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Ivan V and Peter Co-Rule 1682

In 1682, brothers Ivan V and Peter (later called “the Great”) became co-rulers of Russia. The sickly Ivan was not expected to live long, but his sister, the Tsarevna Sophia, managed to manipulate the Moscow guardsmen (Streltsy) so he would be elevated to the position. The brothers, however, were nothing more than puppets during this period, and power was firmly in the hands of the cunning Tsarevna Sophia.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Miloslavskys and the Naryshkins: The Struggle for Power

Alexis, the second Tsar from the House of Romanov, died on January 22, 1676. He was succeeded by Feodor, the eldest of the two living sons left behind by his first wife. The boy suffered from scurvy and required constant care from his aunts and sisters. Old resentments between the Miloslavskys (the family of Alexei’s first wife) and Naryshkins (the family of his second wife) resurfaced. The Miloslavskys had the upper hand so they immediately started to purge their enemies. The family soon sent Natalya Naryshkina, her son Peter, and Natalya’s former guardian Artamon Matveyev into exile.

The Miloslavsky family’s reign of terror ended when the Tsar’s cousin Ivan fell from grace. The Tsar himself sent the ringleader of the purge to exile and reinstated the Naryshkins. Matveyev, the Naryshkins’ trusty ally, was also recalled to serve in the Kremlin. Feodor had been suffering for a long time, and he knew that he would not live much longer. He married twice to beget an heir, but the much-desired children failed to materialize. He finally died on May 7, 1682 at the age of twenty-one.

The Moscow Uprising

Due to his mental and physical ailments, Ivan V was made co-ruler with his younger half brother Peter.

The grandees soon met to discuss which of the dead Tsar’s brothers would accede the throne. Feodor’s younger brother Ivan was their natural choice, but he, too, was sickly and mentally ill. His ten-year old half-brother Peter, on the other hand, was healthy. The grandees, as a result, agreed to bypass Ivan and elect Peter instead.

Ivan’s older sister, Tsarevna Sophia, promptly protested this slight. She appeared during Feodor’s funeral and insinuated that her dead brother had been poisoned by the Naryshkins. Trouble had been brewing for some time now among the ranks of Streltsy (musketeers) when their salaries went unpaid. The Tsarevna—ever cunning—decided to use the Streltsy’s discontent for her own gain. With the help of her henchmen, she spread the rumor among the disgruntled Streltsy that her brother lay dying in the palace and that he needed to be rescued from the hands of the Naryshkins.

The Streltsy responded by storming the royal palace and demanding to see Tsarevich Ivan. To prove that the prince was alive and well, Natalya Naryshkina brought out the fifteen-year old Ivan as well as her own son Peter for them to examine. The crowd fell silent but soon demanded that Ivan be elevated tsar instead of Peter. However, Artamon Matveyev faced them and admonished the musketeers for disturbing the peace. He then went back inside the palace with the Tsarina and the boys not knowing that something terrible was about to happen.

The Streltsy were once again whipped into anger when General Yuri Dolgoruky’s son Mikhail admonished them as traitors and called for their deaths. They promptly attacked the general’s son and killed him by tossing him off from a balcony. They then stormed the palace and seized Artamon Matveyev in front of Natalya and the princes. Just like the general’s son, the Streltsy tossed Matveyev off a balcony, which killed him when he landed on raised pikes. Natalya and the princes were rushed off to the safety of the palace while the Streltsy continued to rampage.

The musketeers dispersed throughout the Kremlin and looked for Naryshkin relatives so they could vent their anger. They killed one of Natalya’s brother in the same grisly way that they killed Matveyev when they found him. They then went to General Dolgoruky’s house to apologize for killing his son but were angered when the general insinuated that he would eventually seek vengeance. They killed the tactless general on the spot.

The terrified royal family had no choice but to hide in the safety of the palace. The Streltsy stayed in the Red Square and continued to demand the head of Ivan Naryshkin, the Tsarina’s brother. Natalya, Sophia, and Martha (one of the tsarevnas) dared face the crowd and pleaded for the Streltsy to spare Ivan Naryshkin. But the Streltsy did not want to be pacified, and they continued to demand Ivan’s surrender.

With Sophia’s prodding, Natalya finally had no choice but to surrender her brother to the musketeers. He was tortured and killed in prison, but he never admitted (for there was nothing to admit) to poisoning Tsarevich Ivan. More executions of perceived enemies followed, but the violence was finally stopped by the ambitious Tsarevna Sophia. She ordered Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky, her own henchman, and leader of the Streltsy, to publicly implore her to declare the two remaining princes as Tsars. She agreed to his “suggestion,” and promptly declared her brother Ivan and her half-brother Peter as co-rulers of Russia on May 26, 1682.

The Co-Rulers

This arrangement was a first in Russia’s history. Ivan and Peter were crowned Tsars on June 25, 1682, but there was no doubt that Sophia herself held the reins of power. One month after the coronation, the Streltsy leader and ardent Old Believer Khovansky convinced her to undo her father’s religious reforms. She refused, so the musketeers once again threatened to rebel.

Far from cowed, the Tsarevna had the rebels executed to demonstrate her power and resolve. She also brought the Old Believers’ leader Avvakum out of prison and had him burned at the stake. Thousands of ordinary Old Believers also suffered the same fate during her reign. Realizing that she did not need him any longer, she had Khovansky framed for treason and executed.


Picture by: anonymous – scan from book, Public Domain, Link

Lieven, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia: Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Vol. II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs: 1613-1918. New York, Vintage Books, 2017.

Oliva, L. Jay. Peter the Great. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

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Mongol Yuan Dynasty Ruled China (1206/1271-1368)

In the middle of Kublai Khan’s 1271 conquest of the Southern Song Dynasty, his adviser Liu Bingzhong suggested a name for the Mongol Dynasty that ruled Northern China. He suggested the name “Yuan” which he took from the classical Chinese text I Ching. It meant “origin” or “primal force.” It pleased the Great Khan, so he adopted it in the same year. When Kublai Khan died in 1294, his grandson Temur inherited a vast and prosperous empire. The Mongol Yuan Dynasty continued to rule China until they were overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368. The Mongol Yuan Dynasty is located on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History between 1234 – 1305.

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The Death of Prince Zhenjin and Kublai Khan

During the 1280s, fate dealt Kublai Khan some heavy personal blows. His beloved wife Chabi died in 1281 and was followed by the death of his successor Zhenjin in 1286. Kublai Khan started to withdraw from his court, and he turned to food and alcohol. This made the gout that plagued him begin to worsen. Kublai Khan died in 1294, but not before announcing that his grandson Temur (Zhenjin’s son) would succeed him.

Kublai Khan’s Successors

“Statue of Kublai Khan in Sükhbaatar Square”

Temur’s rise as Yuan Khan in 1294 was supported by his mother Kokejin (Bairam Egechi) of the Khongirad tribe and the general Bayan. He continued his grandfather’s policies, and conquered kingdoms continued to pay tribute to him. He died without an heir in 1307, so the Mongol heirs fought for succession.

Temur’s nephew Kulug eventually became the Emperor Wuzong four months later. Kulug was also known as Haishan or Khayishan, and the Mongols also named his brother Ayurbarwada as his heir. Kulug Khan’s reign (1307-1311) was marked by economic challenges because of his policies.

When he died in 1311, his brother and heir Ayurbarwada (1311-1320) immediately overturned his decrees. Ayurbarwada was a supporter of Confucianism and he reintroduced the civil service exams for government officials. He died in 1320 and was succeeded by his son Shidibala who became Gegeen Khan in 1321. His reign was short as he was assassinated by the Alan Guards (Ossetians) in 1323 at Nanpo.

Shidibala did not have an heir, so the Yuan crown passed to the Kublai Khan’s great-grandson and Zhenjin’s grandson Yesun Temur. He left the administration of the empire to his trusted Muslim ministers. He also cut off spending and denounced luxuries in his court. He died in Shangdu in 1328, and his son, Ragibagh, succeeded him. He ruled briefly from October of 1328 up to November of the same year until Kulug Khan’s son Tugh Temur became emperor after a coup. He was supported by the Kipchak general El Temur and the Merkid general Bayan.

Tugh Temur adopted the name Jayaatu Khan. His reign marked the start of the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty in China. His brother, Khutughtu Khan Kusala, ruled in August 1329. However, Tugh Temur came back to reign after his brother was assassinated in September of the same year. Tugh Temur died three years later, and he was succeeded briefly by his nephew, the young Richinbal. Tugh Temur’s widow. Bayan of the Merkid supported Richinbal’s as king. The two, however, only used him so they could rule China.

Richinbal died in 1332, and he was succeeded by his brother, Toghon Temur. Bayan of the Merkids, Budashiri, and El Tegus still dominated the court but Toghon had them successfully banished through a coup. Unfortunately, Toghon Temur’s reign was marked by the Red Turban rebellion and his own son Ayushiridara’s revolt.

The Yuan Dynasty collapsed during the last years of his reign and was helpless against the rise of the Ming Dynasty. Toghon fled Dadu for Shangdu in 1368 when Ming armies advanced to the capital. He tried to regain Dadu but was unsuccessful. Toghon died in Yingchang in 1370 and with him, the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

Picture by: ChinneebOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Atwood, Christopher Pratt. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2004.
Buell, Paul D. Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.
Fairbank, John King, and Merle Goldman. China: A New History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard U Press, 2006. Print.
Hsiao, Chiching. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 6: Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368. Edited by Herbert Franke and Denis Twitchett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
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Turkey Flourished Under Sultan Suleiman I

Turkey flourished under Suleiman I, the Ottoman sultan who reigned from 1520 until his death in 1566. His reign was the Empire’s golden age, and it was marked by rapid expansion in the European and Asian fronts. Suleiman carried out reforms in the Ottoman government and justice system. His reign was also ushered in the golden age of Ottoman art.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Young Suleiman

Suleiman I was born on November 6, 1494, in the prosperous crossroad city of Trabzon (Trebizond). He was the son of the Ottoman prince and Trabzon governor Selim I by his wife Hafsa Sultan. Little is known of Suleiman’s childhood as his father was one of the youngest sons and he was not expected to inherit the throne. However, Selim I’s deposition of his own father, Sultan Bayezid II, propelled his family to the throne.

