An Alternative History of Europe

Some time last year, I was having a discussion about alternative histories. My view is that history has in general a particular shape, determined largely by geography, demography and economics, and that it’s very hard to seriously shift it from its tracks. For this reason, I’m skeptical about most hypothetical Points of Departure, as I just can’t imagine them having serious effects.

Needless to say, I was challenged to suggest a POD that COULD make a difference; and one of those that came to mind was the premature death (in our timeline) of King Henry V of England, shortly after defeating France and being declared heir to the French throne. What could have happened, had he lived? I never quite finished the timeline, so I didn’t post it anywhere at the time… but why not put up what I’ve got?

As always, I’m not 100% convinced by all of it anymore, but it’s not total nonsense, in my opinion.

As you’ll see, I’ve also included some Fun Facts About Our Timeline, to provide a little context for those unfamiliar with the events at hand.

NB. I’ve changed this post since first putting it up, as I found a more recent draft…


Wars of Consolidation

Henry’s accession as Henry V of England and II of France did not end the bloodshed, as the illegitimised Dauphin, Charles (self-styled Charles VII) continued to mastermind resistence against the English from the south of the kingdom. After a few years of recuperation, the English launched a major offensive from Gascony, in which they largely had the support of the local population. After the death of popular heroine Joan of Arc in 1429, support for Charles and his Armagnac party quickly crumbled, and he fled to the Dauphiné. In the Treaty of Lyons , Charles admitted his bastardy and renounced his claim to the French throne, in exchange for being granted autonomy over the Dauphiné, which he declared to be the Kingdom of Grenoble.

[Fun Facts About Our Timeline: Even after the death of Henry V, Charles VII struggled to gain support, and for the best part of a decade his forces were continually defeated by the superior generals and technology of the English. Only the lack of effective leadership, and discontent at home caused by the weak regency of Henry VI, kept the war in stagnation. The attempts to enlarge the territory of Gascony were anemic, and failed despite popular support: the locals had no love of the French monarchs and remembered kindly the reign of the Black Prince and the Fair Maid of Kent a century before, at which time their court had been the most brilliant in Europe]

Nor was it only in France that there was discontent. In England, there was disquiet among the nobility at the growing power of the French at court, and the King’s perceived neglect of England. This was exacerbated by the death of Henry I and the accession of Henry II, a good king but prone to bouts of debilitating madness. Much of the power in the nation rested in the hands of the new French Queen, Margaret of Anjou, and those of her father, René the Good, formerly a key supporter of the Dauphin.

The catalyst for revolt was the problem of Scottish raiding; the kings in Paris were considered far too unconcerned about the incursions by the Scots, which took place in increasing force. In responding to this accusation, the court misstepped by placing too much power in the hands of the House of Percy, the Earls of Northumberland, the king’s de facto representatives on the Scottish border; the Percies quickly used the opportunity to settle old scores with their archenemies, the House of Neville. The unrest of the Nevilles, combined with general disquiet in the kingdom, displayed through a peasant rebellion that held London for three weeks, incited the allies of the Nevilles, the House of York (junior branch of the royal family) to rise up against the king. The wars that resulted lasted, on-and-off, for nearly ten years, and were only brought to an end by sweeping concessions both to the houses of York and Neville and to the English Parliament as a body.

[FFAOT: Henry VI was a weak and overly trusting king, manipulated by his courtiers, dominated by his wife, and generally cut out more for sainthood than for rule. However, much of this can be put down to the peculiar, isolated, controlled life of a child-king, under the sway of regents the whole of his life. It doesn’t produce a strong will or much grip on reality. However, the madness probably had nothing to do with the weakness, despite the views of contemporaries: his grandfather, Charles VI (the Mad) of France, had similar episodes of debilitating insanity, and symptoms can be traced back generations through that line.

Serious civil wars are rare things, and the Wars of the Roses exploded from a relatively small base. Here, Henry is stronger, his advisors are better and more diverse, and the King has more to offer the discontented.

The peasants, incidentally, did march on London even in our timeline – lead by the possibly mythical ‘Jack Cade’]


Wars Against John II

Faced with unrest at home, it was natural for the court to seek enemies abroad, and opportunity soon arose on their southern border, in the person of John II, King of Navarre and Aragon. The conflict that followed took place in three stages. In the first, John, who had ruled Navarre through his wife’s claim, fought to maintain his rule against his son and daughter, Charles and Blanche, who claimed to inherit the title of their mother; Charles fled to France, and the Lancastrians used his claim and the threat to support him to blackmail John II into concessions – most importantly, the marriage of John’s grandson, Gaston, to Isabel, daughter of Richard Neville, the key supporter of Edward of York. Charles died from poison, and when Castille attempted to support the claim of the imprisoned Blanche, Lancastrian armies opposed them. The war spread when the Catalans of Aragon rose up against John and asked Henry of Castille to be their king.

Castille was defeated, and Blanche died, but a complication arose when the Catalans voted again, this time to elect René the Good, Duke of Anjou, as their king. The selection was not without basis: René’s mother, Yolande, had formerly claimed the throne of Aragon as the niece of the heirless King Martin. Queen Margaret was keen to support her father’s claim, and Lancaster abruptly switched sides, invading Aragon and exiling John II to his dominions on Sicily. The crown of Navarre passed to Gaston, and after his untimely death in 1470 to his daughter, Eleanor. Isabel acted as regent, but the true power was Richard Neville.

In the third phase of the war, René’s forces invaded Sicily and killed John II.

