This entry is part 3 in the series The Imperial History of Earth-Regency

Pieces Of Creation is an occasional recurring column at Campaign Mastery in which Mike offers game reference and other materials that he has created for his own campaigns.
All images used to illustrate this article are public-domain works hosted by Wikipedia Commons or derivations of such works.


The Magna Carta was one of the most pivotal documents in history, not so much for its specific content as for the principles which that content embodied. (John II and several monarchs who followed would go on to reissue the Magna Carta, each time varying the specifics to some extent. The final version had virtually nothing in common with the original beyond the general principles).

This revolutionary document shifted the economy of England to an income-based/income-taxed system, replacing the flat-levy system that had been in place. It mandated a standardized currency. It recognized the right of ordinary people to own property. It established the legal protection of property rights and held those protections binding over all (“Common Law”). It established the parliamentary system of Government, created & empowered the civil service, and gave structure and authority to Law-Enforcement and Judicial systems.

Many of these innovations were intended by the Barons to circumscribe the power of the throne, others were intended by the Throne to restrict the power of the Barons; both placing it in the hands of the commoners, who they would then “Represent”. But all were capable of generous interpretation, depending apon which of the two factions emerged as triumphant. On Earth-Regency, the victory went to King John, and it was he who interpreted and refined these radical social changes.

The empowerment of the individual citizen of the British Empire set the stage for the aristocracy of talent to emerge. In the person of one somewhat-short and slightly-dumpy individual of legendary nasal size, one such ordinary citizen was about to transform the very Empire from root to tip. The name of this legend: Napoleon Bonaparte.

'King Washington I' - based on the 1796 portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

“Il Spectre” & The Conquest Of Europe: c.1782 – 1816 (~250 years ago)

When we left off last time, King George had responded to the Colonial Crisis in the Americas by appointing George Washington as King and Regent of the United States Of America and elevating himself to the position of Emperor George I of the Greater British Empire. The other great houses of Europe – Germany, Italy, and Prussia – had seen the writing on the wall and had banded together in a last-ditch attempt to remain free of the British Colossus. The result was what has become known as The First Global War, and it marked the point of near-total historical divergence from other dimension’s histories, after a long period of growing differences.

It was the plan of the Great Houses to deceive the English Empire. A carefully-orchestrated series of petty confrontations with each other gave the impression that the Great Powers were at each other’s throats, and when each began an arms buildup, it was clear that this was in response to these provocations. England determined to remain aloof, especially when each of the other houses sought alliance with the English, making a strong case that any such alliance would easily overthrow any one house that was not so allied. The strength of England slumbered as the other powers prepared for war.

Given the apparent political situation it was clear how the conflict between the houses would develop. Germany, trapped between the Italians and Prussians, would be forced to fight a war on two fronts. They would have the advantage of defending, but they were at such a decisive overall disadvantage that it was inevitable that they would fall. Thereafter, it would be a question of which side had suffered the greatest losses in getting that far; the stronger side would inevitably prevail and non-English Europe would find itself united under one flag – only to find itself in turn surrounded, or so the English Tacticians thought.

While the “Foreign Rabble” squabbled and wore each other down, English eyes had been focused on the conquest of Asia, starting in India and continuing throughout the region. Their best troops and officers had been sent to the subcontinent, save for a few reserved to nibble at the edges of foreign colonies destabilized during the coming conflict. English intelligence had been completely deceived, having grown overconfident, and it was clear that they were under no threat from the other European Powers were too busy squabbling amongst themselves.

And so it was that there was no alarm raised by the presence of three armies numbering over 2,000,000 men each directly on the English Borders. To further lull the English, their enemies then conducted what amounted to war games with live ammunition, luring the Imperial observers into seeing what they were meant to see. On the 18th day of “Battle,” many of the seemingly wounded and slain arose from hiding and joined their fellows for a sudden strike into English territory. The two massive “conflicts” were instantly transformed into a massive pincer movement driving toward France, while the bulk of the English military command, including all their “A”-grade units, were a continent away. It fell to one relatively junior officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, to take command of the poorly-trained and ill-equipped forces which remained and resist forces which outnumbered him eight-to-one.

The First Victory

Napoleon knew that surprise was a weapon that could cut two ways. If he could make his opponents think that the forces he commanded were more powerful than they truly were, he could cause them to fall back in disarray, giving the Empire time to raise a stronger response. Detaching one man in 20, he impressed every able-bodied citizen within arms reach to pad out the “units” so created. This gave him sufficient “forces” to make it appear that the defensive positions they occupied were fully manned, while giving him a force capable of decisive action – against one of the invading columns. For tactical reasons, he chose the completely land-based column to the North.

