Admiral Count Yamamoto Gonbee

(Yamamoto Gonnohyoe, 1852-1 933)

was the architect of modern Japanese naval power. He was born and grew up in the castle town of the Satsuma domain, Kagoshima. As a boy of sixteen, he fought with the Satsuma army in the Restoration war at Toba-Fushimi and in northern Honshu (1868). He was one of the first to be graduated from the new Naval Academy, in 1874, and took a midshipman cruise to San Francisco. Like other navy leaders, he had significant foreign experience. After his cruise he served for over a year on the warships Vineta and Leipzig of another fledgling navy, the German, circumnavigating the globe and passing both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. As a junior officer he had duty aboard five different vessels (1878-81). He became second in command of the screw-corvette Asama, 1882-85, and occupied the same position on the cruiser Naniwa when it was brought to Japan in 1886 after its construction in Britain.

His first command, the sloop Amagi, followed. In 1887, as aide to Nav Minister Saigo, he undertook extended visits to Europe and the United States. He made the rank of captain in 1889 and subsequently commanded the cruisers Takao and Takachiho. His career began to take a political direction when he was appointed director of the Navy Ministry’s Secretariat in 1891 . Because of his administrative skill he was made rear admiral and chief of the Naval Affairs Department of the ministry in 1895. He attained the rank of vice admiral in 1898 and admiral in 1904. He served as navy minister, 1898-1906, and as prime minister, 1913-14 and 1923-24.

Navy Minister, 1898-1906

In a memorial to the throne on national defense, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933), the navy minister, described how the emperor’s contribution of personal funds for building warships had brought about victory in the war with China. He declared,

It would seem that in the lands of the Orient, ominous clouds and baleful mists have now been happily cleared away, but I fear that in all prob ability the situation in China and Korea contains seeds of disaster imminently threatening the peace. At present the Imperial Navy may be said to reign supreme in the Orient, but military preparations of the powers are advancing rapidly. This is true especially of the neighboring power that has recently expanded its ‘navy and plans before long to have a fleet in the Orient many times stronger than the empire’s. If an emergency should arise, will the sea-girded empire of Japan be able to sleep in peace?

Yamamoto asked for a total of 115 million yen with which to build and equip three first-class battleships, three first-class cruisers, and two second-class cruisers. Needless to say, the power against which Japan had to defend itself was Russia, whose eastward advance was deplored by the genrō when they approved this request for naval expansion.

“In the budget for next year,” Navy Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyoe declared in early 1906, “nothing more has been attempted than to make provisions for replacing what had been destroyed or impaired in the war.” “But after that,” the navy’s most important bureaucrat suggested, “it would be necessary to consider . . . new undertakings.” Within five years of Yamamoto’s prophetic utterance, all in Japan’s elite political circles knew what Yamamoto had alluded to by the somewhat cautious and guarded phrase “new undertakings”; massive naval expansion on a scale not previously undertaken in Japan. Conferring with Seiyukai leader Hara Kei four years later at the end of a navy-inspired, pro-naval expansion propaganda campaign, Prime Minister Katsura Taro revealed just what he felt naval expansion and the navy’s political machinations to secure large-scale budgetary increases meant for politics and the nation of Japan: instability. Predicting that the navy would shortly introduce a massive expansion plan based on the purchase and construction of Dreadnought class warships, the army General turned Prime Minister claimed that the naval expansion proposal had been “hatched [by Yamamoto] out of an ambition to break up the tie between the government and the Seiyukai,” a relationship that had resulted in political stability since 1905. Katsura’s assumptions proved correct on both counts and the navy’s political engagement to secure greater appropriations significantly influenced elite level politics after 1905.

Army-Navy Rivalry

An example illustrating this type of army thinking towards the navy occurred in 1894, when Vice Chief of the Army General Staff, Kawakami Soroku, devised war plans against China that emphasized the navy’s support role, Yamamoto Gonnohyoe pointedly asked Kawakami a simple but loaded question, “Is it true the army has engineers?” Taken aback, Kawakami replied, “Yes . . . of course we do.” To this, Yamamoto responded, with no little sarcasm, “Then it should be no trouble [for you] to build a bridge from Yokubo in Kyushu to Tsushima and then to Pusan in Korea, to now send our army to the continent.”

Siemens Incident

Allegations that high-ranking officers in Japan’s Imperial Navy had received bribes from the German munitions firm Siemens Schuckert caused a political crisis that culminated in the resignation of the premier, Admiral Yamamoto Gonnohyoe (1852-1933) and his cabinet on 24 March 1914. The Siemens incident was indicative of the competition, which was especially bitter in 1905-1915, among rival factions associated with Japan’s army and navy commanders as well as among rival party organizations. The subject of heated public discussion and official debate, the scandal also marked a step toward greater government accountability in the early history of parliamentary democracy in Japan.

On 23 January 1914 Japanese newspapers printed reports of the trial in Berlin of a former Siemens employee who was charged with stealing confidential company documents from files in the firm’s Tokyo office. The defendant testified that he had sold the documents to a Reuters News Service reporter in order to expose a duplicitous deal between Japanese naval officers and the British firm Vickers, represented by a Japanese company, Mitsui Bussan. By accepting an offer from Vickers of regular secret “commissions” of 25 percent of the value of equipment procurement contracts placed with the firm, the naval officers contravened an agreement reached with Siemens earlier to place large orders for ammunition and communications equipment with the German firm in exchange for kickbacks of 15 percent of the value of the orders.

Admiral Yamamoto, premier since February 1913, had authorized a program of lavish expenditures on naval expansion. Critics of his generosity seized on the information released in Berlin to confirm suspicions of corruption in connection with naval spending. In a Diet session on 23 January 1914, Shimada Saburo, a leading member of the opposition Doshikai, opened a twomonth period of public debate and political crisis by calling Yamamoto to account with a series of embarrassing questions about the navy’s purchasing practices.

During February and March, Yamamoto succeeded in maintaining his position, partly by dismissing naval officers implicated in the allegations of corruption. But the admiral’s position was irretrievably weakened by opposition within the upper house of the Diet, the army, and the public.

The Siemens incident contributed to greater instability in Japan’s parliamentary politics by ousting the majority party, the Seiyukai, from the premiership and the cabinet. Yamamoto’s government survived a nonconfidence vote on 10 February, but failed to survive the loss of support in the upper house of the Diet, where the peers had slashed the naval expansion budget and refused to yield to the principle that only the lower house had authority over the budget. In an arrangement brokered by Yamagata Aritomo and other senior leaders, a new cabinet was installed in April 1914 with the veteran parliamentarian Okuma Shigenobu (1838- 1922) as premier. Competition for budgetary appropriations between the navy and army continued to be a bone of contention within Japan’s government, even at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Corruption connected to public contracts with foreign firms continued as well, although it did not precipitate another political crisis until the Lockheed scandal of 1976.


Bruce’s Revolt (1306–1314)

The face of Robert the Bruce by forensic sculptor Christian Corbet

Depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 from the Holkham Bible

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Forces of England’s Edward I vs. forces of Scotland’s Robert Bruce

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Scotland and northern England

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Bruce led a Scottish rebellion against English rule.

OUTCOME: Partial eviction of the English from Scotland

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Variable, but Bruce was consistently outnumbered; he may have had 10,000 men at most.

Robert Bruce (1274-1329) was the grandson of an earlier claimant to the throne of Scotland. He had fought on the side of the Scots rebel William Wallace (1272?-1305) (see WALLACE’S REVOLT) but shifted allegiance to England’s Edward I (1239-1307) by 1302. Wallace was executed in 1305, and the following year, although still nominally in the service of Edward I, Bruce defiantly crowned himself king of Scotland at Scone. At this, an enraged Edward invaded Scotland and engaged Bruce’s forces at the Battle of Methven, northwest of Perth, on June 19, 1306. Edward easily routed Bruce’s outnumbered rebels, and Bruce, after a second defeat at Dalry (August 11), fled to remote Rathlin Island off the coast of Ireland. It is said that during his exile Bruce observed a spider weave its web with infinite patience. Somehow inspired by this example, he returned to Scotland in 1307 and quickly found an eager band of followers. He led them against English cavalry at the Battle of Loudoun Hill at Ayr, southwestern Scotland, in May 1307. With arrogant recklessness, English knights charged Bruce’s pikemen and were duly decimated. The defeat at Loudon Hill outraged the aged and infirm Edward I, who, sick as he was with a wasting disease, personally led a campaign into Scotland. However, on July 7, 1307, he died at Burgh-by-Sands, near the Solway Firth. Edward I’s son, Edward II (1284-1327), made a half-hearted foray into Scotland in 1310 but soon withdrew. Bruce used the interlude of peace to mend fences with enemies and to consolidate his forces for operations to clear the remaining English out of Scotland. Often he ventured into northern England on hit-and-run raids.

