Ivan the Terrible Coronated as Tsar, 1547

How is it that I have gone this long without a single post about Russian history? I need to remedy this immediately!

So, without further ado, on this day in 1547, Ivan IV Vasilyevich was coronated. Ivan IV is best known by his nickname Ivan the Terrible because he was… well… terrible.

Ivan the Terrible looking quite menacing, via

Before Ivan became  “terrible,” he was born on August 25, 1530 in Kolomenskoye, Grand Duchy of Muscovy, Russia. Ivan IV was the grandson of Ivan the Great and the son of  Vasili III, the current Grand Prince of Moscow. When Ivan IV was only 3 years old, Vasili III died. As per his father’s request, Ivan IV was named the new Grand Prince of Moscow. His mother served as his regent until he was 8 years old, and she died from what is speculated to be an assassination through poison. Ivan IV was neglected as a child, and he filled his time by torturing animals and reading (he possessed a terrifying mix of intelligence and mental illness).

On January 16th, 1547, when Ivan IV was only 16 years old, he became the first official “Tsar of All the Russias.” His grandfather Ivan the Great , though called a Grand Prince of Moscow, acted like a tsar because he gathered Russia’s lands and created the basis for a Russian state. Ivan IV was really just the first ruler in Russia with the title tsar.

Ivan IV had “Great” shoes to fill (see what I did there?). His successes include significantly expanding medieval Russia into a growing empire and centralizing the Russian government. Furthermore, Ivan IV decreased the abuse of power of the nobility, or boyar class. However, the way he achieved this was quite-for lack of a better word- terrible.

In 1560, Ivan IV began his Reign of Terror which helped him earn his nickname, Ivan the Terrible. In this year, Ivan IV’s first wife died, and he suspected that the boyars– whom he already despised- were responsible. During his Reign of Terror, Ivan IV destroyed much of the boyar class, massacred 60,000 citizens of Novgorad because he suspected them of treason, and ordered mass public executions in Moscow, among other awful acts.

During this time of extreme paranoia, Ivan the Terrible beat his pregnant daughter-in-law because he believed she was dressed immodestly, thus causing her to miscarry. When Ivan’s son confronted him about it, Ivan fatally beat his son- the only of his three sons who was considered fit to be his heir.

Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan by Ilya Repin, via

On March 18, 1584, Ivan the Terrible died of a heart attack during a game of chess. Ivan left behind the Russian empire to his feeble-minded son Feodor, who led the country into the Time of Troubles.

Ivan the Terrible is known for expanding Russia and centralizing the government, but also for his paranoia and outbursts of rage. He was a very complex man and fascinating to study because he is enshrouded in so much mystery.

Berthe Morisot, 1841

On this day in 1841, Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, France. Her father was a high-ranking government official and her grandfather was a Rococo painter.

Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets, Edoaurd Manet, 1872, via

At the time, upper-class women were under rigid social rules. They were encouraged to study the fine arts, such as painting, which could be practiced with other women, but were not encouraged to become famous painters or sell their art in shows. Despite their traditional upbringing, Morisot and her sister Edma moved to Paris to study and copy paintings at the Louvre in the late 1950s under Joseph Guichard. They also studied with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a landscape painter for several years. Corisot encouraged Morisot to paint en plein air, or “outdoors.”

At one point, Corot wrote in a letter to the Morisot sisters’ mother, “With characters like your daughters, my teaching will make them painters, not minor amateur talents. Do you really understand what that means? In the world of the grande bourgeoisie in which you move, it would be a revolution. I would even say a catastrophe.”

Sure enough, Morisot exhibited her work for the first time in the prestigious show, the Salon, in 1864. The Salon was the official show of the state-run organization the Academie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) in Paris.

Vue du petit port de Lorient (The Harbor at Lorient), 1869, via

Over the years, Morisot’s paintings became more Impressionistic. Impressionism is a painting style that originated in France in the 19th century. It focuses on natural light, features bold colors, and utilizes short, visible brush strokes. This style of painting was revolutionary at the time because it rejected the conventional painting style, which was very detailed and realistic. Impressionism, on the other hand, gave more of an “impression” of a scene than a painstakingly detailed depiction. Furthermore, Impressionist painters often depicted “snapshots” of daily life such as dreamy landscapes or scenes from domestic life. Because Impressionism was unconventional, many Impressionist painters were rejected from showing in the Salon.

