Tolkien’s Shire: Middle England, Middle Earth – People, Places & Past Times.

Sarehole as Hobbiton:

J.R.R. Tolkien lived near Sarehole Mill as a child in what was then a Worcestershire village and is now part of the Hall Green district of Birmingham. Together with the neighbouring Moseley Bog, the Sarehole area provided the inspiration for the Tolkien stories of Middle-earth.

Above: A painting of the scenic countryside that inspired Tolkien’s Shire for a leaflet accompanying a guided walk. The tour begins at the traditional Eighteenth-Century water mill. They can also explore the woodland and Moseley Bog, passing Tolkien’s childhood home.

Above: There has been a mill on this site since 1542, but the current building dates from the mid-18th century. The mill has connections with Matthew Boulton, who leased Sarehole Mill between 1756 and 1761 and used it as a ‘flatting mill’, producing sheet metal used for button manufacturing. In the 1850s, a steam engine was installed, and a chimney was built.

The Tolkien Trail – Late Victorian & Edwardian Birmingham.

Birmingham’s diverse industrial base made it a serious rival to Manchester as England’s second city in the later nineteenth century. The Corporation gained a reputation for its municipal enterprise and public works, including one of the country’s most extensive urban tramway systems. On the map above of Birmingham in 1885, you can see how the tramways were at first drawn by horses, then gradually replaced by motorised trams by the end of the century. The grimy, haphazard industrial inner city was soon surrounded by a ring of public parks in the rapidly expanding suburbs. Despite its reputation as a factory city, Birmingham has always had more trees than people.

Ronald’s parents, Arthur and Mabel Tolkien were originally from Birmingham but had emigrated to South Africa to further Arthur’s career in banking. Their two sons were born there. Following Arthur’s sudden death in 1895, the family returned to settle in the hamlet of Sarehole, where they lived for four years. In 1900 they moved to a house on the Alcester Road in Moseley, from where Ronald took a tram to King Edward’s School in New Street in the city centre. The family soon moved again to Westfield Road in Kings Heath and then to Ladywood near the Catholic Oratory church. Mabel, a recent convert to Catholicism, was diagnosed as diabetic. Though she drew strength from her new faith, she died in 1904.

KEY TO MAIN MAP: (1) Tolkien’s first home, 264 Wake Green Road, (2) Sarehole Mill, (3) Moseley Bog, (4) Cole Valley, (5) The Oratory, (6) Perrot’s Folley/ Edgbaston waterworks tower, (7) Highfield Road/ Plough & Harrow Hotel, (8) King Edward’s School, (9) the University of Birmingham,
(10) Library of Birmingham/ repertory Theatre (Gamgee plaque).

For four happy years, Ronald Tolkien grew up, together with his younger brother Hilary, in what was still, then, rural Worcestershire, just to the south of the expanding suburbs of Birmingham, including Hall Green. Following his father’s death in South Africa, his mother returned to Birmingham to rent a cottage in Sarehole, a small hamlet with an old mill, on which Tolkien later based the village of Hobbiton. He later said that the hamlet was where he spent the happiest years of his youth. Memories of his country childhood coloured much of his later writing. The brothers spent many hours exploring around the mill and being chased off by the miller’s son. Nearby Moseley Bog became his Old Forest of Middle-earth. The contemporary painting of Sarehole Mill (below) shows how it would have looked from their home across Wake Green Road, and the Ivy Bush provided the basis for the Tavern in Chapter One of The Lord of the Rings, where Gaffer Gamgee ‘held forth’. A little towards the city centre in Edgbaston is Perrott’s Folly tower (left), considered the model for at least one of The Two Towers. Further out into Worcestershire, Ronald and Hilary enjoyed exploring the ClentLickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with nearby towns and villages such as BromsgroveAlcester, and Alvechurch, and places such as his aunt Jane’s farm Bag End, used in his fiction.

Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home. Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early.

Reality, Re-imagination and Fantasy:

National Geographic’s documentary film Beyond the Movie – Lord of the Rings (2001) features footage from Peter Jackson’s first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, and some insightful interviews with the son of Tolkien’s publisher, Rayner Unwin, and with some of the cast, crew and film-makers. The documentary provides more detail about these locations and poses thought-provoking questions about the historical, geographical and folklore background for those who want to go beyond the fanciful film. The film-makers faced a significant challenge in reimagining and locating Hobbiton in the very different landscapes of New Zealand. They were, perhaps, more successful in recreating the book’s representation of the epic struggle between good and evil and, in it, Tolkien’s reflections on the events of the early twentieth century, though not, as his friend C. S. Lewis testified, as in any sense allegorical of them. The documentary deals with Tolkien’s real-life roots and scenic memories from childhood on the rural outskirts of Birmingham. The true greatness of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is to be found in its exploration of the changing realities of a world being made modern rather than simply venturing into the realm of fairy tales, ancient myths and languages, however fascinating. It is therefore difficult to categorise the trilogy simply as ‘fantasy literature.’ Like much of the best late Victorian and early Edwardian literature, Tolkien’s works draw on the realities of contemporary rural life at a time of immense social change. Doing so reflects a re-imagination of those realities forged with folk traditions. 

The DVD cover. There are two further sections which are well worth viewing: The Anglo-Saxons (inc. Beowulf) and Karelia & Elvish.

Following their mother’s death, Ronald and Hilary remained in the Ladywood/Edgbaston area in the overall care of a priest, Father Francis Morgan. Tolkien spent the whole of his adolescence in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. In 1903, when his mother was still alive, he had won a scholarship to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and later attended the Catholic St Philip’s School near Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Oratory. Initially, the brothers went to live with their aunt in Stirling Road until 1908, when Ronald moved into lodgings. Tolkien later used the name ‘Sam Gamgee’ for Frodo’s faithful companion in The Lord of the Rings. ‘Gamgee tissue’ was the local name for cotton wool, invented by Dr Gamgee, who is commemorated by a blue plaque in the city centre. The surgeon’s widow lived opposite Tolkien’s aunt, so Ronald would have been familiar with the name.

Tolkien as a student at Oxford, 1911-15.

At the age of sixteen, Ronald fell in love with another orphan, Edith Bratt, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house where she lived in Edgbaston. She was three years his senior and having agreed with his guardian to wait until Tolkien was twenty-one to marry, Edith and Ronald were formally betrothed at Birmingham in January 1913. Two years earlier, in 1911, Ronald had left to study at Exeter College, Oxford, where, following his army service, he spent the rest of his academic life. Although Tolkien never lived in the city again, he referred to Birmingham as his hometown and himself as a ‘Birmingham man’. Later in life, he explained that he drew inspiration for his writing from the people and landscapes of the city and the surrounding countryside. Edith and Ronald were finally married in Warwick in 1916. In 1944, Tolkien wrote to his soldier son Michael that she was courageous to marry a man with no money and no prospects except that of being killed in the Great War. Besides being his lifelong companion, Edith became Ronald’s muse for one of his fictional characters.

The Fellowships of ‘the Pals’:

The recent (2019) biopic starring Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins is not simply a love story. It also explores Tolkien’s formative years as he finds friendship, courage and motivation among a group of fellow outcasts at King Edward’s School. Their bond strengthens as they mature until the outbreak of World War One, known then as ‘the Great War,’ which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. These war-time experiences also inspired him to write his Middle-earth novels.

Field Marshal Kitchener whose face & finger were featured on recruiting posters when he became War Secretary in 1914.

If there was any doubt as to whether the trade unions and the working classes would support the war, that doubt was soon swept away within a week of the declaration of war in a wave of patriotic fervour and a spirit of youthful adventure. The resolutions of class solidarity, the vows of internationalism, and the pledges of strikes to stop the war were all whispers in the wilderness when it came.

The photograph, Sergeant and recruits, shows how hundreds of thousands of workers enlisted. The posters behind evoke the ‘jingoism’ of the times.

Tolkien’s ideas for his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, became forged in the heat of the Great War of 1916-1918. Britain entered the war as the only belligerent relying on a volunteer army. Such was the response to the call to join the colours that the first Military Service Act, introducing conscription, was not passed until January 1916. Following Lord Kitchener’s call for recruits to his New Army, men were promised if they joined up with colleagues or friends, they would be able to serve in the same unit. The first battalions of pals to join up were in Liverpool, and soon the rest of the country followed. The battalions included the Birmingham Pals and the Cambridge Pals. The Fellowship of the Ring seems to be based on the sense of adventure, comradeship and the reality of the loss and suffering of friends in the war. At first, Tolkien did not directly experience this volunteer army. Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he elected not to volunteer immediately for the British Army. In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, Tolkien recalled:

“In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” 

A platoon of the Worcester Regiment marching to the Western Front in August 1914

Instead, Tolkien entered a programme by which he delayed enlistment until completing his degree. He later recalled that by the time he passed his finals in July 1915, the hints were “becoming outspoken from relatives”. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on 15 July 1915. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, based at a camp near Rugeley, Staffordshire, for 11 months. In a letter to Edith, Tolkien declared his distaste for army life, complaining:

“Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed.”

On 2 June 1916, Tolkien received a telegram summoning him to Folkestone for posting to France. The newlyweds spent the night before his departure in a room at the Plough & Harrow Hotel in Edgbaston. He later wrote:

“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then… it was like a death.”

Men of the 1st Battalion in Tolkien’s Regiment, The Lancashire Fusiliers, in a communication trench near Beaumont Hamel,
during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

Tolkien began his fantasy Middle-earth writings at that time. The Fall of Gondolin was the first prose work he created, and it contains detailed descriptions of battle and street fighting. He continued the dark tone in much of his legendarium, as seen in The Silmarillion. The Lord of the Rings, too, was later described by some literary critics as a war book. However, Tolkien was reluctant to explain the influences on his writing while explicitly denying that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory of the Second World War, but admitting to certain connections with the Great War. His friend and fellow Inkling, C. S. Lewis, also described the work as having the quality of Great War literature in many of its descriptions. In France, he had found himself commanding enlisted men drawn mainly from the mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. Their influence on him is evident, particularly in the Fellowship of the Ring and the character of Sam Gamgee. According to fellow-author John Garth, Kitchener’s army at once marked existing social boundaries and counteracted the class system by throwing everyone into a desperate situation together. Tolkien was grateful, writing that it had taught him…

“… a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy; especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties”.

John Garth echoed this when he commented that Tolkein “felt an affinity for these working-class men”, but military protocol prohibited friendships with “other ranks”. Instead, Tolkien was required to …

“take charge of them, discipline them, train them, and probably censor their letters … If possible, he was supposed to inspire their love and loyalty.”

Tolkien later lamented,

“The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Many of Tolkien’s dearest school friends were killed in the war. Among their number was Rob Gilson of the Tea Club and Burrovian Society, their school club, who was killed on the first day of the Somme while leading his men in the assault on Beaumont Hamel. Fellow T.C.B.S. member Geoffrey Smith was also killed during the battle when a German artillery shell landed on a first-aid post. Subsequently, after his invaliding out to England with ‘shell-shock’, Tolkien’s battalion was almost completely wiped out. Quite naturally, this was to have a profound effect on his future writings.

The Origins of Tolkien’s Mythology & ‘High Fantasy’:

After the war, Tolkien became a professor of English language and literature at Oxford, writing his series of elaborate fantasy tales in his spare time, mainly for his own children. The longest and most important of these was The Hobbit, which he began in 1930 as a coming-of-age fantasy. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion (edited, completed, and published by his son, Christopher, in 1977) formed a connected body of tales, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world of ‘Middle Earth’. Tolkien gave the word ‘legendarium’ to his collection of works on this fictional realm. In 1937, The Hobbit was published with Tolkien’s illustrations and was so popular that the publisher asked for a sequel. In 1954, his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, was published in three parts, carrying over the essential elements from the Hobbit, particularly the ‘One Ring’ that must be destroyed before it can be used by the Dark Lord Sauron. The Lord of the Rings was also an extension of the tales of the Silmarillion.

Besides being a professor of English language and philology, Tolkien read in thirty-five languages, everything from Old Norse to Lithuanian. He invented his first created language when he was just a teenager. His tales were designed around these carefully constructed languages, including fifteen Elvish dialects and languages for the Hobbits, Ents, Orcs, and Dwarves. Tolkien also wrote several shorter works during his lifetime. This included poetry related to his legendarium; Tree and Leaf, a mock-medieval story, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. Tolkien’s success with the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings led to the accolade of him as ‘the father of modern fantasy literature,’ otherwise known as ‘High Fantasy.’

The Geography of Hobbiton & The Shire and ‘The Common Speech’:

Tolkien provided a series of maps to accompany his tales, including the following maps of the Shire. These help us to envisage the scale of the dramatic landscapes he describes and the journeys he narrates.

The Shire was divided into four quarters, the Farthings, North, South, East and West, and these again into many folklands, which still bore the names of some leading families. Each Farthing had three Shiriffs.  Outside these were the Marches, East and West, and Buckland. Meriadoc (Merry) and Peregrin (Pippin) both belonged to great families, the Brandybucks and the Tooks, giving their names to Buckland and Tookland. Apart from Bilbo and Frodo, the Bagginses were spread throughout the Shire. Ham Gamgee, …

commonly known as the Gaffer, held forth at The Ivy Bush, a small inn on the Bywater road; and he spoke with some authority as he had tended the garden at Bag End for forty years,

His son, Samwise Gamgee, took over, thereby becoming Frodo’s ‘faithful companion’.

In his Prologue to the First Book of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote of the Hobbits’ language that…

of old they spoke the languages of Men, after their own fashion… A love of learning… was far from general among them, but there remained still a few in the older families who studied their own books and even gathered reports of old times and distant lands from Elves, Dwarves and Men.

Appendix F provides more detail on The Languages and Peoples of The Third Age. The language represented in the books by English was the Westron or Common Speech of the West-lands of Middle-earth in the Third Age. The Westron was also used as a second language of intercourse by all those who retained a language of their own, even by the Elves, not only in Arnor and Gondor but eastward to Mirkwood. It was a Mannish speech, enriched and softened under Elvish influence.

This map gives a close-up view of Hobbiton, the Old Forest, the Barrow-Downs and the ‘border’ town of Bree on the East-West Road, which provide key early chapter locations in The Lord of the Rings.

The Common Speech, the Westron, was current throughout all the lands of the kings from Arnor to Gondor and about all the coasts from Belfalas to Lune. The Hobbits of the Shire and of Bree had used the Common Speech for a thousand years before the time of Bilbo and Frodo. Tolkien informs us that …

they had used it in their own manner freely and carelessly; though the more learned among them had still at their command a more formal language when occasion required.

There is no record of any distinct Hobbit language; Tolkien tells us:

In Ancient days, they seem always to have used the languages of Men near whom, or among whom, they lived. Thus they quickly adopted the Common Speech after they entered Eriador, and by the time of their settlement at Bree, they had already begun to forget their former tongue. This was evidently a Mannish language… akin to that of the Rohirrim…

Of these things there were still some traces left in local words and names, many of which closely resembled those found in Dale or Rohan… While more were preserved in the placenames of Bree and the Shire. The personal names of the Hobbits were also peculiar and many had come down from ancient days

“Mind Your Ps & Qs” – At the Sign of the Prancing Pony:

In Chapter Nine of the first book, the Hobbits arrive at the inn in Bree to sojourn overnight on their journey out of the Shire. The landlord, Mr Butterbur, invites them to join the company in the bar with their news, a song or a story. Merry decides not to, cautioning his fellow travellers to be mindful of their mission and to speak politely:

So refreshed and encouraged did they feel at the end of their supper… That Frodo, Pippin, and Sam decided to join the company. Merry said it would be too stuffy;

“I shall sit here quietly by the fire for a bit, and perhaps go out later for a sniff of the air. Mind your Ps and Qs, and don’t forget that you are supposed to be escaping in secret, and are still on the high road and not very far from the Shire!”

“Mind your Ps and Qs”, meaning ‘be careful to say “please” and “thank you”, is redolent of late Victorian, middle-class English, the kind of phrase Tolkien’s mother might have used with her young son when sending him to his aunt’s house in ‘respectable’ Edgbaston. In using this contemporary colloquial phrase, Tolkien deliberately emphasises the Hobbit’s use of the Common Speech of the Shire and Bree. In the light of subsequent events, Merry’s warning was apt, revealing how Tolkien used the colloquialisms of his youth to represent the Common Speech of Middle-Earth, which, on this occasion, the travelling Hobbits were using far too freely. This, of course, was the cue for the appearance of the Ranger figure, Strider, who later transforms into the manly hero of the book, Aragorn. From this point, the pace becomes relentlessly rapid until the friends reach Rivendell and the beginning of the fellowship and their quest. More of all that later…

Local Sources:




Who were the Huguenots? Currents of Cultural & Linguistic Change in France & Early Modern Europe.

Pictured above are French Protestants at Lyons Temple service, which was converted from an ordinary house. The hatted preacher is timed by an hourglass, and the two sexes are seated mainly in separate parts of the temple.

Introduction – A Retrospective on Genocide & Deculturation:

The word ‘genocide’ is essentially a term relating to events in the twentieth century, mainly to the period of the Second World War and more recent events in Rwanda and Bosnia. A dictionary definition refers to killing a whole people, especially an entire race. However, in more recent decades in the current century, it has been used of ethnic conflicts in China, Burma and Syria and of the current war in Ukraine to describe the attempt by Russia to eradicate the independent statehood and cultural identity of the Ukrainian people. In this attempt, the Russian invasion has much in common with previous attempts of Tsarist and Soviet Russia to absorb Ukraine into a ‘greater,’ imperial state against its will by mass atrocities against its civilian population as well as by the destruction and misappropriation of its cultural artefacts and demotion of its unique language. Although these actions may not be exactly equated with ‘genocide’, they represent a deliberate campaign of ‘deculturation’ similar to those that have taken place in European history, dating back to the later Middle Ages and Early Modern times. In Western Europe, examples of this can be found in the Spanish ‘reconquest’ of previously predominantly Moorish territories and in France by the wars against the Huguenots in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These were both examples of ‘religious crusades’, but within absolutist nations, they also involved the ‘deculturation’ of entire ethnic minority societies through every available means.

France & Europe in the Later Middle Ages & Early Modern Times:

The late fifteenth century saw a consolidation of many European states and a coalescence of Europe into the contours that shaped it for almost four centuries until the crisis of nationalism in the nineteenth century. In the southwest, the Spanish state emerged with the final conquest of Grenada from the Muslims in 1492 and the union of the crowns of Aragon and Castille. The French kings continued to expand the royal domain until by 1483, only the Duchy of Brittany remained more or less independent, and even this was absorbed early in the fifteenth century, as shown on the map above. England, too, although it had lost its lands in France, except for Calais, by the Treaty of Arras of 1453 and was racked by civil wars from 1453 to 1471, began to emerge under the Tudor dynasty from 1485 onwards as a maritime power, whose interests in terms of territorial expansion lay outside Europe. Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, national boundaries had been hardened. The concept of ‘statehood’ was beginning to emerge, becoming politically more significant than the “nation” itself in its original meaning of a people of common descent. This development is most marked in the consolidation of England, Scotland and France.

The Swiss had no central authority but still defended their lands tenaciously against threats from the Burgundians and the Habsburgs. They extended the scope of their Confederation steadily in the second half of the fifteenth century, as the map above shows. By the 1460s, Lake Constance had been reached, and the Rhine crossed. In 1466 Berne made a defensive alliance with the Alsation city of Mülhausen, a significant extension in the territorial scope of Swiss commitments. The defeat of Charles the Bold of Burgundy led to greater attention being paid by France and the German Empire to Swiss ambitions, and the Confederation made further gains. In 1481, Fribourg and Solothurn were accepted as additional members by the Agreement of Stans. Finally, in 1499, the Swiss forced Emperor Maximilian to acknowledge their independence from his Holy Roman Empire. Their determination and fighting qualities had reaped their reward.

Remarkable changes occurred in Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century and sixteenth century; so far-reaching were they that historians considered to mark the transition to the modern period. But it’s important to remember that this distinction between medieval and modern times is simply a device to help historians define and develop their study’s scope. In reality, there was no break in the continuity of civilisation in the fifteenth century, either in its middle or later years. Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, men and women, primarily inspired by their religious beliefs, had been building European civilisation, one brick at a time. We also need to be careful not to apply too much historical hindsight to a perceived transition period or to see a pattern of inevitability in the random events of the arbitrary period between 1480 and 1530. The triumph of the nation-state, whose beginnings are now conventionally traced to the start of the sixteenth century, would have seemed improbable to someone born in its first decade. Moreover, the most prosperous states appeared to be multi-national ones, like the Swiss Confederation or the ‘universal monarchy’ built up by Charles V, which encompassed Spain, the Netherlands and the Austrian dominions of the Habsburgs. By contrast, the territorial kingdoms to the west, such as France and Spain, had seen their economic position badly affected by prolonged warfare and civil strife.

Charles’ Imperial title, the secular counterpart of the Papacy, still carried immense prestige, giving its holder pre-eminence over other, lesser monarchs. Charles won it only in the face of a bitter challenge from Francis I of France, who saw the danger of Charles V, as Emperor, ruling a ring of territories around France, in Spain, Italy and Germany. The French king regarded himself as the legitimate heir of the first emperor, Charlemagne, and tried unsuccessfully to play on this sentimental claim. Having been elected Emperor in 1519 at the age of twenty, Charles faced an uphill struggle in keeping his domains united. In the first half of the sixteenth century, the rise of Protestantism placed an additional strain on the empire. He failed to suppress it by force, despite temporary success in 1547-52 but held firm to Catholicism even though, in Germany at least, it might have been more expedient for him to convert to Lutheranism, as many of the German princes had done. Consequently, he relied increasingly on Spain and its overseas empire to provide money and manpower for his wars against France and to meet the Ottoman challenge on his eastern frontier and in the Mediterranean.

Roots of Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Mediterranean France:

Recognised as a pioneering work of “total” history when first published in France in 1966, Le Roy Ladurie’s The Peasants of Languedoc combines human geography, historical demography, economic history, and folk culture elements. It provides a broad depiction of a tremendous agrarian cycle, lasting from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. It describes the conflicts and contradictions of a traditional peasant society in which the rise in population was not matched by increases in wealth and food production. At the end of the fifteenth century, the rural society of Languedoc in the South of France raised itself from the ruins and set off on the high road of early modern development. The problems raised by the expansion of a pre-industrial society required an inter-disciplinary approach, an appeal to documents and statistics of the most diverse sought and the discovery of the actual movements behind the abstract data of local records. Ladurie used the earlier demographic research of geographer Raymond Dugrand to isolate certain anthropological constants. The constants resulted from regular migrations of past peoples with their flocks and herds of animals and cultivated plants. Behind the abstract data, at the end of a lengthy inquiry, the once-living individuals, the peasants of Languedoc, re-emerged in their social context.

By the conclusion of his research process, Ladurie could observe the people’s activities, struggles, and thoughts. Quantitative methods, no matter how rigorously applied, can only furnish a rough though indispensible framework to fill. But he also realised, as a matter of common sense, that the Malthusian obstacles to expansion were not all of material nature. In the primary qualitative evidence, he found formidable obstacles in mental attitudes and discerned invisible frontiers of the human spirit. He identified these spiritual stumbling blocks in the chronicle of hopeless popular revolts and peasant religions’ bloody history. Ladurie showed how the unequal economic development of the Languedoc region created social and cultural change:

It brought in its wake new states of consciousness, social struggles and conflicts over land; it engendered wars and revolutions. It was attended by a deep and sometimes lasting permutations in peasant mentality.

Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc: p. 149

It was against this backcloth of economic, social and cultural change that the Calvinistic Reformation grew and spread in southern France east along the Rhóne, the French-speaking Swiss cantons and up the Rhine from Strasbourg.

A Brief History of Calvinism in Western Europe:

The Protestant Reformation broke out in Switzerland simultaneously with Germany but independently. In 1536 John Calvin (1509-64) was unwillingly pressed into leading the Protestant cause in French-speaking Switzerland. A Frenchman, he had been born at Noyon in Picardy and became a conscientious student at Orléans, Bourges and Paris. There he took up the methods of humanism, which he later used “to combat humanism.” He also came into contact with the teachings of Luther and, in 1533, experienced a sudden conversion:

God subdued and brought my heart to docility. It was more hardened against such matters than was to be expected in such a young man.

He next broke with Roman Catholicism, left France and lived as an exile in Basle. There, he began to formulate his theology, publishing (in 1536) his first edition of The Institution of the Christian Religion (better known as The Institutes). It was a clear, brief defence of Reformation beliefs. Guillaume Farel, the Reformer of Geneva, persuaded Calvin to help consolidate the Reformation there. In 1537 all the townspeople were called upon to swear loyalty to a Protestant statement of belief. But the Genevans opposed Calvin strongly, and disputes in the town, together with a quarrel with the city of Berne, resulted in the expulsion of both Calvin and Farel. Calvin went to Strasbourg, where he came under the influence of Bucer, who encouraged him greatly.

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) was the Reformer at Strasbourg. He had been a Dominican friar but left the order and in 1522 married a former nun. He went to Strasbourg in 1523 and took over leadership of the Reformation there. He became one of the chief statesmen among the reformers and was present at most of the important conferences of the Reformers. Bucer tried to mediate between the divided Zwingli and Luther in an effort to unite the German and Swiss Reformed churches. His discussions with Melanchthon (who continued Luther’s work in Germany) led to peace in the debate over the sacraments at the Concord of Wittenberg.

Philip Melanchthon taught in this room in Wittenberg.

Meanwhile, Calvin’s theological writings, especially the Institutes and numerous commentaries on the Bible, did much to shape the Reformed churches and their confessions of faith:

Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a Church of God.

John Calvin, in The Institutes.

He developed the Presbyterian form of church government, in which all ministers served at the same level, and the people were represented by lay elders. Calvin is often remembered for his severe doctrine of election, mainly that some people are predestined to destruction:

We declare that by God’s providence, not only heaven and earth and inanimate creatures, but also the counsels and wills of men are governed so as to move precisely to that end destined by him.

John Calvin

But Calvin also set out the way of repentance, faith and sanctification, intending that his theology should interpret Scripture faithfully, rather than simply developing his own theological ideas. In 1539, he published a commentary on the book of Romans, and many other commentaries followed. He also led the growing congregation of French refugees in Strasbourg, an experience which matured him for his task on returning to Geneva, which he did in September 1541. The city council accepted his revision of the city laws, but many bitter disputes followed. Calvin tried to bring every citizen under the moral discipline of the church, but many quite naturally resisted such restrictions, especially when imposed by a foreigner. Therefore, he set about establishing a mature church by preaching daily to the people and devoting much energy to settling the disputes within Protestantism. In particular, he brought the French-speaking and German-speaking churches closer together.

Calvin was a great systematiser, taking up and reapplying the ideas of the first generation of Reformers. His work was characterised by discipline and practical application. For him, like Luther, all knowledge of God was to be found in the Bible as the Word of God. Pardon and salvation are only possible through the free working of the Grace of God. Calvin believed that the church was supreme and should not be restricted by the state. He gave greater importance to its external organisation than Luther but regarded only baptism and communion as sacraments. Baptism was the individual’s initiation into the new community of Christ, and communion was more than merely a symbol, as Zwingli had argued. However, he too warned against any belief in a ‘magical’ presence of Christ in the sacrament. During his final illness, he wrote the following testimony:

… I was hunted out of this town and went to Strasbourg … I was recalled, but I had no less trouble than before in trying to do my official duty … Whilst I am nothing, yet I know that I have prevented many disturbances that would otherwise have occurred in Geneva … God has given me the power to write … I have written nothing in hatred … but always I have faithfully attempted what I believed to be for the glory of God.

John Calvin, in 1564.

One of his students caricatured John Calvin during an idle moment in a lecture.

In a way, Calvin had been trying to build a more visible Corpus Christianum or ‘City of God’ in Europe, with Geneva as its model. In his later years, his authority was less disputed by Genevans. He founded the Geneva Academy, to which students of theology came from all parts of western and central Europe, mainly from France. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva were succeeded respectively by Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75) and Theodore Béza (1519-1605), who both kept alive the Reformed tradition.

Theodore Béza replaced Calvin as the leader of Reformed Protestantism in Geneva. Although trained as a lawyer, a book of love poetry gave him a reputation as a Latin poet. In 1548, following a severe illness, Béza went to Geneva and announced that he had become a Protestant. He was made Professor of Greek at Lausanne University and, in 1559, became the first rector of the Genevan Academy. He remained in Geneva, intimately involved in its affairs, becoming Calvin’s successor and one of the leading advisors to the Huguenots in France. He participated in their conferences (Poissy, 1561, New Rochelle, 1571) and defended the purity of the Reformed faith. He produced new versions of the Greek and Latin New Testament, which became essential sources for the Genevan and King James Bibles. He also wrote a biography of Calvin, De jure magistratum, an important Protestant political work, and other polemical and theological tracts. Following the Genevan model, these writings and activities aimed to establish the Reformed faith throughout Europe.

Under Béza’s leadership, Geneva became fully established as the centre of Reformed Protestantism. Between them, Bullinger and Béza exercised significant influence in France, Holland, Germany, Scotland and England through their teaching and hospitality to the many exiles from persecution in their native lands, especially the Huguenots from France. In France itself, the pattern of reform was very different from that in Germany and Switzerland, where there was solid support for the Reformation from all classes in society, from princes to paupers. In France, it had essential converts among the nobles, like Coligny, and among the gentry. It also won converts among the ‘heretical’ lower clergy and among friars. It attracted the educated urban classes of lawyers and bureaucrats, teachers and doctors, merchants and manufacturers. However, it lacked support in many rural areas, where the peasantry remained firmly ‘wedded’ to the Roman Catholic church. The Calvinist church grew throughout the 1540s and 50s, despite fierce persecution under Francis I and Henry II; its pyramidical structure of neighbourhood consistories, local colloquies, provincial synods and national synod. However, the French people, and the court and the church, in particular, were far less supportive, if not outright hostile. As a result, the first Protestants faced death or exile. Reform took on the nature of a political movement in this hostile environment.

Nevertheless, once the Reformed faith had been established in French-speaking Switzerland, Calvinists formed a congregation in Paris in 1555. Over seventy churches were represented at a first national synod in Paris in 1559, and its semi-democratic sources of authority were based on elections at every level. Its independence from existing governmental and ecclesiastic institutions was perceived as a threat to the French state. It was also invigorated by regular contact with missionaries sent by Calvin and Béza from Geneva. The Protestant faith spread rapidly in the provincial provinces of Normandy, Brittany, Guyenne, Languedoc, Province and Dauphiné, as well as in the cities of Orléans and Lyons, where royal authority was at its most tenuous. Thanks to Béza, it accepted the military protection of the Bourbon connection: an alliance which also donated to Bourbons a moral cohesion and force never before enjoyed by an ‘over-mighty subject’ in the form of Henry Navarre.

Meanwhile, in southern Europe, and especially in some crucial regions of the South of France, a reformation and re-invigoration proceeded within the Catholic church. The conflict between Calvinism and the ‘Counter-Reformation’ resulted in religious wars, fought out most bitterly in France and, by Spain, in the Netherlands. Even more than the rise of nationalism, the sixteenth-century Reformations split Western Europe’s unity and made inter-dynastic diplomacy difficult in the extreme.

The Wars of Religion in France & Western Europe, 1562-1697:
Western Europe on the Eve of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

In France, the series of civil wars that followed, involving both religious and political issues, raged on between 1562 and 1598. The personal weaknesses of the monarchs became evident when the unexpected death of Henry II in 1559 left power in the hands of his foreign widow, Catherine de Medici and her four inadequate sons. The wars began as conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots. They ended in a rivalry between the three Henrys for the throne – Henry III, the last of the Valois and son of Catherine de Medici, the French Regent; Henry of Guise, leader of the Catholic party who secured the help of Philip of Spain; Henry of Navarre, the leader of the Huguenots. Navarre also won the support of the anti-Spanish Catholics (the Politiques). The Huguenots were also aided from time to time by England, Holland and the German Protestant princes. The Catholic League supported the Catholic Party, sponsored by Spain, Savoy and Rome.

On the eve of St Bartholemew’s Day, 23 August 1572, the conflict came to a head when Catherine de Medici, despairing of attempts to find a modus vivendi with her Protestant subjects, ordered a policy of savage repression instead. She decided to solve all her problems, as she thought, by abandoning her position above the factions and having Coligny assassinated, but the scheme was bungled when the Guises shot him but failed to kill him (22 August). As religious tension rose in Paris, Catherine decided on a panic measure of eliminating the entire Huguenot leadership, who were conveniently assembled for their national Synod in Paris. She eventually persuaded her son, now king, that the Huguenots were poised to strike first, to agree to the murder of a handful of them, beginning with Coligny, who was stabbed at 2 a.m. and then thrown out of the window. The Parisian Catholics took this as a cue to massacre about three thousand Huguenots. The rage spread through the following autumn to the provincial cities, where about ten thousand more were said to have been similarly murdered in cold blood.

The St Bartholemew’s Day Massacre shattered but did not destroy the Reformation in France. However, it plunged France into a further generation of religious warfare. It also provided a potent symbol for the whole of Europe of the hardening hostility between Catholics and Protestants, resulting directly from the determination of Catholic rulers, inspired by the Counter-Reformation, to establish and enforce religious uniformity within their lands. The spread of Calvinism through crucial sections of the French nobility and to important coastal towns such as La Rochelle alarmed Catherine. For the Huguenots, the Massacre was a watershed, for they were now too weak to aim at turning France into a Protestant country and lowered their sights to the achievement of security and toleration within a Roman Catholic state. It also changed their political theory. Influenced by Béza’s book Du Droit des Magistrats surs les Sujets (1574), they made the breakthrough into the unashamed philosophy of the right of resistance to tyranny by force. Putting theory into practice, they organised an effective Huguenot state in the South, stretching from Dauphiné in the east across Provence, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne and Poiteau as far as La Rochelle in the west.

Meanwhile, Philip II of Spain faced a similarly grave Protestant challenge in the Netherlands. The rebels were inspired not only by religion but also by hatred of Philip’s attempts to impose an absolutist system of government on the Seventeen Provinces he had inherited. Philip II had been totally distracted from this task by the need to fend off the Turkish incursions in the Mediterranean. Philip II’s viceroy in the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva, enjoyed considerable success in pacifying the Dutch rebels, even defeating an invasion organised by William of Orange in 1568. Still, the taxes required to pay Alva’s troops soon caused more unrest. In 1572 Orange persuaded the French Calvinists to join him in a fresh invasion: while he led an army from Germany in the east, his navy launched an assault on Holland in the north, and Huguenot forces captured Mons in the South. However, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre cut off further aid from France and allowed Alva to drive Orange back into Holland. Then a long and expensive war began, with siege and counter-siege, in which the rebels could not be dislodged. Spain nevertheless refused to concede toleration to the Dutch and persisted in fighting a war it could not win. The Massacre in France and the revolt in the Netherlands also had severe ramifications for the English attempts to develop an Anglo-French alliance against Spain.

As early as 1570, negotiations had been taking place concerning the marriage of Elizabeth to a French prince. Elizabeth, anxious to delay the conflict implicit in her rapidly worsening relations with Spain, was prepared to negotiate with protestants in Scotland, the Netherlands, and Catholic France. In 1572 England and France were allied by the Treaty of Blois, signed just before the Massacre of the Huguenots on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day. France might be catholic, but it did not, at that point, seem as uncompromisingly catholic as Spain, which did not even have a significant protestant minority. France was anti-Spanish to the extent of supporting the protestant rebels in the Netherlands. Ironically, it had been Philip II’s efforts to impose a standard system of absolutist rule on the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands in the face of their mutual rivalries that forced them together. It was to take altogether more gifted generals, above all Parma, much effort over many years to split the French-speaking Catholic provinces from the Protestant Dutch-speaking areas. By identifying rebellion with religion, Parma and his successors were able to win back the bulk of the southern provinces, which had formed the Union of Arras in 1579. The decision of the Protestants in the northern Union of Utrecht to attack the South caused the southerners to appeal to Spain for troops to protect them and gave Philip II the excuse to carry through their re-Catholicisation. Open hostilities between England and Spain began in 1585, and this state of affairs between the former allies continued until 1604. Two years before the Armada sailed, the Treaty of Berwick (1586) bound England and Scotland in a defensive alliance that even the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, could not disturb. One historian has described Elizabeth’s foreign policy as follows:

… as long as France seemed capable of independent action and the Netherlands of prolonged resistance, Philip felt compelled to avoid a war with England and to yield somewhat to English pressure. … As things fell out, the growing divisions in the United Netherlands from 1578 onwards opened the way for Parma to reconquer the southern and eastern provinces. By the summer of 1585, with William the Silent assassinated (1584), and Antwerp fallen, the Spanish army looked within striking distance of final victory over the rebels. Just then Philip was also able to eliminate all danger of French intervention. Anjou’s death and the childlessness of Henry III left the Huguenot Henry of Navarre presumptive to the French throne. This drove the Catholic Guises to take arms and place their cause under the protection of Spain. Their victory would France the client of Spain. It would unite Catholic Europe under Spanish leadership.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Henry of Navarre, who became King Henry IV, ended the Wars of Religion.

… Elizabeth could not allow Spain to destroy England’s old enemy France. Yet, equally, she could not afford to destroy her new enemy, Spain. For England could live … in a world of two Leviathans; she could not live where there was but one … A restored France, that was not matched by a strong France. For the same reasons, England must defend Dutch liberties, but would not fight for their independence. An independent Netherlands would be too weak to withstand a restored France and, if they became French too dangerous a preponderance. … but there seems no real doubt that her principal war aim , the principal cause of the conflict with Spain, was her determination to restore all the Netherlands provinces to their ancient liberties and privileges … and to secure the Netherlands Protestants ‘their liberty and exercise of the Christian religion.’ But nominally Spanish they must remain.

R. B. Wernham (1961), ‘Elizabethan War Aims and Strategy’, in Elizabethan Government and Society: Essays presented to Sir J. E. Neale, ed. S. T. Bindoff et. al. pp 340-6, 368.

Philip’s general, Parma, invaded France in 1589, but nine further years of war ended in 1598 without a clear victory. Increasingly, Elizabeth I sent troops and money to support the Dutch.

A Tudor diplomat of the mid-Sixteenth Century: Detail from Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’, reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the National Gallery.

The events that followed 1588-89 sealed the Anglo-French accord, which lasted as long as the Anglo-Spanish war. In France, too, hopes ran high as the accession of the Huguenot Henry of Navarre, following the assassination of Henry III, succeeded to the French throne and became Henry IV in 1589. By the Battle of Ivry in 1590, he became master of all of France in 1593, the first Bourbon monarch, but did not gain entrance to Paris and the Crown until he agreed to convert to Catholicism in 1594. By then, a third force had emerged when the politiques (‘politically inspired’) announced that it was immaterial which religion dominated the kingdom and that all that mattered was the wellbeing of the people. But the French Catholic party had meanwhile made an alliance with King Philip of Spain and threatened to plunge the country in blood if Henry remained a Protestant. Henry yielded for the sake of peace and to preserve his throne and gave up his Protestantism. By the Treaty of Vervins (1598), Philip II realised that his hopes of dominating France had been ended and acknowledged Henry IV. Also, in 1598, Henry had the Reformed faith legally recognised and granted freedom to the Huguenots to practice Reformed Christianity under the terms of the Edict of Nantes.

By the Edict, Protestants could worship privately in the houses of the nobility and publicly in the towns designated by the earlier Treaty of Poitiers, with one or two additions in each judicial district. In addition, they could hold synods from time to time and could enjoy equality within public education. In political terms, the country was effectively partitioned. The Huguenots were given political control over certain parts of the country, and the right to garrison a hundred fortresses garrisoned at royal expense, including the port of La Rochelle. They controlled the university there and at Nímes and Montauban; special mixed courts were set up in the Parlements of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Grenoble to try cases in which Protestants were involved. All offices in the state were to be open to Huguenots. At the same time, Roman Catholicism remained the official religion of the realm and retained by far the most considerable geographical portion of the nation. In the South, its main effect was to confirm the frontier along the Rhóne between Provence and Languedoc, but this time as a religious rather than a political one. The Edict was issued in April, leading to a truce with the Huguenots, and by the Treaty of Vervins (May 1598), Spain gave up its French conquests except for Cambrai. The status quo of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was restored, confirming the settlement between the two countries.

This compromise gave France religious and dynastic peace for nearly a century, at least on the surface. Still, in reality, it only lasted through to the mid-seventeenth century, resting on an increasingly precarious foundation. In 1604, Spain made peace with England, too. No land changed hands. However, the war in the Netherlands dragged on until 1609, when the Spanish regained the great port of Antwerp and Flanders. Mutual exhaustion then persuaded Philip III to accept a twelve-year truce with the rebels. The United Provinces became de facto independent of Spain. In France, Louis XIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1624-42), the Catholic Counter-Reformation reached its zenith. The Cardinal played havoc with Protestant liberties while flamboyant Baroque churches were built at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Martigues and in Italian-ruled Nice; sculptor and architect Pierre Puget created his masterpiece La Veille Charité in Marseilles.

Richelieu’s France.

From the mid-1630s, the Franco-Spanish conflict had been the central focus of the Thirty Years’ Wars (1618-48). The war had begun as a battle for supremacy within the Empire between Catholics and Protestants in which outside powers had taken sides according to their dominant faith. But Catholic France’s ‘sympathies’ with the Protestant territories like the United Provinces changed the composition of the struggle. The pragmatic Richelieu identified the breaking of the Habsburg ring of territories surrounding France’s land borders as key to the rise of French power, overruling the arguments of the pro-Catholic ‘dévot’ faction in France. Richelieu attempted to weaken the Habsburgs by subsidising the Protestant princes, but after the catastrophic defeat of Sweden in 1634, France entered the war directly against Spain.

