ED. NOTE: Regular and perfume readers, please feel to skip this post entirely. You see, once upon a time, I wrote mainly about history under the name “Pandora’s Box” for one of the main, unofficial royalty sites. A few are already posted and hidden in the archives, but I’m in the process of transferring over some more articles that were published back in 2004 and 2005 (and leaving them largely as is), so that everything in one place. In this case, it’s an article that examines alternative history and how easily things would have been different if one tiny, small event had not occurred.
For example, the Tsarevitch’s hemophilia leading the way for Rasputin, the miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon & Charles II’s Catherine de Braganza, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the start of WWI, or if a royal heir had not died, paving the way for Queen Victoria’s unexpected rise to the throne. Consider it an examination of the “Chaos Theory” as applied to royal history, if you will, and a light-hearted, extremely speculative game. As with all the articles, I certainly don’t expect anyone to read it; most of them are quite academic, very long, for a totally different audience, and have some extremely wonky formatting after the transfer from the old website. So, if your main interest is perfume, please feel free to skip them.
|The “Chaos Theory” posits that the tiniest event half a world away can have enormous consequences, in the most unexpected of ways. History is not immune from causality or the strange twists of fate. A crazy monk, a face on a coin, an assassination, a baby’s death… these things can have unexpected, long-lasting consequences. In fact, they can change the course of history. But what if some of these seemingly minor, inconsequential events had never occurred? Today, we’ll explore that subject and some of the hypothetical situations which could have arisen if events had turned out differently. The potential outcome is obviously speculative and up for conjecture, but there is usually evidence to support one side or another. In this light-hearted parlour game, I’ll tell you a few of the things I sometimes wonder about, and how I think history was impacted. Perhaps you will see a different outcome. If so, let me know, along with some of your own favorite “what ifs.” At the end of my column, I’ll give you some information on submitting your choices.
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Had Catherine of Aragon given Henry a son (or two), it’s quite likely that Henry would have remained married to her. If he had not sought to remarry, he would never have split from Romeor created the Church of England to justify his actions. He certainly would not have married Anne Boleyn. Yes, he probably would have continued his affairs, but it’s unlikely he’d have had six wives. Even more significantly, there would not have been a legitimate daughter calledElizabeth, who would later become one of England’s greatest monarchs.
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Even if we don’t string out causality so far down the line, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand had other big consequences. The war which ensued decimated much of the aristocratic class inEngland, triggered economic ruin in Russia, led to the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire. Some historians might argue that the economic and social conditions in Russia would have made Revolution inevitable, but there is little doubt that the Great War exacerbated existing conditions and speeded up the eventual outcome.
The Great War also created much of the conditions and problems existing today in the Middle East. In the Balfour Declaration, and some other contradictory documents such as the Sykes-Picot treaty, the British promised all things to all people in the Middle East in return for their support against the Ottoman Empire. Present-day Israel, the area being fought over as Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan (formerly Transjordan)… all these areas were impacted by British promises, both during and after the War.
In short, the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand is perhaps the best example of the Chaos Theory. Franz-Ferdinand was not the ruler of an Empire, and he was merely the Emperor’s nephew, albeit very close in the line of succession. Nonetheless, his death triggered events which led to cataclysmic changes at every level of society, and in almost every country on earth.
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Conflicts between the colonists and the Crown grew worse after the French and Indian war, which severely depleted the Treasury. King George III wanted the colonists to pay for the war through higher taxes and issued something called the Stamp Act. The angry colonists, led by Samuel Adams and James Otis, came up with the slogan “No taxation without representation” and petitioned the King to revoke the Act. He didn’t. A few years later, another statute – the Townshend Act – was enacted which taxed tea, among other daily necessities. Although the Townshend Duties were subsequently revoked, the tea tax remained in place. A few years of relative calm ensued, but trouble lurked under the surface:
The wheels of change were moving inexorably towards rebellion and, eventually, towards revolution. But what if the King had agreed to provide the colonists with a voice in Parliament when they had asked back in 1765 or at later points in time? The decision might have diffused the seeds of resentment and prevented them from being fanned into the flames of actual conflict.
