Friday, June 29, 2012

June 15, 1946 – Baruch Plan Determines Americans will give up The Bomb


World War II ended abruptly with the American use of the newly created atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  After V-J Day, new issues arose in the world order dividing occupation zones between Anglo-American and Soviet influences.  President Harry Truman of the United States set Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson onto the task of answering the question, “What to do with The Bomb?”

The idea of splitting an atom (once believed to be the indestructible unit of matter) arose in the early twentieth century as scientists such as Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr described a tightly packed, high-energy nucleus.  In the discoveries of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie, it was shown that the nucleus could break, giving off a powerful burst of energy.  Scientists in Germany began forcibly breaking up nuclei by bombarding them with neutrons in the late 1930s.  Jewish scientists fearing a Nazi atomic bomb, Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt about the possibility of a bomb and the necessity of beating Hitler to it.  In 1940, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls of the University of Birmingham wrote a memorandum calculating “the possibility of constructing a ‘super-bomb’ which utilizes the energy stored in atomic nuclei as a source of energy. The energy liberated in the explosion of such a super-bomb is about the same as that produced by the explosion of 1000 tons of dynamite.”  Atomic weapons, which had been largely science fiction, became terrifyingly plausible.

Committees were established, eventually leading to the creation of the Manhattan Engineering District in the Army Corps of Engineers.  Secret laboratories at Oak Ridge, TN, and Los Alamos, NM, produced plutonium from uranium-fed reactors and developed it into an implosion-design device called “the gadget” that exploded at the Trinity test site July 16, 1945, with a yield of 20,000 tons of TNT.  President Harry Truman approved the use of atomic weapons on Japan in hopes of avoiding a bloody invasion, and, on August 6, the gun-type uranium-235 “Little Boy” fell on Hiroshima with another plutonium device, “Fat Man”, striking Nagasaki on August 9.  Japan surrendered on August 15, citing not only the bomb but the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, which was now clearly a rival to the Anglo-Americans as a superpower.

To ensure global law following World War II, the victors created the United Nations in 1945.  The organization would act as a forum in which nations could resolve their disputes and carry stronger action than the League of Nations, which had been organized along similar lines at the end of World War I but had proven ineffectual.  The first resolution passed called for a UN Atomic Energies Commission "to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy."  It requested proposals, and Truman tapped Bernard Baruch to present one.

Baruch, who had made his fortune in the stock market before turning to politics and philanthropy, had served as an economic advisor since 1916.  He was dubbed a “park bench statesman” due to his habit of sitting in Lafayette or Central Park and discussing government business with whoever happened to sit beside him.  Baruch took the report created by Acheson and David Lilienthal, chairman of the TVA, upon advice from men such as General Leslie Groves and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, as the groundwork for his proposal, dubbed “The Baruch Plan.”  In it, he outlined the sharing of scientific knowledge to all nations, international control of resources such as uranium, elimination of atomic weapons, and the need for inspection and punishment for those possessing or manufacturing illegal weapons.  The UN would create the International Atomic Development Authority to guide research and police atomic affairs.

Controversially, Baruch announced that the United States had already begun to dismantle its weapons program after fighting hard with Truman to agree to it as Commander-in-Chief.  The Soviets jumped at the measure, seeing an opportunity to pull America back from its lead.  Many Americans balked at giving up the Bomb, which had cost nearly $2 billion to develop.  However, through the urging of Baruch, Oppenheimer, and others, Congress passed legislation confirming the end of American atomic weapons, though it was believed to have cost Truman the ‘48 election.  The IADA came into effect in 1947 and quickly established its facilities at all known uranium and thorium deposits guarded by the expanded United Nations Police, which had been a small institution created October 1945.  Since 1945 and its expansion under the IADA, UNPol has swelled to include investigative teams working alongside Interpol and national agencies as well as peacekeeping forces against terrorism in some of the most dangerous warzones on Earth.