Cardinal Mazarin, French diplomat and statesman; portrait attributed to Mathieu Le Nain

Despite its setback, Sweden emerged a victor from the war, mainly as France’s chief ally. However, it soon became apparent that Richelieu’s successor, Mazarin, had overrated both the weaknesses and the capacity of the French population to support the expensive burden of the war. As a result, Mazarin’s expectations of rapid victories against Spain were to be thwarted as the war dragged on for more than a decade.

The Thirty Years’ War ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the most savage and destructive warfare yet seen in Europe. Peace was signed in the Westphalian towns of Osnabrüch and Munster, where the Emperor negotiated separately with his Protestant and Catholic enemies. Yet whatever the convulsions of the long years of more or less general warfare, in the event, strikingly few changes were made to the political map of Europe. The treaties also signalled a final recognition that Catholic princes inspired by the Counter-Reformation would not be able to roll back entirely the gains that Protestantism had made in Europe since the early sixteenth century.

After 1648, the most significant change in the balance of power in western Europe was the emergence of France as the predominant state. Following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Spain lost all vestiges of its previously-held power and pre-eminent position. After the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV (1643-1715) pursued a policy of diplomatic aggression. But it was only in 1667 that he first went to war. Claiming parts of the Spanish Netherlands by virtue of his Habsburg wife’s rights as the elder sister of the new Spanish King, Carlos II, Louis’ troops quickly occupied the territory. Peace in 1668 gave France twelve fortresses along its borders with the Spanish Netherlands to add to Dunkirk, bought from England in 1662. Then, in 1672, the French king turned on his former Dutch allies. They were saved from defeat only by opening up the dykes as they had done a century earlier in their war of independence with the Spanish. Although the Dutch survived until peace in 1678 and even recovered Maastricht by the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678-9), it was their weak Spanish allies who paid the price, as the map below shows:

France’s Eastern Border, 1648 – 1684.

France took more border fortresses plus the France-Comté and remained in occupation of the Duchy of Lorraine. They also kept Freiburg on the Rhine (see the map on the right). Louis now adopted a complicated and essentially fraudulent legal procedure to claim sovereignty over many pockets of Imperial territory along his eastern frontier, whose status had been left ambiguous by the Peace of Westphalia. Using his ever-growing army to back up the decisions of the so-called chambres des réunions, Luxembourg was repeatedly besieged and threatened as Louis nibbled at one part and then another of the duchy before finally seizing the fortress itself in 1684. France was nearing the peak of its power and aggressively sought to acquire territories along its frontiers. Using the clerical jurisdiction of the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, granted to France definitively at Westphalia, Louis claimed political sovereignty over other places in their sees.

Similarly, in Alsace, French judges annulled the traditional rights of the German-speaking towns, seizing the great trading city of Strasbourg in 1681. The power of the French State was based on its vast population, which at twenty million far outstripped that of her neighbours. Numbers meant powers: they provided significant tax revenues and a rich source of recruits. Louis XIV’s able ministers built on the legacy of Richelieu and Mazarin to create a large standing army, able to intervene swiftly against less well-prepared and well-funded enemies over its borders or at home. Louis XIV’s France was seen as the arch-absolutist state throughout Europe. Secure within its frontiers, confident of his position at home, and encouraged by his fervently Catholic mistress Madame de Maintenon, Louis decided to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The French Huguenots suffered bitter persecution. Interestingly, given their own experiences of persecution by this time, the Jesuits were partly responsible for the Revocation. Louis’ action was the signal for hundreds of Protestants to reconvert to Catholicism and thousands of others to flee.

“Louis XIV Crushes the Fronde” by Gilles Guérin 1654

Louis’ personal, absolutist rule has been heavily criticised by historians, especially regarding its intolerance in matters of religion. Some believe that the Fronde, a series of civil wars between 1648 and 1653 occurring amid the Franco-Spanish War, caused Louis to be obsessed with hierarchy and unity; One God, One King, One Law. Therefore, he regarded religious nonconformity as not only blasphemous but also treasonable. Le Clerc provides us with an insight into the attitudes of contemporary Catholics toward the Huguenots:

If this hydra that your hand has strangled

Does not provide to your ‘vertu’ the worthiest of trophies

Then think of the cruel misfortunes that this sect has caused,

See how it has divided your subjects,

Consider in your heart its fatal practices.

How much blood poured forth, how many tragic stories of

The sacriliges of profaned altars,

Priests scorned and degraded, temples destroyed,

Blasphemies carried up to the sanctuary,

By all this see what it had been able to do.

To purge the state of an internal pestilence,

Louis saw that it was time to cut its roots.

He broke the edicts by which our recent kings

Allowed this serpent to speak

From which never ceased to come false maxims

Infecting minds and fomenting crimes.

Le Clerc, Le Triomphe de la Foy, 1686, trans. by J. B. Wolf, (1968) Louis XIV: Gollancz, p 395.

Another historian, Stoye, claimed that Revocation was a gesture which satisfied Louis’ highly developed sense of the ‘dramatic’ in kingship. Others blame the policy on his ministers for the state’s blundering into religious matters with such sweeping ‘gestures’. The consequences of this intolerance are also equally disputed. Was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, though welcomed at the time by most of the French courtiers, nobility and gentry, a significant blunder that destroyed the French economy and united his enemies against himself, or have its effects been greatly exaggerated? Writing in 1911, the historian Saint-Simon made the following list of what he saw as the results the Revocation produced:

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, decided upon without the least excuse or any need, and the many proscriptions and declarations that followed it, was the outcome of a terrible plot which depopulated a quarter of the kingdom; ruined its commerce; weakened all parties; caused widespread pillage and condoned the dragonnades; authorised the tortures and torments in which thousands of innocent people of both sexes died; tore apart families, kinsmen against kinsmen, in order to seize their property and let them die of hunger; caused our manufacturors to emigrate so that foreign states flourished at the expense of ours; and gave to them the spectacle of such a remarkable people being proscribed, stripped of their possessions, exiled and forced to seek refuge far from their native land, without being guilty of any crime. … And to crown all these horrors it filled every province of the realm with perjurors and sacrileges … who dragged themselves to adore what they did not believe in.

Saint-Simon (1911), La Cour de Louis XIV: Paris, p 416.
When the Huguenots escaped religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century, many chose to set up home in Canterbury. They met for worship in the Cathedral’s crypt in a chapel where French language services continue to the present day.

Pierre Jurieu, a Huguenot exile in London, wrote a pamphlet in English, done out of the French in which he brought similar ‘charges’ against the French king in support of his belief that Louis’ absolutism had degenerated into despotism:

… Formerly the State entered everywhere, nought else was discussed of save the interests of the State, of the needs of the State, of the preservation of the State, of the service of the State; to speak so nowadays, would literally be accounted a crime of high treason. The King has taken place of the State … At the French Court there is now no other interest known than the King’s personal interest, that is to say, his grandeur and his glory: this is the idol to which are sacrificed princes, grandees, the little, families, provinces, cities and generally all. … This money (taxation) is only employed in fostering and serving the greatest self-love and the vastest pride thatever was. It is so vast an abyss that it has swallowed up not only the wealth of the whole kingdom, but that of all other States, if it could have seized it, as it endeavoured to …

He fosters in his Court and about him a crowd of flatterers, that enhance upon one another … he fills all Paris, all his palaces and the whole kingdom with his name and deeds … and all for having snapped from a weak and minor prince three or four provinces … for having desolated half his own kingdom by the persecution of Calvinism. Thus you see what the greatness of Louis the Great amounts to… and it is that enormous passion which devours so many riches and to which so many sacrifices are made.

The Sighs of France in slavery breathing after liberty, London, 1688-90, pamphlet 2.

Along with Pierre Jurieu, many thousands of Huguenots left France in the years following 1685 and made their way to London, Canterbury, Coventry, Edinburgh, Geneva, Germany, the Netherlands, Dublin and Pennsylvania. Others remained and either suffered persecution or fled to the mountains of central France to avoid it. Most of the Protestants who left France were professional people or skilled craftsmen in this period. As some historians have claimed, their exodus may not have crippled the French economy, but it was undoubtedly socially and economically significant. France lost many of its most intelligent and hardworking citizens due to this religious bigotry, a qualitative loss that is difficult to assess purely quantitatively. The beneficiaries of this exodus were the western Protestant nations and territories that received the entrepreneurial refugees, including England, Scotland and parts of Ireland. In 1690 the total population of the American colonies, roughly a quarter of a million, was almost exclusively British, but Protestants from the European continent had already begun to arrive including Huguenots and Mennonites, Dutch Calvinists and German Lutherans fleeing persecution in the Palatinate. By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were seventy thousand Germans in Pennsylvania alone and almost 200,000 in North America as a whole. Among them were not only Calvinists and Lutherans but Moravians, Dunkers and Schwenkfelders.

Economic activity increased in the seventeenth century overall, but not at its rate in the previous century. Nine-tenths of the population still worked on the land, hidebound by tradition, seldom looked beyond the village where they were born. Unable to improve productivity, most of them suffered from ill-health, frequent plagues and low life expectancy. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that human nature made life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Few people had a surplus income to spend on manufactured products. There was no identifiable middle-class throughout most of Europe, merely small élites in town and city communities, each with its own professional corporations. However, many historians argue that it would be wrong to think of the seventeenth century as a period of economic stagnation in Europe. Indeed, Marxist historians such as the late Eric Hobsbawm have argued that changes between 1600 and 1700 amounted to a fundamental solution to the difficulties which had previously stood in the way of the triumph of capitalism, with the English Civil War marking a turning point. Others have rejected this, but have pointed out significant changes. First, the century showed the final stages of the long process by which the centre of trade moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, especially to Britain, France and the Dutch Republic, which experienced its golden age. A second of these significant economic shifts was the development of mercantilism. Political unification was a desirable part of these sea changes because of the burdens placed on royal exchequers by warfare, colonial expansion and bureaucracy.

Most European governments were chronically in debt – indeed, the century has been subtitled as the golden age for private enterprise in government finance. Spain provides a clear example of this with its repeated bankruptcies; by 1670, as a result of its impaired credit, it was paying over forty per cent interest on some of its loans. Not surprisingly, sovereigns became concerned about exploiting natural resources to acquire power. Whereas French ministers like Richelieu and Sully held the traditional view that trade was created by God to spread peace, unity and the Catholic religion, Colbert remarked that trade is the source of finance, and finance is the vital nerve of war. In this vein, the later seventeenth century witnessed a new phenomenon – wars motivated solely by commercial interests. Some historians see the century not so much as an age of consolidation or crisis but as an era of increasing religious toleration. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) is alleged to have revealed the uselessness of force to reconvert Europe to Catholicism and brought an end to the era of ‘religious wars’. One contemporary Englishman summed this up when he wrote:

Men of different opinions worship God in their own way. We are to respect them in their different manner of worship.

This ‘calming-down’ of religious fervour represented a significant change. No longer did the church, Catholic or Protestant, pursue extravagant witch-hunts or attack so fiercely new scientific viewpoints based on evidence and ‘Reason’. As Pascal remarked:

Religion draws into a unity the the scattered elements in our lives. It answers the questions which reason only can raise, and… it cannot be in opposition to reason or science because it includes yet transcends both.

However, sovereigns continued to dislike all signs of religious nonconformity within the state, clearly seen in Louis XIV’s actions against the Huguenots. The church was too vital an organisation to be left alone by them because it alone embraced the whole realm, also penetrating every district and village. Tolerance was only present where economic or political circumstances made it useful – and even then some historians argue it tended to be toleration of protestant by protestant rather than between catholic and protestant. Louis XIV’s relentless nibbling away at the Spanish Netherlands and at the Imperial fringe territories turned his neighbours against him. In 1686, Catholic and Protestant German princes formed the League of Augsburg to resist further French penetration into the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV’s Revocation of the rights of French Protestants in 1685 also pushed traditionally pro-French, but firmly Protestant Sweden into the League along with Catholic Austria, Bavaria and Spain. France was already feeling the strain of enormous military expenditure even before the outbreak of the Nine Years’ War in 1688 when Louis XIV sent his troops into the Rhineland to secure his authority there. The war cost the country dear. Famine and peasant discontent compounded the failure of the French armies to achieve victory. Instead, the improved forces of the German princes, backed by Anglo-Dutch troops and financial power, wore France down.

With the French committed to their assault on the Rhineland, the Dutch could spare troops to assist William of Orange to gain the British Crown, and the anti-French coalition was thereby greatly strengthened. On the other hand, as the French threat declined, rivalries between the allied countries grew. Although the Nine Years’ War soon reached a stalemate, it took many years before Louis XIV was prepared to make sufficient concessions to buy peace from his enemies. Finally, in 1696, he gave up some areas in southern France around Nice to Savoy, in effect admitting that the duchy of Savoy could not be made into a French satellite state. By the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697), France returned Lorraine to her duke, but France retained effective military control with the duchy surrounded by French territory. However, both Flanders and Luxembourg were returned to Spain (as was occupied Catalonia), probably because Louis was already manoeuvring for Madrid’s favour over who would succeed to the Spanish throne when Carlos II died. Other parts of Imperial territory, including a section of the Palatinate, were also given up, though France kept Alsace and Strasbourg. A vital cause of the war after 1688 was Louis XIV’s determination to dominate the critical clerical electorates in the triangle between Trier, Cologne and Mainz. This would have made France dominant along the vital trade arteries along the Rhine and Main.

Linguistic Change & the Rise of Protestantism in Southern France:

In the sixteenth century, two revolutions in mental attitudes, two currents of cultural change, arose in Mediterranean France. The first was the linguistic revolution, represented by the earliest diffusion of the French language (1450-1590). It took possession of the cities, towns and large villages, the privileged orders and the urban bourgeoisie, but it only infiltrated the highest levels of rural society. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is of more than simply a philological interest because it serves to delimit, by the first half of the sixteenth century, two contrasting geographical and cultural areas. To the region’s east were places of rapid linguistic penetration and precocious bilingualism. As early as 1450, the langue d’oil of the notables contrasted sharply with Romance dialects still spoken by ordinary people. This zone corresponds precisely with the Rhóne Valley and, more generally, with the triangle formed by the Rhóne, the Cévennes and the Mediterranean – by Valence, Montpellier and Arles. The breach in the old linguistic frontier southward along the Rhóne was contained by maritime Provence and especially by western Languedoc and eastern Aquitaine, all of which resisted the incursions of the French language for one or two generations more (up to about 1530-50). These regions were all cultural ‘backwaters’ and were destined to remain so for a long time following. As late as 1570, according to statistics from original signatures, or 1680-86, according to Maggiolo’s charts, the ‘level of culture’ declined progressively, region by region, as the traveller advanced from the Bas-Rhóne to the Haute-Garonne.

A study of the frequency of signatures, from east to west, indicates that in 1575 only 25% of the artisans at Montpellier were illiterate compared to 33% at Narbonne. Moreover, the cultural ‘level’ was far superior at Montpellier, where most ‘literate’ artisans could write their full names. At the same time, half the people in this category at Narbonne signed with just their initials. The same was true of the peasants. About 1575, a more considerable minority could sign their own names at Montpellier than Narbonne. At Montpellier, French was generally used by 1490; at Narbonne, not until later. Even more significant was the linguistic lag between the Rhóne Valley and Bas-Languedoc on the one hand and the Massif Central on the other. On the siliceous highlands of the latter region were to be found the veritable sanctuaries of the langue d’oc, which remained practically inviolate up to the beginning of the seventeenth century. This was true of the Rouergue, for example, and also of the mountains of Saint-Pons. These were the last enclaves of the langue d’oc dialect and, at the same time, the last refuge of total illiteracy, being often totally without schools and schoolmasters. The figures on the frequency of signatures in 1595, 1643 and 1737 demonstrate the fact conclusively. There followed the indomitable occitanisme of the ancient mountain areas due to this illiteracy. There can be little doubt that mass literacy impeded the spread of the French language, which was transmitted through its written forms.

The Wars of Religion in the Region of Languedoc and Provence:

On the ground, the dominant issue became that of religious difference. Protestantism had achieved a firm foothold in Languedoc, especially among the lower orders in the provincial towns. Even before Luther, the Waldensian or Vaudois sect – branded as heretical within Catholicism – had put down roots in the Luberon, where feudal landlords had encouraged them to repopulate the countryside after the Black Death. The Waldensian movement was brutally put down in April 1545, when Vaudois villages were pillaged and burned and down, and their populations massacred. However, this was only the opening salvo of the religious violence that really kicked in when French Calvinism, or the Huguenot movement, spread throughout Languedoc and the rest of France in the 1550s. There were Protestant enclaves in Orange, Haute Provence and the Luberon, but the primary seedbed of the new faith lay west of the Rhóne in Nímes, where three-quarters of the population became Huguenot. The 1560s saw atrocities on both sides of the religious divide. Most of the Huguenots of Orange were massacred in 1563: in reprisal, the Baron des Adrets who had converted from Catholicism only a year before, went on the rampage; he specialised in throwing Catholic prisoners from the top of the nearest castle. However, two years later, he reconverted and retired to his family estate.

In the sharply contrasted cultural area of the Midi, the second intellectual revolution of the century, the Reformation, took root. It was more profound than the linguistic revolution, penetrating the level of peasant consciousness. Yet, it offered no significant geographic originality concerning the latter. The distribution of places of origin of the Protestant émigrés to Geneva in 1550, the inquest into the crime of heresy launched in the name of the Parlement of Toulouse in 1560, and finally, the distribution of Huguenots at the time of the civil wars strongly underline permanent features of intellectual geography. The chosen zone of early Protestantism 1550-60 was the same as the same Rhóne – Cévennes – Bas-Languedoc triangle. The ‘ground’ there had been prepared by the privileged penetration of the French language in the century beforehand and delimited through the development of diverse cultural exchanges in the centuries following. The nerve centres were Romans, Uzés, Alés, Nímes, and Montpellier. On the left bank of the Rhóne was the valley of Durance, where the Waldensians began, in 1535, to distribute their Bibles and catechisms, shields of faith, anatomies of dogma and similar books, and above small psalters… rhymed, bound, gilded and ruled. Throughout the Middle Ages the demand for religious reform had persisted; the ideal of primitive Christianity that lay behind that demand, if it varied in detail from time to time and place to place, remained essentially the same. Over four centuries, from the twelfth to the sixteenth, from the Waldensians through to the Franciscans and the Anabaptists, groups of men wandered through the land, living a life of poverty and simplicity in imitation of the apostles and preaching to those among the laity who felt a spiritual vacuum.

When, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscan and Dominican orders were created, they had been quite consciously modelled on the apostolic life. Without the attempts to realise the ideal of primitive Christianity within the framework of the institutionalised church, the movement of dissent would undoubtedly have been far more significant than it was. Yet these attempts were never wholly successful. Again and again, the preaching monks and friars withdrew behind their monastery walls or else abandoned the pursuit of holiness for that of political influence. Again and again, the reforming orders devoted initially to apostolic poverty ended by acquiring great wealth. And whenever that happened, some dissenting or heretical preachers came forward to fill that vacuum.

On the right bank of the Rhóne, it was primarily the valleys of the Cévennes and a zone of itinerant ministers, artisans’ workshops and one-room schools in the Haute-Hérault, Vidourle, and the two Gardons (Gardon d’Alés and Gardon d’Anduzé). The lists of foreigners (estrangiés) in Geneva and their provenance testify, beginning in 1549, to the presence of clusters of rural Protestantism in the broken foothills of the Cévennes. In this region, by 1556, the ministers were preaching openly, baptising and celebrating Holy Communion. In this region, too, in 1560, peasants and craftsmen stormed convents, cut the monks’ copes into doublets and banners, laying ambush for papal commissioners, or equeters, while their wives flung sacks of ashes into the eyes of the priors and parish priests. It was here, finally, in the large villages that the Protestant nuclei, composed of intellectuals (notaries, judges and doctors) and artisans (chaussatiers who cut the uniforms for Condé’s army, surgeons, blacksmiths, and cobblers), embraced Calvinistic Protestantism and propagated it in the surrounding rural parishes.

In 1560, armed Huguenots of Gignac, of both sexes and belonging to the lower orders of society already mentioned, formed a psalm-singing procession in ranks of three to escort the minister to preach a sermon in the nearby village of Saint-André. The petit-bourgeois Calvinists strove to win over the peasantry, whether by peaceful conversion or force of arms. Beyond the Hérault, however, the picture was different in the whole of western Languedoc. In addition, the more backward mountains of the Sidobre, the Espinouse, the Montagne Noire and the Rouergue were significantly different from the industrious Cévennes to the east. The cultural lethargy evidenced in these regions as far back as 1500 was conducive to religious conservatism. In the mountains, the nuclei of Calvinist artisans had little influence on the mass of the peasantry, who rejected the Bible and preferred sorcerers to ministers.

In the lowlands, the small Huguenot communities of Béziers were isolated, and by 1568 they had been literally swallowed up by the papist majority. Finally, in the extreme western part of Languedoc, the large city of Toulouse was represented by fewer refugees at Geneva in c. 1550 than the tiny Norman town of Coutances, which was also much further away. The Huguenot party of Toulouse was, for its part, easily crushed in the Spring of 1562 by far superior Catholic forces led by Parlement, nobility and regular troops, who upended the booksellers’ stalls and threw their wares into the street. Therefore, an analysis by region throws us back to the privileged area of the sixteenth-century ‘enlightenment’ regarding linguistic knowledge and religious innovations. It leads us back, in short, to the great Rhóne-Cévennes-Languedoc triangle. There, we can assess the hold of early Calvinism on the peasant masses in the context of the cultural and social cross-currents of the day. The Reformation and the civil and religious wars made manifest contrasts intensified by the social and economic pressures of the century. To understand this in detail, we need to consider the evidence from individual cities, towns and villages and their very different degrees of receptivity to the new ideas of the Protestant Reformation.

In brief, the three different milieus or sociocultural classes were the dominant class; landowners, merchants and office-holders; secondly, the artisan class, particularly the cloth workers; and finally, the peasants and farmers. They correspond, in other terms, to the service and direction of society (the tertiary sector), activities of transformation (the secondary sector) and to the crude production of the soil (the primary industry). We need to examine how the different milieus, especially the peasant milieu, reacted to each other and responded to the cultural shock produced by the Calvinist revolution.

Huguenot Carders and Papist Peasants:

Ladurie found his primary source of evidence regarding the growth of Calvinism in a document called the Roll of those present at the Calvinist assemblies. Compiled by the Catholic authorities at Montpellier in November 1550, it supplies the names of 817 individuals and indicates the professions of 561. It was not simply a sample but constituted a census of the Protestant population. At the top of the list of pioneering Huguenots were members of the artisan classes, by far the largest contingent, represented by 132 textile workers. Of these, forty-two were wool carders who were the active ‘leaven’ of the Reformation. A Catholic chronicler characterised the ‘sticky-handed’ carders with penetrating hatred:

The first Calvinist rubbish succeeded little by little in infecting with that doctrine certain tradesmen, chiefly wool carders and tenterers (‘drapeurs-drapans’) encountered in the wineshops, who drunkenly memorised the words and music of Béze and Marot and popularised that new air, ‘Lighten thine heart and open thine ears, …’

Quoted in Ladurie, p. 158.

After the forty-two carders, among the Huguenots in the textile trades, came forty-one tailors or hosiers, twenty-five weavers, five ropemakers, five milliners, nine cloth-shearers and four dyers as well as cotton-spinners, dressmakers, tapestry-makers, canabassiers (hemp weavers), hatters and so on. Next in order came the leather trades (which played the role of catalyst among the Huguenot peasantry of the Cévennes). These accounted for fifty-eight names on the Calvinist list of 1560, thirty-three of whom were cobblers and the rest harness makers, curriers, blanquiers (tawers), glovers, furriers and saddlers. Finally, the metal trades – blacksmiths and cutters – contributed forty-five Huguenots to the list. If the other trades are included, 387 craftsmen or shopkeepers among the 561 Huguenots counted in 1560. It was a classic structure; the perennial sans-culotte dissent of the old urban centres was sometimes heretical, at other times revolutionary, but always recruited at the market stalls and workshops. Thus, the artisan contingent were the foot soldiers of the movement. The Huguenot leadership in 1560 came from the bourgeois intelligentsia and the petit-bourgeoisie, broadly represented at the assemblies of that year. Huguenots were distributed among the advocates, notaries, apothecaries, registrars, solicitors, bailiffs, and clerks from the medical and legal professions. These learned professions contributed eighty-seven individuals to those listed in 1560, or fifteen per cent of all the Huguenots whose occupations are known, a higher proportion, without a doubt, more than in the whole population. The twenty-four merchants listed, and the nobles and the bourgeois of the Saint-Firmin quarter also sent a few dozen delegates to the Calvinist assemblies. More than one Morano notable was present among these rich Huguenots, his complex soul prone to multiple abjurations. Then, in about 1560, old Catelan came out simultaneously, oblivious to the contradictions, in favour of Jewish circumcision, the Catholic cult of the Virgin, and adherence to Calvinist assemblies!

The religious behaviour of peasants and farm labourers from Montpellier, who constituted a fifth of the population, who were even more numerous on the outskirts of the town and in the poorer quarters, set them apart from the urban classes, especially from the artisans. In around 1560, the latter were sympathetic to the Protestant Reformation almost to a man, whereas the peasant masses, on the contrary, remained refractory and often hostile to it. Examining the 1560 list of Protestants and their occupations, the number of peasants and farm labourers was insignificant. If they had been won over to the Reformation in the same proportion as the other social groups, there would have been well over a hundred of them, perhaps as many as a hundred and twenty, among the 561 Huguenots of known occupation. However, Ladurie counted only twenty-seven ‘cultivators’ – i.e. peasants or day labourers – listed, less than five per cent of the total. These included tenants of the big farms on the plain – wealthy, enlightened entrepreneurs who came the closest, in the rural milieu, to sharing the townsman’s way of thinking. But such avant-garde peasants were still the exception, a drop in the ocean of rural conservatism. The rural proletariat, for its part, remained practically impervious to the Protestant Reformation. Only two travailleurs de terre were listed among the 817 Huguenots of 1560. In these ways, the ideological choices were radically divergent. In the same town, within the same community, there was a complete divorce between the agricultural element on the one hand and the artisan, intellectual, and bourgeois elements on the other. At Béziers, too, these different structures were fully operative. From a social point of view, the Reformation remained circumscribed to the urban and artisan classes from which it sprang. It did not migrate and did not spill over into the peasant masses, who remained steadfast in their Catholic beliefs.

The statistics were confirmed by popular demonstrations. In 1561 the peasants of Montpellier proclaimed these beliefs as a body in opposition to the Calvinist citizenry of a working-class or bourgeois stamp. On the 4th and 11th of May, “the cultivators of the land” and their wives formed processions from the city’s poorer quarters, placing their daughters, whose loosened hair fell to their shoulders (le poil descouvert et pendant), in the front ranks. The rustics were ostensibly distributing the holy bread, but under their cloaks were hidden daggers and sacks of stones reserved for the Huguenots. A Calvinist historian also reported drunks and prostitutes among the crowd, all demanding the mass and the dance and were crying, “we shall dance despite the Huguenots.” They wanted to celebrate the popular May rites, the ancient Maias of medieval Languedoc folklore, featuring the “Feast of the Ass,” burlesque singing, ribald jokes, dances, flowers and masquerades. The Huguenots, in their puritanical zeal, had forbidden these festivities and outlawed public dancing. For the peasants of Montpellier, the sense of their revolt was clear. It irritated Calvin in his Genevan letters. Two worlds and two cultures literally came face to face. On one side was an agrarian society, lodged in the city like some foreign body, holding to the old Catholic devotions, and demanding in its life of poverty and squalor, the right to allow the instincts free reign in dancing and joi de vivre on the traditional feast days. On the other was the urban artisan class, Huguenot in faith and already extolling a worldly asceticism, that ethic of self-denial which, thanks to Calvin and the later Puritans and Jansenists, would little by little come to be accepted as a norm by the petit bourgeoisie of modern times, suppressing and sublimating their more primitive instincts.

Between town and country, and especially between peasants and artisans, religious differences from the beginning reveal a cultural and moral opposition which is immediately evident in the literacy statistics. As to method: in the records of the sixteenth-century notaries, it is possible to distinguish between three major categories of signatures. First, there are the authentic signatures, fully spelt out. Sometimes they are fluent, cursive, with a modern flourish. Sometimes they are halting, composed of lowercase letters detached from one another. In extreme cases, they are disjointed capitals, awkwardly juxtaposed; for example, I. VESI (Jean Voisin). There is no question that these variants are all genuine signatures furnishing men’s names in their complete form. In the second, more primitive category, the signature consists of a person’s initials, either in uppercase capital letters, typically separated, joined, combined in a ‘mark’ or reduced to a single initial. The third category was a simple mark in the form of a sign, evidence of complete illiteracy. It might be geometric in shape or a ‘trade mark’; for example, an artisan might make his mark with a hammer, while a peasant might make a conical ploughshare (reille) or a rake. The mark was often a cross or, at the lowest level, a meaningless scrawl or blot of ink. Three degrees, then – simple signs, initials and proper signatures – marked the transition from complete illiteracy to an elementary level of culture. At Montpellier, between 1570-75, the notaries began to register personal signatures, which were then affixed to their deeds in meaningful constellations.

Stonemasons often belonged to the untutored category; the carders, for the most part, belonged to the group of literate artisans who signed their full names. They were particularly receptive to heresy, one of the fruits of education. The peasants, by contrast, seemed as allergic to culture as they were to the Reformation and the rudiments of lay learning as they were to the revival of sacred knowledge. These trends were fully confirmed by ecclesiastical estate records. From 1570, all the parties to the canons’ contracts signed their names or affixed their marks. These documents are full of agricultural proletarians, who were much more numerous than they were among the clientele of the notaries. In the town of Narbonne, nine out of ten rural proletarians were still spiritual strangers to the civilisations of the written word, strangers to the prestige and profits it wrought, and strangers, too, to the new ideas generated in the sixteenth century by the return to the religion of the scriptures. Between 1550 and 1600, the countryside fiercely rejected the written word.

Among the artisan guilds, the most enlightened were those of the butchers and apothecaries, which were very close to the bourgeoisie. But the innkeepers, the tailors, the carders, and the textile tradesmen also included men with schooling. In the geographical distribution of signatures in the building trades, the opposition between town and country is repeated. The same was true of the metal trades: the illiterate village blacksmith made a sign of a hammer as opposed to a whole intellectual élite of urban coppersmiths, martinayres (‘hammermen’), espaziers (‘swordmakers’), pewterers and halberd-makers who signed their full names with a flourish. A receptivity to culture and a desire to acquire it set the active artisans of the urban societies far above the backward peasantry. It linked them to the bourgeoisie and the merchants, the best-educated group of all, who was ninety-eight per cent literate. This distinguished the towns from the countryside in the hearts of the ancient cities themselves. On the other hand, schoolmasters were relatively rare in rural areas, and classes had to be paid for. Only a tiny minority of cultivators and even fewer farmworkers regularly sent their children to school. The others abstained, either for lack of money or lack of ambition. Cultural poverty was therefore connected to material poverty. The urban environment, on the other hand, with its accumulation of wealth, provided profit opportunities, a desire for gain and a craving for culture. The growing towns and cities of prosperous artisans and merchants provided Calvinism and its offshoots with their natural social base.

Town v Country in the Cévennes:

The opposition between town and country often constituted a decisive and lasting obstacle to the spread of the Reformation. This was true at Béziers and Montpellier in 1560 and again in 1590-1600. Still, the barrier was not necessarily insurmountable. It represented only a first ‘moment’ or stage in spreading ideas. In certain regions, it was transcended when the Huguenots of the small towns, the Calvinist artisans, finally broke through the peasant milieu and succeeded in swinging the rural masses into the Protestant camp. This is what happened in the Cévennes, such an unlikely case that the ‘deputy’ leader of Calvinism in Geneva, Théodore Béza himself, marvelled at it in relating the evangelisation of the region during the reign of Henry II:

It was at this time that the natives of the mountains of Cévennes (a harsh, inhospitable country if ever there was one in France, and that would seem the least capable of receiving the Gospel on account of the rudeness of spirit of the inhabitants), nevertheless received the Truth with marvellous ardour…

“Almost all the common people”, he wrote, eventually embraced Calvinism. In fact, the common people of the Cévennes, artisans and peasants as one, manifested such great zeal in felling crosses and burning idols that in 1561 Calvin himself had to censure these mountain Huguenots, who were too revolutionary for his taste. Itinerant ministers had become a familiar sight in the valleys of the Gardons by 1560, but not because of an ancient heretical tradition, a sort of leaven for the new heresies. Neither the Catharist nor the Waldensian movements played an essential role in the mountain valleys of the Cévennes in the Middle Ages. However, the Waldensians of the Durance did play a significant role, in about 1530, as a ‘relay’ in the direction of the Cévennes. The conversion of the area itself in the 1560s was primarily the conversion of the artisans, who were more influential and more numerous there than elsewhere. The social structure worked in favour of a process of osmosis with the peasant world. The craftsmen, especially the leather workers, planted the seeds of the Huguenot Reformation in the very heart of the countryside.

Turning to the lists of refugees at Geneva in 1549-60, Ladurie found that many of these were craftsmen, with shoemakers being in the lead. Among the exiles from Nímes, Annonay, and Aubenas, situated at the mouths of the valleys of the Cévennes, the cobblers were already the largest of the Huguenot trades. But it was at the heads of these valleys that hosted the heart of the Calvinist cause, in the regions of Alés and Vigan, which would later become Camisard redoubts. Here, the leather trades, especially the cobblers, were the most numerous; in 1549-60, they represented most of the local exiles at Geneva. Out of forty-seven refugees from the Cévennes whose occupations are known – alongside weavers, hosiers, peasants, doctors, booksellers and bakers – twenty-four were members of the leather trades (of whom twenty-two were cobblers), equal to just over half the total.

This phenomenon was peculiar to that triangle of Calvinist highlands formed by Mene, Alés and Ganges and is encountered nowhere else. Artisans and cobblers, the irreplaceable auxiliaries of the Calvinist ministers, helped sow the seeds of Reformation in the remote villages of the Cévennes, conferring particular importance on the rural and semi-rural artisan class. If the Huguenot artisans and cobblers were especially numerous in the first emigration from the Cévennes, 1549-60, it was simply because they formed an active, compact group amid a mountain population with roots deep in the soil. Ladurie examined the occupational structure of Ganges, a large village of the Cévennes already secretly Calvinist. It was a centre of industry where nearly half of the notaries’ clientele were artisans engaged in the principal trades of transformation – leather, textiles, wood and iron. The leather traders – tanners and cobblers – were at the head of this group with twenty-four per cent, followed by textiles – carders, drapers, weavers and tailors – constituting nearly twenty per cent. Ironworkers and woodworkers accounted for just five per cent. This compact artisan group was clearly dominated by an aristocracy of tanners, Calvinist businessmen with fine Old Testament names who little by little gained control of the hide and leather market from the mountains to the coast. Their seventeenth-century successors, rich carriers with fortunes, would send their sons to Paris to study, the supreme mark of social distinction. By the generation of 1560, the influence of the craftsmen of the Ganges over the farm labourers of the outskirts and the peasants of the large tenant farms appears to have been decisive in their conversion to Calvinism. In 1580, only four Catholic families were left in a community numbering five hundred hearths. Therefore, it is not surprising that the social structure of the Genevan exiles mirrors in exaggerated form the social structure of the Cévennes towns and villages. In many of these towns and villages in the mid-sixteenth century, a revolutionary artisan class held almost undisputed ideological sway over the surrounding peasant masses.

In this way, Ladurie maintains that a ‘social circuit’ was put into effect by Calvinist ideas spreading rapidly from Geneva to Lyons to Languedoc, carried by the ministers, students, Bible peddlers and mule drivers of the Rhóne. They penetrated the workshops of weavers and wool carders:

In the Cévennes, where the cobblers read their Bibles at their benches, they germinated amid the filth of the work stalls and the stench of the tanneries and in the shops, too, whence once there issued cries of “There goes Jean Blanc” when a priest passed by bearing the Host.

Ladurie, p 167.

In the towns subjacent to the Cévennes, in 1561, the mass of the citizen peasantry was also ‘contaminated’, though those to the west, in Provence, remained decidedly hostile to Calvinism. A further stage remained: the integral permeation of the peasantry as a whole. At the end of its course, the Huguenot Reformation had reached the gates of the big farmsteads of the Cévennes. In the sixteenth century, when the demographic expansion was just underway and had not yet led to its dismemberment, a farmstead still consisted of a single unit, an isolated farmstead, inhabited by an extended family or ‘clan’ – fréreche – bearing the same name. By 1560, many of these family farmsteads adhered, en bloc, “to the true Religion, reformed according to the Word of God and the Holy Gospel.” They refused to pay tithes to priors when they came to collect, telling them that they would pay the tithe to the people of the Holy Gospel and not to priors from whom one has never received… an edifying doctrine. By these ways and means, the Reformation, propagated at the start by the democratic artisan class of the towns, infiltrated itself in its final phase into the authoritarian and patriarchal structures of the outer Cévennes and the valleys below.

Something of the sort also occurred on the great estates in the mountains. By 1555 Calvinist farm managers were putting pressure on their dependents to adopt the reformed faith. In default of decent wages, the paterfamilias attended, without illusions, to his people’s salvation. Bible in hand, he exhorted them “to fear God, to practice virtue, to avoid vice.” By force of homilies and hard bread, he inculcated the bourgeois thrift and worldly asceticism that led to social advancement. Olivier de Serres, himself a Huguenot estate manager, painted a cruel portrait of the Calvinist gentlemen farmer in the Vivarais region of the Cévennes during the period 1560-1600 in a chapter of his Théatre d’agriculture. Published between 1600 and 1675, the nineteen editions acquainted the rest of France with the astonishing ‘model’ of a farmer-entrepreneur initiated, thanks to the Huguenot ethic, to the earliest spirit of capitalism. In the Calvinist Cévennes, both among the artisan classes of the towns, and the farming, wine-growing democracies of the outskirts, the peasant or capitalistic oligarchies of the isolated farmsteads, and the rural proletariat, the conquest of souls by physical pressure or persuasion was already completed by about 1570-90. By the close of the century, there remained no more than one or two Catholic families in many parishes. Peasant characteristics were themselves affected by these mass conversions. In communities like the village of Ganges (1570-1600), ministers and elders organised the policing of morals in a pitiless manner (in imitation of Calvin’s Geneva), with informers, fines, admonitions, and humiliating public confessions and reparations. The ‘consistories’ posted spies on the ramparts and poked into gardens, barnyards and even private chambers. In the deliberations of these consistories, the same monotonous denunciations were endlessly repeated:

A certain man had “debauched, fornicated, slept in the bed” of a certain woman. … The “village whores” were set upon. The mass, dancing, laughter, bowling and card playing, too long or too intimate betrothals, the debaucheries of serving-girls, abortion, … prenuptual pregnancies, and gypsy witchcraft all were proscribed without distinction, warily in the case of nobles, savagely in the case of the rural populace. Only usury and human exploitation – both flourishing in the Cévennes at the close of the century – were spared the thunderbolts of the consistory. Not once in fifteen years did the consistory of Ganges censure a userer, a tanner entrepreneur, or a farm manager for being too greedy with his debtors or workers.

Ladurie, pp. 170-71.

Of course, the social theories of Calvinism across early modern Europe have been the subject of much debate among historians, but its practice in the South of France around 1590 leaves little room for doubt. It was the formal restriction of pleasure and the tacit tolerance of usury; it was asceticism by proclamation, the creation of a new kind of proto-capitalist man with a remodelled ‘puritan’ personality:

A new man had emerged from the Huguenot crucible; his religion was purged of magical rites, his libido was repressed, and he was a believer in bourgeois thrift and Christian liberty.

Ladurie, p. 171.
Fanatics of the Cévennes & Effects of the Revocation in the South:

By the end of the seventeenth century, the destiny of Mediterranean France had become bound up with that of the country as a whole. Economically, it was an essential source of fruit, olive oil, wine, textiles and taxes, and a builder of ships for royal wars. The ‘Midi’ was drained of funds and, at the same time, kept firmly in line by the increasingly centralised State and absolutist rule of Louis XIV. When restless Marseilles dared to set up a rebel council in 1658, the ‘Sun King’ turned the town’s cannons on itself and built an additional fort primarily to keep an eye on its unruly citizens. The port of Toulon was expanded and turned into the main base of the Mediterranean fleet, busy waging war against the Spanish. Louis’ military architect Vauban added his characteristic star-shaped coastal defences to Toulon and Antibes.

