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Those who died young... don't

If the first Roman Emperor Augustus had not lost several competent and trusted senior younger generals from his own family, eg his younger stepson Drusus the Elder (brother of Tiberius) in 9 BC (riding accident/fever) and his own grandson Caius Caesar in AD 4 (wounds from skirmish), he would have had a capable not a politically reliable but incompetent 'entitled' aristocratic general, Quinctilius Varus, in charge of his invasion of Germany to annex the lands between the Rhine and the Elbe in AD 9. The useless Varus took no heed of warnings of impending ambush or his desertion by scouts, and his huge army of three legions was cut to pieces by Arminius' German tribal coalition in the Teutoberg Forest. Augustus had to pull back to the Rhine and was seriously short of troops thereafter; Germany survived unconquered and the final limit to Rome's Western expansion was reached. The independent tribes were raided and punished later, but survived beyond Roman rule, and in the long term their menfolk were able to join in the later successful German attacks on the Empire in the C3rd to C5th; if they had been annexed to the Empire by Augustus as planned they would have been fighting for, not against Rome and so increasing its chances of surviving its other threats later (especially on the Danube).

Of course the Empire could have withdrawn from an annexed Germany to cut costs later, given that it had less productive agricultural land than other local provinces and was expensive to maintain - and a larger garrison to Romanise it would run risks of its leaders starting a civil war if there was a power vacuum in Rome. (Eg in the civil war after Nero died in 68.) But a defeat of the Germans in 9 by a surviving Drusus or Caius Caesar would probably have led to annexation and a larger Roman army including local tribes, and atomisation of the power-structure of tribes that later threatened and invaded the Empire. Also no heroic C19th myth of the Arminius coalition as forerunners of imperial German nationalism.

Also, fewer early deaths in Augustus' family would have radically altered the politics of the early Empire for the better - no Emperor Caligula for a start. A's intention after his grandson Caius died in AD 4 was for his stepson Tiberius (Emperor in 14-37) , Drusus' brother, to be succeeded by Drusus' son Germanicus, married to Caius' sister Agrippina the Elder, but Germanicus died early too. He died in Syria,reputedly of poison, in AD 19, aged 34 - had he lived he would have succeeded Tiberius and as he had fought successfully in Germany (but been ordered not to annex it by Tiberius) he might have invaded Germany again as Emperor after 37. In that case, would Rome have been too busy to invade Britain in 43? Other early deaths included Tiberius' own son the Younger Drusus, who was lined up to succeed Germanicus but was also supposedly poisoned (23), and G's elder two sons Nero (not the Emperor), killed for a supposed plot, and a third Drusus (killed by Tiberius). Only then did G's third son Caius 'Caligula' ('Little Boots') become Tiberius' heir.

Had Augustus ' plans been followed and no early deaths (most of them suspicious) occurred, Rome would have had two competent Emperors after Tiberius - Germanicus, then either T's son Drusus or G's elder son Nero. No mad Emperor Caligula means no Emperor Claudius (G's younger brother) either, less of a dodgy reputation for the early Emperors as showing that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely', and no lurid stories for Robert Graves to write up in 'I, Claudius' and the BBC to put on TV in 1976. A different career trajectory for Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed, and Sian Phillips?


A shade of indigo
I wonder what would've happened if Fyodor Kulakov had managed to succeed Brezhnev in the 1980s. It isn't implausible since he was only 60 in 1978 which would make him a spring chicken by Soviet standards. Would he be a proto-Gorbachev or let the rot and stagnation lead to Yugoslavia on the Eurasian Steppe?
A different twist on the real background of 'Gladiator'?

As seen in the 'sword and sandals' epics 'Fall of the Roman Empire' and 'Gladiator', the replacement of the wise and scholarly philosopher-ruler Marcus Aurelius (aged 59) by his maverick and exhibitionist son Commodus aged 19) in March AD 180 is often seen as a pivotal moment in the decline of the Roman Empire. This follows the line taken by the C18th historian Edward Gibbon, ie a line of capable and honest rulers selected by merit not birth by their predecessors was turned into a vicious and tyrannical autocracy run by a crazy and 'entitled' young show-off who loved dressing up and fighting as a gladiator (and was a megalomaniac who tried to rename Rome after himself as 'Commodiana' ) quite apart from his relying on vicious and purge-organising 'favourites' not intelligent and experienced ministers to run the government. The rule of virtue was replaced by the rule of force and a paranoiac with the fondness for ego-boosting monumental projects of Stalin and Chairman Mao.

Commodus also abandoned his father's attempts to conquer the anti-Roman tribes of modern Bohemia / Moravia in the Czech republic, allegedly out of disliking the hard fighting and the cold climate, and pulled his troops back to the Danube and went home to Rome to live it up with wild parties - prompted by his greedy and corrupt chamberlain (and alleged lover). He could be blamed for letting the chance to annex these hostile tribes slip out of laziness and so setting the stage for them to be able to attack the Empire in the mid-C3rd - increasing the chances of Rome's decline into chaos. He ended up strangled by his mistress and his wrestling-partner in 192 out of fear that they would be in his next purge, and left no heir as he had killed his plotting (and probably more capable) sister Lucilla - and a civil war followed. An 'age of gold', the pinnacle of the Empire, was followed by a harsher 'age of iron' and the eccentric and at times vicious Emperor was made out to be the 'baddie' - and film-makers have taken this line. Commodus makes a great villain, though arguably he was the subject of a 'bad press' by traditionalist writers and their Senate patrons who disliked his 'un-Roman' and embarrassing private behaviour (as with Nero) as much as his killings.

Commodus was clearly somewhat unusual, though his flamboyant excesses and even his sporadic killings and rising paranoia (not that unusual for an isolated and plot-afflicted Emperor) did not affect those outside the Rome elite and his withdrawal from the Czech lands had adequate strategic and financial reasons at the time. But whatever the long-term results of his military 'mistake' or his lack of an heir or of a stable and lasting government, his position was the result of two unexpected early deaths. It is not generally known that he was one of twins, born in 161, and his twin brother Titus died as a child; had the latter lived he would logically have been co-Emperor, or this could have occurred too had their other , younger brother (Marcus) not died as a child too in 169 after a botched operation . If MA was worried about his eldest son's laziness, drunkenness, and lack of willpower, as some sources hint,he would have been likelier to give Commodus a brother as co-ruler to share power had these been avialable.

Already Rome had had a successful experiment of two Emperors in 161-9, when Marcus Aurelius shared rule with his relative (and his daughter's first husband), the genial but ineffective Lucius Verus (who shared Commodus' love of drink, parties, and women but was capable of leading an army if supported by good generals). One Emperor - Marcus- was the hard worker and competent administrator, the other (Lucius) the 'bread and circuses' organising showman; contrary to assumptions about the violence of Roman politics they trusted and worked well with each other. Logically had Marcus had two or three sons alive in 180 not one this solution could have worked again, with Commodus as the 'showman' and a more capable brother as the real head of government, or if C was encouraged by his ambitious courtiers or Guard commander to plot to
kill his brother(s) there could have been a quick counter-coup. A capable youngish Emperor in the 190s - a continuing 'Antonine' dynasty and less insecurity in Rome in the C3rd leading to less disastrous effects of the 250s plague and German/ Persian attacks?
Jesus. The opening post reminded me of what happened to Johanna of Hesse's family- her father, heavily pregnant mother, and two elder brothers (aged 6 and 4) died in a plane crash. Apparently the mother (who was a sister of Prince Philip) had gone into labour and this contributed to the crash- with the remains of the infant found in the wreckage.