In 1311 Bruce attacked Durham and Hartlepool, evicting the English from these places, and by 1314 only Stirling, Dunbar, and Berwick remained under English control. By this time Bruce had secured recognition from France and had the backing of the Scots clergy. At this point most historians mark the conclusion of Bruce’s Revolt and the commencement of the SCOTTISH WAR (1314–1328).

10th May 1307 Battle of Loudon Hill

Having rallied his supporters, King Robert was back in business again and came up against his old adversary Aymer de Valence, now Earl of Pembroke, ten miles north of Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. This time the English soldiers were obliged to approach their enemy over bogland, and rapidly fell victim to the spears of Bruce’s men. Over one hundred were killed before the remainder rapidly dispersed.

22nd May 1308 Battle of Inverurie (sometimes known as the Battle of Barra)

King Robert was taken ill on his march north towards Aberdeenshire after his victory at Loudon Hill, but the spring of 1308 nevertheless found him and his army camped at Meldrum, close to Inverurie. John Comyn, 3rd Earl of Buchan, was a cousin of the murdered John Comyn, Lord of Buchan, and determined to bring the King to justice. However, he proved indecisive. Many of his followers had been assured that the King was too ill to fight and when King Robert appeared before them, Buchan’s men turned and fled. Buchan himself escaped to England where he died the same year.

Circa 1308/1309 Battle of the Pass of Brander

This was a conflict between King Robert I and the Macdougalls of Argyll, kinsmen of the murdered John Comyn. There is variance as to exactly where (Brander or Ben Cruachan) and when the incident took place, but it is generally understood that the Macdougalls were caught in a vice between King Robert and Sir James Douglas and put to flight.

Further reading: Christopher Rothero, Scottish and Welsh Wars 1250-1400 (London: Osprey, 2000); Ronald McNair Scott, Robert the Bruce: King of Scots (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1996).

Flying VCs

James Allan Ward

There were 182 VCs awarded in the Second World War. For each one a certain amount of time passed between the commission of the act and the official gazetting of the award. This `lag-time’ between act and gazette date varied from as low as eight days to as high as 2084 days. The median average of lag-time was 90 days. Eighty-six (47.7 percent) had a lag-time between 60 and 120 days. One hundred and thirty of the awards (72 percent) were gazetted between 30 and 150 days after the act. Of the medals that fall outside this majority, only 13 Crosses (7.2 percent) were published in less than 30 days. Thirty-seven VCs (20.5 percent) were granted following a lag-time of more than 150 days.

These long lag-times for the latter category can be explained in a variety of ways. In some cases the individual was either killed or taken prisoner, as were the witnesses to the act. In such cases the recommendation could not be made until the release of the eyewitnesses at the end of the war. Thus the heroism of Honorary Captain John Weir Foote, Canadian Chaplain’s Service during the raid on Dieppe, 19 August 1942, was not gazetted until 14 February 1946:

Captain Foote coolly and calmly during the eight hours of the battle walked about collecting the wounded, saving many lives by his gallant efforts and inspiring those around him by his example. At the end of this gruelling time he climbed from the landing craft that was to have taken him to safety and deliberately walked into the German position in order to be taken prisoner so that he could be a help to those men who would be held in captivity until the end of the war.

Not until the release of POWs at the end of the war could the true intentions of his actions be determined from the accounts of the men he accompanied into captivity.

In some instances the recommendation might be held up by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Such was the situation for Lieutenant Cairns, the officer who had disarmed a sword-wielding Japanese officer in March 1944. His recommendation was in the dispatch pouch accompanying General Orde Wingate when he died in an air crash. Consequently, the particulars of the recommendation were not obtained until well after the end of the war; Cairns was not gazetted until 20 May 1949, the last of the Second World War’s awards.

The quick vetting of some of the recommendations cannot be attributed to some force of fate or enemy action. Speeding the wheels of bureaucratic entropy required pressure from above. Thirteen Crosses were gazetted in under 30 days. For some reason these awards were hurried through an adjudication process that was normally slow and deliberate.

Seven of those 13 went for air operations; six of those seven were generated by Bomber Command. Five of those six went to missions against high-profile targets. Flight Lieutenant Roderick A. B. Learoyd bombed the Dortmund-Ems Canal, one of the highest- priority targets mentioned in Harris’s memoirs, and in the process demonstrated Bomber Command’s proficiency in precision bombing. Nettleton’s raid on Augsburg was the trial by fire for unescorted bombers. Likewise was the daring daylight raid on the port of Bremen, led by Wing Commander Hughie I. Edwards on 4 July 1941.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson got a Cross for dam-busting. The large dams at Mohne, Sorpe and Eder were tempting targets. As `Mutt and Jeff’ [Captain `Mutt’ Summers and `Jeff’ – Barnes Wallis, the creator of the dambuster bomb] explained in Gibson’s initial briefing, these dams supplied water for drinking and industrial uses and generated electrical power for a large portion of the heavily industrialized Ruhr River Valley. Not only would their destruction reduce the Reich’s power production and industrial output, but the flood damage resulting from their sudden rupture had the potential to do `more damage to everything than has ever happened in this war.’Massive destruction of enemy production, power generation, and civilian workforce from a single air strike would vindicate Harris’s position on the effectiveness of strategic bombing.

Bomber Command’s salvation of England in destroying the invasion barges won a VC for Sergeant John Hannah, whose efforts to extinguish a fire aboard his aircraft allowed the pilot to bring the crippled aircraft to a safe landing. Harris saw these barges as a distinct threat to British security, but `the War Office seems to have lacked appreciation of how they could be used to put troops across the Channel or of the enormous number of them available.’ The gun is not smoking, but the barrel is warm and there is a scent of cordite in the air. It appears the RAF was using the VC to validate the high command’s doctrine.

This having been said, it is necessary to point out that the political steering of the types of heroism granted official recognition does not detract from the heroism displayed by the winners. Each of the `quick’ RAF winners displayed extreme valour and courage. In some instances, such as with the sixth of the quick winners, it was nothing less than phenomenal:

The sergeant [James Allen Ward, Royal New Zealand AF] crawled out through a narrow astro-hatch, scrambled onto the back of the starboard engine which was alight, and smothered the flames with an engine cover. His crawl back over the wing in which he had previously torn hand and foot-holes, was more dangerous than the outward journey, but he managed it with the help of the aircraft’s navigator. The bomber was eventually landed safely.

Close-up of the damage caused to Vickers Wellington Mark IC, L7818 ‘AA-V’, of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, at Feltwell, Norfolk, after returning from an attack on Munster, Germany, on the night of 7/8 July 1941. Sergeant James Allen Ward, the second pilot, volunteered to tackle the fire by climbing out onto the wing via the astro-hatch (B). With a dinghy-rope tied around his waist, he made hand and foot-holds in the fuselage and wings (1, 2 and 3) and moved out to the wing from where he was eventually able to extinguish the burning wing-fabric.

Unfortunately, Ward did not live to receive the Cross he won the night of 7 July 1941. He died in a raid on Hamburg ten weeks later, before the official award ceremony.



Peter the Hermit

Preacher and leader of one of the so-called people’s expeditions during the First Crusade (1096-1099). He was also known as Peter of Amiens, having been born in or near that city in northern France.

Peter the Hermit is one of the most problematic individuals associated with the entire crusade movement. The contemporary sources for the First Crusade are unanimous in presenting him as the leader of one of the armies of the crusade. The “French” chroniclers, notably Fulcher of Chartres, Peter Tudebode, Raymond of Aguilers, and the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, report nothing of his activities until his arrival at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey). There, according to the Anonymous and Tudebode, his undisciplined troops carried out acts of violence until Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor, had them ferried across the Bosporus to Asia Minor. There, they allegedly continued their wrongdoings and, under the inadequate command of Peter, who lacked authority, strayed too far into Turkish territory and were slaughtered at Kibotos (22 October 1096). The emperor, not sorry to be rid of them, rescued the survivors (among them Peter) and had them disarmed. For many historians, both medieval and modern, Peter’s subsequent role in the crusade was a minor one.