After 1680, with the economy collapsing and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drawing near, the revolts changes sides and significance. Henceforth, the regions with Catholic majorities remained calm for the most part. Brittany was quiescent after 1675, Bordeaux after 1676, and the area of Boulogne after 1663. This prudent behaviour was to continue, despite difficult times, up to the end of Louis XIV’s reign. In Languedoc, the leading role passed from one mountain range to the next – from the papist Vivarais to the Huguenot Cévennes. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 threw France into further religious and civil strife. In the South, it led to renewed massacres of Protestants in Nímes and Arles; Protestant churches were demolished, and schools closed. The main effect was to deprive Nímes and Uzés of their industrious Huguenot manufacturers, who joined the streams of refugees and emigrated in their thousands. A few converted and stayed on to make silk and the blue linen ‘de Nímes’ that the transatlantic merchants and traders called ‘denim’. With fifty thousand inhabitants, Nímes had become one of the great manufacturing towns of France by the end of the seventeenth century. The Catholic petty-bourgeois of Nímes knew that the suppression of Protestantism contributed to their own ruin and that of their native city on account of the exodus of the moneyed Huguenots and the flight of capital. But they were, above all else, faithful believers. For that reason, they were captivated by the act of the ‘divine right’ king and the mass ‘recantation’ of the Huguenot communities (which they knew, however, was insincere). One of them, a notary named Borrély, remarked in his private journal that:

Whatever people say, there is something of divine miracle in this. … The distress is great, but our great king has so many affairs to handle it is proper to make a sacrifice.”

Ladurie, p. 270.

He wrote this at a time when a Protestant coalition was threatening in 1689 when he had to hand over his share of the six million in taxes for the region. He became an exemplary taxpayer whose mind was on anything but revolt. French Catholicism had been restive, but everything suggests that the Catholics returned to the ranks in 1685, dazzled by the Revocation. The natural counterpart to growing Catholic moderation was the Huguenot uprisings. The Protestants had remained calm throughout the century, but they became bellicose again at its close for obvious reasons. The Protestant peasants, like everybody else, suffered from the economic depression, the depression of trade, so deadly in the Cévennes, and the epidemics. In 1685, the year of the Revocation, the Hautes-Cévannes were short of chestnuts and wheat, and people were forced to subsist on acorns and grass. For the Huguenots, these misfortunes were aggravated by religious oppression. This particular oppression was, from the beginning, far more than just an affair of state. It also incarnated the spirit of revenge of a Languedocian church, enriched, up to the time of Colbert, by the increase of tithe income.

The persecution of the Huguenots had been encouraged and orchestrated from Versailles, but it was directed on the spot by the powerful bishops’ ‘lobby’ that turned the provincial assembly into a war machine against the Calvinists. The Estates of Languedoc, between 1661 and 1680, multiplied anti-Protestant pressures and measures; Protestant ‘consuls’ were hounded from the fiscal assemblies of the civil dioceses and they demanded ‘that one smash the head and tear out the heart’ of the Huguenot monster by expelling the last of the Protestants from the city of Privas; they commanded that the city consuls and professional syndics be wholly Catholic; they petitioned the king, successfully, to absorb the ‘chamber of the Edict’, the last judicial saviour of the Calvinists into the comprehensively Catholic Parlement of Toulouse; they demanded the suppression of the Protestant academy, already transferred to Pulyaurens; they succeeded in having several temples razed to the ground; they harassed the ministers; finally, with the Revocation and the destruction of heresy, they voted, as a mark of their gratitude to the king, the erection of an equestrian statue weighing 450 hundredweight.

The Huguenots, then, were face-to-face with a concerted campaign of unlimited oppression engineered by the central authorities and the local clergy, by the intendant and the Estates, and by the royal administration and the hierarchical society of the three orders embodied in the provincial assembly. Impoverished to the same extent as the papists by the crisis and the taxes and tormented by the tithe they were forced to pay, whereas the Catholic peasants had by now resigned themselves to this particular charge, heavy though it was. They were, in addition, the target of a unique campaign aimed at eradicating Calvinism. In the Huguenot Cévennes, the reformed religion represented the total culture of the region, so the policy of eradicating it was comparable to an act of genocide. As was done in 1685, to destroy the religion was to compromise the culture since it meant seriously disturbing the population’s psychic and emotional equilibrium and daily life. The all-embracing character of Calvinism in the Cévennes was so complete that it succeeded in entirely uprooting the ancient folklore, something unique in France. In that region, it was no longer possible to hear the old songs, some of which were older than the advent of the Huguenot religion. They disappeared in favour of the psalms that the older people sang to babies in their cradles. The psalter of Marot and Théodore Béza was the local source of a second culture, popular and musical in nature. By 1659, in towns with many Calvinists, the resounding strains of Marot’s psalms were heard in the mouths of artisans and, in the country districts, in the mouths of the peasants, whereas the Catholics remained mute or sang only ribald drinking songs.

The French langue d’oil culture itself penetrated the langue d’oc region of the Cévennes in the seventeenth century from the peasant’s earliest childhood, almost exclusively through the agency of the Bible and the Protestant texts, The ABC of Christians, Catechisms of Calvin and Béza, and Mirror of Youth, which children had to learn by heart. It was a strange land where French, in contrast to the maternal langue d’oc was regarded almost as the holy tongue and, in extreme cases, as proof of divine inspiration. The religious mystics of the Cévennes, when they spoke en langues – that is, in a foreign language under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – expressed themselves fluently in French, to the amazement of the dialect-speaking populace. In a milieu such as this, the Revocation and the subsequent attempt to uproot Protestantism entirely – its teachings, preachings, psalms and Bibles – amounted to an enforced “deculturation.” The traumatisation of a people deprived of its ministers, pastors and elders, tormented by a sense of guilt (for having accepted the Revocation and temporarily repudiated its faith), and oppressed, into the bargain, by hard times and taxes was so severe that it engendered authentic, documented cases of anxiety, neurosis and even hysteria, which eventually turned into bloody fanaticism. All of these effects stupefied the authorities.

The Huguenot riposte began in 1688-89 and culminated with the Camisards. This was more than a purely religious struggle from the start, for it was also accompanied by certain political and social overtones. The programme of Miremont, the rebel marquis who anticipated the insurrection of the Cévennes as early as 1689, aimed to exploit not only the Protestants’ despair but also the universal discontent of subjects of both faiths, the classic antitax reflex. He demanded the abolition of stamped paper and intolerable taxes and the destruction of customs bureaus and tax offices. In this, he summed up all the recriminations, at the same time liberal and retrograde, formulated the same year in a pro-Huguenot pamphlet:

The splendour of the nobility has been tarnished, the authority of Parlements cast down, the Three Estates abolished…

Sighs of an Enslaved France.

It was a popular programme with the Protestants, despite its reactionary features, because it vindicated the ancient right of revolt against tyranny. In the Calvinist songs of the Gévaudan, by 1686, the pope was a rogue, but Louis XIV was a tyrant. Still, it was not Miremont but Jurieu whose vigorous thought would animate the rebellions of Languedoc. He too dwelt on political themes. In his Pastoral Letters, he accepted a social contract, a right of peoples over kings, and a legitimate recourse to insurrection. But Jurieu was in no sense a modern thinker, but rather the repository of a very ancient message, in continuity with the millenarians of the Middle Ages and the Radical Reformation like Thomas Muntzer. The revolt of the Camisards (1702) revealed how profoundly the rebels, almost all of whom were peasants and village artisans, were imbued with this millenarian mentality. In the fall of 1702, the Abbot de La Pize, the Prior to Saint-Martin-de-Bobaux, received the visit of a band of Camisards who reproached him for “remaining in a Church which is Babylon and the prostitute described by Saint John in the Apocalypse.” They felled him with three musket shots in the stomach and finished him off with their swords. While their brother fanatics of English-speaking Protestantism, most notably the Quakers, were generally pacifistic and nonviolent, the Camisard convulsionaries of the Cévannes saw themselves as heralds of war, not peace. But while the Huguenot villagers listened to their prophets, they were also stirred up by the widespread opposition to the new and detestable poll tax, which oppressed a countryside already impoverished by an economic depression. In October 1702 and again in June 1703, the bishop of Alés, spiritual head of the Cévannes diocese, wrote to the minister of war to express his view that:

The capitation is as much involved as religion in their seditious enterprises … It is certain that the people have been extremely agitated for several days… to the point that in several localities of the Vivaries they have refused to pay the capitation.”

Ladurie, p. 285.

These antitax strikes unquestionably had had important consequences. In 1703, seventy per cent of the poll tax was still unpaid, and some enormous sums of accumulated back taxes were owed until the end of the Huguenot uprising in 1705. The insurrection in the Cévennes, the last of the Ancién Régime before 1789, marks the end of the era of religious and civil wars in France. The Camisard uprising revealed itself as the outcome of a peculiar yet potent mixture of prophetic neurosis and antitax ferment. It was an insurrection engendered by an impoverished society and traumatised by the Revocation and the systematic and brutal deculturation. However, following the Huguenot uprising, the remaining Protestants, above all those in the Cévennes, were still subject to petty persecution, but less and less to outright persecution at the hands of the authorities. They were cured of their fanaticism and could devote themselves wholeheartedly to business in conformity with their ancient and profitable vocation of secular asceticism.

Conclusion –
The Decline of Huguenot Culture & End of the Great Agrarian Cycle:

In the domain of religious oppression, the natives of the Cévennes, during the Camisard insurrection, departed from the original, singular rationale of the revolt. They did not confine themselves to advocating freedom of conscience or even to simple Protestant proselytising but adopted, as a line of conduct, the hysterical trance inspired by the convulsions of the visionaries and the imminence of the Second Coming. Such behaviour was highly appreciated and, wherever possible, imitated by the Camisards’ Protestant contemporaries but was considered aberrant and neurotic among devout Catholic nationalists. These forms of behaviour encountered during popular revolts and the emotions which underlay them disclosed the existence of exceptionally well characterised anxieties, impulses, and fantasies, expressed in what Ladurie called a symbolic language of frightening obviousness. He refers to the role in peasant societies of the symptoms of hysterical ‘conversion’, a deep-seated ethnological neurosis of traditional institutions. Thanks to these symptoms, he argued, Huguenot ethics produced profound psychological motivations conformed to the social structure and the basic demographic facts of that age. Materially impoverished and sexually repressed, traditional society at the end of the seventeenth century, at least as far as the popular classes were concerned, seems to have been characterised by a series of frustrations and deficiencies which mutually reinforced and conditioned one another. The material aspects of the great agrarian cycle were inseparable from its cultural aspects. One sustained and fortified the other. With the unique Huguenot contribution much diminished by the end of Louis XIV’s reign, society, population, and the economy lacked the progressive technology of proper growth. They also lacked the conscience, culture, morals, politics, education, the reformist spirit, and the unfettered longing for success which would have stimulated technological initiative and the spirit of enterprise, permitting an economic ‘revolution’.


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1974, ’76), The Peasants of Languedoc. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Denys Cook (1980), Documents and Debates: Sixteenth-Century England. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

Gary Martin Best (1982), Documents and Debates: Seventeenth-Century Europe. Basingstoke: MacMillan Education.

George A. Taylor & J. A. Morris (c. 1936), A Sketch-Map History of Britain and Europe. London: Harrap & Co.

E. N. Williams (1980): Dictionary of English & European History, 1485-1789. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

András Bereznay, et al. (2002), The Times History of Europe: Three Thousand Years of History in Maps. London: Harper Collins.

A History of Provence & Languedoc from Roman Times to the 1550s:

By BCE 118, The Roman Empire controlled the whole Mediterranean coast westwards to the Pyrenees and a large swathe of its hinterland. The Romans subdued the region by colonisation: vast numbers of settlers were attracted to it by the promise of free land. The Celtic town at Vaison-la-Romaine (‘Romans’ on the map below) became a semi-autonomous federated city. Narbonne, further west, became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis, also known, more simply, as ‘Provincia’. After 115 BCE, the Celtic tribe of the Cimbri and the Germanic Teutons mounted a series of raids on Provence, culminating in a humiliating defeat for the Romans at Orange in BCE 105. Under the Pax Romana, Gallia Narbonensis became a model province. Provence became a significant supplier of grain, olive oil and ships for the ever-hungry empire. Therefore, it was treated more like an extension of the motherland than a colonial outpost. The aqueducts, baths, amphitheatres and temples that serviced fine cities such as Aix, Arles, Nímes, Orange and Glanum (St Rémy) often surpassed those of similar-sized Italian towns. Further east they constructed the major part of Fréjus (probable birthplace of the Roman historian Tacitus), Cemenelum (Nice) and a ring of fortified settlements in what is now the eastern Var. Even after Julius Caesar had subdued the rest of Gaul in the Gallic Wars (58-51 BCE), this remained the most treasure of the empire’s transalpine possessions.

Marseilles was eclipsed after engaging with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil Wars. Besieged in 49BC, its possessions were transferred to Arles, Fréjus and Narbonne, though it continued to be a centre of scholarship. Gallia Narbonensis is now thought by some Biblical scholars to be the ‘Galatia’ referred to by Paul in his letter to the churches of Galatia, the second letter to Timothy and in the Acts of the Apostles. In his recent (2018) biography of Paul, Tom Wright suggests that it was a possible sojourn for the apostle himself on his way to northern Spain and ‘the furthest reaches of the west’ towards the end of his mission and his life in circa 58-60 AD. Emperor Antonius Pius (AD 138-161) reinforced the imperial connection with Provence and with Provence, whose family were from Nímes. In the fourth century, Arles became a favoured residence of Emperor Constantine. In the following century, the Christian community came into the open with the foundation of the monasteries of St-Honorat on the Iles des Lérins and St-Victor in Marseilles. The latter was the centre of a monastic diaspora that gave the South a generous sprinkling of abbeys from Le Barben to Castellane, ensuring the land was worked even during times of crisis. However, the monks could be as tyrannical in exploiting the peasantry as any feudal landlord.

In Nímes, on the Rhóne Delta. Encircled by two tiers of sixty stone arcades, this Roman arena of perfect classical proportions, smaller than the one at Arles but better preserved. There are little carvings of Romulus and Remus on the exterior, wresting gladiators and two bulls’ heads over the main entrance. After the departure of the Romans, the amphitheatre was made into a fortress, and by the Middle Ages, it was a vast tenement block.

When the Roman Empire finally fell apart in 476, the bishoprics maintained some semblance of order in the face of invasions by the Goths. However, the Franks finally gained the upper hand but also looked north rather than South, and the Meditteranean trade that had sustained Arles and Marseilles gradually dried up. The three-way partition of the Carolingian Empire between the sons of Louis I in the Treaty of Verdun in 843 made the Rhóne a frontier and provided the basis for the later division between Provence and Languedoc. In 931, the Kingdom of Provence, one of the many fragments of Charlemagne’s empire, was allied with Burgundy. Over the next two centuries, imperial rule gave way to out-and-out feudalism, with its local landlords using brute force and taxes to subdue the territory around their castle strongholds. Arles also became a kingdom under its Count, confirming its power as part of the Holy Roman Empire. From the end of the eleventh century, more efficient agriculture, the revival of trade and the rise of guilds provided the money for the construction of new religious foundations, such as the magnificent abbey of St-Gilles in the Camargue, with its richly-carved facade and the restoration and embellishment of St-Trophime in Arles. A more sober, pared-back style of Romanesque also evolved in the twelfth century at the tremendous Cistercian foundations of Silvacane, Senanque and Thoronet. In 1113, the title of Count of Provence passed to the House of Barcelona when the local line died out. However, the larger cities asserted their independence, setting up local governments known as Consulates.

Barcelona’s sway over Mediterranean France was helped along by language. Provencal, the eastern dialect of Occitan or langue d’Oc, was a close cousin of Catalan. Out of the apparent anarchy and the frequent shifts in the balance of power among the warring seigneuries, a distinctive local culture emerged, reaching its fullest expression in the poetry and ballads of the troubadours, the itinerant love poets. In 1246, through marriage, Provence came under Angevin rule, and the Anjou princes ruled for two and a half centuries, bringing a new degree of stability and making Aix their administrative capital. Louis II of Anjou, however, founded the university there in 1409 and in 1442, ‘good’ King René of Anjou established his court at Aix and built a lavishly furnished cháteau at Tarascon (pictured below). The reign of the poet-king was longer and more stable than most, and he encouraged an artistic revival in his court. The last local warlords, the Baux family, retreated to Orange, beginning a dynastic chain that led to the House of Orange becoming the rulers of Protestant Holland in the sixteenth century. Charles du Maine, René’s nephew, survived his uncle by only a year, dying without an heir in 1481. He bequeathed Anjou, Maine and Provence (excluding Savoy, Monaco and the Comtat Venaissin) to King Louis XI of France. Not only Provence but also Roussillon, Burgundy, Lorraine and parts of northern Italy came under the sway of the French monarchy.

Tarascon is dominated by its great white-walled fifteenth century Cháteau, the favourite of ‘Good’ (as in good-living) King René, with its ornately carved grand courtyard. The castle was lavishly decorated with spiral staircases, painted ceilings, and tapestries. to satisfy the king’s love of material comforts

After trying strong-arm tactics for the first three years, the French monarchy decided to allow Provence at least, for the time being, a semblance of autonomy, with the Act of Union (1486) granting a considerable measure of it within the French state. A Parlement was established at Aix in 1501, but there were still several autonomous ‘pockets’, most notably Marseilles, which stoutly defended its republican traditions. Francis I subdued the city and used the Marseilles shipyards in his Italian wars against his arch-enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V replied by besieging the city in 1523. He added fortifications on the Ile de Porquerolles and at St-Paul-de-Vence, where they survive intact to this day.


Bluebirds Soar High – 1921–22 Cardiff City F.C. season

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1921–22 season
ChairmanJohn Pritchard
(until November 1921)
Walter Emspall
ManagerFred Stewart
Division One4th
FA CupFourth round
Welsh CupWinners
Top goalscorerLeague: Jimmy Gill (20)
All: Len Davies (30)
Highest home attendance50,000 vs. Tottenham Hotspur (27 August 1921)
Lowest home attendance15,000 vs. Sheffield United (26 April 1922)
Average home league attendance27,500

The 1921–22 season was the 21st season[nb 1] of competitive football played by Cardiff City F.C. and the team’s first in the First Division of The Football League. Cardiff had won promotion the previous season by finishing as runners-up in the Second Division, becoming the first Welsh team to reach the top tier of English football.

Cardiff had a difficult start to the season, losing the first six matches of the campaign. They eventually saw results improve and finished in fourth place. The club entered the FA Cup in the first round and progressed to the fourth, before being defeated by Tottenham Hotspur after a replay. Cardiff went on to win the Welsh Cup for the third time in the club’s history after defeating Ton Pentre 2–0 in the final, having scored seventeen goals and conceded only one during their cup run.

During the season, 31 players made at least one appearance for the club. Billy Grimshaw played in more games than any other player, featuring in 47 matches in all competitions. Len Davies finished the season as the side’s highest goalscorer with 30 in all competitions, a new club record. His tally of seventeen in the First Division was three short of Jimmy Gill but fourteen in cup matches, including eight in four appearances in the Welsh Cup, saw him outscore his teammate. The highest attendance recorded at Ninian Park was 51,000 for the FA Cup fourth-round tie against Tottenham. The league fixture against Tottenham recorded an attendance of 50,000 although an extra 6,000–10,000 were estimated to have broken into the ground after turnstiles were closed. The average league attendance during the season was 27,500.

Background and pre-season:

A postcard published by the Western Mail of the Cardiff team that reached the FA Cup semi-final the previous season

During the 1920–21 season, Cardiff City FC was elected into the Second Division of The Football League having spent the previous decade playing in the Southern Football League. In the side’s first season in the Second Division, they finished as runners-up behind Birmingham on goal average, a tiebreak formula whereby a team’s goals scored is divided by the number of goals conceded after the two teams accumulated the same number of points.[2] As a result, Cardiff won promotion to the First Division, becoming the first Welsh side to play in the top tier of English football.[3] They also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup.[4]

Manager Fred Stewart remained in charge of the first team for the tenth year. He made several additions to the squad, signing full-back Tommy Brown from New Brighton and forward Willie Page, the brother of Cardiff defender Jack Page,[5] from Port Vale.[6] Cardiff City was investigated by The Football Association (FA) and the Football Association of Wales (FAW) over an illegal approach for Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Dickie Baugh Jr. The club was found guilty with Baugh having signed an agreement with an agent acting on behalf of Cardiff despite still being contracted to Wolves. Cardiff City FC was fined £50 and Baugh £20. The agent involved was subsequently banned from all football grounds under the jurisdictions of either the FA or FAW.[7] John Pritchard was elected chairman of the club ahead of the new season but left the role in November and was replaced by Walter Empsall.[8]

Cardiff also made significant investments in the club’s ground Ninian Park. A new pitch was laid using sea-washed turf which officials at the club labelled as “now being equal to the best in the country”.[6] The earthen embankments that enclosed the pitch were also built up to improve viewing for spectators.[6] The latter work nearly resulted in disaster when the refuse being tipped by Cardiff Corporation caught alight and spread across the Grangetown side of the ground. The fire was doused, with the aid of hundreds of local supporters who had raced to the ground to offer help, and little damage was sustained.[9] Having won promotion and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, The Times expected Cardiff to adapt well to the higher tier.[10]

First Division


In Cardiff’s first match in the First Division, they met FA Cup holders Tottenham Hotspur at Ninian Park. The game, therefore, became the first top-tier match in English football to be played in Wales and was described in The Times as “the most important event in their (Cardiff’s) history”.[11] The fixture attracted a large crowd, and when 50,000 supporters had paid and been allowed into the ground officials attempted to close the gates. With thousands still queuing to gain entry, supporters broke through the gates and forced their way into the ground. Club officials estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 people broke into the ground after the gates were initially closed.[12] Cardiff started the season without influential defender Jimmy Blair who was recovering from a bout of pneumonia;[13] Jack Page started the opening match in his place.[14] Tottenham suffered a setback early in the game as Jimmy Seed picked up an injury, but proved too strong for Cardiff and scored the only goal of the game through Jimmy Banks from outside the penalty area.[15] The excessive crowd numbers produced several unsavoury incidents, including fans taking over the scoreboard to use it as a vantage point. This experience prompted the club to seek advice from local police on crowd control at future matches.[6]

Defeat to Tottenham was the start of a difficult beginning in the First Division for the club. Defender Bert Smith became the first player to score for Cardiff in the division in the side’s following match with a consolation goal during a 2–1 defeat to Aston Villa on 29 August. Cardiff met Tottenham in the reverse fixture five days later at their opposition’s home ground but, having proven stubborn opposition for the more experienced side in the first meeting, they were soundly beaten after conceding three goals in the opening 30 minutes of the match. The game finished 4–1 to Tottenham with The Times describing victory for the London-based side as “a very easy matter”.[16] A 4–0 defeat in the reverse fixture against Aston Villa followed, prompting Stewart to make changes to his side ahead of back-to-back fixtures against Oldham Athletic. Blair returned to action having missed the first four matches and goalkeeper Herbert Kneeshaw was dropped in favour of Ben DaviesBilly Hardy, who had been ever-present the previous season, was also left out due to injury along with forward George West.[17] The changes yielded little reward as Cardiff lost both fixtures against Oldham, 1–0 at home, 2–1 away, starting the campaign with six consecutive defeats which left them bottom of the table.[14][18]

Cardiff’s next fixture was against unbeaten league leaders Middlesbrough in a match that was described in The Times as “the most noteworthy example of disparity of strength between contesting clubs”.[19] In a surprising turn of form given the club’s league form, Cardiff recorded their first victory in the First Division after causing an upset to win 3–1 and secure two points.[nb 2] Jimmy Gill, who had been the club’s top scorer the previous season, scored his first goals of the campaign with a brace and Harry Nash added a third. The victory prompted an upturn in fortune for the team as they lost only one of their five matches in October, a 2–1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Gill enjoyed a fine run of form during this time, scoring six goals in the five matches including braces during victories over West Bromwich Albion and Bolton in the reverse fixture.[14] With the club struggling for goals, October also saw the arrival of Joe Clennell from Everton for £1,500 (approximately £75,000 in 2020). In an attempt to recoup some of the transfer fees, two forwards who had played an integral role in promotion in the 1920–21 season, Arthur Cashmore and Fred Pagnam,[20] were sold having failed to score in a combined 17 appearances.[14] The club also signed Jimmy Nelson from Irish side Crusaders for £500 (approximately £25,000 in 2020).[21] On 31 October, club captain Fred Keenor was granted a benefit match against Bristol City.[22]


Trainer George Latham was forced into action in January 1922 due to injury, becoming the club’s oldest ever player.

Back-to-back fixtures against Manchester City at the start of November yielded only a point for Cardiff, who lost 2–0 at home and drew 1–1 away. Two victories against Everton later in the month proved a turning point in the season for Cardiff. The departure of Pagnam allowed Len Davies to make his first appearances of the season, scoring all three of Cardiff’s goals in 2–1 and 1–0 victories. The second fixture also saw Hardy and Smith return after injury layoffs.[14] A much-improved run of form ensued with Cardiff losing only one of their following thirteen league matches led by the goals of Davies, Gill and Clennell.[14] Davies also scored the first hat-trick in The Football League by a Cardiff player during a 6–3 victory over Bradford City on 21 January 1922.[23] As well as Bradford, the team’s run included wins over Birmingham (twice), ArsenalPreston North EndBlackburn Rovers and Chelsea.[14] The Times described the team during this time as appearing “almost invincible” as their improved form lifted them to sixth in the table.[24] The team’s victory over Blackburn during this spell saw an unusual Football League debutant when club trainer George Latham was forced into action. Hours before the game was due to start, Gill and Evans both went down with sickness and only one player, Nash, had travelled in reserve. Latham, who had played professionally previously, stepped in and became the oldest player in the club’s history at 41 years old.[25][26]

On 25 February, Cardiff suffered their first defeat since early December, losing 1–0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as the opposition defence proved impregnable.[24] The team recovered to beat Sheffield United 2–0 in their following match with goals from Clennell and Ken MacDonald but suffered a further blow after losing 1–0 to struggling Bradford who were 21st in the table.[27] Two matches against reigning First Division champions Burnley produced positive results as the teams drew 1–1 at Turf Moor before Cardiff won the reverse fixture 4–2 at Ninian Park. Len Davies scored a brace with Gill and Jack Evans scoring one each. Cardiff repeated the pattern in their following two matches against Newcastle United, drawing away before Len Davies scored the only goal in a home victory.[14] Despite taking the lead early in the match, Cardiff suffered a 5–1 defeat to league leaders Liverpool on 15 April.[28] Two days later, they lost heavily again in a 3–1 defeat to Blackburn. They met Liverpool in the reverse fixture on 22 April, their opponents already having secured the First Division title.[29] Cardiff went on to win the match 2–0. They finished the season with consecutive draws against Sheffield United and Manchester United before beating the already-relegated Manchester United again in the final game. The side finished its inaugural season in the First Division in fourth place.[14]

Match results:


In result column, Cardiff City’s score shown firstH = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty
o.g. = Own goal


27 August 1921Tottenham Hotspur (H)0–150,000
29 August 1921Aston Villa (A)1–2Smith30,000
3 September 1921Tottenham Hotspur (A)1–4West45,000
5 September 1921Aston Villa (A)0–440,000
10 September 1921Oldham Athletic (H)0–120,000
17 September 1921Oldham Athletic (A)1–2Grimshaw18,000
24 September 1921Middlesbrough (H)3–1Gill (2), Nash35,000
1 October 1921Middlesbrough (A)0–030,000
8 October 1921Bolton Wanderers (H)1–2Gill40,000
15 October 1921Bolton Wanderers (A)2–1Gill (2)25,486
22 October 1921West Bromwich Albion (A)2–2KeenorGill20,000
29 October 1921West Bromwich Albion (H)2–0Gill (2)35,000
5 November 1921Manchester City (A)0–238,000
12 November 1921Manchester City (H)1–1Gill25,000
19 November 1921Everton (H)2–1L. Davies (2)35,000
26 November 1921Everton (A)1–0L. Davies30,000
3 December 1921Sunderland (H)2–0GillL. Davies35,000
10 December 1921Sunderland (A)1–4Gill20,000
17 December 1921Huddersfield Town (H)0–025,000
24 December 1921Huddersfield Town (A)1–0Grimshaw20,000
26 December 1921Arsenal (A)0–035,000
27 December 1921Arsenal (H)4–3ClennellGrimshawGillL. Davies41,000
31 December 1921Birmingham (A)1–0L. Davies30,000
2 January 1922Blackburn Rovers (A)3–1L. Davies (2), Grimshaw30,000
14 January 1922Birmingham (H)3–1Clennell (2), Grimshaw37,000
21 January 1922Bradford City (H)6–3Gill (2), ClennellL. Davies (3)27,000
4 February 1922Preston North End (H)3–0MacDonaldGrimshawGill27,000
8 February 1922Chelsea (H)2–0ClennellGill25,000
11 February 1922Preston North End (A)1–1L. Davies20,000
25 February 1922Chelsea (A)0–147,000
11 March 1922Sheffield United (A)2–0MacDonaldClennell35,000
15 March 1922Bradford City (A)0–115,000
18 March 1922Burnley (A)1–1Hardy30,000
25 March 1922Burnley (H)4–2J. EvansGillL. Davies (2)35,000
1 April 1922Newcastle United (A)0–025,000
8 April 1922Newcastle United (H)1–0L. Davies25,000
15 April 1922Liverpool (A)1–5Clennell45,000
17 April 1922Blackburn Rovers (H)1–3Clennell30,000
22 April 1922Liverpool (H)2–0GillL. Davies25,000
26 April 1922Sheffield United (H)1–0Clennell15,000
29 April 1922Manchester United (A)1–1L. Davies15,000
6 May 1922Manchester United (H)3–1GillClennell (2)19,000
Partial league table:

Main article: 1921–22 Football League § First Division

2Tottenham Hotspur422191265391.66751
4Cardiff City4219101361531.15148
5Aston Villa422231774451.34547
6Bolton Wanderers422071568591.15347


Cup matches –

FA Cup:

Cardiff entered the competition in the first round, where they were drawn against fellow First Division side Manchester United. Cardiff won the match 4–1, following a brace from Len Davies and one each from Nash and Clennell,[14] and was praised by The Times for a “very brilliant performance”.[32] In the second round, the team were drawn away against Third Division side Southampton, whom they had defeated in the third round the previous year. The lower-ranked side held Cardiff to a 1–1 draw at The Dell but goals from Gill and Clennell in the replay sent Cardiff through in a 2–0 victory.[14]

The side met Second Division leaders Nottingham Forest in the third round. Len Davies scored his second brace in the competition to lead the side to a 4–1 victory in front of over 50,000 spectators at Ninian Park.[33] Their win led to a fourth-round meeting with cup holders Tottenham Hotspur. The match was hotly anticipated, being described by The Times as “the greatest of the day”.[34] Over 50,000 fans again attended Ninian Park for the tie and despite Cardiff having the better of the first half, Tottenham took the lead through Jimmy Seed after the forward dribbled through the defence to strike the ball past Ben Davies with a powerful shot. Cardiff pressed for the remainder of the match with Billy Grimshaw, Gill and Clennell all going close to scoring. As the match entered the final minute, Len Davies was able to turn the ball into the net to salvage a replay for Cardiff.[35]

The replay was held at Tottenham’s ground White Hart Lane and, such as the demand for tickets, match officials agreed for spectators to be allowed to sit or kneel to the very edge of the pitch. Tottenham enjoyed the brighter start to the match but Cardiff took the lead when Jack Evans beat his man on the wing and crossed for Gill to score. In the second half, Tottenham continued to attack and was rewarded with an equaliser when Jimmy Dimmock headed in from a corner kick. Tottenham went on to score a second when Ben Davies failed to clear a cross and the ball fell to Charlie Wilson who scored the winning goal.[36] Wilson’s effort was controversial as Cardiff players complained that goalkeeper Davies had been deliberately impeded as he attempted to deal with the cross but the referee ignored their complaints and the goal stood.[37] Tottenham advanced to the semifinal where they lost 2–1 to Preston North End.[38]

Match results:


In the result column, Cardiff City’s score shows first H = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty
o.g. = Own goal


7 January 1922FirstManchester United (A)4–1L. Davies (2), NashClennell25,000
28 January 1922SecondSouthampton (A)1–1Gill19,281
1 February 1922Second (replay)Southampton (H)2–0GillClennell40,000
7 January 1922ThirdNottingham Forest (H)4–1L. Davies (2), GillClennell50,470
4 March 1922FourthTottenham Hotspur (H)1–1L. Davies51,000
9 March 1922Fourth (replay)Tottenham Hotspur (A)1–2Gill53,626
Welsh Cup:

Cardiff entered the Welsh Cup in the third round, being drawn against Football League Third Division South side Newport County. Cardiff’s side ultimately proved too strong for Newport as the match ended 7–0 with Len Davies scoring four, Grimshaw two and Keenor one. The side continued their free-scoring form in the following round where they defeated Merthyr Town, also of the Third Division South, with Len Davies scoring a hat-trick during a 5–0 win. In the semifinal, they were drawn against Welsh league side Pontypridd who had eliminated them from the competition the previous year. Keenor, Gill and Jack Evans each scored once to secure a 3–0 victory and send Cardiff through to the final. Ton Pentre were their opponents as Cardiff secured their third Welsh Cup title after winning 2–0 at Taff Vale Park.[14][39] Gill and Len Davies each scored once; Davies’ goal was his eighth in the competition.[14]

Match results:


In result column, Cardiff City’s score shown firstH = Home match
A = Away match
pen. = Penalty kick
o.g. = Own goal


18 January 1922ThirdNewport County (H)7–1KeenorGrimshaw (2), L. Davies (4)5,500
22 February 1922FourthMerthyr Town (H)5–0L. Davies (3), NashJackson (o.g.)5,500
10 April 1922Semi-finalPontypridd (A)3–0KeenorGillJ. Evans12,000
4 May 1922FinalTon Pentre (N)2–0GillL. Davies12,000


Len Davies was Cardiff’s top goalscorer during the campaign, setting a new club record with 30 goals in all competitions.

Billy Grimshaw made the most appearances of any Cardiff player during the season, featuring in 47 matches in all competitions. He also made the most league appearances with 38. Jack Evans was the next highest with 44 appearances and a further five players made 40 or more appearances. Goalkeeper Tom Farquharson made a single appearance in the final match of the season.[14] He would go on to set a club record with 445 appearances in The Football League that stood until 1985 when it was surpassed by Phil Dwyer.[40] Farquharson was one of six players who featured in just one match for the club during the campaign. The others included Albert Barnett, who was recovering from a broken leg suffered the previous season,[41] and George Latham, the club’s trainer who played one match during an injury crisis. At the age of 41, Latham remains the oldest player ever to feature in a competitive fixture for Cardiff.[25] Two of the players, Ernie Anderson and James Melville, never played another match for Cardiff before moving on.[14]

Len Davies was the club’s top goalscorer with 30 goals across all competitions. Although he scored three fewer than Jimmy Gill in league competition, his prolific scoring in cup competitions saw him outscore his teammate.[14] His 30 goals was also a new club single-season record, surpassing Gill’s tally of 20 the previous year and standing until the 1926–27 season when Hughie Ferguson scored 32 times. Gill’s 21 league goals were also a new club record, surpassing his own tally from the previous year. The record stood for two seasons until Len Davies scored 23 during the 1923–24 campaign.[42] Davies and Gill were two of the three players to score ten or more goals for Cardiff during the season, the third being Joe Clennell. Eleven players scored at least one goal during the course of the season and one opposition player scored an own goal.[14]

PlayerPositionFirst DivisionFA CupWelsh CupTotal
Ernie AndersonHB10000010
Albert BarnettDF10000010
Jimmy BlairDF3206030410
Charlie BrittainDF2701040320
Tommy BrownDF20000020
Arthur CashmoreFW40000040
Joe ClarkFW10200030
Joe ClennellFW321063204013
Ben DaviesGK3406030430
Len DaviesFW251765483530
Herbie EvansHB2906040390
Jack EvansFW3614041442
Sidney EvansFW40001050
Tom FarquharsonGK10000010
Jimmy GillFW342054324226
Billy GrimshawFW3866032478
Billy HardyHB3216020401
Eddie JenkinsHB90000090
Fred KeenorDF2711032313
Herbert KneeshawGK70001080
George LathamHB10000010
Ken MacDonaldFW42000042
James MelvilleDF10000010
Harry NashFW811121113
Jimmy NelsonDF20000020
Billy NewtonHB10000010
Jack NockFW20000020
Jack PageDF2106010280
Fred PagnamFW1300000130
Bert SmithDF2914040371
George WestFW41000041

FW = Forward, HB = Halfback, GK = Goalkeeper, DF = Defender



Brown and Willie Page, the two signings made at the start of the 1921–22 campaign, would both depart after a single season with only Brown having played for the first team. Such was Stewart’s confidence in his side that the club made no major signings before the start of the following season and only a poor run of form toward the end of 1922 prompted the arrival of a few players.[43] As a result of the team’s performance, they were regarded as an established side for the 1922–23 season with The Times describing the side as possessing “undeniable all-round ability” in its preseason report.[44]

The club recorded an annual income of £63,000 (approximately £3.2 million in 2020) for the campaign, £12,000 (approximately £600,000 in 2020) of which was profit. The difficulties in crowd control during the opening match against Tottenham had led the club to possess what was described as “the heaviest police bill in the country”. The construction of a concrete wall around the ground to counteract any further instances was approved in the hope of lowering the bill.[45]


  1. ^ Cardiff City FC was founded in 1899 but missed the entry deadline of the Cardiff & District League in their first year.[1]
  2. ^ 2 points were awarded for a win at the time.



  1. ^ Lloyd 1999, p. 17
  2. ^ Shepherd 2002, p. 22
  3. ^ “Growth of the Leagues”The Times. London. 22 August 1921. p. 12. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  4. ^ “Cardiff City”Football Club History Database. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  5. ^ “Louis Page”englandfootballonline.com. 2 September 2018. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  6. Jump up to:a b c d Lloyd 1999, p. 65
  7. ^ “Cardiff City Football Club Fined”The Times. London. 23 August 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  8. ^ Shepherd 2007, p. 50
  9. ^ “Ninian Park Fire”Western Mail. 25 June 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 3 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  10. ^ “League Football Prospects”The Times. London. 24 August 1921. p. 10. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  11. ^ “League Football”The Times. London. 26 August 1921. p. 6. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  12. ^ Shepherd 2007, p. 27
  13. ^ “Blair’s Improved Health”Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 17 June 1921. p. 7. Retrieved 24 November 2020 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  14. Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Shepherd 2002, p. 23
  15. ^ “The League Season Opened”. The Times. London. 29 August 1921. p. 12. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  16. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 5 September 1921. p. 13. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  17. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 64
  18. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 19 September 1921. p. 15. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  19. ^ “League Matches for Tomorrow”. The Times. London. 23 September 1921. p. 4. Retrieved 23 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  20. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 66
  21. ^ “Cardiff Still Recruiting”. Star Green ‘Un. 15 October 1921. p. 6. Retrieved 4 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  22. ^ “A Cardiff Benefit”. Athletic News. 31 October 1921. p. 3. Retrieved 4 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  23. ^ Lloyd 1999, p. 66
  24. ^ Jump up to a b “Chelsea V Cardiff City”. The Times. London. 27 February 1922. p. 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  25. ^ Jump up to a b Leighton 2010, p. 67
  26. ^ “Club Records”. Cardiff City F.C. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  27. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 17 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  28. ^ “The Leagues”. The Times. London. 17 April 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  29. ^ “League Football”. The Times. London. 22 April 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  30. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Grandin, Terry (2010). Cardiff City 100 Years of Professional Football. Sheffield: Vertical Editions. p. 213. ISBN 978-1-904091-45-5.
  31. ^ “League Division One end of season table for 1921–22 season”. 11v11.com. AFS Enterprises. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  32. ^ “The Cup Ties”. The Times. London. 9 January 1922. p. 17. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  33. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 20 February 1922. p. 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  34. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 3 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  35. ^ “Drawn Game at Cardiff”. The Times. London. 6 March 1922. p. 19. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  36. ^ “The F.A. Cup”. The Times. London. 10 March 1922. p. 5. Retrieved 25 March 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  37. ^ Leighton 2010, p. 68
  38. ^ Reyes Padilla, Macario (27 January 2001). “England FA Challenge Cup 1921–1922”. The Rec. Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  39. ^ Schöggl, Hans (10 September 2015). “Wales (Cup) 1921/22”. The Rec. Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  40. ^ Shepherd, Richard (21 March 2013). “1974–1989 Friday Fame & 80s Pain”. Cardiff City F.C. Archived from the original on 27 June 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  41. ^ Rowley, Terry. “Albert Barnett”. Altrincham F.C. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  42. ^ Hayes, Dean (2006). The Who’s Who of Cardiff City. Breedon Books. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-85983-462-6.
  43. ^ Shepherd 2002, p. 24
  44. ^ “Association Football”The Times. London. 25 August 1922. p. 4. Retrieved 6 April 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  45. ^ “Wonderful Record of Progress”Western Mail. 22 August 1922. p. 3. Retrieved 20 June 2021 – via British Newspaper Archive.


Cardiff City F.C. seasons

The Incredulous Twin – Finding Faith: The Second Sunday of Easter

Thomas the ‘Doubter’:

On the second Sunday of Easter, ‘western’ Christians celebrate Thomas the Apostle and the Gospel story in John of how, as the disciple who missed Jesus’ visit to the ‘Upper Room’ after his resurrection, he overcame his doubts about his master’s physical appearance to the others in the first days of ‘Easter Week’:

The Incredulity of St Thomas by Caravaggio

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,

“We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later the disciples were together again indoors, and Thomas was  with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas,

“Put your finger here, and look a my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him,

“Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

John 20: 24-29 (Good News for Modern Man)

Who was Thomas the Apostle?

