On the 15th November 1917, Georges Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister of France for the second time. His appointment was something of a surprise, especially as it was made by President Raymond Poincare with whom he had a particularly frosty relationship. Clemenceau had previously held the position until 1909, after which he spent much of his time criticising the government in his own radical newspaper. However, within the first three years of the war three separate Prime Ministers had served and Poincare recognised that Clemenceau’s desire to defeat Germany made him the best replacement.
As 1917 wore on, the French government had become increasingly divided over whether to negotiate peace with Germany. Clemenceau was a fierce critic of this approach, having held a deep-seated hatred of Germany since France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War five years before he was first elected to parliament. His appointment therefore heralded a marked change in government as he sought to consolidate French support behind its troops.
In a speech three days after his appointment, Clemenceau declared, “Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended.” This coincided with a clampdown on pacifist opponents and suspected traitors, and he continued to speak in favour of ‘war until the end’ until Germany’s surrender in November 1918. Victory was a double-edged sword: he now needed to negotiate the terms of the peace treaty with Wilson and Lloyd-George, which he described a like being “between Jesus Christ on the one hand, and Napoleon Bonaparte on the other.”
On the 11th November 1918, fighting on the First World War’s Western Front ended when representatives from the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne. Named after the location in which it was signed, the armistice was agreed at around 5:00 a.m. in a railway carriage that was part of Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch’s private train. Designed to come into effect at 11:00 a.m. Paris time, the armistice was extended three times before the Treaty of Versailles finally came into force on the 10th January 1920.
President Woodrow Wilson of the USA had outlined his war aims in the Fourteen Points that he announced in a speech in January 1918. These provided a framework for peace, and were a key factor in encouraging Germany to enter negotiations.
By the end of September, the German High Command had realised that the German cause on the Western Front was doomed. The Kaiser was informed of the situation on the 29th September, and by the 5th October the German government had contacted President Wilson of the United States to begin preparations for negotiating an armistice. However, the two sides didn’t come together until the 8th November because Britain, France and Italy were unwilling to enter discussing based on the 14 Points. By this point the German Revolution was about to result in the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The negotiation wasn’t really a negotiation: the German delegation was presented with the terms and had no option but to sign. The railway carriage in which they did so was later used by Hitler for France’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940.
On the 22nd October 1895, the Granville–Paris Express train ran across the station platform, crashed through a 60cm wall, and fell 10 metres to the street below after it overran the buffer stop at the Gare Montparnasse terminus. Posters showing the train standing on its nose have since become an obligatory feature on the walls of many student bedrooms.
131 passengers were on board the train as it left its final stop behind schedule. The heavy train of six passenger coaches, three luggage vans and a post van was being driven by Guillaume-Marie Pellerin. Despite nineteen years of experience he was concerned that he was running late as he approached Montparnasse. In an attempt to claw back some time, he drove much faster than normal into the station and applied the Westinghouse air brake, which operated the brakes of each carriage, in an attempt to slow down the train.
Unfortunately the Westinghouse brake failed and the locomotive’s own brakes were insufficient to stop such a heavy train travelling at high speed. The conductor on board was also preoccupied with paperwork and realised the danger too late to be able to apply his own handbrake. As a result the train ran through the buffer stop and crashed through the wall onto the street below.
Falling masonry hit and killed a woman selling newspapers on the street outside, but amazingly she was the only person who died. The fireman, two guards and two passengers sustained injuries but everyone else was left unharmed. The driver was found guilty of driving too fast and fined 50 francs.
At 12.15pm on the afternoon of the 16th October 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris. Found guilty of treason earlier that morning, she was transported to her death in an open cart and later buried in an unmarked grave.
Following the execution of her husband, the former King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette had continued to be held prisoner in the Temple along with her children. Following the creation of the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror, calls for her trial grew louder and this become the National Convention’s preferred policy following the fall of the Girondins at the end of May.