Because the impressed forces were literally fighting for their homes and families – they were all locals – they had an advantage they were able to convert into a minor victory. This in turn injected a fighting spirit into the rest of Napoleon’s irregulars that led them to fight like wildcats. While they eventually fell beneath the onrushing hordes they faced, they made the enemy bleed for every mile.

As a result, and believing that the Imperial forces still lay before them, they brought their reserves to the front – exactly what Napoleon had been waiting for. The invaders had no idea that beyond a hard crust of defensive units, the heart of the Empire lay essentially undefended. It was only when Napoleon counterattacked far to the rear, and cut their supply lines, that they discovered their error. Caught in mid-transit, the reserves were turned around as rapidly as possible, but Napoleon eschewed traditional tactics and did not pause to subdue the liberated territories; as a result, the full military strength of the Empire arrived hard on the heels of the panicked messengers from the invading column’s rear. Caught flat-footed and badly out of position, they were scattered and overwhelmed. From this central position within the heart of the enemy column, they captured virtually the entire column in one bold stroke and three days of battle.

The coming of ‘Il Spectre’

This victory raised espirit de corps within the Empire to unprecedented heights, and gave the southern invaders pause. They were sure that the only way such a result could have been achieved through traditional tactics was through the use of overwhelming force. And if their intelligence had so badly underestimated the Imperial military strength, it was all too possible that the Empire had simply been letting them overextend themselves. Cautiously, they began to fall back, dogged at every step by Napoleon’s irregulars.

Napoleon, meanwhile, had devised a different trap to deal with the nervous invaders. Attacking with a tenth of his forces, he led the inspired troops into an attack which reeked of desperation, and which was overcome with relative ease. Eighty per cent of his small force was wiped out, and again the invaders were forced to reassess their tactical position. Perhaps a combination of overconfidence, ill luck, and a desperate counter-attack had led to the northern flank’s defeat after all – based on the casualties they had inflicted, it appeared that over 85 per cent of the Imperial Armies on the continent had now been defeated, there could not be many left. The invaders might be fleeing from nothing.

Having brought the retreat and consolidation of the invaders to a halt while they reconsidered, setting the trap, Napoleon now set about springing it. With a few hundred men, he again staged a desperate attack, ordering his men into a full retreat and false rout. The mid-level commanders, sensing a dramatic victory, charged off in pursuit; the diffidence and defensiveness of the now-cautious senior commanders was overwhelmed by the thrill of victory. In full pursuit, they were caught by surprise when Napoleon’s unsuspected main force attacked both flanks, grinding them between the Imperial forces without mercy.

The nervousness of the invading high command was now converted into panic. Under Napoleon, Imperial forces seemed able to come and go at will, capable of materializing from nowhere, winning a decisive victory, and then vanishing as mysteriously as the came. The Italians nicknamed him “Il Spectre” – “The Ghost” – and again began falling rapidly back.

'General Bonaparte' - portrait of Napoleon by Delaroche

The Ghost Strikes

Napoleon, meanwhile, had achieved such preeminence amongst the Imperial forces that as the first elite forces returned from the Asian Campaign, it was inevitable that they would be placed under the Frenchman’s command. He directed that they assemble close to the Italian border, and attack on specific dates, before turning and fleeing back aboard their transports, to sail a couple of days down the coastline, regroup, and repeat the process.

These landings, supposedly in captive territory, were cleverly calculated to reinforce the “legend” that Napoleon had generated around himself. The invaders were perpetually lured out of position, repeatedly attacked from unexpected directions, and the retreat soon became a rout. Only then did Napoleon fully commit the elite units he now commanded, spearheading a drive north that again cut the enemy supply lines. Not realizing that they outnumbered the forces blocking them from their homelands over ten to one, the now-surrounded invaders surrendered en masse.

Napoleon was by now enshrouded in myth as the greatest general the Empire had ever seen, and his tactical abilities struck fear into the hearts of the other imperial powers. They scrambled over themselves in their haste to surrender to the little general in an attempt to secure favorable terms before it was too late to remain the heads of their respective Kingdoms. But the Emperor was indisposed to clemency; this was a far different situation to that which the Empire had faced with their rebellious colonials. He determined that the heirs of the former Empires would be permitted to reign as Regents within the Empire – if their parents were publicly beheaded. The Empire intended to show that they could be ruthless as well as merciful. Little did they realize that in the process they were setting the stage for a still greater and more expensive future conflict.