In the gospels, Thomas is also named as ‘the twin’, Didymus,  in Latin to reinforce his Aramaic name, Tau’ma, from the word t’oma, which also means ‘twin’. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (v 13) his name is coupled with that of Philip, which suggests he might have been, with Andrew, the other unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who followed ‘the lamb of God‘  from a village called ‘Bethany’ (not the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha) where John had baptised Jesus the previous day, on the eastern bank of the Jordan. In the story in John’s gospel (chapter 1: 35-42), the two spend the day with Jesus until twilight, and are close enough to the town of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of Lake Galilee, for Andrew to fetch his brother Simon (Peter) to meet ‘the Messiah’. The next day Jesus leaves Bethsaida early to walk the twenty miles to join his mother at Nazareth before going on with her for a wedding in Cana two days later. He arrives at the feast with his growing band of disciples, including Philip and, no doubt, Thomas, Andrew and Peter, plus Nathanael (known later as Thaddeus), who is from Cana himself. After their thirsty walk from Nazareth, they find plenty of water, but no wine with which to toast the bride and bridegroom.

Therefore, it’s more than possible that Thomas was one of Jesus’ first pairs or ‘twins’ of disciples. His brother was Philip, whom he introduced to Jesus, just as Andrew had introduced Simon the fisherman the previous night. By the end of that third day, following Jesus’ first miracle, John tells us that all five had put their faith in him, two in their home town of Bethsaida and two in Cana. Despite Nathanael’s rather rude joke about Nazareth, Jesus describes him as ‘a true Israelite’, sitting under a fig tree early on a hot day. Although Israel had ceased to exist since  Maccabean rule had been ended by the Roman conquest of 63 BCE, when it had become part of the Province of Syria, Nathanael identifies Jesus not only as ‘the son of God’ but also ‘the King of Israel.’ This would have been heard as a direct challenge to Roman authority in northern Palestine, identifying Jesus with the local freedom-fighters, the nationalistic Zealots who wanted to free the whole country from Roman rule and reunite with Judea, as had happened briefly from 142-63 AD. If Thomas was one of these first disciples, although he himself is silent in the gospels at this stage, he was surrounded by certainty and infectious enthusiasm about who Jesus was among his relatives and friends, and there was little doubting the miraculous signs in which the Galilean himself revealed his glory (v 11).

Some have seen in the Acts of Thomas (written in east Syria in the early 3rd century, or perhaps as early as the first half of the 2nd century) an identification of Saint Thomas with the apostle Judas, brother of James, better known in English as Jude. However, the first verse of the Acts follows the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles by distinguishing the apostle Thomas and the apostle Judas son of James. The Nag Hammadi copy of the Gospel of Thomas begins:

“These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.”

Of course, Judas was a popular name in first-century Palestine, so it’s entirely possible that, as a Galilean, he would have been known by his Aramaic name to distinguish him from the other two disciples by the name of Judas. Syrian tradition also states that the apostle’s name was Thomas. Few texts identify Thomas’ other twin, though in the Book of Thomas the Contender, part of the Nag Hammadi library, it is said to be Jesus himself, who himself is recorded as telling Thomas:

“Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself…”

Again, it’s possible that Thomas or ‘Twin’ was the nickname given to the disciple to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and Judas, son of James, because he bore a physical resemblance to Jesus, and/or, as the quote above shows, kept very close to him.

How can we know The Way?

To have been so close to Jesus, Thomas must at least have been among the very first disciples. Jesus later comments on the questioning of the ‘Way’ by both Thomas and Philip in a way which must have stung the pair of them, since he points out that, despite being with him from the first, neither shows a very deep understanding of who he is in relation to ‘the Father’. In John’s gospel, the fact that this criticism comes immediately after Jesus’ prediction of Simon Peter’s denial during the Last Supper, underlines its significance. Thomas is sceptical, but unlike Peter, he does not make grand gestures or promises he knows he cannot live up to, nor, like Philip, does he ask for further proof. Judas Iscariot has already left to betray his master by this stage, so Thomas’ incomprehension seems an insignificant sin by comparison with the other three. But Jesus expects better of his earliest converts. Where is the certainty that Andrew and Nathanael revealed in Bethsaida, and in the miracles which they testified to, beginning in Cana? (John 14: 5-12).

A Reluctant Martyr?

In John Chapter 11 Thomas is the disciple who suggests to the rest of the disciples that they should all return to Jerusalem with Jesus so that they could all be martyred with him. There are two ways of reading this. We can regard it as a somewhat cynical remark, fitting in with Thomas’ sceptical character, as revealed in connection with the Resurrection appearances, or we can take it at face value, as a declaration of loyalty from one close enough to Jesus to be called his twin. Of course, even then, the line could have been delivered with an air of resigned stoicism, rather than with the enthusiasm of a disciple looking for martyrdom.

Thomas’ name is also linked to Thaddeus’ early mission to Syria, but more importantly to the mission to the Jewish diaspora in India, which he undertook himself in 52 AD. From there he is recorded, in a text attributed to Joseph of Arimathea, to have returned to Jerusalem in time to be the only witness of the Assumption of Mary, which, in a strange resonance of the resurrection stories, was disbelieved by the other apostles until they themselves saw Mary’s tomb.

The Value of Scepticism to Faith:

Perhaps most significantly, however, in the early church, Thomas was not stigmatised as a ‘doubter’ so much as being the apostle who, having seen Jesus’ wounds at close quarters, was able to proclaim the two natures of Christ, that he was both fully human and fully divine. The vivid drama of his very personal testimony would have been difficult to dispute by the Greek Gnostics in the early church who argued that Christ was, throughout his time on earth, an ethereal presence, a vision of the Divine, rather than real flesh and blood. That’s why, although his feast day is celebrated on different days in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican calendars, his ‘doubting’ is commemorated on the second Sunday, a week after the first appearances of Jesus to his disciples. By itself, the empty tomb proved nothing, and even the sudden appearances of Mary and the disciples, in the open air and through locked doors, might have given support to the Gnostic view of an ethereal body. It is the graphic detail of Thomas’ account, a man who knew Jesus well enough to have been his twin, that remains the most difficult to disbelieve, reinforced by the way in which Thomas’ scepticism is immediately transformed into his acclamation “My Lord and My God”. Jesus immediately responds with a beatitude, ‘Blessed are they…’ which remains as a promise to his followers down the centuries that follow. Thomas is not excluded from his Lord’s blessing by his original disbelief or scepticism, call it what you will. His Resurrection experience is total – he believes with all his senses and emotions, transcended by the Lord in that by believing he, and we, may have life in his name (John 20: 30-31). The ‘Drama of Thomas’ is well re-told in the following extract from a book used in schools:

From ‘The Drama of Jesus’, by Paul White & Clifford Warne:

‘Heavy cloud made the night even darker. Shadowy figures cautiously climbed the outside stairs to the large room on the roof. When the door opened to admit them the merest glow of light showed and the door was immediately shut. Finally it was barred with a huge wooden beam.

‘On one side of the room two men were arguing. “I tell you Peter, I don’t want to listen.”

‘ “But, Thomas, you must. The Lord is not dead. He’s alive. It’s a fact and you have to realise it.”

‘Aggressively, Thomas burst out, “If Jesus is alive why are we all coming here furtively and hiding behind locked doors? Are we scared that the Jewish leaders are going to arrest us for body-snatching? If He’s alive why doesn’t he show himself to the world” Even in the feeble light of the small lamp they could see his face going red. “Why doesn’t he show himself to the authorities before they break that door down and throw us all into prison? If he’s alive why doesn’t he go and see Caiaphas and the Council? That would prove his claims.”

“So far, he’s only appeared to people who love him,” said John quietly.

“I loved him and he hasn’t appeared to me…” Thomas turned away. There was a break in his voice. John moved across the room towards him. “It wasn’t Jesus’ fault you weren’t here last week when he first came among us.”

‘Thomas broke in, “But..”

“Surely, man, you remember He told us what was going to happen that day on the road from Caesarea Philippi. Not only then but on two occasions He made it clear. He said He would be handed over to the Gentiles and mocked, insulted, flogged and crucified.” John spoke with deliberation, “He said, ‘Three days later I will rise to life.’ “

‘Impulsively, Peter broke in, “John’s right. He said it again and again; we all heard him.”

“Heard him, maybe, growled Thomas, “but did you believe him?”

“Believe him?” Peter put his hands to his head. “I didn’t even know what he was talking about! That’s why I said, ‘God forbid, it must never happen to you, Lord.’ I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said to me, ‘Out of my way, Satan. You stand right in my path, Peter, when you look at things from man’s point of view and not from God’s.’ To me he was the Lord of life. I saw him heal sick people and bring the dead back to life; it was incredible to me that he should die, let alone come back to life as he promised. But he did. And Thomas, you must believe it. He has come back from death.” Peter’s voice shook with emotion.

‘Thomas started to walk away. Peter gripped his friend by the shoulder and swung him round and said tersely, “Don’t turn away from me when I speak to you. Do you think we’re all imagining this? Do you think we’re lying?”

‘Andrew stepped between them. “Simon, let him be. Were you in a hurry to believe when you first heard the news but hadn’t seen the Lord?”

“Anyway,” said Peter gruffly, “when Mary broke the news that his body was gone John and I ran all the way to the tomb. Right, John?”

“Right,” said John, smiling, “but I arrived there quite some distance ahead of you.”

‘Peter was beginning to relax. There was a hint of a smile in his voice, “But you weren’t game enough to go into the tomb till I arrived.”

‘John almost shouted, “Up to that moment I didn’t realise that I was seeing, before my own eyes, what the scriptures foretold. Now Thomas, get this straight. We’re not saying that He’s alive merely because the tomb was empty. We’ve seen him outside the tomb. We’ve heard him and touched him; we’ve seen him eat food here in this room.”

“But not me.” There was a hard note in Thomas’ voice.

‘ Thomas stepped back and lifted his voice so that everyone in the room could hear, “Think what you like. But unless I see the scars the nails made in His hands and unless I put my fingers where those nails were and my hand into his side I will never believe.”

‘Peter groaned, “I give up.”

‘Andrew spoke again, “Simon, be fair. We all found it hard to believe at first.”

‘Peter ran his fingers through his hair. “But it’s not the same with square-chinned, stubborn character here. I’ve told him, John’s told him, Mary’s told him, Cleopas told him – we’ve all told him.”

‘Andrew spoke urgently, “Simon, keep your voice down. You’ll have the whole Sanhedrin here in a moment. Let Thomas alone. Isn’t it hard enough for him when he sees our joy, and his doubts fill us with misery? At least try to see his problem, brother.”

‘Peter gazed at Andrew. He saw a look he had often seen on Jesus’ face. Impulsively he put his arm round Thomas’ shoulder. “If you’d seen him, you’d understand how I feel. Forgive me.”

‘Thomas shrugged himself free of Peter’s arm and muttered, “Forget it.”

‘An embarrassed hush settled on the whole room. A deep silence. 

“Peace be unto you.” The voice startled them.

‘They looked up and saw Jesus. In a moment they were all on their feet, their faces glowing. No one spoke. Instinctively they turned towards Thomas who stood there like a statue unable to believe his eyes. He stammered, “Lord, Lord, is it really you?”

Jesus came close to him and held out his hands. His tone was warm and strong, “Thomas, my friend, put your finger here. See my hands. See the nail wounds. And my side; take your hand and put it where the spear entered. Stop doubting and believe!”

Thomas slowly went down on his knees, his hands touching the wounded feet. “My Lord… and my God.”

“Is it because you have seen me that you believe?” Jesus asked him. “How happy are those who believe without seeing.”

‘And as suddenly as He had appeared, he vanished. The disciples stood there amazed. Thomas looked up, overwhelmed. The room was full of excitement and laughter of a sort that comes from profound relief and deep joy.

‘John spoke with infectious enthusiasm, “Jesus is no dead memory. He is our living Lord.” ‘


‘Our Lord and God, forgive the doubting heart in each of us, which questions your resurrection. We are men of our age and want to see and touch before we believe. And yet we thank you for that blessing, reserved for those who do not see and yet believe. Grant us that faith which looks to Jesus, risen from the dead, our Saviour and our living Lord.  Amen.’

Ian D. Bunting


Paul White & Clifford Warne (1980): The Drama of Jesus. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton.

Related Articles:

“Let My People Go, that they may serve me!”: The Passover & The Exodus.

Pesach or ‘The Passover’:

Pesach, usually called ‘The Passover’ in English, is the greatest of the Jewish festivals, the holiday of the year and the oldest in the Jewish calendar. Like the Christian Easter, which partly originates from it, it varies in date from year to year, but occurs in spring and lasts for seven to eight days, about four of which are non-working days. Celebrated in the spring, at the full moon in the first month of the year, then Abib (April in modern calendars), the month of the green ears of corn, it contained the rite of the smearing of the blood of a lamb on the tent posts, probably designed to ward off demons of destruction or infertility. The festival probably dates back to the time when the Jews were wandering herders in the deserts of the Middle East, pitching their tents wherever they found grazing for their herds.

At the time when the young lambs were born, they observed a festival at which either a sheep or goat was sacrificed as a way of giving thanks; they gave up something which was valuable to them. The sacrifice was given at nightfall and the animal was roasted whole, in a nomadic fashion, and eaten hurriedly with desert food, unleavened bread seasoned with bitter herbs. No bones of the animal were broken, and no meat was left uneaten by daybreak. It was a family affair, not connected with the priests or a place of worship. The participants in the meal were ready to move at a moment’s notice to defend their flocks, belts fastened, sandals on their feet and staffs in hand. Passover was, initially at least, the festival of a pastoral community.

The Israelite Exile & Exodus Story:
The Journey to the promised land:
After forty yearsin the Sinai desert the Israelites probably went south, but we do not know their exact route.
They avoided the coastal region because of fear of attack from the Philistines.

As some groups of Hebrews became more settled and lived by farming the land, they developed their own traditions and festivals more closely related to growing crops. This took place before they harvested the barley and was called the ‘Feast of Unleavened Bread’ referring to bread that had no yeast or ‘leavening’. At the beginning of the festival, all ‘sour doughs’ (used like yeast to leaven the bread), had to be destroyed to safeguard the produce of the year to come. Then the first sheaf of the newly-cut barley, the ‘omer’ was presented to the priest as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. These people, of course, did not move from place to place like the shepherds, and therefore were able to build more permanent places of worship, often ‘high places’ on the hills. Even so, there were periods of poor harvests when the Hebrews found themselves dependent on the Egyptians for corn during the poorer years. All these characteristics of the two festivals, which eventually became one, are explicable without reference to the events of the exodus described in the Old Testament which gave Passover a new meaning.

In fact, the story of the Israelites’ exile in Egypt really begins with the story of Joseph (at the end of Genesis), the son of Jacob (Israel) who had been sold into slavery in Egypt and then rose to a position of high authority, describes how the Israelite family moved into Egypt to share the better harvests there. As they grew in numbers and social status, enjoying the privileges they had been granted, successive Pharaohs gradually became more resentful on behalf of their envious people, and the Hebrews found themselves reduced to abject slavery, longing to be free to reach the land flowing with milk and honey, promised to them by God. The Book of Exodus narrates how, under the leadership of Moses, the Hebrews achieved their freedom and escaped from Egypt, beginning with Yahweh’s terrible punishment of the Egyptians, and then set out to find their promised land.

The Passover Story:

The name of the festival, originally ‘Pesah’ (Hebrew: pasah) uses a word of very uncertain meaning but one which is linked to the earliest ‘J’ source, with Yahweh’s ‘passing over’ the blood-stained lintels of Hebrew homes while the destroying angel smote the firstborn children of Egypt (Ex. 12. 21-27). In the ‘P’ tradition of Ex. 12. 11, the fastened belt, sandalled feet and staff in hand are memorials of the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt at God’s command. In Deut. 16. 3, the unleavened bread is called the ‘bread of affliction,’ again a memorial of the people’s flight in haste from Egyptian bondage. The date was also given a link to the exodus, for in the month of Abib, Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night (Deut 16. 1; cf. Ex. 23. 14 ff.; 34.18).

Ever since that time, Jews have remembered and commemorated the night when they ate hurriedly, ready for the journey, and painted the doorposts of their houses with the blood of the lambs so that the plague of death would not touch the house. The two spring festivals became one historical festival symbolising and celebrating the struggle of the Jewish people toward national freedom. In the early days of Israel’s history, the festival was a festival of Pilgrimage when all who could, made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews became more widely dispersed around the Mediterranean world, the festival was divided into two parts, the ceremony in the local temple, or synagogue, and the observance of the ‘Seder’ meal in each home. For this, the home is made spotlessly clean, and on the eve of Pesach (the Passover), all leavened bread is destroyed while the ‘matzoh’ or unleavened bread is prepared. Greetings are exchanged, the home is filled with light, and the table is set so that the whole family sits around it.

The various parts of the meal remind the Jews of the deliverance from the cruelty and enslavement in Egypt. At its commencement, the youngest son asks four traditional questions which his father answers fully. In this way, the younger generation is taught the Exodus stories. There are up to fourteen parts to the ceremonial of the Seder. It has given rise to inspired works of art in the making of the Seder dishes, Passover banners and matzoh covers. The meal also has special items. Four cups of wine are taken and there are cakes of bread, dishes of roasted egg, saltwater; perhaps symbolising the tears of the Hebrews in slavery, bitter herbs, and a sweet paste of almonds, apple and wine, said to represent the clay with which the Israelites were forced to make bricks when they were slaves. The last part of the Seder consists of prayers and songs, and a cup of wine is poured symbolically for Elijah when the door is opened so that he too may enter and drink.

The Last Supper and the Christian Festival of ‘Pasque’ (‘Easter’):
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet before the Passover meal.

It was probably at this meal, known to Christians as the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper at which Jesus, as Paul describes, took the cup and the bread at one point and instituted for all his followers what became the central act of worship of their religion also called, variously, Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Mass, depending on the different traditions to which they later came to belong. Maundy Thursday is named in the church’s calendar from the words of Jesus when at the Passover meal held with his disciples in the Upper Room of a house in Jerusalem, he said that he gave them a new commandment or mandate. He spoke the words as he proceeded to his act of humility and service, washing his disciples’ feet. The Latin words are, Mandatum novum da vobis; A new commandment I give you. From the word ‘mandatum’ came the word ‘maundy’ in Old English.

Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples, his ‘Last Supper’.

Pesach has a long history and in many countries, Easter (a name referring to the pagan goddess of spring, Eostre) is called Pasque (France) or Pasg (Welsh), following the Judeo-Christian tradition. In some parts of Britain ‘Pacé Egg Plays’ were performed on the following day in the Passover festival and beginning of the Hebrew Sabbath, Good Friday in the church’s calendar. Pacé was again derived from ‘Pasche’ or ‘Paschal’. The plays were thought to be based on a sixteenth-century story, The History of Seven Champions of Christendom.

The Exodus and the Hebrew Year:

The exodus from Egypt is central to the faith of the Old Testament. If there is one description of God that, above all others, is characteristic of the God of the Old Testament, it is this: I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. The prophets are the heralds of this God:

I brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

(Amos 2. 10; cf. Jer. 2.6).

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of the land of Egypt I called my son.

(Hos. 11. 1)

Psalmists praise this God:

Thy way was through the sea,

thy paths through the great waters,

yet thy footprints were unseen.

Thou didst lead thy people like a flock

by the hand of Moses and Aaron

(Ps. 77. 19 f. ; cf. Pss. 66. 6; 78. 11 ff. ; 136. 10 f.).

When a son is asked by his father the meaning of the commandments binding on Israel, the father is instructed to reply:

We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, and Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and Yahweh showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household before our eyes…

(Deut. 6. 21 f. ; cf. Ex. 20. 2; Deut. 5. 6).

The significance of the exodus for faith is unquestionable; what actually happened was probably sober enough. A group of Hebrew slaves under the leadership of Moses left Egypt. They safely negotiated a stretch of water called ‘the Sea of Reeds’ (not the Red Sea). The location of the Sea of Reeds is uncertain; the likelihood is that it lay in the general region of what is now the Suez canal or perhaps further east along the Mediterranean coast at Lake Sirbonis. The earliest narrative strand ‘J’ speaks of a strong east wind blowing all night to push the water back (Ex. 14. 21-28). The pursuing Egyptian chariots stuck in the soft sand and were drowned by the returning water. Naturally, Egyptian records have nothing to say about what was at most, from their point of view, a minor frontier incident. In the Old Testament, however, this is never an escape bid engineered by Moses, but always a mighty act of God through which he delivered his people out of slavery. In what is probably the earliest OT witness account of these events, the triumphant Song of Miriam expresses the essence of what happened:

Sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously,

the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea.

(Ex. 15. 21; cf. 15. 1)

A depiction of the legendary crossing of the ‘Red Sea’ from Exodus.
However, the Hebrew text refers to the ‘Reed Sea’ which was likely to have been somewhere north of the Suez Gulf, or along the Mediterranean Coast.

This was Yahweh’s victory over his enemies, a victory on behalf of his oppressed people. That it was interpreted in this way from the beginning must be attributed to the prior revelation of God’s purposes given to Moses. The exodus is the heart of the Old Testament gospel, the good news of what God has done. Just as the memory of central events in the New Testament gospel was preserved in the worship of the early Christian communities, so the exodus was handed down in Israel in one great family religious festival, ‘Passover’. Alone among the festivals of the Hebrew religious year, Passover goes back beyond the time of the settlement in Canaan, in all probability before the exodus itself. But Passover is also an illustration of something that happened to most of the festivals of the Hebrew year. Besides the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Massoth) which became linked to Pesach, Qasir (Harvest) and Asiph (Ingathering) are native to the agricultural life of Canaan.

Whatever their origins, the Old Testament gives the festivals a historical and religious reference, and in most cases, that reference was to the exodus or to the events associated with it. Asiph, for example, is the great harvest thanksgiving festival. With the farmer’s work for the year successfully completed, the mood was one of unrestrained rejoicing. In Deut. 16. 13, however, this festival is called Sukkoth (Huts). The origin of these ‘huts’ or ‘tabernacles’ is disputed. Some find in it a reference to the sacred booth in which the marriage between the god and goddess of fertility was consummated. Others think that they are simply reminiscent of the temporary harvest tents which gave protection to farmworkers from the Palestinian sun. According to Leviticus these huts or booths, however, had a totally different significance:

You shall dwell in booths for seven days; all that are native in Israel shall dwell in booths that your generations may know that I made the people dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.

Lev. 23. 42 f.
Patriarchs and People:

But although we may still think that the patriarchal stories preserve some kind of folk memory of earlier times, we cannot tell exactly how old they really are. Certainly, their names are not of a kind found later in Israel, suggesting that they do indeed genuinely originate from a time before that of the kings. But, in several cases, they are also unmistakably Egyptian. ‘Moses’ occurs as an element in well-known Egyptian names such as ‘Tut-Moses’ and Aaron and Phinehas, other characters in the exodus story, also bear Egyptian names. The exodus tradition also bears some kind of folk memory that the Israelite ancestors spent some time in Egypt, but these were not necessarily descendants of the same patriarchal group that had originally come to Canaan from Mesopotamia. Therefore, we may be dealing with two parallel memories, and it is not clear which resulting story is older than the other. There is one reference to ‘Israel’ on a stele (victory inscription) found in Thebes in 1896, belonging to the pharaoh Merneptah and dated to about 1215 BCE, which indicates that a people by that name was already in Palestine in the thirteenth century BCE, at that time under Egyptian rule. But we can learn nothing else about them, and Israel is never mentioned again in any ancient Egyptian texts.

If Meneptah’s stele refers to a group that had settled under Moses’ successor Joshua, while the patriarchal stories concern people settling under the leaders called judges in the Bible, then the traditions in Exodus could actually be older than those in Genesis. The tribes ruled over by the judges bear the names of the twelve sons of Jacob, so the Genesis stories about these characters could easily reflect folk traditions from the period of the Judges following the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. This is, however, speculative and it is possible that the narrative sequence the Bible offers is correct. Unless some Israelites did genuinely owe their ancestry to people outside the Land of Canaan, it is hard to see why such traditions should have developed, for it was hardly advantageous in most ancient societies to present oneself as the child of immigrants. But the archaeological evidence, together with the biblical narratives and what is known of how folk memories are created, suggests that most later ‘Israelites’ were, in fact, Canaanites, descendants of native inhabitants of the Land. The belief that all Israelites derived from those who had come out of Egypt with Moses was the belief of a few, but it was not internalised by the nation at large until later times. So all of Israel later celebrated the Passover Festival and rejoiced in the deliverance from Egypt that it commemorates, even though most were the offspring of people who had never been there. Nation-building, whether ancient or modern, often involves sharing with the multitudes folk memories that were experienced only by a few.

The Early Christian Writers & the Old Testament:

Some early Christian ‘churchmen’ saw no need for a New Testament so long as the Old can be read as describing the Christian faith so fully, and it is not surprising that the Gospels were not seen as Scriptures themselves. In the Easter Homily of Melito, the Bishop of Sardis (in what is now western Turkey), who died in 180 CE, states that the passage of Exodus that describes the Passover lamb is not meant to be read alongside the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and the crucifixion, as prefiguring Christ. Properly understood, it is already an account of the reliability of the Gospel and Pauline accounts because, once read through properly enlightened (that is, Christian) eyes, it is virtually is a New Testament already. When it is read in a church, it is a symbolic description of the passion of Jesus. The author of Melitho will almost certainly have known one of the Gospels. That is to say that he did not need to cite such texts as if they were scriptural, since for him the existing Scriptures, the Old Testament as we call them, were already to be read as essentially Christian works.

Perhaps this helps to explain the strange phenomenon among some early Christian writers who accused the Jews of falsifying the Old Testament text by removing references to Christ, or the Messiah, and inserting misleading passages. They believed that Christians had the right, therefore, to correct the Old Testament in the light of the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. In this way, the OT was seen as a complete and completely true revelation, not merely some preliminary disclosure, and a theory was developed that the ‘false passages’ that had been introduced into it needed to be removed or corrected. The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael is a Jewish commentary on the second half of the book of Exodus, probably produced by synthesizing material from various dates, sometime in the second century CE. It is concerned primarily with how to observe the various pieces of legislation in Exodus, which from chapter twenty onwards consists of laws and precepts about life in society and the worship of the sanctuary. The Mekhilta is one of the oldest collections of rabbinic teaching in the form of scriptural commentary. A typical passage in it concerns the Jewish custom of the binding on the forehead and left arm a small scroll containing certain biblical texts, before beginning prayer. This is seen as enacting the instructions about keeping the Passover in Exodus 13: 6-9:

For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread… You shall tell your child on that day, “It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead so that the teaching of the LORD may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.

The phrase a sign on your hand is understood as meant literally rather than metaphorically, and as referring to the left arm rather than the hand, for various reasons that the Mekhita spells out. To many modern readers, this interpretation seems extremely strange. In the first place, the text in Exodus 13: 9 is surely intended metaphorically; the remembrance of the exodus is to be as close to the Israelite as if it were written on his hand. Still, it is understandable that a symbolic, physical expression of the command came to be customary.

Passover in the present – ‘the Season of Release’:

For Jews today, Passover remains essentially a family festival when the whole family comes together to remember, rejoice, and especially to hear again the wonderful story of their deliverance, and to look forward to the time when all over the world they will enjoy freedom once more. In Jewish tradition, the season is therefore known as ‘The Season of Release’. Its central theme is ‘release’ and this can be interpreted on three levels. Historically, Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the annual seasonal level, it represents the release of the earth from the tight grip of winter, and on a personal and familial level, for each of those taking part, it symbolises his or her hope of release from the ‘bondage’ of wrongdoing.


John Barton (2019), A History of The Bible; The Book and its Faiths. London: Allen Lane (Penguin, Random House).

Martin Manser (1999), Bible Stories. Bath: Parragon.

Robert C Walton (ed., 1982), A Source Book of the Bible for Teachers. London: SCM Press.


Orbán’s Hungary – a member of NATO or Putin’s Fifth Column?: Hungarian Foreign Policy and Euro-Atlantic Integration, 1989-2019.

Springtime in Brussels and Budapest, 1999:

In 1999, during the first government of Viktor Orbán, when Hungary became a member of NATO, his foreign minister, János Martonyi wrote of the change in the country’s system of government that had begun with the mandate received from the first free elections, which had replaced the one-party-state system. The Prime Minister of the new Centre-Right coalition government of József Antall, on 23rd May, announced their intention to initiate its withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Reflecting on this from the end of the decade, Martonyi commented that the system change presented Hungary with…

… a unique and irreproducible opportunity to reintegrate once and for all into the community of developed and democratic states which are bound together by their commitment to the basic values typical of all of them: democracy, the rule of law – with its institutional frameworks and substance, respect for human rights including minority rights, and an economy based on private property and free initiative. Not to miss such a historic opportunity this time must be the task and guiding principle of action of all responsible politicians, political parties and the government.

János Martonyi & Zsolt Németh (1999), “Hungarian Foreigh Policy and Euro-Atlantic Integration”, in Hungary: A Member of NATO. Budapest: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This opportunity, the authors went on, had been well recognised by the Antall government of 1990-94. In his address delivered in the Hungarian Parliament on the government’s programme, József Antall had pointed out that:

“… the new government will be a European government, and not only in the geographical sense of the word. We stand for the tradition of democracy, pluralism and openness. We want to return to the European heritage but at the same time, also to those values that Europe has created in the course of the past forty years, in the wake of the terrible lessons and experience of World War II.

This formulation of these foreign policy priorities – Euro-Atlantic integration, good neighbourliness ensuring regional stability, and support for the Hungarian communities living abroad – did not apply to one parliamentary cycle only, and all the subsequent governments of the 1990s continued to see these goals as being of primary importance, through to the beginning of the first FIDESZ-led government in 1999. By then, the Hungarian national flag did already fly, together with the Czech and Polish flags, in front of the Headquarters of NATO besides the other sixteen, demonstrating that the community had been enriched by its new central-eastern European allies.

Revolution in Budapest & at the Border, Oct. 1988-Oct. 1989:

In order to understand developments in the attitudes of the Hungarian political parties and their voters towards the North Atlantic Alliance in the 1990s, we need first to look back into the period immediately preceding the change in the system in Hungary in 1988-89. The Communist government announced on 23rd October 1988, the 32nd anniversary of the 1956 Uprising, that they would start negotiations for a Soviet troop withdrawal. They also announced the setting up of a historical commission to establish a true and official characterisation of the Uprising. Changes began to happen fast from that point. On 11th January 1989, Hungary’s Parliament passed a law allowing citizens to form independent associations, including political parties, thus paving the way for an eventual end to one-party rule. The following month, the groundbreaking report prepared by the historical commission of the ruling MSZMP reported, rejecting the official interpretation of the 1956 Uprising as a “counter-revolution” rather describing it as a popular uprising against the existing state power and saying that, under Stalin, the ideal of international communism was turned into a merciless imperial programme. Imre Pozsgay, who had become a prominent figure in the Politburo, acting largely on his own initiative, publicly announced soon after that the events of 1956 had indeed been a popular uprising rather than an attempt at counter-revolution. Even the Party Central Committee could not be induced to go as far as Pozsgay. Although by that time János Kádár had gone, it was still by far the most delicate subject in Hungarian politics.

Hungarian-Soviet improved when the Soviet Union withdrew two thousand soldiers from Hungary at the end of April, and Gorbachev stated that the Soviet goal was to withdraw ten thousand soldiers and four hundred and fifty tanks by May 1990, which raised the US and Hungarian expectations even further. Nevertheless, Hungary enjoyed an increasing sense of security and, as a demonstration of its independence, it began dismantling its fences along the Austrian border in May 1989. For forty years before that, the question of belonging to an alliance system was considered to be one of the strictest taboos in a Communist-led country occupied by the Soviet Union. It was much riskier to take a stand against the presence of Soviet troops in Hungary or even to raise the issue than to call for human rights or pluralist democracy. Besides the fact that the deployment of Soviet troops in Hungary was the main guarantee for the survival of the communist system there, the experience of 1956 had shown that a violation of Soviet military interests implied the threat of even more brutal repression. Due to this fear of the military might of the Soviet Union, even those opposition groups which took shape in the 1980s considered this issue of the country’s independence taboo and did not insist on placing it on the agendas.

But in June 1989 permission was given for the bodies of Imre Nagy, the executed former Prime Minister, and the other leaders of the 1956 Uprising to be exhumed. Nagy’s body was found buried in the waste ground at the Újkozmeto cemetery, wrapped in tar paper. On 16 June his coffin lay in state in Heroes’ Square in central Budapest before being finally reburied. The public funeral was attended by an estimated a quarter of a million Hungarians and broadcast nationwide on radio and television. The ceremony also paid tribute to the thousands of others who died in the retribution meted out by the revolution. While it was organised privately, several Hungarian officials attended part of the ceremony. It was there that the consensus of silence on Soviet withdrawal was first broken on 16 June 1989, when at the ceremonial reburying of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs, Viktor Orbán, one of five speakers, declared that:

The Young ‘Liberal’ Democrat, Viktor Orbán, speaks at the re-interment of Imre Nagy in June 1989. These days, neither Liberal Democracy nor Nagy’s Social Democracy are any more fashionable for Orbán and his now ultra-conservative party and government.

“If we do not lose sight of the ideals of 1956, we will be able to choose a government which will instantly start talks on the immediate start of the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at Heroes’ Square, 16 June 1989, at the funeral of Imre Nagy and fellow martyrs in András Bozóki (1992), Tista lappal. A Fidesz a magyar politikában 1988-1991 (‘With a cleansheet. Fidesz in Hungarian policy 1988-91): Budapest, p. 155.

Orbán’s speech was a clear challenge to the reform wing of the ruling Communist Party (the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP) to keep their word. From the point of view of the security policy, his reference to the ideals of 1956 equalled a claim for independence and, along with that, the neutrality of Hungary. These developments were accompanied by much public discussion of the events of 1956, as well as many other historical subjects. At last, Hungary had come to terms with its past. Its future was secured by a decision, taken by the Central Committee, to introduce a multi-party system. By then, Pozsgay’s own position seemed closer to that of the opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) than to his own party. President Bush praised the Hungarian Government’s decision to begin discussions with the opposition parties.

The reburial of the 1956 martyrs, 16th June 1989:
Although himself a former Communist exile in Moscow, the 1989 exhumation and reburial of Imre Nagy and those executed with him, was a turning point in the accelerating changes and national renewal during the decisive year of 1989-90. The honouring of Nagy and his colleagues in this way confirmed the revolutionary (as opposed to the counter-revolutionary) nature of the 1956 events better than any legal rehabilitation could have done.

As a sign of the new US-Hungarian relationship, President Bush became the first US President to visit Hungary on 11th-13th July, accompanied by Secretary of State James A. Baker. By the time President Bush visited Hungary in July 1990, Hungary had effectively ceased to be either a Communist country or a Soviet satellite. He met with Hungarian officials and delivered an address at Karl Marx University in which he praised Hungary’s opening up to the West and its transition to democracy and a market economy, noting that “voices long stilled are being heard again.” At the ‘G7’ Economic Summit meeting, held in Paris on 15th July, participants agreed to provide economic assistance to Poland and Hungary to support their political reform process. Later in the summer of 1989, the civic organisations, in comprehensive negotiations with the leaders of the MSZMP achieved their declared goal of holding free, multi-party elections in the Spring of 1990.

President H. W. Bush participates in a bilateral meeting with PM Miklós Nemeth in July 1989 in the Department Room of the Parliament in Budapest.
Source. The George Bush Presidential Library.

When the BBC Journalist John Simpson visited Imre Pozsgay later that summer, he asked him whether he and his colleagues would be the beneficiaries of the changes they were introducing. His answer was:

“Who can say? Naturally I hope so. That’s why we’re doing these things. But to be honest with you, there’s nothing else we can do. Even if others win the elections, there’s no serious alternative to doing what we have done.”

John Simpson (1990), Dispatches from the Barricades.
Hungarian PM Miklós Nemeth told the DDR Government it was simply being repaired!
An East German mother comforts her bewildered child at the Hungarian-Austrian border ‘picnic’ at which thousands escaped to the West in Sept 1989.

Hungary took another major step towards reasserting its independence when on 11th September, again at the instigation of Imre Pozsgay, it lifted restrictions on visitors from East Germany. It opened its borders with Austria, allowing people from East Germany (the DDR) on holiday in Hungary, to flood through to the West in such numbers that the entire future of the DDR was called into question, by dealing a fatal blow to its iron-fisted security system. Allowing them to leave Hungary to the west across the Austrian border, breached a twenty-five-year-old agreement with the DDR. The move prompted an exodus of tens of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Austria.

Above: (left) Demonstrators in Budapest keep up the momentum; (right and below) East Germans, holidaying in Hungary, cross the border and head West, to the fury of their government, and to their own freedom.

The second republic was ended by the second Orbán Government in 2010-11.

In October 1989, Hungary’s Parliament also adopted a new, democratic constitution, changed the country’s name from the “Hungarian People’s Republic” to the “Republic of Hungary,” authorised the formation of political parties, forbade such parties to operate in workplaces, scheduled national elections, disbanded the Workers’ Guard, and authorised reparation payments to persons arrested after the 1956 Uprising. On 23rd October, exactly one year after the changes had begun, Acting President Mátyás Szűrös proclaimed the new Republic on the thirty-third anniversary of the Uprising. The Revolution of 1988-89 had reached its successful conclusion and the country’s transition to multi-party democracy and a market economy had begun. Developments throughout central-eastern Europe as a whole continued at a rapid pace. Warsaw Pact Foreign Ministers, including Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, met in Warsaw on 27 October and renounced the 1968 Brezhnev Doctrine, under which the Soviet Union had reserved the right to intervene in other countries whenever it believed that the government of a USSR-allied state was threatened.

The crowds outside the Parliament welcome the proclamation of a liberal-democratic Constitution for the new ‘Republic of Hungary’, October 1989.

Another Country: The Transition to Democracy & Independence, October 1989-June 1991:

This was a major step in redefining the nature of relationships between the Warsaw Pact countries, and a decision of major importance given the 1956 and 1968 invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The second step came on 2nd November, at least as far as Hungary was concerned, came when Imre Pozsgay, as Hungarian Minister of State, met with President Bush in Washington to discuss Hungary’s transition to democracy. By November, the position in East Germany had become so bad that the government of East Berlin could think of nothing better than to allow its citizens to move freely to the West. Liberalisation in Hungary had led directly to the breaching of the Berlin Wall which came down on the night of 9 November. US officials watched closely events in central-eastern Europe as the crumbling concrete mirrored the fall of communism. On 28th November, President Bush signed into law the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act, authorising $938 million in aid to Hungary and Poland, now considered to be well in the lead in democratic reform. Between 1989 and 1993, the SEED Act provided more than $136 million for economic restructuring and private sector development.

Senior politicians in Hungary now talked seriously about joining the European Community, and even their jokes about joining NATO were not entirely fanciful. In the autumn of 1989, as the political parties began to lay out their programmes for the free electorate, they went beyond the ideals of “independence and neutrality” in their party platforms. The Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) considered…

neutrality to be attainable as a future goal, as a consequence of which the Soviet Union could perceive a country in its immediate neighbourhood that would be politically balanced and would not threaten its security interests.

Programme declaration, 1989, of the Hungarian Democratic Forum in The Hungarian Political Yearbook, 1990 Budapest: Edited by Sándor Kurtán, et. al.

The Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) pointed out that:

We have to point out … the fact that the Warsaw Treaty is a political reality, with its complete dissolution to be comprehensive international settlement. However, we must wait until the mutual dissolution of military blocs to implement Hungary’s claim for independence. Our goal is for Hungary to quit the Warsaw Treaty. On the other hand, we wish to bring about such retirement not through a unilateral announcement but rather to obtain the consent of the parties concerned.

Programme declaration, 1989, of the Alliance of Free Democrats, in: Hungarian political yearbook, 1990. Ibid, pp 597-598.

As was expected, Viktor Orbán’s then-nascent liberal party, The Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), held the most radical view:

… we will have to review our relationship with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty. We will suggest to start immediate talks with the Soviet government on the earliest possible withdrawal of the latter’s troops from Hungary … Quitting the Warsaw Treaty and declaring the country’s independence could be imagined as maximum goals.

Programme declaration of 1989 of the Alliance of Young Democrats, in Hungarian political yearbook, 1990, p. 500

Viktor Orbán in the mid-1990s, looking to the Right.

The most cautious view was expressed by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which had emerged as an independent party out of the former ‘Reform Wing’ of the ruling MSZMP:

Our goal is for NATO and the Warsaw Treaty to become superfluous and eligible for dissolution simultaneously and still in the course of this century. While still being a member of the Warsaw Treaty, our country wishes to promote consent among blocs in an independent manner and through its initiative, as well as the strengthening of confidence and the exemption of interstate relations from ideological divergences of view … We are concerned that belonging to an alliance system must not be a basis for interference in a country’s internal affairs.

Programme declaration, 1989, of The Hungarian Socialist Party, in: Hungarian political yearbook, 1990. p. 583.

None of these programmes involved a sudden withdrawal of Soviet forces, however, nor did they propose or envisage applying for NATO membership in the short to medium term. In the early months of 1990, there was no indication of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire which was soon to take place. Hungarian politicians, Orbán included, were careful not to be seen as threatening Soviet security interests. The foreign policy slogan of the change of system – “change of orientation” – however, turned more radically into reality than was previously expected. The negotiating team of the last government of the socialist system reached an agreement in Moscow on the withdrawal of troops from Hungary on 9 March 1990, a mere two weeks before the first free elections. According to the agreement, the last Soviet soldier would leave Hungary on or before 30 June 1991 (as it happened, this event took place a fortnight earlier, on 16 June 1991). Two-thirds were to be withdrawn by the end of 1990.

