Over the course of time some peoples demise has had catastrophic consequences. Others have led to political change, reconciliation, commemoration. There are countless significant deaths that could be included here. Feel free to comment with your suggestions of timely or untimely deaths that have changed the course of history for good or for bad.
Ok, an obvious one to use if Franz Ferdinand. The spark of the First World War and the millions of losses that this ultimately led to. Or the passing of Edward the Confessor and the subsequent fight for the throne of England. They are way too obvious though, so we’re going to look at some less well known ones. This most definitely is not an attempt to list the most significant ones. It’s more a case of morbid curiosity on the authors part: guess this is what a week in hospital does to me!
Alexander II – Russia
Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated in 1881. His demise was the result of years of discontent and occurred amid a period of growing unrest. Indeed, the assassination can hardly viewed as a shock or surprise. Radical groups had been emerging for some time in Russia and the attempts of the autocratic state to deal with the issue often fuelled the situation rather than offering any concessions to the people.
Alexander’s death isn’t listed because he was assassinated though. No, I’ve included it because of the consequences. A more authoritarian regime followed which ultimately radicalised yet more people. It led, directly or indirectly, to the policies which would infuriate the leaders of the 1917 Revolutions. The death wasn’t a spark for a revolution but it was the lighting of a slow fuse in many ways.
When Mongke Khan, son of Genghis, passed away there was no obvious successor. The other sons of Genghis all had many fine attributes and were followed by incredibly loyal troops. They also had burning ambitions to be the Great Khan. This led to the Touid Civil War.
A war fought by Mongol Khan against Mongol Khan, namely Kublai and Ariq Boke. Kublai’s claim was simple: he was the son of Genghis, a great leader himself and the rightful heir. Ariq was a grandson of Genghis, the son of Toloi Khan. Both had many allies and both followed tradition by calling a kaipang at which they were both, separately and some distance apart, proclaimed Great Khan. Civil War followed from 1260 to 1264. Even with a victory for Kublai, the damage to Mongul unity was done. The four great Khans never fought alongside each other again and the empire built by Genghis disintegrated.
Pope Gregory XI
For many years the Papacy was based in Avignon, France. Pope Gregory XI was one of the Pope’s to be appointed as head of the Catholic church whilst it was based there. He made an attempt to return to Rome but found the city and surrounding area too volatile and beat a hasty retreat to Avignon, where he died in 1378. As is still the practice, cardinals met following his death and decided who the next pope would be: Urban VI. However there were soon misgivings about Urban VI and a group of dissenters convened and decided that Cardinal Robert of Geneva should be Pope. They duly named him Pope Clement VII. Suddenly, there were two Popes.
This led to obvious tension. Urban controlled the Vatican and had military and ecclesiastical support. Clement and his followers, also backed by military and ecclesiastical might, took control of Avignon. What is known as the Great Western Schism had occurred. Throughout the Catholic world, Kings and Queens found themselves having to decide which Pope they considered to be the ‘real’ one. There was a great divide. In Medieval Europe the church and religion was central to both daily life and to politics: both locally and internationally. This Schism lasted until 1417 when the Papacy was united as a result of the Avignon based Pope, Benedict XIII, being deposed. As the Rome based Pope, Gregory XII, had abdicated, there was an opportunity for the church to reunite under one Pope, which it did as the result of the election of Martin V.