Thursday, March 30, 2023

Guest Post: The marriage of Ranavalona I to Said bin Sultan

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

December 1833

The Mad Queen of Madagascar Ranavalona accepted the marriage offer of the Lion of Oman, Said bin Sultan, crowning an alliance between their two realms.

Ranavalona had inherited control over the rapidly expanding Merina Kingdom in  Madagascar from her cousin and husband Radama I. Radama had conquered large areas of the lowlands with an army of serfs and had banned the slave trade in order to win an alliance with the British Empire. However, by the time of Radama's death in 1828, losses due to malaria and enemy action were severely costing his armies, and the riches that could be obtained by looting were far less than had been counted on. Ranavalona's rule was a slowdown in expansion, stopping short of unifying the entire island while building up her standing army to the huge size of 30,000 men, all armed with homemade firearms. Ranavalona oversaw the pacification of these newly conquered lands, which led to huge loss of life. The Merina occupation forces would accuse prominent and suspected rebels of casting harmful spells on the occupiers and then force them into taking the trial by poison. Literal witch hunts became prominent as a way of removing powerful men without the need for evidence.

Ranavalona was also far less powerful than Radama, with a circle of noble advisers having increasing influence, and she came to regret her partnership with the UK, which had failed to benefit her economically as the British emphasis on free trade meant that their traders weren’t willing to pay export taxes. It had also opened the door for British missionaries, who were openly preaching Christianity and teaching literacy rather than useful engineering skills. Further, her nobles made private deals with British traders to gain their own influence. The British presence ultimately discouraged other Europeans, such as a German attempt to bring in electricity, which London prevented.

Ranavalona wanted to escape this alliance and push towards autarchy rather than free trade, but she needed some protection. She found that in the Sultan of Oman, one of Madagascar's major trade partners, who had moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in Tanzania the previous year to centre his empire on his African holdings, where he was fighting a war in Kenya. He proposed an alliance between his state and Ranavalona, which would allow his riches and her army to combine and dominate East Africa. Tthis alliance would be marked by Ranavalona becoming one of his many wives. After some discussion, the Merina Queen accepted, changing the fate of East Africa forever.

Note: The proposal was a real one, but in reality was politely rebuffed.

Provine's Addendum

The marriage and resulting unification drawing Madagascar into the Omani Empire established a far-flung series of land-holdings across the western Indian Ocean from India, Arabia, the African continent, and Madagascar. It also brought to the forefront the complexities of empire with a populace that largely followed Ibadi Islam but also had pockets of Christianity and Hinduism as well as numerous indigenous religions, especially in Madagascar. In the years leading up to his death in 1856, Said bin Sultan worked to determine a coherent path, which proved to be economically-driven religious tolerance as he abided the different practices of Ranavalona. Rather than breaking his empire among his sons as he began to think, Said bin Sultan decided to maintain a political unity to promote wealth through trade.

The empire focused on building its navy to support trade, which simultaneously boosted the capabilities for industrialization. Iron ore was mined in Zanzibar while coal was brought from Madagascar, turning the new city built by Majid bin Said, Dar es Salaam, into one of the largest centers of industry in the world. The "floating empire" of shipping ports gained expansive inland gains as railroads were added, largely with assistance by German engineering and banks. French and British colonialists attempted to gain influence as well, but the diligence of the sultan prevented the empire from being carved up. It profited greatly as a neutral supplier in World War I, sending material to both sides until the Allied blockade forced Omani interests toward Britain and France. Following the war, the empire saw its own wave of nationalism break it into its regional pieces though attempting to maintain the strong economic bloc of the West Indian Ocean.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Guest Post: 17 December 1663 - death of Great Nzinga

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

The incomparable Southwest African ruler Great Nzinga died peacefully in her sleep. She was eighty years old and had been bedridden with a throat infection that spread to her lungs.

She was born into the royal family of Ndongo, a Mbundu kingdom in central West Africa, around 1583. Her mother was one of her father's slave wives. During her thirty-seven-year reign, she fought for the independence and stature of her kingdoms against the encroachment of the Portuguese and the rapid growth in the African slave trade. Not only would she transform the region, but she would redefine the place of women in politics in Africa and the world.

