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In 1685, on the death of King Charles II of Great Britain, a struggle developed over his successor. The 'rightful' heir was Charles' brother, James II, Duke of York. The last Stuart monarch, James II was not popular, primarily because he was a Catholic. James also came to the throne after the reign of one of England's most popular monarchs, so his reputation with the people of Britain was never a favourable one. Indeed, he met a sticky end in 1688, when he was overthrown by William, Duke of Orange, who reigned as William III.
James' unpopularity and Catholicism led to the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. The Rebellion centred around the claim to the throne of one James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, who in addition to being one of Britain's finest soldiers was also the bastard son of Charles II. He was also, importantly, a Protestant.
James' unpopularity, even while Duke, led to many thinking Scott would be a greatly preferable choice. On June 20, 1685, the Duke of Monmouth declared himself King at Taunton. The Battle of Sedgemoor, however, fought two weeks later, sealed Monmouth's fate. His makeshift rebellion was no match for James' highly-trained armies. Monmouth was captured, arrested and ultimately executed for treason. This timeline's point of difference is a slightly different Monmouth Rebellion and a series of tactical errors. The major PODs are:
- Monmouth's claim was reinforced by his 'evidence', admittedly flimsy and now almost certainly false, that Charles II and Lucy Walter, his parents, were married in secret and thus Monmouth was a legitimate child and the rightful heir. (In OTL, there were always rumours, but nothing concrete.)
- Argyle's attempt to create a Scottish rebellion in Monmouth's favour is more successful, and his army marches south and captures Glasgow and Edinburgh.
- It is in Edinburgh that Monmouth proclaims himself King, having landed in Scotland from Holland in the first place. Thus, his power base is stronger, and the Royal Navy is unable to scuttle his fleet.
- The attack on Bristol succeeds, which becomes Monmouth's Northern power base.
- Rebellions in Monmouth's favour materialise in East Anglia and Cheshire.
- Most importantly: Someone is able to keep a lid on their itchy trigger finger at Sedgemoore. Thus, the musket shot that alerted James' army to the rebels' presence is never fired, the surprise attack succeeds, and Monmouth's band routs the Stuart army.
Following his victory at Sedgemoore, Monmouth was able to march on London. James II was forced to flee to France. He attempted to raise an army to take back England, but was thwarted by his enemy William of Orange, who, ironically, had married his daughter, Mary. James spent the rest of his life under house arrest in the Netherlands.
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, was crowned king in May 1686. He took the regnant name of James II, claiming his predecessor had not been the rightful heir and was therefore not entitled to the name. Thus, there have been two Kings of Great Britain called James II. Monmouth's accession to the throne created a new dynasty, the House of Monmouth, which ruled Great Britain until 1834.
Monmouth's reign was eventful. A pro-Catholic rebellion, led by James' supporters, petered out, and the Stuarts continued to claim the throne of Scotland for some time. However, support for the Jacobite movement eventually evaporated, after Monmouth decided to reign from Edinburgh six months of the year. He was, after all, a Stuart as well. Monmouth's claim on the throne was cemented by 1690, though the nickname James the Bastard stuck for the rest of his life. James was not successful at curbing the power of Parliament. He initially tried to continue the personal rule of his father and grandfather, but found Parliament simply too strong to resist. By 1694, an agreement was reached to share power between the King and the Parliament. This agreement, known sometimes as the Monmouth Accord, is the basis for the British system of government today.
James II (Monmouth) (as he is often referred to historically, as opposed to James II (Stuart)) died of uremia (the same condition that took his father) on July 14, 1705, at the age of 56. The Crown passed to his eldest grandson, Francis, Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Buccleuch. Monmouth's eldest son, James, Prince of Wales, had died only months earlier. It was Francis, the Prince of Wales' son, who became King Francis I. Francis was only eleven years old, and so his uncle, Monmouth's brother, Henry Scott (whom Monmouth had named Duke of York), ruled as Regent. Henry felt he had a claim on the throne, but was outmaneuvered by Parliament, which in 1708 passed a law stating that Francis was King and that Henry's claim was weaker.
In 1711, at the age of seventeen, Francis assumed all the powers of the King, which he had been wielding with more and more influence for the past five years anyway.