Which is all super depressing and more than a little disturbing.

To circle round and try and say something relevant to the thread topic, Johanna's parents also had Nazi ties, which might make a political career difficult had she lived.
The Hessian grand ducal family only joined the Nazi party because they had the vain hope that they would get their Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine back. Had the House of Hesse-Darmstadt not been wiped out by the plane crash and little Johanna von Hessen's fatal illness, they would have done what the rest of the rank-and-file Nazi party members did in 1945 - burned their party cards and melted back into society.
The Hessian grand ducal family only joined the Nazi party because they had the vain hope that they would get their Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine back. Had the House of Hesse-Darmstadt not been wiped out by the plane crash and little Johanna von Hessen's fatal illness, they would have done what the rest of the rank-and-file Nazi party members did in 1945 - burned their party cards and melted back into society.
Fair enough, I did get the vague intimation that might've been the case.

Alex Richards

*Eyes Ashfield nervously*
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Aye, joining in 1937 (only 6 months before the crash in fact) is one that can definitely be played as 'the social pressure to join the party', assuming that he didn't become more active later on (and I can't see any indication he was even on a military career or the like.

Unlike Charles Edward of Saxe Coburg and Gotha who was involved in Far Right politics from 1922, helped create the merger between the DNVP and the Nazis and joined the SA (yes I'm still annoyed Norman Davies attempted to depict him as some sort of tragic figure who only did wrong because the nasty British monarchs essentially kicked him out the family).
The long-term crucial question of the decline of Greek/ Christian control of the heartlands of Asia Minor (now Turkey) and hence the loss of manpower and agricultural revenues by the Byzantine Empire - affecting its ability to fight off the Crusaders in 1204 and Ottoman Turkish advance after c.1280 - was arguably seriously affected by two deaths in the ruling Comnene dynasty in 1142. Contrary to popular myth the 'loss of Asia Minor' and restriction of the Empire to the Balkans was not inevitable after the military disaster at Manzikert in NE Asia Minor in 1071, where the nomadic Seljuk Turks destroyed the Imperial army and opened the upland central plains of AM to large-scale and probably irreversible Turkish nomad settlement - the Empire lost the Western lowlands and most of the coasts to but under its remarkable leader Alexius I Comnenus (ruled 1081-1118) it regained these. The Seljuk emirate ruling east-central AM was pushed back into the SE of the region, and the Empire had a strong position in the peninsula under Alexius and his equally tireless son John II (ruled 1118-43). It has been argued that if the Empire had pushed up with its restored army after John died of blood-poisoning after a hunting accident in 1143 (aged 55) it could have broken up the Seljuk state permanently and incorporated the remaining, decentralised and weak nomad tribes into its army as mercenaries then kept a frontier on the Euphrates again. The extra security and manpower would have kept the Empire too militarily strong to enable the Fourth Crusade to defeat it, break it up and seize its capital in 1204 - and thus a strong Empire would have been able to fight off the next wave of nomads after the Mongols pushed these into Asia Minor in the 1240s. Could it also have helped the Crusader states in Syria to survive longer?

Instead the Empire 'took its eye off the ball' in the mid-1140s when John had defeated the Seljuks and the other smaller Turkish emirates and one major campaign could have fractured Turkish power for good. His elder two sons, Alexius (already co-emperor) and Andronicus, died in their early thirties in 1142, and after John's freak death his fourth son, Manuel (aged 24), seized the throne ahead of the third son. Isaac, in a coup. Manuel was capable and a good general but lacked patience and was obsessed with competing with the Western European sovereigns on equal terms, finding long and tiring wars against the Turkish nomads less interesting than 'showy' prestige projects in the Empire's ancient home Italy, and indeed he was the first Byz Emperor to take up Western cultural pursuits eg tournaments. More culturally open than his brothers, he married two Western wives and after the Norman kingdom of Sicily/ Naples (based in ex-Byzantine lands) attacked his Greek lands in 1148 he wasted huge amounts of money and lives trying to reconquer N and S and head on to Rome. He turned military attention away from Asia Minor, left the Turks alone after they paid tribute, and failed to push on with re-establishing small farmers (who would also contribute to the army) in the region. By the time he gave up on Sicily, and other grandiose plans to help the Crusaders conquer Egypt (beyond his resources again) it was too late to succeed in AM, and his eventual attack on the Seljuks in 1176 was ambushed and routed. The initiative in AM passed to the reinforced Turks - for good - and Manuel's marriage to a Crusader princess led to her unpopular regency for their son after M died (1180) and her overthrow in a bloody nationalist coup in 1183. The resulting massacres of Westerners in Constantinople and erratic dictatorship of usurper Andronicus I weakened the Empire, ended the Comnene dynasty, and led to incompetent rule by the Angelus family and the 1203-4 Western attack. The excuse for the latter was helping an Angelus refugee prince to take the throne and pay the Crusaders - if the Comneni had not fallen in 1185 this would not have occurred.

Had either of John II's elder sons lived they were unlikely to have been distracted from carrying on John's slow and patient reconquest of Asia Minor; John's plans were for the Western-loving Manuel to marry a local Crusader heiress and take over Crusader Antioch with her as a Byz vassal. The Empire would have been in a far stronger position to meet any Western attacks and to keep the influx of Turks into AM restricted, and if it had retaken all the East of AM an interesting clash would have resulted with the invading Mongols in 1243. If the Mongols had not bothered to conquer AM, logically the Empire could have held onto its resources with a larger army and revenues, and so been able to last for centuries longer - barring inopportune civil wars. The history of the Middle East and Balkans could have been much different.
If Britain's Queen Mary II (1662-94, reigned 1689-94) had not died of smallpox at Kensington Palace in December 1694, where her room still survives, the country might well not have had a Hanoverian dynasty from 1714 and its present line of monarchs. The same applies had her younger sister Queen Anne (1665-1714, reigned 1702-14) not suffered the deaths of all her seventeen children in pregnancy/childbirth - or in one case, Prince William, aged 11 in 1700. (He was a genetic oddity with chronic ill health like his contemporary Carlos II of Spain and was very unlikely to have had children.) After Mary's father, the Catholic King James II of England and VII of Scotland, was overthrown by a mixture of a noble revolt and Dutch invasion in the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 the English elite offered their throne to his elder daughter by his first marriage, the safely Protestant Mary, and her Dutch Protestant husband William of Orange (who ruled GB in 1689-1702, outliving Mary) - many of the nobles would have preferred Mary alone but William demanded the throne too and said he would go home and take his army, leaving the British to the mercies of an invasion by James and his allies the Catholic French. (Scotland and Ireland were more evenly divided but eventually fell to W and M after civil wars in 1689 and 1689-91.) The British Protestant elites wanted William's help to prevent James supposedly re-Catholicizing GB and then leaving it to his infant son by his second marriage, James Francis Edward - who they alleged was a fake 'warming-pan baby' smuggled in to replace a child who had died at birth and so barred from the throne. William wanted British military help to hold back Louis XIV of France, James' cousin and ally, from overrunning the Dutch state, and 'dragged Britain into Europe' to do so after 1689, arousing nationalist resentment at British lives and money being lost to prop up 'ungrateful' European allies. James was driven out of Ireland after the battle of the Boyne, and ended his life in exile outside Paris;his family were barred from the British thrones as Catholic in 1701.