Suleiman received the best education possible for upper-class children. This included reading and writing, mathematics, music, and the Koran. History, science, and the art of war were also taught to him at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. As was the tradition for Ottoman princes, he was assigned his own tutor or lala at a young age. In addition to Turkish, he was also fluent in Arabic and Persian.

Sultan Bayezid II, Suleiman’s grandfather, appointed him as governor of Karahisar when he reached 15 years old. An uncle who held the province of Amasya requested that the boy be transferred to Bolu instead. This uncle feared that in the event of Bayezid’s death, Suleiman would stand in the way of his succession to the throne as Karahisar was nearer to Istanbul. In the end, Suleiman was sent instead to Feodosia (Caffa) in Crimea.

Bayezid died in 1512, and Selim immediately seized the reins of power. He then ordered the massacre of his own brothers and their families to get rid of competition. Selim appointed the 17-year old Suleiman as the governor of Istanbul and then of Manisa where he learned the art of administration. He also served as the governor of Edirne, and then ruled Istanbul briefly as governor once again.

Suleiman the Magnificent

Selim I died of an illness in 1520 in Tekirdağ. Messengers were immediately dispatched to Suleiman to inform him of his father’s death. The prince hurried to Istanbul to take his throne. By Ottoman standards, Suleiman’s accession was peaceful as his half-brother brother, Uveys Pasha, was not qualified as a candidate. Suleiman was 26 years old when he became sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

His father, Selim I, was a military man who was aptly nicknamed “The Grim” for his violence against his enemies and his own people. Arbitrary punishments even for minor offenses were common during Selim’s reign. So Suleiman tempered his father’s unjust punishment with justice and clemency. He issued clemency to some of those who were bound to be executed and released many prisoners. He also gave lavish gifts and increased the salaries of the loyal Janissary corps (the Sultan’s elite guards), regular soldiers, and dignitaries. He also approved of the execution of some prisoners to send a clear message to his people: the sultan was just but not soft.

Suleiman inherited one of the largest, most powerful, and wealthiest empires in the world. The Ottomans were the undisputed masters of a part of the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Egypt, Anatolia, Crimea, and the Balkans. Before his death in 1566, a large part of Hungary, Mesopotamia, Northern Persia, and North Africa also belonged to the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Expansion

First Test: A Rebellion in Syria

It was not long before Suleiman’s skill as sultan of an empire was tested. His father, Sultan Selim I, had conquered Syria and Egypt between 1516 and 1517. Janbirdi al-Ghazali, the former deputy governor of Hama, switched allegiance from the Mamluk Sultanate to the Ottomans when they conquered Egypt. As a reward, Selim gave Damascus Province for al-Ghazali to govern. Upon Selim’s death, al-Ghazali decided to take advantage of the situation. He declared his intention to become sultan of the former Mamluk territories.

The rebellion was a dismal failure as it was immediately quashed with the help of the double-dealing governor of Egypt, Hayra Bey. Al-Ghazali asked him for help, but Hayra Bey betrayed him to Suleiman and encouraged him to besiege Aleppo. The rebel leader and his troops fell into a trap as Aleppo swarmed with Ottoman defenders which Suleiman sent after Hayra Bey sent him a warning. Al-Ghazali died while on the run around February 1521. With Syria pacified (at least temporarily), Suleiman’s trusted officers kept their eyes on the Safavid Shah Ismail. He had prepared his troops to assist al-Ghazali just in case the rebellion turned out well. The Sultan knew it was only a matter of time before the Safavid Shah would strike.

Against Europe

16th-century Europe was a divided continent because of the Reformation and regional conflicts. However, some monarchs were strong leaders of their own territories. One of those was the Habsburg ruler, Charles V. As Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V held Austria, the Low Countries, the Two Sicilies, and Spain—three of which were dangerously close to the Ottoman Empire’s territory in Europe. Suleiman knew that the threat of a crusade was always on the horizon, so he decided to preempt an invasion and launch one of his own against Europe. His first target was the gateway to Hungary: the city of Belgrade.

The power vacuum left by the disappearance of the Bulgar and Serbian Empires was filled by the Kingdom of Hungary. Sixteenth-century Hungary was ruled by weak kings which made it a good target for Suleiman. The murder of his envoy whom he sent to the Hungary to demand the annual tribute only gave Suleiman further reason to attack the kingdom. He called on all his troops in the Empire to prepare for war, and the first goal was to conquer Belgrade. If the Ottomans were successful in occupying the city, it would be easier for them to control the valleys where the Tisza, Danube, and Sava rivers ran through. Suleiman’s great-grandfather, Mehmed II, besieged Belgrade in 1456 only to turn back in defeat. The new young sultan decided to finish what Mehmed started more than sixty years before his reign.

Hungary’s teenage king, Louis II Jagiellon, knew that he could not match the Ottomans’ strength. Many years before, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V arranged the marriage of his brother, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, to Louis II’s sister Anne. Louis, too, married Charles and Ferdinand’s sister, Mary, to cement the alliance. Charles V assigned the protection of Central Europe to the young king of Hungary (who also held Bohemia) and the Habsburg archduke. This alliance seemed sound, except that Charles was too occupied with a rebellion in Spain and the Reformation in Germany to be of any help to the two.

Louis II of Hungary appealed to other European rulers for help, but they, too, were busy with their own problems. Venice and Genoa proved to be unreliable because of their conflicting business interests. The Ottoman Empire, after all, was a good trading partner whenever it was not wresting trading ports and colonies from both Republics. France, meanwhile, refused to help Hungary as its monarchs were involved in a struggle for power with Charles V.

In February of 1521, Suleiman left Istanbul with thousands of Janissaries, foot soldiers, gunners, and archers. They, along with Ottoman officials, dignitaries, and eunuchs marched to the outskirts of Belgrade. The Ottomans transported cannons and provisions with the help of horses and camels across the Balkans.

The bombardment of Belgrade started on July 25, 1521. It dragged on for three weeks with no progress until Suleiman ordered his men to bomb the largest tower of the fortress. The fortress was defended by Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Hungarians so there was a great deal of conflict going on between the two groups. The Orthodox Serbs decided to abandon the defense and surrendered to Suleiman so they would be spared. The Catholic Hungarians, meanwhile, refused and continued the defense. They were massacred when the Ottomans finally breached the fortress of Belgrade. The city fell to the Ottomans on August 29 of the same year.

News of the fall of Belgrade spread quickly throughout Europe. The rulers were gripped with fear, but were still caught up in their own problems, so they failed to prepare for a bigger attack which would come many years later in the Battle of Mohacs.

The Fall of Rhodes

Sultan Suleiman I, pictured during the siege of Rhodes in 1522.

The Turks dominated the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, but the presence of the Knights of St John on the island of Rhodes was a thorn in the Empire’s side. The knights were driven many years ago from Jerusalem and Cyprus to Rhodes which they turned into a stronghold. The Knights were primarily warrior monks, but they also made money by protecting pilgrims bound for Jerusalem. Preying on and raiding Ottoman-held coastal colonies and ships also added money to their coffers.

Apart from piracy, the Knights also interfered with the communication routes between Istanbul and Egypt. To add insult to injury, the Knights also helped al-Ghazali when he launched his rebellion. Suleiman decided that it was time to get rid of the Knights of St John and occupy the island of Rhodes.

The sultan knew that it was the best time to get rid of the knight as the rulers of Europe were occupied and would not be able to help them. France would most likely help the Knights, but its king was busy with his war with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Venice maintained a powerful navy that could help the Knights. But its ruler already signed a peace treaty with Istanbul so its hands were tied.

Suleiman first sent a letter to the Knights’ Grand Master to demand the Order’s surrender. The letter went unanswered, so Suleiman commanded the vizier Çoban Mustafa Pasha to sail to Rhodes with a fleet of around 700 ships with 10,000 men on board. Suleiman and 100,000 soldiers who lugged around heavy cannons traveled through an overland route to support the navy.

Although they were heavily outnumbered, the Knights were disciplined soldiers who made formidable enemies. But their weapons were no match for the cannons the Ottomans brought along for the siege of Rhodes. The knights and the locals fought valiantly, but the Ottomans’ bombardment of the fortress continued.

Both sides suffered casualties, but Çoban Mustafa Pasha suffered the brunt of Suleiman’s anger. Two months dragged on, but it was harder for the Knights as their supplies were limited. The Grand Master knew that his people would not be able to withstand a prolonged siege except when Europe sent help. Unfortunately for the Knights, no help from Europe arrived.

The sultan once again offered peace to the Grand Master in exchange for the Knights’ surrender. If the Grand Master declined, Suleiman promised that no one would be spared—not even the cats of the island. The Grand Master had no choice but to accept Suleiman’s offer of peace. The sultan allowed the knights and those who wanted to leave twelve days to pack up and go. In 1522, the island of Rhodes was entirely in Ottoman hands. However, this was not the end of the Knights of St John. The remaining knights set up another base on the island of Malta twelve years later.

The monarchs of Europe were dismayed at the turn of events. Except for Cyprus (then held by Venice) and some islands in the Dodecanese group, the eastern part of the Mediterranean was now entirely in the hands of the Ottomans.

The Battle of Mohacs

After the conquest of Rhodes, Suleiman was free to return to the conquest of Central Europe. Most of the Balkans up to Belgrade were already the Ottomans’, so it was easy to launch another invasion. In 1526, he decided to wrap up the conquest of Hungary and marched 100,000 men with as much as 300 cannons into the Plain of Mohacs. The Hungarians led by King Louis II, meanwhile, could only muster less than a quarter of the number of the Ottoman troops. The Ottomans and the Hungarians met on the Plain of Mohacs on August 29, 1526.

