THE REIGN OF GEORGE VI 1900-1925
This little oddity, written in 1763, can be called a "paleo-future": it is now available online at [link]
In it, the author predicts the glorious reign of George VI and his conquest of France in a world which is essentially 1763 only bigger and better, with no hint of an industrial revolution and a still loyal (and rather underpopulated) British North America....so, scenario.
It is 1936. About a decade has passed since the great and glorious George VI died of an obstruction of the bowels, leaving the British Empire stronger and larger than ever before, but rather overextended. Alas, his son, George VII, although hardworking and well-intentioned, is no genius, and prone to favorites: and things have spun rather rapidly out of control.
It is a world where things have remained essentially stuck in the 18th century, with events diverging sharply from OTL after 1763 in Britain, and perhaps earlier elsewhere. The Industrial Revolution failed to take off: James Watt perished in a dreadful kettle-related accident in 1764, weavers were protected from automated looms by a government concerned about social harmony, and much scientific thought was diverted into sophistical “what is knowledge” and “what is the fundamental basis of the universe” thinking of an unproductive sort. The Scottish Enlightenment was stunted.
The US revolution was averted by some divide and conquer methods combined with the carrot of some timely reforms, and George III avoided insanity, leaving a strengthened monarchy. French revolutionaries ended dangling from ropes, and barely the faintest breeze of liberalization reached the fortified heart of Mother Russia. Various wars and border changes followed, but the tenor of the world remained the same.
The British Empire is still the world’s greatest, and its rule over India remains secure thanks to the rather limited flow of democratic ideas that have reached Bombay and Calcutta: the various reform movements speak of Indians gaining the rights of Englishmen, but given how few people can vote in either Britain or the colonies, that’s not much. Outright “out of India” movements tend to rally under religious banners which even the local elites recognize as regressive. Indian home industries still prosper under a free-trade regime, safe from being undersold by British mass-produced factory goods. India and vast areas of SE Asia, along with the former Dutch East Indies, are still overall run by the East India Company, whose power has grown so great some refer to it as the “third branch of government” aside from King and Parliament.
Meanwhile, American colonies quarrel among themselves like crabs in a bucket, and as they have grown in numbers, the odds of an all-America political movement dwindle: they have (limited) representation in the British parliament nowadays, and general prosperity soothes most locals. The notion of shaking off British rule in recent years has begun to shift to a conviction that the Imperial government must one day shift its center to the American continent, as the population of North America catches up with and surpasses that of the home country.
(As of 1935, the population of British America north of the Caribbean and Mexico came to 33 millions, not counting Indian nations, while Britain and Ireland combined came to some 35 millions, having long since outgrown their food supply and requiring steady imports from American farms: surplus mouths either moved to America or to the East Indian territories, where an increasingly powerful mixed Anglo-Indian caste numbered over twelve million by this point).
Britain is still a very elitist nation, dominated by nobles and big non-noble landowners with some merchants in the mix, and government ministries are full of quarreling Dukes. Indeed, democracy has to some extent declined since 1763, with the monarchy increasingly pushing around its ministers, and George VI arranging a veritable coup d’etat against his rivals in the government. Parliamentary supremacy is in very poor shape, and the very symbol of monarchist ambition is the “Super Versailles” built in the Midlands, the planned city of Stanley, where the entire government was removed from the reeks of London.
London, even without industrialization, has grown to over two million, and burns a lot of coal, brought by canal barge: it is awesomely filthy and overflowing with grimy fake-classical buildings. (After various experiments in Neo-Renaissance and Mathematically Rationalized architecture, Neo-Classical came back with a vengeance in the 20th century, and in 1936 is only now running out of steam: Stanley is a fright of enormous domes, columns, pediments, arches, etc. )
Besides being more heavily populated than 1763, Britain also has a much denser network of well-paved roads and deep canals: horse-drawn carriages balanced on ingenious contrivances of springs to minimize jolting and barges driven by wind and animal power carry huge amounts of human and material traffic. Semaphore towers allow for rapid communications in the absence of telegraphs or radio. The institutions for higher education have been greatly expanded, although perhaps with an excessive emphasis on the arts rather than practical knowledge. Roman-style central heating has been reinvented, and the comfy chair has been introduced, both much to the disdain of moralists. The land is intensively cultivated, and the colder north is dotted with huge greenhouses.
