Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Post: Catherine's Handmaiden

This TL first appeared at Today In Alternate History

Catherine of Aragon's bold leadership in the King's Great Matter during the years 1527-9 laid the groundwork for the continued existence of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, perhaps even the Catholic European Union itself that lasted into the third millennium.

Desperate for a male heir, King Henry VIII of England had set himself upon a destructive course of action that could well have torn up the British Isles. Although he had a freer hand in England, there were constraints in Ireland where his official role was Lord of Ireland, reigning only at the pleasure of the Pope. Fortuitously, the current Pope, Clement VII, had been a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, since the Sack of Rome in May 1527. And before Henry could orchestrate the Irish Parliament to declare himself King of Ireland, Catherine received word that the Pope was about to appoint Charles V as Lord of Ireland.

Under the weight of this threat, Catherine was able to secretly negotiate an agreement under which she remained Queen and her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, would become Queen's Concubine. The scheme lay on a biblical foundation with the apparently barren Rachel being granted a son by Jacob through her handmaiden:
"So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her" ~ Genesis 30:4
Spared from the pressure of giving birth in a toxic court atmosphere, Anne Boleyn eventually produced a male heir to whom the succession could be delicately steered with the official support of Rome, who had little choice under Catherine's nephew's watchful eye. Henry, wildly supportive of his Catholic benefactors, became a vehement papist, which strengthened his popularity in Ireland, which eventually named him king there as well. Henry's fanaticism is cited as one of many reasons backing the Scottish Rebellion of the late sixteenth century, however, and much of Henry IX's long reign was spent in the quelling of Protestantism among the Scots.

The United Britain served as a bastion of the Church in Europe, supplying troops and money in the Thirty Years War that tore apart Germany, and around the world, such as working to colonize North America to beat out attempted colonies by the Protestant Dutch and Swedes. As Spain and Austria declined, Britain stepped up to become a leader among the Catholic nations. Europe was again torn apart in the nineteenth century by nationalistic wars, and the Church responded as effectively as it had with the Counter-Reformation by forming a politico-economic international bond through the Catholic European Union. Generations brought new technologies that improved travel and communication, and the initially symbolic CEU gradually became a powerhouse of governance for banking, industry, and development.

One such development was the announcement by His Britannic Majesty's Government of a sixty-mile fixed rail link under the Irish sea between Dublin and Holyhead that would open before the middle of the twenty-first century. The project had been under discussion as far back as 1890, when railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey had proposed "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged 'tubular bridge' or a 'solid causeway.'" It remained a formidable engineering challenge even in the present day, particularly because the widest crossing point had been selected. The alternatives were certainly shorter in distance; however, the routes from Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim or Fishguard and Rosslare were of less strategic transporation value. Only the Dublin-to-Holyhead route could link up into a mid-country connection, tying together the two islands' central rail system and thereby running through London straight into the Catholic European Union.

Development funds from the CEU had been obtained and because the overarching goal was to bring the British Isles ever closer together, the name Blessed Queen Catherine Tunnel was eventually selected, a metaphor of the principle of indissolubility of union, even if circumstances may seem extreme.


Author's Note: After being banished from court, Catherine of Aragon lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, and died there on 7 January 1536. English people held Catherine in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning.

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