[FFAOT: Charles fled first to France and then to Alfonso, but in the end he was still murdered, allegedly by John’s second wife, Juana. The Catalans invited first Henry of Castille and then a prince of Portugal to help them before finally choosing René the Good (noted amateur painter and patron of the arts), who sent his son John of Calabria. Both John and his son Nicholas died, allegedly of poison. The crown of Aragon passed to John’s son, Ferdinand, who later married Isabella of Castille to set in motion the unification of Spain (which could have occurred earlier: Alfonso’s father, Ferdinand, could have inherited both Castille and Aragon, but he declined Castille). Navarre, meanwhile, went to Gaston, before being conquered by Castille-Aragon.]


The War of Naples

Having taken Aragon, René’s attentions turned to Naples, also claimed through his mother, and once part of Aragon, but now ruled by Ferdinand, the bastard son of Alfonso V of Castille. Successive Popes had declared Ferdinand’s rule illegitimate, and with the aid of France-England, and a foundation in Aragon, René’s grandson, Nicholas, now invaded Naples. The act provoked a general war in Italy, in which Albania, Milan, Ferrera, Florence and Modena all fought against the Papal-Aragonese alliance. At the same time, the Kings of Grenoble attempted to annex René’s territories in Provence.  The war went badly indeed for the enemies of the Pope; René won the throne of Naples, and the Pope consolidated his power in central Italy; Grenoble was defeated by its neighbour, the Duchy of Savoy, and the French-backed House of Savoy took over Kingdom by marriage. The war also proved profitable for Venice, who took the side of the Pope.

[FFAOT: Joanna II of Naples explictly left her kingdom to René, but it was stolen from him. He made some half-hearted attempts to make good the bequest, but although the Pope blessed his cause, no major power was willing to help him out. In this timeline, René is the key player in the unification of France-England (his mother Yolande being the greatest supporter of the Dauphin), and by now his strong-willed daughter has become Queen (Margaret, leader of the Lancastrian armies in our Wars of the Roses), so it seems quite likely that the Lancastrians would lend an army to secure profitable Naples for this important and popular ally.]


Union with Burgundy

The Lancastrian War ended with independence for Burgundy, but the new nation faced a difficult environment. Its lands were split in two by the Imperial duchies of Lorraine and Bar, both held by René of Anjou, and later his successor after the untimely deaths of his son and grandson, René of the the House of Vaudémont. To the west was France, greatest kingdom on earth; to the south and east, the chaos of the Empire and the obstinacy of the Swiss. The new Burgundian rulers were determined to enlarge and secure their borders, but their blood was weaker than their ambitions. When Charles the Bold died in 1476, he left a teenage daughter, Mary the Rich, as his sole heir.

As a barely-adult female ruler of a great nation, Mary needed a husband, and with her armies overextended she did not have the luxury of picking one of her own nobles: a powerful protector was required. Fortunately for France, the young Mary was extremely close to her stepmother, Mary of York, sister of the powerful Duke of York and Mercœur, and under her advice (and with great concessions made to York by the King) she chose the hand of Edward of Varennes, Prince of Wales.

The marriage reunified France with Burgundy, bringing into the fold not only the Duchy and Free County, but also the profitable Burgundian holdings in the Nertherlands; although, at least at first, Burgundy enjoyed considerable institutional independence from France.

[FFAOT: Charles the Bold died at Nancy, trying to conquer Lorraine. In this timeline, Lorraine is an ally of Lancaster, and hence of Burgundy, so perhaps Charles dies in a different war. Or perhaps not, since brief wars between allies were not unknown at that time. Either way, Charles was devoted to expansion, and his death in battle with no male heir was quite probable, even if not in that exact year.

In reality, Mary married Maximillian of Hapsburg, Archduke of Austria, son of Emperor Frederick, hence passing the Netherlands to Hapsburg rule. The more likely groom was the son of King Louis of France, but Mary was very close to her stepmother, Margaret of York, and she advised against French ties – in any case, Louis jumped the gun by sending armies into Burgundy to pre-empt an Imperial land-grab. In the short-run, Louis was successful, but he forced Mary into the arms of his nemesis, the Emperor, and lost the Netherlands in the process. In this timeline, Mary (who in reality was once considered as a bride for her step-uncle Edward of York) chooses to side with the Lancastrians; it’s an obvious choice as they’re her most powerful neighbour, her traditional ally, and a nation with which she has a personal affinity. It’s possible that Margaret would not have been so keen to see her step-daughter marry into the rival house of Lancaster; but in the process it improves the status of York, and a marriage to Edward would hardly have been feasible.

In our timeline, Mary desparately needed immediate support to prevent Louis annexing the Netherlands, and was forced to turn to the Dutch people for help, granting them sweeping freedoms and reversing her family’s earlier attempts to centralise power and modernise their state. In this timeline, “the Great Privilege” is never granted.

Mary does rather well out of this change of events: in this timeline, the riding enthusiast is not crushed by a falling horse in an accident at the age of 25.]




3 thoughts on “An Alternative History of Europe

  1. Hans says:

    You might be interested in this Timeline:
    It also unites the English and French tin lines, but with a slightly later POD.

  2. Hans says:

    And that was to say “kingdoms” instead of “tin lines”. Anyway, I think the basic premise of your scenario is sound – I always was amamzed how France pulled itself back from the brink when it was almost finished.

  3. […] One, Two, Three, Four and Five were put up – I meant to bring it up to the present day, but never […]

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