Or perhaps not. One cannot discount the impact of ideas, and the Age of Enlightenment had sown the seeds of intellectual questioning against the established political order. From Russia to Europe to the Americas, revolutionary ideas about the nature of government and its relationship to the people were being debated. The feelings held true regardless of whether it was France or America, Voltaire or John Hancock, a feudal regime or the New World, a question of daily bread or taxes on tea. In both cases, the result was the same: the Old World political model was seen as unfair, undemocratic and inherently corrupt.
Then again, ideas are one thing, but economic reality is another. History has shown time and time again that the masses are rarely moved to radical revolutionary change unless their economic livelihood is on the line. Karl Marx published Das Kapital in 1867 but few Russians actively sought revolution until famine, huge wartime losses and an influenza pandemic turned their daily existence upside down. That was almost fifty years later. Clearly, ideas only go so far; but people don’t necessarily act on them until there is no food on the table.
In short, the taxation issue probably had a greater impact on the daily life of the American colonists than any intellectual discourse on the nature of government. Had there been some change in the laws – even if it was only indirect change, through political representation and the hope of softening future tax duties – the American Revolution might not have occurred. At the very least, the parties might have arrived at an arrangement similar to that of the British government and the present-day Commonwealth.
If either of these two scenarios had come to pass, history might have been very different. All it would have taken was one tiny law regarding representation, representation in a Parliament already dominated by British aristocrats who would have voted for their own vested interests and along party lines. They certainly would not have supported measures benefiting far-flung colonists against the Crown, so where was the harm? Yet that’s the very reason why, realistically speaking, the colonists would have remained dissatisfied. Representation might have been nothing more than a temporary band-aid on an already infected wound. We will never know one way or another but, oh, the possibilities….
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He ascended the throne as James II in England (and James VII in Scotland), and was England’s last Catholic monarch. His subjects distrusted him due to his religion and “Popish” policies which they felt made him a pawn of Rome. James II was eventually deposed in “the Glorious Revolution” of 1688, and fled to France where he lived out the rest of his life. He was replaced on the throne first by his daughter Mary (Queen Mary II), and then by his daughter Anne. Both daughters were Protestants.
Charles II’s failure to have a legitimate heir and his choice of a Catholic as successor triggered a chain of consequences whose impact lingers to this day. The two interconnected events led to political statutes which changed not only the line of succession, but also the qualifications for succession. In 1701, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement which ensured that no Catholic would ever rule England again. It stated that, if Queen Anne had no heirs, only descendents of Sophia, the Protestant Electress of Hanover, were eligible to ascend the throne. It also stated that any member of the royal family who married a Catholic would be excluded from the line of succession.
The Act changed the political landscape. Queen Anne had no surviving heirs. Since she outlived the Electress Sophia, the terms of the Act of Settlement kicked in. Sophia’s son ascended the British throne as George I, the first of the Hanoverian kings. And, obviously, the line remains unbroken to this day, since the current monarch is also one of Sophia’s descendents.
The Act’s proscriptions regarding marriage to a Catholic also remain in effect. When Prince Michael of Kent married a Catholic, Baroness Marie-Christine Von Reibnitz, in 1978, he immediately and automatically lost his place in the line of succession. At the time, he was eighth in line to the throne.
Would things have been different if Charles II had had a legitimate heir? Possibly. Although Protestantism had a strong hold in England by the 1600s, James II was not the wisest or the best of kings. One can argue that his religion was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Had there been a different ruler on the throne, Parliament might not have felt the need to pass a formal rule prohibiting Catholic monarchs or marriages. At the very least, the succession would not have passed to the descendants of the Electress of Hanover.
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Part of the reason was a political fiction which was thrust on the King. Although the King tried to pretend the Revolution had occurred with his consent, few were fooled by this pretense. The simple reality was that the King was a prisoner who had little choice but to accede to the decrees of the National Assembly.
The royal couple remained imprisoned for two years. But in 1791, the Queen’s alleged lover, a Swede by the name of Axel Ferson, helped plan an escape. His plan had initially called for the King and Queen to leave Paris in a small, fast coach; their children would travel separately to avoid suspicion. But Marie-Antoinette refused to leave her children. While her maternal instincts are understandable, her position on another issue was not. The Queen stupidly insisted on bringing almost every possession, article of clothing, and knickknack she owned. Between her insistence that the entire family travel together and her wish to bring everything but the kitchen sink, there was no choice but to travel in a large, slow coach.