After her son was sent to live with a Jacobin cobbler as a form of revolutionary re-education, Marie Antoinette was moved to an isolated cell in the Conciergerie from which she plotted a failed escape attempt known as “The Carnation Plot”. It’s argued by some that it was this that convinced the CPS to bring her to trial in front of the Revolutionary Tribunal on the 14th October.
Although the guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion, Marie Antoinette had expected a sentence of life imprisonment or exile. Despite this she showed courage throughout the remaining hours of her life including the verbal abuse she suffered on the hour-long journey to the guillotine. On climbing the steps to the scaffold she accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner, reacting by saying, “Pardon me, sir, I meant not to do it”.
These were the last words she said before the blade fell.
On the 14th October 1066, the Battle of Hastings was fought between Duke William II of Normandy and the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson. Harold’s defeat triggered the Norman conquest of England and the beginning of a new age in England’s rich monarchical history.
To call the battle the Battle of Hastings is actually misleading, since it was actually fought seven miles away from Hastings, near the modern town of Battle, although the 1087 Domesday Book ordered by William the Conqueror did describe it as the Battle of Hastings.
Less than four weeks before the battle, the northern English army had been defeated by King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Fulford. Harold had been waiting on the south coast, expecting an invasion by William, but Hardrada’s invasion forced him to rush north where he defeated the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the 25th September.
Conscious of the imminent Norman invasion, Harold immediately marched his battered troops south again on an exhausting journey averaging 27 miles a day. Having received news of William’s arrival on the way, Harold arrived at the battleground and took up a defensive position on top of Senlac Hill.
Contemporary accounts of the battle frequently contradict each other, so specific details are not known. However, most historians accept that the Anglo-Saxons formed a shield wall that was broken after the Norman knights staged a feigned retreat. Harold was killed on the battlefield. His exact cause of death isn’t known, but signalled the collapse of the English forces. William was crowned King of England on the 25th December.
On the 26th September 1923, German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann ended passive resistance in the Ruhr and resumed the payment of First World War reparations. By doing so he was able to slow down the economic crisis that was enveloping the country and show that he accepted the international realities of the new era. Although greeted with anger from both Left and Right Wing parties, Stresemann’s actions laid the foundation for the economic recovery that Germany experienced up until the onset of the Great Depression.
The 1921 London Schedule of Payments set out both the reparations amount, and the timetable over which Germany was expected to pay for its defeat in the First World War. However, from the very start of the payments Germany missed some its targets. Failure to provide the full quota of coal and timber in December 1922, provided the excuse for France and Belgium to occupy the Ruhr on the 11th January 1923.
Occupation was met with passive resistance, and the striking workers were paid with money printed by the government. This contributed to the rampant hyperinflation that had begun to cripple the economy from before the occupation even began. Aware that the situation was unsustainable, Stresemann – who had only been Chancellor for six weeks – called off passive resistance after nine months and started to pay reparations again. This marked the start of Germany’s international rehabilitation, although within Germany it was met with opposition from both Left and Right extremists. For that reason, Stresemann asked President Ebert to announce a state of emergency under Article 48 of the constitution on the same day.
The first recorded naval battle featuring artillery took place in the first naval engagement of the Hundred Years’ War.
The Battle of Arnemuiden saw five slow but stable single-masted English cogs face 48 galleys of The Grand Army of the Sea. This huge French fleet had already sacked English coastal towns such as Portsmouth and Southampton in an attempt to cripple the English economy and stop Edward III’s attempts to gain the French crown.
Edward relied on income from the valuable wool trade to ensure he could pay for his army and maintain the support of his allies on the continent. The five ships that sailed from England to the Flanders port of Arnemuiden were unloading this cargo when they were overwhelmed by the French fleet.
Realising that their best chance of avoiding capture was to put to sea again, the ships quickly left their moorings. Under the command of John Kingston on board the Christopher, the English then attempted to fight off the French. Four of the five ships were forced to adopt the established tactic of attempting to ram the sides of the opposing ships, but the Christopher was able to employ a new type of offensive: artillery.