In 1868, Morisot met Impressionist artist Edouard Manet, with whom she had a lasting friendship. Morisot became even more involved in the Impressionist community, marrying Manet’s brother, Eugene, in 1874 and becoming friends with other influential Impressionist painters such as Edgar Degas and Frederic Bazille.

Le Berceau (The Cradle), 1872, was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition, via

Morisot had a regular spot in the Salon, but in 1874, she chose to exhibit her work at the first independent Impressionist show instead. She continued to show her work in every show except for 1877 when she was pregnant with her daughter Julie. After Julie’s birth, she soon became Morisot’s favorite subject.

Julie Rêveuse (Julie Daydreaming), 1894, via

Although Morisot’s style was modern for the time, she enjoyed the support of many critics during her lifetime. Here is Charles Ephrussi’s beautiful description of Morisot’s work from the Gazette des Beaux-Arts:

Berthe Morisot is very French in her distinction, elegance, gaiety and nonchalance. She loves painting that is joyous and lively; she grinds flower petals onto her palette, in order to spread them later on her canvas with airy, witty touches, thrown down a little haphazardly. These harmonise, blend, and finish by producing something vital, fine, and charming.

Eugene Manet died in 1892, and Morisot continued to paint. While never attaining commercial success during her lifetime, she outsold many of her contemporaries including Monet and Renoir, had a solo exhibition in 1892, and had one of her paintings purchased by the government in 1894.

Morisot died from pneumonia on March 2, 1895 at the age of 54.

Psyché, 1876, via 

I’m fascinated by Morisot, because she not only broke the rules of conventional French painting, she also broke expectations for her gender by pursuing a career in painting.

I love learning about French art movements. In fact, one of my first posts was about Rene Magritte, my favorite surrealist painter.

Thanks for reading!



Simone de Beauvoir, 1908

On this day in 1908, Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir- or Simone de Beauvoir as she was later known- was born in Paris, France. De Beauvoir was a writer, feminist, intellectual, political activist, and existentialist philosopher, best known for her feminist text, Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), which was about the oppression of women throughout history.

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was raised Catholic but later became an atheist and existentialist. At 21 years old, de Beauvoir went to the Sorbonne to study philosophy. In 1929, she graduated from the Sorbonne and met French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she had a lifelong relationship. The two never married because de Beauvoir did not agree with the social institution of marriage.

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, 1963

Influenced by World War II, de Beauvoir became interested in the social and political issues of her age. Along with Sartre and a few of their contemporaries, she founded and edited Les Temps Modernes, a left-wing political journal, in 1945. In 1946, she published The Ethics of Ambiguity (Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté), an essay about existential ethics.

In 1949, she published The Second Sex in France, a feminist treatise so controversial it was banned by the Vatican. One of her most famous quotes from the work is:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

The unabridged English translation of Le Deuxieme Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir.

De Beauvoir died in April 14, 1986 in Paris and shares a grave with partner Jean-Paul Sartre, who died six years before.

Simone de Beauvoir


Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918

On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to the United States Congress, outlining “Fourteen Points” that he believed would lead to lasting peace between nations. Like FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech concerns  global security and reflects the ideology of an American president during a World War.

President Woodrow Wilson (in office March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921)

At the time of Wilson’s speech, America was currently involved in World War I, fighting on the side of the Entente Powers, or Allies (namely Britain and France), against the Central Powers (namely Germany).

I won’t go through all of his fourteen points, but here are the highlights:

  • No more secret agreements- If you study the causes of the First World War, you will see how many secret agreements and alliances there were. It is one of the (many) reasons why so many countries became involved in the war.
  • Freedom of the seas– America declared war on Germany (even though Wilson really really did not want to get involved in the war) mainly because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare.
  • Equal trade between countries– Wilson is saying that a country could impose tariffs on other countries, but this tariff would have to apply to all countries; it could not discriminate among countries.
  • Reduction of armaments– Wilson’s allies were not too happy about this one. It was easy for the United States- a rising world power isolated from Europe- to ask countries to reduce armaments. But what about France, who shared a border with Germany and kept getting invaded by them?
  • Objective adjustment of colonial claims– Again, this was easy for the United States to say. They had less of a stake in colonies than their Allied counterparts.
  • Various specific suggestions for certain disputed states and territories– Including the self-determination of Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan states, among others. Also, he said France should be liberated and given Alsace-Lorraine back. Wilson asked for the creation of an independent Polish state.