Just like in Belgrade, the poorly organized Hungarian troops and their allies were no match for the Suleiman’s disciplined army. The Hungarians took the offensive position, but they were soon crushed by the Ottoman troops. Many Hungarians and allied troops died in the Battle of Mohacs, including the young king Louis II and Hungarian nobles who drowned while trying to cross the Danube to escape.

Suleiman and his army entered Buda as conquerors. Before he left the city, he appointed the governor of Transylvania, John Zapolya, as administrator of the Ottoman part of Hungary and Bohemia. He also took with him more than 100,000 captives back to Istanbul. With Louis II dead, Archduke Ferdinand hurriedly occupied the western and northern portions of Hungary in a last-ditch effort to block the Turks’ path into Central Europe.

Against the Safavids: Suleiman’s Shia Nemesis

Although he was a devout Muslim who followed the Sunni branch of Islam, Suleiman was generally tolerant of Shiites who lived in his Empire. But the Shia-led Safavid Empire of Iran was another thorn in the eastern side of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans under Selim I had defeated the Safavids led by Shah Ismail in the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. Shah Ismail evaded capture and established another Safavid capital in Qazvin. The Safavids under Ismail continued to harass the Ottomans in Asia.

Shah Ismail died ten years later and was succeeded by his son, Tahmasp I. In 1532, hostilities once again flared up between the Safavids and the Ottomans after the Bey of Bitlis made an alliance with Tahmasp. Charles V’s alliance with Tahmasp and the assassination of the governor of Baghdad also added fuel to the fire.

Suleiman sent his close friend and Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, to lead the campaign against the Safavids in Mesopotamia. Later he personally oversaw the campaign, and the Ottomans took Bitlis, Tabriz, and Baghdad. Tahmasp knew the discipline of the Suleiman’s army, so he made sure that he would never engage the Ottomans in combat. The Safavids and the Ottomans had no major battles in Mesopotamia, but Tahmasp led them on a chase across the desert. To make it more frustrating for the Ottomans, the Shah and his troops destroyed crops and other provisions along the way.

In 1548, Tahmasp and the Safavid troops attacked the Ottoman-held cities of Tabriz and Van. Suleiman immediately sent troops to recapture the cities, as well as some strongholds in Georgia and Armenia. No clear winner emerged during the years of attacks and counterattacks, so both sides were forced to sign the Treaty of Amasya in 1555. Safavid Persia received Azerbaijan, eastern Kurdistan, eastern Georgia, and eastern Armenia. The Ottomans, meanwhile, received western Georgia, Hejaz, Mesopotamia, western Armenia, and greater Kurdistan.

The Siege of Vienna

Archduke Ferdinand and his Austrian troops managed to occupy several fortresses in Ottoman-held parts of Hungary. He was unable to hold on to them for long as John Zapolya and the Ottomans drove them out. In 1529, Ferdinand’s troops met a crushing defeat at Feldioara.

Suleiman wanted to push deeper into Central Europe now that the Ottomans held a large part of Hungary. In early 1529, he organized his troops once again and started the long march from Istanbul to the gates of Vienna. Fate seemed to have favored the Austrians as the rains and floods made the plains of the Balkans impassable to the Ottomans. Many of Suleiman’s men got sick and died along the way. They were also forced to abandon the cannons and camels that got stuck on muddy roads.

Suleiman and his men arrived at the outskirts of Vienna and began the invasion on the 27th of September 1529. They were forced to abandon it on the 5th of October of the same year. Ferdinand knew that the city was spared only because of luck, so he negotiated with Suleiman for peace. He also asked that Hungary be given to him in the event that John Zapolya died without an heir. By 1530, the negotiations fell apart and hostilities returned.

In 1532, Suleiman and 200,000 men left Istanbul to launch another attack on Vienna. Once again, the Ottoman soldiers were bogged down by rains and floods. They came as far as Güns which they besieged for three weeks until they finally gave up and returned home. They besieged Lower Austria and Styria along the way to send a message to Archduke Ferdinand: the Ottomans were not done yet.

Archduke Ferdinand and Suleiman signed the Treaty of Constantinople in 1533. In this treaty, Ferdinand gave up his claims on Hungary and agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Ottomans. The Ottoman-backed John Zapolya died in 1540, so Ferdinand tried once again to get his hands on Hungary. Meanwhile, John Zapolya’s wife had given birth to an heir, so the Ottomans attacked and defeated Ferdinand’s troops for violating their agreement. He was defeated by the Ottomans at Buda in 1541.

Ferdinand was forced to agree to partition Hungary once again. The Habsburgs held the western and northern regions of the principality, while the Ottomans held the central and eastern regions. John Zapolya’s infant son received the administration of Transylvania. Peace was elusive between the Ottomans and the Habsburg, so war flared up again between 1551 and 1553. The Ottoman-Habsburg wars temporarily stopped when Suleiman died while on campaign in 1566.

Suleiman’s Government and Military

Suleiman inherited a vast and powerful empire with a strong army and navy. When he became sultan, he immediately overturned his father’s harsh and unjust punishments. He established more courts, and hired additional enforcers of laws. He was known as a just ruler who surrounded himself with jurists and legal scholars at his court. He discouraged judges from giving out arbitrary sentences to ordinary people. Government officials were not to be dismissed without a good reason. Imprisonment without trial was forbidden during Suleiman’s reign.

He also restructured and codified existing laws (kanuns). He was known later as the “Kanuni” or the Lawgiver after working on and issuing new laws (kanunname) that focused on civil and criminal justice, and finance. This was a project that he worked on with prominent jurist Ebussuud Efendi between 1539 and 1541.
The sultan implemented tax reforms during his reign. His people were required to pay taxes based on their income and ability to pay. Tax collection was systematized to replenish the treasury, and he ensured that the empire’s budget was always balanced.

Suleiman was a statesman, but he did not shirk battles on the field. Because of this, he earned the loyalty and respect of the Janissary corps. He personally led his army on major campaigns in Europe and Asia. The Ottoman army was made up of professional cavalry corps who regularly received wages, as well as fief holders from the provinces. Suleiman also prevented the troops from being spread too thin by avoiding wars on two fronts.

The Ottoman soldiers were disciplined and organized—a contrast to the dismal state of 16th-century European troops. They were also well-paid and well-provisioned. The well-trained artillerymen and bombs specialists contributed much to the Ottomans’ success during the campaigns. Their investment in the latest cannons and gunpowder weapons also paid off in their European and Asian campaigns.

The Grand Vizier and Suleiman’s close friend Ibrahim Pasha was influential in the sultan’s policies in governing the territories the Ottomans conquered. In Egypt, Ibrahim Pasha ensured that the governor did not hold absolute power. The grand mufti, the commander of the garrison, and the treasurer checked the taxes before these were sent by the governor to Istanbul. Egyptians were allowed to serve anywhere in the Ottoman Empire except in Egypt itself. Ottoman officials were also forbidden to serve in an area for more than two years. These were implemented to prevent the governor from amassing supporters and funds for another rebellion.

Suleiman’s Ottoman Empire was prosperous. The empire gained a great deal from its location between Asia and Europe which made it a haven for merchants. It was also the gateway of trade ships from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and vice versa. Whenever the empire expanded, the Ottomans also gained another source of revenue.

During the war with the Safavids, Selim forbade Ottoman merchants to trade with Persians. The goods of those who violated the decree were confiscated by the state. Suleiman overturned this decree and ordered his officials to return the confiscated goods to the merchants. They were also compensated.


The Ottomans practiced Sunni Islam. In general, they were tolerant of other religions and to some extent, the Shia branch of Islam. Christians and Jews were treated fairly, but their rights were limited, and they were barred from joining the government as officials. The only exception were the boys who entered the Devshirme system. The boys of the Devshirme system started out as Christian tributes who were compelled to convert to Islam. They were then sent to special schools in Istanbul, and many of them rose through the ranks as government officials when they grew up. One of the men who benefited from the Devshirme system was Suleiman’s Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha.

Ottoman Christians and Jews were also forbidden to convert Muslims. They were required to pay heavier taxes but were free to own properties. They could also elect their own village leaders.

Because of his success in conquering lands in Europe and Asia, the Muslims regarded Suleiman as the guardian of the umma (community). To demonstrate his wealth and his devotion to Islam, Suleiman also commissioned the great Ottoman architect Sinan to remodel the Tomb of the Prophet in Medina and the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Ottoman Art

Suleiman was a great patron of the arts during his reign. He was also a goldsmith and a prolific poet who wrote Turkish and Persian verses under the name “Muhibbi.” When he became sultan, one of his first decrees was to allow the return of captured Mamluk and Azerbaijani artists to their homelands. Those who chose to remain in Istanbul were generously paid.

Artists and craftsmen from all over the empire came to Istanbul to join the different artisans’ guild of the city. The most prestigious of these was the Ehl-i Hiref or Community of the Talented. All members of this community served in the sultan’s palace.

Istanbul during Suleiman’s reign was home to the best of the empire’s calligraphers, weavers, jewelers, potters, bladesmiths, and woodworkers. Sixteenth-century Istanbul also produced some of the best Ottoman manuscript painters and illuminators. Some of the well-known Ottoman artists include:

* Ahmed Karahisari – calligrapher.
* Shah Quli – Persian painter known for his saz style dragons and phoenixes.
* Kara Memi – a student of Shah Quli who became a prominent manuscript illuminator.
* Ahmed Tekelu – bladesmith who created Suleiman’s beautiful yataghan (short sword).
* Haydar Reis (Nigari) – Suleiman’s portraitist.
* Matrakçı Nasuh – mathematician, historian, painter (topography), among others.
* Piri Reis – Ottoman admiral, cartographer, and author of naval guides.
* Nakkaş Osman – illustrator and miniaturist.