Although nuclear proliferation has been avoided, humanity still faces war.  Numerous territorial and ethnic wars erupted after decolonization, and the West fought the spread of Communism in Greece, Korea, Egypt, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, Israel/Egypt in 1973, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  In 1962, JFK’s blockade of Cuba due to construction of Soviet missile silos caused Khrushchev to threaten war, but intervention by IADA inspectors proved no nuclear weapons were present, and the bases were allowed as a match for NATO bases in Italy and Turkey.  Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed, and Chinese Communism reinvented itself.  Many historians speculate whether atomic weapons could have prevented bloodshed, echoing the words of English author Wilkie Collins, “I begin to believe in only one civilizing influence—the discovery one of these days of a destructive agent so terrible that War shall mean annihilation and men's fears will force them to keep the peace,” written 1870 at the time of the Franco-Prussian War.

Meanwhile, nuclear energy has spread as a cheap source of power, primarily electricity, with nearly 200 plants worldwide.  While many of these are in industrialized nations, several developing countries have been granted their own plants, spurring economic growth.


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In reality, many Americans felt the nation had come by the atomic bomb legitimately and had no need to give it up until the nations agreed to outlaw atomic weapons.  The Soviet Union disagreed with the idea, and the Baruch Plan was set aside.  Instead, the USSR successfully created its own atomic bomb in 1949, leading to the Cold War arms race.  Through the 1950s, the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction became widespread, coming to head during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 where deterrence by nuclear threat proved effective.  While there have been a number of smaller wars, the time since 1945 has been free of world wars and is often dubbed the Pax Americana.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 12, 1917 – King Constantine of Greece Approves Declaration of War Against the United States


As the Great War erupted in Europe in 1914, the nation of Greece became caught in the middle.  Greece had won its independence in 1830 after nine years of war with the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the southern Balkans for centuries.  The new kingdom grew as Britain returned the Ionian Islands in 1864 and the Ottomans ceded Thessaly in 1881.  Further gains were made in the Balkan Wars in the early twentieth century, winning Greek occupation for Macedonia.  These wars made great gains for the Balkan League but ended up destroying trust as Serbia and Greece made a secret division of spoils, spurring Bulgaria to declare war against its former allies.  Serbians continued to struggle with the Austro-Hungarians, leading to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the beginning of war over almost all of Europe.

Greece itself became divided.  King Constantine, backed by his German wife Queen Sofia, argued for neutrality, which would benefit the Central Powers with free ports to take in supplies for the war effort.  Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos suggested joining the Entente, noting the necessity of Allied operations in the region against Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.  If the Greeks did not work with the Allies, he believed they would force cooperation with a blockade by the powerful navies of the British and French, devastating the peninsular kingdom (he noted, “One cannot kick against geography!”).  In 1915, the Entente began plans to take the Dardanelles, and Venizelos noted the opportunity to support what he saw as the eventual victors of the war.  Constantine refused, causing Venizelos to resign February 21.  Elections in August quickly put Venizelos back into office upon the promise of keeping neutrality, but, by October, Venizelos stated that Bulgaria’s invasion of Serbia would prompt him to join with the Allies due to their Serbian treaty.  An Allied expedition to liberate Serbia arrived at Thessaloniki, causing a final division between the King and Prime Minister.

Constantine determined to use his constitutional power as monarch to dismiss the government and call for new elections.  However, reflecting on the division of his peoples and Venizelos’ clear popularity, he decided a different action:  declaring war on the invading Allies.  He arrested Venizelos and many of his supporters, placing them under guard as political prisoners until the nation was secure.  The Allied army, which had been divided as the French attempted to march forward alone and were rebuffed by the Bulgarians, was caught and proceeded to retreat.  The action doubled the embarrassment of the Allies as it coincided with the failure and evacuation of the Gallipoli Campaign, effectively ending Allied activity in the region.  Diplomats in 1916 hurried to prompt Romania into the Entente with promises of immense territorial gains, but heavy losses to Central victories in 1917 forced them out of the war with the Treaty of Bucharest.  Russia, too, had fallen due to internal revolution, and the Eastern Front became quiet.  Bulgaria worked to relieve its own internal struggles from dissatisfaction among the soldiers fighting a war alongside Muslim Ottomans against fellow Orthodox Christians.