And here is Wilson’s crowning glory:

  • A League of Nations should be established for the purpose of maintaining peace between all states, big and small– You can think of the League of Nations-which was eventually created- as an early, ineffective United Nations.

Later in November 1918, the war ended with the Armistice with Germany. The Fourteen Points could have even influenced the Germans to surrender, expecting just treatment. However, the  Treaty of Versailles, against Wilson’s wishes, was very vindictive, forcing Germany to take responsibility for starting the war and to pay gross reparations.

Some parts of Wilson’s Fourteen Points were included in the Versailles Treaty, including the creation of a League of Nations. However, the Treaty of Versailles was not ratified by the US Senate, and the United States never joined Wilson’s own League of Nations.

Regardless, President Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts.

Four Freedoms Speech, 1941

On this day in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his 1941 State of the Union address, which became known as his Four Freedoms speech.

At the beginning of World War II, many Americans were still isolationist, meaning they did not want to get involved in the war brewing in Europe. The Four Freedoms speech is significant because FDR made a departure from traditional American isolationism and tried to convince his country that America should continue to give aid to Britain, which was in the midst of war with Nazi Germany. His argument was that people all around the world deserve four basic freedoms.

Here are the Four Freedoms, as illustrated by Norman Rockwell.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Eleven months later, Japan bombed US Naval Base Pearl Harbor and the United States declared war on Japan, thus entering World War II. The Four Freedoms and their respective paintings became part of a war bond campaign (shown above) as they outlined the ideological aims of the United States.

Christmas Truce, 1914

On Christmas Eve in 1914, an estimated 100,000 soldiers on both sides of the trenches along the Western Front engaged in an unofficial truce which continued to Christmas Day.

Months earlier, World War I began. The prospect of war was exciting, but soon there was a stalemate on the Western Front between the Central and Allied Powers. The troops were ordered to dig into trenches which were poorly constructed and in which soldiers suffered deplorable conditions. Enthusiasm for the war waned in these fruitless months.

However, morale was temporarily restored in December 1914 when British and German troops received Christmas gifts from their countries and families. A feeling of good will spread throughout the trenches and on Christmas Eve spontaneous truces began to occur along the Western Front.

Together, British and German soldiers sang carols, exchanged gifts, and played soccer. The events of the truce are documented in various soldiers’ diaries. Here, German soldier Kurt Zehmisch describes his experience:

The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued.  How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was.  The English officers felt the same way about it.  Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.

In addition to the fraternizing and festivities, members of both sides made use of the truce to go into No Man’s Land and bury their dead. Thus, the truce was both a sweet and somber time.

These spontaneous truces amongst soldiers were frowned upon by some  military officials. In fact, there was never again a ceasefire on Christmas during World War I because war officials made it clear they would prosecute soldiers who initiated, or participated in, another truce.

This is one of my favorite historical events in history because it demonstrates the humanity that can endure in times of war. There is a 2005 French film called Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) that depicts the events of the Christmas Truce. I believe the movie is available for streaming through Netflix and Amazon Prime if you’re interested.

Have a great holiday!

A Visit From St. Nicholas, 1823

Author Note: Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Things got really busy at the end of the semester, but I am finally back and ready to write about history again!

‘Twas the day before the night before Christmas in 1823 that the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was published in a New York newspaper. Today, the poem- which also goes by the names “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “The Night Before Christmas”- is attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore who is said to have written the poem for his children. Its opening lines are some of the most recognizable lines in American poetry:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…
Moore published the beloved children’s poem anonymously because he did not want to be associated with it. You see, Moore was very scholarly and did not want the poem to tarnish his reputation. The poem grew in popularity and in 1844, Moore included “A Visit From St. Nicholas” in his Poems, thus taking credit for the poem. However, not everyone believes that Moore wrote the poem. Others, namely Major Henry Livingston, Jr., have been credited with writing the poem.

Early depiction of Saint Nicholas.

Regardless of who wrote the poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” has largely influenced the popular image of Santa Claus and established the names and number of his reindeer.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!