Sinan was the most revered Ottoman architect of his time. He designed the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. On top of that, he also designed around 300 monuments scattered all over the empire. Madrassas, hospitals, soup kitchens, hospices, shops, markets, caravanserais, and mausoleums were also among his projects.

The ulema (Muslim scholars) were among the most educated people in Suleiman’s empire. The polymath Matrakçı Nasuh was one of the empire’s most celebrated historians. Feridun Ahmed Bey and Mustafa Ali were some of the prominent Ottoman historians during Suleiman’s time.

Ottoman artists flocked to Istanbul to create their best works, but some Anatolian provinces were also known for their own distinct products. Tiles and ceramics were bought from the province of Iznik, while the Uşak province was known for rug weaving (Oushak carpets). Textile production during Suleiman’s reign was centered in the province of Bursa.


Picture by: Matrakci Nasuh –, Public Domain, Link

Adler, Philip J., and Randall Lee Pouwels. World Civilizations: Since 1500. Vol. II. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.

Atil, Esin. The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1987.

Clot, André, and Matthew Reisz. Suleiman the Magnificent. London: Saqi, 2012.

Mikaberidze, Alexander, ed. Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2011.

Shaw, Stanford. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Volume I: Empire of the Gazis – The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Thackeray, Frank W., and John E. Findling, eds. Events That Formed the Modern World: From the European Renaissance to the War on Terror. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012.

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Henry VIII Born

Henry VIII was born on the 28th of June, 1491 in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. He was the second son of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, by his wife, Elizabeth of York. His older brother, Arthur, was expected to succeed his father but died before he came of age. The younger Henry VIII became the heir to the English crown in 1502.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The War of the Roses and the Rise of the House of Tudor

Henry VIII ruled England from 1509-1547 and was best known for his six marriages.

In 1399, the rightful heir to the English throne, Richard II, was deposed by his uncle Henry V of the House of Lancaster. Henry V reigned as the king of England until his death 1422. His son, Henry VI, succeeded him on the throne. He was known to be a mentally unstable ruler who placed too much trust in his advisers. These advisers convinced him to marry the ambitious and cunning Margaret of Anjou, and their marriage produced Prince Edward of Westminster.

Margaret was unpopular among the English people and the royal court. Her enemy was Richard, the Duke of York, who also worked as an adviser to the king. She, however, was backed by her favorites, the Earl of Suffolk and the Earl of Somerset. Because of the conflict between Margaret of Anjou and Richard, she had the Duke of York banished from England. Margaret and her allies dominated the court briefly, but her favoritism made her more unpopular among the English.

Richard was able to return to England some time later. He managed to remove King Henry VI, Queen Margaret, and their allies for a year to implement reforms in England. But a year later, Margaret became powerful once again which forced Richard of York to flee. The armies of Margaret and Richard met in battle, but the Duke of York was killed in his final campaign against the Queen.

Richard’s son, Edward IV, was proclaimed as the first Yorkist king of England after his father’s death. He later defeated and captured Henry VI, while Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, were forced to flee to France. Edward IV, however, angered his principal ally, the Earl of Warwick, after he secretly married a local noblewoman while the earl was negotiating with the king of France for Edward to marry the French princess.

The Earl of Warwick changed alliances from the Yorks to the Lancasters and supported the restoration of Henry VI to the throne. Henry VI was able to return as king until Edward IV recaptured the throne. The rest of Edward IV’s rule was peaceful until his death, and he was succeeded by his son Edward V. War returned when Richard III, the Duke of York, declared his nephew’s succession as invalid because of Edward IV’s secret marriage to his mother.

The House of Tudor: Henry VII and the Birth of Henry VIII

Richard III imprisoned Edward V and his brother and then seized the throne for himself. It was rumored that Richard III had both brothers killed after this event. The new Yorkist king, however, died in the Battle of Bosworth Field two years later. He was defeated by Henry VII who was directly descended from John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster through his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Before Henry VII became king, he promised to marry Elizabeth of York. His marriage to Elizabeth united the two royal houses and ended the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VII was the first English king from the House of Tudor. The Tudors originally came from Wales, but the family rose to prominence when Henry VII’s grandfather, Owen Tudor, married the widow of the Lancaster king Henry V, Catherine of Valois.Their son, Edmund Tudor, linked the House of Lancaster by marrying Margaret Beaufort, the great granddaughter of the 1st Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. Edmund died in November of 1456, and Margaret Beaufort later gave birth to their son, Henry VII, in 1457.

Henry VII became engaged to Elizabeth of York, daughter of King Edward IV and older sister of the deposed King Edward V. They married in the Westminster Abbey on January 18, 1486. The royal couple’s first son, Arthur, was born on September 1486. Arthur’s birth was followed by seven more children, but four did not survive infancy. Those who survived into adulthood included Margaret, Mary, and the controversial king of England, Henry VIII.

Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491. As Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s second son, Henry VIII was not destined to reign as king. However, his older brother, Arthur, died of sweating sickness in 1502 so young Henry VIII was elevated to the position of the crown prince. Henry VIII was crowned as king of England when his father died on the 21st of April, 1509.


Picture by: Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/8 (German)Details of artist on Google Art ProjecteAHC0d0WiemXSA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, Link

Carpenter, Christine. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, c. 1437-1509. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Guy, J. A. The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. New York: Viking, 2014.

Roberts, J. M., and Odd Arne. Westad. The History of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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Yoruba Culture

The southwest portion of modern Nigeria was first settled between the 4th and 7th centuries AD. The group of people that settled in the region was later called the Yoruba. The Yoruba culture flourished between the 12th and 14th centuries, and it was centered in the city of Ile-Ife. The Yorubas were ruled by the Ile-Ife ooni or king, and they had an organized political system. Their artisans produced some of the best terracotta and bronze sculptures during the height of the Yoruba culture.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Mythological Origins of the Yoruba

Olodumare was the supreme god and most powerful deity of the Yoruba. He lived in the lower heavens, and the Yoruba worshiped him as the creator of the universe. The earth was filled only with water so Olodumare decided to create land. He summoned one of his orishas (spirits) named Obatala to do the task. Before Obatala left to do the task, Olodumare gave him a golden chain, a small bag of earth, and a five-toed chicken.

Obatala used the golden chain to get down to the ocean. When he reached the end of the chain, he stacked the soil on the water and placed the chicken on top of the mound of soil. Obatala then told the chicken to scratch the soil to scatter it. When the task was finished, Obatala used the golden chain to climb up again to the heavens.

He told Olodumare that the task was done, so the supreme god sent a chameleon to check if the earth was dry. The chameleon obeyed his command, and it saw that indeed, the earth was dry. The supreme god Olodumare named the place “Ile-Ife.” In another version of the story, Obatala’s brother Oduduwa stole the bag of soil and created the earth. The brothers became bitter rivals after this event.

Olodumare then decided to share his powers, so he bound together the orisha of creation Obatala and the orisha of the ocean called Yemaya. The couple created more orishas who then received the powers that Olodumare wanted to share. He also gave Obatala the power to create humans, so the orisha of creation returned to earth. Obatala created the first humans the moment he arrived in Ile-Ife, and they became the ancestors of the Yoruba people. Obatala ruled Ile-Ife as its king, but his brother, Oduduwa, arrived on earth. Oduduwa then deposed his brother and ruled Ile-Ife instead. Oduduwa’s children later founded their own kingdoms in the region.

Ile-Ife Beyond the Legend: The Homeland of the Yoruba People

Yoruba copper mask, circa 1300.

The ancient city of Ile-Ife is located in southwest Nigeria, in modern Osun State. Ile-Ife was the spiritual and political homeland of the medieval Yoruba people. It started as a small village in the 4th century, and it rapidly grew during the 8th century. By AD 1000, Ile-Ife was a major trading center with fortifications and paved streets.

The Yoruba people were ruled by a king they called ooni. The orisha Oduduwa was the first Yoruban ooni, and his descendants became the city’s rulers after him. Although the position of the ooni was usually hereditary, there were instances when wealthy and prominent Yoruba men became ooni.

The ooni was not merely a political position, but he was also considered as a spiritual leader. He ruled over minor kings (oba) who paid tribute to him. The ooni wielded influence over the surrounding kingdoms, but this power was not achieved through military invasions. The surrounding peoples considered Ile-Ife as their spiritual homeland, so they easily submitted to the ooni.

The city became a regional power between the 12th and the 15th centuries. Craftsmen and artisans called Ile-Ife their home. Many of them produced the realistic and detailed terracotta and bronze sculptures recovered in the 20th century.

Relations with the Kingdom of Benin

The Edo was another group of people that lived near the Yoruba region. They founded the kingdom of Benin which was also ruled by a king (oba). The Edo people became dissatisfied with their king, so they deposed him. The state of Benin became a republic for some time, until this government, too, was dissolved. The people sent envoys to the Yoruba king and asked him to send them a ruler. The Yoruba ooni sent his son, Prince Oranmiyan, to Benin where he married a local woman. She gave birth to their son, Prince Eweka, while Oranmiyan tried to govern Benin.

After some time, Oranmiyan grew tired of the chaos in the kingdom. He returned to the land of the Yoruba while his son, Eweka, became king (oba) of Benin. He and his descendants ruled Benin City (in present-day Edo State, Nigeria) for many years.


Picture by: WaynaQhapaq – English Wikipedia, Public Domain, Link

Abimbola, Kola. Yoruba Culture: A Philosophical Account. Birmingham, UK: Iroko Academic Publishers, 2006.

Brodd, Jeffrey. Primary Source Readings in World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2009.

Falola, Toyin, and Matthew M. Heaton. A History of Nigeria. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Oliver, Roland, ed. The Cambridge History of Africa:. The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521209816.