Greece, meanwhile, struggled against the Allied blockade.  Cities were bombarded, but shoreline defenses and sabotage proved effective counterattacks.  Well-armed resistance fighters made attempts at occupation impossible, turning to bloodbaths akin to Gallipoli.  The British Navy was stretched thinly, allowing a good deal of food and materiel to be smuggled between Central nations, relieving much of the tension of the Turnip Winter of 1916-17 from Germany.  America came into the war April 6, 1917, and Greece eventually declared war, following the actions of the other Central Powers.  By this time, most populations had become disgusted with the war.  France had faced mutinies among its soldiers with more than 20,000 soldiers court-martialed.  Emperor Charles I of Austria had attempted to sue for peace through secret negotiations shortly before the fall of Russia, causing a diplomatic catastrophe among the Central Powers.

In 1918, the Allies launched aggressive advances along their remaining fronts in France and the Jordan Valley.  The Ottoman Empire was clearly crumbling, though the Balkans held in the midst of blockade.  In the West, however, German offenses had run out of steam, and Allied counteroffensives pushed back with such force that the end seemed near.  Still, they held Eastern Europe, and the decision was made to push through another winter after the Americans had rejected suggestions of an armistice.  The Germans were pushed back through Belgium in as organized of a retreat as the German High Command could muster.  At sea, convoys and submarine-hunters gradually extinguished the threat of u-boat attack.  As another campaign season approached with the spring, German Chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden finally accepted American President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the Americans led peace-talks beginning in 1920.

While French diplomats argued vindictively, Germany’s delegation stood much of their ground despite losing their overseas colonies.  Wilhelm abdicated in favor of his son, Wilhelm III, who had been noted as opposing the war.  Austria-Hungary was broken apart along with the Ottoman Empire.  The Germans led international intervention into the former Empire of Russia, breaking it asunder as well by granting independence to previous client states such as the Ukraine and stymieing attempts at domination by soviets.

For its part in the war, Greece was mildly punished with reparations that weakened its economy in the long term.  Alongside the struggling Greek economy, nationalism expanded as Greeks and Turks fled one another’s countries in a population exchange of more than two million.  Hardening conservatism battled with socialist ideals, but the King of the Hellenes has maintained a sense of stability in the nation.


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In reality, King Constantine only dismissed Venizelos.  The National Schism erupted as Entente-supporters set up a new government in the north alongside the Allied expedition on the Macedonian front.  Constantine abdicated in 1917 after threats of bombardment, and Kaiser Wilhelm announced to his soldiers, “The collapse of the Macedonian front has occurred in the midst of the hardest struggle.  In accord with our Allies I have resolved once more to offer peace to the enemy.”  The resulting Treaty of Versailles awarded Greece Smyrna in Turkey as reward for participation in the war, which ignited the Greco-Turkish War in 1919.  Humiliated by the new republic of Turkey, Greece dethroned its king and collapsed into near-anarchy with 23 changes of government from 1924 to ’35.  After royal restoration and being an integral Ally in World War II, Greece again fell into chaos during the Cold War as nationalists and communists fought in the Greek Civil War.  A new republic in 1975 turned to quasi-socialism, joining the EU in 1981 and receiving massive investment, though inability to repay loans sparked a debt crisis in 2009.