Bonaparte The Great: The Consummate Politician c.1816 – 1823 (~230 years ago)

But that lay many years away. For right now, Napoleon was a popular hero. It was almost inevitable that he would enter politics, and when he did, he went on to be just as effective a civil leader as he had been within the military. The first non-native to become Prime Minister of the British Empire, he would prove to be one of the most significant men in its history.

Napoleon’s first problem as PM coincided with his election. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia blanketed the world in clouds of dust dropping temperatures significantly, ruining crops, and inciting economic havoc. When combined with the aftereffects of The First Global War, also known as the Napoleonic War, the situation in the Empire was growing desperate. This no doubt was a significant contribution to Napoleon’s electoral success, as the public latched on to the closest thing to a savior that came readily to hand.

The Napoleon Reforms

Economics was not Napoleon’s forte, but he succeeded in grasping the elementary concepts by virtue of oversimplifying the situation. He saw that some areas of industry, especially paper mills, were booming, while others, such as wheat farming, were in dire straits. Yet, wheat was far more essential to the health of the Empire than paper. This gave Napoleon the conceptual wedge that he needed to get a handle on the situation. He ranked every industry within the Empire by profitability and by importance to the empire, according to his own prejudices at first. This was then used as an index to the tax rate to be applied – the least-profitable, most-essential occupations attracted no tax, or even in some cases government subsidies, the most-profitable, least-essential occupations were most heavily taxed.

The benefits of the resulting taxation system have been debated ever since. There are those who argue that it prolonged the economic woes by slowing the growth of those industries which were lifting the Empire back into prosperity, while others vow that it supported essential industries at the expense of luxury frills. Certainly all agree that if the resulting tax rates were locked in, they would be unbelievably repressive; but Napoleon from the first recognized that economic factors would naturally fluctuate, and hence (with the full support of the King) decreed that the tax rates should be reviewed annually. In the process, he implemented the first census of the Empire. Six months later, he accepted an amendment which individualized the rates by region, recognizing that what was an essential industry in Glasgow might not be so important in Florence. In years to come, this basic system would be further refined to take into account indirect employment and a growing sophistication in economic understanding, but the essential taxation principles would remain unchanged. As a consequence, it would be many years before the introduction of personal income taxes, and even then they would only be applied in narrowly restricted cases. Certainly, the innovations were credited with averting the Manchester cotton spinners’ strike of 1818.

To an outside observer, the net effect of this system was fairly minimal. Instead of lobbying for tax breaks and government subsidy, the special interests lobby for the relative importance of their industries, arguing that they employ more people, or provide key components or raw materials or trained staff to more essential industries. From that perspective, the system is neither better nor worse than the tax systems with which people would be more familiar; just simpler and different.

The Civil Code Napoleon

By Napoleon’s era, continental Europe had largely been reduced to English vassalage, and thus he never gained the opportunity to make himself an Emperor; instead, he entered the British Armed Forces, rose to the rank of Brigadier-General and the highest-ranked field commander within the Army, before retiring into political life and being elected Prime Minister.

Napoleon had been brilliant as a general, overseeing the final conquest of Central Europe and the Russian States; as a political leader, his tendency to overreach was neutralized by the various impediments, checks, and balances in place within the Government. Only his positive innovations proceeded to take effect, his errors were (mostly) stopped. (It’s worth noting that the civil service’s philosophy of preventing mistakes by politicians largely dates from this era).

It is also significant that Napoleon was the first Prime Minister not born in England, heralding a more cosmopolitan political approach that reinvigorated an empire that had been becoming politically moribund.

Napoleons’ “Judicial Reform Code” proceeded to modernize the legal system of the British Empire on Earth-Regency in exactly that the same way that the “Napoleonic Code” did in those Realities in which he became the Emperor of France.

The Asian Expansion continues

Nor did the Empire’s Asian expansion stop entirely during the Napoleonic era, as evidenced by the founding of Singapore in 1820, though it did slow and become more conservative. Bonaparte only served as Prime Minister for 6 years, but between his tax and legal reforms, he reshaped the Empire as no other politician had before. The census in the year of his death showed that Empire now totaled a population of 125 Million – a 10% increase in the time of his rule despite a significant economic downturn, mass starvation, and the legacies of a crippling war. This was a clear signal of the confidence that his presence brought to the population.