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John XXII reigned as the Avignon pope from 1316 to 1334. He was the second pope who lived in the French town of Avignon after Clement V. He was an ally of the French king Philip V, and an enemy of the German king Louis IV of Bavaria. John XXII fell from grace after he rejected the version of the Beatific Vision long supported by the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinals accused him of heresy, and he only acknowledged his “mistake” right before his death in 1334.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during this time.

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Early Life and Career

Jacques Duese (Dueze or d’Euse), the future Pope John XXII, was born in 1244. His birthplace was the trading and banking town of Cahors in the Quercy region of southern France. Jacques was the eldest son of Arnaud Duese, and he came from a well-to-do family. A brother named Pierre became the consul of Cahors, and he was eventually knighted in 1316. A brother named Guilhem also became a knight, while Jacques’ sisters married into prominent families of France.

The young Jacques studied at the Dominican convent in Cahors. Some years later, he studied civil and canon law in Montpelier where he received his degree. He went to the University of Paris to study theology but left without obtaining his degree. He went to Orleans to study once again, and there he became friends with prominent bishops Barthelemi le Roux and Philip De Cahors. He returned to Cahors where he taught civil law.

In 1295, he relocated to Toulouse and taught canon law at the university. He became a counselor to the son of Charles II of Naples, the Bishop Louis of Toulouse, and stayed there until 1297. In 1300, he was appointed as the canon of Puy but left it when he became the bishop of Frejus. He owed his appointment to his backer Charles II of Naples.

Jacques became Charles’ counselor in 1308 and continued to serve Robert of Naples, son of Charles after the king died in 1309. He left in 1310 after he was appointed by Pope Clement V as bishop of Avignon. He was promoted two years later as the cardinal of San Vitale, and in 1313 as the cardinal-bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina in Rome. He was already 69 years old at that time.

Election as Pope

A cameo of Pope John XXII

On April 20, 1314, the 54-year old Pope Clement V died of an illness. Cardinals from Gascony, Provence, and Italy came together in Avignon to elect a new pope. Among them was Jacques Duese who belonged to the Provence faction. Three of his nephews, meanwhile, belonged to the Gascony faction, and they outnumbered the Italians and Provençals. The Italians and the Provençals had no choice but to make an alliance so that their candidate would be elected. The cardinals could not agree, so the papal seat remained vacant for another two years.

King Philip V of France ran out of patience, so in 1316, he summoned the cardinals to Lyon and forced them to elect a pope. They elected Jacques Duese as the new pope in the July of the same year. The fact that he was supported by influential backers such as Philip V himself, Robert of Naples and Cardinal Napoleone Orsini definitely helped his election on August 7, 1316. He was crowned at Lyon less than one month later, and adopted the name John XXII.

The Italian cardinals immediately asked him to bring the papal seat back to Rome from Avignon. Pope John XXII promised to do so but failed to follow through on his promise because of his conflict with Louis of Bavaria. He never left Avignon during his 28-year reign as pope.

Against Louis IV of Bavaria

The Holy Roman Empire was also troubled with succession issues while the College of Cardinals could not decide on a new pope. In 1314, the supporters of Louis IV of Wittelsbach elected him as the new king. His election, however, was disputed by the Habsburgs who wanted Louis’ cousin Frederick III of Austria to rule as king. The Habsburgs crowned Frederick on the same day his cousin Louis was crowned.

Pope John XXII refused to recognize Louis’ election, and the rival kings also fought wars in the years that followed. Since he did not recognize Louis as rightful king, John XXII took advantage of the situation and appointed Robert of Naples as imperial vicar of Italy. Louis IV retaliated and appointed the Count of Marstetten as his own imperial vicar. The pope protested, but the count was already in Northern Italy so there was nothing that he could do. Louis defied John XXII, so the pope excommunicated him on July 17, 1324.

To put up a united front against the pope, Louis IV was forced to reconcile with Frederick III. Louis made him co-ruler of the Holy Roman Empire to which Frederick agreed. They agreed that Frederick would rule the German part of the empire, while Louis held the Italian half. Pope John XXII also refused to recognize this agreement.

The pope’s refusal to recognize the two kings and his dependence on the French king made him unpopular among the Germans and Italians. They considered his efforts as schemes to place the king of France as Holy Roman Emperor and his authority declined further. The Italian scholar Marsilius of Padua condemned Pope John XXII’s actions in his treatise Defensor Pacis. In his treatise, he rejected the pope as the head of the Holy Roman Empire. He also emphasized that the power of the pope over the state should be limited.

Louis went to Italy and had himself crowned as Holy Roman Emperor twice in 1327 and 1328. Pope John XXII nullified this on March 31, 1328, so Louis declared the pope deposed. The emperor appointed a Franciscan priest as the new pope (antipope) Nicholas V. Louis, however, had also became unpopular in Italy over the years, so he cut his losses and fled to Germany. His antipope knew that he would not last long without a supporter, so he, too, fled Italy. The antipope Nicholas V traveled to Avignon and begged John XXII for forgiveness. The pope granted him forgiveness and allowed the antipope to live in peace.

Beatific Vision Controversy and John XXII’s Death

Pope John XXII made a major misstep in 1331 when he preached about the Beatific Vision on All Saints’ Day. The Beatific Vision is the belief that the righteous would immediately be in God’s presence after their death. The pope preached that this was not true and that the righteous dead would only see God after the Last Judgment. This view became unpopular among the people, and for three years, he fended off accusations of heresy. Louis also took advantage of the controversy and added his voice to those who accused John XXII.

On December 3, 1334, John XXII finally buckled under the weight of pressure and admitted that he made a mistake concerning the Beatific Vision. He was already 85 at that time, and he died the following day.


Picture by: PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at Notre-Dame de Paris, GFDL, Link

Kirsch, Johann Peter. “Pope John XXII.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 18 Jan. 2017 <>.

Laux, John Joseph. Church History: A History of the Catholic Church to 1940. TAN Books & Publishers In, 1989.

WEAKLAND, JOHN E. “JOHN XXII BEFORE HIS PONTIFICATE, 1244-1316: JACQUES DUÈSE AND HIS FAMILY.” Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 10 (1972): 161-85.

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Stamp Act 1765

On March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed a law called the Stamp Act. This law required the North American colonists to pay for every printed document that they used. The Stamp Act (as well as the Sugar Act and Currency Act that came before it) was an attempt by the British Parliament to replenish its drained treasury after the costly Seven Years’ War/French and Indian War. The tax, however, was unpopular among the colonists and caused considerable unrest in the British colonies.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Debt and Taxes: The Financial Realities of the French and Indian War

The Seven Years’ War between Britain and France (along with its North American theater, the French and Indian War) finally ended in 1763. Britain not only gained Canada, but also the land between Quebec and Florida which was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. British troops and colonists soon moved west and built outposts in the area. This land, however, had long been home to Native Americans. The desire of one group of people to claim an area already inhabited by another once again brought armed conflict on both sides.

Pontiac, leader of the Ottawa and a confederation of allied tribes, led his warriors in attacking British garrisons and settlements in the occupied area. Anxious to avoid more hostilities with the Native Americans, Britain forbade white colonists from settling in the area between the Appalachian and the Mississippi through the Royal Proclamation of 1763. As expected, the Royal Proclamation angered the colonists. They felt that they had been robbed of their reward in their participation in the wars and that their participation had been for nothing.

Their feelings of discontent intensified when the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act in April 1764. The British government had incurred debts during the French and Indian War. It was also forced to pay for the defense of the colonies to protect its gains after the war. The most urgent question for the British government at that time was where should it get money to pay off these debts and expenses.

The British government wanted to tap into the revenues from the colonial trade but was deterred by the rampant smuggling of goods (especially the smuggling of molasses used in making rum) and bribery in the Customs. To curb smuggling and bribery (as well as motivate merchants to pay taxes), the British Prime Minister George Grenville proposed to halve the tax imposed on imported molasses from six pence to three pence per gallon. Parliament allowed a number of goods from France, Spain, and their colonies to be imported into the North American colonies. Higher customs duties, however, were imposed on these imported goods.  

British authorities started to crack down on lax or corrupt customs deputies to ensure better collection of duties. They also required merchants operating in the colonies to post bonds to ensure that they would follow the new rules. Smugglers would be tried in the vice admiral’s court in distant Nova Scotia and were required to pay for their own travel expenses. In addition, they were to be tried by judges who would receive incentives whenever they hand out guilty verdicts. Grenville also discouraged colonial trade by prohibiting the American colonies from minting or printing their own currencies (the Currency Act).      

These measures were met by the colonial population with an explosion of protests in affected colonies. The taxes, they complained, had been passed without their knowledge and consent since they did not have a representative in the British Parliament. For the colonial population, the Sugar Act and Currency Act was nothing more than a way to control them.

The Stamp Act 1765

A printed copy of the Stamp Act of 1765.

Despite the unpopularity of the Sugar Act and the Currency Act, Grenville proposed an additional tax to be imposed on the colonists. This new law was the Stamp Act, and it was passed in the British Parliament on March 22, 1765. In the Stamp Act, all printed documents in the colonies–such as contracts, wills, bills of sale, bills of lading, and the like–should be taxed from anywhere between three pence and four pounds sterling (gold and silver coins, not paper currency). Pamphlets, playing cards, broadsides, newspapers, and others were also taxed. The documents would then be stamped by government agents as proof of payment.

News of the passage of the Stamp Act soon reached the colonies. Before the law could take effect later that year, however, the colonists–particularly those whose profession made frequent use of paper–were already vocal in their opposition to the Act. Some of the most fervent opposition came from a radical organization called the Sons of Liberty who made “No Taxation without Representation” their motto.

Mobs began attacking stamp agents in the colonies, forcing most of them to resign from their posts. The Americans also threatened to boycott British goods if the Parliament insisted on enforcing the Act. Benjamin Franklin himself traveled to London to protest in the British Parliament. Representatives of all colonies except Georgia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Virginia also petitioned King George III to scrap the tax act before it could be implemented. He passed the petition to the Parliament for review.