Hanover is no longer united with Britain, but part of the Holy Roman Empire, due to some complex dynastic maneuverings, a vitally important temporary alliance with Prussia, and the need to get a complete ass out of Britain and out of the line of succession.
Slavery still exists in this world, although rather more heavily regulated and with stronger rights for slaves than OTL 1763. Abolitionist movements have bubbled up from time to time, but with all the island of the Caribbean and the US south within the Empire, and no machinery to substitute for slave labor, there has always been far too much money at stake for them to succeed. Slave labor also remains important in the Spanish Empire, while half of all Russian subjects are still under various forms of serfdom. Progressive German rulers have eliminated slavery (if not serfdom) from the Holy Roman Empire, although British slave owners snidely note that with virtually no overseas possessions, it’s not like the Germans have much use for them. British slave traders are also regulated, and the conditions on ships returning from Africa are not much worse than, say, immigrant ships carrying Irish passengers to America (only moderately lethal, in other words). Things remain ghastly on Italian, Venetian, Ottoman and Spanish slave ships. By and large, slavery is so normal and accepted a part of things that one could, say, write a history of George VI without once mentioning the institution.
If slavery is not as bad as it used to be in the Americas (Brazilian slaves now actually are self-reproducing, reducing the need for imports) a continued African slave trade has been very bad for large parts of Africa, huge areas having been almost depopulated of human beings, and state building of a particularly brutal and Darwinian sort is on-going. A bit of a slave shortage is arriving in East Africa as the only states left have embraced Islam and loads of trade guns, making further extraction by the Zanzibaris difficult: Christian local proxies from the west, Swahili Muslims from the east, look to the upper Congo basin, as the last relatively unexploited area with feeble inhabitants beckons. In the south, the Dutch cape colony has recently come into a fabulous fortune in gold and diamonds, and is Britain’s newest bestest friend. The Afro-Dutch (there was no British occupation and no Boertrek in this world) are a little uncomfortable with this, wondering how tight the British embrace may become.
Russia is a centralized absolutism, probably a more tightly run ship (certainly with rather fewer revolutionaries) than late Czarist Russia OTL. Due to a lack of railways power projection remains weak in the east, so Russia’s attention remains focused nearer to home than China or Korea. Russia’s push west, in which it took advantage of an era of British weakness to glom Scandinavia, has temporarily paused. It is currently looking south, and its victories over the Ottomans have been a soothing balm to the hurt of defeat at British hands.
The Ottomans, which managed to put up a better defense against the Russians in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries, (the Crimea wasn’t lost until the late 19th century) and were spared the rise of ethnic nationalism, are struggling to adjust to the highly efficient and organized new Russian armies, and there is considerable argument as to whether Wallachia and Moldova will be more easily held if absorbed directly into the empire or given greater autonomy in expectations they will fight, if not for the Sultan, but to keep from becoming another Russian province.
China, whose scholar-bureaucrats are oddly similar in their 18th-century style rationalism to those government agents fantasized by early 18th century European intellectuals , is generally run as a tighter ship than OTL Qing China, with a more extensive bureaucracy, tremendous amounts of paperwork, and lots of massive public works. Overpopulation has impoverished the country as OTL, but efficient relief work is carried out on a fine-grained level and strict government decrees limit the number of children born: a government bureau organizes large-scale child-swapping to make sure that the supply of sons is equitably shared out among the peasants. Alas, all is not well under heaven, as scholars call for revolutionary change rather than palliative methods, and ambitious officials plan to transfer millions of peasants to the relatively underpopulated regions of SE Asia. Unfortunately, there are now extensive overseas holdings by the “big-nosed sea barbarians” to the south, and their military skills, as tested in clashes in Burma, the Himalayas, and Siberia, are formidable. Fighting 18th century armies and having been rather more enthusiastic about maintaining an artillery arm than the OTL Qing post-1700, the Chinese have so far discouraged expansion into their homelands (there are treaty ports for trade, but these remain firmly under Chinese control: opium imports were stopped cold before it became a major industry) but Qing armies have proven incapable of projecting force much beyond the traditional borders. Under pressure from within and without, the ruling classes worry.