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 11, 1184 BC – Trojans Discover Achaean Ruse


Ten years of siege and warfare ended suddenly when the Greeks of Achaea left the shores of Troy.  They had arrived under King Agamemnon of Mycenae, the greatest Greek city-state, after Prince Paris of Troy had abducted Queen Helen of Sparta.  Agamemnon, whose family had been cursed with ill-fortune despite its might due to the sins of his ancestor Tantalus, and his brother Menelaus had spent much of their youth in exile in the house of Spartan King Tyndareus, whose daughter Clytemnestra married Agamemnon.  The question of a spouse for Helen, however, caused stir all over Greece as she was the daughter of Zeus by Queen Leda of Sparta, whom he had seduced in the form of a swan.  Her divine beauty drew in dozens of royal suitors from as far away as Crete and Ithaca.  The Ithacan Prince Odysseus brought no gifts but an offering to solve the matter, which had confounded Tyndareus as he was afraid any choice would cause a war.  All the suitors were required to take an oath to defend the winner of Helen’s hand, thus ending any chance of a violent quarrel.  When the oaths were confirmed by the sacrifice of a horse, Tyndareus chose Menelaus, who had not attended and sent his brother Agamemnon in his place, to marry Helen.

Years passed quietly until Paris of Troy arrived after having served as judge in a beauty contest for Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, choosing the last because of her bribe to award him the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, Helen.  Despite her husband and daughter, Hermione, Helen fell in love with the prince and left.  When the betrayal was discovered, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon called upon all of the suitors to fulfill their oaths and declare war upon Troy.  Many of the Greeks, now kings, were uneasy about the expedition, but honor forced them to comply.  Odysseus feigned madness for a short while to avoid the war before finally complying.  Even Achilles, who had been hidden by his nymph mother Thetis in the disguise of a young girl, drew up arms when he was discovered by Odysseus.  The Greeks assembled a fleet of a thousand ships and, after offending and finally appeasing the goddess Artemis, launched their long assault against Troy’s strong walls with an estimated 100,000 men.

Battles in outlying cities and islands raged for nine years without achieving more than a siege of Troy.  Infighting grew up, such as Odysseus planting a bribe from King Priam of Troy on Palamedes that resulted in the Greeks stoning Palamedes for treason and later refusing justice to his father Nauplius for the good of the war effort.  Later, a mutiny arose, but it was put down by strong words from Achilles.  Soon after, Achilles himself decided to quit the war when Agamemnon took his concubine, coming back only when his cousin Patroclus was killed by the Trojan crown prince, Hector.  Achilles killed Hector, returned his body to Priam, and was killed by an arrow from Paris after falling in love with a Trojan princess.  Odysseus and Ajax of Salamis bickered over Achilles’ armor, and Ajax, arguably the second-greatest Greek general, killed himself upon losing.  Odysseus recovered the wounded Philoctetes, who used Heracles’ bow to shoot Paris, which caused Helen to switch loyalties out of homesickness.  After his death, the Trojan princes fought over Helen’s hand, and eventually Deiphobus won out, driving his brother Helenus into exile, where he was caught by Odysseus and interrogated for the prophecies needed to be fulfilled to destroy Troy.

After meeting the requirements, Odysseus launched a scheme in which the Greek fleet would retreat as if in defeat.  They left behind a giant horse statue made of wood as a sacrifice to ensure safe travel home and Sinon, who would pretend to be a Greek deserter trick the Trojans into bringing the horse inside the city.  A festival began around the horse, though some Trojans such as Laocoön, priest of Neptune, were suspicious.  He cried out,
“O wretched countrymen! what fury reigns?
What more than madness has possess'd your brains?
Think you the Grecians from your coasts are gone?
And are Ulysses' arts no better known?”

Laocoön threw his spear into the side of the statue, which proved to be hollow as he suggested, and struck someone inside.  Initially, the Trojans (“fated to be blind”) ignored the cries inside as wood settling and turned their attention to Sinon, who painted a picture of immortality for Troy if they brought the horse inside the city walls.  However, as Laocoön prepared to give in to the crowd and sacrifice a bull in thanks, he discovered blood dripping from the spear-wound.  At last the Trojans realized the ruse, and, after defeating sea serpents sent by Athena out of vengeance, brought the horse inside, where they surrounded it with soldiers and burned it.  Inside the horse were the thirty best warriors of the Greeks, including kings Diomedes of Argos, Ajax of Locris, Menelaus of Sparta, Menestheus of Athens, and Odysseus himself.  The resulting massacre wiped out a generation of Greek leadership, leaving only a few to trickle back to their homes in Greece, which turned into civil war as the people sought vengeance on Agamemnon and the survivors.