The first Europeans had arrived in Central Africa almost a century before her birth. Nicolas V issued a series of papal bulls granting Portugal the right to enslave sub-Saharan Africans in the 1450s. It granted the right to invade, plunder and "reduce their persons to perpetual slavery." This brutal treatment of "black Gentiles" was considered a natural deterrent and Christianizing influence to "barbarous" behavior among pagans. Portugal extracted slaves at a rate of 10,000 per year in 1612. Then in 1619, the first enslaved Africans to arrive in the British colony of Virginia were Ndongans onboard the White Lion. They had been kidnapped by Portuguese colonial forces, who sent captured members on a forced march to the port of Luanda. Ordered onto the ship São João Bautista, which set sail for Veracruz in the colony of New Spain, about 150 of the 350 captives aboard the ship died during the crossing. Then, as it approached its destination, the ship was attacked by two privateer ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer. Crews from the two ships kidnapped up to 60 of the Bautista's enslaved people.

At that time, the dominant central African kingdom was Kongo, and Nzingha was from the southwestern provinces of that rich civilization. She was taught to read and write Portuguese by visiting missionaries as the empire extracted slaves to work vast plantations in Brazil. Local black merchants and warriors, predominantly from the Imbangala and Mbundu tribes, supplied slaves to the Luanda and Benguela markets. They were rewarded with large profits and firearms. The extraction devastated the local population, and slaves' average life expectancy in the New World was only seven years.

Nzinga became Queen Regent after the death of her brother Mbandi. Forced out of the capital city of Kabasa, he had killed himself with poison out of despair, nominating Nzinga as his successor. The fortunes of the Ndongans only began to improve after the Dutch West India Company seized Luanda during the chaos of the Portuguese Restoration War. Through allyship with the Dutch and also the Imbangala, she was able to make military gains and establish a stronger new base in Matamba. The conquest of the neighbouring state of Kingdom of Matamba was her first step towards independence.

The unity of the Ndongans triumphed over the division of the Europeans. The Portuguese eventually returned to Luanda after the formal end of the Iberian Union. However, by then the Pope had recognized the independence of Ndongo and Matamba also Nzinga's forces were fortified with Dutch-supplied muskets and gunpowder. These forces policed the local merchants and warriors to intercept slave supply. Nzinga would then begin her real work, teaming up with the Jesuit priest and missionary Antonio Ruiz de Montoya from Paraguay in order to convince the Catholic Church to issue a Papal bull ending the African Slave Trade. Montoya had laid a complaint before Philip IV of Spain as to the Portuguese policy of sending kidnapping expeditions into the neighbouring regions of South America. He subsequently obtained from the king important exemptions, privileges, and protective measures for the reductions of Paraguay. After this success, he headed to Southwest Africa rather than return to the Americas. This new proclamation rescinded the papal bulls issued by Nicolas V and while it did not stop the Slave Trade overnight, it was certainly the beginning of the end of the African Holocaust.

Author's Note:

In reality, Portuguese authorities abolished slave trafficking in 1836. Montoya died in 1652 soon after his return to America.

It is estimated that almost 5.7 million slaves left Angola between 1501 and 1866. Angola was one of the great supplying sources from the 15th century to the mid-19th century. In the centuries since her death, Nzinga has been increasingly recognized as a major historical figure in Angola and in the wider Atlantic Creole culture. She is remembered for her intelligence, her political and diplomatic wisdom, and her military tactics.

Provine's Addendum:

The new papal bulls defended the rights of Christianized Africans and Native Americans, meaning that people could only be enslaved if not converted and must be freed upon conversion. Missionaries like Montoya worked feverishly to spread the word, and though much suspicion grew up whether conversions were genuine, the slave market collapsed as the prices for slaves skyrocketed. Nzinga, having seen slavery all her life, worked to revolutionize her own culture by ending the practice in her kingdom and uplifting the social status of women. While the Dutch were Protestants and thus as immune from papal bulls as they were Nzinga's edicts, market forces drove them out of the slavery business.

Instead, they and other European settlement strategies focused on colonization through corporations and indentured servitude for those willing to make the trans-Atlantic journey but without much capital beyond their own bodies. High-profit plantations were the gateway to colonizing the Caribbean and American South, but they proved to be their own end as servants whose contracts ended left to start their own competing farms. By the 1700s, middle-class farming outpaced the few huge plantations, which usually declined after a generation due to management. For example, George Washington left farming to focus on settlement schemes in Ohio, while the philosopher Thomas Jefferson retired to France and then London, unable to pay his debts and forfeiting his home at Monticello.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Guest Post: Later de Gaulle

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie Taylor.