Much of Germany was unified by a dynastic union between the Hohenzollerns and the Habsburgs (the distinctly irreligious court of Prince Wilhelm didn’t give a crap about their monarch converting to Catholicism, and his Protestant subjects knew better than to make wiseass comments), but the electors of the HRE (Bavarians, Saxons, etc.) remained largely independent up until the 1920s, while pressures from French and Russians concerned re the balance of power led to Hungary being spun off as an electorate within the HRE under a subordinate branch of the royal family. (The Kaiser moves often between the “summer capital” of Berlin and the “winter capital” of Vienna. Or is it the other way around?) Only after receiving some humiliating defeats from the Russian-French combination and seeing their bacon saved by British armies, and the ascension to the throne of an energetic new monarchy has it been possible to cajole and bully the major princes and dukes and such into accepting a new centralization of the HRE, a work still in progress.
The Spanish Empire is highly authoritarian and even more conservative than the Russians: having managed to crush the local nobility when it revolted in the 19th century against centralization from Madrid, the omnipresent secret police snuff out even the smallest spark of unconventional thinking, although a vigorous growth of internal trade aided by improvements in transportation have increased the prosperity of the Empire substantially in the last century and a half. The British conquest of Mexico has had the benefit of rallying frightened South American viceroyalties to the homeland, even if it was a terrible blow to the empire’s prestige. The King is a bit uncertain about the Mexican revolt: it’s good that his former subjects are being a pain to the Brits, but he wants to know: are they revolting for him or for themselves? An unruly Mexico under British rule may be a better thing than an independent Mexico that doesn’t want to be ruled from Madrid either…
Australia has been left to the Spanish: America remained the preferred place to dump criminals (as indentured servants) well into the 19th century, when transportation for crime went out of fashion. The dry, mostly desert continent and its very primitive inhabitants simply struck the British as not worth the effort to colonize. There will be many a “D’OH!” when the Spanish discover the gold.
Italy was united not by the Sardinian/Piedmontese monarchy (crushed and conquered by the French in the early 19th century), but by the most progressive (in modern times) branches of the Bourbon family, the Neapolitans. Italy is perhaps the most liberal and least oppressive of the major European states, and Naples rivals Paris for size. They were rather alienated by the distinctly uncooperative attitude of their French cousins during their period of expansion, and their outright support for the continued existence of Venice led to a sharp break: now that the British are too tied up with fighting a French revolt, and the French too busy revolting, to interfere, the King has declared “the final unification of Italy” to be under way, and has invaded the Kingdom of Venice, which has somewhat messed up expectations by putting up quite a fight. The Germans are, meanwhile, mulling over whether or not they want to have a common border with Neapolitan Italy.
Rationalism remains the golden rule, although often abused in the pursuit of some prejudice or other: most elites subscribe to rationalist ideas, with reactionary Spain being something of an exception, not cottoning to the frequent Deism or Pantheism or even Agnosticism among foreigners. (The Tsars run the Orthodox church, but are highly suspicious of religious "enthusiasm"). The 19th century has been a less religious one than OTL for the Anglosphere in particular: although the American colonies are more religious than the British Isles, religious revivalism in America has been hampered by the heavy state support for Anglicanism, while the need for religious revival to pacify the horribly exploited lower classes never was as pressing in a Britain where industrialization, let alone its dark satanic mills era, never took place. There never was a Romantic movement, and mountains are mostly unproductive obstacles rather than sources of Awe. Scientific Racism” is still a young and tender shoot, and while most agree black people are probably inferior, there is less certainty about Asians and Middle Easterners in a world where the Chinese and the Ottomans still loom formidable: the general notion is still that people are pretty much the same everywhere and the main problem is that foreigners suffer from the disadvantage of not being born and raised in England/France/Germany. Art remains rather formal, and some daring Russian artists are just starting to dabble with what might be described as “expressionism.”