All the sources, however, agree that Peter later acted as ambassador of the entire crusade armies to the Turkish emir Karbughā, while they were being besieged by him at Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) in June 1098. They were starving and had lost most of their horses, but were comforted by the discovery of the Holy Lance that had been predicted by visions. Their fate depended on Peter’s mission: his aim was to obtain either the conversion of Karbughā or a single combat, their only plausible chances of salvation. Yet according to some of the “French” sources, Peter had previously tried to desert from the army along with William the Carpenter (January 1098). One can only wonder that the mission to Karbughā should have been entrusted to Peter, who was discredited by his incompetence and his ignominious flight. Karbughā refused the crusaders’ demands, and the ensuing battle was won by the crusaders, miraculously assisted, it was claimed, by celestial warriors (28 June 1098). According to Raymond of Aguilers, Peter was also chosen to receive and distribute the tithes that the crusade leaders arranged for the relief of the poor within the army. Finally, most sources highlight Peter’s important role in Jerusalem after the capture of the city (15 July 1099). While the majority of the crusaders left Jerusalem in order to intercept a Fāţimid relieving army from Egypt, which they defeated at Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) on 12 August 1099, the leaders gave Peter the responsibility of organizing, among the Latin and Greek clergy in Jerusalem, the processions and propitiatory prayers that they hoped would bring them victory. Peter was thus evidently assigned the biblical role of Moses, who prayed to God while Joshua fought against the Amalekites.

These indubitable facts call for a reexamination of those accounts that are more favorable and more detailed with respect to Peter, particularly that of Albert of Aachen, once neglected but now rehabilitated as a source of the first order. According to Albert, while undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Peter had experienced a vision of Christ asking him to preach in favor of an expedition to rescue the Christians in the East and to liberate the Holy Sepulchre. Peter is said to have received a letter from the patriarch of Jerusalem confirming this calling, and, upon his return, to have informed the pope of his divinely ordained mission before going to preach in Berry and the Amiénois, as well as the Moselle and Rhine regions, exhibiting letters that had supposedly fallen from the sky, in an atmosphere of wonder and exaltation.

The chronicler Guibert of Nogent, who actually met Peter, gives a description of him that highlights his charisma and his great popularity: the crowd saw him as a quasi-divine character and venerated him so much that they even pulled hairs from his mule to use as relics. The Jewish sources confirm his power over crowds as well as his use of letters: Peter indeed possessed a letter from the French Jews “advising” other Jewish communities to provide him with the financial help he asked for. According to several German sources, he assembled 15,000 men, and soon found fanatical emulators: the priests Volkmar and Gottschalk and Count Emicho of Flonheim each assembled forces of several thousand men. These forces, especially those of Emicho, carried out terrible pogroms among the Jewish communities of the Rhineland and also of Prague; these occurred for reasons of cupidity, because of the identification of Jews with Muslims as “enemies of Christ,” and also because of a desire to fulfill, by force if necessary, a prophetic tradition that announced the conversion of Jews at the end of time. Emicho indeed evidently styled himself as the king of the last days who was to unite the Greek and Latin churches and present Christ with his crown at the Mount of Olives. These troops were finally dispersed during their passage through Hungary and Bulgaria by the armies of local rulers. The expedition led by Peter the Hermit, which preceded the others, does not seem to have taken part in these pogroms.

In March 1096, Peter and his army marched along the Rhine and the Danube, without any incident other than a skirmish in Semlin. They arrived at Constantinople on 1 August. Emperor Alexios I allowed them to camp outside the city walls, received Peter cordially the next day, and gave him money in recompense for the treasury that had been seized by the Byzantine governor at Niš Alexios had them transported over the Bosporus to the Asian shore; there they were meant to await the arrival of the main crusade armies, which were due to depart from their homes on 15 August. The emperor promised to provide them with fresh supplies and recommended that they not stray too far from the coast. According to Albert of Aachen, Peter was in Constantinople negotiating for supplies when some reckless crusaders brought about the slaughter of his troops by going against the orders of his second-in-command. It thus seems that neither Peter not the emperor bore the responsibility for this disaster. Neither Albert nor Anna Komnene, the daughter of Alexios, states that Peter’s troops carried out any plundering in Constantinople, although they emphasize the damage caused by those of Godfrey of Bouillon. Anna sees Peter as the real initiator of the First Crusade; according to her, he preached it so that he might complete a previous, unfinished pilgrimage.

These sources thus present Peter as a charismatic individual invested with a mission that he claimed he had received directly from Christ. The subversive dimension of his character, his independence from the pope, the slaughter of his troops (sometimes regarded as a divine judgment), and his agreement with the Byzantine emperor probably led some chroniclers to minimize the part he played in the crusade. The Gesta Francorum certainly does so, and most of the “French” sources follow this account. However, this source was written when Prince Bohemund I of Antioch, the master of the anonymous chronicler, went to France with the aim of securing help against Emperor Alexios, his enemy (1105-1106). The author evidently sought to discredit the emperor and those favorable to him, including Peter. This motive could well explain the report of his alleged flight from Antioch. It is mentioned by seven sources: the Gesta Francorum, Peter Tudebode, Robert of Rheims, Guibert of Nogent, Baldric of Bourgueil, Orderic Vitalis, and the Historia Belli Sacri; however, all of these are dependent on the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, with the (possible) exception of Tudebode. Conversely, Peter’s desertion is not mentioned by seven independent chroniclers (Fulcher of Chartres, Raymond of Aguilers, Albert of Aachen, Radulph of Caen, Gilo of Paris, Ekkehard of Aura, and William of Tyre) or in any of the surviving letters sent by participants of the crusade. Moreover, according to the Gesta Francorum, the two deserters at Antioch were brought back to the camp by Tancred, Bohemund’s nephew; yet Radulph of Caen, a source close to Tancred, names the deserters as William the Carpenter and Guy the Red. In 1105 Guy was an important personage: he was seneschal of France and was endeavoring to marry his daughter to the king of France, a marriage that did indeed take place before being annulled by the Council of Troyes (1107). It would be understandable that the author of the Gesta Francorum would choose to replace the name of such an important person with that of the humble hermit Peter.

By this stage in the crusade, Peter’s prestige had been largely lost. Whether this was a result of the disillusion caused by disappointed eschatological hopes is not known. It is even uncertain what became of Peter after the conclusion of the crusade. There was a tradition, based on a few much debated documents, that on his return he founded a church at the monastery of Neufmoutier in Huy. This was supposedly where he died (perhaps around 1113) and was buried. Later legends that depict him as a nobleman, an erudite knight, and tutor to the Flemish princes are based on obvious forgeries.

Bibliography Blake, Ernest O., and Colin Morris, “A Hermit goes to War: Peter the Hermit and the Origins of the First Crusade,” Studies in Church History 22 (1985), 79-107. Coupe, Malcolm D., “Peter the Hermit, a Reassessment,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 31 (1987), 37-45. Flori, Jean, “Faut-il réhabiliter Pierre l’Ermite?,” Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale 38 (1995), 35-54. —, Pierre l’ermite et la premiere croisade (Paris: Fayard, 1999). Hagenmeyer, Heinrich, Peter der Eremite (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1879). —, Le vrai et le faux sur Pierre l’ermite (Paris: Société Bibliographique, 1883). Morris, Colin, “Peter the Hermit and the Chroniclers,” in The First Crusade: Origins and Impact, ed. Jonathan Phillips (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 21-34. Wallenborn, Hélene, “Pierre l’ermite aux origines du Neufmoutier?,” Annales du Cercle Hutois des Sciences et Beaux Arts 48 (1994), 221-239.



The failure of the Second Crusade was demoralizing for everyone involved. In its wake the Europeans searched for someone on whom to fix the blame. Some said that a traitor had been bribed to encourage the armies to attack at the wrong place. Others said that Raymond of Antioch, angry that Louis hadn’t agreed to his plans, had used his influence to cause the disaster. Bernard of Clairvaux was castigated for preaching the crusade; his reputation never recovered completely. As the news of the disaster spread west, the rumors grew. Many believed that it was the sinful behavior of the participants that caused their downfall. Conrad blamed the Jerusalemites. Gerhoh of Reichersberg was certain that all had been led astray by the Devil. None of these allegations were backed up with facts.

It didn’t help that a much less prestigious Christian army had invaded the Spanish peninsula and taken the city of Lisbon from the Moors. Their feat was celebrated in the West as the Reconquista of Spain continued. This made the contrast to the failure in the East all the more striking.

Before everyone left the Holy Land for Europe, Baldwin III made an attempt to convince the Crusaders to try again. This time they would attack Ascalon he insisted. He knew it would work. But no one was willing to make the attempt. The young king did not have the military prestige of his father and grandfather.