But William - Mary's cousin as a grandson of Charles I, so with a distant claim on the British thrones too - and Mary never had children, though it is unclear which of them was infertile; Mary had at most one miscarriage, and William later acquired a mistress (and was accused of having homosexual lovers by his enemies) though they remained on good terms. An under-sized, cautious, repressed, and physically 'chilly' asthmatic who could not live at Whitehall Palace next to the foggy and damp Thames, William surprisingly outlived the stronger Mary and died at 51 of pneumonia after dozing next to an open window in winter after a riding accident broke his collar-bone in march 1702. The 1689 and 1701 political arrangements were for him and Mary to be succeeded by her sister Anne, as James II's safely Protestant younger daughter, then by her children - who all died - and then by any children that W had by a subsequent wife. Only then were the line of Hanover - Charles I's sister Elizabeth of the Palatinate's youngest daughter Sophia and her son George (I)- to succeed, Elizabeth's sons being dead and their heirs Catholic and her elder daughters similarly disqualified.

Had Mary not caught smallpox and had she outlived William she could easily have remarried and she might have had children (she was 40 in 1702) or he could have remarried and had children too.Anne's surviving son William was too fragile to be likely to live to adulthood and have children, but she had had two relatively healthy daughters earlier who had died as small children in 1686-7 so if they had survived one of them would have been Queen after her in 1714. Given the ambition of the Hanoverian family for the British throne which gave extra power and prestige to their small North German state, it is quite likely that Sophia and her son George would have tried to secure Anne's heiress (the girls were born in 1685 and 1686) for George's son and heir George (II of GB in real life), born in 1683. Sophia was said to have tried to get her son George married off to Anne herself as they were cousins and contemporaries, but Anne turned him down. So there could have been a'Queen Mary II' living and reigning into the 1710s and 1720s - her father lived to 67 - with or without a second husband and heirs, with her outliving the overweight and gout/arthritis-afflicted Anne who died aged 49, or else Queen Anne being succeeded by 'Anne II' or 'Mary III' (with or without a Hanoverian husband) in 1714.

And if William III had had a son by Mary II or by a second wife, this boy could then unite the Dutch 'Stadtholdership' (assuming he was elected to hold this office) with the British throne or if two children lived the states could be divided between them. In any case, at most the Hanoverians would have provided a 'King Consort' for the UK and in that case there was unlikely to have been enough of an anti-German reaction to cause the real-life Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Nor would there have been a new German king mistrustful of the 'pro-Jacobite' Tory government of 1714 dismissing it and causing 45 years of dominance by the Whig party- so no Sir Robert Walpole as 'first Prime Minister' unless the Tories had fallen out with a disillusioned sovereign or electorate and lost power in later years? A British king speaking full English presiding at the Cabinet table - no need for the evolution of the figure of a 'PM' to mediate with the political elite for the foreign King and lead the government?
One less 'Health and Safety' slip by an over-eager royal newly-wed in 1286... one less iconic (if historically dubious) modern film. And a a less emotive nationalist campaign focussed on the 1297 Scots revolt in the 2014 referendum?

In March 1286 the 44-year old King of Scots, Alexander III, had lost all three of his children (one son aged ?17, one son aged ?9, and his daughter in childbirth in her 20s) and had no brothers or sisters or living uncles so the succession hung by a thread. He was a widower, his late first wife having been sister to his predatory and far more powerful neighbour Edward I of England who claimed to be Scotland's overlord. Alexander had just married a second wife, Yolande of Dreux (in France, a junior royal) and hoped for more children quickly - and his father had been 44 when he was born and his grandfather 54 when his father was born so a precarious succession was not new. Instead, Alexander rode off from Edinburgh Castle in a storm one March night soon after his honeymoon, after a council meeting, to spend the night with his wife at a nearby castle which entailed crossing the Firth of Forth by ferry and riding along a beach. He got separated from his escourt and lost in the dark - and next morning he was found dead on the beach with a broken neck, apparently thrown from his horse while riding at speed or else in a stumble over a bank.

The closest heir was his late daughter's daughter Margaret, aged 3, by the King of Norway, Eric (ie 'The Maid of Norway'), who as the N throne descended by male inheritance was not heir to Norway. She was proclaimed Queen under a regency council of nobles, with her great-uncle Edward I doing his best to interfere as nearest male kin to her grandmother and claiming that as he was Scots overlord he could veto her choice of husband. Using pro- English Scots nobles and military and economic power as threats, he did his best to insist that his price for helping the unstable regency would be having Margaret married to his son and heir Edward (II), a year her junior. This would have united the crowns of England and Scotland in 1307 not real-life 1603 and altered history had it gone ahead - though overbearing Edward I was likely to have bullied the Scots so much that a nationalist reaction followed , either led by or in defiance of Margaret, or else if she and E II had 2 children the 2 realms were divided again. In real life, Edward's aggressive and insensitive centralisation after he forcibly merged the countries in 1296 led to a series of eventually successful revolts, the first by William Wallace in 1297 (the occasion of Mel Gibson's film 'Braveheart').

Edward threatened or bribed Margaret's father Eric into agreeing to hand over her to him in 1290, in which case she would have been kept in England as his puppet Queen; but to avoid this the Scots got Eric to send Margaret quickly to Scotland. Only 7 and frail, she caught a chill or pneumonia en route at sea and died at Kirkwall, Orkney. The throne was now vacant, and assorted of her distant cousins claimed it; Edward insisted that he lead the adjudication panel, awarded it to an English baron (John Balliol) who he hoped to intimidate to act as his puppet by threatening to seize his estates if he disobeyed, and when JB did resist and allied with France in 1296 deposed him. Annexation and the independence wars followed.