Napoleon’s Successors: The Reformers 1823-1832 (~220 years ago)

Napoleon’s death in office cut short what promised to be a civil golden age. But history never stands still, and life went on.

The 2nd Earl Of Liverpool, Robert Banks Jenkinson

Robert Banks Jenkinson, Prime Minister

Bonaparte was succeeded by Robert Banks Jenkinson, whose administration began diffidently; Jenkinson seemed almost unwilling to change anything his predecessor had put in place, or to implement anything Napoleon-the-Great had not planned, but he could only tug on the coattails of Bonaparte for so long. In 1823, he began to cautiously advance his own policies, encouraging judicial reform; where Napoleon had rewritten the fundamentals of the system, Jenkinson categorized and regulated the penalties for crimes, applying principles not dissimilar to the basis of the tax system, where the economic and social harm cause by an offence was directly related to the crime. This eye-for-an-eye approach was actually a progressive move, as the immediate effect was a review of the actual harm committed by each offense, leading to the abolition of the death penalty for over 100 crimes.

'Emperor William I' - a portrait of King George III

Emperor William I

The next lasting milestone in Imperial History came in 1832. The Emperor had died and been replaced, but that had little impact on the Empire overall, as prosperity continued to steadily return. But at the beginning of the year, public unrest was rising over the prickly issue of just who was permitted to vote in the election of government, and over worsening corruption within the Government.

From an outside perspective, this was the first example of a new historical pattern that would hold true for the next century – the history of the Empire was now the history of Britain, writ large. When, in our history, Britain experienced civil unrest, Earth-Regency’s history showed civil unrest throughout the “Civilized World”.

This unrest continued until the middle of the year when the new Emperor, William I, pushed Legislative reform through parliament with the support of the House of Commons. With two of the three legislative branches voting in favor, the House Of Lords had no way to overturn the decree.

The political structure on Earth-Regency will be explained in more detail in a supplement following this history of the Empire. Selected sections of that article have been quoted in this manuscript.

Although superficially packaged as Civil Service reforms, the real effect was to dramatically widen the Gulf between the House Of Lords and further erase the power of the old Nobility. Members of the House Of Lords, and their families, now had a choice – they could retain their honors, with the prestige and benefits that came with them, and accept responsibilities commensurate with the authority that resulted, or they could have the vote, and the protections of Common Law – while still being answerable under that law for their actions. In other words, they could be as entrepreneurial as they wished – if they forfeited the safety net of the common man and the right to participate in the election of the Lower House. At the same time, a requirement for citizens to be financially solvent before they were eligible to vote was removed from the Imperial statutes.

Because the Government of England was essentially the Government of the “Civilized World” – the laws and edicts of the British Court being able to overrule those of the Subject Kingdoms – participation in the English elections was extended to all citizens of the Empire. A citizen of the Kingdom of Italy would not only vote for their national parliament, they would also vote at the same time for the Imperial Parliament.

Given the distances and level of communications technology available within the Empire, it was clearly impractical for all the elections to be conducted simultaneously; it could be 6 months or more before the returns were received from some of the outlying colonies. The possibility was never seriously considered, so blatantly outrageous was the idea. Instead, national elections became an ongoing series of referendums on the performance of the Imperial government of the day, and the timing of national elections remained a local decision by the national governments.

It might be thought that the result would be anarchy; it was as though there was a by-election every few months, and the Imperial Civil Government could never tell, from week-to-week, what size majority it could command in the Lower House of the Imperial Parliament – or even when it might suddenly find itself the minority. Nevertheless, there were sufficient member nations, and elections were sufficiently-widely separated, that changes occurred gradually and permitted an overall continuity of government.

With the great increase in the number of voters, the margins of victory shrunk correspondingly, and it became far easier to unseat the Government of the Day. No longer could the Government count on an entire term for people to forget its mistakes, its unpopular legislation, or any scandals – at most they were only ever six months from a vote of No Confidence. Seemingly by accident, the governments elected by the people became far more answerable to the people.

At a stroke, the King, by giving the People more power over their elected representatives, had destabilized that branch of the Government, providing a significant advantage to the House of Lords (to which all nobles of Confirmed Title, including the Royal Houses of the Subject Kingdoms, were automatically members) and hence a positive incentive for members to accept the new burdens which had been layed on them, while at the same time reducing their power over policy – and as the only political force not weakened in the process, had elevated his own position.

