Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch in the English, Scottish or British History.

Aside : The kingdom of Great Britain was formed in 1707 by the union of England (England and Wales) with Scotland. In 1801, The Kingdom of Great Britain united with the Kingdom of Ireland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland when 5/6th of Ireland seceded from the union.


Victoria - Self Portrait -1835
Victoria – Self Portrait -1835

Princess Charlotte was the daughter of Prince Regent George, first in line to the British throne and the only legitimate grandchild of King George III. The death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth brought about a succession crisis that forced Prince Edward (Third son of King George) to marry at the age of 50. After King George III and his sons and daughters, there were no legitimate heir to the throne of the British Empire. Prince Edward married Princess Victoria, who was a widow with two children from her first marriage.

Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born on 24th May 1819. She was named Alexandrina after her Godfather, Emperor Alexander I of Russia. At her birth, she was fifth in line to the British Throne. Her father and the King died within a week of each other in 1820. Her uncle, Duke of York died in 1827 and the other uncle King George IV died in 1830, making her the heiress presumptive to her last surviving uncle, King William IV. At the age of 18, on June 20 1837, King William IV died making Victoria, the Queen of United Kingdom.

She married Prince Albert in 1840. Her white wedding dress was unusual as normally wedding dress were more colorful. This apparently started the tradition of white bridal gowns in Christian marriages.

During her long reign, she was target of assassination by Edward Oxford in 1840, John Francis in 1842, John Bean in 1842, William Hamilton in 1849, assault by Robert Pate in 1850, Roderick Maclean in 1882. She lived a charmed life.

She was crowned the Empress of India in 1877. He full title now was “Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.”

Queen Victoria was the Grandmother of the Royal Houses of Europe. Her daughter Victoria married Frederick, the Crown Prince of Germany and Prussia (who later became Frederick III, German Emperor and King of Prussia). Queen Victoria’s first grandchild, Wilhelm, through her daughter Victoria became Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia after Frederick III. Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Maud (daughter of Edward VII) was the Queen of Norway. Another of Victoria’s granddaughter, Alexandra was the Empress Consort and wife of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Marie, again Victoria’s granddaughter, was the Queen consort of Romania as wife of King Ferdinand I. Victoria Eugenie, Queen of Spain and wife of King Alfonso XIII was also a granddaughter of Victoria. Edward VII, son of Victoria was the King of United Kingdom and Emperor of India. The current Queen of United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II is also a descendant of Victoria.

During the Victorian Era, the British Empire reached the zenith of its expansion and power. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was suppressed and the East India Company nationalized with the passing over of all administrative duties to the British Crown. The EIC was dissolved in 1874. The British Empire extended to six continents and the Victorian Era saw the establishment of dominion of Canada, the Crimean War (Leo Tolstoy was the first War Correspondent), the tripling of population of Australia due to Victorian Gold Rush(Its province of Victoria is named after, you guessed it right, Queen Victoria), Irish famine which resulted in almost a million dead in Ireland and million more emigrated to Canada, America and Australia. Victorian Era was also a boost to technology and sciences. Railroads, electricity, Telegraph, Telephone, Theory of Evolution were all products of the Victorian Era. The first postal stamp, the penny black, with the profile of Queen Victoria was issued in 1840 to make the post a pre-payment system rather than an On-Delivery payment. The first football league was founded in 1888. The oldest tennis championship, Wimbledon was first held in 1877. Victoria’s rule was also the time of giants like Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans), Lewis Carroll, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, John Stuart Mill, Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes and Dracula were the product of the Victorian Era.

Victoria died in 1901, the first year of the 20th century, a century that was shaped to a large extent by her rule and that of her descendants. Her son, Edward VII, the future King of United Kingdom and her eldest grandson, Wilhelm II, now the Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia were at her deathbed.

Schlieffen Plan and Plan XVII

I had wanted to write about the Schlieffen plan for at least a couple of years now but somehow never managed to do it. Today is the lucky day. 🙂

The Schlieffen plan was part of a memorandum created by Count Alfred Von Schlieffen during the end of his career as Chief of Imperial German General Staff. His tenure as chief lasted from 1891 to 1906. Schlieffen was perhaps one of the greatest military strategist of his time and developed maneuver warfare as a potent strategy. Later German Blitzkrieg was a further development of this school of thought.
The German General Staff was a body at the head of German armed forces tasked with the study and development of warfare. The personnel were selected based on merit and underwent rigorous training and were comparatively free of political influence. This body gave the German armed forces a great advantage compared to the other forces during World War I.