Above: The famous MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) poster from the 1990 Election Campaign: Comrades Go Home!

The Hungarian democratic transition gathered speed in the spring of 1990. When the final round of elections came, on the 8th of April 1990, the ‘Reform Communists’ or MSZP won only eight per cent of the seats (33), finishing fourth, and Pozsgay and his colleagues were out of office. A centre-right government came to power, led by the MDF, which won 164 out of 386 seats. In 1918, Hungary had emerged from an empire and found itself on its own; but now, at least, it had shown the way to the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. In May, Hungary’s National Assembly elected Árpád Göncz as its Speaker and Acting President. The candidate of the Free Democrats, Göncz had spent six years in prison for taking part in the 1956 Uprising. While still Acting President he made a private visit to Washington and met with President Bush to discuss private-sector development and democracy. He was confirmed as President in August. József Antall of the MDF became Premier. On 26 June 1990, the newly constituted multiparty parliament in Budapest requested the government to start the talks on Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Treaty.

Flushed with the refreshing feeling of sovereignty and drawing lessons from the wider international political process, in particular from the rapid change in Hungary’s security environment, the Hungarian political leaders gradually turned from the idea of neutrality to the concept of Euro-Atlantic integration. Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky had already become the first leading representative of a Warsaw Pact country to visit NATO Headquarters on 26-28 June. He had talks with Secretary-General Manfred Wörner, who expressed NATO’s desire to develop relations with Hungary and accepted an invitation to visit Hungary. Alongside the obvious need for a transition in international security arrangements, as democratic reform began to take hold in Hungary, the United States and other Western countries agreed to help with the tremendous financial burden of restructuring the economy and preparing the country’s markets for global integration. In October 1990, Prime Minister Antall made an official working visit to Washington. President Bush noted the resumption of American business in Hungary. He had asked Congress for $300 million in economic aid for central-eastern Europe.

From the Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, July 1991 to NATO Accession, 1998:

At the beginning of 1991, the Warsaw Treaty itself received a mortal injury: in accordance with the agreement reached in Budapest on 25 February, the military organisation of that alliance was disbanded. Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland announced their withdrawal effective by the 1st of July 1991 and, in the event, the entire Warsaw Treaty expired on that date when at a final meeting in Prague, the Pact was formally disbanded. Thus, after nearly five decades of Soviet occupation, Hungarians witnessed what less than two years previously had been seemingly impossible: the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the removal of Soviet troops from Hungarian soil. The Hungarian National Assembly approved this fact by unanimous vote. Almost simultaneously with the Warsaw Pact, COMECON also ceased to exist. At the same time, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) opened an office in Budapest, and between 1991 and 1998 USAID provided more than $240 million in direct assistance to Hungary. Having begun the reform process among the central-eastern European states, it had regained its full national independence ahead of its own timetable as a result of the internal collapse of the Soviet Union.

With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and subsequently, of the Soviet Union, the bipolar world order ceased to exist, with NATO remaining the only security alliance able to effectively influence political processes. From the point of view of Hungary’s security, the Balkan conflict which broke out in 1991 and continued with varying intensity throughout the decade in the former Yugoslavia (predominantly along the Hungarian border), border incidents – albeit mostly minor – highlighted Hungary’s vulnerability in a blunt manner. The fact that in a matter of not more than two years the number of Hungary’s neighbours had increased from five to seven, out of which only two (Romania and Austria) did not undergo a radical change of state territory, proved the uncertainty of the region. There was agreement among the Hungarian political élite that the only way to break away from the disintegrating central-eastern European region was through accession to the integrating West. The reunification of Germany proved that the institutional anchoring of a former Eastern Bloc country was possible.

In October 1991, PM Antall made a private visit to Washington, where President Bush reiterated the US commitment to the economic and political transformation of Hungary, particularly in the context of the impending dissolution of the Soviet Union. Antall also expressed concern about the civil war in Yugoslavia. In October 1992, the United States announced that it would contribute an additional $900,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support refugees from the former Yugoslavia who had been granted asylum in Hungary.

In this rapidly changing political environment and after a certain initial uncertainty, the principle of “national consensus” in foreign-policy decision-making was accepted in Hungary by 1992. In essence, this rested on a gentlemen’s agreement by which the opposition would not overtly criticise the government in foreign and security policy and, in exchange, the government would consult with the opposition before taking important steps in foreign policy. This system of so-called six-party coordination was established in Parliament, as a consultative forum which, in contrast to the composition of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, was operating on the basis of parity. The basic principles of security policy were adopted unanimously by Parliament in 1993 and the basic principles of national defence based on the first document constituted the peak of that process. The elaboration of these two important parliamentary resolutions had already started back in 1990 but substantial work had not been possible due to the constant changes in the international environment and the initial distrust among the parties. The Government submitted and withdrew one draft after another until, at the beginning of 1993, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited one representative from all six parties represented in Parliament to elaborate on the text of the draft resolution in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry. Besides the fact that they described the security of the country in harmony with the requirements of our age, the basic principles of security policy adopted on 2nd March became the first official document targeting fully-fledged Hungarian membership of NATO:

… we are suggesting concrete co-operation in the field of foreign and security policy as well as military co-operation that would gradually lead to establish the conditions for fully-fledged membership in NATO and the Western European Union.

Resolution No. 11/1993. of the Hungarian National Assembly on the principles of the security policy of the Republic of Hungary.

The “principles of national defence” were adopted a month later (14th April) also by consensus, as well-used even more unambiguous terms:

The goal of the Republic of Hungary is to join the already existing international security organisations such as NATO and WEU as full members. Existing co-operation with NATO member countries in the fields of security policy consultations, defence management, officer training, defence industry and human conversion, science and environmental protection provide valuable support for the transformation of the Hungarian Defence Forces in accordance with our necessities and capacities and for establishing the practical requirements of accession to NATO.

Resolution No. 27/1993. of the Hungarian National Assembly on the principles of the national defence of the Republic of Hungary.

With the Cold War over and the iron curtain having been torn down, both the American and Hungarian politicians and diplomats actively engaged in redefining their relationships in this new era. In October 1993, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher visited Hungary. He met with Foreign Minister Géza Jesszenszky and addressed the American Chamber of Commerce. During the address, he said that NATO would propose outreach to central-eastern European nations through a Partnership for Peace programme. In December 1993, Vice-President Albert Gore attended the funeral of József Antall, Hungary’s first post-Communist Premier. Participants at the NATO Summit meeting in January 1994 formally announced the Partnership for Peace programme, which provided for closer political and military cooperation with central-eastern European countries. President Clinton, accompanied by Secretary of State Christopher, then met with leaders of the Visegrád states (Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), including President Göncz and PM Péter Boross, in Prague. In early February, Hungary joined the Partnership for Peace programme.

During the NATO meeting, the Presidents of the United States, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine signed the START1 nuclear arms reduction treaty. Hungary had signed all of the OSCE’s follow-on documents since 1989. In December 1994, President Clinton and Secretary Christopher attended a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summit meeting in Budapest. A decision was made to change the name of the CSCE to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to expand its responsibilities. In June 1995, Hungary signed a ‘status of forces’ agreement relating to the programme. These organisations provided a good school for Hungarian MPs in the search for consensus and foreign policy cooperation beyond party interests. Except for the delegation to the Council of Europe, the composition of the Hungarian parliamentary delegation was based on the principle of parity and the members belonging to different parties were almost always put aside their disputes were almost always able to put aside their disputes related to internal policy in the interest of a more effective representation of national interests.

The North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), a parallel forum for legislators from member countries, maintained a close working relationship with the Alliance and submitted reports and recommendations for the North Atlantic Council. It was the first Atlanticist institution to open its doors to the countries of central-eastern Europe. As early as November 1990, it had accorded the status of associate delegation to several former member states of the Warsaw Pact, including Hungary. The Hungarian National Assembly accepted the invitation in its resolution adopted on 29th January 1991 and from that time on, the six-member delegation participated fully in the NAA’s activities. In the same year, one member of the delegation was nominated as a ‘special rapporteur’, the first time a delegate from a non-member state had been given this role. By 1994, the Hungarian delegation was allowed fully-fledged participation in committee work as well, and in May 1995, the NAA held its spring meeting in Budapest, the first such meeting to take place outside NATO territory. The NAA provided an excellent means of exchanging information and know-how about NATO’s functions on the one hand, and the goals of Hungarian foreign policy on the other. It was also in 1990 that the Hungarian National Assembly could join the work of the WEU Assembly by sending two ‘special observers.’ The redefinition of the role of the WEU at that time nurtured Hungary’s hope of joining the European Community (later the EU) as well as NATO through the links with the WEU. But by the mid-nineties, Hungarian foreign policy had not reached a position where it could decide between the ‘Atlanticist’ model, seeing the WEA as NATO’s European pillar or one based on a concept of a European defence identity within the evolving European Union.

By the end of the first parliamentary cycle following the change of system in Hungary, the joint political thinking that had been crystallised with respect to Euro-Atlantic integration suffered a severe setback when the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) expressed reservations over a selective enlargement of NATO, stressing that it could only imagine Hungary’s accession to NATO only after a referendum on the issue. This variance in approach led to the predictable reaction against ‘leftism’ in Hungarian politics in the run-up to the general election. However, following a certain amount of hesitation after the elections, the consensus was restored by the newly elected Government, led by the MSZP, which had dropped its resistance to Hungary becoming a NATO member independently of others in the region in exchange for a referendum to ratify eventual membership. In the meantime, Hungary took several practical steps to aid the mission of the Western Alliance.

At the end of November 1995, following the initialling of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, the Hungarian Government announced that Kaposvár in southern Hungary would become the principal supply base of the US components of the international peacekeeping force, the NATO-led Implementation Force. The Hungarian Parliament was almost unanimous in voting to allow NATO forces to use Hungarian bases, including the airfield at Taszár. From December onwards, the US First Armored Divisions passed regularly through the city of Pécs in southern Hungary en route to peacekeeping duties in Bosnia. President Clinton visited the US military personnel at the base in January 1996 and met with the Hungarian PM, Gyula Horn and the Minister of Defence.

The close working relationship between the Clinton administration and the Socialist-led Hungarian Government which developed through practical cooperation led to the transition to full membership of NATO. During the NATO Summit Meeting in Madrid in July 1997, Secretary-General Javier Salana invited Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to join NATO. A national referendum in Hungary approved membership on 16th November of the same year. Only 49.24% of eligible voters turned out, but of those 85.33% voted in favour of Hungary’s accession, leaving 14.67% against. It could therefore be concluded that only the staunchest opponents of the accession took part in the referendum, presumably including those opposed to accession for ideological, political and conscientious (pacifist) reasons, as well as those who were strongly attached to the notion of neutrality. Following the referendum, the acceptance of NATO accession gradually increased further to reach its peak of 63% by August 1998, while the level of opposition remained at just 16% (see the graph below).

Hungary signed the protocol for accession on 16th December 1997, and Parliament voted for membership in February 1998. In May of that year, the second round of parliamentary elections took place, bringing Viktor Orbán and his Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ) – Hungarian Civic Party to power for the first time. To begin with, this did not herald a shift towards a more conservative foreign policy under Defence Minister, János Szabó, and, in any case, it was too late to reverse the decision to join NATO, even had the new government wished to do so. Furthermore, in a resolution passed on 15th October, the National Assembly agreed to consent to the use of Hungarian airspace by reconnaissance, combat and transport aircraft, in addition to helicopters taking part in NATO actions aimed at the enforcement of UN resolutions on the settlement of the crisis in Kosovo, without restrictions.

However, Hungarian public opinion was very quick in taking the country’s membership in NATO for granted. The issue rapidly disappeared from the forefront of popular attention and political discourse. Except for some unusual periods related to specific, topical and important events, such as the period immediately preceding the referendum, the issue of international security was not a significant one for the broader strata of Hungarian society. It might be argued that it has remained out of the limelight ever since, especially since the threat of the spread of war has receded, until very recently. On the list of public priorities, the matter of NATO enlargement was lower down not only than most economic, social and internal political issues but also matters related to EU integration.

The attention paid in Hungary to NATO-related subjects tends to cover, in addition to those which formerly dominated issues directly related to Hungary’s accession, more and more of the broader perspectives of the activities of the Alliance. For example, according to the last poll taken in August 1998, the Hungarian public had a positive view of NATO’s role in preventing and managing conflicts within the region. With respect to the situation in Kosovo, 55% of those asked were of the position that involvement with NATO would reduce the probability of a border conflict between Albania and Yugoslavia, and could prevent the outbreak of a civil war in Kosovo. The remaining 45% were equally divided between the disapproving and the undecided. By comparison, according to the USIA Survey, the number of those replying positively to the same question equated to 56% in Poland, 51% in the Czech Republic, 66% in Romania, 70% in Slovenia and 85% in Croatia. But support for Hungarian participation in such actions was substantially smaller, and while the overwhelming majority accepted that Hungarian airspace should be made available, only 46% were supportive, and an identical percentage opposed the participation of a Hungarian engineering contingent in the SFOR-mission in Bosnia. Even fewer, only 28%, agreed with Hungarian military participation in Kosovo, while 64% were opposed to such a deployment.

This data regarding public opinion on NATO provided an early warning to PM Orbán and other potential leaders about the political perils of ignoring the attitudes of voters towards the active military deployment of Hungarian forces. As far as NATO enlargement was concerned, however, public opinion was generally supportive of the potential membership of neighbouring countries and even the Baltic states. It was clearly seen as being in Hungary’s interests for these countries to comply as soon as possible with the expectations and accession criteria of both the Alliance and the EU.

The End of Foreign Policy Consensus: The Balkans, the European Union, Iraq & Afghanistan, 1999-2009:

In the decade following the end of the Cold War, the last of the twentieth century, the Hungarian people were finally able to redefine their country’s place in the global community, concluding with In the second decade, Hungary began the process of reintegrating itself into a new, unified Europe. The road back to Europe culminated on 1 May 2004, when Hungary joined the European as a full member.

The post-Cold War era brought new levels of cooperation between European nations, including those of central-eastern Europe, as they joined together to support democracy and the rule of law and, especially after the attacks on the USA on 11th September 2001, to work together to combat the threat of global terrorism. There were also threats from epidemics and international crime. Secretary of State Madelaine K. Albright, herself a refugee from central Europe during the Second World War, and a noted scholar, visited Hungary in December 2000 and met with PM Orbán. She was awarded an honorary degree by Szeged University.

In a sign of the close bilateral relationship with the US, and its multi-lateral relationships through NATO, in January 2003, Hungary was one of eight central-eastern European states whose leaders signed a letter endorsing US policy during the Iraq crisis. During the early stages of the war, Hungary invited the US Army to train Free Iraqi Forces as guides, translators and security personnel at the Taszár airbase. It also committed a transportation company of three hundred soldiers to a multinational division stationed in central Iraq. On 17th June 2004, Hungary sustained its first combat casualties when a roadside bomb (IED) killed one soldier and wounded another, south of Baghdad. Less than a week later, PM Péter Medgyessy made a working visit to Washington and assured President George W Bush that Hungary would keep its troops in Iraq. Secretary of State Powell visited Hungary in October to thank Hungary for its support of the coalition and to encourage its continued participation. The Hungarian Government also donated seventy-seven tanks to the Free Iraqi military. Although the mandate for the Hungarian forces in Iraq expired at the end of the year, Powell convinced the Hungarian Government to renew its soldiers’ mandate so that they would remain until after the pivotal Iraqi elections in December.

In early November, PM Ferenc Gyurcsány proposed to Parliament that Hungary would not withdraw its troops until the end of March 2005. The Fidesz-led opposition opposed the proposal, breaking the security consensus which had existed since 1990, but Parliament voted by 191 to 159 to support the extension. However, the vote fell short of the required two-thirds majority, the Government was forced to terminate the mission at the end of the year and on 20th December it withdrew its troops from Iraq. But the Gyurcsány Government continued to work with the Allies to provide alternative assistance to Iraq, including participation in the NATO Training Mission there, and also stepped up its participation in other military missions. In 2005, it augmented its contingent in the Balkan peacekeeping missions to a 450-strong force. In August 2005, it also sent a reconnaissance team of a hundred and twenty troops to Afghanistan, along with medical and administrative personnel. In 2006, Hungary assumed the leadership of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in northern Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations.

In June 2006, President G. W. Bush visited Hungary to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Uprising and Hungary’s ongoing efforts to strengthen global democracy. During his visit, he made a speech on Gellért Hill in Buda in which he said:

The lesson of 1956 is clear: Liberty can be delayed but it cannot be denied. The desire for liberty is universal because it is written by our Creator into the hearts of every man, woman and child on this Earth. And as people across the world sep forward to claim their own freedom, they will take inspiration from Hungary’s example, and draw hope from your success. … Hungary represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny, and America is proud to call Hungary a friend.

As part of their commitment to NATO, the US and Hungary continued to stand ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ in the global war on terror. In November 2007, Hungarian Defence Minister Imre Szekeres announced Hungary’s latest contribution to this mission. A sixteen-nation consortium of NATO allies, plus two non-NATO states, selected the airport at Papa to host their strategic airlift fleet of three C-17 transport aircraft beginning in late 2008. Papa’s airport was supposed to play an important role in transporting logistics materials and provisions in response to worldwide crisis situations. It was a further demonstration of the excellent security cooperation that existed between the US, NATO and Hungary before the ‘second coming’ of Viktor Orbán in 2006. On the ‘eve’ of his advent to power, Marc J Susser, the US Department of State’s official historian concluded his study of US-Hungarian relations with the following comment:

Today, the two countries share a commitment to democracy, economic progress, and educational and cultural development. Shaped by a common experience of breaking free from an empire, the two countries have developed strong political, economic and cultural ties, marked by mutual respect. … relations between the United States and Hungary continue to improve, as Hungary continues to move ahead with its national commitment to democracy, the rule of law and a market economy.

Mark J. Susser (2007), The United States & Hungary, Paths of Diplomacy, 1848-2006. Washington: Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, p. 96.

The Reversal of Euro-Atlantic Integration, 2009-2019:

Since 2006, and especially since the beginning of his third term in 2014 in his sixteen-year rule in Hungary, Viktor Orbán has gradually returned his country to the Russian ‘sphere of influence’ and away from its supposed allies in the Euro-Atlantic Alliance. Following the flood of Syrian refugees crossing Hungary to seek asylum in other EU member states, such as Germany, in the summer of 2015, he began to criticise the management of the crisis by the EU institutions and member states, especially Germany.

Putin and Orbán in 2017.

By his own admission, Orbán is only worried about the fight against the EU as an institution that seeks to replace the nation-state. He is driven not by the healthy resurgence of national identity and patriotism in Hungary but seeks to pervert it into an authoritarian ‘nation-statism’ that belongs to the Horthy Era (1 March 1920 – 15 October 1944, see insert below) in recent Hungarian history, if not to the late nineteenth century when the country was finally emerging from its first general crisis. Orbán’s basic concept and strategy for European unity start from his observation that the EU is wealthy but weak. This, he suggests, is the worst possible combination… one that is acutely vulnerable to the single greatest threat confronting Europe – and Hungary. It is a threat, he claims, which is undermining his country’s financial stability and its precarious achievement in modernising the economy. 

If the EU is wealthy but weak, Hungary is both poor and weak, with its wealth increasingly concentrated in the hands of an ever-decreasing oligarchy. The hard-working middle classes are reminded that they have his government to thank for its nationalist foreign policy (influence over its neighbours in and surrounding the Carpathian basin with Hungarian minorities), its restoration of ‘law and order’, ‘public safety against terrorism’ and its national culture that has slowly begun to flourish again after the long years of Communist sterility. The threat to all this comes, not from within, which has seen Hungary under his watch being returned to being one of the most corrupt nations in Europe, but from outside, from mass migration and its ‘mismanagement’ by the institutions of the European Union. On the significance of the Brexit vote, he drew his conclusion that…

… there used to be little doubt that the European Union was a major actor in global politics, capable of influencing developments not only back home but in remote corners of the globe. The secession of the UK marks the end of that era. The EU’s influence is even weakening closer to home, as it is apparent in the conflict in Ukraine. 

Viktor Orbán (2017), Hungary and the Crisis of Europe.

Yet, for all that we might worry about the effect of ‘Brexit’ on European integration, the early signs are that it will, paradoxically, strengthen the Atlantic Alliance which Hungary was so proud to become a member of earlier this century before it joined the EU.

In 2018, after securing a fourth consecutive term, Viktor Orbán turned his wrath on Ukraine, which had introduced a new law to ensure that the Ukrainian language was used as the main medium of instruction throughout the country. About a third of the people of Transcarpathia, over the Ukrainian border from Hungary, are Hungarian speakers. The new law did not exclude the use of other first languages like Russian and Hungarian in schools or elsewhere, but Orbán found common cause with President Putin in opposing the new law as a pretext for involvement in Ukraine’s internal affairs. This became related to Ukraine’s desire to join NATO in 2019 when Hungary declared its opposition to Ukraine’s membership of the Alliance and announced that it would seek to block it. Russia had already illegally occupied and annexed Crimea in 2014, and supported the Russian-speaking separatist forces in their paramilitary campaigns in the Donbas and other regions of eastern Ukraine, supporting them with arms and troops (allegedly providing trading) and enabling them to gain control of a large part of these regions. Until the beginning of the current Russian attacks on Ukraine and the NATO condemnation of them, Orbán did not criticise Russian actions and, even now, he is refusing to allow military equipment and supplies to transit Hungary and cross its border with Ukraine. He has also proved extremely reluctant to apply agreed EU sanctions and claims that Hungary can remain ‘neutral’ whilst also remaining a full member of NATO. According to the Treaty, of course, there is no such status.

For some time now, it has appeared to be Hungary and others among the Visegrád countries who have deliberately sought to undermine the efforts of NATO and the EU to deal with Russian aggression in Ukraine, and to prevent them from sending clear signals to Putin about the independence of the Baltic states within the NATO-EU ‘umbrella.’ As he rightly admits, Hungary has benefited under this umbrella in the not-too-distant past, especially during the wars in former Yugoslavia, but more recently – under his rule – it has contributed very little. The Hungarian government will have to make up its mind in the near future whether it wishes to continue its commitment to NATO, as well as to the EU. To many Western observers, it seems that it wants to keep the resources from the west and east alike, but does not want to keep up its commitments as a member of these ‘clubs’.


Rudolf Joó (ed.) (1999), Hungary: A Member of NATO. Budapest: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary.

Viktor Orbán (2017), Hungary and the Crisis of Europe, in Gyula Kodalányi (ed.), Hungarian Review, Volume VIII, No.1, January 2017. Budapest: Danube Institute.

Mark J. Susser (2007), The United States & Hungary, Paths of Diplomacy, 1848-2006. Washington: Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State.


Who are the Ukrainians? Mythology & History, Part II: 1801-2001 – From Napoleon’s Empire to end of Empires?

Putin’s Perverse & Very Unorthodox History:

In a letter of 10th March, H.H. Patriarch Kirill ‘of Moscow and all Russia’ replied to a letter sent on 2nd March by World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca asking the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to mediate so that the war can be stopped. His letter repeated the claims recently made in a newspaper article written by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, with whom the Patriarch is said to have a ‘close relationship’. In his letter, he did not undertake to mediate in order to stop the war but accused ‘Western leaders’ of bringing suffering not only to the Russian political or military leaders but specifically to the Russian people. He went on to assert that Russophobia is spreading across the Western world at an unprecedented pace. On the more recent causes of the conflict he wrote:

The origins of the confrontation lie in the relationships between the West and Russia. By the 1990s Russia had been promised that its security and dignity would be respected. However, as time went by, the forces overtly considering Russia to be their enemy came close to its borders. Year after year, month after month, the NATO member states have been building up their military presence, disregarding Russia’s concerns that these weapons may one day be used against it.

Moreover, the political forces which make it their aim to contain Russia were not going to fight against it themselves. They were planning to use other means, having tried to make the brotherly peoples – Russians and Ukrainians – enemies. They spared no effort, no funds to flood Ukraine with weapons and warfare instructors. Yet, the most terrible thing is not the weapons, but the attempt to “re-educate,” to mentally remake Ukrainians and Russians living in Ukraine into enemies of Russia.

Pursuing the same end was the church schism created by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in 2018. It has taken its toll on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

As far back as 2014, when blood was being shed in Kiev’s Maidan and there were first victims, the WCC expressed its concern. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC General Secretary at the time, said on March 3, 2014, “The World Council of Churches is deeply concerned by the current dangerous developments in Ukraine. The situation puts many innocent lives in grave jeopardy. And like a bitter wind from the Cold War, it risks further undermining the international community’s capacity to act now or in the future on the many urgent issues that will require a collective and principled response.”

That was also when an armed conflict broke out in the Donbas region, whose population was defending their right to speak the Russian language, demanding respect for their historical and cultural tradition. However, their voices went unheard, just as thousands of victims among the Donbas population went unnoticed in the Western world.

This tragic conflict has become a part of the large-scale geopolitical strategy aimed, first and foremost, at weakening Russia.


Source: History Today.
Catherine the Great, depicted above, was the founder of the Modern Russian Empire into which most of Ukraine was annexed in 1796.

In my first article on this subject matter, I wrote about the historical inaccuracies contained in Patriarch Kirill’s letter regarding the Medieval and Early Modern relations between the Kyivan Rus, ‘Ukraine’ and its neighbours, including the ‘Rus’, modern Russia and other ‘neighbours’ including Cossacks, Lithuanians and Poles. In this second article on the History of Ukraine, besides giving a factual account of relations between the country, Russia and ‘the West’ over the course of the previous two centuries, I also want to address the two further ‘justifications’ given by Patriarch Kirill, above, and President Putin that it is ‘the West’ in general and NATO, in particular, that has brought about Russia’s cataclysmic war with Ukraine through provocative military actions, and that those leading the Ukrainian resistance to Russians are the inheritors of a form of Nazism.

Napoleonic & Nation-State Europe in the Nineteenth Century:

To understand the contemporary history of Russian-Ukrainian relations, we need to look back to the time of the third partition of Poland in 1795, and to the effects of Emperor Napoleon’s conquests on central-eastern Europe before his defeat in Russia in 1812. At the time, Ukraine was an integral and significant part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Since 1789, Europe had undergone a generation-long convulsion that had left nothing untouched. Old states had been abolished and the world of the ancient régime was gone forever.

Napoleonic Europe in 1812.

While Napoleon concentrated his efforts on conquering both Western and Central Europe after 1799, the Tsar asserted Russian power in the Baltic and against Turkey. Alexander I, who became Tsar after the assassination of his father, Paul I in 1801, at first opposed France, but after the defeat of the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz in 1805, and the Prussian-Russian force at Friedland in 1806, his mood changed. Following his treaty with Napoleon at Tilsit in 1807, the boundary between the French conquests and Russia, Europe was divided into spheres of influence. Napoleon gave the Tsar the district around Belostok and in return, the Tsar accepted the existence of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, a potential threat to Russia’s Polish lands. After Napoleon’s crushing defeat of Prussia in the autumn of 1806 and his rapprochement with Alexander I at Tilsit in 1807, Poland’s chances of regaining its independence barely a decade after its extirpation by the Third Partition seemed strong. Napoleon’s establishment of the Grand Duchy composed of territories taken from Prussia’s share of the last partition was meant as punishment for his enemies, but he showed no inclination to permit a genuinely independent Poland. Thus, after Austria’s defeat by Napoleon in 1809, it lost West Galicia to the Grand Duchy.

In 1809, Sweden was forced to cede Finland to the Tsar, though Alexander and his successors ruled it as a separate Grand Duchy with its own laws. The Tsar’s forces then occupied largely Romanian-speaking Bessarabia and forced the Sultan to give it to Russia in 1812. Up to this point, Napoleon had been content to leave Russia to its own devices, and Russia was in any case distracted by its war with Turkey. But nothing could disguise Napoleon’s determination to draw Russia into his Continental System, designed to choke Britain’s trade with Europe. Finally, in 1812, Napoleon lost patience and made the ill-fated decision to invade Russia. Prussia and Austria bided their time and waited to see how the invasion would turn out.

From 1812, with Napoleon’s catastrophic defeat in Russia, in which his army of six hundred thousand vanished into the steppe and the snow, the defeat of Napoleonic France suddenly became a probability. Driven out of Spain and then defeated by a coalition army at Leipzig in 1813, in 1815 the Imperial French forces suffered their final defeat at Waterloo in Belgium. Yet, although the representatives of the victorious powers who had assembled in Vienna to determine the future of Europe were joined by a common desire to restore the world lost after 1789, they were forced to recognise that no such course was open to them in practice. Thus, the Holy Roman Empire and its constellation of feudal principalities and mini-states were summarily abolished by Napoleon in 1806 was not restored. Instead, they drafted the boundaries of a thirty-nine member German Confederation, paying lip service to the notion of a common German identity that had been so strongly displayed during the war of liberation against Bonaparte after 1812. Yet the ‘new order’ established at Vienna was also profoundly conservative and the victorious allies agreed to meet periodically to settle any disputes which might threaten the peace and their hegemony as a guarantor of this. This “Congress System” proved inadequate for dealing with the crises that arose after 1815. It soon became clear that it had only been the overwhelming threat of Napoleonic France that had kept the Allies united. The disappearance of that threat after Waterloo revealed the continuing rivalries and differing interests of the four Great Powers who had vanquished it. Nevertheless, the boundaries established between them in 1815 proved remarkably stable over the next century, especially when compared with the twenty years of turbulence that had preceded the Congress.

Napoleon’s eventual defeat in 1815 meant a restoration of tripartite control of Poland by Russia, Austria and Prussia. The new division of spoils gave west Poland and Gdansk to Prussia while Austria surrendered its claim to West Galicia, which in common with the remainder of the Grand Duchy came under Russian hegemony, in exchange for Tarnopol. Alexander ruled this so-called “Congress Kingdom” of Poland as just another part of his empire, despite its constitution which made it a personal union with Russia. But it was the decay of Ottoman power in Europe during the nineteenth century which was the key factor in destabilising post-Napoleonic Europe. Moldavia and Wallachia were the first to rebel against Turkish rule in 1821, with the encouragement of Alexander I’s Greek minister, Capodistria. Despite the failure of these uprisings, the Greeks then started a more effective rebellion, backed by idealists such as the English poet Lord Byron. The British, French and Russians sought to temper Turkish reprisals for these revolts, leading to the annihilation of the Ottoman fleet at the decisive battle of Navarino in 1827, which cleared the way for an independent Greece to finally re-emerge in 1830. By then, Moldavia and Wallachia had become autonomous in 1829, emerging as the United Provinces in 1859, having also gained a part of Bessarabia from Russia in 1856, giving them access to the Black Sea. The provinces became Romania in 1861.

The Eastern Balkans and the Black Sea, 1815-61.

The great Polish rebellion of 1831 was easily defeated by the Russian army and provided Alexander’s successor, Nicholas I, with an excuse to tighten his control. The ancient university city of Cracow survived 1815 as the Republic of Cracow, the last remnant of self-governed Polish territory until 1847, when Austria annexed it in agreement with Russia and Prussia, despite the protests of France and Britain. In 1848, a series of revolutions rapidly engulfed Austria and Hungary and spread throughout Central Europe. They had, however, retained sufficient power to hold the line in 1848-49, albeit at great cost and in part because of the divisions within liberal-nationalist ranks. But relations between Vienna and St Petersburg cooled rapidly, opening the way for Emperor Napoleon III’s campaigns against Russia. These, and the strains imposed on the Russians in fighting the Crimean War (1854-56, shown on the maps below) against a coalition of France, Britain and Turkey, showed that neither the Habsburgs nor the Russian Tsar remained strong enough to preserve the Vienna system by force.

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ at the Battle of Balaclava in a contemporary painting.

In addition to her gains in Poland, Catherine II (‘the Great’) had acquired Crimea (1783) and Odesa (1794). The primary aim of the Romanovs was to secure access to the seas through ports that were open to navigation all year round. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth-century Russian policy aimed at continuing the drive toward the Mediterranean and gaining control of the Straits at Constantinople. This desire resulted in the Crimean War and British intervention in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Russia also claimed to be the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Turkish Empire, a claim that was rejected by Turkey. The British Government was forced to act by public opinion at home when Russia destroyed the Turkish fleet at Sinope. The allies, principally France and Great Britain, determined to destroy the naval station at Sebastopol and all the fighting was concentrated around this port. The allied troops were landed at Eupatori, marched southwards and met the Russians at the River Alma. Though victorious, they neglected to make a further speedy attack on Sebastopol, which was strongly fortified. To prevent a naval attack on the harbour the Russians sank some ships at the entrance. The siege lasted a year, from September 1854 to September 1855, during which time the Russian armies made three attempts to relieve the port, attempts which were repelled by the British at Balaclava and Inkerman, and by the Sardinians and French at Tchernaya.

Serfdom had disappeared in Prussia after 1807 and was abolished in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1848. As the map above shows, The 1861 abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire was supposed to ‘liberate’ more than forty million peasants, but the system of the ‘mir’ was retained (collective ownership of fields and responsibility for the individual in the community). At the same time, there was the promotion of secondary and primary public education and a university statute granting academic autonomy and also easing press censorship. Nevertheless, the hoped-for easing of social tensions did not come about. The peasantry, increasing in numbers, suffered because of a lack of landholdings and high levels of debt to the landlords; the peasantry was not trained in the independent administration of their holdings, which led to relatively low yields at a time of increasing tax burdens. The ultimate result was unrest and in 1863 there were serious political uprisings followed by an assassination attempt on the tsar in 1866 intensified the autocratic reaction as well as the revolutionary movement of the intelligentsia.

By the 1856 Peace of Paris, Russia lost control of the Danube delta and the neutrality of the Black Sea was guaranteed. This led to the transfer of Russian hegemony to France, but it also led to tensions between Austria and Russia in the Balkans. The Crimean War also exposed the backwardness of the administration, economy and army of the Russian Empire. In particular, serfdom obstructed any form of progress, whether in the moderate form of a head tax or the often arbitrary form of corvées. Alexander II decided on an autocratic revolution from above, to eliminate the powder keg within the state. After the Crimean War had checked Russian ambitions of reaching the Mediterranean, the Russians redirected the ambitions toward Persia and the Middle East, Afghanistan, Manchuria and the Far East. These expansionist moves led to further clashes with Britain until 1907, because they seemed to threaten British interests in India (the Afghan Wars) and China, leading to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902.

Florence Nightingale, the ‘founder’ of modern nursing and the Red Cross at work in the military hospital at Scutari.

The Rivalry & Clashes of Empires, 1871-1914:
The European Empires of 1871

The years 1871 to 1914 saw Imperial Europe at its zenith. Outside Europe, all the Great Powers bar Austria-Hungary but including Italy, established empires that extended across the globe; within Europe, they co-existed uneasily. Russia considered it essential that no other power achieved a position from which it could control the straits at Constantinople, through which passed most of the grain on which its economy, and hence her Great Power status, depended. Russia’s fundamental motive may thus have been defensive, but in practice, it varied between attempting to stabilise Ottoman rule and overthrowing it in the hope of replacing the empire with a string of submissive satellites. To Habsburg Austria-Hungary, Russia’s efforts seemed a dangerously threatening attempt to encircle the Habsburg monarchy with a crowd of irredentist Slav states under Russian protection. As revolts against Ottoman rule spread through the Balkans in the mid-1870s, Austria was reassured by St Petersburg’s acceptance that no new large Christian state should be created that might thwart Austria’s ambitions.

Map showing the formation of the two groups of European Powers, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, before the Great War of 1914-18.
These sketch maps were first published in 1936 (see below for details of sources)

But by 1877 Russian public opinion had pushed the Tsar into was in support of the Orthodox Christian Slav rebels. Under the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 which concluded the war, the Russians chose to create a “Big Bulgaria” stretching across the southern Balkans. To Austria-Hungary and Britain, this seemed like the creation of a Russian puppet-state, which also left Constantinople vulnerable to attack. The Chancellor of the newly united Germany, Otto von Bismarck, stepped in to separate his two imperial allies before a further war broke out. The Treaty of Belin (1878) overturned much of the San Stefano agreements and preserved a pretence of Turkish suzerainty over a much-reduced Bulgarian principality. But however understandable the failure to grasp the Balkan nettle at the Berlin Conference, the problems of the region’s numerous ethnic, nationalist, imperialist and religious rivalries festered unchecked into the next century.

Imperial Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean

The boundaries between the Great Powers changed little in the century after the Congress of Vienna. Germany, although now united, Austria-Hungary and Russia still shared largely the same frontiers as those established at Vienna, and most observers could be forgiven for regarding them as permanent. But in practice, the emergence of small states on the periphery of the Powers, allied to tensions created by conflicting aspirations for autonomy and independence on the part of the many ethnic groups within the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, marked the beginnings of a process that threatened those empires’ territorial integrity. In tandem with the Great Power rivalry, it created the pre-conditions that were to lead to the cataclysms of the First World War. Whatever its problems with regional nationalism, Russia, for its part, at least had a majority ethnic group. Both Austria-Hungary and Russia sought to increase their influence in central and eastern Europe.

A ‘Serio-comic’ map of Europe, 1899, reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

By the end of the nineteenth century, when the comic map above was published, parts of Europe had been transformed by a different kind of revolution than those of the first half of the century, an industrial one, like the one that Britain had begun to experience in the second half of the previous century.

The Russian Empire was catching up with the other empires. Taking coal production as an example, although by 1900 it was still only half that of French production, the increase in Russia’s growth since 1860 had reached 170 per cent, while French growth had slowed to twenty-eight per cent and Britain’s growth was at twenty-four per cent. In the late nineteenth century, Europe’s influence on the world at large seemed greater than ever. But the large-scale development of industry, the growth in towns, as shown on the map below, and the building of the railways also brought serious problems across the continent, as they had in Britain earlier in the century. Nevertheless, they also brought increased wealth and power. In Ukraine, the Donbas coalfield and the Yuzovka iron and steelworks led the way in the Imperial Russian Empire (see appendix one below for a case study of this). This European industrial supremacy did not last for much longer. By 1914, the USA was producing more iron and steel than the whole of Europe put together.

With Britain’s abandonment of its role as protector of the Turkish Sultan, a policy intended chiefly to contain Russian ambitions, the way was left open for Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece to attack Turkey in 1912, but dividing the spoils of this first Balkan War proved harder and led to a second war the following year. But it was the involvement of all these Empires which turned a regional conflict into a pan-European war. Especially after Austria’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, Russia was determined to resume its role as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Balkans and central-eastern Europe, if necessary against the Catholic Habsburgs rather than Muslim Turkey. With Austria and Russia members of two rival alliance systems, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, their rivalry in the Balkans threatened to suck all the Imperial Powers of Europe into military conflict. Although Italy was also, originally, part of the Triple Alliance, it also had claims on Habsburg territories up to the Alps and along the Dalmatian coast, and, as it turned out, was not a reliable ally. Romania was also allied to them but was obviously not a great power. Austria and Germany could not afford to abandon each other, therefore, even at the risk of a general European war.

Central-Eastern Europe on the Eve of the First World War.

The First World War & its Aftermath in Central/ Eastern Europe:

Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia in July 1914 following the Serbian-sponsored assassination of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo the previous month was the spark that lit the global conflagration which was referred to at the time as ‘the Great War.’ Once the Tsar had ordered a general mobilisation, there was little chance of extinguishing it, especially after Germany’s determination to smash through the Triple Entente that encircled it. If war did come, the Kaiser’s generals wanted it sooner rather than later: they were increasingly confident that they could defeat both France and Russia. However, by choosing to attack France first, through neutral Belgium, the Kaiser and his generals miscalculated, especially since they did not expect Britain to enter the war. While the Germans advanced into Belgium, the Russians, as they had promised the French, invaded East Prussia. An army of ten divisions advanced into the province from the east: another of the same size attacked from the south. The first actions went in the Russians’ favour, and two generals, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were ordered to Prussia to halt their advance. At Tannenburg, Ludendorff achieved a classic envelopment and almost completely destroyed the southern Russian force. Then he redeployed against the eastern army and drove it out of Prussia with crippling loss. The Austrians, who also had two fronts, launched their main offensive in a move north from Galicia into Russian Poland, but were caught sideways by the Russian counter-attack, a straight drive into Galicia from the east; despite German support, the Austrians were unable to recover and by the end of 1914 the whole of Galicia was in Russian hands.

In May 1915, a German force sent by Falkenhayn smashed through the Russian line in western Galicia. It then became the southern arm of a vast pincer movement against Russian Poland, the northern arm being provided by Hindenburg and Ludendorff striking south from East Prussia. By early August the Germans were in Warsaw; by early September they were masters of the whole of Russian Poland. In 1916, the Germans could always break through the Russian line if they wanted to and the Russians could punch a hole in the Austro-Hungarian front. Brusilov, the Russian commander in the south, did just that and was rewarded with a progressive collapse of the Austro-Hungarian armies in this sector that produced one of the most spectacular victories of the war. Czech and Slovene units had always performed reluctantly on the Russian front; now they simply threw away their weapons and ran. The Russians took a quarter of a million of them prisoner in the course of an advance that carried across the eastern half of Galicia. Other events of significance in 1916 included a major Russian advance in Caucasia and Germany’s creation of a Polish kingdom out of the Russian-occupied territories conquered by them, though they didn’t give this kingdom any of German Poland. Neither did it have a king.