The Evolution of Political Realities

At this point in time, there was very little difference between small business and the common man in terms of policy demands; the biggest distinction between the parties concerned spending on the Colonies and the Outlying districts of the Empire. The Tories wanted to concentrate on building up the heart of the Empire – England and Western Europe – while the Whigs wanted to push for self-sufficiency and expansion of the outlying colonies. Almost immediately, the new legislation showed its power, as the Canadians threw the Tories out of office and elected the Whigs.

What resulted was a delicate balancing act for the politicians – upset any faction, and they would have the government out of power in short order. Instability in elected office forced the moderation of policies. When the Whigs regained power following the Spanish Elections, they brought with them an innovation that would be a permanent element of Imperial Politics thereafter – the Referendum. When faced with the need to make a difficult choice, the only chance to retain government afterwards was to put the question to the people in advance – which usually meant a delay of 2-3 years before implementing the policy. The House Of Commons thus became subject to a new political balance – conservative politics verses progressive politics.

If the government didn’t know what issues would be relevant in 2-3 years, they could not pose the right questions of the voters, and would almost certainly lose office. The party that was best able to adopt a long view and devise policies to suit forthcoming conditions was the party that would govern. Policies had to be carefully thought out in advance – but they had to not only be practical, they had to be seen to be practical. After all, there would be years of consideration and review to expose any deficiencies.

At the same time, anything too wild and speculative would be torn to pieces by the time enough voters had weighed the issues. Lower-house politics became less about day-to-day reactions and more about devising and implementing carefully considered directions for the advancement of the Empire, a strange combination of innovation and conservative policy.

The Upper House, in reaction, found itself subjected to influences toward which it already leaned; continuity and stability became conservativism and tradition, and at the same time, this was the House that more and more dealt with day-to-day matters of Government – restoring some of the authority that had been stripped from the Nobles in the past. The instrument that chained them to their responsibilities restored much of the power that had been stripped from them.

Over the next 40 years, these patterns would entrench themselves as one aspect of Imperial Governance reacted to another and the overall political structure of the Empire fell into place. In a nutshell: The House Of Commons was elected by the Imperial Citizenry and not only served the interests of the Citizens, it devised policies for the betterment of the Empire in the mid-to-long-term, and had a cautiously progressive tone.

For those policies to be implemented, the Prime Minister needed the support of either the House Of Lords or of the Emperor, guided and advised by the Civil Service. The House of Lords, including the peerage of all Kingdoms within the Empire, represented the interests of Big Business and “Old Money” and dealt with the day-to-day political practicalities – running government Departments, etc – with a conservative style based heavily on tradition and traditional values. It fell to them to implement the practical structures that were required to implement the policies developed by Parliament and approved by the citizens. Tenure within the House Of Lords was offered by the Monarch and carried significant benefits, but came at a heavy price, as Common Law protected ordinary citizens from the Nobles and Civil Servants (including the Police force), but the peerage had no such protection from John Q. Citizen.

Ruling over all was the Imperial Throne, whose decrees could only be vetoed by the combined forces of both Houses of Government, and whose decrees were otherwise treated as Law. The Emperor’s role was to set Imperial Policy, defining the overall shape of Society, and to react to unusual situations – disasters, wars, etc – as they arose. The style and personality of the Monarch, more than anything else, dictated the Tone of the Empire.

Outside Observer Comment: The resulting political structure is not too far removed conceptually from an Americanization of British Political Structures.

Unfortunately, by the time this structure’s evolution was complete it had been rendered semi-obsolete by a factor that was already taking shape and beginning to turn traditional roles on their heads. The Industrial Revolution had begun.

The Industrial Era & The Reign Of The Empress Victoria – c.1832-1909 (~150 years ago)

A number of social changes were underway as technology began remaking society from an Agriculture-and-Trade basis to an Industrial one. These can generally be summed up as four interacting themes, all consequences of the age of machines that was now dawning. These were (in no particular order):

  • Firstly the factories and the consequences for employment and commerce;
  • Secondly, the shift from an illiterate society to an educated one;
  • Thirdly, Civil Rights issues and reform would be a recurrent refrain throughout the next century or so;
  • And last, the growth into maturity of the Colonies founded in the Age Of Exploration.