With order restored, the Trojans began rebuilding their empire with the aid of their allies from the war such as the Amazons of Asia and assuming control of lands conquered en route to Troy by Memnon of Ethiopia, Priam’s stepbrother.  Upon Priam’s death, cunning Deiphobus became king and launched an invasion of Greece that devastated the land and pushed Greek survivors into the western Mediterranean.  The Trojans came into contest with the Phoenicians, conquering their principal city of Tyre with the aid of the Hebrew warrior-king David and sending more refugees toward Dido’s kingdom of Carthage.  In the 800s BC, Trojan imperial power was broken by Assyrians, and the city became a smaller kingdom dominating the Hellespont, often at war with the nearby Greek city-states.  After the overthrow of the Babylonians by the Medes and Persians, Cyrus and Darius invaded Asia Minor, overwhelming Troy and marching on the European nations of Macedon and Scythia.  The Greeks rejoiced at seeing their old enemy Troy finally subservient and gladly established relations with the Persian Empire.  Using Greek support, the Persians were able to solidify their control over the Macedonians and Thracians of the western Black Sea.  Meanwhile, the seafaring Greeks spent centuries fighting with the Carthaginians over domination of the Mediterranean, eventually falling as Carthaginian unity overwhelmed haphazard Greek alliances.  Carthaginians continued expansion northward to the British Isles and southward to Africa until they, too, fell under conquests by Goths, who were in turn conquered by Vikings.  Through it all, the Eternal City of Troy has stood, most lately as the capital of the Great Turkish Empire.


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In reality, according to Virgil’s Aeneid, Laocoön’s spear did not strike anyone.  The Trojans brought the statue into the city, and Odysseus and his men sneaked out that night to open the gates to the Greek army, which had returned secretly.  Troy fell on a date calculated by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, though much of the fortune gained by the Greeks would be lost as gods continued to curse them.  Trojan survivors led by Aeneas were believed to have contributed to the founding of Rome, while the Greeks became a major world power.  They conquered the Persians through Alexander the Great, resulting in the Hellenization of the Middle East, and were conquered themselves by Rome, who adopted much of their civilization.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 9, 721 – Umayyads take Toulouse


Following the defeat of King Roderic of the Visigoths in 712, the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate had poured into Hispania and begun to threaten expansion into Europe.  From the new province of Al-Andalus, the Muslims began preparations to launch conquest of the land to the northeast, Aquitaine.  A former vassal state of under the Franks, Aquitaine was ruled by Duke Odo from its most powerful city, Toulouse.  Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani amassed an army in Andalus and marched in 721 to besiege Toulouse.  Odo escaped ahead the Muslim army and went into the kingdom of the Franks, asking for help from Charles Martel, the Mayor of the Palace and effective ruler for the Merovingian king Theoderic IV.  Martel chose to wait before offering Frankish military support, which was tied up in war with the Saxons.

Odo returned to Toulouse with what army he could muster.  The city’s walls had remained impregnable, but supplies had run so low that leaders were preparing to surrender.  While seeing Duke Odo flee and managing an easy siege tempted the army to become soft, Al-Samh determined to keep his scouting parties sharp.  They spotted Odo’s army as it approached, and the besieging army raced to change ranks for a battle.  Odo attempted to envelop his enemy, but the Muslims stood, and the Christian army crumbled.  As Odo’s retreat began, the Muslims returned to besiege the city, prompting Toulouse to fall.  Al-Samh installed a guard and took up pursuit of Odo, who led him into Frankish lands after another defeat in Poitiers.  Martel balked and tried to disengage his armies from the Saxons, but the result only weakened his hold on Bavaria.  Al-Samh continued to march until he caught up with Odo, destroying him in the battle of Tours.  Keeping up the military momentum, Al-Samh marched on Orleans, where he met and defeated Charles Martel, and soon took Paris.

