Friday, September 18, 2015

AltHistory Scenario #8: What if the Commonwealth of England Didn’t Collapse?

The English Civil War, as are most civil wars, is really complicated and easily arouse opposing viewpoints and heated rhetoric. Actually three separate wars (1642-1646, 1648-1649, 1649-51), and involving King Charles II fighting against Parliament, while also leading England in a war against Scotland, which he was also the monarch of, and a lot of betrayal’s, backstabbing, beheading, defections, bloody battles, disease, religious intolerance, sieges, massacres, Short, Long and Rump Parliaments, and a tree. Yes, a tree.
This isn't the actual tree. But apparently it's a descendent of that tree. If you want to find out more, check the family... genealogical website. What did you think I was going to say?
However, today I’m not going to talk about changing the outcome of the Civil War. Parliament, also known as the “Roundheads,” defeated King Charles I and his supporters known as the “Cavaliers” - and cut off his head - and drove his son, later King Charles II out of England (with the help of that tree I mentioned), and established the Commonwealth of England. However, the Commonwealth soon became the “Protectorate,” with the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, one of the most successful of the New Model Army general’s, becoming a de-facto military dictator. But neither the Protectorate or the Commonwealth lasted long after Cromwell’s death, with his son Richard being Lord Protector for only a few months before being disposed and King Charles II being named King of England again by 1660.
So, what if the Commonwealth was never ended?
Point of Divergence
I’m going to have two POD’s for this scenario. First, King Charles II dies before 1660, either while hiding in that tree or while in exile in France. For the sake of this scenario, let’s say a Roundhead solider looks up in the tree and finds the King, and kills him, because otherwise it would have to be something bland, like King Charles II got dysentery in France.
Dysentery: a painful, miserable and embarrassing way to have to go. But enough about Oregon Trail.
 Second, the Richard Cromwell lays down the title of Lord Protector when the New Model Army refuses to support him after Oliver’s death, and the Commonwealth is restored. It’s not clear what Oliver Cromwell’s goals were when he made the Protectorate, if it was to be temporary or permanent, I can’t say. But, he’s dead, so let’s say his son, who is considered somewhat capable but unable to gain the confidence of the army that gave his dad the power, decides to undercut the New Model Army’s power by calling a new Parliament (later to be called the New Commonwealth Parliament), then laying down his position to have Parliament name a new Lord Protector.
Immediate Consequences
The New Model Army is not to happy with having lost it’s role as supporter of the Lord Protector. This military force, one of the first professional and standing armies to be maintained in English history, was known for it’s discipline, devout Puritan beliefs, and it’s separation from politics and religion, with none of the members being allowed to sit in the House of Commons or House of Lords. It was feared that the New Model Army may start fighting Parliament or it’s self, leading to yet another bout of Civil War.
And not the kind where everyone is nice to each other, is polite and everyone has a good time.
However, one of the New Model Army’s most powerful Generals, George Monck, a former royalist turned Parliamentarian and current Governor of Scotland, eventually announced his support to Parliament, and whomever Parliament chose to be the next Lord Protector, which meant a large chunk of the army would support Parliament, forcing the other units of the New Model Army and their officer’s to also swear their support. Three men, all Generals in the New Model Army, soon began to vie for the office: Monck, Charles Fleetwood, and John Lambert. The New Commonwealth Parliament overwhelmingly supported the moderate Monck, and he accepted the office.
Lord Protector Monck, who had the support of a majority of Parliament and a large chunk of the New Model Army, set to work on continuing the world of Cromwell, namely in healing and restoring England after decades of civil war. Flames of insurrection continued in Ireland and Scotland, and there was the ever constant threat of war on the continent. However, internal affairs dominated most of Monck’s time, who eventually established a committee to write a new constitution for the Commonwealth.
No, not THAT constitution...
This constitution established a system of checks and balances for the new Commonwealth of England. Parliament, divided between House of Commons and House of Lords, was to become the main lawmaking body, with the power to levy taxes to support the nation, while the Lord Protector, retaining the title Cromwell established for himself, was to become a life long executive position. However, it could not be hereditary; Parliament was given the power to elect the Lord Protector with at least two thirds of both Houses supporting the choice, and by the same margin to remove him. The Lord Protector would not have all the powers that the King of England had, but quite a few of them: he had the power to command the army and navy, engage in foreign policy, name members to the House of Lords, and serve as the highest level of law in the land. In the years to follow, an independent judiciary would be set up to exercise these powers.