But if Alexander had been more careful one night in 1286 he would probably have lasted as king until either he had another son or Margaret was adult (his father died at 52, his grandfather at 71, his great-grandfather at 69) and Scots independence continued as normal. Alternatively, if Margaret had reached Scotland alive and grown up she would have been Edward's reluctant agent in an earlier 'Union of Crowns' , probably when E died in 1307. Her marriage to Edward II might have been successful given that he was equally unsympathetic to his father, who apparently despised him for his 'unmanly' fondness for gardening, digging, and rowing not warfare and exiled his close and manipulative male 'favourite' Piers Gaveston (later supposed to have been Edward's lover and as such exiled and on his return murdered by angry barons). Edward's marriage to Margaret could hardly have been worse than his real life one to Isabella of France, which ended with her fleeing home from him and his latest 'favourite' the Younger (Hugh) Despenser then leading an invasion to depose him and have Despenser hung drawn and quartered. (Edward ended up mysteriously dead in, or possibly escaped from, Berkeley Castle.) Margaret might have left Edward to return home and lead a rebellion against the union or been kidnapped to do so by 'loyalists', or if she refused been deposed by rebel nobles - in either case to the benefit of rival claimant Robert Bruce? But if she or Alexander III had lived there would have been little liklihood of the Wallace revolt, no 'Braveheart', and a different and less clearly populist-led (and so 'consumer-friendly' to US film companies) trajectory for 1300s Scots nationalism.


an obscure historical reference.
Is there really any precedent in Germany for the Royalty to have gotten into Republican Politics?
Wilhelm II's grandson Louis Ferdinand was politically active, travelled to America, met Franklin Roosevelt and became a staunch supporter of democratic principles and opponent of the Nazis; he spent the last year of the war in Dachau.
Ironically, his younger brother Frederick was interned by the British and spent the war in a camp in Quebec, so they both spent much of the war behind wire. Apparently Frederick was elected camp leader by the other internees; politics on the local level if you like.

That's about as close to politics as any of the Hohenzollerns got I think.
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It's one of the common 'What Ifs' of medieval British and French history to speculate as to what would have happened if the vigorous and determined general King Henry V of England (b 1386/7, reigned 1413-22) had not died in a dysentery epidemic during his conquest of France in August 1422, aged 35 . He had claimed the French throne as a direct male line descendant of his ancestor Edward III's mother Isabella of France, last surviving sibling of the French kings Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV who all died without male children in 1316-28. The French courts had then awarded the drown to their cousin Philip (VI) of Valois, cutting out Isabella and her English children on the grounds that France did recognise claims in the female line - Edward III challenged this in 1338, starting the Hundred Years 'War (actually not a permanent state of war but a series of shorter wars, and lasting over 116 not 100 years). He was bought off to abandon his claim in the 1360 peace-treaty, but Henry V resumed the claim in 1415 as he invaded France to take advantage of bloody feuds at the incompetent and sporadically insane King Charles VI's court.
Henry destroyed the french army at Agincourt in 1415, then conquered Normandy in 1417-19 and advanced on Paris. The French king's eldest two sons had died and control of his weak regime was disputed by his cousin Duke John of Burgundy and the Armagnac faction; after the Armagnac grouping's ally , C V's surviving son the Dauphin (heir)'s entourage murdered the Duke of Burgundy his son Duke Philip and their party allied to Henry V. Their subsequent treaty (Troyes, 1420) recognised Henry V as heir to France, and disinherited the Dauphin as a supposed bastard. By 1422 Henry V, aided by Burgundy, ruled France North of the Loire basin, but all the centre and South preferred the Dauphin . Henry died a few weeks before Charles VI , so his infant son Henry VI succceeded to both England and France; the Dauphin was recognised as 'Charles VII' in S and central France and had more resources but a weak and unco-ordinated army.The English regency failed to advance further, not least as the English Parliament did not want to pay for a long war in France and volunteers did not sign up for the army there, and the 'front' between the rivals stabilised until Joan of Arc came on the scene in 1429 and stopped the English taking Orleans and crossing the Loire. The English were then pressed back.

A surviving adult Henry V had the charisma and organizational skills to keep the English army more war-ready, larger, better supplied, and moving forward than the regency, which was divided between one of his brothers heading the English govt (Humphrey of Gloucester) and one heading the 'french' regime set up by Henry V in Paris/ Normandy (John, Duke of Bedford). So some have speculated that he could have taken the 'Loire line' well before 1429 and won the war, despite his smallish and poorly-reinforced army and the greater resources available to the timid and unmilitary Charles VII. But he would still have had a huge task, given the number of sieges of walled towns and castles to carry out and the poor state of cannons meaning that knocking down the walls was then less achievable; most places had to be starved out. A lucky major victory (which he had the military skill to achieve) plus capturing Charles and his son Louis (XI) might have done this, but only if the French did not evade battle and wear down his army - and the English elite were fed up with paying for the war even in 1422. The regime and army in Paris were supposed to pay for themselves after 1420, as seen in London by the elite and taxpayers if not by Henry V.

So a 'stalemate' and a de facto division of France between two equally matched rival governments , probably at the Loire, is more likely - and when Henry V and his capable brothers died England would be led by the unmilitary, religious-minded, and easily influenced Henry VI (born 1421) who had no skill to win a war and was to end up succumbing to 'madness' (sporadic bouts of semi-catatonic stupor) and be deposed. The best English hope was for Henry V and his wife after the 1420 treaty, Charles VII's sister Katherine, to have 2 sons and the younger to be more competent and to be given France after his father died (1430s or 1440s?). He would still be at risk of being evicted as a foreigner by the restive elite and a revival of Charles VII's fortunes,especially if Burgundy defected back to Charles VII (as it did in 1435 in real life).

But there are two other important 'What Ifs' in this regard. If Henry V's father Henry IV (born 1366 or 1367, reigned 1399-1413) had not succumbed to some mysterious combination of a collapse of his nervous system/ paralysis plus skin disease aged 45 or 46, Henry V would not have been king that early. And though Henry IV did claim the French throne,this was more of a threat to scare the French into concessions than planning an invasion, and he was more interested in getting his ancestors' Duchy of Aquitaine in SW France back (by war or treaty) than in Normandy or the crown. Had he been king into his 50s, an invasion of Normandy and grab for the crown was very unlikely. Also, when he was fighting for the English crown against a rebellion by the Percy dynasty (Earls of Northumberland) in 1403 the rebels clashed with him and his son Henry, then Prince of Wales, at the battle of Shrewsbury - and the younger Henry came within inches of being killed aged 16/17
as an arrow hit him in the face. Had he been killed there would have been no Henry V, no invasion of France (at least not a bold one aiming for the throne), and no Shakespeare play 'Henry V' or Laurence Olivier of Kenneth Branagh films of it.

Henry IV's heir would have been his second son Thomas, Duke of Clarence (killed 1421 in France in real life). And Thomas was married pre-1413, so he would not have married Katherine and had a son suffering from inherited 'madness'. No incompetent king in the mid-C15th, no 'Wars of the Roses' - and no English marriage for Katherine means she is not in England in the 1420s to remarry to Owen Tudor and father the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenets stay on the throne.
Did a 'minor' accident at a royal summer holiday game of cricket lose Britain the American colonies by altering the succession in 1760?