The Russian Empire’s war effort was in serious if not terminal decline by the early months of 1917 and it was clear that before long, Germany would be able to dictate terms to it. The Russian peasantry had realised that the paper money the government was printing to pay for the war was in fact worthless. When they refused to accept it any longer, the towns got no food. In March (February in the Russian calendar), there were riots in Petrograd (formerly St Petersburg); when troops were called in to put down the rioters, they joined them instead. Liberal politicians formed a parliamentary government and ‘soviets’ (trades’ councils) were set up among factory workers. Unlike after the 1905 revolution, however, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. Russia’s new leaders were quick to assure the British and French that they would honour the Entente, and that the war would go on, but the capacity to wage war was no longer there: the support systems had disintegrated and the troops wouldn’t fight any longer. The country drifted miserably along, its leaders helpless, their authority steadily waning. As the map below shows, the Germans were making additional progress on the eastern front, especially in Galicia and Livonia.

The Bolshevik Revolution, & the ‘Peace of Bread’, 1917-18:
Lenin was the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. 

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his alias Lenin, was a ‘man with a plan’, or rather a definite programme. When he arrived in Petrograd in April, from a lengthy Swiss exile, to assume the leadership of the ‘Bolsheviks’, Lenin insisted that peace should be their top priority, and he meant peace at any price. His supporters heard his views with dismay, his enemies with scorn, while the Kerensky government branded him a traitor so that he had to go into hiding. Over the next six months, however, the Petrograd Soviet came to see that this was exactly what the country and the revolution needed. In November (October in Russia), detachments of armed workers swept the Liberal government aside and put Lenin and the Bolsheviks in power. True to his word, he immediately asked the Germans for an armistice.

Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, was a Ukrainian-Russian Marxist revolutionary.

Even as the terms were being discussed, the Germans were advancing towards St Petersburg. From 22nd December onward, Leon Trotsky conducted the peace negotiations as the representative of Russia, declaring an end to the war without accepting the German conditions. On the 10th, he briefly broke off negotiations and resumed the war, with the ‘rail offensive’. The Peace terms that Germany subsequently offered Lenin in March were very harsh: Russia would have to give up all claims to Poland, Lithuania and Finland and agree to make Ukraine independent. Lenin had already recognised Finland’s independence and was prepared to see Poland and Lithuania go too. They weren’t ethnically Russian and he believed in the principle of self-determination.

But when it came to Ukraine, even he had difficulty in giving it up, believing, like all Russians, that it was an integral part of the ‘Motherland’. Still, if this was the added price of peace, he was prepared to pay that too, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (in Western Ukraine, see below) was signed in March, finally ending Imperial Russia’s war.

By August 1918, the Germans upped the price of peace still further: they wanted the rest of the Baltic provinces to be made independent, together with Georgia. Lenin gave way again, and when the Treaty of Berlin was signed that month, the former Russian Empire had lost a third of its productive land and a third of its people. With the exception of Georgia and the bulk of Ukraine, all these territories remained independent until at least 1939. Lenin hoped that some, at least, of the territories he ceded would maintain formal links with Soviet Russia, an idea wasn’t in itself naive – Finland, for example, would probably have ended the war as a communist state had the Germans not sent troops there to help the ‘White’ reactionaries to defeat the Reds (Bolsheviks). What was naive was to believe that the Germans wouldn’t intervene in this way. German forces quickly occupied all the ceded areas and made them into dependencies. Estonia, Livonia and Kurland were all earmarked for eventual annexation: Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Georgia would retain a degree of autonomy. No final decision was taken about Crimea or Bessarabia, the latter having already been annexed by Romania in April 1918 in compensation for their losses elsewhere, most noticeably in Dobruja, which had been divided between Germany and Bulgaria at Brest-Litovsk. By the Treaty of Bucharest (May 1918), Romania ceded Dobruja to Bulgaria and allowed their oil reserves to be exploited by Germany. Finally, after the breakthrough in Macedonia by the Allies in September, the Bulgarian army collapsed and an armistice was concluded at the end of October. By the Treaty of Neuilly the next year, Bulgaria lost all the territories it had recently acquired but retained access to the Black Sea at Alexandroupolis.

The Germans actually occupied considerably more Russian territory than they were entitled to under the terms of Brest-Litovsk. They took Belorussia simply to shorten their lines, but in the Black Sea region, where they advanced to the lower Don River and crossed from the Crimea to the Taman Peninsula, clearly aiming at taking over permanently. In due course, they would doubtless have extracted the third round of concessions from the Bolshevik government. Soviet power in this south-eastern area was then at a very low ebb. The Don Cossacks were refusing to accept the authority of Moscow, which had become the Soviet seat of government in March when Lenin decided that the Germans were getting too close to Petrograd. The anti-Soviet or ‘White’ forces that were rallying to the flag of General Denikin were proving more than a match for local Bolsheviks and, in Caucasia, in the far south, the Turks had reoccupied the towns they had lost in 1878 by the terms of the Berlin Treaty, together with everything else that German forces hadn’t already ‘nailed down. The two treaties, deeply unfavourable to Russia, revealed the shape of Europe Berlin hoped would be the outcome of the war. Germany’s subsequent defeat was to mean that little could be done to exploit the territories lost by Russia. Nonetheless, the German desire to lay claim to the resources of this vast region foreshadowed Hitler’s obsession with it twenty years later. By November, General Denkin was in complete control of the Kuban area: his success marks the formal opening of the Civil War between ‘Whites’ and ‘Reds’.

In February 1918, ‘The Peace of Bread’ was concluded by Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, with Ukraine. This involved the recognition of the Ukrainian state, Ukrainian autonomy in Eastern Galicia, in exchange for the delivery of grain supplies to the Central Powers. By November 1918, when the armistice in the West was signed, General Denkin was in complete control of the Kuban area (as shown on the map below): his success marks the formal opening of the Civil War between ‘Whites’ and ‘Reds’. During the Armistice negotiations the Allies had insisted on the Germans withdrawing from their conquests in the east; the unwelcome result of this was that the Soviet forces occupied the Baltic states and Ukraine. The Allied reaction was to beef up the White forces – General Yudenich’s army in Estonia as well as General Denikin’s in the south – and support them in counter-offensives that by October 1919 had taken Yudenich halfway to Petrograd and Denikin more than halfway to Moscow. At the same time, the Poles occupied as much of Western Russian territories as they could.

Civil War, the Creation of the USSR & Inter-War Poland:

In Russia, 1918 had seen the formation of socially and politically diverse anti-Bolshevik groups (the ‘Whites’). They fought against the Red Army, organised by Trotsky. They fought in Siberia and the Ural-Volga area in the south. To safeguard their interests, the Allies landed their troops in Vladivostock, Murmansk, Archangel and all the ports on the Black Sea. In 1919, the Whites rejected President Wilson’s proposal for a conference of all Russian parties. By 1920, in any case, the Allies had withdrawn their troops and the evacuation of the last ‘White’ troops from Crimea had taken place. The Bolsheviks had cleared the country of the armies of foreign states and Lenin had supreme power. His aim was to create a world revolution, but he had first to reshape ‘Greater Russia’ itself. Conditions in town and country alike were appalling. His chief difficulty was to satisfy the peasants, who resisted attempts to confiscate their harvests. Famines in 1920 and 1921 compelled him to make concessions in order to restore some measure of prosperity to the country. By his New Economic Policy, announced in 1921, a certain amount of private trading in both town and country. By the Rapallo Treaty of 1922, Britain, Italy and France recognised the Russian Soviet Republic which in December of the same year, at the Tenth All-Russian Congress of Soviets became the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics) consisting of the Russian, Transcaucasian, White Russian and Ukrainian republics.

On the death of Lenin in 1924, Joseph Stalin, son of a Caucasian (Georgian) cobbler was the secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Over the next five years, he gradually became the dominant influence in the party and eventually the de facto dictator of the USSR. His aim was to develop the resources of the country and make the Soviet Union a powerful state and improve the unfriendly relations that had continued with other nations in the wake of the civil war. He was prepared to delay the coming of the ‘World Revolution’ to secure these ends. This brought him into increasing conflict with Trotsky, who also objected to individuals having private rights or property in a Communist state. However, by 1927 Stalin was sufficiently strong to drive Trotsky and his followers into exile. He then introduced his Five-Year Plan, a grandiose scheme to speed up the development of the Union’s industries, education and agriculture. In agriculture, the number of state farms was increased; they were intended to be model institutions for the education of the peasantry into improving farming methods. The smallholders, the poorer peasants were encouraged to combine their tiny plots of land and farm the land collectively. The rich peasants, the kulaks, objected to the collective farms, and in 1929 Stalin determined to destroy them. They were deported to poorer districts or sent to labour camps. The resultant chaos and the continuing confiscation of harvests led to widespread famine, especially in Ukraine, where mass starvation led to the period 1932-33 becoming known as the Holodomor (see appendix two below).

Polish leaders realised that the war had given them an opportunity to finally gain their freedom, though at first, they did not anticipate complete independence and struggled only for self-government. Though the mass of Poles fought in the armies of Russia, an influential group supported Austria, led by Józef Pilsudski, who became the Polish Chief of State (1918–1922) and First Marshal of Poland (from 1920). In 1916, Russian Poland was overrun by the armies of the Central Powers; the Germans occupied Warsaw and granted a measure of independence that did not come up to the expectations of the Poles. In 1917 the Revolutionary Government in St Petersburg endeavoured to obtain Polish support against Germany by a more generous offer of self-government, but an independent state was proclaimed in Warsaw and Galicia soon after the collapse of the Central Powers on both fronts. The new state was represented at the Paris Peace Conference, where its independence was recognised internationally. The western frontier was agreed upon, with the provinces of Posen, West Prussia and Galicia included in the new Poland, as shown on the right-hand map below. The eastern frontier was settled provisionally.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Germans in Austria were forbidden to unite with Germany under article eighty of the Treaty of Versailles, despite being entirely German in language and culture. This was confirmed in the Treaty of St. Germain, by which Austrians in the Tyrol, Galicia and Bohemia were also left under alien rule. Control of Galicia, a wealthy area across the Carpathians, passed to Poland. The most dramatic effects of the Paris settlement were the resurrection of Poland as an independent state more than six score years after its partition. Its soil was fertile and productive, with coal, iron, zinc, salt and petroleum resources also contained beneath its earth. The western part of the region was inhabited by Poles, but in the eastern part, the people were Ruthenians, creating a difficult minorities problem. Attempts made by these people to unite with their fellows in sub-Carpathian Ukraine, newly independent of Russia, were frustrated by the Polish Government, and an insurrection in 1919 was ruthlessly crushed by Pilsudski. In April 1920, during the Polish-Russian War, he invaded and overran Ukraine, occupying Kyiv. When the Russians began a counter-offensive that brought the Soviet armies to the outskirts of Warsaw, the very existence of Poland was once again threatened. With the aid of the French, the Soviet army was driven back, and a further treaty was signed at Riga in October by which Poland secured more favourable eastern borders including lands in western Ukraine, ceded by the USSR. But the still indefinite eastern frontier with the USSR and the desire of the Ruthenian minorities in Eastern Galicia to join with Soviet Ukraine. The fear of Bolshevism and the general poverty and lack of infrastructure in the country proved too much for the inexperienced democratic Government. After 1926, the country was ruled by Pilsudski as a military dictator.

Central-Eastern Europe in 1925

Two new states had also been created at the Paris Conference: Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Of equal importance, the Paris Peace Settlement left every post-war state in central Europe with internal problems and potential border disputes. It proved easier to break up the multi-ethnic empires than to replace them with ethnically homogeneous states. Poland and Czechoslovakia both had large German minorities after 1919, as well as disgruntled Slav minorities. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia also had substantial Hungarian minorities, as did Ukraine (in its western sub-Carpathian region) and Romania (in Transylvania). Hungarian resentment at the loss of over two-thirds of its pre-war land and at the fate of more than one-third of the Hungarian-speaking population was to simmer throughout the inter-war period.

Territorial changes affecting Hungary (the beneficiary), Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine (Soviet Russia), 1938-41. The towns that were taken over as a result of the liquidation of Chechoslovakia, now in Ukraine, are Uzhorod (Ungvár) and Mukacheve (Munkaos), in the dark grey at the top.

For the first five years of his rule, the Nazi dictator confined himself to chipping away at the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. He refused, for example, to resume the reparations payments imposed at Versailles, while in 1933 he took Germany out of the League of Nations. More seriously, in March 1935 Hitler reintroduced conscription and an airforce, both forbidden in 1919. In March 1938, Hitler’s pan-German ambitions became more apparent when in direct contravention of the Versailles Treaty, he engineered the unification (Anschluss) of his native Austria with Germany. By the following March, with the tacit blessing of Britain and France, who were anxious at all costs to avoid war, Hitler had also occupied the rest of the Czech lands, using at first the excuse that the country’s three-and-a-half-million German speakers had been persecuted by the Czechoslovakian government.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact & Partition of Poland, 1939-41:

Meanwhile, the poverty of the Polish people under Pilsudski’s dictatorship had remained acute. Pre-war emigration to the USA had practically stopped and there was much unrest among the national minorities in the mid-thirties. More than eight per cent of the population was Jewish, living mainly in the towns and seen as ‘a race apart’ by many of their new compatriots. They lived under almost unbelievable conditions of squalor and poverty and, given subsequent events, it is easy to forget that anti-Semitic agitation, as in Germany, was growing, providing the Polish Government with one of its major problems. But Poland as a whole presented a major obstacle to Hitler’s policy of Lebensraum.

… Poland’s isolation On 23 August, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed. Its secret clauses divided Poland between the two states along an agreed frontier in central Poland. This diplomatic coup convinced Hitler that the west would not intervene and on 1 September Germany invaded. But Ribbentrop continued to be concerned about the threat posed to any ‘necessary’ German incursions into eastern Poland, the region that adjoined the Soviet Union and that it had just been agreed was within the Soviet sphere of influence. He cabled Schulenberg, the German ambassador in Moscow, on 3 September:

We should naturally, however, for military reasons, have to continue to take action against such Polish military forces as are at that time located in the Polish territory belonging to the Russian sphere of influence. Please discuss this at once with Molotov and see if the Soviet Union does not consider it desirable for Russian forces to move at the proper time against Polish forces in the Russian sphere of influence and, for their part, to occupy this territory. In our estimation this would not only be a relief for us, but also, in the sense of the Moscow agreements, be in the Soviet interest as well.

But the Western Allies had just declared war on Germany because they had agreed by treaty to protect Poland against aggression. If the Red Army moved into eastern Poland, would they now decide to fight the Soviet Union as well? The Soviet leaders were concerned that a pact that, from their point of view, was designed to keep them out of the European war might now drag them into it. But there remained strong arguments in favour of military action. The Soviets recognised the material benefits to be gained from annexing a large chunk of the neighbouring country with which they had historical scores to settle. Stalin was still bitter about the war the Bolsheviks had fought with the Poles after the Revolution and the Treaty of Versailles before the USSR had come into being. The Curzon Line, the proposed border at that time between Poland and its neighbours, was used to agree on the spheres of influence in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Moreover, ethnic Poles were not in a majority in these eastern territories. Around forty per cent of the population were of Polish origin, thirty-four per cent were Ukrainian and nine per cent were Belorussian. This, the Soviet propagandists realised, allowed any incursion to be couched as an act of ‘liberation’, freeing the ‘local’ population from ethnic Polish domination. A combination of all these factors meant that on 9 September, Molotov finally replied to Ribbentrop’s cable of the 3rd, to say that the Red Army was about to move into the agreed Soviet ‘sphere’ in Poland. At a meeting in Moscow the following day with the German ambassador, Molotov told Schulenburg that the pretext for the invasion would be that the Soviet Union was helping Ukrainians and Belarussians. This argument, he said, …

… was to make the intervention of the Soviet Union plausible and at the same time avoid giving… it the appearance of an aggressor. 

The Nazi invasion was augmented by the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in mid-September. The Soviet Union had so far made no more to invade from the east. With only three Polish divisions covering the eight-hundred-mile-long eastern border, it came as a complete surprise when at dawn on 17 September they did so, in accordance with the secret clauses of the Nazi-Soviet Pact that had been agreed on 24 August. The Soviet leaders wanted revenge for their defeats at Poland’s hands in 1920, access to the Baltic States and a buffer zone against Germany, and they opportunistically grabbed all three, without meeting any significant resistance. Soviet forces crossed Poland’s eastern borders from Belorus and Ukraine, meeting only light resistance, led by Marshal Kovalov in the north on the Belarusian front and Marshal Timoshenko in the south on the Ukrainian front. In a radio broadcast the same day, Molotov justified the Soviet action by the ‘plausible’ argument he had outlined to Schulenberg. Caught between the two great powers, Polish fighting power evaporated. Warsaw surrendered on 27 September and by the 29th, Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland between them. The following day all Polish resistance ceased. The Red Army was initially welcomed in many places, especially those with non-Polish majority populations. There was confusion in these places as to whether this was an actual invasion at all. Perhaps, some thought, the Soviet troops had really come to ‘help’. Maybe they would just motor through the flat countryside of eastern Poland and confront the German Nazis, who had already captured most of the west of the country. The photograph below reveals that there was little panic on the streets.

The total losses of the Red Army in Poland amounted to 734 killed. Stalin continued to use Polish ‘colonialism’ in the Ukraine and Belorussia as his casus belli, arguing that the Red Army had invaded Poland in order to restore peace and order. The Poles were thus doubly martyred, smashed between the Nazi hammer and the Soviet anvil, and were not to regain their independence and self-government until November 1989, half a century later. By mid-September, the Germans had already moved into several areas behind Warsaw and had indeed taken Brest-Litovsk and Lviv, but some fighting had broken out between Cossacks and Germans, with two of the former killed in one incident and fifteen Germans in another. The campaign cost 8,082 German lives with 27,278 wounded and the loss of 285 aircraft, whereas seventy thousand Polish soldiers and twenty-five thousand civilians had been killed, with 130,000 soldiers wounded. The chief of staff of the XLVIII Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front, Friedrich von Mellenthin, who served at the Battle of Kursk, the Battle of Kyiv, and the spring 1944 retreat through western Ukraine, concluded that:

The operations were of considerable value in “blooding” our troops and teaching them the difference between real war with live ammunition and peacetime manoeuvres.

Friedrich von Mellenthin

In his memoirs, Panzer Battles, published in 1956, Mellenthin, the Wehrmacht’s adversaries on the Eastern Front are consistently depicted in derogatory and racial terms, including in a section dedicated to the “Psychology of the Russian Soldier”. According to Mellenthin, a “Russian soldier” was a “primitive being”, characterised by “mental sluggishness” and lacking a “religious or moral balance”. He described them as “primitive Asiatics”. We don’t know whether this was the view that he held of them before Operation Barbarossa, however, when they were his allies in Poland.

It was not long before the whole of western Poland came under German control. On 28 September, Soviet and German representatives met to draw up a demarcation line which gave Warsaw to the Germans and the Baltic states as a sphere of interest to the USSR. Almost at once, the German authorities began to break Poland up. Silesia and the Corridor became parts of the Reich, and a central Polish area called the General Government was placed under a Nazi administrator, Hans Frank. Thousands of Polish intellectuals were rounded up and murdered. Peasants were removed from their villages in parts of western Poland and replaced by German settlers. Hitler had been right to calculate that Britain and France would give Poland little help, but he was wrong about localising the conflict. Although Britain and France had declared war on 3 September, there were only isolated raids by Allied scouting parties and aircraft.

In eastern Poland, casual abuse of the class enemies of the Communist system turned into a widespread and systematic arrest. On 27 September, just ten days after Red Army troops had crossed into Poland – the Soviets came for Boguslava Gryniv’s father. He was a prominent lawyer and head of the regional branch of the Ukrainian National Democratic Party (UNDO), a legally constituted organisation. When there was a knock at their door the Gryniv family were surprised to see a member of the local Soviet authority, as it was a church holiday and they were about to celebrate with a family meal. But they took his father away anyway, leaving the family to pray for him not to be punished and to be returned to them. He was one of the first of many to suffer at the hands of the Soviets in eastern Poland. Altogether, between September 1939 and June 1941, around 110,000 people were arrested during the reign of terror facilitated by the occupation of eastern Poland. Aristocrats, intellectuals, trade unionists, churchmen, politicians, veterans of the 1920-21  Russo-Polish War, anyone who might form the nucleus of new national leadership, were arrested by the NKVD and sent to concentration camps from which virtually none emerged.

The Nazi Conquests in the East to 1940

As in the case of Boguslava Gryniv’s father, individual arrests of members of the intelligentsia and others thought of as a threat to the new régime began from the moment the Red Army arrived in mid-September. Gryniv was sent to the local jail immediately upon arrest, a small cell that usually held drunks and petty criminals. All the most important people who had remained in the town were in this prison. They thought it was simply a ‘misunderstanding’. However, about three weeks later he was taken to Chertkov, where he discovered that all he was accused of was membership of UNDA, a legal organisation before the invasion which was by no means anti-Bolshevik. However, in reality, he was seen as a dangerous member of the previous ‘ruling class’. He disappeared from the prison towards the end of 1939 and fifty years later his family finally learnt that he had been murdered by the NKVD in the spring of 1940. By July of that year, when Hitler held victory celebrations in Berlin, Germany and the ‘Axis’ powers were masters, directly or indirectly, of the whole of Western and Central Europe, as well as much of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union had made use of Hitler’s western offensive in order to occupy Finland and the Baltic states. But the difficulties experienced by the Soviet armies in obtaining these objectives suggested that it posed no threat to Germany. Hitler’s rhetoric about Lebensraum for German colonisation seemed about to become reality.

Operation Barbarossa & ‘Operation Blue’, 1941-42:

In June 1941 Hitler launched his greatest military gamble, the invasion of the Soviet Union. German forces proved unstoppable until they reached Moscow in December. On 22 June 1941, German forces, together with the allied armies of Hungary, Romania and Finland, threw three million men, three thousand tanks and 2,700 aircraft across a two-thousand-mile frontier with the Soviet Union. Geographically and numerically it was the largest military operation ever launched. The decision to attack the USSR was finally made in December 1940 when ‘case Barbarossa’ was laid down in Führer Directive number twenty-one. But Hitler had seriously explored the idea since the summer. The alleged weakness of the Soviet force after the Stalinist purges presented a tempting opportunity; while Stalin’s own ambitions in eastern Europe looked increasingly threatening. Above all, conquest in the east promised a vast area for exploitation, as it had done, briefly, in 1917-18, the ‘living space’ (Lebensraum) that Hitler wrote about in Mein Kampf. The fact that the space was already occupied by ideological and ethnic enemies of the Reich gave the operation the air of a crusade. Hitler’s crusade against communism, temporarily shelved by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, made the invasion a probable outcome, or at least a realistic prospect, however daunting.

Stalin remained impervious to all suggestions that a German attack was imminent in the summer of 1941. Local commanders made some limited preparations, but when German forces attacked almost complete surprise was achieved. Although Soviet forces had vastly more tanks and aircraft and approximately the same number of divisions, the poor quality of much of the equipment, coupled with the disorganization of the Soviet response, created ideal opportunities for the German armies to exploit.

During 1942 the main weight of the German military effort was concentrated on the Eastern Front. The Axis-allied forces attacked on three broad fronts; North, Centre and South, where Hitler insisted on an advance on economic targets in industrialised southern Ukraine and, in particular, on the oilfields of the Caucasus. Later in June, German forces launched ‘Operation Blue’, clearing Crimea and the remaining areas of southern Ukraine, before dividing the forces for attacks against Stalingrad and against the Caucusus oilfields around Maikop, Grozny and Baku. At first, Axis forces made remarkable gains. By September, the Red Army had been driven back into Stalingrad, which was expected to fall within a matter of days. By October much of Ukraine was in German hands and between two and three million Soviet prisoners had been taken in three months. Later that month, Hitler announced that victory had been achieved but his claim proved premature. By the end of November, the Germans were once more at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. Hitler’s Germany was at the peak of its power, certainly, but this was the limit of the German advance. As the winter set in, they were forced to ‘dig in’ while fierce Soviet resistance in Stalingrad, and the extended supply lines slowed the progress of General Paulus’s Sixth Army to a crawl. Overstretched forces in the Caucusus were halted and then slowly driven back by Soviet forces whose supply position picked up as Soviet factories made good the losses of 1941.

Map 1: The Turn of the Tide, 1942-43.

In November a powerful Soviet counter-offensive cut off Stalingrad and drove the German line back as German forces faced their first real defeats of the war. The Russian counter-attack continued into December, driving the Germans back more than a hundred miles and giving Stalin time to rebuild his shattered defences. During 1943, the Wehrmacht was forced to retreat on all fronts, though they still possessed formidable military strength. On 31 January Paulus surrendered. Since November, thirty-two Axis divisions had been destroyed. In the summer of 1943, Hitler ordered one last attempt to break through the Soviet front. ‘Operation Citadel’ drew almost one million men and 2,700 tanks to a narrow front around the city of Kursk, on the eastern edge of Ukraine. There the military leaders planned to encircle and annihilate a Soviet force of more than one million. Soviet preparations blunted the German attack between 5-13 July and there then followed a huge Soviet counter-thrust which broke the German line and in four months drove it back to Kyiv. Although the German army fought a fierce defence, each successive Soviet surge forced a further withdrawal. In the event, The Germans were defeated by the immensity of the task they had set themselves: the enormous distances involved, the severity of the Russian winter and the seemingly limitless manpower of the Russian army.

The extent of Hitler’s Europe (East) in 1942.
The red line marks the maximum extent of Axis military control. The brown area shows the Axis administration territories.

Nevertheless, the almost total conquest of continental Europe by the Nazis by the summer of 1941 provided the circumstances for a sharp change in the direction of German race policy towards the active pursuit of genocide. Hitler and the racist radicals in the Nazi movement had no master plan for the annihilation of non-Germanic peoples in 1939, but their whole conception of the war was one of racial struggle in which the Jewish people above all were the enemy of German imperialism. When Germany found itself ruling very large Jewish populations after its conquest of the east, the régime began to explore more extreme solutions to the Jewish Question. The German ‘New Order’ was viewed from Berlin in terms of a hierarchy of races: at the apex were the Aryan (Germanic) peoples followed by the Latin and Slavic populations, and at the foot were ‘races’ – Jews, Sinti and Roma (‘gipsies’) – who were deemed to be Untermenschen (sub-human) and thereby unworthy of existence. The treatment of these ethnic groups began with a programme of ghetto-building or imprisonment, but the orders for Barbarossa deliberately encouraged the murder of Soviet Jews. In the Baltic states and Ukraine native anti-Semitism was whipped up by the Nazi occupiers and led to widespread racial violence and massacres.

There is strong evidence that in July 1941 Hitler ordered the physical extermination of the Jews (Adolf Eichmann), flushed with the prospect of victory in the USSR and the realisation that there were no longer any forces in Europe that could constrain a programme of annihilation. The systematic murder of the Jews began in late 1941 with the establishment of a series of ‘extermination’ camps in occupied Poland where victims were either gassed as soon as they arrived, or worked to death in the factories and quarries close to the camps. The occupation and exploitation of the western Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, had long been the goal of Hitler’s Lebensraum policy. Although German forces never reached their ultimate objective of a line from Archangel to Astrakhan set by their Führer as the eastern boundary of his future empire, the organisation and exploitation of the occupied territories was commenced. A fluid area behind the front line was under military administration, but two Reichskommisariats were established, Ostland administered the territories of the former Baltic states plus Belorussia, while Reichskommisariat Ukraine administered the bulk of Ukraine (The Crimea remained under military administration and Sub-Carpathia, including southern Galicia, remained part of Axis Hungary, as shown below).

Resistance to the Reich

Extermination was placed on a ‘proper’ organisational foundation with the establishment of under the RSHA (Reichsicherheitshauplant) of a series of camps established in occupied Poland where victims were either gassed as soon as they arrived, or worked to death in factories and quarries close to the camps. The systematic murder of Jews began in late 1941, first of all with mass shootings in the occupied territories, and extended to the Sinti and Roma in 1942. In 1943 and 1944 Germany put pressure on Italy and Hungary, its Axis allies, to release their Jewish populations to the Reich. When both states were occupied, any resistance to anti-Semitism was quashed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to the camps in Poland and Germany slaughtered in 1944 and 1945 in an effort to complete what Hitler saw as his chief legacy for Europe, a ‘Jew-free’ continent. Records remain inadequate, but approximately 5.3 million Jews and at least 250,000 Sinti and Roma were killed in the camps.

Jewish deaths in extermination camps 1942-45.

In practice, the wartime situation, partisan resistance and Soviet military recovery meant that the German plans to exploit the western ‘Russian’ regions, including Ukraine, were barely begun, however. Only the policy of “mass extermination” of Jews and other groups targetted as enemies of the Reich was continued on a huge scale, even as Germany was being pushed back on all military fronts from mid-1944 onwards. Apart from inflicting enormous loss of life and massive damage to property, the German occupation of Soviet Russia itself left no traces on the ground. After the expulsion of the Germans, the Soviet forces rapidly restored the former Soviet administration, albeit in areas racked by depopulation. The summer and early autumn of 1944 were a time of conflict between the Allies, not only over what seemed to be the eternal question of Poland but also over the post-war shape of Europe, and, most particularly, Soviet intentions towards the eastern European countries that they were shortly to occupy.

Towards the middle of August 1944, the Soviet general offensive began to slacken, Soviet armies outrunning their supplies since behind them lay an advance of some 350 miles. Soviet troops were on the East Prussian frontier and had bridgeheads on the Vistula and the Narew, while the Soviet command planned to wipe Army Group North off the map. The Finns had already abandoned the German-Finnish compact and late in August were suing for peace, harsh though the terms proved to be. In the event, the Romanians beat the Finns in the race to make peace. The Soviet hammer having battered three German Army Groups (North Centre and North Ukraine), it was now the turn of Army Group South Ukraine to fall under it. Even before a shot was fired, however, this Army Group faced disaster, hemmed in as it was between the Red Army was eager to fall on it and the Romanians, who were even more eager to betray it.

The Defeat of the Reich, 1944-45: Liberation, January 1944-March 1945.

On 20 August 1944, Malinovskii’s Second Ukrainian Front launched its attack, encircling five German corps in the Jassy-Kishinev operation, while Tolbukhin’s forces trapped the Romanian 3rd Army. But defeat in the field was outmatched and outpaced by political events when on 23rd August a coup in Bucharest knocked Romania out of the war with King Michael’s unconditional surrender to the Allies. Romania’s declaration of war on Germany followed in a trice and Romanian troops were ordered not to open fire on the Red Army. The Romanian defection had cataclysmic consequences for Germany with far more than the fate of an Army Group involved: the fortunes of war in the entire south-eastern theatre had changed virtually overnight. With a German army hopelessly trapped and what was left of two Romanian armies laying down their arms, the whole of southern Bessarabia, the Danube delta and the Carpathian passes lay open to the Red Army. Henceforth neither the Danube nor the Carpathians could bar the Soviet advance and ahead of the Soviet armies lay the route to the Hungarian plains, the gateway to Czechoslovakia and Austria, as well as a highway to Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

The Era of the Cold War in Europe, 1949-1999:

The Allies had considered the question of the post-war order in Europe as early as 1943, in Tehran, in November of that year. British PM Churchill and US President Roosevelt had agreed with Stalin that, should Hitler be defeated, the Soviet Union would be allowed to treat Eastern European territories its army had conquered as belonging to a Soviet sphere of influence. But the erasure of the Nazi map of Europe involved vast movements of population. Poland became an overwhelmingly Polish society for the first time, with half a million ethnic Ukrainians being ‘returned’ to Soviet-controlled Ukraine in 1946-47, as had been agreed at Yalta, many to certain death, allegedly for ‘collaborating with the Nazis’ (for more details of deportations, refugees etc., see appendix three below).

Cold War Central-Eastern Europe in 1949.

Following the defeat of the Third Reich, the map of the European continent was radically transformed. The most striking transformation was the shrinking of Germany, with Poland the principal beneficiary, and the division of what remained of the two countries. But Poland lost vast territories on its eastern border to the Soviet Union. The Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – together with Ukraine and Bessarabia, were all incorporated into the Soviet Union. Austria was detached from Germany and restored to independence, initially under a Soviet-sponsored government, reluctantly recognised by the western powers. It gradually moved away from Soviet influence over the following ten years, but Hungary, bordering Soviet Ukraine, was not allowed to follow suit in 1956 following Stalin’s death. The two zones of Germany followed wholly divergent paths: while denazification in the west followed the Austrian model, with the first free elections permitted to take place in January 1946, in the east the Soviets moved quickly to eradicate all pre-war political parties other than the communists, simultaneously stripping Ukraine, for example, of industrial plunder for war reparation. Much the same was true of the rest of central-eastern Europe. Indeed, by 1949 it was clear that Stalin had created what was, in effect, a massive extension to the Soviet Empire, as well as a substantial buffer zone between the Soviet Union and ‘the West’. Western-Soviet relations were plunged into a ‘deep freeze’ from which they would not emerge for decades. The ‘Cold War’ had begun and, in escaping from Nazi persecution, much of Europe had simply exchanged one form of tyranny for another.

Given all these massive challenges for the victorious powers, the post-war borders of Europe proved remarkably resilient. For forty years after 1949, there were no major changes to the European map. Yet it was mutual hostility that provided the essential stability of the period of the Cold War. Eastern Europe was dominated by the communist Soviet Union, which imposed on it a repressive and economically backward rule. Western Europe, by contrast, was broadly democratic and economically vigorous. These divisions were underlined by rival military and economic blocs: NATO, the EEC (now the EU) and EFTA in the West; the Warsaw Pact and COMECON in the East.

The Fall of the Wall & Falling Dominoes, 1989-91:

Following the fall of the ‘dominoes’ and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the Soviet system through glasnost and perestroika failed to stem the swelling tide of liberal-nationalist ‘people-power’. In the Spring of 1990, Soviet public opinion, as the street demonstrations showed, was not just impatient, but also divided; on the ‘right’, the conservative communists complained that he was going too fast, whereas on the ‘left’ reformers felt that he was not moving fast enough. The Supreme Soviet responded by voting him sweeping presidential powers. On 11th March, Lithuania formally declared its independence. Vytautas Landsbergis, a musicologist, pictured below, was elected president, the first president of a free Lithuania for fifty years. He was a straightforward enemy of the Soviet state as constituted since the forcible inclusion of the Baltic countries at the start of the Second World War. His political skills were negligible and he had little conception of the need to assuage the dignity and self-esteem of a great country facing humiliation. Most western governments believed that Lithuania could singlehandedly destroy perestroika unless it developed a clearer sense of the art of the politically possible. Landsbergis showed no sign of doing so. Gorbachev attacked the action of the Lithuanians as “illegitimate and invalid” but was reluctant to use force to reverse it. At Malta, he had agreed with Bush not to do so, and in return, the US President kept his public remarks low-key. The US administration wanted to see the Baltic republics gain their freedom, but relied for world stability on a lasting relationship with a strong USSR.

Vytautas Landsbergis, first elected President of Lithuania, 1990.

As the chaos broadened and the crisis deepened in March, Soviet paratroopers occupied party buildings in Vilnius. On 25th March, Estonian Communists voted for independence; Latvia would follow in May. Meanwhile, on 28th March, already independent Hungary held its first free elections since 1945, which passed off completely peacefully. Struggling to retain control, Gorbachev imposed economic sanctions on Lithuania. He cut off oil supplies and eighty-four per cent of the flow of natural gas by pipeline, letting through just enough to keep essential services such as hospitals, going. He also prohibited the supply of other goods. The US considered, but rejected, sanctions against Moscow, despite lobbying in Washington from US citizens originally from the Baltic States. Instead, the administration threatened to withhold the signing of a projected trade deal with the Soviets. In Moscow, government officials saw Lithuania as the place where they had to make a stand if they were not to lose bigger republics like Ukraine as well. That would be an economic and political catastrophe from which Gorbachev would not recover. In April support for the Ukrainian nationalist movement, ‘Rukh’, was strong, especially in Galicia, which had been Polish-Ukrainian in the recent past. The Foreign Editor of the BBC, John Simpson (pictured below), visiting Moscow and Kyiv in April, was told by a Ukrainian friend that…

“You don’t see a single red flag flying there now, only the blue and gold flag of our Ukraine, the blue of the sky and the gold of the corn.”

John Simpson, BBC journalist, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, 1990.

As it happened, he was Jewish, and Ukrainians, like Lithuanians, had a powerful yet wholly unjustified reputation for anti-Semitism during the Second World War. It was claimed that the SS had recruited many of them for concentration-camp work and found them hard-working, brutal and obedient. When Simpson asked him why he, a Jew, had become a Ukrainian nationalist, he replied that in Lviv, the capital of Western Ukraine, politics was different…

… ‘Rukh’ isn’t like these other groups, ‘Pamyat’ and so on. It’s got some brains. When they found out in the elections Jews had voted almost one hundred per cent for Rukh, it changed its whole approach to us. Some of my friends and I had a meeting with the Rukh leadership. They agreed to set up Hebrew lessons, they decided to start demanding the right of emigration for the Jews. And you know what? They asked us for help in distributing their literature in Yiddish. … Oh yes, and one other thing. They came round to see us later, and said they’d heard there was a secret ‘Pamyat’ cell operating in Lviv. They offered us protection if we wanted it.

John Simpson (1990), Despatches from the Barricades, p. 299.

Clearly, the Ukrainian nationalists of the 1990s, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, had put clear blue and gold water between them and the war-time Nazi collaborators. They had already decontaminated themselves from the stain of anti-Semitism, if they had ever really needed to, more than thirty years ago. But Simpson did comment that the thought that Jews might vote for a Ukrainian nationalist movement and that the movement might protect them from violence as a result set his young friend laughing and shaking his head again. By contrast, in Russia itself, at that time, Simpson reported that anti-Semitism was growing fast. The Jewish demand for emigration enraged people who themselves would have liked to have left Russia but did not have the international support given to the Jewish refuseniks. One Jewish ‘witness’ and victim of the ‘resultant’ abuse told him:

People in shops and in the streets say to us, “When are you going to Israel?” or “What are you waiting for?” You find swastikas drawn on posters near where you live. They shout at us and our children. The mood is getting uglier: you can feel it.

So much for the bizarre claim that a country that in 2022 has a Jew as its President is somehow historically anti-Semitic and in need of denazification. Many of those transported and murdered at Auschwitz were sub-Carpathian Jews, some of them ethnic Hungarians, but others ethnic Ukrainians, as well as Poles. In the early 1990s, once the travel restrictions began to be lifted in Russia, hundreds of thousands of (mainly ‘Ashkenazy’) Russian Jews poured through central European airports en route to Israel. Few of them were firm Zionists and some were actually anti-Zionists. All of them were leaving behind a country, Russia (not Ukraine), in which anti-Semitism was on the rise again. They feared further ‘pogroms’, like those that Theodor Hertzl and his family had endured a century earlier, under the Tsarist régime, before escaping to Budapest.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, second from right, with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, summer 1990. Kohl pledged to curb German military strength and offered substantial financial aid. Eventually, Gorbachev agreed that Germany could be reunited, within NATO.

In the early summer of 1990, the conditions to be attached to German reunification were hammered out. The Soviet Union failed to secure a transitional period in which the military forces in East Germany (DDR) retained “associated membership” in the Warsaw Pact, obvious nonsense, or an agreement on a hard-line plan whereby for three to five years the other powers would oversee Germany’s conduct. In London in early July, a NATO summit made a declaration of non-aggression with the Warsaw Pact nations. That helped the cause of German reunification, and Germany, meanwhile, helped itself by finally confirming its borders with Poland, promising to limit the future size of a German army, agreeing not to station nuclear weapons in East Germany and offering to pay the costs of removing half a million Soviet troops from the former DDR and resettling them in Russia. Kohl and Genscher went to Moscow together, and at a press conference on 16 July, Gorbachev declared, …

“ … whether we like it or not, the time will come when a united Germany will be in NATO if that is its choice. Then, if that is its choice, to some degree and in some form, Germany can work together with the Soviet Union.”

Left: January 1990. Right: December 1991, out of a job, Mikhail Gorbachev was hailed worldwide for his role in ending the Cold War, was ultimately rejected by his native Russia. Former US State Department analyst gave his verdict on the man, saying that while Gorbachev may not have been the main factor: “… what happened would not have happened without him. That cannot be said of anyone else.”

Gorbachev’s extraordinary statement was, as Chancellor Kohl put it, a breakthrough, a fantastic result. A fortnight earlier, at the Twenty-eighth Party Congress, Gorbachev had been ferociously attacked by party hard-liners for letting the Baltics go, weakening the Warsaw Pact, and undermining the ideological foundations of the Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party. He was, nevertheless, re-elected its general secretary, and continued to commit the Soviet Union to uproot the cornerstone of its security policy since the end of the Second World War. On 3 October, East and West Germany (FRG/FDR) were joined; Germany was reunited.  The crowds and flags in the pictures on the right and below show that this was a popular political reunification, at first, within the European Union. The security and economic issues would be addressed later.

The Brandenburg Gate, 3rd October 1990.

