- The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own Size
- The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
- The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 3: If You Can’t Beat Them…
- The World That May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play – Part 4: The Death and Rebirth of the British Empire
- The World That May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play – Part 5 (FINAL): Bend with the Wind
If you walk around London today, you will still find monuments to the war heroes of the 18th century, and cross streets named after the ministers who led Britain to victory over France and Portugal and the Dutch. But from a modern perspective, what stands out is how much blood was shed for so little effect. When the century opened, Britain, France, Portugal and Spain were the foremost powers of western Europe; and a hundred years later that had not changed. The true change of the period occurred inside borders, not between them.
In popular imagination, the uprising of 1758 was a blow for the common man against aristocratic tyranny; its doomed participants – overrun by royal soldiers within months – remembered as tragic heroes. What pamphleteers, playwrights, and movie directors overlook is that the rebels themselves came from the elite: if they cared about the common man, their writings hide it well. But even in defeat, the rebels achieved part of their aims: soon afterwards, the shaken king agreed to boost Parliament’s power at the expense of his own.
(While constitutional monarchies confer a nice benefit to national prestige, my main motivation was roleplay: I wanted an enlightened, liberal government!)
A generation later, the British government was to repeat this conciliatory approach across the Atlantic. Over the century, European settlers in the Americas had grown stroppier with their respective motherlands; a chunk of Spanish North America had even broken away to form the independent kingdom of Louisiana. While the British settlers in North America stayed loyal, it was a very near-run thing; London had repeatedly backed down over trade policy under threat of revolt, and the underlying issues festered. Either the two sides would agree on the colonists’ place within the British empire, or else they must eventually come to blows. In 1785, they opted for the former. Practically the day after winning the war against the Portuguese, French, and Dutch, London combined her North American colonies into a single, self-governing dominion:
Elsewhere, solutions tended to be more violent. In the Americas, two other sovereign states were born out of successful rebellions – Paraguay (formerly French) and Haiti (formerly Portuguese) – but these were small and scattered. In Europe itself, monarchy retained its grip: Portuguese republicans rose up after their country’s defeat by Britain, only to be crushed by Spanish troops.
As 1820 drew to a close, it seemed as though the genies of republicanism and colonial nationalism had been stuffed back inside the bottle. Europe’s statesmen expected the next century to look much like the last: one where wars would be won by musketeers and tall sailing ships; one where aloof monarchs ruled over masses of farmers. By these criteria, Great Britain was just one of several European powers; foremost on the sea, perhaps, but neither the most capable on land nor the territorially largest.
What the statesmen could not imagine was that human society was about to undergo its greatest change in thousands of years.
The 19th century would be one of steam and steel, ideologies and nation-states. In this new age, Britain’s final and most essential strengths would be her technological prowess, her wealthy populace, and her political reforms. These were the handiwork of ordinary folk: sailors and scientists, craftsmen and revolutionaries. We are the children of these unsung heroes; and we are all the richer because they found their voice.
EDIT: Postscript – The World in 1821
(“Strategos’ Risk” points out in the comments thread that I didn’t add screenshots of the final situation, so here you go! I’ve started with an overview of the world:)
(In Europe, Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, and Russia pretty much finished at their historical borders. Nations doing ahistorically well include Lithuania, which became a Lucky Nation, and Denmark. The second screenshot shows Britain’s vassals, which I carved out of the Netherlands and France.)
(North America is dominated by two main blocs: Britain and her vassals, and Portugal/Spain. South America is dominated by France and Spain.)
(The situation in Africa. Europeans control most of the coastline, with the notable exception of East Africa:)
(In India, the Vijayanagar Empire – which once ran as far west as Persia – has finally crumbled, while in China, the Ming successor state of Shun is under attack from several quarters.)
(The British presence in the Asia Pacific is limited to several key outposts scattered around the Indian Ocean, plus Taiwan. I suspect the 1.2 patch would have required me to conquer more.)
(Lastly, the Religions map offers a useful way to chart the movement of various cultures around the world. Note that Portugal is Protestant – I force-converted them after beating them during the late 1700s!)
(And that’s it. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you had fun!)
This Let’s Play is based on a copy supplied by publisher Paradox Interactive.