January 28

The king is dead, long live the king

Rulers of nations and empires can die any day of the year, but it is remarkable to find three such consequential monarchs passing on the same calendar date.

814 Charlemagne

First to go was Frankish emperor Karl, aka Carolus Magnus, aka Charlemagne, second of the Carolingian dynasty. He unified and greatly enlarged Frankish  territory creating a dominion that stretched from Denmark to the Spanish Marches, from the Atlantic to the Pannonian plains. He issued legal codes, encouraged Christian evangelism of pagan tribes, sponsored a renaissance of learning and arts, judged popes, crushed Lombards, Saxons, and Avars, and was crowned Emperor in Rome on Christmas Day, 800. His realm was splintered and frittered away by his son Louis the Pious and his quarrelsome grandsons.

1547 Henry VIII

An unpleasant character, mean and foolish in so many ways, Henry’s reign saw important changes in England. His marital woes led him to create the Church of England, which he meant to be Catholic in doctrine but under his thumb instead of the pope’s. He carried out the greatest redistribution of wealth in the country’s history by seizing vast monastic land-holdings – this profited his noble supporters more than it enriched the crown. He permitted the printing of the first English Bible – with his portrait on the title page. In order to justify these acts in the eyes of his political class he validated them through Parliament. This greatly enhanced the powers of that institution. He murdered wives, cardinals, monks, and rebels. Few mourned his passing. 

1725 Peter the Great

After a tumultuous rise to the throne, marked by conspiracy and rebellion Peter achieved unfettered rule in 1696 at the age of 24. His impressive titles tell us a lot about the historical expansion of the Russian state: By the grace of God, the most excellent and great sovereign emperor Pyotr Alekseevich the ruler of all the Russias: of Moscow, of Kiev, of Vladimir, of Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan and Tsar of Siberia, sovereign of Pskov, great prince of Smolensk, of Tver, of Yugorsk, of Perm, of Vyatka, of Bulgaria and others, sovereign and great prince of the Novgorod Lower lands, of Chernigov, of Ryazan, of Rostov, of Yaroslavl, of Belozersk, of Udora, of Kondia and the sovereign of all the northern lands, and the sovereign of the Iverian lands, of the Kartlian and Georgian Kings, of the Kabardin lands, of the Circassian and Mountain princes and many other states and lands western and eastern here and there and the successor and sovereign and ruler.

Peter significantly modernized the backward Russian state, created a new capital city of St. Petersburg, improved the military (especially the navy), smacked down Swedes and Tatars, introduced Western ways, and laid the foundation of Romanov rule for centuries.

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