The rule of King Francis I lasted for forty-seven years. The Franciscan Age, as historians now refer to it, saw the growth and expansion of British art and science. Not since Elizabethan times had England produced such advances. In addition, Francis took an active role in European affairs and established further colonies in North America, expanding British interests there. He also established British colonies in South America, fighting a war with Spain known as the Nine Years War from 1723 until 1732 for control of certain Spanish possessions in South America and the Caribbean. The ultimate prizes of Cuba (New Suffolk) and Puerto Rico were eventually ceded to Britain in exchange for war reparations and an end to British privateers preying on Spanish ships. Trade was expanded to the Americas, and the Franciscan period is considered as the Golden Age of British economic power. Under Francis, Britain became the world's first Superpower, with British interests in Asia also expanding, led by the East India Company. Eventually, India would become part of a global British Empire.
Francis I died in 1752. His marriage to Wilhemine of Beyruth had been relatively happy (there is little evidence of unfaithfulness on either side), and produced six children. The eldest of these, James, Prince of Wales, became King James III. In his late thirties, James III did not survive for long to enjoy his reign, as in 1754 he died of consumption - at nearly 300 pounds, it was hardly any shock. A hedonist and notoriously homosexual, James was more interested in food, wine and fornication than procreation and produced no heirs. The crown passed to his brother, Charles, Duke of Edinburgh, who reigned from 1754 to 1773 as Charles III. In the later part of Charles' reign, Australia and New Zealand, discovered much earlier by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, were settled by British colonists - free settlers on the eastern coast, and convicts in Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) and the Swan River Colony.
Charles III's successor as king after his death was his only child, his daughter Anne (1750-1822). Young, extremely beautiful and politically wise, Anne was seen by many as another Elizabeth. Her 1777 marriage to Henry, Duke of Clarence, effectively consolidated her power in Britain. Under Queen Anne, Britain established greater colonial possessions overseas, particularly in Asia and Africa. But it was in North America that Anne's influence would be greatest. Thanks largely to her popularity and "common touch" the rebellion in North America that had been brewing for decades was prevented. When American colonists destroyed a great many crates of tea in Boston Harbor in 1773 as a protest against taxation, the British First Minister, Lord North, favoured a hardline. Anne summarily dismissed North and appointed the younger, progressive Whig Charles Fox as First Minister in his stead. Fox negotiated the Boston Accord with American colonial leaders, including Franklin, Adams and Hancock, which ended excessive taxation in the American colonies and instituted colonial representation in Westminster and representative government in North America. British North America came into being on September 13, 1779, with an elected Parliament and Anne's son, George, Earl of Bristol, as Viceroy. This arrangement lasted more than a century.
Anne died in 1822, and her eldest son by Clarence took up the throne as Francis II. Francis was never a healthy child, and by the time he was forty was clearly sickly and unwell. He died in 1830 after a surprisingly long life given his infirmity, now thought to have been a type of Multiple Sclerosis. He was able to conceive a child, Edward VII (1808-1834), who was just as ill as his father and died without issue in 1834. Anne's only other son, George, had died in 1831, which meant that there was no direct heir after Edward's death. He also died childless, though his illegitimate children were numerous. The closest heir to the throne was Gustav Charles Christian Hesse, a descendent of Francis I and Wilhelmine of Beyruth through their daughter Princess Sophia, who had married King Adolf Frederick of Sweden. He took the throne as King Charles IV, though he spoke no English and was hardly interested in the process of government. This only served to increase Parliament's power. After the Reform Act of 1837 was passed, the Monarch became mostly a ceremonial office, though successive monarchs have exercised significant power on occasion. Two of the three modern-day British political parties, the Unionist Party and the Liberals, were formed around this time.
On Charles IV's succession to the throne, the House of Hesse-Beyruth-Schlassen began. Charles spent most of his reign in miserable isolation, cut off from his native Sweden and deeply unpopular with his people. In fact, so great was his unpopularity that his image was used in the General Election of 1840 as a rallying cry to the Liberal reformers, who hated Charles more than anything. Charles died miserable in 1847. His son (his only one of five children) took the throne as King Charles V, and was significantly more popular by virtue of his English wife, Catherine, and rather more bohemian manner. Charles V reigned from 1847 to 1860, when he was succeeded by his grandson, the young Richard, Duke of Suffolk. Richard became Richard IV (1841-1918), and presided over the Empire at its zenith - it covered nearly a quarter of the globe in 1865.
Richard IV's full title was King of England, King of Scotland, King of Ireland, Emperor of India and Emperor of North America. He was the first King since Edward to be considered truly British, a perception he encouraged through his alteration of the family's surname and regnant House from Hesse-Beyruth-Schlassen to the snappier Hess. It wasn't the only titular change to affect Richard.