11 March, 1949 - Death of President Henri Giraud

On this sad day in alternate history, French four-star general Henri Giraud died in Dijon. He was seventy years old and had been at the center of power struggles in France throughout her troubles in the twentieth century.

His lifetime of devoted national service was lit up by acts of incredible personal sacrifice and tremendous courage that included capture in both World Wars. He was leader of the Free French Forces during a remarkable period that included a great escape from a high-security POW prison and then commanded French troops in North Africa during Operation Torch. As part of a notorious Italian-style side-switching deal with the Allies, he briefly served under the de facto head of the Vichy Government and High Commissioner of France in Africa (head of civil government) for North and West Africa, Admiral Darlan, who was assassinated in Algiers only weeks later. A political opportunist, collaborator with Germany and notorious Anglophobe, it is highly doubtful that Darlan's own career would have survived Petain's repression of the Resistance movement. There was speculation that the assassin, Bonnier de la Chappelle, was acting on behalf of a monarchist group seeking to restore the Bourbon pretender.

General Eisenhower, who was the Operation's Supreme Allied Commander, famously referred to Giraud as "gallant and honest, but politically uninterested." A more complete assessment would have probably been "reluctant," and Darlan's assassination certainly changed the leadership calculations, bringing him the authority and prestige he had previously lacked. Despite Eisenhower's mischaracterization, Giraud became President of the French Committee of National Liberation (Free French Forces), Chair of the Provisional Government after VE Day, and subsequently President of the French Republic. A man who fully reconciled himself to the Western Allies defeat at the hands of the Nazis, he had the good sense to recognize the end of Europe's colonial era and accepted it. Decorated with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, both military and civil, his passing was near-universally regretted across the Free World.

Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fast approaching his own demise and knowing what was coming in Paris, said with a touch of bitterness that America had "lost a true friend." This was because Giraud's passing was noticeably ignored by his former leadership rival,the embittered governor of Madagascar, two-star general Charles de Gaulle. Of course it was only because of FDR's maneuverings that Giraud had been living in Dijon, and de Gaulle (who he considered "well-nigh intolerable") in a distant backwater of the French Union. Moreover, it was Giraud's controversial decision to abandon Indochina that widened the gulf with the so-called Gaullists. However, due to his untimely demise, he did not have sufficient time to resolve the final status of French North Africa and, most importantly of all, Algeria. Of course the irony was that his unlikely rise to power had begun with the expatriate French factions based in North Africa. De Gaulle was enraged that American-backing had enabled Giraud to gain preeminence in the power struggle for leadership of the Free French movement.

Not yet sixty years old, the ever-ambitious de Gaulle was a Republican pretender. Convinced he was the l'Homme du destin, he had every intention of making a political comeback, and of course the rapid departure of his two chief adversaries only opened the door to his eventual return. The "Darlan" deal, bombing of the French fleet by British at Mers-el-Kebir, and loss of Indochina were unhealed wounds in the traumatized French psyche that de Gaulle ripped open to seize power. Promising to restore the glory of France, his return during the Eisenhower presidency would create a gaping fracture in the Free World. Most appalling of all was his diplomatic recognition of Franco's Fascist Spain. This deep divide in the West was because of his punitive sense of antagonism towards Britain and America for initially recognizing Vichy France and later sponsoring Giraud instead of backing him during exile in London. It was a deep humiliation that would not be forgotten, let alone forgiven, resulting in a great deal of friction right up until his death in 1970. His lasting influence in the Francophone world survived his death notably with Quebec's decision to follow his advice and secede from the Confederation of Canada.

Author's Note:

In reality, outmaneuvered by de Gaulle, Giraud lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944.

Provine's Addendum:

De Gaulle's action strained relations with other members of NATO, but he was hardly shy about his feelings of French supremacy. As post-war Europe rebuilt itself, de Gaulle found a new chance for a French-led alliance through the West European Union. Born out of the Schuman Declaration that organized French and West German coal and steel production under a single authority, the union grew through economics and politics into a major power by the end of the twentieth century. Influence drew in Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, which gradually brought in more nations and formalized in 1993 to seize on the opportunity to scoop up former Soviet Bloc nations. The UK was invited to join, but resisted, creating a complex border across Ireland that nearly reignited the Troubles. Instead, NATO declined to a more English-speaking alliance as the UK and US watched to see whether France and Russia would again go to war over Eastern European territory.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Guest Post: The Norwegian Empire Collapses in 1079

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

Harold the Unlucky of England was faced with two invasions in 1066: one by William of Normandy that he defeated and the second by Harald of Norway, which defeated him. Harald of Norway well earned his epithet of 'Hard Ruler' as he was highhanded in his dealings with both the Nobles and the Church. The Catholic Church was still powerful, and Harald's anti-papal leanings squandered any possible advantage he could have gained from the Pope's dispute with Stigand and the Anglo-Saxons.