Some historians say the Cold War ended when the Berlin Wall came down in October 1989: others say it was when the Soviet Union publicly reconciled itself to seeing a reunited Germany, whose invasion and defeat in 1941-45  had cost the Union more than twenty million dead, in a military alliance with the West. Since Germany had always been at the epicentre of the Cold War in Europe, Gorbachev’s statement in Moscow on 16 July has a strong claim to be considered the decisive moment of the Cold War’s ending. But if the contest was over, the contestants had not yet left the ring. There was still a great deal of unfinished business, both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 had marked the beginning of what has become known by historians as the ‘Second Cold War’, so also the summer of 1990 marked the beginning of two conflicts that still remained unresolved more than a decade later, one in the Persian Gulf and the other in what, then, was still part of the USSR, in Ukraine. The Soviet Union was still in being, though beset with problems, two of which were desperately difficult for Gorbachev to deal with. He was trying, as fast as he could, to reform both an economy that was rapidly collapsing and a system of government in which corruption had become a way of life.

He was trying to hold the Soviet Union together when every single member state sought independence or would do so very soon. On the same day that Gorbachev made his momentous statement in Moscow, 16 July, Ukraine declared its sovereignty, followed by Armenia, Turkmenistan and Tadzhikistan in August, and Kazakhstan and Kirghizia in October. In the same month, both Russia and Ukraine declared their state laws to be superior to those of the Union. In November, however, the Supreme Soviet declared this position invalid. Gorbachev proposed the setting up of a new central government that would have representatives in it of each of the fifteen republics. Boris Yeltsin, as leader of the Russian Republic, made clear that he did not want to see power concentrated at the centre, in Gorbachev’s hands. By the end of November, Gorbachev had shifted his position again, proposing a ‘new Union Treaty: a Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics’ with loosened ties between each republic and the central Soviet government. Meanwhile, the Supreme Soviet had been making fundamental reforms: on 1 October it passed a law guaranteeing freedom of worship and on 9 October legislation to bring in a multiparty system. They demonstrated that such huge constitutional issues could be settled by voting and diplomacy. The Media too were freed from state control.

Above: Ukrainians protest at continued Soviet domination. Ukraine was the first of several Soviet republics to declare its independence from the USSR and its sovereignty on 16 July 1990.

But the economy was a far more challenging task for Gorbachev to face: Just the prospect of radical economic restructuring threatened social chaos and caused immediate fear and distrust. To go from a command economy, where everyone did as they were told by the centre, to one that operated without central planning and control, leaving prices to market forces, was to travel a pathless route into unknown territory. Not many wanted to go that way, and the few who did had no route map by which to arrive at a clear destination. On 20 July a “five hundred day” economic programme to move the USSR towards a market economy was published. It proposed the sale of large numbers of state enterprises, the dissolution of state collective farms, currency reform and a new banking system. But Gorbachev’s nerve failed him, and the reforms were not introduced. Uncertainty was only making matters worse, and the Bush administration steadfastly refused to provide aid to fund the programme upfront, saying that it would only give it as a reward for implementing reform, not as an inducement. Moreover, concerned that Gorbachev might be deposed, the US continued to maintain a state of full military preparedness.

Towards the end of November (19-21), NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders met in Paris to sign a historic treaty setting reduced levels of conventional forces in the whole of Europe (CFE) from the Atlantic to the Urals. Disarmament was no longer simply about the ‘superpowers’ controlling the numbers of nuclear warheads. Negotiations had become multi-lateral and multi-faceted. It was against this background that, in Paris, the sixteen member-states of NATO and the six member-states of the Warsaw Pact countries published a Joint Declaration of non-aggression in which they stated that they no longer considered themselves enemies. As the Cold War ended with the former ‘satellite’ states freely placing themselves under the NATO umbrella, the conflict in the Middle East was about to go up in flames, quite literally. Together with the break-up of the Russian sphere of influence and the Balkan wars, this was to dominate the next generation of international relations.

Gorbachev’s Georgian Foreign Minister and ultimate ‘scapegoat’.

As 1990 ended, Gorbachev, under persistent conservative criticism, made a ‘sharp right turn’. The USSR’s Supreme Soviet, unable to agree on an economic programme, had granted Gorbachev special powers to rule by decree during the transition to a market economy. Firing his moderate interior minister and replacing him with the hardline former KGB chief, Boris Pugo, Gorbachev sent a clear reactionary signal on 17 December, saying that The country needed a firm executive rule to overcome the threat posed by the dark forces of nationalism.

By the end of the year, Shevardnadze had personally paid the price for the USSR’s concessions in Eastern Europe and on Germany, and support for the United States in the Persian Gulf.

He had been offered up as a scapegoat by Gorbachev to the conservatives. Knowing that he was about to be kicked upstairs as vice president, he resigned his post of Foreign Minister, warning that a hardline dictatorship was at hand, and returned to his native Georgia. Shevardnadze had played a key role in advancing ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ alongside Gorbachev. On 26 December 1990, the Congress of People’s Deputies approved new executive powers for the president. In Moscow, the following February, Gorbachev fought on. He held a referendum and won approval for his new Union Treaty; the Soviet Union was to be preserved as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which human rights and the freedoms of all nationalities would be guaranteed. Several republics boycotted the vote, and Yeltsin made it clear that he sided with the boycotters. In March, a coal miners’ strike began in the Donbas, in Ukraine, and mass demonstrations took place in Moscow, for Yeltsin and against Gorbachev, despite a ban and the presence of fifty thousand police and soldiers. The marches went off peacefully, but the ban and the massing of armed forces caused much offence. Gorbachev’s rightward turn had cost him respect among the reformers. The following month Georgia declared its independence from the USSR. Correcting his course, the Soviet president held talks with leaders of nine republics to formulate a political and economic reform package and a modified relationship between the capital and the republics. The leaders reached a new agreement on a treaty, called ‘Ninety-plus-One’. On 12th June, Boris Yeltsin was elected to the newly created post of president of Russia, in a landslide. Yeltsin received fifty-seven per cent of eighty million votes. He was the first democratically elected leader in Russian history.

Central-Eastern Europe, 1991-2001

The Failed Coup & the End of the Cold War:

At the end of July, at a summit in Moscow, Bush and Gorbachev signed START 1, beginning a new sequence of strategic arms reduction agreements. George Bush had undertaken to visit Ukraine, and went on to Kyiv after Moscow. The Ukrainians were hoping for US support in their move to independence from Moscow, but Bush perceived just how perilous Gorbachev’s position was and did not want to make it worse. Speaking publicly in Kyiv, he denounced the grim consequences of “suicidal nationalism.” Croatia, having left the Yugoslav Federation, and Slovenia, were already at war, so it’s unlikely that he was speaking about the Ukrainians, but they were disappointed by these remarks. The speech went down badly in the USA as well; where Bush’s critics dubbed it his “Chicken Kyiv” speech. In August, Gorbachev went on holiday to his villa at Foros on the Black Sea. Early in the morning of 19 August, as his holiday was coming to an end, radio and television started broadcasting an announcement in Moscow from the State Committee for the State of Emergency: President Gorbachev was ill and unable to perform his duties; Vice-President Yanayev had assumed the powers of the presidency; an emergency had been declared. It was, of course, as we now know, a coup but for the ordinary citizens of Moscow, Kyiv and Leningrad at the time, matters were very unclear. Where was Gorbachev? Perhaps he really was ill?

What had actually happened was that on Sunday 18 August, a delegation from Moscow hat arrived at the seaside villa to see Gorbachev. Before they entered, the president tried to telephone out, but the line had been cut. As Navy vessels manoeuvred near the shore, the five conspirators pushed their way in: They told Gorbachev that he should approve the declaration of a national state of emergency and sign it, or resign and hand over power to Yanayev. Gorbachev flatly refused. They left, putting Gorbachev under arrest, cut off from communication with the outside world.

The plotters in Moscow included several members of the government, among them Prime Minister Pavlov; KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov; Interior Minister Pugo; and Minister of Defence Marshal Dmitry Yazov (pictured above, right). Most of them had been urging Gorbachev for months to impose emergency rule and had now decided to do it themselves, hoping he would go along with it. He had underestimated their strength, but they had also underestimated his determination to resist. His refusal to give in was brave, but in Moscow, the real struggle was just beginning. In every Moscow ministry and in the republics, every civil servant had to make up their mind about what to do. Most watched to see how things would turn out, but enough of them, in government, the army and the KGB refused to obey orders from the ‘Emergency Committee’ to ensure that the coup went off half-cock. Gorbachev’s insistence on a transition to democracy was paying off. Resistance was led by the White House, the seat of the Russian Parliament, by Boris Yeltsin. He denounced the coup and those behind it, rallying support for the legitimate government and a liberal-democratic future rather than a return to totalitarian tyranny. He called for a general strike.

Above left: Tanks in the streets; attempted coup in Moscow. But the army was halfhearted in obeying the Emergency Committee’s orders. The plotters failed to seize power outright. Above right: Crowds surround the Russian Parliament building, some with Ukrainian flags, where Boris Yeltsin leads the resistance against the unconstitutional coup.

Those who agreed with Yeltsin, and had the courage to say so, went to the White House, ringed by troops and tanks, to declare their support. Shevardnadze was one of the first. At eight in the morning, eastern US time, President Bush met the press. He praised Gorbachev as “a historic figure,” hedged on Yanayev, but stopped short of outright denunciation when he called the seizure of power, “extra-constitutional.” He insisted that he would not seek to “overexcite the American people or the world. … We will conduct our diplomacy in a prudent fashion, not driven by excess.” This reaction was not much more than ‘wait and see.’

At Foros, meanwhile, the Gorbachevs, on a transistor radio their captors did not know they had, had learned what was happening in Moscow from the BBC World Service. Raisa Gorbachev, in her diary, expressed indignation at the news on state television. Gorbachev sent a message to Yaneyev: Cancel what you have done and convene either the Congress of People’s Deputies or the USSR Supreme Soviet. The first blood was spilt on the night of 20 August, when three young men were killed by armoured personnel carriers moving towards the White House in support of the coup. Had the ‘Emergency Committee’ been more resolute, many more lives would certainly have been lost. But they were hesitant, unsure of themselves, and of their support. The coup had failed. A delegation of the plotters reached Foros at 5.00 p.m the next day and asked to see Gorbachev. It included Kryuchkov and Yazov, but Gorbachev refused to see them until communications had been restored. When they were, Gorbachev rang Yeltsin, and shortly afterwards a Russian delegation arrived to bring the Gorbachev family back to Moscow. The conspirators resigned or committed suicide.

22 and 23 August 1991: Exiting the plane that Yeltsin sent for him, Gorbachev returns to a changed Moscow. Yeltsin was now in charge, and the next day, in the Russian parliament, he forced Gorbachev to read out documents implicating his own Communist colleagues in the coup against him.

All that remained was to establish the precise relationship between the Soviet Union and the individual republics. On the 20th and 21st of August, Estonia and Latvia declared independence, and Lithuania reaffirmed its declaration of 1990. The republics of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, Tadzhikistan and Armenia followed soon after. On 2 September, President Bush announced that the United States recognised the independence of the Baltic states. The Soviet State Council did so four days later and, on the same day, Georgia broke all ties with the Soviet Union. The republics voted to reject Gorbachev’s Union Treaty, favouring instead a confederation. On 30 November, Yeltsin’s Russia, as the leading power in the new association, took control of the Soviet Foreign Ministry and all its embassies abroad. On 8 December, in Minsk, Yeltsin for Russia, Leonid Kravchuk for Ukraine, and Stanislav Shushkevich for Belarus, the three Slav states, without bothering to take the other republics with them, signed a pact ending the USSR and creating the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States. They first informed George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev what they had done, humiliating the Soviet president, who the next day denied their right to have done it; but the Russian Parliament ratified and therefore legitimised the pact, and within days all but one of the other remaining republics joined.

US Secretary of State under George Bush

With James Baker, Bush’s Secretary of State, in Moscow a week later, the four republics possessing nuclear weapons – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan – announced that they would abide by and implement the cuts in arms agreed by Bush and Gorbachev, and the three other states agreed to transfer their nuclear weapons to Russia, signalling that they no longer posed a nuclear threat to either the West or Moscow. On 25th December 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was brought to an official end when the red flag with hammer and sickle was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time. Mikhail Gorbachev ‘resigned’, commenting a few days later:

I do not regard the end of the Cold War as a victory for one side. … The end of the Cold War is our common victory.

But, for his part, in his ‘State of the Union’ address for 1992, an election year, President Bush chose to claim triumphantly that the United States had “won the Cold War”. Others have continued to claim the same for the past thirty years.

In the wake of the collapse of communist rule in the USSR and the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union, no fewer than twenty-two new countries, among them the fifteen former republics of the USSR, came into being. Thus the three Baltic states, Ukraine Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia gained independence that none of them had known since before the Second World War. These new states were not destined to remain in peace. Break-away movements emerged, threatening to inflict on the region a fatal combination of old hatreds and new destructive power. Transnistria declared independence from Moldova, Chechnya declared independence from Russia and Crimea sought to break away from Ukraine. Added to these divisions, civil war followed in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and from 1991 Yugoslavia simply imploded under pressure from long-suppressed inter-ethnic rivalries. A series of wars continued for a decade, forcing NATO to intervene to prevent genocide against the majority Albanian population of Kosovo. More peacefully, the general election of June 1992 led to Czechoslovakia breaking into two, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. By 1993, the euphoria following the events of 1989 had evaporated. Large parts of Eastern Europe were beset by instability, poverty, ethnic tensions and even outright war. It was, therefore, no surprise that the central European states looked to the west and the European Union. By 2001, most of the new democracies had applied to join both NATO and the EU. The ebb and flow of people across borders, and the changing nature of those borders, a process that Europe thought it had left behind in 1945, was returning with a vengeance.


Modern British-Ukrainian Connections – Three Case Studies:

Appendix One:
Hughesovka – A Case Study of the ‘Welsh’ city in Eastern Ukraine:

Since April 2014 Donetsk and its surrounding areas have been one of the major sites of fighting in the ongoing Donbas War, as pro-Russian separatist forces battle against Ukrainian military forces for control of the city and surrounding areas. Throughout the war, the city of Donetsk has been administered by the separatist forces as the centre of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), with outlying territories of the Donetsk region divided between the two sides. Donetsk International Airport became the epicentre of the war with almost a year-long battle leading to massive casualties among civilians and total ruination of the northwestern neighbourhoods of the city.

Donetsk, formerly known as Aleksandrovka, Yuzivka, Yuzovka (Hughesovka), Stalino is an industrial city in eastern Ukraine located on the Kalmius River in the disputed area of Donetsk Oblast. While internationally recognized as being in Ukraine, the city is under the de facto administration of the Donetsk People’s Republic, which claims it as its capital city. The population was estimated at 905,364 (2021 est.) in the city core, with over 2 million in the metropolitan area (2011). According to the 2001 Ukrainian Census, Donetsk was the fifth-largest city in Ukraine. Administratively, Donetsk has been the centre of Donetsk Oblast, while historically, it is the unofficial capital and largest city of the larger economic and cultural Donets Basin (Donbas) region. Donetsk is adjacent to another major city, Makiivka, and along with other surrounding cities forms a major urban sprawl and conurbation in the region. Donetsk has been a major economic, industrial and scientific centre of Ukraine with a high concentration of heavy industries and a skilled workforce. The density of heavy industries (predominantly steel production, chemical industry, and coal mining) determined the city’s challenging ecological situation. 

John James Hughes
Born 1814
Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales
Died 17 June 1889 (aged 74–75)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Buried: West Norwood Cemetery, London
Known as the Founder of the city of Donetsk
Engineer, businessman

The original settlement in the south of the European part of the Russian Empire was first mentioned as Aleksandrovka in 1779, during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great. In 1869 the Welsh businessman John Hughes founded a steel plant and several coal mines in the region, and the town was named Hughesovka or Yuzovka (Юзовка) in recognition of his role (“Yuz” being a Russian-language approximation of Hughes). Hughes was born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, where his father was head engineer at the Cyfarthfa Ironworks. It was there that Hughes started his career, under his father’s supervision. He then moved to Ebbw Vale, before joining the Uskside Foundry in Newport, Monmouthshire, in the 1840s. It was here that Hughes made his reputation and fortune, patenting a number of inventions in armaments and armour plating.

In the mid-1850s, Hughes moved to London to become manager of C.J. Mare and Company’s forges and rolling mills, which was then taken over by the Millwall Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company, part of the Millwall Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Graving Docks Company. Hughes was a director of the company when it foundered, and resultantly became manager of the residual Millwall Iron Works Company. In 1868, that Company received an order from the Imperial Russian Government for the plating of a naval fortress being built at Kronstadt on the Baltic Sea.

Hughes was born in Merthyr Tydfil CREDIT: Getty

Hughes accepted a concession from the Imperial Russian Government to develop metal works in the region, and in 1869 acquired a piece of land to the north of the Azov Sea from Russian statesman Sergei Kochubey (son of Viktor Kochubey). The worker’s settlement at the plant merged with Aleksandrovka and the place was named Yuzovo, later Yuzovka (Russian: Юзово, Юзовка), after Hughes. In its early period, it received immigrants from Wales, especially from the town of Merthyr Tydfil. He formed the ‘New Russia Company Ltd.’ to raise capital, and in the summer of 1870, at the age of fifty-five, he moved to Russia. He sailed with eight ships, carrying not only all the equipment necessary to establish metal works but also much of the skilled labour; a group of about a hundred ironworkers and miners, mostly from South Wales.

Welsh workers in the ironworks at Hughesovka, John Hughes is second from the right in the front row.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Yuzovka works were the largest in the Russian Empire, producing 74% of Russian iron in 1913. A period of relative decline in the early years of the twentieth century was followed by expansion during World War I. Many of the men who accompanied John Hughes settled in Hughesovka and brought their wives and families. Over the years, although a Russian workforce was trained by the company, skilled workers from the United Kingdom continued to be employed, and many technical, engineering and managerial positions were filled by British immigrants; who were overwhelmingly Welsh. A thriving expatriate community was established, living in good quality company housing, and provided with an English school and an Anglican church. Despite the cold winters, hot summers and occasional cholera epidemics, some families remained in Hughesovka for many years.

Henry Taylor of Blaenafon with workers at Hughesovka, the 1890s

At the beginning of the 20th century, Yuzovka had approximately 50,000 inhabitants and attained the status of a city in 1917. So, the modern Ukrainian city of Donetsk began as the ironworking town of Hughesovka, founded by John Hughes of Merthyr Tydfil. South Wales, especially the town of Merthyr, was at the forefront of the development of the iron industry in Britain and it is therefore not surprising to find Welsh people leading the industry across the world in the nineteenth century. Many Welsh workers were employed there from 1869 until they were expelled during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Hughesovka became Stalino in 1924 CREDIT: Getty

The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 ended the Hughes family’s connection to the works. The Hughes brothers and almost all their foreign employees returned to Britain or other countries. The works were nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1919. During Soviet times, the city’s steel industry expanded. In 1924 Yuzovka was renamed Stalin and then in 1929 Stalino, and in 1932 the city became the centre of the Donetsk region.

Ruins of the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Donetsk, after its destruction by Soviet authorities in 1931. Image: Wiki Commons/State Archives of Donetsk region.

In 1929, when Yuzovka became Stalino, the USSR was producing, as Russia had done in 1914, about half as much steel as the United Kingdom, which in turn was producing half as much as Germany. Yet by 1937, when Stalin’s second five-year plan was completed, the gap had been virtually closed: The USSR was turning out considerably more steel than Britain and nearly as much as Germany. This achievement is visible on the map below in terms of urban population growth.

Stalin’s new industrial centres, including Stalino as the biggest, were dotted across what had been the ’empty’ corner of the continent. Renamed Donetsk (Donetske, according to the Kharkiv orthography) in 1961, the city today remains a centre for coal mining and for the steel industry. The works survived and prospered despite régime and socio-economic change, and Donetsk remains a major metallurgical industries centre today.

The re-built Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Jesus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hughes_(businessman); https://www.peoplescollection.wales/collections/1850071; https://museum.wales/articles/1562/Working-Abroad—Welsh-Emigration-Iron

Appendix Two:
A 2012 article, “Wales and the forgotten famine” – The ‘Holodomor’ in Ukraine:

The cost of Stalin’s forced industrialisation in human terms was immense, and almost unimaginable to people in western Europe then, let alone today. The peasantry, who had to provide the initial resources, were plundered and left to starve. Much of the labour needed was obtained by arbitrary arrest and most of those arrested were callously worked to death. More than a million people were shot out of hand; ten times as many as those who later died in the war-time camps. To ‘save’ Russians and Ukrainians from the Nazis, Stalin murdered beat and brutalised them in a reign of terror that even Hitler had difficulty matching. Yet little was known about this outside of the Soviet Union, partly because western politicians and journalists of the time did not wish to admit to the terror. Only recently has the full scale of this become clear and widely known.

A Holodomor memorial at the Andrushivka village cemetery, Vinnytsia oblast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following article by Mick Antoniw, Welsh Assembly Member for Pontypridd, appeared in the Western Mail in early November 2012:

This weekend in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities and homes across the world people will be commemorating the 79th anniversary of the “Holodomor“, the artificial famine created by Stalin which led to the deaths over an eighteen- month period during 1932-1933 of over seven million Ukrainian men women and children. The precise figures will never be known but estimates suggest between six and ten million died.

It is only in recent years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union that people in the West have become aware of this concealed and forgotten act of genocide.

As a child, brought up in a Ukrainian émigré community I became aware of the stories of the Holodomor. I grew up with some children whose families had survived and lived through these terrible events. In a hotchpotch community of the post war flotsam and jetsam of Ukraine, former soldiers from the Polish, Red and German armies, in some cases soldiers who had served in all three, ex partisans, nationalists, socialists, betrayed communists, ex-Gulag and concentration camp prisoners, former slave labourers and mere, ordinary refugees from the bombings and killings; all had their horror stories but all knew of and in some cases had experienced the Holodomor, the “death by famine”.

You might think that famine was nothing new; after all there was famine in the immediate post revolution period in Ukraine. However, this was different, a man-made famine which had as its main objectives, the forced collectivisation of land and the peasantry, and the wiping out of millions of Ukrainians and replacing them with more loyal, Russian speaking cadre, to appease Stalin’s feeling of political insecurity arising in central and South East Ukraine, the bread basket of Europe.

The famine also exposed the worst and the best in British journalism. The worst, typified by some of the left leaning journalists who visited and reported on the Soviet Union in glowing terms, feted and well looked after by the Soviet authorities they saw no famine. In fact suggestions there might be a famine on any thing like the scale suggested was immediately put down and rubbished as anti soviet or right-wing propaganda. Journalists of international acclaim such as the 1932 Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty were seduced by the Soviet propaganda machine into allowing their hearts to overrule their heads and their responsibilities as journalists.

British and indeed international investigative journalism failed spectacularly. On the other side, the best of British journalism was exemplified by journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and in particular Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. After graduating from Cambridge in 1930, Barry born Gareth made his first visit to ‘Hughesovka’ (Donetsk) where he saw the first signs of famine. In 1933 he visited Soviet Ukraine again and defied a ban on travelling to visit the famine affected regions. During his March 1933 “off limits” walking tour of Ukraine he witnessed the famine first hand and reported:

“I walked alone through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, “there is no bread, we are dying.”… In one of the peasant’s cottages in which I stayed we slept nine in the room. It was pitiful to see that two out of the three children had swollen stomachs. All there was to eat in the hut was a very dirty watery soup, with a slice or two of potato. Fear of death loomed over the cottage, for they had not enough potatoes to last until the next crop. When I shared my white bread and butter and cheese one of the peasant women said, “Now I have eaten such wonderful things I can die happy.” I set forth again further towards the south and heard the villagers say, “We are waiting for death.”

During the famine around 20-25% of the population of Soviet Ukraine was exterminated including a third of Ukraine’s children. That the famine was a direct product of Stalin’s political leadership was illustrated by the gruesome statement of leading communist MM Khatayevich who summed up the official position:

“A ruthless struggle is going on between the peasantry and our regime. It’s a struggle to the death. This year was a test of our strength and their endurance. It took a famine to show them who is master here. It has cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay. We’ve won the war”.

Gareth Jones was vilified and ostracised for reporting honestly what he saw. He was nevertheless one of the few who stood up and maintained the highest journalistic principles. He was banned by the Soviet authorities from re-entering the Soviet Union. Two years later he was murdered in suspicious circumstances in Manchuria.

In recognition of Gareth Jones’ exposure of the famine a memorial plaque in English, Welsh and Ukrainian was unveiled in Aberystwyth in May 2006. In November 2008 I attended a ceremony in London at which his nephew was awarded the Ukrainian Order of Freedom. Wales has an unusual historic connection with Ukraine mainly arising out of its common industrial heritage. In Gareth Jones, Wales can be proud of something else; at a time when many turned a blind eye to the terrible events in Ukraine, it was a Welshman who stood up and told the world the truth.

Mick Antoniw, First posted on November 17, 2012, by AngloMagyarMedia.

The memorial plaque to Gareth Jones was unveiled in Aberystwyth in 2006.

Appendix Three: The Refugees’ Hymn – When are we going home?

The hymn How Great Thou Art owes much of its popularity to its extensive use in the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s. But it owes its origins to a trail leading from Sweden to Britain via central-eastern Europe.

The sleeve from Stuart K Hine’s 1958 album featured a collection of hymns and tunes from eastern Europe.

The words in English are a translation of a Swedish poem, O store Gud, by Carl Boberg (1859-1940), an evangelist, journalist and for fifteen years a member of Sweden’s parliament. He was born the son of a shipyard worker on the southeast coast of Sweden. He came to faith at the age of nineteen and went to Bible School Kristinehamn. He returned to his native town of Monsteras as a preacher and it was there in 1886 that he wrote his nine-verse poem, inspired to praise God’s greatness one summer evening while looking across the calm waters of the inlet. A rainbow had formed, following a storm in the afternoon, and a church bell was tolling in the distance. Translated literally into English, the first verse of his poem reads:

O Thou great God! When I the world consider

Which Thou hast made by Thine almighty Word;

And how the web of life Thy wisdom guideth,

And all creation feedeth at Thy board:

Then doth my soul burst forth in song of praise:

O Thou great God! O Thou great God!

Stuart K Hine’s postcard from western Ukraine in the 1930s.

Boberg’s verses were set to music in 1891 and appeared in several Swedish hymnbooks around the turn of the century. An English translation was published in 1925 under the title O Mighty God, but never really caught on. Earlier, in 1912, a Russian version by Ivan Prokhanoff had appeared. This was almost certainly made from a German translation of the original Swedish hymn. The English translation was the work of British missionary and evangelist, Stuart K Hine (1899-1989), who heard it being sung in Russian in western Ukraine, where he had gone in 1923. After singing the hymn in Russian for many years, Hine translated the first three verses while continuing his missionary work in the Carpathian mountains in the 1930s. The scenery there inspired his second verse which draws little from Boberg’s original poem while remaining true to its general spirit of wonder at God’s creation:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander

And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees:

When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,

And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

Then sings my soul, my saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Stuart Hine wrote the fourth verse of his hymn when he was back in Britain in 1948. In that year more than a hundred thousand refugees from Eastern Europe streamed into the United Kingdom. The question uppermost in their minds was When are we going home?  In an essay on the history of the hymn, Hine wrote:

What better message for the homeless than that of the One who went to prepare a place for the ‘displaced’, of the God who invites into his own home those who will come to him through Christ. 

Contrasting with a third verse which is about Christ’s ‘bearing’ of our individual burdens of sin on the cross, the final verse is about our places among the multitudes on the ‘last day’, just like the mass of homeless refugees finding a temporary home in Britain:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

And take me home – what joy shall fill my heart!

Then shall I bow in humble adoration

And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art! 

Seventy years ago, Stuart Hine published both the Russian and the English versions of the hymn in his gospel magazine Grace and Peace in 1949. It is perhaps worth remembering that, by then, many refugees from the Soviet Union had been ‘homeless’ for almost the entire decade. It was in 1940-41, following his ‘Winter War’ against Finland, that Stalin ordered the evacuation of Karelia with those returning forced to leave permanently. That was followed by the resettlement of two million Poles, mostly Catholic, from eastern Ukraine to northern Russia and the deportation to Siberia of Germans and other ‘unreliable’ peoples – Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Tartars, Kalmuks and Caucasians to Siberia. Hundreds of thousands of ‘ethnic Ukrainians’, especially Cossacks, were also transported there. To strengthen the ‘Soviet peoples’ (presumably the Russians, Georgians, Kazaks and Ukrainians), such deportations were continued after the war.

Refugees and displaced peoples after 1945.
Thirty million million Europeans, 60% of them German, lost their homeland. Almost all ethnic and national borders coincide since that time, also in eastern-central Europe. To care for the ‘displaced persons’ (D.P.’s for labourers, refugees of international background and the deported, the UN took over the 1945 UNRRA and transformed it into the IRO in 1947, which was then attached to the UNHCR in 1951.

O Lord My God rapidly caught on in evangelical circles both in Britain and the UK, as well as in Eastern Europe, despite (or perhaps because of) the oppression of the churches by the Soviet-style communist régimes that were taking control of the states where the hymn was first heard. 


Laurence Rees (2008), World War Two: Behind Closed Doors – Stalin, The Nazis and the West. London: BBC Books.

András Bereznay, Mark Almond, et.al. (2001), The Times Atlas of European History. London: Harper Collins.

Jeremy Isaacs & Taylor Downing (1998), Cold War.  London: Transworld Publishers.

John Simpson (1998), Strange Places, Questionable People. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Richard Overy (1996), The Penguin Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

John Simpson (1990), Despatches from the Barricades. London: Hutchinson.

Colin McEvedy (1982), The Penguin Atlas of Recent History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Hermann Kinder & Werner Hilgemann (1978), The Penguin Atlas of World History, volume two: from the French Revolution to the Present. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Irene Richards, et.al. (1938), A Sketch-Map History of the Great War and After. London: Harrap.

George Taylor (1936), A Sketch-Map History of Europe, 1789-1914. London: Harrap.


Who are the Ukrainians? Mythology & History, Part I, 862-1796: Kyivan Rus & Cossacks; Great Powers & Empires.

Fake History & The Russian World-View:

As you know, this conflict did not start today. It is my firm belief that its initiators are not the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, who came from one Kievan baptismal font, are united by common faith, common saints and prayers, and share common historical fate.

In a 10 March letter, quoted above, H.H. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia responded to a letter sent 2 March by World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca asking the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to mediate so that the war can be stopped. His letter repeated the claims recently made in a newspaper article written by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, with whom the Patriarch is said to have a close relationship. In his letter, he did not undertake to mediate in order to stop the war but accused ‘Western leaders’ of bringing sufferings not only to the Russian political or military leaders but specifically to the Russian people. He went on to assert that Russophobia is spreading across the Western world at an unprecedented pace. He concluded:

I pray unceasingly that by His power the Lord help establish the lasting and justice-based peace as soon as possible. I ask you and our brothers in Christ, united in the Council, to share this prayer with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Dear Father Ioan, I express my hope that even in these trying times, as has been the case throughout its history, the World Council of Churches will be able to remain a platform for unbiased dialogue, free from political preferences and one-sided approach.

May the Lord preserve and save the peoples of Russia and Ukraine!

With paternal love,


In this first of two articles, I attempt to address, as an economic, social and political historian as well as a church historian, what I believe are the mistaken interpretations of Ukrainian, Russian and wider central-eastern European history which have been used by President Putin and Patriarch Kirill in justification of the Russian state’s invasion of Ukraine and its continuing war against the Ukrainian people as a whole. In doing so, I have tried to limit myself to the use of factual accounts and sources, including historical maps, while also trying to explain how Soviet-era ‘historiography’ has been used to create a ‘fake history’ and ‘mythology’ of relations between the ancestors of both Ukrainians and Russians over the past twelve hundred and sixty years since the founding of Kyiv as a trading centre the Rus, and the other peoples of central-eastern Europe. The ‘mythology’ has been powerfully linked to the ‘sanctification’ of the invasion of Ukraine through the Ruski Mir, the Russian ‘World-view’ which holds that Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians are the same people in ethnicity, religion and culture.

Vikings, Traders & Tribes:

‘Hungarians at Kyiv’ – a painting by Pál Vágó (1853-1928). Tough many attempts, based in part on archaeological finds and in part on old accounts, were made to depict Hungarian prehistory and the Conquest at the time of the Millennium and the turn of the twentieth century, much uncertainty still attends the pre-history of the Hungarians., the period before they arrived in the Carpathian Basin. It is difficult to maintain, on the basis of archaeological evidence from the territories known today as part of the Ukraine and Russia, that these relics are unmistakably Hungarian. It is probable, however, that as a result of the extensive and multibranched archaeological research, many such finds today lie hidden in the area of the former Soviet Union, mainly in smaller regional museums, which through further scientific investigation will identify as being of ancient Hungarian origin.

Towards the end of the eighth century, while Charlemagne still ruled over his Frankish Empire, bands of hardy ‘pirates’ or ‘Vikings’ from the northern lands of Scandinavia. Driven by landlessness, poverty, and discontent, these pagan warriors sailed forth in search of trade, plunder, and adventure. In their long narrowboats, they made daring raids all around the coasts of Europe and up and down the rivers of the east as far as Kyiv on the Dnieper. Swedish adventurers, under a leader called Rurik, established a trading centre there in 862, with another one at Novgorod in among the northern ‘Rus’. However, evidence of Scandinavian activity east of the Baltic in the ninth and tenth centuries is ambiguous. A large number of coins from ‘northern Russia’ found in Scandinavia may indicate trade, plunder, tribute, or the payment of mercenaries. Islamic texts also refer to the “Rus” as traders who were settled in Kyiv as early as the mid-ninth century. Besides Kyiv and Novgorod, they also held a base at Staraya Ladoga. From their merchant kingdom, they sailed down the Dnieper and around the western coast of the Black Sea to attack the wealthy city of Constantinople (Micklegarth), which was besieged in 907. Links with Byzantium, where Northmen became members of the Imperial bodyguard led to their eventual conversion to Christianity.

It is striking how marriage alliances throughout the tenth century created links of varying strength between England, France, Burgundy, Germany, Bohemia, Russia, Bulgaria, and Byzantium, and to how international many of royal courts of Western Europe were at this time, welcoming scholars and ambassadors from many countries. Tenth-century Europe was also marked by the emergence of political entities in the northern and eastern parts of the continent. The marauders of the previous century, the Vikings in the north, the Magyars in the east, formed settled kingdoms. In the east, the Piasts extended their rule to Cracow in the south, and east and west. Rapid expansion on the part of the Kyivan Rus, notably under Igor in the 940s, enlarged the territories over which they had control at the expense of their Polish and Khazar neighbours. Later expeditions by Sviatoslav against the Khazars in 965, Volga Bulgars in 966, and the Bulgars on the lower Danube in 967 resulted in many gains, albeit temporary. Trade, too, played an important role in the growing importance of the Rus. From the coin evidence, it is clear that the Samanid rulers of Transoxania had become very rich at the end of the ninth century as a result of the discovery of silver in Afghanistan. They minted vast quantities of coinage and their merchants began to trade with the Volga Bulgars, Rus, Ves, Lapps, and Finns.

Showing States created by conquests in the core areas of the Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Significant expansion by the Kyivan Rus had much to do with their wealth, but the cultural links formed in the wake of mercantile connections were also crucial for political developments as Rus interests increasingly focused to the west and south towards the end of the tenth century. The formal conversion of Olga, the regent as Igor’s widow, and the marriage of Vladimir to the Byzantine princess Anna provided an essential connection with Byzantium, which was of great importance for Russia’s future development. The formal conversion of Vladimir and the Rus to Greek Orthodox Christianity in 987 in the wake of the marriage meant that the Kyivan Rus interests were increasingly pursued in the west and south towards the end of the tenth century. The Semanids succumbed to the Turks in 998, after which Bulgar on the Volga developed rapidly as a trading centre and the Volga Bulgars were supplied in turn by the Rus, who continued to trade actively with Constantinople and the Islamic regions.

Central-Eastern Europe in the Tenth Century.

The Emergence of Feudal States & Alliances:

Feudalism was the dominant system of political control and social organisation over much of eleventh-century Europe. The ‘state’ in the modern sense – an agreed territory with sovereign powers and clear borders, and with a precise relationship with all its citizens, simply did not exist. Instead, there was a series of individual rulers each effectively sovereign within his own lands, though each in turn nominally owing allegiance to a king or other ruler. As a consequence, the map of feudal Europe is complex. Much of it was dominated by principalities, duchies, and counties, so that even countries such as France, while united in theory, were in practice far from being so. This fragmented authority nonetheless provided the political context for a marked rise in Europe’s population, prosperity, and culture. The Church, too, Catholic and Orthodox, had an important act on the map of Europe, as many abbots and bishops were landowners on a grand scale, often with correspondingly great political powers. Even outside the lands of the former Carolingian Empire, where feudalism was at its strongest, ‘states’ were dependent on successful military-political leadership. The death of a strong leader could easily lead to political collapse. This danger was amply demonstrated in the early decades of the century by the fortunes of the Kyivan Rus and the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordova. The Kyivan Rus dissolved after the death of Vladimir I of Rus (c.978-1015), who was succeeded by sons who ruled separate principalities based on Novgorod, Polotsk, and Chernihiv.

The First ‘Russian State’ was established by the Kyivan Rus, circa 987.

Because the existence of ‘states’ often depended on the personal authority of a strong leader, large areas could be joined in a single lifetime. Thus in 1013, King Swein of Denmark conquered England, while the English king, Aethelred fled to Normandy. He returned when Swein died in 1014, but Swein’s son Cnut continued the struggle, while divisions between Saxons and Anglo-Normans handicapped the resistance. After Aethelred’s death, England was divided between Eadmund ‘Ironside’, his son, and Cnut, by the Peace of Alney in 1016. Cnut received Mercia and Northumbria, while Edmund continued to rule Wessex, including Kent. However, Edmund died the same year and Cnut became King of All England (1016-35). On the death of his elder brother, Harold, King of Denmark (1019), England became part of a Scandinavian empire, which expanded further with the conquest of Norway in the 1020s. In 1031 Cnut advanced to the Tay and received the submission of Malcolm II of Scotland. The essentially personal nature of authority was demonstrated, however, by Cnut’s empire: he did not create any administrative system to weld it together. Cnut was the king of a number of kingdoms, not a monarch seeking to enlarge one of them. After his death in 1035, his empire dissolved, but not before it had provided an important connection with the Kyivan Rus.

Archaeological finds along the banks of the Oder and Vistula reveal that the Hungarian kingdom of the House of Árpád also had direct commercial relations with the Vikings in the tenth century. The road across Russia, and especially to Kyiv, seem to have played a prominent role in these relations. St István’s coins have also been found as far north as the Faroe Islands. According to a passage in a chronicle written in French verse by Gaimar, who lived in Northumbria, the first Christian king of Hungary, István (1000 or 1001–1038) was acquainted with the Dane Valgarus even before he brought the sons of Eadmund Ironside to the Hungarian Royal Court at some point soon after Canute’s seizure of the English crown in 1016. But this is the only written record linking the Vikings and the Magyars. It was not until 1012 that St Colman decided to take the Danube road on his pilgrimage to Palestine from Ireland. He never got as far as Hungary, however, as he was killed by Austrian peasants who mistook him for a spy. But the fact that he chose the route along the Danube testifies to the new attitude of western nations towards Hungary, with pilgrims and traders now being able to approach István’s crown lands without fear. Nevertheless, for some centuries, only a few pilgrims from the British Isles made their way across the country.

King Cnut and Queen Aelgifu (Emma) receiving symbols of their power from Christ, present an altar cross to the New Minster at Winchester, from a manuscript written and decorated at Winchester in 1031. The double portrait acknowledges their importance to each other.

The first mention of Hungary in Western European sources was recorded when St István received the two young sons of Eadmund Ironside at his Court, exiles from Canute’s Court following his takeover of their father’s kingdom in 1016. As already noted, Eadmund died on 30 November 1016, shortly after reaching his agreement with Cnut, King of Denmark, deciding the boundaries of his realm. He left behind his Queen, Ealdgyth, and two small sons, Eadmund and Edward. Cnut’s advisor, Eadric, tried to persuade his king to have the two little orphans put out of the way as they might cause trouble in the future. However, since Cnut had already gained control of the whole of the kingdom, he had no desire to sully his name and new kingdom with the blood of children. Instead, he dispatched the two boys to Sweden, with the command that the boys should meet their end there. The boys were both very young, and Edward (the youngest) could only have been a few months old. But Olaf Sköttkonung, the devout Christian King of Sweden, was revolted at the idea of murdering the ‘innocents’, especially since Canute himself was unable or unwilling to undertake the atrocity. Besides, the princes’ grandfather, Aethelred the Unready, had been an old ally of his. He decided that the boys be taken for sanctuary to Hungary, to István’s court.

The painting on the left is ‘The Baptism of Vajk’ by Gyula Benczúr. Vajk became King István (Stephen), the first Christian king of Hungary.