The king was already dissatisfied with Grenville, so he was dismissed in July 1765. He was replaced by the Marquis of Rockingham whose administration decided to repeal the deeply unpopular Stamp Act on March 18, 1766. The repeal came only when British merchants expressed their concerns for the boycott of their goods in the colonies. Britain tried to save face by issuing the Declaratory Act (which asserted the Crown’s sovereignty in the British colonies) and the Revenue Act (which sought to discourage smuggling and bribery by reducing the tax on molasses to a penny per gallon).


Picture by: British Parliment 1765 – Library of Congress, Gwillhickers, Public Domain, Link

Allison, R. J. The American Revolution: A Concise History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Fleming, Thomas. Liberty!: The American Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Raphael, Ray. The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord. New York: New Press, 2002

Schmittroth, Linda. American Revolution. Detroit: U.X.L., 2000.


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Kingdom of Kongo 1390-1678

The Kingdom of Kongo was founded by Bantu-speaking peoples in the western portion of central Africa. Established in 1390, the kingdom soon gained supremacy by conquering neighboring states. The rulers of the Kingdom of Kongo were among the earliest African Christian converts after the arrival of Portuguese explorers and missionaries in the late 15th century. The Kongo was also one of the most prolific suppliers of captives to the Portuguese slave trade. Although initially lucrative, the trans-Atlantic slave trade eventually brought the kingdom’s demise. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Bantu-speaking peoples from the Benue River area migrated into the Uele and Bas-Congo (Kongo Central) regions around 1000 BC. They were the first known migrants in the area once occupied by the Kingdom of Kongo. They were followed by waves of Nilotic-speaking migrants from the southern and central regions of Sudan, as well as groups (mainly cattle herders) from East Africa who eventually settled around the Great Lakes area.

These migrants occupied an area that is now within the borders of northern Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, and (to a certain extent) southern Gabon. The Bantu-speaking peoples brought with them their knowledge of metallurgy and agriculture. The mighty Congo River and its tributaries run through this fertile area, allowing the new settlers to grow yams, sorghum, millet, oil palms, and vegetables. Their ability in making iron tools allowed them to grow more crops. With an abundance of food, it was not long before their population increased.

As years passed, most of the people who lived in the area spoke a Bantu language called Kikongo. What made the ancient Kongolese society unique was their matrilineal descent system (children inherited their ranks and properties through their mothers). Their simple villages and towns soon turned into mini-states (wene) ruled by chieftains or clan heads.

The Kingdom of Kongo and the Atlantic Slave Trade

The Kingdom of Kongo was a vassal state of the Kingdom of Portugal from 1891 to 1914.

During the 1380s, Lukeni lua Nimi (the king of the Mpemba Kasi wene) and Mpuku a Nsuku (the king of Mbata wene) agreed to form an alliance. Other petty states soon joined this alliance, and by 1390, Lukeni lua Nimi was able to consolidate power to establish the Kingdom of Kongo. He established the kingdom’s capital at Mbanza-Kongo (renamed Sao Salvador by the Portuguese) in present-day Angola. He continued to expand the kingdom by conquering neighboring petty states. Once incorporated into the kingdom, the manikongo (king) would appoint and send governors into the kingdom’s provinces.

The Kongo way of life changed after the arrival of Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao and his sailors in 1482. In 1491, King John II of Portugal sent the first missionary expedition to Kongo led by Dominican and Franciscan priests. These missionaries were accompanied by tradesmen, artisans, soldiers, and several women. They were successful in converting King Nzinga a Nkuwu and a number of his courtiers into Christianity. Nzinga a Nkuwu and his queen were baptized, and later adopted the names Joao I and Eleanor in honor of the Portuguese monarchs.

Nzinga a Mbemba, the governor of the province of Nsundi, seized the throne when King Joao I Nzinga a Nkuwu died in 1506. He was baptized in the same year as the previous king and adopted the name Alfonso I when he took the throne. Portuguese missionaries flocked to Kongo during his reign. The king made Catholicism the state religion and even sent his own son to Rome to study theology. After establishing diplomatic relations with the king of Portugal, he sent Kongolese students to study in Europe. He also encouraged the establishment of Portuguese schools in his kingdom. Portuguese merchants used the island of Sao Tome as their base in trading with the Kingdom of Kongo. The Kongo people traded products such as honey, animal hides, copper, ivory, and raffia cloth for Portuguese guns, cannons, ammunition, and luxury goods. However, it was not long before the Portuguese found a more valuable Kongo commodity to trade: slaves.

Slavery had long been a part of Kongolese society, but it was the Portuguese who took it to new lows. The Portuguese bought or kidnapped thousands of captives from the Kongo, and took them to their base in Sao Tome. The captives would then take the notorious Middle Passage across the Atlantic and would be offloaded in Brazil. By the early 1500s, the business of slavery began to tear the kingdom apart and King Alfonso I pleaded with his Portuguese counterpart to stop the slave trade. The appeal fell on deaf ears as the majority of Portugal’s trade and wealth largely depended on the slave trade and the cheap labor the slaves provided. King Alfonso I attempted to ban the slave trade, but this only angered the Portuguese merchants who then tried to have him assassinated in 1540. The king’s death in 1545 was the beginning of the end of the Kingdom of Kongo.

The kingdom was beset with civil wars during the reign of King Diogo I (1545-1561). The Portuguese took advantage of the situation by intervening in the war and pitting one faction against the other. The kingdom declined further when Jaga warriors from the east attacked Mbanza-Kongo in 1568. King Alvaro I (1566-1587) fled to an island on the Congo River to escape the destruction. He later sent emissaries to the Portuguese stationed in Sao Tome to appeal for their support in driving the Jaga warriors out of the kingdom. The Portuguese sent 600 soldiers to help repulse the Jaga warriors and restore Mbanza-Kongo to Alvaro I.

Alvaro I and the succeeding kings became puppets of the Portuguese thereafter. By the early 17th century, the Portuguese trade shifted to Luanda, leaving the king in Mbanza-Kongo without a dependable source of revenue. The resentment of the Kongo rulers against the Portuguese finally came to a head when a war between the two parties exploded on October 29, 1665. The Kongo king Antonio I died in battle, and the kingdom soon fell apart. By the late 17th century, Mbanza-Kongo (renamed Sao Salvador) was only a shadow of what it once was.


Picture by: published by Jodocus Hondius – Northwestern University Library: African Maps, Public Domain, Link

Appiah, Anthony, and Henry Louis Gates, eds. Encyclopedia of Africa. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Gondola, Didier. The History of Congo. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Heywood, Linda M., and John K. Thornton. Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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Declaration of the Pope’s Infallibility 1870

Pope Pius IX was elected at the most inopportune and tumultuous point in Italian and European history. Italy was unified as a nation-state in 1861 at the expense of various monarchs and the pope. With the Papal States and his temporal power gone, the pope lashed out at secular rulers, revolutionaries, and liberals as best as he could. In a last-ditch attempt to regain his power, Pope Pius IX summoned leading Catholic theologians to the First Vatican Council held between 1869 and 1870. One of the most crucial decisions of the Council in 1870 was the declaration of the Pope’s infallibility and primacy. This event is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time. 

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The Risorgimento

The discontent and aspirations for Italian national unity finally culminated in a revolution in 1848. Pope Pius IX, ruler of the Papal States, finally gave in to pressure from the revolutionaries and took a step toward liberalism by issuing a constitution for his realm. However, his compromise with the Italian revolutionaries failed, and it ended with the murder of his appointed Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi. Pius IX was forced to flee to Gaeta but was restored with the help of French troops in 1850.

The revolutions spearheaded by Garibaldi and Mazzini failed, but their call for Italian unification was taken up by the Piedmontese Prime Minister Count di Cavour. A savvy and practical politician, he successfully maneuvered to attain the unification of Sardinia and Lombardy in 1859 under the House of Savoy. The unification was soon followed by the inclusion of Modena, Romagna, Tuscany, and Parma.

When Garibaldi saw these new developments, he immediately worked on liberating the Kingdom of Two Sicilies in the south. Cavour, on the other hand, took what remained of the Papal States (with the exception of Rome), effectively ending the pope’s temporal power. He soon followed it up by taking Naples as well. In 1861, the greater part of Italy was finally united under King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy. Italy took Venice from Austria in 1866 during the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War. Finally, in 1870, the Italian troops sent by Cavour drove French troops out of Rome, ending their 20-year occupation of the city since Pius’s restoration. King Victor Emmanuel’s occupied the city and assumed the title “King of Italy.”


The doctrine of papal infallibility was established during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX.

Papal Infallibility – a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church asserting that the pope, when issuing doctrines on morals and faith ex cathedra, is incapable of committing errors. The Church should follow all doctrines that are spoken ex cathedra.

Ex Cathedra – in the Catholic Church, speaking with authority which stems the pope’s position. Latin for “out of/from the chair” (of St. Peter).

Dogma – divinely revealed doctrine (or set of doctrines) on morals and faith issued and made official by the authorities of the Catholic Church.

Classical (19th Century) Liberalism – an ideology closely associated with the various reform movements in 19th-century Europe. Proponents of classical liberalism desired the abolition of feudal regimes and the reformation of the government and the Roman Catholic Church. They were also vocal advocates of:

* Individual liberty and sovereignty of the people

* Representation in the government (although limited to men with properties only)

                                                           * Equality before the law

The Italian proponents of liberalism desired the restriction of the power of the authorities (in the case of the Papal States, the pope and the clerics) and the formation of an elected assembly (the parliament). The passage of a constitution was also a paramount goal for the 19th century Italian liberals.

Nationalism – an ideology inspired by the French Revolution, nurtured in early 19th century Germany, and linked with classical liberalism in its early phases. Nationalism is the ideology that stresses the unity of people who share an ethnicity, language, culture, or history. Early and mid-19th-century Italian nationalists include Giuseppe Grimaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Count di Cavour.