Although Melisende was at the council at Acre, we don’t know if she agreed with the decision to attack Damascus. Her father had tried more than once to take it and settled for tribute and truce. Of all the unconquered Muslim cities, it was the one that had always been most willing to compromise and arrange treaties with the Latins. But it was also a tempting prize. Whether she was for or against the attack, she was never accused of being part of any plot to thwart the crusaders.

The Muslims were cheered by the fact that the rulers of Europe were unable to defeat them, but this didn’t change the political dynamics of the region as much as some may have thought. The main result of the Second Crusade was that Nur ad-Din gained more influence in the region and, eventually, he was able to absorb Damascus into his lands.

The real disaster was the reaction of the faithful in Europe. The story of the failures and infighting among the leaders of the crusade disgusted many who might have donated to the cause or come to fight. Writing thirty years later, William of Tyre notes that fewer pilgrims of any sort came to Jerusalem even in his time, and “those who do come fear lest they be caught in the same toils [as the armies of Louis and Conrad] and hence make as short a stay as possible.”

In terms of manpower and funds for arms, the Latin States had always been dependent on frequent infusions from the West. Despite this uncertain support, the Franks continued to attempt to expand their power. But the attack on Damascus had triggered something that had been growing by fits and starts among the Muslims for several years. The opposing Sunni and Shi’ite sects and feuding families began to form serious non-aggression pacts and, even more, promises of mutual aid. So when, in June 1149, Raymond of Antioch set out to lay siege to the Aleppan fortress of Neva, Nur ad-Din wrote Damascus for help. The emir, Anar, was busy arranging for grain from the area to be brought for storage in Damascus, but he sent a battle-hardened lieutenant and army at once. It seems to have been enough to keep the emir of Aleppo content.

Raymond of Antioch may have made too many enemies among his own people, or, as William suggests, “he was a man of undaunted and impetuous courage who allowed himself to be ruled by the advice of no one in matters of this kind.” He didn’t bring enough soldiers to accomplish his mission and didn’t bother asking any of the other lords for help. Raymond and his outnumbered army met Nur ad-Din and the armies of Aleppo and Damascus on June 29, 1149. The Antiochenes were routed. Raymond was killed and his head and right arm sent to Baghdad as trophies. Antioch was once more left with a young woman and minor child in authority.

Raymond may have had character flaws, but his military reputation was impressive. Far away in England, William of Newburgh had heard of his valor and had a fond memory of hearing tales of his exploits from a monk who had once been in Raymond’s service.

Unlike her mother, Constance was the reigning princess. She was barely into her twenties and had already produced four children, two girls and two boys. After Raymond’s defeat, Nur ad-Din advanced to Antioch, camping outside the gates in the hope of starving them out. Constance had few defenders of the city since most of the forces of Antioch had gone with Raymond. It’s not certain how many soldiers returned, but not enough. She sent messengers to her aunt and cousin in Jerusalem asking for help. In the meantime, she organized the people to keep the enemy from breaking into the city.

Meanwhile Nur ad-Din scoured the area around Antioch and went as far as the sea, which he had never seen before. He raided monasteries and fortresses, gathering booty to pay his army and provisions to keep them during a siege of Antioch.

Constance and the Latin Patriarch Aimery, as well as most of the townspeople, prepared to defend the city, although they also sent offers of treasure to bribe Nur ad-Din to retreat to Aleppo and leave them in peace. Constance knew well what measures to take to save her city.

When he received word of Raymond’s death, King Baldwin III was called upon to go up to Antioch as his father and grandfather had done, to sort things out. But the young king wasn’t made of the same stuff. He did what he could, gathering what men he had available, and headed up to Antioch. In an effort to encourage the people of the city to take heart, Baldwin laid siege to the nearby Muslim fortress of Harim, hoping to draw Nur ad-Din from Antioch. But, “after spending several days there without success, he gave up and returned to Antioch.” Nur ad-Din eventually lifted the siege once he felt that he had depleted their supplies and will power, satisfied that he had crippled his nearest enemy. Antioch would not pose a threat to Aleppo for years.

It’s not clear if Baldwin assumed any formal authority in Antioch. William says that he “remained at Antioch until affairs were reduced to order as far as time and place permitted.” Constance, with the help of the citizens of Antioch, then took over governing the principality, but they were still very short of manpower.

Another casualty of Raymond’s death was Jocelyn II, former count of Edessa. The prince of Antioch would have been pleased that his old nemesis suffered as a result of his downfall. Upon learning of Raymond’s defeat, the sultan of Iconium, north of Edessa, decided to take advantage of the confusion and attack Jocelyn’s home of Tel Bashir, which he still held. In response to Jocelyn’s call for help, Baldwin, busy at Antioch, sent his constable, Humphrey of Toron, to assess the military needs there.

This action shows the first major crack in the joint rule of Melisende and her son. Manasses of Hierges was still Melisende’s constable in Jerusalem, but it appears that Baldwin was spending more time in Acre, setting up a rival court, which he took with him to Antioch. Now nearly twenty, the young king was tired of ruling only with his mother’s consent. But the defeat at Damascus and the young king’s failure in subsequent endeavors had not allowed him to gain the support he needed to take over on his own.

Since not enough help was forthcoming, Jocelyn managed to pay off the sultan with suits of armor and the return of prisoners taken in one raid or another. Afterward, the count went to Antioch to thank Baldwin personally for sending Humphrey and perhaps to see if his experience was needed in protecting the principality. Baldwin and Constance turned down his offer.

On his way home, Jocelyn was captured by Nur ad-Din’s men. Ibn al-Athir says that he was out hunting and a local Turkomen took him prisoner, knowing that Nur ad-Din would pay a high price for him.13 Michael the Syrian says that God caused a tree to grow where there had never been one before so that Jocelyn fell over the roots and was captured for his many sins. William, who disliked Jocelyn more than either of the others did, tells us that he was taken when he “turned aside to relieve the needs of nature.”

Taken to Aleppo in chains, Jocelyn eventually died in prison. His wife, Beatrice, was left to hold Tel Bashir as best she could, “far beyond the strength of a woman, she busied herself in strengthening the fortresses of the land and supplying them with arms, men and food.” Eventually, she would be forced to sell her estates to the Greeks in return for a pension to support herself and her children.

William laments the fact that the two remaining Latin States in the north were now under the control of women, “in punishment for our sins.”

Edessa was lost but in Antioch the archbishop, Aimery, took charge of the military, using his own money to pay mercenaries and to feed the regular guards until Nur ad-Din decamped. Constance assumed the civil power and governed with no known complaint from the Antiochenes.

Once things were less chaotic, the threat from Nur ad-Din over and daily life back to normal, the next important task was to find a new husband for Constance. Baldwin III and his counselors felt that it was essential to select someone who could defend the territory as well as remain loyal to the king, unlike too many of the other men who had controlled the principality. The emperor Manuel also felt he had a stake in whom the next prince would be. Since Raymond had been forced to submit to Manuel’s suzerainty to avoid invasion, Antioch was technically a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire.

They forgot that Constance was no longer a child and had ideas of her own.

The Assisses of Jerusalem, laws compiled in the thirteenth century but based on early customs, have a section that is unique. There is no parallel in Western Europe, Byzantium, or the Muslim world. I believe that it grew from the abundance of women in the Latin States who were in charge by default. It also may have had something to do with the number of them who refused to be treated as marriage pawns. This law states that an heiress must be offered three choices of a husband by the king. If none appeal to her, then the king must find three more men. If she refuses them all, she is allowed to choose her own husband.

That is just what Constance did. The king chose three men that he knew would be loyal to him: Ives de Nesle, Walter of Falkenberg, and Ralph de Merle.19 She turned them all down. The Emperor Manuel sent a certain John Roger to Antioch to marry Constance. She took one look at him and announced that he was too old. Poor John Roger returned to Constantinople and entered a monastery.

“The princess dreaded the yoke of marriage and preferred a free and independent life,” William of Tyre said with scorn. He believed that she was shirking her responsibilities, but I certainly don’t blame her. She had already been cast upon the altar of duty once. Like her mother and aunt, Constance may have been confident in her own ability to make decisions. No outside lord could understand her principality as well as she. Her first charter, made at Latakia, undid a gift her mother had unjustly made to Guarner of Burgo of land that belonged to Ralph Boer. Unfortunately, Guarner’s children had already sold the land to the Hospitallers. Constance, “who had the jurisdiction of this land,” decided how the case should be settled and “confirmed it with the seal of the principate.”