As of the late 1740s the heir to Great Britain and its colonies was Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (born 1707), the eldest son of King George II (b 1683, ruled 1727 - 1760) by Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (d 1772). Unlike his acerbic, rule-obsessed, hot-tempered and reputedly boorish and uncultured father, Frederick was a skilled musician (who used to play in a private ensemble with his sisters), patron of plays and theatre-funder, and a crowd-pleasing populist who cultivated the public at royal appearances and held extravagant High Society entertainments.(The latter were often at his weekend and summer retreat, Cliveden House near Maidenhead in the Thames valley -later base of Nancy Astor's 1930s parties and the allegedly pro-Nazi 'Cliveden Set'). One of Frederick's theatrical entertainments was the occasion for the writing and first performance of 'Rule Britannia' by Thomas Arne, for a patriotic opera about King Alfred as founder of the British navy.

Frederick was extravagant and had numerous mistresses, and was at times somewhat lacking in commonsense , especially in feuding with his bullying father and his brilliant and cultured but jealous mother Queen Caroline (d 1737) who ended up loathing him. But he matured well and was more mature and shrewder than his son, George (born 1738) was to be when the latter succeeded George II in 1760 - and Frederick was also opposed to the current British 'one-party state' government of the Whig party, which had ruled by royal support and rigging elections and grants of office since 1714. Frederick sponsored a small group of opposition MPs in Parliament, and was allied to both the marginalised Tory party (seen by the King as pro-Jacobite) and to dissident Whig factions who the ruling Whig grouping (led by firstly Sir Robert Walpole as PM in 1721-42 and then by the Pelham brothers, PM Henry Pelham and the Duke of Newcastle) kept out of office. Frederick had said that once he became King and had control of patronage, including grants of office and peerages and control of selection for assorted MPs seats' in the Commons, he would open the system up to both Tories and opposition Whig factions. He would also cut the personal union between Britain and the Electorate of Hanover in Germany, which his father George II and grandfather George I ruled along with Britain - and were accused of subordinating GB foreign policy to Hanover's interests. F intended as King to hand Hanover to his second son , Prince Edward (Duke of York) , and split it off from GB permanently. Thus it would not matter so much to GB if Hanover was to be overrun in a European war, except for prestige, and the dynasty could not be accused of being unpatriotically obsessed with Germany. F had also tried to get his sister Amelia married off to
their cousin Frederick 'the Great', then heir to Brandenburg/ Prussia, before the latter succeeded to B/P in 1740,
but both sets of parents stopped this. (Had he succeeded , would Frederick the Great have had a more successful marriage than real life, or not tried to run away from his brutal father Elector FrederickWilliam and had his best friend Katte beheaded in front of him by his father?).

Frederick of GB was expected to succeed his ageing father in the 1750s and thus open up office to a wider selection of political leaders, even to rebalance the 'corrupt' political system to form a broad-based Tory/ Whig coalition. His health was weak , but his sudden death of pleurisy after a bout of fever in March 1751 aged 44 (arising from a chill caught at an outdoor party, possibly at Cliveden) was a shock. He collapsed and died within minutes after an abscess on his lung burst, and it was popularly supposed to be due to the efffects of an earlier injury to his lung from being struck by a cricket ball some months earlier. His father, already 68, lived to the age of nearly 77, and died October 1760; G II was duly succeeded by Frederick's awkward, inexperienced and prudish 22 year old son George (III) who also inherited Hanover.

George III shared his father's hostility to the Whig government and opened up office to other factions, regarding the old system as 'corrupt' and immoral. But with no powerful political allies and friends of his own generation ready to step into office like F had had and shunning his father's more rakish aristocratic friends as unsuitable, George relied on his equally gauche and dogmatic (pro-Tory) tutor, Lord Bute, who he forced into office in an uneasy coalition with the Whig government (led by Newcastle and the war-organiser William Pitt the Elder) that was currently winning the Seven Years' War with France (1756-63). Soon Pitt, architect of victory and of the recent conquest of French Canada in 1759 and of much of French or French-allied independent India, was forced out of office and Bute was made PM. Bute quickly returned some of France's conquered colonies to secure her goodwill in the peace-treaty of Paris in 1763. France regained her lost West Indies sugar supplying islands and her ally Spain regained the half of Cuba and part of the Philippines that GB had recently conquered - and was not 'grateful' as expected by George and Bute as in the 1770s she backed the American colonial rebellion.The cost of GB keeping these gains and French/ Spanish desire to retake them would have meant that the less inexperienced and over-optimistic Frederick's regime keeping them would have had problems, but GB would have been operating from a stronger position thereafter. Had Frederick and Pitt allied and a stable Pitt government survived,would GB have finished off the conquest of Cuba, or would the GB West Indies colonial sugar-planters have stopped this to prevent competition from Cuban sugar?

Had Frederick been king from 1760, he would never have promoted the inexperienced and poorly supported 'outsider' Bute, but would have used senior Tories like the earl of Egmont (to lead the Ho of Lords), the political manager and gossipy rake George Bubb Dodington (who George III shunned) to lead the Commons, and probably had the sense to keep the experienced Pitt on and back his plan for a harsher treaty in 1763 to punish France and take more of her colonies. F was also talking of reforming Parliament, making elections less corrupt, and tackling official bribery and 'jobs for the boys' (long before the real life 1832 Reform Act) and his reign would have seen major shifts of governance away from 'Old Corruption- no need for the real life showdown between hard-line conservatives and reformers in the shadow of the French Revolution, which made reform easy to 'smear'. He would have avoided most of his inflexible son's mistakes, and was more interested in the American colonies and had spoken of sending one of his close relatives (a younger son?) to live there and build up local contacts. He could still have insisted that the Americans needed to pay for their GB military protection after the Seven Years 'War and backed the new customs duties that caused local anger - but he would have been far better informed than George III (no royals ever visited America or sent close allies there until after 1776) and less likely to insist that any resistance meant treason that had to be fought to the end. The men ruling in Westminster who made the vital mistakes in 1765-76 were not likely to have been in office under Frederick,and he was far more consensual and flexible than George; would he have listened to backers of a compromise by granting some GB political representation to the colonies or allowing a colonial 'congress' under nominal GB rule, like Benjamin Franklin?

If war did break out due to Westminster hard-liners vetoing compromise, would Frederick have accepted a 'deal' and effective autonomy once reconquest stalled, and listened to arguments (eg from Pitt) that the war was unwinnable? Would the embryonic US have stayed nominally within the British system as a self-governing colonial body (for the time being?).


Published by SLP
An obvious French candidate to a longer life is General Leclerc, who died in a plane crash in 1947. He was one of those who understood that the Indochinese issue wouldn't be resolved by brute force, and that a negotiated settlement with Ho Chi Minh was indispensible.
If Charles II and James II's younger brother Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1640-1660) had not died in a smallpox epidemic at the end of 1660, he would have been in a position to provide Protestant heirs for the Stuarts who were nearer to the throne than the House of Hanover when the main line died out. (The Act of Settlement in 1701, after James II's younger daughter Anne's final child William died, made the Electress Sophia of Hanover heir and so arranged the accession of the current British Royal Family's direct ancestor George I in 1714 after Anne. Sophia, his mother who died just before Anne aged 84, was the youngest but only Protestant daughter of Charles I's elder sister Elizabeth, Electress of the Palatinate and Queen of Bohemia.)