The decision proved catastrophic. Not only did it slow down the escape but it also made the royal family stand out. The overburdened coach made it as far as Varennes, almost to the German border, when they were caught. A peasant recognized Louis from his face on French coins! He sounded the alarm and the royal family was captured. They were brought back to Paris under armed guard and their fate hung in the balance. The National Assembly suspended the rights and “powers” of the King, and began to discuss abdication. More significantly, for the first time, they began to discuss the possibility of a Republic. And execution.
One might argue that abdication, assassination and a republic were inevitable outcomes of the Revolution, but there is another school of thought which disputes that conclusion. Before the royal family’s flight, regicide was generally considered an unthinkable option which was advocated only by the most violent of extremists. While kings had been killed in the past, it was usually by foreign enemies, or during periods of political upheaval, warfare or invasion. More to the point, it was usually something which only an equal was permitted to do. As Alexander the Great reportedly said, “only a King may kill a King.” With a few exceptions, such as Oliver Cromwell, it was almost unheard of for a king’s subjects to kill him. One reason was the theory of the Divine Right of Kings which argued that kings were God’s appointed, annointed representative on Earth. To kill God’s representative…. Well, you know how the story goes.
Here, there is no doubt that the French Royal Family’s failed escape cemented their fate. After the flight, it was no longer possible to continue with the illusion that the King supported the Revolution or its reforms. The moderates in the National Assembly were pushed aside by extremists who argued that the royal family’s attempted escape proved they were enemies of the French people. And from that point, it was only a tiny hop, skip and a jump to demanding their heads. Literally.
How would things have ended if the royal family had succeeded in their escape? There is little doubt that the extremists like Robespierre would have used a successful escape to hijack the Revolution, as he did with the unsuccessful attempt. But once the sound and fury of the Reign of Terror ended, then what? It’s quite probable that the course of events would have continued as they did until Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. At that point, however, the “what if” scenario becomes interesting. If the French royal family had survived, they would probably have sought the protection and shelter of England. After Waterloo, it wouldn’t have been Louis XVIII, the King’s brother, who would have been placed on the throne but his son, the young Dauphin and future Louis XVII. What would have happened then? I don’t have the faintest clue but it’s certainly an intriguing hypothetical to contemplate.
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Rasputin’s unpopularity and her refusal to curb his increasingly degenerate behavior led to enormous scandal and vicious rumours. Gossip ensued about Alix’s relationship with Rasputin, as well as that of her young daughters. By 1916, things had reached a fevered pitch. The war was going badly, Russia was suffering enormous casualties, and food was scarce. The people were beginning to mutter about the Empress’ German origins. It was well known that the Tsar’s policies and decisions were shaped by “that German woman,” as Alix was labeled. It was equally well known that “the German woman” was controlled by Rasputin. People were beginning to think that Rasputin had become the true lord of Russia, and rebellion was in the air. Yet Alix still would not hear a word against him.
In 1916, Rasputin was murdered by a group of aristocratic princes. But it was too late. Only a few months later, the Tsar was forced to abdicate and the Romanovs were imprisoned. The wheels of revolution had slowly begun to turn, leading to the tragic events of 1918.
Would things have turned out differently if Alexei had not been a hemophiliac? I don’t believe so, given the impact of the war and Russia’s underlying economic and social problems. However, it’s quite likely that Rasputin would not have gained power over the Imperial couple, thereby obviating the need to assassinate him. And his assassination was, arguably, almost as damaging as his life had been. As the Tsar’s sister, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlova, wrote in her memoirs: “His death came too late to change the course of events. His dreadful name had become too thoroughly a symbol of disaster. The daring of those who killed him to save their country was miscalculated. All of the participants in the plot, with the exception of Prince Youssoupov later understood that in raising their hands to preserve the old regime they struck it, in reality, its final blow.”
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Obviously, one thing to take into consideration is the fact that Camilla Shand was unavailable from 1973 onwards. Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles while Prince Charles was away on a naval mission. By some accounts, she was mad about Andrew Parker Bowles from the onset. Other reports, however, claim that she only married him because she thought Charles would never propose since she didn’t fit the bill as a suitable consort. Whatever the truth, let’s pretend that Camilla was available and single.