Having conquered the Franks, Al-Samh fell to stabilizing his political control.  He allowed the German dependencies greater self-rule while encouraging them to join Islam, which many of the surviving upper class of Western Europe did.  Marginal religious tolerance kept the kingdom from revolting, though Rome lost significant power without the Frankish support.  As Muslim raids intensified in Italy, Pope Gregory II was forced to capitulate to Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian’s iconoclasm, which had prompted violent revolts.  The Muslims battled the Byzantines for decades over the Italian peninsula before finally adding it to the Caliphate.  After 800, the Byzantines were a limited power in Europe, gradually declining until it fell to the Seljuq Empire of the Sunni Muslims in 1095.

Meanwhile, the Western Muslims faced incursion by the Magyar, who had migrated out of Central Asia, and the Vikings of the North.  Both groups would eventually be converted to Islam, which became the dominant religion in Europe with a minority of Christians and Jews.  Mongol invasions threatened Europe centuries later, but they would eventually be rebuffed, and order restored.  The major east-west trade routes of the world kept major historical focus on sea travel through the Mediterranean and the land route known as the Great Silk Road.  Trade also brought the Black Death in the 1300s, which left to a surplus of tradable goods for the rebuilding of world population.  Islamic merchant ships explored southwest of Asia, coming into contact with Aborigines and Polynesians, who expanded trade knowledge through the Pacific Ocean.

Eventually, explorers reached the New World by island-hopping to the west coast of the New World, coming first into contact with the expansive Incan Empire.  Later exploration across the Atlantic outlined the East Coast, though it would be centuries before explorers had charted the mysterious interior.  Islam spread among the new nations as lands were gradually conquered, empires fell, and new ones arose.  Coal as an energy source made European states particularly powerful until petroleum showed more promise, which restored world economic attention to the Middle East in addition to the religious qibla toward Mecca during salah.


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In reality, the army under Al-Samh had let down its defenses, and Odo destroyed the Muslim army with an encircling maneuver.  A new army marched on Aquitaine in 732 under Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and proved unstoppable until defeated by Charles Martel between Tours and Poitiers.  Martel had dedicated the years after Toulouse assembling a massive fulltime army, building the foundations for Feudalism as he worked to feed his creation and exercising temporal power as he seized church property to fund it.  His son Pepin overthrew the Merovingian king with the Pope’s approval, and his grandson Charlemagne established a massive empire in Western Europe.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8, 1042 – Harthacnut Avoids “Poisoning”


As the Age of Vikings continued in Europe, Cnut the Great carved out a powerful North Sea Empire, ruling over Denmark, Norway, and England, as well as some territory in Sweden, by his death in 1035.  Due to the vast size of his realm, he could not control it directly and instead depended upon a series of councils and princes to rule in his stead.  In Norway, he installed his son Svein as king with his first wife Aelfgifu of Northampton as regent.  Their rule proved oppressive with heavy taxes, and the Norwegians rebelled, replacing him with Magnus the Good, illegitimate son of Olaf, the king Cnut had defeated.

Shortly before, Cnut placed Harthacnut, his son by his second wife, Emma of Normandy, on the throne of Denmark to maintain rule there.  Cnut used his brother-in-law Ulf as an advisor, until Ulf proved untrustworthy by giving too much credence to Harthacnut and refusing to deal with attacks until Cnut arrived with aid.  Cnut ordered Ulf executed but forgave his son as being too young to know better.  Just as Svein arrived in Denmark fleeing from Norway in 1035, the half-brothers were notified that Cnut had died, and Harthacnut was now King of England as well as Denmark.  The political climate changed again when Svein died the next year, canceling an invasion to overthrow Magnus.  Instead, Harthacnut made a treaty with Magnus and sailed to claim his right in England.