Rationalism – a philosophical movement with roots in the Age of Enlightenment. Philosophers who support the ideas of rationalism assert that reason–not religion or sensory experiences–is the only source of knowledge.

Ultramontanism – a movement within the Roman Catholic Church which sought to revive the power and independence of the pope. It had its roots in the Medieval Age and the Reformation but became more popular after the French Revolution.  

Gallicanism – a movement within the Catholic Church with roots in 17th century France. Advocates of Gallicanism rejected the temporal power of the pope and supported the idea of separation of church and state. They wanted the pope to submit to a general council, as well as rejected the notion that papal decrees cannot be reversed or reformed.

The First Vatican Council and the Declaration of the Papal Infallibility

Relations between the Catholic Church and European governments were at an all-time low after the Risorgimento. The loss of the Papal States and the end of his temporal powers only pushed Pope Pius to become more conservative. In 1864, he released the controversial Syllabus of Errors and the encyclicals Quanta Cura to lash out at the liberals and the nationalists.

He also targeted the proponents of rationalism, socialism, communism, naturalism, pantheism, and other ideologies which gained traction in the 19th century. Protestants, members of secret societies, and supporters of the separation of church and state also received his condemnation. The publication of the Syllabus dashed the hopes of liberal Catholics and supporters of Gallicanism for conciliation but was wholeheartedly welcomed by Ultramontanists.

The publication of the Syllabus, however, was only the start for Pope Pius IX who still hoped to recover his temporal power. As early as 1864, he already had plans to convene a General Council in response to the loss of his territories and his temporal power. He confided the plan to several bishops and cardinals, most of whom readily agreed to attend the General Council. Some prelates even secretly suggested to include the issue of papal infallibility to the topics that would be discussed.

On June 29, 1868, the pope issued an apostolic letter entitled Aeterni Patris summoning experts in canon law and theologians to Rome for the First Vatican Council. They were to form five commissions which would discuss topics such as

1. Catholic faith and doctrines

2. Canon laws and discipline

3. Eastern churches and Catholic missions in foreign lands

4. Relations between the Catholic church and European states

5. Religious orders

Most of the bishops who attended the Council were either conservative Italians or members of religious orders which were financially dependent on the pope. It was no wonder that many bishops were all too eager to agree with whatever the pope wanted.

The First Vatican Council (or Twentieth Ecumenical Council) met between December 8, 1869, and July 18, 1870. The debates were heated, and a number of theologians resisted some decrees on the grounds that they were unbiblical. In the end, however, the majority won out. The Council formulated the doctrine of papal infallibility and primacy.


Picture by:, Public Domain, Link

Breunig, Charles. The Age of Revolution and Reaction: 1789-1850. New York: Norton, 1977.

Carson, H.M., Peter Toon, and C.T. McIntire. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas and Earle E. Cairns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

Sykes, Norman. The Cambridge Modern History: The Zenith of European Power 1830-70. Edited by J.P.T. Bury. Vol. 10. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

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Amistad Revolt 1839-1842

By the late 18th century, the clamor to abolish the slave trade increased in Western Europe and in the northern colonies of America. Denmark was the first to answer the call to end the importation of slaves from Africa to its colonies in the West Indies. But in spite of fierce resistance from slaveholders at home, the North American abolitionist movement led by the Quakers was quick to gather steam. The abolitionist movement finally bore fruit between 1811 and 1848 when several Western European nations officially put an end to slavery through legislation.

By 1811, Spain had outlawed the slave trade and slavery itself. However, it was not until 1886 that Cuba, one of Spain’s overseas colonies, followed suit. In what would become the United States, slavery would become a contentious and bitter issue that would eventually lead an entire nation to a civil war in 1861. Amidst these developments was the controversial Amistad Revolt (1839-1842). This mutiny captivated the American public when it was tried in American courts between 1840 and 1841. Apart from its political, societal, and legal repercussions at home, the Amistad also sent ripples across the Atlantic when Spain decided to intervene with the case. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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La Amistad: From the Lomboko to Cuba

Britain had outlawed the slave trade in its colonies in 1807, and this was soon followed by the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. Despite the British ban, the illicit slave trade remained lucrative thanks to the steady demand in some colonies in the West Indies. At the center of this illegal activity was the Lomboko slave fortress in Sierra Leone, a facility owned by the wealthy Spanish slave trader Pedro Blanco.

Many of the men, women, and children kidnapped and sold to Blanco belonged to the Mende people. Others belonged to different tribes such as the Bembe and Kono. Some people were kidnapped because they failed to repay their debts on time. Others meanwhile were prisoners of war or were captured from slave raids. A few were accused of adultery and were punished by some disgruntled husbands by capturing and selling them into slavery.

A doctor checked the health and viability of each slave upon their arrival at the Lomboko. They spent some weeks in Blanco’s slave fortress before they were loaded into the Tecora, a Portuguese slave ship. After separating them from the women and children, the men were shackled together inside the cramped holds to prevent them from rebelling or from committing suicide by throwing themselves overboard. During the voyage, they were given meager rations of food. They had to relieve themselves where they were shackled together so that the poorly ventilated hold quickly stank and soon became a petri dish for diseases. The Tecora’s crew disposed of dead captives by throwing them into the ocean. Sick or dying captives were also thrown into watery graves because of the crew’s fears that they would infect the rest of the “cargo.”

The Tecora finally docked in the port of Havana in June 1839. The slave traders cautiously auctioned the slaves in Havana for fear of British naval officers who patrolled the area. Among those who arrived in Havana for the slave auctions were the Spanish merchants and slaves owners Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz. After purchasing 49 men, one boy, and three girls, the Spaniards chartered the vessel La Amistad (Spanish for “friendship”) and sailed for Camaguey, Cuba. Ramon Ferrer owned and captained the ship, and was assisted by two crew members. Also on board were the ship’s cook Celestino and the cabin boy Antonio.

The Amistad Mutiny

The Amistad was the site of the 1839 Mende slave rebellion.

La Amistad left Havana for Camaguey on June 28, 1839. Unlike in the Tecora, Montes and Ruiz did not shackle the slaves during the day. They were allowed to roam the ship if they wanted during daylight but were once again shackled at night. During the voyage,  Sengbe (Cinque) Pieh (one of the Mende captives) tried to find out what Montes and Ruiz intended to do to him and the other captives. He asked the cook Celestino who insinuated that the Africans would be chopped up, cooked, and eaten by the crew. The cook’s joke was not only in bad taste but also ill-timed. He would eventually pay for his morbid sense of humor with his life.

Sengbe saw for himself the atrocities committed by white men during the Middle Passage, so he readily believed Celestino. He wasted no time in planning a rebellion with the help of fellow captives Grabeau and Burnah. On the eve of July 1, 1839, Sengbe was able to pick the locks of the shackles with a nail and free himself and the other slaves. Once freed, they found cane machetes stashed in the hold. Each man took a machete and headed to the deck where their first victim, Captain Ramon Ferrer, was sleeping.

Ferrer woke up and managed to warn Montes and Ruiz of the mutiny. The Africans, however, easily overpowered him and strangled him to death. Montes was wounded during the fight, while the two seamen immediately abandoned the ship. The depth of the slaves’ anger was reserved for Celestino who they hacked to death. Only the cabin boy Antonio was spared from the slaves’ wrath.

With the ship now under their control, Sengbe and the other Africans decided to sail for home. Since none of them knew how to steer the vessel toward Sierra Leone, they forced Montes and Ruiz to steer for them. The two agreed but craftily directed the ship in a meandering course toward the coast of North America in hopes that a United States ship would eventually find and help them. The Amistad sometimes came across merchant ships, but the Africans concealed the mutiny by hiding Montes and Ruiz below deck. With the slave owners’ money, they were able to buy food and water from passing ships when their stocks ran dangerously low.

The sailors of the vessels the Amistad came across were mystified by the appearance of the all-African crew and the ship’s derelict condition. Soon, wild rumors of a pirate ship commandeered by Africans spread to the American East Coast and fired up the locals’ imagination. Some people claimed it was a pirate ship loaded with gold, while others believed that it was the ghostly ship of the Flying Dutchman.

Sengbe, Grabeau, and Burnah decided to drop anchor in Long Island and buy food there by the end of August 1839. The men stood out like a sore thumb, and they were soon spotted by Captain Henry Green and his men. Green realized that this must be the mysterious ship that he heard about in the news, so he immediately made moves to ingratiate himself with Sengbe and his companions so he could eventually claim for himself the Amistad, its cargo, and the Africans. Despite not knowing each other’s language, both sides agreed through gestures to meet again on the following day.

As agreed, both parties appeared on the beach and met again the next day. Captain Green’s dream of salvaging the Amistad was dashed when the revenue cutter USS Washington appeared and interrupted them. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney of the USS Washington ordered his crew to seize the Amistad and subdue its crew.

To the American crew’s surprise, they found the ship full of Africans and quickly realized that they were the mutineers. Gedney also saw an opportunity to claim the Amistad and acquire the Africans as his own slaves. He then had Sengbe seized and isolated in the USS Washington to prevent him from launching another mutiny. Gedney did not want to stay in New York as slavery had been outlawed in the State, so he had it towed to New London, Connecticut where slavery was still legal. He then submitted his claims to the Amistad and its cargo for hearing to Judge Andrew T. Judson of Connecticut.

Preparing for a Legal Battle

The Africans (the four children included) were jailed in New Haven while the judge examined Amistad’s papers. He also listened to the testimonies of Ruiz and Montes, as well as those given by the cabin boy Antonio. All three identified Sengbe, Burnah, and Grabeau as the leaders of the mutiny. The judge did not bother to interview the Africans because not one of them knew how to speak English or Spanish. In addition, no one living in Connecticut at that time knew the Mende language. Sengbe and his companions were charged with piracy and murder after the judge heard the Spaniards’ testimonies. Their trial was set on September 19, 1839.