Presumably, they were taken through Kyivan Rus in 1017-18, but the Anglo-Saxon chronicles record nothing further of them for the next forty years. It may be that the boys were removed to Kyiv in 1028, following Cnut’s deposition of King Olav. They must therefore have arrived in Hungary with Valgarus long before King István’s death in 1038 since we know from the Hungarian sources researched by the inter-war historian, Sándor Fest, that István received them cordially and educated them with deep affection. Eadmund, the elder of the two died young, but in due course, again according to the Anglo-Hungarian sources, Edward (‘the Exile’) married a Hungarian noblewoman, Agatha (Ágota), apparently a relative of both the German Emperor and István himself. She bore him three children: Margaret, Christine, and Edgar. The three children were educated in Hungary until 1057 when, after four decades of exile, Edward was recalled to England with his family by the childless and ageing Anglo-Norman king, Edward the Confessor (1042-66), Aethelred’s remaining son, who was delighted to hear of his nephew’s survival and therefore that of the House of Wessex. However, Edward of Wessex was to die in mysterious circumstances soon after the family’s return to England, once again leaving his uncle without a natural heir, since Edgar was only a child, far too young to inherit the throne. This led to the dynastic conflict which ended with the Norman Conquest following the Confessor’s death. Harald Hardrada of Norway invaded England, unsuccessfully, in 1066, and there was a further Danish incursion in 1069-70. With the Normans’ completion of their conquest, the Viking era of English history, which had begun with the raids of 789, was at an end.

Meanwhile, a divided succession had characterised the Kyivan Rus territories in the east as it had with Cnut’s empire. The Kyivan principalities had been united under Jaroslav the Wise (1019-54) of Novgorod, who, after the death of his brother, the Prince of Chernihiv, ruled them all save Polotsk. It was a period of particular Kyivan political expansion, as shown on the map below, and one of extensive cultural influence. The map below right, at the top, shows The Development of the Kyivan Rus, 862-1031 with the area in brown showing the territory added by them by 1000. The single green line shows the approximate western frontier of the Khazar Empire in the early ninth century and the broken green line shows its frontier in 967.

The expansion of Poland under Boleslaw I Chobry, ‘the Brave’ (992-1025, shown on the map below) was an overlapping feature of the development of the Kyivan Rus territories at this time. Boleslaw built on the foundations of the Polish ‘state’ created by his father, Prince Mieszko I, who had converted to Christianity in 965. Boleslaw strengthened the centre by creating an administrative system based on counts and used this as a base to expand Polish territory to the east, south, and west, taking Cracow (formerly a Bohemian territory) in 999. Many of Boleslaw’s conquests were temporary and involved long, debilitating wars on all frontiers. The conquest of Little Poland, which included Cracow, was permanent, however, and Casimir I (1038-58) transferred his residence there. At first, it was a dependent territory of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, who crowned Boleslaw King of Poland in 1000, but Boleslaw broke with the Empire after Otto’s death in 1002. He seized the imperial lands of Moravia (1003), Lusatia (1018), and Bohemia, though he controlled the latter for only two years (1003-4). Boleslaw further increased Polish influence in the east when he placed his son-in-law, Svyatopolk, on the throne of Kyiv in 1018. Boleslaw was again crowned King of Poland in 1024, this time by an Archbishop with the assent of the Pope, symbolising his independence from imperial control.

Some Russian and Ukrainian historians have also claimed, some quite recently, that Edward the Exile’s wife Agatha was ‘Agafija’, daughter of the Grand Duke Jaroslav the Wise of Kyiv. They claim that she married Edward Aetheling after he and his brother arrived at Jaroslav’s court in 1028. However, even if he was in Kyiv, Edward would have been only twelve at this time, too young even for a betrothal. We know that Agafija’s ‘sister’, Anastasia, referred to below, became the wife of Andrew I, István’s eventual successor. Her mother, Jaroslav’s wife was Ingergerd, who herself was the daughter of King Olaf of Sweden, another reason for Edward and Eadmund’s original refuge at the court in Kyiv. Anastasia, who was born in about 1020, married Andrew in around 1038, after he had fled with his brother Levente from Hungary to Kyiv in 1030. It is possible that Edward went with him, and returned with him to Hungary in around 1046 when Andrew became king, having fought in Andrew’s army. The problem with the ‘Rus’ solution to the Agatha mystery, however, is that Adam of Bremen only mentions the marriages of three of Jaroslav’s daughters, including Anna, who married Henry I of France, together with the marriages to the kings of Norway and Hungary, but not that of Agatha, or Agafija.

Medieval Hungarian chronicles also state that King Andrew I had an illegitimate son named Georgius by a woman from the village of Pilismarót. It has been claimed that Georgius accompanied the Wessex exiles back to Britain in 1057, settling with other Magyar nobles in Scotland and that the Clan Drummond is descended from George and his son Maurice. His name became popular among Orthodox believers, and one historian has written that Georgius’ mother may have been a Rus lady-in-waiting to Andrew’s wife, Anastasia of Kyiv. This is perhaps the origin of the confusion between Agatha, the mother of the three Wessex children, and the Royal Court of Kyiv. As to Agatha’s own name, although Greek in origin (meaning ‘good woman’), the name of a third-century martyr and Orthodox saint, it was popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe, not just in the eastern parts, including in the French ‘Agace’ and the Latin ‘Agacia’, though it fell out of use in the later Middle Ages. The Hungarian form, Ágota, is still quite common today, however. It cannot, therefore, be taken as an indication that the Exile’s wife was a woman of Orthodox origin, as has been suggested. There is also a fresco of Jaroslav, Ingergerd, and their daughters, of uncertain eleventh-century date, in the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, built by Jaroslav, which shows only three daughters. Some have sought to identify a fourth in the fresco, arguing that this could be Agatha, but this has been largely disproved. David J Webber concludes that the scientific and artistic evidence of the fresco shows this figure to be a young son and besides, that there is no written evidence of a fourth daughter, so that the Agatha mystery, for him at least, remains unsolved. For this purpose, Hungarian links to western Catholic states were more significant in the period of the Árpád dynasty.

More importantly for current purposes, the ‘Rus’ theory is largely based on an attempt by some historians of medieval central-eastern Europe to emphasise the importance of Russian imperial and dynastic links rather than the much more complex reality of the time, which was the struggle to establish independent states. Christian Raffensperger has recently emphasised the significance of ties of kinship between the ‘Rus’ and other royal dynasties, but in his review for the Medieval Journal of America, Alexandr Musin argues that Soviet historiography has played a decisive role in the construction of a myth about Ágota’s Kyivan origins in Raffensperger’s two books:

… the main challenge of both publications resides in the contradiction between the potential creativity of innovative approaches and the tyranny of concepts, which in many cases determines the vision of the past. On the one hand, the concept of (the) Rus that the author develops seriously questions the traditional perception of medieval eastern Europe as ‘alter orbis’ in respect to Latin civilization. On the other hand, the author shares the idea of the Kingdom of Rus as a clearly identifiable entity with a unitary system of political power, law, taxation, and culture based at Kiev that spanned territory from the White Sea to the Black Sea.

Today it is not necessary to specify that this geopolitical monster was only the invention of Soviet historian Boris Grekov. His concept of ‘Kievan Rus’ created in the 1930s was a “Soviet Union” projected into the medieval past. In fact, medieval eastern Europe was more a federation of semi-independent local polities with special identities and serious cultural differences, ruled by different branches of familial dynasties and nominally consolidated by the unity of ecclesiastical power.

Aleksandr Musin, Institute for the History of Material Culture,
Russian Academy of Sciences.
The Rus Principalities & The Mongol Invasions:

Developing feudal states of central-eastern Europe in the eleventh century.

In the east, when he died in 1054, Jaroslav the Wise left each of his sons an autonomous principality. The Great Principality of Kyiv took precedence but it exercised little control over the others. Raids by Polovtsy nomads, who sacked Kyiv in 1093, weakened the Great Principality, moving the centre of Rus activity farther north to the forest belt and away from the exposed steppes but, as the map below for 1095 shows, the Rus principalities continued to develop as distinct territories. In the twelfth century, the centre of Rus activity continued to move towards the forest belt.

Central-Eastern Europe in the Late Eleventh Century, showing the early formation of the Rus states.

A new principality, Suzdal, developed in this area, while in 1126 Novgorod became a republic; it soon extended its power to the White Sea. In 1169 Kyiv was again sacked, this time by Suzdal and the title of the Great Prince was transferred to the new principality, becoming known as the Great Prince of Vladimir, after its capital. Eastern Europe suffered great turmoil in the thirteenth century, undergoing significantly greater territorial changes than occurred in Western Europe in the period. The Mongol invasions devastated the region; the northern principalities of the Rus were overrun in 1233-9; Kyiv was stormed and razed in 1240; in 1240-4, the Mongols tore through Hungary, taking Pest, while smaller forces poured into Poland, took Cracow and defeated a German-Polish army at Walstatt in 1241 before the hordes were recalled on the death of the Great Khan Ogedai later that year.

Central-Eastern Europe in the Twelfth Century, the Time of the Crusades.
Above: Eastern Hungary and Galich (Galicia) before and during the Mongol Invasions, 1140-1240.

The Growth of Poland & Lithuania:

In 1310, John of Luxembourg was elected King of Bohemia and Moravia (1310-46). He held much of Poland too, particularly Mazovia (1329-51), including Warsaw, and most of Silesia. Despite their loss of territories, under Wladyslaw I (1305-33), Poland successfully resisted overall rule by the kings of Bohemia. To the east, Lithuania under Gediminas (1316-41) was emerging as an important power, expanding into the northern Rus principalities, which were greatly weakened by the Golden Horde, the Mongols who settled the steppes after the invasion of 1240. The damage done to the Rus principalities created an opportunity for Lithuania to thrive. Founded in the thirteenth century by Mindaugas (d. 1263), this pagan state could not expand towards the Baltic because of the activity of the Teutonic Knights. Instead, it expanded east, which saw the seizure of the northern Rus principality of Polotsk as well as Podlasia.

The Mongol Invasions of the Thirteenth Century and ‘The High Middle Ages.’

During the joint reign of Algirdas (1345-77) and Kestutis (1345-82), the southern lands of the Kyivan Rus were overrun. Lithuania, therefore, absorbed Kyiv – which fell in 1362-3 – and the remaining central Rus principalities; Novgorod-Severski also fell in 1363. The Lithuanians thus expanded up to the lands of the Golden Horde, who were then pushed back, so that by 1392 the Lithuanians had reached the Black Sea to the west of the Dnieper. Meanwhile, Moscow became the seat of a growing Russian principality, Muscovy. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the power of the rulers of Hungary had been greatly limited by the growth of aristocratic power. The native Árpád dynasty died out in 1301 and the first of the Angevin rulers was elected king in 1308. From his capital at Visegrád, Charles I (1308-42) reduced the power of the magnates, greatly increased royal authority, and strengthened the economy. but it proved difficult to retain control of frontier areas. His successor, Louis the Great (1342-82) considerably extended Hungarian territorial power. To the east, Moldavia emerged under the suzerainty of Hungary from 1372, which then gradually expanded its power towards the Dniester and the Black Sea. To the north, Galich-Lodomeria (Galicia) was gained by Hungary in 1370, and in the same year, Louis succeeded the childless Casimir the Great as King of Poland. Under John of Luxembourg and his son, Charles IV, (1346-78), the power of the Luxembourg dynasty grew greatly, as Charles was also Holy Roman Emperor. This amalgamation did not, however, long survive the death of Louis in 1382, an indication of the transient nature of state-building, especially in central-eastern Europe. Often, there was no political, strategic, ethnic, economic, or geographical logic to these conglomerations and no real constituency of interest behind them.

The Recovery and Consolidation of the Central-Eastern European States in the Fourteenth Century.

After Louis’ death, without a male heir, his elder daughter married Sigismund, bringing the Hungarian Crown lands under the Habsburgs. Charles also made Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia indissoluble parts of the Bohemian crownlands. Sigismund (1387-1437) became King of Hungary in 1387, Emperor in 1410 and King of Bohemia in 1419, taking Luxembourg power to its greatest heights, but this did not serve as the basis of a long-lasting state. But Poland remained independent under Louis’ younger daughter, Hedvig. In 1385, by her marriage to the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jagiello, he became King Wladyslaw II of Poland (1386-1434). In return, by the terms of The Treaty of Krevo, the Lithuanians converted to Catholicism, although the two states continued to operate as separate entities. In 1410, however, the Polish-Lithuanian forces advanced into Prussia where they crushed the Teutonic Knights at Tannenburg. The Knights were greatly weakened, their period of expansion being brought to a definitive end. Uniting Poland with Lithuania made it an important power in central-eastern Europe until the sixteenth century.

The Advance of the Ottoman Turks & the Wars of Religion:

The Ottoman Advance from the Late Fourteenth Century.

Meanwhile, in addition to the growing Ottoman threat to the south-east, the century was one of a crisis caused by the ‘Black Death’, the bubonic plague which devastated the whole of Europe from 1346 to 1353, killing at least twenty million out of a total population of about eighty million. Recovery was hindered by further outbreaks towards the end of the century. This also helped to provoke social and economic tensions: the refined feudal system of the “High Middle Ages” broke down, helping to cause a wave of rural and urban disorder. There were crises in the Catholic Church too, with the transfer of the Papacy to Avignon (1305-77) and the Great Schism (1378-1417) in western Christendom between the rival Popes in Avignon and Rome. The fifteenth century was in some senses the age of the “new monarchies”, consolidated states with more definite frontiers and greater bureaucracies, which sought to know exactly where they could impose their demands for resources and where they needed to create their first line of defence. Central and Eastern Europe experienced a time of particular turmoil, with the ever-present threat of the Ottoman forces diverting much-needed resources to the defence of Christendom. In 1453, Mehmet II finally captured Constantinople, causing great consternation throughout Europe. His army then laid siege to Belgrade in 1456, but the siege was raised by the brilliant Hungarian leader, János Hunyadi. However, by 1460, the final Byzantine strongholds had fallen and with the capture of Trebizond on the Black Sea in 1461, the last remaining embers of Byzantium were finally extinguished.

Bohemia, meanwhile, was rent by religious dissent, with the followers of Jan Hus, who had been burnt at the stake by the Council of Constance in 1415, seizing power in 1419. It was not until 1436 that Sigismund, the Hungarian King, was able to reassert his authority there. In 1457 the Bohemians elected the Hussite George of Podébrady as King of Bohemia. Pope Paul II preached a crusade against him, which led to an unsuccessful Hungarian invasion in 1468 which nevertheless led to the partition of the Bohemian kingdom. Hunyadi’s son, Matthias Corvinus, was King of Hungary from 1458 to 1490, gained control of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia and took the title “King of Bohemia”, though he did not control the Bohemian territory itself. Corvinus was a renaissance ruler who promoted learning throughout the lands he ruled, developing the Hungarian state considerably, but he faced opposition from the nobles concerned about maintaining their privileges. The Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty had a long-standing connection with Hungary. Wladyslaw I had been King of Hungary from 1440 to 1444, and after the death of Matthias Corvinus in 1490, the Hungarians chose Ladislav II of Bohemia as their King. He rejoined to Bohemia those areas which had been conquered by Hungary under Corvinus. Although Hungary and Bohemia remained separate kingdoms, their joint rule by the Jagiellonian dynasty might have produced a closer union. The late fifteenth century saw a consolidation of many European states and their coalescence into the contours that were to shape Europe’s borders until the crisis of nationalism four centuries later. The expansion of Muscovy to 1466 was a slow process that owed much to the determination of its ruling house.

Though the rulers of the Rus had been under the shadow of Mongols, and their northern descendants, the Muscovites were able to use this to their advantage in the challenges they faced from other Rus rulers, such as the princes of Tver, who were not subdued until 1468, however. Other Rus states were unable to resist Muscovy’s expansion and by the end of the century, Muscovy had emerged as the predominant principality in what was now described as ‘Russia’. The capture of Novgorod in 1478 marked the emergence of a new power in the east, and one that, with the disappearance of the Byzantine Empire, could now also claim to be the champion of Orthodox Christianity. Ivan III, the “Great” (1462-1505), who conquered both Tver and Novgorod, refused to pay tribute to the Golden Horde and defied its attempt to intimidate him into doing so (1480). In 1493, significantly, he took the title Sovereign of all Russia. Certainly, by then, he was the ruler of the Great Principality of Moscow, but this did not include the southern Rus who were then under the control of Lithuania.

The Growth of Lithuania to 1526.

Lithuania also claimed to be the heir of the Kyivan Rus, and Ivan was in conflict with it for most of his reign. In the early stages, he stirred his allies in the Crimea to raid Lithuania and, spinning a network of negotiations as far afield as Turkey, Moldavia, Austria and Denmark, he contested Lithuania’s sovereignty over the principalities on the borders of Russia. At the end of this first bout of diplomacy in 1494, Alexander the Grand Prince of Lithuania, not only recognised Ivan’s conquests but also married his daughter Elena the following year. The second bout (1500-03) began with an important victory for Ivan on the Vedrosha River (July 1500) and by the six-year truce which followed 1503, he kept all the lands he had conquered. When he died in 1505, he left Russia in a strong position to take both Smolensk and Kyiv at some point in the future. The fall of Pskov in 1510 marked the completion of this process of integration. Throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages, national boundaries had been hardened and the concept of “statehood” was emergent, becoming politically more significant than the “nation”, in its original meaning of a people of common descent.

After Wladyslaw II died he was succeeded in both Hungary and Bohemia by Louis II (1515-26; known as Ludwig I in Bohemia), but his reign was cut short when he was killed at the Battle of Mohács in 1526 when Suleiman the Magnificent destroyed Hungary’s army and independence. Louis had no children, and his inheritance was to be contested by his brother-in-law, Archduke Ferdinand, the brother of the Habsburg Charles V, and the Turks were to take control of the land east of the Danube. Neighbouring Moldavia was already a fiefdom of Poland-Lithuania, previously of Hungary under Corvinus, part of which had fallen under Ottoman control from 1484. Having become Emperor in 1519, Charles V faced an immense task in keeping his domains united. The rise of Protestantism in the first half of the fifteenth century placed an additional strain on the Empire. In 1529, the Sultan’s army besieging Vienna failed to take it, but the Turks’ gains confined the Habsburgs to Slovakia, Croatia and a thin strip of land along the west bank of the Danube. Although the successors of Charles V had vast resources at their disposal, they had to fight on several fronts, against the infidel Muslim threat in the east and the heretical Protestant challenge in the west. In the centre, Hungary was effectively divided into three parts. In the west, Ferdinand of Austria continued to rule over less than a third of the old kingdom (so-called Royal Hungary). In the east, Transylvania, a new state of Hungarian character and leadership was created under the loose control of the Ottomans. The third part was ruled directly by the Sultan who gradually extended the area he fully controlled until 1568 when the new frontiers were settled by the Treaty of Adrianople.

1530: The Habsburg Ascendancy, Ottoman occupation and the triumph of the nation-state in central-eastern Europe.

Although Eastern Europe escaped the intense religious wars that plagued the west, stability eluded the rulers even there. The Teutonic Order of Knights had never entirely recovered from its defeat by Polish-Lithuanian forces at Tannenberg (Grünwald) in 1410. By 1513 it was left with just East Prussia, and in 1525 they converted to Protestantism and secularised the remaining Teutonic lands as the Duchy of Prussia, the largest Protestant fief in the kingdom of Poland. Further south, for nearly two centuries following the union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland in 1386, the relationship had been a personal one, formed and sustained through dynastic inter-marriage. However, by the 1560s it was obvious that Sigismund II Augustus would be the last of the Jagiellonian line. For the Lithuanians, the implications of the loss of the link with Poland was dire. Lithuania had been under threat from both the Ottomans, who had seized territory on the lower Dnieper and the Muscovites, who were pressing westwards under Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584). This left Poland and particularly Lithuania vulnerable to interference by Russia. In this, the spectre of religious division as a tool of dynastic politics also arose, as many of the inhabitants of Lithuania were Orthodox, and Muscovy saw them as potential subjects. Only Polish support could guarantee Lithuania, while the union between the two countries offered the Polish nobility the prospect of fresh lands for settlement. In 1569 at Lublin, a Lithuanian Parliament specially called into existence agreed with the traditional Polish ‘Sejm’ (the bicameral parliament) to form an “indissoluble” union or “commonwealth” and to elect a common monarch after the childless Sigismund II’s death. But Poland and Lithuania were to remain distinct states, each with its own army, administration, and laws.

Meanwhile, in Bohemia, a movement of religious and political dissent against the Habsburgs had developed during the seventeenth century. By 1618, the largely Protestant Bohemian aristocracy was in open revolt over the closure of the reformed churches by the Habsburg authorities and their seizure of church funds. They decided to choose the neighbouring Calvinist ruler of the Palatinate, Frederick V, as King of Bohemia. He also had estates bordering Bohemia to the east at Eger in northern Hungary, which meant that in the event of an election to the throne, he was a clear, local counter-candidate to the Habsburgs. This was seen as a direct challenge to Imperial authority and what the Habsburgs considered as their divine right to rule. Besides this, control over wealthy and strategically central Bohemia, with its vote in choosing the Emperor, was essential to the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. Ferdinand II, the new Emperor, undertook an ambitious war of reconquest to restore his authority not just over Bohemia, but also other German principalities lost to Protestantism since 1570. By 1620 he had conquered Bohemia and installed himself as King there, but this was just the beginning of what became known as The Thirty Years War which ravaged most of central Europe (see maps below). When it finally ended in 1648 after the most savage and destructive warfare yet seen in Europe, few changes were made to the political map of central Europe.

The First Struggle for an Independent Ukraine:

Large-scale wars in Eastern Europe, particularly involving Poland, did have a major effect on the continental balance of power, however. Soviet historians date modern Russian history from the reign of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645-1676), principally because of the beginning of the formation of the all-Russian market by ‘commercial capitalists’. The territory in the south of ‘Ukraine’ was Zaporogia, an autonomous Cossack area (see the map below). The wandering peoples of the steppes on the southern fringes of Russia and on the lower reaches of the Volga, the Don, the Donetz and the Dnieper consisted mainly of fugitive peasants and outlaws from Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Turkey, as well as some Tatars. They lived by hunting and fishing, keeping cattle and bees, and by plundering their neighbours, whether Turks, Tatars, Russians or Poles. Conforming to none of the more usual social systems, they settled in fortified towns and organised themselves on semi-military lines, mainly to defend themselves against raiding Tatar bands and their Turkish overlords, but sometimes to mount rebellions against Russia or Poland, as during The Time of Troubles (1598-1613) and during their revolts against Poland under Sigismund III, Wladyslaw IV and Jan II Casimir in 1625, 1630, 1649-51, 1654-67. Within Cossack society, the ataman had executive powers, and in wartime was the supreme commander in the field. Legislative power was given to the Band Assembly (Rada). The senior officers were called starshyna. In the absence of written laws, the Cossacks were governed by the “Cossack Traditions” – the common, unwritten law.

However, Ukraine appeared set to become an integrated part of the Polish Commonwealth. Russia and Poland in their turn pushed south as they gradually colonised the steppes and brought many Cossacks under their control. Local Cossacks became known as ‘registered Cossacks’ who were, in theory, subordinated to the Polish authorities though their obedience was often bought by encouraging them to raid Tatar and Turkish enemies to the south. The Dnieper Cossacks of Ukraine became especially difficult for the Polish authorities to control as religious differences exacerbated their political and social antipathy to Poland since the Cossacks were Orthodox and the Poles were mainly Catholic. But there were also major divisions and dimensions among Orthodox believers as well, most notably between the original Greek branch and the Russian branch. Nikita Minin, ‘Nikon’, Patriarch of Russia from 1652-66, ruled for a time both Church and State and caused the Great Schism or (raskol) by reforming the Church, including an attempt to make the Church superior to the State. He had risen quickly in the Church to become head of a monastery in Novgorod (1643); then, by inspiring Tsar Alexis he became Abbot of the Romanov family monastery of Novospasski near Moscow (1646); Metropolitan of Novgorod (1648) and then Patriarch of Russia.

While the Tsar was away from Moscow in the Thirteen Years’ War (1654-67), Nikon was named ‘Great Sovereign’ (velikii gosudar) and given as much power as if he were tsar. Fierce, impatient and overbearing, he enforced reforms in the Church in a series of annual councils (1652-60) which precipitated the schism. Unlike the traditionalists who believed that Russia had been converted to Christianity by St Andrew independently of Greece, Nikon saw the Russian Church as a legitimate branch of Greek Orthodoxy and now found it full of what he believed to be incorrect practices and other deviations from the ‘parent body,’ which he was determined to put right. Sacred books, services and chants were all corrected with the help of Greek scholars from Kyiv and elsewhere. Innovations not only shocked the mass of old-fashioned believers and clergy, but they also alienated his old brethren in the Zealots of Piety. In fact, they split the Church, and the Old Believers remained steadfast nonconformists down to the twentieth century, their religious resistance mixed up with various forms of political and social power, including hostility to westernisation. In the time of Nikon, their leader was Archpriest Avvakum who was first exiled to Siberia and eventually burnt at the stake in April 1682. Between 1675 and 1695, about twenty thousand Old Believers committed suicide, by setting fire to their wooden churches.

Eventually, Tsar Alexis screwed up enough courage to oppose Nikon and his pretensions that the Church should be above the State, exempt from secular courts, its property immune from taxation. A Church Council (1667-7) attended by the Patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria stripped Nikon of his priestly functions and exiled him to Beoleroz in the far north (Dec 1666). The same Council confirmed Nikon’s Church reforms but handed over to the State the job of punishing deviations. Nikon died on his way back to Moscow where he had been recalled by Theodore III. He had left the Church in no position to resist subordination to the State over the centuries to follow, whereas the Kyivan Greek branch of Orthodoxy was able to maintain its independence. This was partly because Wladyslaw IV Vasa, King of Poland (1632-1648), threw his weight behind toleration in a country of many religious denominations that was otherwise in danger of falling prey to the regimentation of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. He ensured toleration both for the Protestants in Western Poland, where he sponsored a Protestant-Catholic colloquy at Torun (Thorn) in 1645 and for the Greek Orthodox in Lithuania and Ukraine, to whom he granted religious liberty and recognition of their underground hierarchy (1633), in the form of the Metropolitan of Kyiv and four bishoprics. Nevertheless, the Jesuits were taking a firm grip on education, thereby succeeding in cutting Poland off from the intellectual progress in the West. Moreover, the Crown was too weak to subordinate the Church to the State, so its hierarchy and the Papacy became increasingly influential in Poland’s policy-making, especially in foreign affairs.

Finally, Wladyslaw found the Ukrainian problem too difficult to solve. The Cossacks were growing desperate as the Polish magnates colonised the Dnieper area, turned them into serfs instead of ‘registered Cossacks’, brought them under the machinery of the Polish State, and persecuted their Orthodox forms of worship. The Ukrainian Cossacks had long been restive as the tide of Polish colonisation crept over their steppes, regimenting their freedom-loving brotherhood, enserfing the peasantry and persecuting the Orthodox. Most Ukrainian peasants now found themselves enserfed. In order to persuade the Poles to take on the burden of defending them in future, the Lithuanians had agreed to turn Podlasia, Volhynia and Ukraine over to the Polish administration. In the second third of the seventeenth century, Polish noblemen and commoners moved into these territories, settling and establishing new farms and great estates, endowing Catholic (Uniate) churches and thereby extending the influence of the Catholic Church. In turn, this helped to fuel conflicts with the Orthodox groups already living in those areas, especially the Cossacks of Ukraine, who had spread well to the east of the Dnieper as far as Poltava.

An explosive mixture of racial, social and religious hatred brought the Cossacks out in armed rebellions in 1625, 1630, 1637 and 1638. Between 1638 and 1648, however, Wladyslaw enforced a period of ‘golden peace’ from a new fortress on the lower Dnieper. At the same time, he hatched a grandiose scheme for neutralising the Cossack’s influence once and for all by eliminating the Tatar danger further south. The Tatars agitated the Cossacks, sometimes by raiding their lands, sometimes by joining them in anti-Polish alliances; but the only successful way of curbing them was to defeat their overlord, the Ottoman Sultan. In the late 1640s, Wladyslaw began negotiating a visionary anti-Turkish crusade in conjunction with Venice, the Papacy, France and others. He encouraged the Cossacks to prepare for battle with hints of further privileges but kept the scheme secret from the Seym until 1646 when they forbade it. The Cossack rebellions of 1648-57 were serious enough as a Polish affair, stirring up religious and national minorities into violence as well as ‘infecting’ Polish peasants and townsmen, but catastrophic as an international conflict. Disappointment with the policies of Wladyslaw IV proved the last straw for the Cossacks who broke out into violence on the eve of his death and brought out many others in open rebellion, which rocked Poland in the reign of his successor, Jan II Casimir.

In 1648, thousands of peasants rose in revolt against their masters, encouraged by a simultaneous dispute between the Polish authorities and the leaders of the “free” Cossacks, led by Bohdan Chmielnicki, a skilful soldier and diplomat. Nevertheless, in Chmielnicki, the Cossacks had chosen a ‘Hetman’ with burning grievances of his own against the agent of a Polish magnate who had confiscated both his property and his wife. Starting from his base on the lower Dnieper in April 1648, he invaded Poland, beating Jan Casimir’s troops at Zólty Wody, Korsun in May and Pilawce in September, raising mass revolts in his wake. Kyiv fell to the rebels and was declared Orthodox again, while the Catholic clergy were driven out. After winning these dramatic victories, the Cossack leaders settled with the new King of Poland, Jan Casimir, much to the disgust of the peasantry. Abandoned by the Tartars, he made The Treaty of Zborow with Jan Casimir who was ready to compromise, in August 1649. The Dnieper Cossacks now aimed to form an independent state, and for the rest of the seventeenth century, they played off Russia, Turkey and Poland – and even Sweden and Austria – against each other in a series of wars that accelerated the decline of Poland but resulted only in the eventual incorporation of the Cossacks in Russia and Poland, at least while the latter still existed. For the time being, fresh quarrels ensued as the Poles gradually whittled down the area of Cossack control as the Cossacks turned to Muscovy for support. But when the war restarted, Chmielnicki, with the fickle Tartars once more not pulling their weight, not wanting the Cossacks to be too successful, was defeated at Beresteczko in June 1651.

As a result, he formed an alliance with Tsar Aleksei with whom he had been negotiating since 1648 and on whom he now applied pressure by threatening to ally with Turkey instead. By then, Russia was becoming involved in the Thirteen Years’ War (1654-67) with Poland and Sweden. The first phase of this involved a further Russian push into the west, into Ukraine, and north-west into Lithuania towards the Baltic. By the Treaty of Perejaslaw of 1654, Tsar Aleksei formed an alliance with Chmielnitcki and the Dnieper Cossacks in what Soviet historians regarded as the Ukrainian War of Liberation against Jan Casimir, King of Poland. In October 1653 the zemskii sobor (the Russian assembly) had voted for Ukraine’s incorporation into Russia, and at Chmielnitcki’s request, a meeting took place with Aleksei’s representatives at which an agreement was made whereby Russia accepted the sovereignty of the Cossacks, allowing them to remain self-governing with their own laws and social system. This treaty resulted in a joint attack on Poland in which Russia took Smolensk in October 1654 and advanced deep into Poland and Lithuania until the outbreak of the Northern War in 1655. In this, Charles X of Sweden invaded and temporarily took control of much of Poland, saving Gdansk and Lwóv (Lviv), forcing Russia to change its policy. In Moscow, there was always disagreement between those who favoured attacking Ukraine and those who favoured concentrating on the Baltic, and this time the latter won. Russia made peace with Poland and helped it fight Sweden. By the Treaty of Vilno (Oct-Nov 1656), Russia gained much of White and Little Russia from Poland.

The Northern War (1655-60), known by the Poles as ‘the Deluge’, submerged Poland, much weakening its control over Ukraine, particularly in the south and east, so that it was never again as secure as it had been before 1648. The further wars between Poland and Russia (1658-67) saw the Cossacks side with the Tsar against the Poles. In an effort to create an autonomous state for themselves, they switched alliances between Russia, Poland, Sweden and Turkey. This exhausted the patience of both Russia and Poland. The war also devastated the Cossack lands – it is a period known in Ukrainian tradition as ‘the Ruin’, but it also marked the emergence of Russia as a stronger military power than Poland. A joint Cossack-Tartar-Turkish invasion in 1667 was stopped by Hetman Jan III Sobieski, future King of Poland, but the continued threat of attack prompted Russia and Poland to make peace. By the Truce of Andruszów (1667), Poland lost much of Ukraine to Russia. The Treaty split Ukraine along the Dnieper River and Ukrainian Cossacks were known as Left-bank and Right-bank Cossacks. Muscovy gained Smolensk and Ukraine up to the Dnieper, as well as ancient Kyiv on the west bank. An autonomous region, the Hetmanate, was created on part of the territory added to Russia. The Cossacks of Zaporogia had autonomy within this area, which continued to apply to their lands when they were not under Polish or Ottoman control. Henceforth, Poland and Russia were jointly concerned with defence against the Turks.

Turning Points & Retreats:

By the early seventeenth century, the Turkish hold on central Hungary was weakening. Transylvania emerged during this period as an important and prosperous European power, ruled by Prince Gábor Bethlen (1613-29). He doubled the territory’s revenues and acted as a staunch defender of Calvinism in central Europe. His influence and that of his successor György Ráckóczi meant that the Habsburgs could not enforce the Counter-Reformation as brutally in the parts of Hungary they controlled, ‘Royal Hungary,’ as they did elsewhere in their empire.

Transylvania’s brief flowering ended after 1657 when the army of György II Rákóczi, Prince of Transylvania, a Calvinist who expected the second coming hoping it would make him King of Poland, invaded the kingdom with Cossack help. Rákóczy had to turn back at Warsaw with his army in shreds, destroyed by Tatars. As a result, Charles X had to abandon his war of Protestant conquest of Poland. Mehmet Köprülü, the Turkish Grand Vizier, took this chance to invade Transylvania and seized important parts of the principality in the west, including Várad. The Treaty of Hadiach (1658) left Ukraine and Poland joined in a personal union, but renewed Russian-Polish fighting meant its terms were never effectively implemented. The Habsburgs intervened and won a surprise victory against the Turks, but the peace settlement of Vasvár (1664) ratified most of the Ottoman gains. The apparent increase in Turkish power had encouraged anti-Habsburg plotting in Royal Hungary in the 1670s, and the savage Habsburg reaction had the effect of driving the malcontents to more extreme measures. In 1678, Imre Thököly, a young Transylvanian, raised the standard of revolt and occupied a large part of central Hungary.

The Turks took this opportunity to intervene and sent a huge army into Hungary in 1683. This laid siege to Vienna, putting the whole European balance of power. Although Polish troops led by Jan Sobieski played a decisive part in raising the siege, it was not Poland but the Austrian Habsburgs who ultimately benefited most from the defeat of the Turks. The threat of rebellion in Habsburg-controlled Hungary was reduced as the border with the Turks was pushed back to the south and east. By September, however, the siege had been lifted, and by 1699 Imperial forces had swept the Turks out of most of Austria-Hungary.

Distressed by his failure and the death of his wife, Jan Casimir abdicated in September 1668. In retrospect, however, he had done well to hold his kingdom together, despite the attacks from all sides. In that year, Poland had a population of only four million, almost half of what it had been in 1618, while its economy had suffered devastating damage. Its increasing weakness opened up a tempting vacuum that drew in states like Sweden and Russia, as well as the German principalities, all eager for territorial acquisitions. To the north, another succession crisis loomed when Charles XI of Sweden died in 1697, leaving his fifteen-year-old son, Charles XII, as his successor. Sweden’s neighbours eyed her territory greedily, and none more so than Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who had additionally ruled Poland in personal union since 1697. By 1699, Augustus was preparing for a campaign to seize Sweden’s territories to the south of the Baltic, despite direct opposition from the Polish ‘Diet’ (parliament). Meanwhile, the young Tsar of Muscovy, Peter I, had captured Azov on the Black Sea from the Turks in 1696, giving his previously land-locked empire an outlet to the sea. Peter managed to retain Azov, despite the weakening of his strategic position when Austria and Venice, his Holy League allies, made peace with the Sultan by the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699.

Central-eastern Europe at the time of the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699

The Eighteenth Century: Russia, Prussia, Austria versus Poland:

The Cossacks proved almost as unruly under the Tsar as they had been under the Poles. Under Peter the Great (1682-1725), Mazappa, the ‘Hetman’ (commander) of the Tsar’s Cossacks, tried to create an independent Cossack state in Ukraine, in alliance with the Swedes and the Zaporogian Cossack ‘Host.’ Peter’s victory in 1709, however, marked the conquest of the Cossacks. Many survivors were deported to the distant parts of the Tsar’s empire. By then, Peter had decisively altered the estimation of the previously vast but ill-organised Tsarist empire.

Habsburg Europe, 1699-1789, showing lands acquired from Poland-Lithuania in 1772 and 1775.

In central Europe, meanwhile, Charles VI’s reign (1711-40) saw the Austrian Habsburgs reach unparalleled heights of power, but by the end of it, Austria’s position was actually much weakened. By the 1730s, it became clear that there had not been any long-term increase in the strength of the Habsburg army. By the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), Charles VI was forced to surrender the city itself and its nearby Serbian territories back to the Sultan but was able to preserve the Hungarian territories in the Banat of Temesvár (Timisoara). This treaty also ended the hostilities of the five-year Austro-Russian–Turkish War (1735–39), in which the Habsburgs joined Imperial Russia in its fight against the Ottomans. Russia expanded its territories around the Black Sea, gaining Azov and the lands of the Zaporogian Cossacks. Meanwhile, as for any contemporary dynastic state, the absence of a male heir to Charles VI opened the widespread Habsburg lands to the threat of aggression from its neighbours.

The Rise of Russia to the Treaty of Nystad (1721)

Despite a defeat by the Turks which led to the loss of Azov on the Black Sea in 1711, by combining western techniques and technologies with ruthless autocratic methods, Peter created a military system for Russia capable of wearing down his gifted Swedish rival. By 1721, Russia dominated the Baltic region, gaining greatly from the Treaty of Nystad of that year, taking Estonia, Livonia, Ingria, most of Karelia and part of Finland.

In 1740, European affairs were completely changed by the deaths of Frederick William I of Prussia (pictured above) and of Emperor Charles VI of Austria-Hungary. The ambitious and unscrupulous Frederick II (‘the Great’) ascended the throne of Prussia; Maria Theresa then succeeded to the Habsburg territories. As a woman was not eligible for election to the Empire, her husband, Francis of Lorraine, was expected to become Emperor. Nearly all the Powers had guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction, a document drawn up by Charles VI to ensure his daughter’s peaceful succession. Maria Theresa managed, however, to preserve the bulk of her father’s legacy, despite a Prussian invasion at the start of her reign which led to the loss of Silesia, gained by Frederick II as a result of the Austrian War of Succession (see the map above). Frederick began hostilities by invading Silesia, which he secured by the Battle of Mollwitz. This German and only Protestant province of Austria formed the basis of the Upper Oder. It was more fertile than any of the Hohenzollern territories, containing a flourishing linen industry and undeveloped resources of iron. Its seizure by Prussia, unchivalrous and unprincipled, provoked both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War.

The War of the Austrian Succession in central Europe, 1739-48.

Maria Theresa yielded the territory by the Treaty of Breslau, and Frederick coolly deserted his allies. Freed from Frederick, Maria Theresa was successful; her armies overwhelmed Bavaria. In 1744, Frederick, alarmed by her success, re-entered the war and compelled her to confirm his retention of Silesia by the Treaty of Dresden. Again, he deserted his allies. During the two wars, 1740-48 and 1756-63, Frederick proved himself to be the best general in Europe. By feats of endurance and military genius, he emerged exhausted but triumphant from conflicts with Austria, France and Russia. He had made Prussia not only the second great power in Germany but also one of the leading powers in Europe. Frederick succeeded in absorbing his new provinces, which also included Friesland (1744) which fell to him peacefully by succession on the extinction of the ruling family. Their inhabitants, having no barriers of religion, economic interests or national feeling, readily accepted Frederick’s ‘enlightened’ rule or ‘benevolent despotism’. He was one of the most progressive rulers of his generation, introducing penal reform (including the abolition of torture), religious toleration and schools for the sons of workers. To restore prosperity, destroyed by decades of war, he pursued a vigorous mercantilist policy. He assisted agriculture by draining marshes, lending seed to farmers, and insisting on their use of new methods. He built canals and fostered the silk industry.

At the end of 1757, Frederick saved himself by two remarkable victories, one against the French and the second against the Austrians at Leuthen in Silesia. The war between Austria and Prussia ended with the restoration to Frederick of all his territories, and no further changes were made to the map of Europe. After 1763, it was clear to Maria Theresa that Austria could not hope to recover Silesia from Prussia, so Vienna turned instead to plans to acquire other territories to “compensate” for its loss. By this time, Augustus the Strong’s ambitions to create a great Saxon-Polish power under his dynasty had come to nothing. The elective nature of the Polish monarchy combined with the fractious behaviour of much of the Polish nobility meant that the vast and strategically valuable lands between Poznán and Kyiv were an attractive target for other states’ ambitions. The three states of Austria, Prussia and Russia surrounded Poland, and their covetous rulers cast envious eyes over the declining state. Its internal weaknesses, resulting in disorder, gave them an opportunity and excuse for intervention. These internal weaknesses were fourfold. Firstly, Poland was an elective monarchy – the Poles inherited an old constitution under which the king was elected. Every election was accompanied by great disorder, produced by rival factions, and foreign rulers gained influence by supporting these factions. Secondly, there was the Liberum Veto, the procedure by which a single noble in the ‘Diet’ (parliament) could veto the proceedings. Thirdly, the nobles enjoyed great feudal privileges over their serfs, and there was a continuous and bitter feud between the two classes. Fourthly, the ‘true Poles’ were only one section of the population, which included Kyivan Rus, Lithuanians, Cossacks and Germans, among other ethnicities.