Moreover, his clemency was simply not trusted, he made nice with men only until he could defeat them and broke any deal he felt he could afford to. The result was a brutal series of rebellions and sacks. Areas of Southeast England did not recover for decades, and the English nobles were replaced with foreigners. The new jarls were largely Norwegians, but also Harald increasingly gave out English land to Welsh and Scottish under-kings, in order to tie them into his realm and break any potential ties with English rebels which was staggeringly unpopular. By the time of his death in 1075, England was simply not willing to endure another Scandinavian king.

Tostig Godwinson, the Yarl of Wessex, was the first to make his move, declaring himself king before Olaf could return from Norway, but he was too clearly associated with foreign rule to be accepted by the English rebels. Morcar, the exiled Earl of Northumbria, returned to England in order to challenge both Tostig and Olaf. Olaf landed in the Humber shortly afterwards. The Norwegian Anarchy had begun, and it would last for six more years as pretenders and invaders reduced Harald's North Sea Empire to rubble and ashes.

1079 would be the critical year.

Tostig and Morcar were both killed in 1076 and 1078 respectively, and the Danish invasion from Scania had been defeated in 1077. Dublin had been lost in 1078, and the Welsh front was going badly, but by 1079 Olaf must have seen peace, if not complete victory, as achievable. There was just the problem of Northumbria. Morcar's death at Ligeraceaster had left Edgar the Ætheling in a vulnerable position, but Northumbria remained firmly in rebellion. For Olaf to claim all of England, he needed to capture Yerk and Edgar's court.

But Edgar, unknown to the Norwegians, had made his famous devil's bargain with the Kings Harald and Malcolm of Denmark and Scotland, respectively. As Olaf approached Yerk, he found himself greeted by a united army of his enemies that far outnumbered him. In a mirror of Brunanburh, the famed founding battle of Anglo-Saxon England, the Norwegians formed into a shield wall, but the axemen of the Allied Army flanked it and broke it. The feared Norwegian army, outnumbered and tired, was routed. Crucially, Olaf himself was trampled down by a cavalry brigade and killed.

In a day, any chances of the Norwegian Empire surviving had been lost. Norway proper, having lost their king, would face two more years of anarchy as the farmers' rebellions in Norway reached a critical point while the royal family struggled to agree on the new king. The retreat of Scandinavian power from the North Atlantic in the aftermath of the Norwegian Anarchy benefited all the British kingdoms. England and the Orkneys gained full independence, the Irish Kingdoms were able to enjoy some measure of respite from foreign invasion, and Wales entered a mini golden era under Caradog ap Gruffydd and his sons. But the main benefactor was Scotland. The High Kings of Scotland extended their influence and power farther than any had before. The Kings of the Isles and Mann were firmly confirmed as under-kings and the Bretons of Strathclyde as far south as Westmorland were also brought into Scottish orbit. Moreover, Edgar's devil's bargain with King Malcolm had seen Northumbria partitioned and the old kingdom of Bernicia resurrected as a Scottish vassal.

Note: William the Conqueror had originally aimed to cross the Channel before the arrival of Harald Hardrada, but bad weather delayed him. It is more than possible for him to cross first and lose to the English, with the Norwegians taking advantage.

Provine's Addendum

Scotland's growth of influence over the coming centuries brought a new weight to the delicate balances of power in Europe. England was a constant battleground during the "Hunner Years War" over its territory between Scotland and France. As the Medieval Warm Period began to cool, Scotland faced longer winters and thicker ice in the Highlands. Many Scots migrated southward, finally affirming control of Britain by population. By the 1500s, Scottish merchants followed suit of their Spanish and Portuguese counterparts by establishing colonies overseas. At first, the Scottish Empire had only small holdings more on par with the Dutch and Swedish, but vast natural resources in Britain of coal and iron drove the Scots to become one of the great world powers following the Industrial Revolution.

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