Richard's reign lasted fifty-eight years, the longest in British history. Richard was the last great British monarch, the last monarch to preside over the whole of the Empire. While his reign brought with it the Industrial Revolution and the economic prosperity therein, it also saw an uprising in British North America that struck the first blow for the end of the Empire. In 1852, tensions increased between the slave-owning Southern plantation owners and the Northern emancipationists. Slavery had been abolished in Britain and the rest of the Empire in 1826, but in North America slaves were the absolutely crucial element in its booming economy, or at least in the South. Therefore, a compromise arrangement led to slavery remaining legal throughout British North America's three Southern provinces - Carolina, Louisiana (captured from the French in 1805) and Virginia. It was in 1852 that the southern provinces moved for a formal vote of independence as the North American Parliament consistently voted for greater freedoms for slaves and decreased the economic benefit of slave ownership. The resulting compromise did little to placate plantation owners and slavery advocates. In elections for North America's Home Rule parliament in 1856, the slavery advocates won enough seats to force a new vote on independence. When the vote succeeded, Westminster vetoed the result. This led to celebrations in the North but deep resentment in the South, and in the spring of 1857, the three Southern provinces rebelled, forming the Southern League and, aided by France's Napoleon III, openly fought against British rule in North America. The Battle of Atlanta in 1859 sealed the fate of British North America - the Southerners won a decisive victory, and in 1860 Richard IV was forced to sign the Treaty of Richmond, granting independence and sovereignty to the South. This reduced North America's representation in Westminster from 58 seats to 32, dramatically reducing its influence in London.
With the loss of the South came the loss of its wealth, and Britain was forced to find alternative sources of income. For its part, the North quickly fragmented into those provinces with loyalty to Britain and those who saw continued British rule as a hindrance. Many Northerners felt betrayed by Britain's willingness to compromise with the Southerners, and with less presence in London North Americans began to feel unappreciated and unequal. In 1874 a group of Northern separatists seized control of a stretch of land from the Great Lakes to the Southern border and proclaimed the Independent Republic of Illinois, taking the name from a Seneca word meaning "beautiful river", which had been used to refer to parts of the region for more than a century. British troops were sent from Canada and New York to intervene, which led to another war on the North American continent lasting from 1874-1889. The fifteen-year conflict destroyed North America's economic prosperity. Subsequently, in 1885 the provinces of Canada, New York and Western Virginia all declared independence from Great Britain. Britain did not have the resources to fight all four rebel nations at once, and suffered a series of defeats.
In 1888, the leaders of all four rebel nations - Canada's Edward Borron, New York's Abram Hewitt, Western Virginia's George Buchanan and Ohio's Robert Lincoln, met in Boston to negotiate a peace settlement. As a result of the Boston Conference, attended by Britain's First Minister, Gladstone, a new composition of British North America was agreed to. Ohio and Western Virginia (now called Pennsylvania) were granted independence. New England, which had remained loyal, and Canada were granted complete self-government; while Richard IV remained King, he would be represented by a Viceroy and the colonial Parliaments would have complete self-governance. New York, for its part, held a referendum offering voters a choice of independence, "dominion" status or remaining a colony of Britain. They voted narrowly for Dominion status, though the independence movement remained strong.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, the aging Richard IV presided over a weaker Empire. The industrial revolution had changed the world, but Britain's standing had been crippled and would never really recover. France, with an empire still intact and a booming economy, began to resurface as a major world power. In 1906 Henri Petain, hero of colonial wars in Africa, was elected President of France. He began a series of powerful reforms to the state, chief among which was a great expansion of the French military. By 1912, France had become the most powerful of the four great Continental powers - France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Prussia.
War in Europe was more or less inevitable, as tensions mounted throughout the early 20th century. It finally happened in 1913, when a French attempt on the life of the King of Prussia backfired. The Great War began on July 3, with the might of France and its Russian ally facing an alliance of Britain, Prussia and Austria-Hungary (with the Ottoman Empire later joining on the allied side). The war lasted until 1917 and redrew the map of Europe. France was forced to surrender Corsica to Italy, while the Baltic regions of Russia were integrated into Greater Prussia (Germany from 1925). Austria-Hungary was split asunder by the Russian invasion and never recovered. Britain, remarkably, emerged practically unscathed. It remained virtually untouched by the European conflict. However, seven weeks after the Treaty of Hamburg ended the war, Richard IV, now aged 76, died. His reign of fifty-eight years was unequalled in the history of Britain.