That doesn’t sound as if Constance was living a “free and independent life.” It sounds as if she was attending to her responsibilities as princess of Antioch.

Nevertheless, her cousin Baldwin and many others felt that she needed a man. The king called a council that met in Tripoli in 1150. Melisende attended, although by then there was an open break between her and her elder son. They had set up separate chanceries and were each issuing their own charters.

Aimery, Patriarch of Antioch, came to the council along with many other church officials. How he felt about Constance remaining single isn’t known, but a new prince would reduce the current power that the Patriarch was wielding. The assembly had many pressing matters to discuss, including Baldwin’s desire to invade the territory of the Fatimids and capture Ascalon. But the main goal of the meeting was to force Constance to come to a marriage decision. Jerusalem couldn’t concentrate on southern expansion if the northern border state of Antioch had no able military leader.

Constance held firm. “Neither the king, nor the . . . queen nor the countess of Tripoli, her two aunts, was able to induce her to yield and thus provide for herself and her land.” Brava Constance!

It’s possible that neither Melisende nor Hodierna tried very hard to make their niece marry against her will. Neither of them had found much joy in marriage, Hodierna was at that time at the point of leaving her husband, Raymond of Tripoli.

The council broke up, chagrined at the young princess and at a loss as to what to do next. Constance went back to Antioch. If she remarried, the choice would be hers. In 1153, she married a charming newcomer who had fought with Baldwin III. His name was Reynaud de Chatillon. He seems to have been disliked by most of the men he knew but women adored him.

After the council, Hodierna refused to stay any longer in Tripoli with her husband. No one seems to know what had happened between the couple. I’ve found no account that says what Raymond might have done. Hodierna would have known from the women around her that a husband’s adultery was not cause for a wife to leave. My guess is that it might have something to do with the ferocity that Raymond showed after his father, Pons, died. He may have had a temper that was let loose on his wife and children as well as Syrian villagers. But that’s only a guess. Melisende seems to have reconciled the pair somewhat, but it was decided that Hodierna would benefit from an extended time away from her husband. Raymond apparently made no effort to keep his wife in Tripoli.

Melisende offered to let Hodierna come live with her in Jerusalem. The count either rode with them for a while and turned back home or was out on another task. The two women were still on the road when a messenger raced after them with the news that Count Raymond of Tripoli had been murdered by a party of Assassins at the Tripoli city gates as he was returning with two friends, who died with him. This unexpected tragedy brought about a torrent of xenophobia in Tripoli, in which mobs of Franks “without discrimination put to the sword all those who were found to differ in language or dress from the Latins.”




The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader states, with Muslim states (in shades of green) in 1135 during the reign of Melisende.

Someone may have paid the Assassins to kill Raymond, although they had never been known to target Christians. Or he may have done something to antagonize them. It’s also possible that he was assassinated by people dressed as Batini or using their methods. They could have been supporters of Bernard, the illegitimate son of the count of Toulouse, Alphonse-Jordan, who also claimed the lordship of Tripoli. Bernard had recently died under suspicious circumstances and it has been hinted that Raymond had something to do with his demise.

No one seems to have suggested that Hodierna sent men to murder her husband. She does not seem to have had the force of will of her older sisters, but it is interesting that the attack came just at the point when she had decided on a separation.

On receiving the news, Hodierna immediately returned to Tripoli with her children, Raymond and Melisende. Raymond was about twelve, close to the age Baldwin III had been when Fulk died. King Baldwin ordered that all the nobles of the land swear allegiance to Hodierna and her children. She assumed the regency of Tripoli. Since she wasn’t the heiress, no one seems to have demanded that she remarry for the defense of the county. Perhaps Guillaume Duc, viscount of Tripoli, assumed that responsibility.

It was also possible that Raymond had been involved in a dispute with another faction in Tripoli. The composition of the county was much different from Jerusalem or Antioch. The “Franks” were mainly Provençals, and spoke a form of French very different from that of the northerners. There was a large Italian contingent, many from Genoa, including the lords of the town of Gibelet, who gave military assistance when required but were mainly engaged in trade. The main Jewish community of the county was also in Gibelet.

Tripoli produced a number of luxury goods. It was famous for the silk made there along with a dye made from rose madder, grown in the region. Sugar cane was grown and processed and soap and oil made from olives. The wines from the grapes of the surrounding countryside were considered excellent. Citizens also wove cotton and carpets (something not common in the West) and made high-end glass and ceramics. In this manufacture, Jews, Syrian Christians, and even a few Muslims became rich. Tripoli was probably the most cosmopolitan of the Latin States.

In the mountains of the county lived the Muslim Druze and some Ismali’ites, who may have been part of the Assassins. The largest Christian group was the Maronites, whose dogma had formed in the seventh and eighth centuries. They followed the Eastern rite of the church but, as early as 1182, reunited with Rome and acknowledged the pope as head of their faith. Most of the Christians of Lebanon today still follow Maronite practices.

Hodierna’s regency was intended to preserve the count’s share of the wealth for her children. Her understanding of the diverse population helped her to govern. It was likely through her influence that Raymond III and Melisende became fluent in Arabic.

Baldwin was now titular regent of Antioch and Tripoli, as well as king of Jerusalem. At the moment, Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, and what was left of Edessa were being governed by women. Baldwin must have felt outnumbered by his female relatives.

Now a grown man, Baldwin had been chafing for a while at the reins his mother kept him under. But Melisende wasn’t interested in abdicating in his favor. If she had been regent, instead of queen by inheritance, there would have been no question of her stepping down. Baldwin would have ruled alone from the age of about fifteen. The fact that it took another two years for him to attempt to take sole power may say something about his abilities and Melisende’s. His military career had been a series of failures. He had not yet married. But at the time that he and Melisende were at the council in Tripoli, he was already planning a palace coup.

Melisende had fought many battles in her life. She had successfully resisted the attempts of her husband to shut her out of the government. She had supervised the reconstruction of Jerusalem and several fortresses between the city and Muslim territory. For five years past her son’s coming of age, she had ruled the kingdom. By all contemporary accounts, she was a competent ruler.

What she had no way to fight was the blackening of her reputation by later historians. In the twentieth century alone, she has been called a “power-hungry Queen Dowager and “an authoritarian, even vindictive, woman.” Eminent Crusade historian Hans Eberhard Mayer, in the only serious monograph written on Melisende’s rule, persists in calling her the “Queen Mother.” While he admits that Baldwin’s military career had been a series of defeats, he still sees Melisende as woman who plotted to keep her son from power.

I have read the same charters and chronicles as other historians and come to a different conclusion. I believe that Melisende and a large part of the nobility of the kingdom did not think that Baldwin was ready to be the sole ruler. As she reminded those who wanted her to abdicate, Melisende was not regent for her son. The fact that she had been crowned jointly with him showed that. She was not a dowager, nor a queen mother. Those titles, had they been in existence then, were for queens who were the widows of reigning lords. Alice and Hodierna were regents; Melisende and Constance were heirs. In Steven Runciman’s interpretation of the events, he points out that, “legal opinion seems to have been that right, if not expediency, was on her side.”

In other words, as Baldwin’s opposition to his mother grew, most of the nobility moved to his side because he was male, but it was acknowledged that Melisende did have the right to rule with him or on her own.

Aware of the growing dissension, Baldwin arranged for a second double coronation to be held on Easter Sunday, 1150, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, unbeknownst to Melisende, he “deferred the time for the ceremony in order that his mother should not be crowned with him. Then, unexpectedly, on the following day, without summoning his mother, he appeared in public, crowned with the laurel.”

The secrecy of this act indicates to me either that he didn’t want Melisende to make a scene, which would accord with the negative opinions of her, or that he knew that her supporters would protest and perhaps stop the coronation altogether.

After much negotiating, Baldwin and Melisende agreed to split the kingdom. He would have Tyre and Acre and she Jerusalem and Nablus, a town that, I believe, had been Morfia’s dower land. Melisende retired for the time being to Nablus.

This division didn’t last for long. Considering the pressure being exerted upon the Latins by Nur ad-Din, it wasn’t feasible to have two competing governments.

Melisende had many supporters. Not least among them was her younger son, Amalric. At the moment he was the count of Jaffa, the old county of Hugh of Le Puiset. There is little mention of Amalric up to this point. He is mentioned in a few of his mother’s charters but I have none that he issued alone.

William, who was writing for Amalric, puts the blame for Baldwin’s actions on friends of his who had conceived a hatred not of Melisende, but of her constable, Manasses. He insists that they were responsible for what happened next. It wasn’t enough, he says, to make her divide the kingdom, “Not even in this was the persecution against the queen stilled. On the contrary, the still-smoldering fire was rekindled on trivial pretexts and blazed forth into a conflagration far more dangerous than before.” At the instigation of his friends, Baldwin demanded that Melisende give up all her land to him.