Lord Protector Monck served until his death in 1670, by which time England was a long ways toward stability and peace. While Monck was under suspicion of being a Royalist through the entire time, and had many unfavorable mentions of gluttony and sloth, he served England to the best of his abilities, even leading military units in Ireland and Scotland. Under the Parliament’s Monck called, a remarkably liberal policy of religious liberty was enacted, as well as a minor changes to Common Law and, though the early Puritan dominated Commonwealth passed many restrictive laws to govern how people acted (such as the infamous banning of theaters), many of theses were repealed.
High schoolers across the English speaking world would have rejoiced from not having to learn about Shakespeare. Though I'm sure the Puritans would have banned iPhones in school anyway. Better luck next time!
The new Commonwealth didn’t go to war during Monck’s term as Lord Protector, instead staying on the sidelines, but secretly supporting Protestant causes throughout Europe, including the Huguenot’s in France and the Dutch in their fight against the Spanish. Colonization also fell by the wayside as all resources were devoted at home to repair and rebuild the damage of the Civil War. The Colonies in North America, namely Maryland, Virgina, Newfoundland and the Caribbean possessions were mostly  pro-Royalists, with Puritan New England supporting Cromwell. The Commonwealth had subdued them in the 1650s after the Civil War, but tensions were still high. The few colonial outposts in India, under the control of the East India Company, which was created by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600 and gained power under her successors, lost most of it’s holdings to the Dutch, and eventually the company faded from history.
Later Consequences
In 1673, a “civil war” broke out between the colonies when the pretender to the throne, the Duke of York, and called King James II, arrived in Maryland after a perilous sea voyage under an assumed name. The colonies rose in revolt, with Maryland and Virgina joining together to become the “Kingdom of English America,” later the Kingdom of America supporting the King against the Puritans, while New England supported the Commonwealth. Troops from England were sent to the colonies, but with native allies, the new Kingdom managed to defeat the New Model Army forces and the New England colonists and establishing themselves as independent. Eventually, by 1700, the colonies of the Commonwealth of England was mostly confined to Bermuda, Jamaica, Bahamas and other small islands in the Caribbean and the north-eastern Eastern Seaboard (united to form the Commonwealth of New England), surrounded by New France and Nova Scotia (also French) to the north and west, and New Netherlands and the Kingdom of America to the south. Eventually New England would be given independence, though maintaining close ties to the Commonwealth today.
And still maintaining a monopoly on beautiful autumn rural pictures.
Stymied in North America, the Commonwealth instead became a “northern Venice,” a major trading republic, gaining vast wealth, power and prestige trading over the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, and into the Baltic and Mediterranean. Despite the great wealth, Puritanism remained strong in England, with Presbyterian majority Scotland and Catholic Ireland becoming dynamic cultural and social centers of western Europe, while England and London remained a more reserved and morose place for decades, until Puritanism began to lose it’s grip by the 1700s. However, to this day, England is seen as a much more prudish and sombre place than lively Scotland and Ireland. In a reflection of the increasing power and prosperity of Scotland and Ireland, the Commonwealth of England eventually transforms into the Commonwealth of the British Isles, despite simmering tensions between Catholic Ireland and Protestant England and Scotland that continue to this day.
Without a massive empire to feed it resources or to sell goods to, the Industrial Revolution is slower to come to England, though it still happens there first thanks to the vast wealth from trading and plentiful iron and coal deposits. But other nations, namely France and the Netherlands, also begins to industrialize even quicker than the Commonwealth does.
Don't worry there! At least you won't have to work at a factory for 14 or more hours a day and be paid a fraction of the starvation wage your parent's will make
The Commonwealth retains the traditional English policy of “Continental watchdog,” where they don’t intervene in affairs in Europe unless it threatens the control of the English Channel and the North Sea. In the later 1600 and 1700s, the Commonwealth will be engaged, in different times, in alliances and wars against the Dutch, French, Spanish, Austrians, Prussians, Swedish and Russians, more often than not using a highly trained and well equipped army in the New Model Army style to fight, and winning more often than losing. However, by the mid 1700s, as muskets become cheaper and easier to use, the New Model Army that had long been the basis of English power falls short, and after a series of stunning defeats to the French in 1767 while fighting in the Netherlands, the New Model Army is finally relegated to the history books.
By the 1800s, without colonies of note except the nominally independent New England and a few sugar islands, the Commonwealth is increasingly marginalized in European affairs, despite a developing industrial economy. But the Republic survives, adapting and modernizing as time goes on; increasing suffrage, social welfare and liberal polices usually a few years ahead of the rest of Europe, and retaining a strong navy to defend itself, and supporting other republican and democratic movements in Europe and abroad. By the end of the 20th century, while having fought in devastating total wars that saw foreign invaders land in England, the Commonwealth retains it’s traditions and history as one of the longest lasting republics in world history.
But still with a flag that looks like a kindergarteners first time with crayons.