Henry, born at Weybridge in Surrey just before the Civil War, had been left behind with his sister Elizabeth (b 1635, d 1650) in London as Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria fled in January 1642 and were placed by Parliament in the custody of trusted pro-Parliament nobles during the Civil War. Notably Charles and HM were not overly concerned at leaving their youngest children to be used as hostages - and when the victorious New Model Army's radical faction, led by Cromwell, took over power in late 1648 and decided to execute Charles I they considered appointing Henry as a nominal, puppet king (aged 8) to make their regime seem legal and respectable to foreign powers. Charles I's final words to Henry the day before he was executed was not to let himself be used in this fashion; in the event Cromwell and his allies abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords but in 1650-1 another possibility of 'King Henry IX' being set up as a puppet-king was made by conservative Cromwellian advisers and lawyers as assorted Royalists were arguing when charged by the republic that the government was illegal without a King so all new laws were void and they could not be tried. Eventually Henry was sent abroad to join his fugitive mother and brothers in France.

Henry had the sense even as a teenager to refuse to have his (Catholic and French) mother Henrietta Maria convert him to Catholicism and marry him off to a European Catholic princess in return for their country sending troops to invade England on his brother Charles II's behalf. This would be used as anti-Stuart and anti-Catholic propaganda by the Cromwellian regime and damage the chances of restoration. After Cromwell's death and the breakup of the republican regime into factional feuds and coups the monarchy was restored in May 1660 as the only guarantee of stability. But Henry died 6 months later, unmarried, and Charles II had no children by his wife Catherine of Braganza (Portugal). His brother and heir James (II), Duke of York, had two daughters by his first, Protestant wife Anne Hyde (d 1671), Mary and Anne; but then turned Catholic too and married an Italian Catholic, Mary of Modena. Hence the radical 'Whig' attempts to remove James as a 'pro-French Catholic would-be autocrat' from the succession in the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81 , and eventually his deposition in late 1688 as his daughter Mary's Dutch Protestant husband William (III) invaded.

The choice of the Exclusionists for a 'safe' Protestant king was Charles II's eldest illegitimate son James, Duke of Monmouth -rumoured to be really legitimate if Charles had secretly married his mother, which Charles denied - and Henry was unlikely to have been chosen instead had he still been alive as the opponents of James II also sidelined J's unquestionably legitimate daughter Mary and her husband William. But if Henry had been alive, presumably married to a (German?) Protestant and/or with Protestant children as of 1688-89 he and they would have been next in line for the throne after Mary and Anne. Had he lived to around James II's age (67) he would have been alive into the 1700s and so likely to be named as heir in the Act of Settlement in 1701, and his eldest child would have been the probable heir when Anne died in 1714. The ambitious Sophia of Hanover was still capable of advancing her family's rights to the throne by marrying off her daughter (Sophia Charlotte , b 1668) to Henry's son if the latter was heir to GB, given that Henry would probably have married in the 1660s so the cousins would have been near each other's age - or if Henry's heir was a girl securing her for Sophia's son George (born 1660), real life heir in 1714 . But the Protestant direct line of the House of Stuart would have continued, though Henry would have had to desert his brother James II and back the invasion in 1688 to be sure of the necessary political support from William III and the Whig politicians in Westminster to get the 1701 Act naming him and his children as heirs as it cut out assorted children of Electress Sophia and their heirs as being 'unreliable' Catholics.

If Henry and his children had been alive, could a more politically astute James 'III' (James II and Mary of Modena's exiled son, the 'Old Pretender') have tried to marry a grand- daughter of Henry's in the 1700s or 1710s if she was Queen Regnant after Anne, and aim for his recall? Or was he too firmly wedded to his father's religion ever to leave Catholicism and marry a Protestant for the British throne? (His family's French
Protestant ancestor Henry IV of France had turned Catholic in 1594 to win over French Catholics and end their civil war, declaring 'Paris is worth a Mass'. But no later Stuart was that politically supple.) James' chances were also hit by another real life unexpected early death - the Jacobite invasion of GB which he was planning for 1715, with an insecure new German king on the throne there, was damaged as his family's patron Louis XIV died just before the invasion, aged 76, and was succeeded by his 5 year old great grandson Louis XV under a pro-British regent, Duke Philip of Orleans. Philip cancelled the intended French military help to James,whose landing in Scotland failed. But had Louis XV's father, Louis XIV's grandson Louis, Duke of Burgundy (b 1682), not died of smallpox in 1712 he would have been King in 1715 - so would he have aided James with troops and given him a better chance?
A different modernising trajectory for Russia if the C17th Romanovs had married differently or had better biological luck?

There was a drastic modernization of Russia along Western lines by Peter 'the Great' from the early 1690s to his death in 1725 - not only in terms of a Westernized administration, army hardware and tactics, a new navy, modernised economy/ industry, Western education, and Westernised building (led by a new Westernised capital and major port on the Gulf of Finland, but forcibly shaving off the higher social classes' beards and making both sexes wear Western dress. This was led by the State under a dynamic Westernised autocrat who saw that his country needed to be like its more powerful and prosperous neighbours in order to compete with them and reconquer lost territory, and opposition was crushed by State force with major numbers of executions and the by-products of deaths among the impressed labourers for the new building schemes - rather like under Stalin. The 'outdated' mixture of medieval Byzantine and Mongol-style culture and society was uprooted, and the leader organised a 'top-down' hierarchy of bureaucrats to carry out his orders and purged all opposition with paranoia and rule by terror - as with the mass executions of the mutinous 'Streltsy' army guards regiment after they tried to overthrow him in 1697 and the imprisonment and apparent execution of his son and heir, Alexei, for threatening to reverse his reforms and fleeing abroad in 1718. Peter was duly able to defeat the great military power of the Baltic, Charles XII of Sweden, in in a Swedish invasion of the Ukraine in 1709 and regain or newly conquer the Baltic States (still under threat from Russia 300 years later) from Sweden, opening a 'Window to the West' where Ivan the Terrible had failed. When he died in 1725 aged 52, after catching pneumonia trying to rescue drowning sailors from the sea in January, he was succeeded by his choice of heir - his Lithuanian second wife Catherine I, originally 'Martha', a former army 'camp follower' and reputed ex-prostitute. She soon died and was replaced by Alexis' Westernised son, Peter's grandson Peter II, who died of smallpox aged 15 - opening Russia to a series of coups by Peter's new Westernised Guards regiments. The eventual victor was Peter's (illegitimate at birth) daughter by Catherine, Empress Elizabeth (d 1762).

Peter succeeded in setting Russia forcibly on a course as a Westernised 'Great Power' which it has never left, though his European-style aristocratic elite was now socially and culturally alien from the traditionalist peasantry and rule by an oppressive and ruthless bureaucracy and military might was further entrenched at the expense of any idea of 'consent'. He succeeded where the like-minded Kemal Ataturk did similarly with similar problems in 1920s Turkey and Reza Khan/ Shah's similar reforms in Iran in the 1930s were reversed by 'revanchists' after the 1979 Revolution. Russia was already developing a Westernised army and some inroads of European culture and administration among the elite before Peter gained full power in 1689. But the drastic nature and completeness of modernisation - and the extent of the social and cultural cost of this- would have been far less but for Peter's drastic methods, worship of the West, ruthlessness, and personal visit to the W European states to learn their methods in 1697 (he learnt shipbuilding himself at Deptford dockyard in London and lived in a house borrowed from the British diarist John Evelyn, hosting drunken parties and driving his new wheelbarrow through the hedges). Peter made Russia a copy of Western Europe, though at lower levels it remained an uneasy hybrid.