His third son, Edward, Duke of Kent, now became Edward VIII. Middle-aged when he came to the throne, Edward failed to inspire his people as his father had. British imperial power suffered another blow with the outbreak of a series of colonial skirmishes in Africa, and in 1927, Edward was forced to grant independence to South Africa, which owed its existence to the Boer Wars of 1896-1904.
Meanwhile, in Europe, war clouds began to gather again. France's stature and economy had become permanently damaged in the Great War, and it had lost its empire. Russia, however, had emerged as the strongest Continental power, despite the loss of the Baltic regions. In 1924, inspired by the fascist coup of Mussolini in Italy, far-right elements in Russia took control of the government in Petrograd. The Tsar, Alexander V, was allowed to remain as a figurehead, but his failing health and mind could not stop the rise of the Fascists, under their charismatic leader, an ex-clergyman named Joseph Dzhugashvili. Dzhugashvili declared himself as Leader of the Russian State and, in a famous 1930 declaration, declared that "The Motherland shall regain all it has lost." It seemed that war would be inevitable.
In 1934, Edward VIII died of cancer and the Prince of Wales succeeded him as William III. With anti-European sentiment growing, one of William's first acts was to rename his Royal House from the very Continental Hess into the more English House of Buckingham, which remains the name of the ruling house today.
War in Europe finally happened in the summer of 1937. A Russian invasion of the Baltic was met with force by Germany, and Britain was treaty-bound to intervene. France remained neutral until the following year, when a Russian naval attack on French Indochina prompted its declaration of war, this time on the allied side. So began the Second World War, a global conflict which saw Russia, Japan, Spain and Italy on one side against Britain, France and Germany on the other.
The Second World War was a bloody conflict, and it changed the world forever. Dzhugashvili's armies conquered most of Europe and far into China, aided by Japan, until an Anglo-French counterattack with assistance from the independent North American states, finally brought Russia's imperial ambitions to heel. With most of its captured territory liberated by winter of 1943, and with allied armies marching towards Petrograd, Russia retreated to defend herself "to the bitter end". The horrific campaign by the allies to reach Petrograd, and the Anglo-French invasion of Japan in January 1944, was the bloodiest period of the war. Japan was subdued, but more than six million Russians and allied troops were killed on the Western Front.
In July 1944, Dzhugashvili was assassinated by moderate elements, and a coup de etat led by Malenkov and Rokossoveky, formed a new government that negotiated an end to the war. The Treaty of Smolensk restored most of Europe to pre-1937 borders. In the East, China was granted control of some of Japan's possessions, while Japan itself began the transformation to a British-style Westminster democracy.
The 1950s brought peace and economic stability. Though the Empire had now all-but fallen (especially since Gandhi's protest movement led to India's partition and independence in 1948), Britain remained strong and a world power, with Russia's power kept closely in check. After Russia held democratic elections in 1946, however, it became a model global citizen. The same could not be said for China, which began a series of economic reforms and gave increased power to its police and military, to the extent that by 1960 the government of the aged Chiang Kai-Shek had almost total control.
William III died of a heart attack (he was a heavy smoker all his life) in 1964, and the throne passed to his second son, who reigned as John II. Throughout the 1960s a series of independence struggles led to the further dissolution of the British, French and Spanish colonial empires. By 1975, the great superpowers were no more. Now, it was the economic powerhouse of China, a liberal democratic Russia and a powerful Germany that led the world.
Ultimately, John suffered the same fate as his father, dying of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of only 57. The crown fell to his eldest daughter, Princess Catherine. Twenty-one years old, Catherine was already a media celebrity. Therefore, her ascension to the throne was a global media event. Her coronation was the second to be televised but the first to have nearly every major world leader in attendance. Fittingly, Catherine was crowned Queen of Great Britain on January 15, 1986, three hundred years to the day since the coronation of James II (Monmouth)
Now forty-five, Queen Catherine reigns over a Britain much diminished from its once lofty heights. Though the House of Buckingham reigns and the House of Monmouth is long-gone, Catherine nonetheless claims a direct lineage from William the Conqueror, and has often mentioned her pride in being part of the royal dynasty that, in many ways, began with the ascention of one man, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, King James II, one dreary winter's day three long centuries ago.