Monday, May 17, 2021

Guest Post: Fall of the House of Britain

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

April 10, 1918:

The abdication of King George V and the dissolution of the Royal Family was the unexpected consequence of seventeen years of missteps by the British State.

Queen Victoria had been the last of the House of Hannover. Upon her death, her son by Prince Albert became the first of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Edward VII. When he died in 1910, George V assumed the throne, one of several of the late Queen's grandsons who were the monarchs of Europe (Britain, Russia, and Germany) during the Great War. The extended family would receive much of the condemnation from a public victimized by such bloodshed, as British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously declared, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." And as events were to turn out, all three of the royal cousins lost their thrones before the end of the decade, and the outdated Class System was doomed too.

The German Army High Command took the fateful decision to name their biplane bomber fleet "Gothas" hoping that the name would add an element of terror to English citizens in their homes below. On May 25, 1917, a fleet of twenty-one Gothas each carrying thirteen bombs raided the south-east coast. "The whole street seemed to explode, with smoke and flames everywhere," one eyewitness reported. "Worst of all were the screams of the wounded." The death toll was 95 along with 260 wounded, far higher than from any German Zeppelin airship raid. Following the devastation, anything German became anathema, even the "Hannovers."

With the country in uproar, George V immediately decided to change the surname name of the royal family. This decision was lampooned in the popular press with the cartoon "Made in Germany" and had the unintended affect of emphasizing the royal family's close association with its German origins. However, in a twist of fate, it was the very next day that White Forces led by the English Ace of Spies Sidney Reilly rescued the Romanovs from imprisonment in Yekaterinburg. A British warship carried the family to the safety of Novo-Arkhangelsk, the capital of Russian America which the Tsars had almost sold to the United States forty years earlier.

The Soviet government issued a decree of peace, a decision that had been long in the making. In retaliation, Britain and France recognized the Tsar's Government-in-Exile. However, the Soviets then published a number of secret treaties struck by the Entente Powers. Most shocking of all the fact that it was actually the German Imperial Government that had secretly transported Lenin into Russia. Tragically, his train had derailed leading to his death, and the revolution had been led by Leon Trotsky, who had overthrown Kerensky's Provisional Government.

By this stage revolutionary forces were also starting to rise up in Britain, France, and Germany. A final anti-Royalist setback was to push matters over the edge. The United States government viewed the recognition of the Tsar as a contravention of the Monroe Doctrine. Due to the German policy of unrestricted warfare, President Woodrow Wilson declared war in order to protest American shipping but refused to ally the United States with the Entente Powers. There would be no shot in the arm of American troops on the Western Front.

However, the British Empire would be saved by the brilliant Australian and Canadian Generals Monash and Currie. During the Battle of the Somme, they had begun to develop the ingenious military tactic of creeping barrage in which the artillery barrage moved slowly in front of the advancing troops. This would lead to German capitulation in early 1919 and the end of the senseless slaughter, which was largely blamed on the royal houses of Europe.

Often to be seem in the uniform of the armed forces but contributing nothing, Westminster democracy simply could not survive with the Royal Family as the Head of State. A Labour government would be elected in London during the early peace-time months. Already there was talk of the British Empire being transformed into a Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile, George V and his family would be guests of their cousins in Novo-Arkhangelsk. Ironically, the Kaiser who was the most directly responsible, was living more more comfortably in exile in the Netherlands. However, he would soon be extradited to the nascent German Republic to face a trial leading to his hanging in early 1920.

Author's Note
In reality, the surnames were changed to Windsor, and Russia did sell Alaska under the Seward Purchase.

Provine's Addendum
As had been seen following the French Revolution of 1789 and the Revolutions of 1848, once the spirit had overturned one nation, momentum carried it throughout the rest of Europe. The Ottoman Empire, which had already seen a shift away from absolutism with the Young Turks revolution in 1908 and then a coup by the Committee of Union and Progress in 1913 to single-party control, became a model to avoid. It, along with the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, dissolved into numerous nation-states under dictation by the Allies.

Some nations, like Greece, shed their monarchies in rather quick legal actions, such as Constantine I being politely asked not to return to the throne after the death of Alexander. Other nations, first Italy and then Spain, fell into civil war. Even republics like France faced class violence with veterans seeking vengeance on wartime leaders they felt had ineptly led to the deaths of millions. The Scandinavian, Dutch, and Belgian monarchies lasted, though their constitutional roles were revisited and concessions made. Even large landholders gave up some of their wealth to prevent losing it all.

With all of the cries of brotherhood and equality, new issues soon arose around the concept of empire. Nation-states had been fashioned out of much of eastern Europe, but other states did not want to give up control of other nations under their power. Although having no royalty for decades, the French Republic still ruled vast territories in Africa and Asia and sought more, as seen in the Sykes-Picot Agreement dividing the Middle East into French and British spheres of influence rather than the promised Arab state. The Soviet Union had recognized Finnish independence, but, seeing the war the between the Whites and Reds, determined to become involved despite ongoing troubles with Poland. The death of Josef Stalin during one bungled altercation proved that it would be a long time before Europe, and the world, really saw peace.

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