Peter was the only son of the cautious moderniser Czar Alexei (r 1645-76), whose reforms were slower and more by consent of his nobles, by his second marriage , to Natalya Naryshkina. But when Alexei died aged 47, the new Czar was his oldest surviving son by his first wife Maria Miloslavskaya, Feodor/ Theodore III, who was in poor health but carried out a few administrative and military reforms aided by his full sister, the formidable Sophia. He then died aged 21 in 1682, with no children, apparently suffering from chronic arthritis and other maladies; the elite's election-council wanted the young but fit Peter,aged 9, as the new ruler but his mother's family's enemies (led by Sophia) succeeded in forcing co-rule by Feodor's and Sophia's full brother, Ivan V (aged 16 but mentally and physically weak and apparently intended as a puppet of Sophia
's faction). This was ensured by a violent mutiny against Peter's mother's regency by the Streltsy regiment, who stormed the Kremlin and butchered assorted ministers and members of Peter's mother's family - some of them in front of him. The violence probably traumatised him and caused his compulsive twitching, temper outbursts and heavy drinking - making his process of reform much harsher and more violent and possibly tipping the balance into him ruling as a tyrant once he achieved full power by a coup in 1689. Sophia, regent in 1682-9 and a moderate reformer of the government and army by elite consensus, was sent to a nunnery for life and when the Streltsy mutinied on her behalf Peter massacred them and hung some outside her window.
If Alexei had not died at 47 and Feodor at 21 Peter would not have had all this trauma,which affected his manner of rule and thus made violent repression more a part of Russian procedure (though it was sporadic already, due to the Mongol legacy), or probably been Czar until adulthood. (If Feodor had had sons or Ivan V been a strong ruler with sons not an invalid, not at all?)The effects on Russian modernisation would have been huge - and a weaker and poorly led Russia without a powerful Europeanised army would not have defeated Sweden in the 1700-21 Great Northern War. Russia would not have gained the Baltic coasts or founded St Petersburg, and Sweden would have dominated the Baltic into the C18th. Nor would Russia have found it easy to defeat the then vast land of Poland in successive C18th wars and reduce it to a Russian sphere of influence - or to conquer the N shores of the Black Sea from the Turks. The power balance of Europe in the C18th - eg Russia as a Habsburg ally able to help in tackling Prussia in 1756-62 - would have shifted drastically.
A failed 'Christmas truce' during a round of the English 'Wars of the Roses' clears the way for Richard III's takeover 22 years later...

During the conflict over possession of the English throne between the partisans of the mentally failing and at best 'suggestion-prone' King Henry VI (b 1421, r 1422-61, 1470-1), head of the house of Lancaster, and his cousins the House of York, the rapid reversals of fortune over political control of King and court in the 1450s gradually escalated. The King's wife, Margaret of Anjou, and her allies feared that if the physically and mentally declining Henry became semi or fully comatose and needed a 'regent' again as he had done in 1453-4, Duke Richard of York (b 1411, d 1460) - Henry's estranged cousin and head of the House of York - would seize the regency and use it to destroy their faction, and probably declare Henry and Margaret's son Edward a bastard and make himself king. In 1459 Margaret's party staged a coup and marched on York's headquarters, Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, to capture and probably kill him and his elder, teenage sons; they escaped abroad and were declared traitors and had their lands seized. They and York's main general, his nephew Warwick 'the Kingmaker' (Richard Neville, Earl of W) returned in 1460 and overthrew the Queen's 'Lancastrian' regime; the Queen and her son fled to Northern England to raise a new army but York controlled the South and Warwick captured King Henry. The latter was ordered to abdicate but refused; a majority of peers and bishops would not allow York to depose Henry by force when York asked the House of Lords for help, but instead York was made head of the government and Henry's absent son was declared a bastard (rumours said Henry was incapable of siring children and the Queen had used a 'stud') and disinherited. York became heir and took the prince's lands.

A Christmas unofficial truce followed with Margaret and her allies, not recognising York's regime, still holding much of northern England and raising a new army - and calling for Scots help, though the latter were weak as the pro-Lancaster king James II had recently been killed by an exploding cannon in a siege (aged 29) and there was a regency for his 8 year old son James III. York's lands in SW Yorkshire were in danger of attack from the Lancastrians, and he went North to raise his own men and protect them. He was outnumbered as he spent Christmas at Sandal Castle, near Wakefield, but no actual fighting was expected; the Queen was in Scotland and her local commander, Duke Henry of Somerset, was in his 20s and inexperienced. But Somerset was hot for revenge on York who had killed his father in an earlier round of the civil war in 1455, and so was the more experienced and more violent Lord Clifford whose father had also been killed then. Probably due to Clifford who was portrayed by Shakespeare in his version of events 130 years later in his 'King Henry VI ' trilogy (based on earlier chronicles) as a psychopath, the Lancastrians tricked York into thinking they only had a small and wary army. York was lured out of Sandal Castle into Wakefield to collect supplies and deal with a 'small Lancastrian raid' on 20 December 1460; instead Somerset and Clifford with a larger force ambushed him and overwhelmed his troops. York, his second son Edmund , earl of Rutland (aged 17), and York's brother-in-law the Earl of Salisbury (father of Warwick the Kingmaker) were overwhelmed and killed. Clifford is said to have cut down Edmund in person in cold blood. (Shakespeare had the Queen order the killing, but in fact she arrived later.) They were declared traitors and their heads were cut off and put up on the 'Micklegate Bar' gate of York, with York's crowned with a paper crown in a comment on his ambitions for the throne.

The situation was to be saved for the Yorkists by York's eldest son Edward, aged 18, who rallied the family armies in the South and destroyed the Lancastrian army in Wales on 2/3 February although Warwick lost possession of King Henry to the advancing Lancastrians. Edward then saved London from the Queen's army, and had Henry deposed for his faction's breach of faith and truce in the December 1460 attack. He assumed the throne as 'Edward IV', and the Queen's army was later destroyed in battle at Towton Moor near York in a snowstorm at Easter 1461. The Yorkists took over England, until the next coup in 1470 - when Warwick deserted them and joined up with the Queen despite her faction having killed his father, uncle and cousin. (All this has provided plenty of ideas for 'Game of Thrones' on TV.)