Alfred Von Schlieffen

In 1904, France and Britain signed the Entente Cordiale thus in effect creating the Triple Entente. Russia and France had already signed the Franco-Russian Alliance and the British and the Russians were part of the Anglo-Russian Entente. The result of these treaties made it likely that in any future wars on the continental Europe, Germany will have to deal with fighting on two fronts with French on the west and Russians on the East. Schlieffen was tasked to create a war plan that would be used in such a scenario.

There were many considerations that went in the creation of the Schlieffen Plan:
1. The Russians were soundly defeated by the Japanese in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war thus putting into question the might of the Russian Army.
2. Due to the vast territory of the Russian empire, it was assumed that they will take a much longer time to mobilize as compared to the French and the Germans. Plan assumed 6 weeks for the Russians to mobilize.
3. Once the French are taken out, the superior German rail system would allow the army to be quickly transported to the Eastern front against the Russians. Thus the plan gave the German army 6 weeks to defeat the French.

Schlieffen was greatly influenced by the battle of Cannae (BCE 216) of the Second Punic War in which Carthagians under Hannibal defeated the army of the Roman Republic using Double Envelopment. Double envelopment involved avoiding a frontal assault on the bulk of the enemy force, but instead using a flanking maneuver to get on the sides and the rear of the enemy from the two sides. Once the enemy troops are enveloped, they can be destroyed at leisure.

Battle of Cannae

Schlieffen wanted to recreate the double envelopment but on a massive scale. This double envelopment tactics was later super successfully used by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. The Wehrmacht double envelopment was a much more complex maneuver with combined arms of armor, infantry, Luftwaffe involved. Millions of Soviet and Polish troops would be killed or captured during these envelopments. The plan would be to envelop enemy troop concentrations, isolate them and later destroy them. The blue circles in the figure below are the Polish troops encircled. Look at the sheer size of these envelopments.

Envelopment in Poland, World War 2

But we are digressing. Schlieffen wanted to use this double envelopment against the French army to encircle it and destroy it. This would result in a quick French surrender. If the French army was allowed to escape, it would lead to a protracted war of attrition and this would also give time for Russians to properly mobilize and Britain to send the British Expeditionary force and provide aid.

The plan took into account the massive French fortification on its eastern frontier making it very costly to make a charge through there. The original plan thus planned a massive right sweep through the Low countries of Belgium and Holland as far north as possible (“letting the last man on the right, brush the Channel with his sleeve”) and then into France from the North. This avoided the bulk of the French fortifications. A defensive Central and Left wing would be posted on the French Eastern frontier. The plan thus ignored the neutrality of Belgium and Holland and also believed that Belgium and Holland would be easily defeated. By the time the French wake up, they would have the bulk of German army on their left and behind. The lightly defended French Eastern frontier with Germany was to act as a lure for the French army, who had dreams of taking back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, pulling them in.

Schlieffen Plan
Schlieffen Plan

The plan entailed ignoring Paris and instead enveloping the mass of the French army around Paris.

French Plan XVII seemed like designed to fall into the German trap, though it took into account the possible German sweep through the low countries. The plan was created in 1913 and entailed five Corps on the Belgian frontier and ten on the eastern frontier. Six corps were in reserve near Verdun to be moved either north or east once the main thrust of the German attack becomes clear. The plan was to advance through the eastern frontier and capture Alsace and Lorraine and in the meantime stopping any German thrust from the North in Belgium.

We will look at if and how the Schlieffen plan was executed and how the plan XVII performed in a later blog post. Hopefully soon. We will also take a look at the Fall Gelb of the Second World War.

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

In case you are wondering where the phrase “Band of Brothers” comes from, thank Shakespeare for it.
Band of Brothers comes from the play “Henry V”, in which King Henry delivers this famous speech before the Battle of Agincourt. Here is a youtube video from BBC series “Henry V”. Kenneth delivers the dialogue impeccably.

And here is the complete speech:

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The title of this post also comes from the same play. It marks the end of Henry’s speech before the battle of Harfleur. And the speech starts with another famous phrase “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”
The contribution of Shakespeare to the beauty of English language cannot be described. Perhaps Shakespeare could do it.