Baldwin and his followers, many from the area around Tyre, such as the Ibelin family, set out to besiege Melisende in Jerusalem. She and her supporters, including Aimery, Philip of Nablus, and the Templar Andrew of Montbard, took refuge in the Tower of David. Baldwin fired at her with catapults but didn’t make a dent in the fortifications. This bombardment lasted a few days when the Patriarch of Jerusalem, along with other neutral parties, intervened.

They managed to convince Melisende to surrender Jerusalem to her son and retire to Nablus. Baldwin swore that he would not bother her there in any way. Baldwin III at last was sole ruler of Jerusalem.

From France, Abbot Bernard wrote Melisende that he had heard rumors of her troubles. There must have been negative gossip about her determination to keep power. In the light of the recent civil war in England over the right of Henry I’s daughter, Matilda, to the throne, people may have had a jaundiced view of female rule. Bernard tells her that he might have believed the stories if not for a letter from his uncle, Andrew of Montbard, explaining the situation and praising her behavior. The abbot gives her what encouragement he can.

Melisende did not issue any more charters without the assent of Baldwin, much as Fulk had done after his abortive attempt to assert his power. But the mother and son seem to have had some sort of reconciliation. She was his mother, after all. Amalric and Phillip of Nablus also re-entered Baldwin’s circle. After the death of his wife, Phillip joined the Templars and eventually became grand master. Always loyal to the family, Phillip eventually retired from the Templars at Amalric’s request and died on a mission to Constantinople in the king’s service.

Historians have seen Melisende’s actions through a lens of centuries of primogeniture. If she had been male, then Baldwin would have been seen as an upstart and a traitor. As it was, it is clear that there were many who were satisfied with her governance and not comfortable with allowing Baldwin complete control. None of the chroniclers living at that time in the Near East have said that she was power hungry. In a time and place where nearly every ruler spent most of his time trying to expand his territory, she was fairly consistent. If her son’s forays into enemy territory had been successful, she might have decided on graceful retirement. Or she might have arranged, like Emperor Alexis and his mother, that he handle military matters and she run the home front.

But one thing still makes me wonder: why wasn’t Baldwin married as a teenager? Even if he had been homosexual, he could have done his duty and produced heirs, as other homosexual kings had done. I haven’t found any reference to ambassadors making the rounds looking for acceptable brides. Was Melisende so determined to hold onto her son that she didn’t want to compete with a wife? I doubt it. Baldwin didn’t marry until 1158, long after Melisende had lost control over his actions. It took the urging of the Haut Court, made up of the nobility of the realm, before he agreed to take a wife.

His bride was Theodora, a cousin of Emperor Manuel. She was about thirteen at the time of the marriage and very probably did not speak French or Arabic. The couple had no children in the five years of their marriage. William of Tyre doesn’t even mention that Baldwin III had a wife. What made Baldwin wait so long to marry? Was something wrong with him that no one would talk about? Unless new sources are uncovered, I’m doomed to ignorance.

There is no indication that Melisende was relegated to a backwater, nor that her followers were punished. By 1152, both Philip of Nablus and Amalric are witnessing Baldwin’s charters. That same year Melisende adjudicated between citizens and canons of Nablus, “with the consent of her sons, King Baldwin and Amalric, Count of Jaffa.” By 1154, she even appears again in Baldwin’s charters, giving her consent to one of his donations.

In 1153, Baldwin finally succeeded in capturing that long-desired prize of Ascalon. He must have been elated to have achieved a goal that all the previous kings of Jerusalem had attempted and failed. This made the threat of attack from Egypt negligible and sealed Baldwin’s status. Nur ad-Din did not come to the aid of Ascalon as his father had; he was busy taking control of Damascus. While Baldwin was away, Melisende returned to Jerusalem as regent, or perhaps she saw it as taking up her rightful duties once more. But she went back to Nablus after Baldwin’s triumphal return.

Melisende continued to keep an eye on the kingdom from Nablus. She remained a patron of artists and religious institutions. Her last charter is from 1160, in which she gives property to the monastery at Josaphat. But sometime later that year, she had a stroke that left her helpless. Yvette, now abbess, brought her to the convent of Bethany that Melisende had founded for her. By that time, Fulk’s daughter, Sybille, had come to Jerusalem and also entered the convent. They, along with Hodierna, “watched over her with unremitting care,” until her death in 1161. She was buried at the abbey of Josephat, near the tomb of her mother.

Her elder son Baldwin survived her by only a year. Her second son, Amalric, became king.

Melisende has been considered as someone who put her own ambition above the good of her kingdom and her son. I disagree. Baldwin III was a capable king, eventually, but he needed to grow into the role. If he had been competent at the beginning, then she might have been willing to step aside for him. But why should she have done so? Melisende was queen of Jerusalem and she was good at her job. She, her sister Alice, and too many other women who governed have been slandered and ignored, not by the people of their own time, but by later historians, up to the present day.

William’s epitaph sums up the opinion of her contemporaries. “For thirty years and more, during the lifetime of her husband, as well as afterwards, in the reign of her son, Melisende had governed the kingdom with strength surpassing that of most women. Her rule had been wise and judicious.”

William was mistaken only in that Melisende’s strength was not uncommon. Her mother and sisters demonstrate such strength, as did many others, including the woman who walked alone into an enemy camp to retrieve her stolen child. Melisende’s legacy was in setting an example for another generation. She only had three grandchildren, two girls and a boy. Her grandson was the tragic leper king, Baldwin IV. Amalric’s two daughters, Sybille and Isabella, each became queen. Alice’s daughter, Constance, ruled Antioch until well after her son Bohemond had come of age. Eventually he had to prove he could rule before she would retire to Latakia.

The damage done by the failed Second Crusade led to the rise of the emir Saladin and the fall of the city of Jerusalem to him twenty years after Melisende’s death. But the coastal cities remained in the hands of the Franks. The last foothold, Acre, survived until 1291.

The histories of the Latin States have too often ignored the contribution made by women, and also the effects of the constant warfare on the diverse population of the region. A new look at the variety of peoples and the interactions among them, male and female, will not only revise our image of the Crusades but bring about a better understanding of conflicts in the Near East today.


Peter I of Russia I

Peter I of Russia and Louis XV of France.

Peter I of Russia was one of the most creative rulers in history. Powerfully built and nearly seven feet in height, he worked on a grand scale, with dynamic energy, and the unlimited power of tsar was his by birthright.

Historians have justly criticized Peter for the brutality of his methods and the heavy human cost involved in his policies. But he was not a cruel man; his were the methods of the age. Moreover, revolutions demand sacrifices, and he devoted himself to making a revolution. His goal was to transform Russia into a great world power, accepted in the comity of European nations, an equal not only in military might but also in trade and industry, government and civilization. He went so far in achieving this vast purpose that he became, in the words of the historian Klyuchevsky, “the central point in our history, combining within himself the results of the past and the trends of the future.” He was, indeed, the founder of modern Russia.

Peter was only three and a half years old when his father, Tsar Alexei, died. During Sofia’s regency, Peter’s mother was uneasy, living in her apartments in the Kremlin. She and Peter spent more and more time at Preobrazhenskoe and other country residences. This suited the boy, who was already rebelling against the ceremonials and restraints of Kremlin life. The tsarevich’s passion was military games. In 1687, when only fifteen, he set up his “military headquarters” in Preobrazhenskoe and began enlisting sons of his father’s retainers; he soon had two regiments at full strength. Sofia and her chief minister, Vasily Golitsyn, were so deeply involved in their Crimean campaigns that they did not interfere.

Young Peter revealed an insatiable curiosity and an eagerness to learn, characteristics that endured all his life. His formal education ceased early, and his practical education began. He quickly mastered the skills of smith, carpenter, stonemason, and printer. When the Russian ambassador returned from Paris, bringing an astrolabe, Peter could not rest until he had found someone to instruct him in its use. None of his own people could, but in the Foreign Quarter, a Dutch merchant named Franz Timmermann explained it to him, and thereupon became his tutor in mathematics and military science.

Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, an incident occurred that would prove momentous for Peter and for Russia. Visiting a village near Moscow, he came upon a kind of boat he had never seen before. Timmermann explained it was an English boat and that with a new mast and sails it could move not only with the wind, but against the wind as well. Peter worked hard until the boat was repaired, and he learned to sail it. Soon afterward, he engaged two Dutch boat builders to teach him their craft, and together they built three yachts and two small frigates on the shores of Lake Pereslavl to the northeast of Moscow.