The ship was equipped with three canons and one handgun and, against overwhelming numbers, the crew were able to use these to hold off the enemy for much of the day. However, Kingston was eventually forced to surrender. The French admirals Hugues Quiéret and Nicolas Béhuchet captured the five ships with their valuable cargo and executed the crews.
The French navy went on to dominate the Channel for almost two years before its decisive defeat at the Battle of Sluys on 24 June 1340 during which the English were able to recapture the Christopher.
The Reign of Terror began in France when Bertrand Barère, a member of the Committee of Public Safety, made a speech in favour of it that ended with the exclamation, “Let’s make terror the order of the day!”
Although there is debate amongst historians regarding the exact date that the Reign of Terror began, Barère made his speech at a time that Paris Commune was agitating for a more proactive approach against enemies of the revolution. Less than two weeks later the National Convention passed the Law of Suspects. This led to the arrest of both declared and suspected opponents of the government. This was one of the key causes of the more than 16,000 executions that took place during the Terror.
The following February Robespierre himself justified the government’s policy as ‘nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice’. While some historians disagree with Robespierre’s argument that the Terror was necessary to combat counter-revolutionary elements in French society, there can be little doubt that France’s fortunes improved during its time.
However, the Terror had also begun to face opposition. By the end of 1793 two factions – one calling for an escalation, the other for moderation – had emerged. Although the leaders of both groups were executed, Robespierre’s dominance of the Committee of Public Safety was now seen as a threat to the National Convention itself.
In the session on 27 July 1794, members of the Convention turned against Robespierre and his allies. Shouts of “Down with the tyrant! Arrest him!” were heard in the chamber. Robespierre and 21 followers were arrested, and later executed, in what became known as the Thermidorian Reaction.
The Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War, was signed by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America.
The American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence, began on 19 April 1775 between Great Britain and her Thirteen Colonies that had declared independence as the United States of America.
The conflict lasted for over eight years from its first shot to the signing of the Treaty. The Americans, having formed an alliance with France in 1778, had accepted the surrender of British troops under Charles Cornwallis on 17 October 1781. This resulted from the decisive victory at Yorktown by a combined force of American troops led by General George Washington and French Army troops under the Comte de Rochambeau.
A vote of ‘no confidence’ in the British government under Lord North soon led to the creation of a new government that began peace negotiations in April 1782. By the end of the summer the Americans had begun to negotiate directly with the British Prime Minister, Lord Shelburne, a move that forced France to agree a separate peace with Britain and which had the effect of weakening the relationship between the two allies.
The Treaty was drafted on 30 November, 1782 and signed the following year. It formally recognised that the United States would be free, sovereign, and independent. The land granted under the agreement to the United States by Britain has subsequently been described as “exceedingly generous”. However, in an excellent piece of diplomatic prediction by Lord Shelburne, this went on to provide Britain with a fast-growing and lucrative trading partner.
On the 27th August 1928, Germany, France and the United States signed the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy – otherwise known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact. A total of 62 nations eventually went on to join them in signing the agreement, which promised to never use war as a way to settle conflicts.
Jointly created by the United States Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand, the Pact stemmed from France’s desire to protect itself against possible future German aggression. Unwilling to join what could be interpreted as a military alliance, Kellogg suggested that they invite all countries to sign a condemnation of war unless in self-defence. The United States’ involvement meant that the Pact was signed outside the League of Nations, of which America was not a member, and therefore means that it is still in force today.
At the time it was hoped that the signing of the Pact would stop any future wars, but the impact of the worldwide depression in the 1930s led nations such as Japan and Italy to launch invasions of Manchuria and Abyssinia respectively. Such invasions began without the aggressor ever declaring war but, despite this, the Pact was ineffective since it provided no way to enforce its terms anyway. However, it did act as the legal basis for the notion of a crime against peace, and in turn became the basis for many of the key prosecution arguments in the Nuremberg Trials and the Tokyo Trials that followed the Second World War.