As mentioned before, the British are overextended. The suddenness of their defeat stunned the French for a while, and the generous and liberal hand of the conqueror helped pacify resistance, but the increasingly obvious British view that France would be better off the more Anglicized it was – including, horrors, the food - the efforts to replace Catholicism with Anglicanism, the takeover of the French economy by great British firms and enterprises, all brought French resentment to the boiling point: with a new King enthroned in London, a king rather uninterested in visiting his new European possession and happy enough to hand over most decision-making re the governing of France to various corrupt cronies, things reached a boiling point.
The French Revolt is widespread and reaches most classes, and the Popular Army, which strkes and then hides amongst the people, usually lead the British to throw fits and then massacre “communities in a state of rebel sympathy”, which in turn leads to French popular rage. Currently, British politics are deadlocked between the “grind them into submission” groups and the “make some sort of deal” groups. Things have not been helped by the breakout of a second rebellion in recently conquered Mexico, where British rule, often supplemented with rude colonial forces, was rather less closely supervised by the magnanimous George.
(The Spanish and Russians watch with Schadenfreude: the Germans, with a certain secret gladness, since many in Germany think that a Britain that could successfully absorb France and the Low Counties might start eyeing them next.)
Meanwhile, the lower nobility and middle class, noting the seeming weakness and incapability of the current monarchy (in truth facing challenges probably beyond the scope of most monarchs) are pushing for parliamentary reforms and curbs on overweening monarchical powers, a return to genuine Parliamentary supremacy. (They’re not talking about returning to London yet: Stanley really is nicer than London).
Although science has gone and got itself a bit tangled up, it has not stopped. That the earth is very, very old is increasingly generally accepted, and the notion that lifeforms have changed over time has become well known enough to inspire various competing theories: only lately have the Rational Materialists and their theory of Survival of the Most Fortunate (which disturbs the preaching classes) come to dominate the argument over the various proponents of vital forces and Divine manipulation. Telescopes and microscopes have substantially improved since 1763, and the asteroids mapped out in some detail. There is a theory of electricity and some are fiddling with ways to send signals along a lengthy wire. The germ theory of disease has finally triumphed over theories re negative vital forces, solar influences, rogue body cells, toxic miasmas, and breakdowns of atomic bonds: new sanitary procedures are finally beginning to cut into the dreadful child death rates (the building of the first large-scale urban sewers since Rome fell has helped, too).
Technology advances. Some quite sophisticated clockwork automata amuse the populace, and balloon races are popular. And the steam engine, long used for various toys and amusements (fairground calliopes, for instance), is being recently put to more practical purposes. Every now and then over the decades someone came up with a design for a steam-powered horseless carriage or flying machine, only to stumble over matters of practicality. But an American engineer has built a steam-powered boat which has gone quite a way up the Mississippi. In the great mining and manufacturing center of the Urals, owners of workshops terribly short of skilled labor have started to use steam-powered, automated machinery created by engineers from the St. Petersburg Royal Institute of Engineers. And in Germany, the Kaiser has decreed the creation of an “iron road” that will allow quick transport of men and materials by steam-powered “horseless carriages” from central Germany to the Russian border. Most foreign observers, so far, laugh at King Frederick’s Folly…
 Much more restrictions on immigration, especially of Catholics (and with only sailing ships it was harder to get there in the first place) combined with a westwards expansion rather slowed by government policy and lower birth rates without the development of modern medicine and the wealth produced by the industrial revolution: still probably far too low, but the book had only 11 million Americans around 1922…
 The book was written well before Macartney’s embassy to China; the lack of mention of China in the discussion of colonial possessions leads me to think that China is assumed to be a fairly formidable empire, unlikely to fall into warlordism as a result of European prodding.