In January 1689, Peter returned to Moscow on the insistence of his mother. She had found him a bride, Evdokia Lopukhina, amongst the Russian aristocracy and was anxious that the marriage take place without delay. In this way, she was giving notice to Sofia that her regency was no longer legal. Dutifully the tsar married Evdokia on January 27, 1689. Later in the year, Peter returned to the lake for maneuvers with his new vessels. During his absence, Sofia’s power was gradually weakened. With her forced retirement to Novodevichy Nunnery in August, Peter returned to Moscow.

Peter found the city a stifling environment. Moscow and its patriarch, Joachim, were bitterly hostile to all foreigners. Sofia and Golitsyn were believed to have encouraged foreigners to come to Moscow, where they defiled the city, gathered all wealth into their own hands, and kept the Russian people poor. A violent outburst of xenophobia followed Sofia’s fall. A frenzied mob even seized a foreign emissary and burned him alive. In March 1690, Joachim suddenly died. In his testament, the patriarch demanded that the tsar, under sacred obligation, avoid contact with Lutherans, Calvinists, Roman Catholics, Tatars, and other heretics. He also condemned the wearing of foreign clothes and the employment of foreigners in the service of the state.

Joachim had hardly been buried when Peter ordered a suit of German clothes, and a few days later, Peter dined at the house of General Patrick Gordon. To the Muscovites, it was unprecedented and disgraceful for the tsar to eat in the house of a foreigner. Peter’s Western tutelage now began in earnest. He spent days in the Foreign Quarter learning about the countries of Western Europe and making friends that included General Gordon and François Lefort.

Gordon was a Scot from Aberdeen who had enlisted in the Russian service as a major in 1661, when Alexei was tsar. He was a brave, learned, and conscientious man who had gained the respect of the Russians, and by distinguished service, especially against the Crimean Tatars, attained the rank of general.

François Lefort was the son of a prosperous Swiss merchant who had rebelled against the joyless Calvinistic life of Geneva and had sought his fortune in Russia. He was pleasure-loving and idle, but his warm companionship appealed to Peter, who found in him the perfect drinking partner. Indeed, it was in the company of Lefort that the tsar acquired the habit of hard drinking.

Besides these men, his inner circle also included Andrew Vinius, a Dutch merchant, and Jacob Bruce, a Scottish adventurer. The remainder of his “company” was composed of a motley society of eighty to 200 members at a time, mainly from the Foreign Quarter. Muscovites were horrified to see their anointed tsar surrounded by this drunken crowd instead of the dignity and magnificence of the traditional court of his fathers.

In the midst of the orgies, however, Peter was planning military maneuvers for the spring of 1690 and a visit to Archangel, then Russia’s principal port for trade with the West. At the first thaw each year, ships from England, Holland, and Germany nosed their way through the ice floes of the White Sea. Archangel stirred in readiness for the furious activity of the brief summer, when goods, piled high in the markets and on wharves, had to be cleared before nine months of winter once again locked the White Sea in ice.

Peter had a new wharf built at Archangel, and he himself laid the keel of a ship to be constructed during the winter months. He also sent instructions to the burgomaster of Amsterdam – who on occasion acted as agent for the tsar – to purchase a forty-four gun frigate to be delivered the following summer. Peter was busy during the winter, turning blocks for the rigging and casting guns for the ship under construction. On January 25, 1694, however, his mother died. Learning of the death of the tsaritsa, Patrick Gordon hastened to Preobrazhenskoe, where he found Peter “exceeding melancholy and troubled.” But five days after her death, the tsar was at work again.

A subsequent visit to Archangel delighted him. On May 20, 1694, he launched the St. Paul, built at Archangel, and on July 21, the frigate he had ordered from Holland arrived. It was a sturdy vessel, richly equipped – as was fitting for the Russian tsar. With the St. Paul and the yacht St. Peter as escorts, he sailed as far as Svyatoy Nos at the entrance of the White Sea before turning back, well satisfied. Now he was restlessly planning ahead. He needed warm-water harbors from which he could trade more readily with the West.

On his return to Moscow, Peter plunged into preparations for large-scale manuevers. His two regiments staged mock battles outside the city, in what was really a test of their readiness for serious warfare against the Ottoman Porte, as the Turkish court was then known.

Russia was still at war with the Turks and the Crimean Tatars since no armistice had been signed after Golitsyn’s second Crimean campaign. The Poles, supported by the Austrians, had been complaining about Russian inaction. Furthermore, Ivan Mazepa, hetman of the Ukraine, was reporting acute unrest among the Zaporozhsky Cossacks and urging Peter to send an army into the Ukraine to reassert the tsar’s authority. All were sound reasons for launching a campaign against the Turks and the Crimean Tatars. Peter was thinking of his navy. He could realize his ambition in the Baltic, which was closed to him by Sweden, or in the Black Sea, dominated by the Turks (against whom he was already committed). He decided to make his objective the capture of the fortress of Azov – commanding access from the north to the Sea of Azov, which would offer numerous harbor sites.

Preparations for the Azov expedition, begun in January 1695, only a few months before the campaign was to be launched, were hasty and inadequate. Peter was overconfident, believing that his troops would readily vanquish the Turks. Patrick Gordon, one of the generals, acted with great courage and distinction. He boldly remonstrated against Peter’s decision to storm the fortress. As Gordon had warned, the assault failed and losses were heavy. But, far from resenting this opposition, Peter acknowledged his error and made no excuses. Defeat and the first experience of real warfare matured him, and at once, he prepared for a new attack.

The first Azov campaign had failed largely due to the lack of a fleet to blockade Turkish supplies. Peter decided to create a galley fleet during the winter months of 1695-96. It was a formidable undertaking; the Russians, familiar only with the primitive barges that plied the Volga and Don, had no experience in building seagoing ships. But Peter did not recognize obstacles of this kind. He chose the town of Voronezh, which had direct access to the Don, as the site of the shipyards. Using a galley brought from Holland as a model, he supervised and encouraged the workmen, who had been hurriedly assembled. He called for a fleet of twenty-five armed galleys, thirty smaller warships, 1,300 river barges, fire ships, and other vessels. More than 30,000 carpenters and workmen labored day and night.

By mid-June, twenty-two Russian galleys were anchored off the mouth of the Don, where they effectively blockaded Azov. The Russian army had taken up siege positions. At the same time, 15,000 shovel-wielding troops were building up a massive earth rampart, which they moved forward until they were close enough to fire over the walls into the fortress. Soon the mountain of earth was rolling over the walls. The Turks tried to clamber up the rampart to counterattack, but were promptly repelled. On July 19, 1696, the Turks surrendered.

Peter and his victorious army entered Moscow to celebrations that bewildered the Muscovites. Instead of the traditional holy icons, the procession of Church dignitaries, and the magnificent thanksgiving services in all the cathedrals, Peter had ordered the construction of a triumphal arch supported by massive figures of Hercules and Mars, through which secular processions passed. Again the tsar was emphasizing the break with the Muscovite past.

He now inaugurated a plan to send young Russians abroad to learn seamanship, shipbuilding, and navigation – not just by observation but by application. Since Peter could not lag behind his own people, he, too, would study in Western Europe. Russians were horrified when the first sixty-one young noblemen received their orders to go to England, Holland, and Italy. They believed the countries to the west were sinister, and that the tsar was condemning their sons to be corrupted by seducing them from the Orthodox way of life. Worse yet was Peter’s decision to go abroad himself; a tsar had never ventured beyond his own frontiers except on rare occasions in wartime. They feared that he would disappear in the West or undergo some evil transformation.

Peter’s tremendous energies were in full spate. By the end of 1696, 6,000 troops, with their families, were colonizing Azov; a labor force of 20,000 men was being recruited in the Ukraine to build a town and a harbor at Taganrog, thirty-five miles to the west on the Sea of Azov; and a program was underway for creating the Russian fleet. Responsibility was firmly laid upon the landowners, who, singly or in groups, had to build and maintain one warship for every 10,000 serf households they possessed.

By March 1697, Peter was ready to leave Moscow. He was anxious to travel informally in order to avoid the time-consuming ceremonial of state visits. He appointed an embassy to the courts of Western Europe, whose ostensible purpose was to negotiate a grand alliance against the Ottoman Porte. The entourage of more than 250 persons included twenty nobles and thirty-five other “volunteers;” the tsar, having enrolled under the pseudonym of Peter Mikhailov, was in the latter group.