News of the plight of the Amistad mutineers soon reached prominent Connecticut abolitionists. The Quaker abolitionist and New London grocer Dwight P. Janes were the first to take up their cause and form the Amistad Committee. He was joined by fellow abolitionists Lewis and Arthur Tappan, Reverend Simeon Jocelyn, and Reverend Joshua Leavitt.

These men took it upon themselves to raise funds for the mutineers’ legal fees. The Committee managed to convince Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin to represent the Africans in the long legal battle. They also wrote to the press about the plight of the mutineers and spread the news about their situation. Their efforts became so successful (perhaps too successful) as thousands of well-meaning visitors and gawkers flocked to New Haven prison where the Africans were kept.

The Amistad Case and its Political Implications

For the US President Martin Van Buren, the arrival of the Amistad could not have come at the worst time. He was up for reelection in 1840 and his campaign was in full swing. The Amistad case was both a domestic and international issue, so he sought a decision that would satisfy the American voters (both abolitionists and staunch slaveholders) and prevent a diplomatic row with Spain. He found neither.

Van Buren’s top advisers (who also happened to be Southern slaveholders) wanted him to return the Amistad, its cargo, as well as Sengbe and his friends, to Cuba to pacify Spain. There they would eventually be tried and hanged if found guilty. The Spanish foreign minister also reminded the president of the two treaties America signed with Spain in 1795 and 1819 in regards to aiding ships in distress. Spain only wanted the Amistad issue silenced because of some thorny and embarrassing facts about its legality. Spain had abolished the slave trade in 1811, so its citizens had no business transporting enslaved people across the Atlantic. Its law enforcement too had been so weak that it was unable to impose the ban in Cuba. Spain also wanted the Amistad matter resolved quietly and quickly because it had signed an anti-slavery treaty with Britain in 1833. If the Amistad issue Britain, Spain surmised that British government would consider this a violation of the treaty and would immediately intervene in Cuba.

Van Buren, on the other hand, was torn between the abolitionists (mostly concentrated in the North) and the staunch slaveholders (who mostly lived in the South) at home. The abolitionists believed that the Africans had gained their freedom by launching a mutiny and should be allowed to go back to Sierra Leone. The slaveholders, meanwhile, wanted to return the Africans to Ruiz and Montes. They insisted that the Africans should go back to Cuba and be hanged there for murdering the ship captain and the cook. They readily believed the Spaniards’ story that Sengbe and his friends were born in Cuba and they had been slaves there for many years. This in spite of the fact that none of the Africans understood Spanish, and none of them answered to their alleged Spanish names read out to them during the trial.

The Amistad Trial

The Amistad trial for murder and piracy began on September 19, 1839, in Hartford, Connecticut. The case was presided by Justice Smith Thompson of the United States Circuit Court. U.S. District Attorney W.S. Holabird led the prosecution, while Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin led the Amistad defense. Baldwin was assisted by lawyers Seth Perkins Staples and Theodore Sedgwick.

The defense first asked the court to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the captive girls, but this was immediately blocked by Holabird. He asserted that the African children were considered as properties and not humans, so the principles of the writ of habeas corpus did not apply to them. Besides, he already had secret orders from President Van Buren to wrap the case up so it could be transferred to Cuba as quickly as possible.

Baldwin countered this and presented the little girls to the court to garner sympathy for their plight. The children were visibly distressed during their appearance. The argument whether to grant the girls the writ of habeas corpus went on for two days before Holabird did an abrupt about-face. He acknowledged that the girls were humans and were born free so that a writ was completely unnecessary. He also asserted that the girls should be sent back to Africa as soon as possible. The truth, however, was Holabird was pressured to deflect anything in the trial that might taint Van Buren’s reputation and damage his campaign.

On September 23, Justice Thompson declared that the case could not be tried by a U.S. court as the mutiny happened in waters controlled by Spain. The judge, however, did not issue a writ of habeas corpus as the matter of whether the Africans were properties of Ruiz and Montes was yet to be decided. The second trial was set in a U.S. District Court.

The District Court Trial

The Amistad Committee had already realized that their case might be in danger when they learned that it was assigned to Judge Andrew T. Judson. The prejudiced Judson had prosecuted the Connecticut schoolteacher Prudence Crandall when she tried to integrate an African-American girl into her school in 1833. The odds were against the abolitionists and the Amistad mutineers, but the Committee and the legal defense continued to prepare for the trial.

While they awaited the trial, members of the Committee were busy combing through New York Harbor in search of a Mende interpreter. They were lucky to find James Covey, a native of Sierra Leone and former captive himself, who worked as a sailor on a British vessel.    

To the Committee’s surprise, however, Judson allowed a little improvement on the prisoners’ living conditions. He permitted them to be brought outside every now and then to do some exercises and breathe in some fresh air. The captive children were sent to private homes where foster families taught them the English language. Students from the nearby Yale College visited the captives to evangelize and teach them English.

Dr. Richard Madden, an Irish abolitionist who lived and worked in Havana, had hurried to Connecticut to give his sworn testimony on the thriving slave trade in Cuba. This damning testimony shredded the credibility of Montes and Ruiz, and they were soon charged with imprisonment. Both men were arrested and sent to prison in New York in October 1839. Montes posted bail and quickly sailed to Cuba, while Ruiz refused to post bail (he did not want to admit to any wrongdoing) and remained in prison. He eventually posted bail and also fled to Cuba. The indictment and imprisonment of his compatriots outraged the Spanish foreign minister. The events only added to the pressure on the beleaguered Van Buren.

The District Court hearing of the Amistad finally began on January 7, 1840, in New Haven. With James Covey as interpreter, Sengbe was able to narrate how they were captured in Sierra Leone and eventually sold in Havana. While the Amistad narration was ongoing, two ships were already waiting on the dock to take the Africans away. The first one was the USS Grampus, a vessel sent by Van Buren to take the captives to Cuba after the trial. The Amistad Committee, however, had prepared their own chartered ship. The abolitionists’ ship was to take the Africans to Canada after the trial.

Judge Judson shocked everyone when he ruled in favor of the captives on January 13, 1840. The court granted Lieutenant Gedney one-third of the value of the Amistad and its cargo as per U.S. law of salvage. He, however, was not allowed to claim the captives as part of the salvage as the Africans were transported to Cuba illegally. The judge ruled that the captives should be returned to Africa posthaste. Captain Green’s claim, on the other hand, was denied by the court. Perhaps one of the most unhappy persons at that time was Van Buren who, despite his illegal maneuvers, was not successful in his reelection bid later that year.

The Final Showdown

The prosecution, naturally, was unhappy with the decision and decided to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. A new trial was set on February 22, 1841.

For the defense, the chances of winning the case did not look too good once again as five out of nine Justices (including the Chief Justice) came from the South. The abolitionists, therefore, was forced to look for a prominent anti-slavery advocate who would support their case and lend a voice to the cause. They found one in the former U.S. president John Quincy Adams.

The 73-year old John Q. Adams was the son of the United States second president John Adams and his progressive first lady, Abigail Adams. A staunch anti-slavery advocate, he had already served the United States as a senator, ambassador, and Secretary of State. He served as U.S. President between 1825 and 1829 and was serving as a Representative of Massachusetts when Attorney Baldwin approached him. He was initially hesitant to accept the Committee’s offer because of his age, but Baldwin eventually convinced him to join the defense team.

The Supreme Court trial began on February 22, 1841. The U.S. Attorney General Henry D. Gilpin led the prosecution this time and was first to deliver the opening statements. Baldwin’s opening statements, meanwhile, hinged on three premises. First, he questioned and demolished the truthfulness and validity of the papers produced by Montes and Ruiz. He then argued that the Adams-Onis Treaty did not apply to the captives as they were not born in the Spanish colony of Cuba. Lastly, he argued that since Sengbe and the other captives were free men, the U.S. Federal government had no right to send them to Cuba as it would go against the U.S. Constitution.

Four days later, John Quincy Adams himself addressed the Supreme Court. He stated that the Adams-Onis Treaty could only be used during wartime, and its terms did not apply to the Amistad case. He also blasted former President Van Buren in front of the Supreme Court for interfering with the Amistad case. His lecture on the Amistad case went on for another eight hours.

The Supreme Court finally reached a decision in March 1841. The Court determined that Sengbe and the other mutineers were free men, and as such, they were to be released from prison and be allowed to return to their homeland immediately. The Justices also decided that Ruiz, Montes, and the Spanish foreign minister had no right to hold the captives or prevent them from returning to Sierra Leone. To the Amistad Committee’s relief, the Justices asserted that all human beings have the right to fight for their freedom and the captives had earned theirs through the mutiny. Gedney’s claims to a portion of the cargo were also affirmed. Attorney Baldwin was not present when the Supreme Court handed the decision on the case so Adams sent him an ecstatic note instead.

Bittersweet Victory

Sengbe and his fellow captives were at first skeptical when the news of their freedom reached them. But celebrations and joy replaced their initial skepticism when they realized that they were finally going home. The abolitionists also met the news with great joy and were quick to publicize the Amistad victory. The Africans stayed in Connecticut for several months while the abolitionists were raising funds so they could charter a ship back to Sierra Leone. Sengbe and his companions helped in raising funds by creating and selling handicrafts.

The Africans boarded the ship Gentleman on November 25, 1841, and said tearful farewells to their American friends. They were accompanied by American missionaries who saw an opportunity to evangelize in Sierra Leone. The Amistad mutineers and the American missionaries arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1842.


Picture by: Unknown – New Haven Colony Historical Society and Adams National Historic Site, Public Domain, Link

Kromer, Helen. The Amistad Revolt, 1839: The Slave Uprising Aboard the Spanish Schooner. New York: F. Watts, 1973.

Osagie, Iyunolu Folayan. The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

Zeinert, Karen. The Amistad Slave Revolt and American Abolition. North Haven, CT: Linnet Books, 1997.