love would follow as he learned his sweetheart, Sarah Royster, had married another man. Poe would leave Richmond for Boston, stumbling semi-aimlessly with various writing jobs and unrecognized publications as well as enlisting in the army under an alias while lying about his age. He did well in the artillery but sought to leave early, which his commander would only allow if he reconciled with the Allans. John Allan refused to write back, and Poe finally visited in person, one day after his foster mother's death. Poe later attended West Point while his foster father remarried, which began a new feud that would finally have Poe disowned. Depression struck him, and he purposefully sought court-martial from gross dereliction of duty.

In 1831, while Poe was living with his aunt and cousin Virginia, his brother died. He turned more seriously to his writing as well as getting work at newspapers (though he would be fired for drunkenness or lack of productive work). In 1835, he secretly married his 13-year-old Virginia (she lying about her age on the certificate as 21), and the family life won him back his job at the Southern Literary Messenger. They married publicly the next year.

Life seemed to pick up for Poe. He was more stable than he had ever been, and his writing was gaining recognition and making money. It came to an end, however, as Virginia began showing signs of tuberculosis in 1842. The stress of his wife's illness drove Poe back to drink, and he became increasingly belligerent. The Broadway Journal failed under his editorship in 1846, and Virginia died in 1847. Poe was devastated.

In spite of tortured mourning, Poe tried to move on, soon courting poetess Sarah Helen Whitman. They had met in writing before life, Whitman writing a poem "To Edgar Allan Poe" for a Valentine's Day party he did not attend, and Poe writing in return. The courtship was a mess from Poe's erraticism, alcoholism, and Whitman's mother's attempts at sabotage. Despite the odds, they set a wedding date of December 25, 1848. Rumors that Poe had broken his vow of sobriety along with Poe's "outrages" drove them apart. It seemed another melancholic relationship for the Virginia poet.

That spring, Poe returned, signifying his devotion by smashing a whiskey bottle. In spite of her mother's pleas, Whitman took him back, though she would watch his habits closely over the rest of their lives. They were wed in 1849, and Poe's writing returned as he began the “happy half of [his] life.” His "Raven" had gained sudden recognition, and Poe finally felt vindicated in his craft. Novels, short stories, and poems surged from his pen. Whitman was a successful poet in her own right, and the two lived very comfortably. As he aged, Poe took up a professorship at the University of Virginia, teaching writing and making great strides in cryptography and logic as well as his famous satirical commentaries on cosmology and physics.

Poe stands as perhaps the greatest American author of the nineteenth century, creating several genres such as detective stories, science fiction, modern heroism, and spirit fiction all the while perfecting the Gothic horror. His advances in the theories of cryptography helped establish America as the foremost world power in code-cracking and ancient linguistics.

In reality, Poe did not return to Whitman. He went back to Richmond and a haphazard pursuit of his old love Sarah Royster, but his life would continue in a downward spiral. On October 3, he would be found collapsed in the street suffering from “congestion of the brain,” theorized to be rabies, cholera, heart disease, meningitis, syphilis, epilepsy, or simple alcohol poisoning. He would die on October 7, giving what many said were his last words, “Lord help my poor soul.”

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