I think an English Republic is something that is one of the favorite ideas for an alternate historian, if for no other reason than the fact that, except for a few brief periods like the Commonwealth and Protectorate eras, England has had monarchs since the fall of the Roman Empire. The history of the monarch in England was at first similar to other nations, of how strong kings manage to expand their power against feudal nobles to centralize power. However, by the fourteenth and fifteenth century, this begins to change, as Parliament, at first just a group of nobles, then of nobles and gentry, then nobles and elected gentry, steadily gains power. By the time of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the clash of who really had the power, Parliament or Crown, reached it’s conclusion, and the answer was resounding: the Crown could not govern without Parliament, but Parliament could govern without the Crown.
Constitutional Monarchies are all around the world today, but the first true one was England after the tumult of the English Civil Wars. And for a brief period of time, only ten years between 1649 and 1659, there was no monarch at all. While it wasn’t the most stable time, nor the most peaceful, it is one of the most interesting. Had Cromwell chosen a better successor than his son, or had the heirs to the throne been killed, then it’s not hard to see England minus a monarch. Because it may well have happened.
God Save the Queen. From us Alternate Historians.


  1. A very intriguing exploration of this POD, especially with James II coming to southern America (does that mean the college of William and Mary happens anyway?) A divided America is always fun to speculate on, as is a republican England.

    But the biggest ripple effect I see in all this is the rise of Napoleon. He comes to power toward the end of the French Revolution, prompted by that country's financial ruin due in some part to helping those pesky Americans in their fight with Britain during the Revolutionary War. If we presume in that this alternative timeline there is no American Revolution, how does that affect France's own decline into revolution? Does Louis XVI still call the estates general together for taxes but manage to get more of what he wants out of them? Does the Tennis Court Oath never happen? If none of these things happen and France is able to continue as a monarchy, does that mean the little Corsican general never takes power?

    And if Napoleon never takes power, does that mean Germany never becomes a unified, sovereign nation? The implications for 19th and 20th century warfare are big. Plus, it sounds like the Dutch remain far more powerful than in our timeline.

  2. I've always been of the feeling that the French Revolution was going to happen sooner or later. And while maybe Napoleon himself would remain an unknown Corsican soldier, maybe someone else that today we don't know of, or, if you believe in the Butterfly effect, someone that never existed would take his place.

  3. I really like this timeline, but I have several major disagreements:

    - First, the colonial population was too small in 1673 to resist the New Model Army backed by New England. Additionally, Maryline also had a lot of Protestant underclass folks with pro-Commonwealth tendency. At best, there would only be a Kingdom of Virginian, which would have been insignificant.

    - Second, there is nothing can stop Britain from grabbing Quebec and Atlantic Canada in this timeline, since a surviving Commonwealth, if anything, would have had an even stronger Navy than our Royal Navy. They could have easily stolen French North American colonies in Canada and the whole Great Lake region from France well before 1767.

    - Third, a surviving Commonwealth would have actually industrialized faster and longer for several reasons:
    + The Puritan attempt to introduce universal education would have succeeded 200 years early (in real life, they achieved that in New England). In real life, a poor education system was a major cause of British decline post-1870.
    + Real-life New England was an early industrialization hotspot and was responsible for a lot of innovations in industrial techniques: like interchangable parts and mechanization. In our timeline, New England adopted such a system because their skilled labour was scarce. In this timeline, with closer ties, such idea could have flown after to Britain itself, especially when the Second Industrial Revolution emerged.
    + Rotten boroughs would have been abolished earlier, giving industrial districts greater representation.
    + Industrial and merchant class would have had greater involvement and influence in government policy-making in this timeline.

    - Finally, the Commonwealth would have had a strong chance of integrating New England/Northeastern Seabed as a proper part of Britain with colonial people having the same rights and same treatment as homeland British people.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Besides, both France even with Alsace-Lorraine and Dutch Republic without Wallonia would not have been able to industrialize first, because both severely lacked coal. And as I mentioned above, New England also industrialized very early in real histoty despite not having a vast network of colonies.

    I wish I came across this article earlier. Overall, it is still a very good one, even though I disagree with it.