I’ve always been fascinated by European history, especially that concerning European royalty. Lately, I’ve been very into watching documentaries and shows about the various castles spread throughout Britain, and I’ve been reading a biography on Marie Antoinette, all of which has been fiercely interesting. Several times now, the thought has crossed my mind – how would things have turned out had this one thing gone differently?
Take Henry VIII for example. A volatile and dangerous man as he grew older, Henry was said to be a charming, even kind, if ill-tempered, king in his earlier years. He was fit, he was handsome, and he was a well-liked sovereign. Then he had his accident, where his leg was impaled during a lancing tournament. The wound never healed; it grew infectious, was a constant source of pain for the rest of his life, and inhibited his mobility, all of which led him to becoming the fat, gross, mood-swinging man most of us more often associate him as. Some experts today think the accident may have compressed his spine as well, which would also explain his raging mood swings.
I don’t know how much would have changed had this not happened. Maybe nothing. Anne Boleyn probably still would have been beheaded, for not being able to produce a male heir, and Jane Seymour probably still would have died due to the complications of her labour. But maybe wife number 5, Catherine Howard, would have fared better. Then again, maybe not. Who can really say (I’m no expert, so I certainly can’t). Maybe without his leg wound, he would have been slightly less ill-tempered, clearer thinking, and so slightly less quick to jump to the conclusions that were being fed to him. But again, maybe not.
Another what if that’s caught my curiosity is what if Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had managed to escape? What would have happened if their attempt had been successful? If you read the accounts of their attempted escape, you see that they very nearly did, were it not for a bit of bad luck. Several delays, slightly time-consuming but in no way detrimental in and of themselves, caused them to be late to one of their rendez-vous points. At this station, the man waiting there for them, the Duc de Choiseul, panicked when they still hadn’t arrived and assumed the whole thing had already failed, which he then passed on to everyone else in the line. This meant that the guard that was supposed to be waiting to escort the royal family was gone by the time they reached the rendez-vous point.
They carried on regardless, but now had no horses to switch off the ones currently in use. When they reached their next point at Varennes, the panic of the Duc had caused a miscommunication to occur, nobody knowing where the horses to replace those now dead tired from their elongated journey were being kept (they were in the lower half of the town, when they were meant to be in the upper half, which is where the royal carriage was left waiting). No longer able to carry on, and the king having been recognized at a previous stop, the royal family was eventually caught and forced to return to Paris.
Had it not been for the panic of the Duc, they very likely would have escaped, everything else going as according to plan as it reasonably could. So that has me wondering, how would things have turned out if they had escaped? Would they have been saved their unfortunate end? Would the revolution have occurred in the same way? Would have still have some form of monarchy today? Maybe, maybe not.
I’m curious to pinpoint other what if moments in history. What are the moments that truly changed the course of everything?