What if the future King of England had married the woman he loved from the onset? Perhaps the better question is, what if the rules about suitable consorts had been different back then, such that Charles could have married the one woman whom he obviously can’t be without? Charles is in his mid 50s now, but he got married when he was 32. Although people’s characters are rather well-formed by that age, how would he have been if he’d been in a happy marriage? How would it have impacted his eventual reign as monarch? We’ll never know the answers to these questions but, again, it’s something to consider.
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Be that as it may, if Parliament and the Commonwealth had agreed to a morganatic marriage or if Edward VIII had not abdicated but given up Wallis instead, how would history be today? Would the future King have seen Hitler as he truly was, and not just as the man who saved Germanyfrom the brinks of an unbearable Depression and economic collapse? Or would he have continued in his support, unaware or disbelieving of Hitler’s plans for the Jews? Would he have continued despite inevitable opposition from his close friend and supporter, Winston Churchill, one of the lone voices in the desert warning against the German threat? Or would he have approved of Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy, as did so many in positions of power at the time? More to the point, what would have happened when war broke out, something which Hitler’s long-term plans made inevitable?
It’s impossible to know the answers to these questions but one thing is likely: so long as there was an independent Britain, there would still be a Queen Elizabeth II. In the early 1930s, there was a popular saying that Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, was not “heir conditioned.” It meant that he was sterile. The reason was that the Prince of Wales had the mumps when he was young. Some reports even allege that he suffered the rare occurrence of a viral outbreak on his testicles.
Regardless of location, the mumps made one thing very clear: whether or not he abdicated, whether or not he married Wallis Simpson, it’s quite unlikely that he would have been able to have children. Thus, his brother and his heirs would have been next in line. And Princess Elizabeth would have eventually ascended the throne.
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Without Queen Victoria, and her wise consort Albert, many of the incredible achievements of Victorian era might not have occurred. Under her reign, there was incredible overseas expansion; Prince Albert’s brilliant handling of the “Trent Incident” which kept England out of the American civil war; there was a long period of domestic stability, free of the internal political upheavals or profligacy which had marked the reigns of earlier rulers; and Britainexperienced an unprecedented economic boom. True, the Industrial Revolution would have occurred regardless of the person occupying the throne, but the impact of Prince Albert’s contributions in this area cannot be discounted.
Similarly, one cannot ignore the beneficial impact of royal continuity. By having the same monarch on the throne for decades – especially one who had numerous legitimate heirs– Victoria provided political stability in a way which England had not experienced since the George III.
More importantly, “[t]o the Empire, she brought a dignity, style, and most important, a validation of the monarchy that had not been witnessed since, perhaps, Elizabeth I.” Ilana Miller, Queen Victoria, http://www.victoriaspast.com/FrontPorch/queenvictoria.htm. She wisely used her powerless position to unite the country, particularly in the political realm where she sought to avoid the political strife which had plagued her predecessors. She accomplished this through her style of working with her prime ministers, especially Disraeli and Melbourne.
Victoria also united the country in the example she set in her personal life. By emphasizing the family unit and simple values, she seemed a more approachable monarch than the profligate, extravagant Prince Regent or the very Germanic, early Hanover kings. The people were able to feel as though she – and her family – were just like them, although obviously nothing could be further from the truth. But, if Princess Charlotte had lived and given birth to a child, none of that would have happened and England might be a very different place today.
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To My Readers: These are just a few of the many “what ifs” that intrigue me. If you have any other royal scenarios which capture your imagination, please submit them. Ideally, I’d like my column next week to be devoted to your ideas or comments on this subject. Almost every country has a rich royal history, so the more wide-ranging, the better.
When you write, please let me know if I have your consent to publish your comments (with possible editing for space or clarity) and the name/email/description which you’d like me to use in quoting you. If you can write a brief explanation on why a certain event is important in your eyes, all the better, but please don’t think that a long discourse is necessary. All that’s needed is a few sentences to explain your thinking or the background of events to other readers who might not know as much as you on a subject.
– Pandora’s Box