The side-effects of the Wakefield massacre included the identity of Edward's surviving next brother - the man who would be regent when he died young in 1483 leaving a 12 year old son. Also, if Edward's secret and controversial marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 was supposedly invalid as claimed in 1483, the King's brother would be the rightful king instead of their son Edward V (elder of the Princes in the Tower) or his brother Richard of York. In real life this man was Edward IV's youngest brother, Richard III (Duke of Gloucester), born in 1452. He was also the trusted right-hand man and effective governor of N England for Edward IV from the 1470s, giving him the resources to stage his 1483 coup, and their middle brother George, Duke of Clarence (b 1449, d 1478) was arrested and executed in 1478 for a supposed plot - getting him out of the way. But if Edmund, Duke of Rutland, b 1443, had not been killed in December 1460 he would probably have still been alive and a senior Royal ally in the 1470s , in place of the younger Richard. Edmund would also have been the rightful claimant to be regent in 1483 and Edward IV's heir after his sons by Elizabeth Woodville, meaning that Richard had no right to the regency or throne then. Assuming Edmund had stayed loyal and not died in the interim, the situation in 1483 would have been much different and Richard's path to regency and throne would have been blocked - nobody would have backed him against the rightful claimant Edmund.

Edmund might still have quarrelled with Elizabeth over power and patronage or heard the apparent rumours that her marriage to Edward IV was illegal - centred on Edward's possible 'legal contract to marry' with another woman, Eleanor Butler nee Talbot, before he married Elizabeth. So he could have staged his own coup against the Woodvilles and deposed Edward V in 1483 himself; 'King Edmund' would thus have faced Henry Tudor if he was challenged in turn. But if he had stayed loyal, as Henry VI's uncles had done during the 1420s regency, the regime would have survived and Richard could not have mustered the support to overthrow it. Edward V and the Plantagenets would have stayed on the throne, with his brother Richard as successor if he had no children; there would be probable knock-on effects on the nature of the Reformation without Henry VIII. And would a more secure and confident King in 1491-2 have backed Christopher Columbus as Henry VII refused to do in real life, leading to the English sponsoring the Columbus expedition and claiming the West Indies (and later Mexico and/or Peru?) instead of Spain?

Another what if of the 1460s affecting Columbus: Edward IV was offered the hand of King Henry IV of Castile's sister (not yet his heir) Isabella in 1463-4, but ignored this and fell for Elizabeth Woodville instead. So if he does marry Isabella, she is not in Castile in 1474 to lead the faction opposing the succession of Henry's daughter Juana 'la Beltraneja'. Her brother Alfonso is dead so there is no other heir but Juana; this means Juana succeeds, Isabella does not marry Ferdinand of Aragon, and Spain stays disunited. Does Castile or Aragon have the time and money to spare to back Columbus in 1492 and then launch colonization of the Americas, or does Columbus go elsewhere?
What the scenario in the film 'Gladiator' doesn't admit about the chance factor in tyrant Commodus becoming a sole and uncontrollable Emperor of Rome...

The accession of a vain, paranoid, and psychologically unbalanced young Emperor, Commodus, to succeed his father Marcus Aurelius in March AD 180 is the starting-point for the long history of Rome's collapse into chaos in Edward Gibbon's monumental book 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. In turn this has been taken as the central real event in the Hollywood films 'Fall of the Roman Empire' in 1964 and 'Gladiator' in 2000. A serious, wise, and competent ruler in his late 50s, the latest of a line of 'Five Good Emperors' under whom Rome reached its height to success and prosperity, is succeeded by his incompetent son (aged 19 in real life) and tyranny and misrule return, with a mixture of purges, persecution of those targeted by the crazed ruler or his cronies , and quirky megalomania by a man who prefers to play at being a gladiator to governing - all of which in the films was based on reality. Chaos and his violent death follows (in real life a drawn-out process over 12 years), and Rome never regains its stability. The German barbarians on the frontiers start attacking, while Rome falls into civil war...

The fact that a series of successions by the 'best man' chosen as a matter of merit by his predecessor brought capable rule and stability through the C2nd AD and the first succession of the genetic 'next in line' heir, however untrained or unbalanced, caused chaos in 180 has been interpreted as an argument for saying that keeping the succession within the Imperial Family was 'too risky' and Marcus was to blame for the mess by allowing his inexperienced son to succeed him. Or even that his predecessors avoided inheritance by their own family and wisely chose a non-family heir with experience and proven competence instead - in 'Gladiator' Marcus is thinking of choosing the hero as his heir instead of his own feckless and dangerous son who kills him off.

In fact, none of the Emperors who chose a non-relative (or rather , usually, a distant relative married off to a woman of the Emperor's family) as heir in the C2nd had a son. If they had, the Imperial Guard, based in Rome and favouring a genetically-linked heir, would probably have staged a coup against this 'intruder'. So in the real world of C2nd politics Marcus would have been able to choose a capable and experienced heir only if someone who did not die young in real life had done so - ie Commodus. in that case, it is probable that the heir / successor in 180 would not have given up on the recent Roman military occupation of threatening German trial lands in what is now the Czech Republic , which Marcus had completed just before he died. (He died on the German frontier on the Danube during a war, as in the films - possibly at Vienna.) Commodus, a hedonist fed up with the tough conditions of living in camp and impatient to get back to Rome, gave up the occupation and took his army back to Rome. In the case of keeping the region Roman, its tribes would have been conscripted into the Roman army - as in the 100s Trajan did to the formerly hostile tribes of Dacia, modern Transylvania, after occupying it. They would have been fighting for, not invading Rome in the mid C3rd, and Rome would have had a larger army and fewer in invaders - shifting the military balance at a time of crisis in Rome's favour. Enough to enable the Roman army to fight off the invading Lower Danube tribes in the 250s and stop their overrunning the Balkans, which in real life tipped the balance into disaster and a temporary breakup of the Empire as Persia invaded the East (Syria)?

The question of who was Emperor in the 180s and what he did on the Danube thus had a major effect on Rome's history over the next century. The Empire would have been better off if Marcus had had no son so he could secure a meritocratic succession, and he might have been responsible enough to arrange a formal system of selecting the next ruler with the Senate's help and having him named in the current ruler's lifetime. to stabilise the Empire long-term. (This would have stopped one of Rome's great weaknesses - but Guard or provincial military revolt could still wreck this.)

Having the feckless Commodus as ruler and an unhindered tyrant was not a 'given' if Marcus did have sons - the films do not mention that Marcus in fact had twins, and Commodus' twin brother had died as a child in the 160s. (So did his younger brother, aged around 5). If the twins had both lived, probably M would have made both his heirs - and as a young man Marcus had had a co-ruler of his own, the feckless and high-spending Lucius Verus, a cousin whose tendencies Commodus seems to have inherited. LV had lived it up and posed as a victorious general , as titular leader of assorted Eastern wars, while Marcus got on with the serious business of governing which LV ignored - and if Commodus had had a surviving brother as co-ruler he could have done the same. Or if C started to turn into a tyrant or tried to murder his sibling, his ministers and officers could have got rid of him quickly with a new ruler to hand and no risk of civil war. In that case, we would have seen Rome continuing under a stable dynasty and line of competent rulers (until the next Nero-style tyrant succeeded), and with it in control of the middle Danube tribes the chances of invasion and defeat in the mid-C3rd would have been much lower.