England had been ruled in his stead by another half-brother, Harold Harefoot, and Harthacnut had been gone to Denmark so long that the English did not much consider him a candidate.  Harthacnut’s mother Emma held Wessex for him before fleeing across the Channel to Bruges, where she produced the propaganda work Enconium Emmae Reginae (“Praise of Queen Emma”) and detailed the horrors Harold had performed, such as killing Alfred, her son by her first husband.  Harthacnut found his mother in Bruges, learned Harold was dying of natural causes, and waited to take the kingdom without force.  He arrived with an army anyway and installed heavy taxes to double England’s flotilla to 32 ships and maintain order in his empire.  The taxes coincided with crop failure and provoked riots among the English poor that Harthacnut put down by force.  Earls did not trust him, especially after Earl Eadwulf of Bernicia was given an oath of protection by Harthacnut but killed by Siward, Earl of Northumbria, who gained his lands while Harthacnut earned the epithet “oath-breaker.”  He was also notorious for his appetite (rumors stated he had the royal tables laid for two lunches and two dinners daily) but noted for his generosity to the Church.

While attending a wedding at Lambeth, Harthacnut collapsed after drinking many toasts to the couple’s good health.  Modern scholars believe he might have had a mild heart attack or stroke due to lifelong illness aggravated by mass consumption of alcohol, but common sense of the age determined it to be poisoning.  Upon his recovery, Harthacnut was suspicious of his half-brother Edward, son to Emma by her first husband Aethelred.  Edward, born in Oxfordshire, had served as co-ruler in England and was much more welcomed by the nobility than newcomer Harthacnut.  Over the protests, Harthacnut banished both Edward and their mother to Normandy.

To ensure his power in England, he married Edith, daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, in 1045.  The couple produced an heir, Harold, in 1047, the same year Magnus of Norway’s uncle Harald Hardrada returned from exile and demanded the throne.  Harald had become a wealthy mercenary in Constantinople, and Magnus’ councilmen recommended offering co-rulership rather than risking civil war.  Harald accepted.  This move, however, called into question Harthacnut’s treaty in which his heir would assume rule of Norway if Magnus had none.  Harthacnut determined to invade Norway in 1055 to secure it as a kingdom for his son.

The invasion proved disastrous, and Harthacnut died after a short illness.  Magnus counter-invaded, chasing Harthacnut’s steward Svein II out of Denmark and then marching on England.  The English rose up against him, and a long campaign finally defeated the Anglo-Saxon resistance.  Having remade Cnut’s North Sea Empire, Magnus and Harald worked to appease the English and solidify their rule, continuing the late Viking influence in Britain for another two centuries.  Militarily, Norway was occupied in conquest of Sweden, Scotland, and Ireland.

The North Sea Empire was a crucial realm of Christendom, nearly balancing the powerful Holy Roman Empire to the south.  They contributed much to the Crusades in Northern Europe and expanded rule to Iceland in 1220.  As the European climate cooled approximately 1300, crops began to decrease, and Norwegian power waned.  The Reformation in Britain broke the North Sea Empire with rebellions fueled by religion and guided by new ideas of liberty.  Constitutional rule, which had long been accepted in England as matter-of-fact with rulers responsible to their advisors, trickled back to Norway and brought about an end to absolute rule there.  As the seventeenth and eighteen centuries went on, a series of republics borrowing much from the Venetian and Dutch models were set up among the North Sea nations.  While often economically significant, the northern republics never matched the historical clout of grand empires like Spain and France.


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In reality, Harthacnut died at the wedding.  Magnus attempted to claim Harthacnut’s realm, but died suddenly (most likely from accident or illness) while campaigning in Denmark.  England passed to Edward, who became known as “the Confessor” and had no heirs with his wife Edith of Wessex due to his decision for celibacy according to medieval historians.  Upon Edward’s death in 1066, a succession crisis began as the English sponsored Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold Godwinson.  Harald Hardrada invaded to affirm his claim, but Harold defeated him at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  Shortly thereafter, William the Norman, great-nephew to Emma of Normandy, invaded and slew Harold at the Battle of Hastings, beginning the Norman period of English history.

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