Traveling through Prussia, Peter was impatient of every delay that kept him from reaching Holland. On the advice of Dutchmen in the Russian service, he made straight for Zaandam, where he was plagued by crowds of people curious to set eyes on the Russian tsar. (He was so distinctive in appearance that his disguise was easily penetrated.) The crowds, and the fact that Zaandam offered only limited facilities to study shipbuilding, caused him to move to Amsterdam. Driven by insatiable curiosity, he inspected the buildings, scientific collections, and institutions of that city. But he was excited most of all by the proposal of the East India Company to build a new frigate according to his specifications. Soon Peter was settled in the house of a ropemaker in the Company’s yards and hard at work on the new ship, which was launched on November 16. But he had already become restless; Dutch methods disappointed him, for the shipwrights worked by rule of thumb and had no systematized basic principles they could transmit.

Peter suffered another disappointment in Holland. The Russians had hoped to form a grand military alliance against the Turks, but they soon learned that the rest of Europe sought peace with Turkey, since war over the Spanish succession was already threatening. Nor was the Russian embassy able to obtain financial aid or equipment from the Dutch States-General.

The embassy had failed completely in its political purpose. Peter, however, concentrated on his studies in shipbuilding. He was delighted with the unexpected gift from William III of a magnificent yacht, the Royal Transport. On January 8, 1698, he sailed for London.

By the close of the seventeenth century, London was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe. The Great Fire of 1666 had destroyed the area between the Temple and the Tower, but new mansions of brick and stone had quickly risen from the ashes. Acclaimed English architect Sir Christopher Wren ingeniously had directed the design and construction of fifty-one churches; his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, towered over all. But Peter was most impressed by the forest of masts of the ships loading and unloading along the docks of the Thames, which to him were the greatest evidence of London’s vitality and wealth.

Peter was lodged in a small house on Norfolk Street off the Strand. Here William III called on him informally, and Peter visited Kensington Palace to return the call. But he had come to England to study shipbuilding, and in February, he moved to Deptford, then the center of important docks and building yards. The host government had rented for him the house of John Evelyn, the diarist. Sayes Court was a fine house with magnificent gardens, but Evelyn’s bailiff was soon reporting that the house was “full of people and right nasty.” Indeed, the damage done by Peter and his entourage was so extensive that Sir Christopher Wren was called in to make a report, and Evelyn subsequently received a large sum in compensation.

Peter spent many hours in the shipyards. A journeyman-shipwright commented that “the tsar of Muscovy worked with his own hands as hard as any man in the yard.” This was the crucial stage in his apprenticeship, for he was mastering the principles that underlay what he had learned in practice in Russia and Holland. Yet he found time to discuss theology with a group of Anglican churchmen, and to negotiate an agreement for the export of Virginian tobacco to Russia. Earlier, traffic in the “ungodly herb” had been sternly forbidden. Since 1634, its use had been punishable by death, though the usual penalties were flogging with the knout, slitting of the nostrils, and chopping off noses. Tobacco had, nevertheless, been smuggled into the country, and smoking was becoming popular. Peter took the opportunity to legalize it, both to stress the break with the past and also to create a new source of taxation. The deal provided him with ready funds to pay for the equipment he needed.

William III was a generous host. Besides the gift of the Royal Transport, he allowed Peter full access to naval, military, and other establishments. Peter spent hours at Greenwich Observatory, Woolwich Arsenal, and the Tower of London, which then housed the zoo, the city museum, the Royal Society, and the mint. He closely studied the English currency and methods of coining, then the most advanced in Europe. (Two years after his return to Russia, he would completely reform Russia’s monetary system on the English model, issuing coins of several denominations, all at weights close to the real value of the metal.) A highlight of the visit was the fleet maneuvers in the Solent, which the king ordered for Peter’s benefit toward the end of March. The tsar was very impressed.

On April 25, Peter sailed for Amsterdam, where more than 700 officers, seamen, engineers, and craftsmen – engaged in Holland and England to serve in Russia – were assembled. Vast quantities of arms and equipment lay piled high on the docks. Ten ships had to be chartered to transport men and materials to Archangel.

Peter himself was in no hurry to return to Russia. He planned leisurely stopovers in several other European capitals. His visit to Vienna proved disappointing. He became enmeshed in imperial etiquette and, moreover, was thwarted in his efforts to dissuade the imperial government from continuing its unilateral peace negotiations with Turkey.

On July 15, however, as he was about to set out from Vienna for Venice, dispatches came from Moscow telling of another Streltsy rebellion. He had disregarded the earlier reports of mutiny that had reached him in Amsterdam, but the latest dispatch, which had taken a month to arrive, told of four regiments marching on Moscow. He hurried preparations for the return journey to Russia. Soon after departing Vienna, a courier brought the news that his general, Boyar Shein, had put down the revolt, executing 130 Streltsy and holding 1,860 in custody. But Peter was resolved to deal personally with the Streltsy, and he did not turn back to visit the much-admired naval power of Venice.

En route, Peter had a meeting with Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony and Poland’s king. Both monarchs agreed that Sweden was their chief enemy. Frederick Augustus was anxious to win popular Polish acclaim by recovering the province of Livonia, which the Poles had surrendered to Sweden under the Treaty of Olivia; Peter was eager to regain Russia’s access to the Baltic. The tsar now adopted the policy of a northern league against Sweden, which Ordin-Nashchokin had promoted during his father’s reign.

The western tour had broadened Peter’s knowledge and understanding, and had hardened his will to transform his country. Everything in the West – the technical superiority, the intellectual vitality, and the culture and dignity of the way of life – contrasted with the spirit and conditions in Russia. As he traveled toward Moscow, Peter translated his ideas into practical plans.

On the evening of August 25, 1698, Peter slipped quietly into the capital, without the usual ceremonies. He remained there briefly and then rode off to Preobrazhenskoe, where he spent the night among his trusted regiments. The news of his return spread swiftly, however, and by dawn next morning, crowds of people had gathered to pay homage. When they prostrated themselves before the tsar, he lifted them up; he wanted obedience, but not the old servility. Then he surprised everyone by producing scissors and cutting off the long beards of those present. Only the patriarch and two very old boyars were spared. Orthodox Russians cherished their beards as part of their faith, believing that salvation was impossible without them. The patriarch had thundered from the pulpit, “God did not create men beardless, only cats and dogs. The shaving of beards is not only foolishness and a dishonor, it is a mortal sin.” The beard was, indeed, a powerful symbol of old Muscovy, and with this assault on beards and then on the cumbersome national costume, Peter launched a new campaign for the modernization of Russia.

Three days after his return, Peter divorced his much-neglected wife, Evdokia. Staunchly Orthodox and conservative, she was wholly out of sympathy with his plans and activities. Evdokia was carried off to the Suzdal-Pokrovsky Nunnery, where in the following year, she became a nun under the name Helen. Their seven-and-a-half-year-old son, Tsarevich Alexei, was given into the care of Peter’s sister, Tsarevna Natalya.

Next Peter dealt with the Streltsy. He was angry to find that the generals, whom he had left in command of the army, had been perfunctory in investigating the reasons for the rebellion and that they had executed the ringleaders, thereby destroying important testimony. He intended to prove that Sofia, locked away in Novodevichy Nunnery, and the Miloslavsky had somehow instigated the uprisings. He recalled with cold, savage anger the Streltsy terror that had been visited upon the royal family when he was a child. Fourteen torture chambers were prepared in Preobrazhenskoe, and interrogations – accompanied by the usual flogging and flaying, breaking of arms and legs, and application of fire – continued for several weeks. More than 900 of the Streltsy lost their lives by beheading, hanging, or breaking on the wheel. For nearly five months, Moscow resembled a charnel house. No conclusive evidence was found to confirm that Sofia and her faction had been complicit in the rebellion; interrogations continued into the following year. Finally, in June 1699, Peter disbanded Moscow’s remaining regiments, dispersing the men and their families to distant parts of the country.

While the Streltsy purge was under way, but after the main executions, Peter went south to the shipyards at Voronezh on the river Don. The building of the fleet was progressing, but the extensive new shipyards were beset with problems. Shortage of labor was acute, and not even harsh punishments deterred the peasant-laborers from fleeing. Corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency also hindered the work. For once, Peter was despondent, writing: “A cloud of doubt covers my mind, whether I shall ever taste these fruits or whether they will be like dates which those who plant them never gather.” But putting these worries behind him, he laid the keel for a sixty-gun ship, the Predestination, and the work continued.