It’s worth noting the date. Although machinery and even industrialized factories had been around for a while, the inhabitants of The Empire date the Industrial Era not from the invention of the steam engine or other such technological achievement, but by the date on which the technology had a significant impact on society.

In this case, it was the Factory Act of 1833 which forbade the employment of children below the age of nine. This was the first legal age restriction on employment, and began a series of social reforms in the mid-19th century. It was followed a year later by the abolition of Slavery in Britain, a change which many of the regional Kings resisted, implementing local laws to maintain the practice. The last to bow to Imperial pressure was the Russian Kingdom, which emancipated their serfs 29 years later (1863).

One reason for the delay was that colonial and regional issues arose to occupy Imperial attention. The first such was the result of the potato famine in Ireland, which began an economic downturn in the region that lasted until 1842. This led to a massive emigration to other parts of the Empire, especially Australia and North America. These new colonials found the contrast between the frontiers and the heart of the Empire overwhelming, especially the prejudice against colonials who were generally treated as second class citizens. Agitation for equal status and recognition under the law would be an ongoing political problem for years.

Coronation portrait of Victoria - click the thumbail for a larger image

The China War

These early manifestations of the forces for internal change within the Empire took place against a background of other significant events. The death of Emperor William I in 1837 led to the accession of the Empress Victoria, whose relatively stuffy moral beliefs and quirks quickly transferred throughout the Empire; but for the most part, she was distracted from domestic problems by the beginnings of the China War.

Chinese forces had been busy creating an empire of their own in Central and Eastern Asia, and for some time the two political colossi had been butting heads and getting in the way of each other’s expansionist plans. From the British perspective, the Chinese were not fighting fair, however; their principle weapons were superstition and myth, which the Empire had trouble countering. By now, the British controlled Pakistan, India, & Indonesia, while Afghanistan was something of a no-man’s land that no one wanted. But when the British sought to annex the regions they named Thailand, Burma, Kampuchea, and Vietnam, relations deteriorated to the point of conflict.

The British Empire had vastly greater military resources to draw apon, but was distracted by its social and domestic issues, and a new and mistrusted military commander in the Empress Victoria, while the Chinese were focused with a singularity that approached obsession. They believed that they had mystic powers that made them collectively invincible, and the fervor and success of their attacks, and the incredibly advanced weapons under their control – of which the British never succeeded in capturing a single specimen – soon had the troops sent to fight them convinced as well.

Morale is a very insubstantial thing, but its importance cannot be disputed. Until now, the Imperial Military had wrought miracles in the field, notable under the command of Napoleon; but he was dead, and that seemed long ago and far away to the outmatched and outnumbered forces in the East. The Chinese won victory after victory on the mainland, and it was not long before Western Siberia, India, and Pakistan were under direct threat. The British troops had no confidence in the Military abilities of Victoria, and it seemed there was nothing to prevent the “Golden Horde” from capturing the entire Eurasian continent.

At sea, it was a different story; while their weapons were just as powerful, and the British ships even more vulnerable to those weapons, the Chinese fleet was a bad joke as navies went. Their ships were slow and flimsy and delicate and ungainly, earning – and deserving – the nickname “Junks”. When the Chinese were able to surprise the British and close to short distances, they were victorious – but almost every time the British blew the colorful Junks out of the water long before they were within range to pose a threat.

The British launched a series of sea-based raids which succeeded in capturing Southern Korea and the city of Hong Kong, well behind the advancing front of the Chinese empire. This was enough of a warning to the Chinese that they did not possess the overwhelming superiority that they believed, and a truce between the two empires was negotiated after three years of bloody warfare. England retained the captured territories, but lost the annexed regions which had sparked the conflict, Eastern Siberia, Afghanistan, and the island of Borneo.

Neither side held any illusions that this was a lasting peace; it was a respite which would enable each to address the deficiencies in their respective military commands, nothing more. A resumption of hostilities was inevitable. In the meantime, what can only be described as a cold war between the two would rage.

The Victorian Age

Wars are always expensive, and wars a long way from home more so. Three years of conflict with China had been very expensive, and the prospect of reinvigorating a thoroughly overmatched and dispirited military would be more so. It was going to be necessary for the Government to fund the shortfall with additional taxes, without imposing additional burdens on an already-stretched economy. The solution was the reintroduction of Income Taxes; but the House of Lords didn’t want them (as their members had higher incomes than anyone else) and the House of Commons didn’t want them because the party who introduced them would be booted out of office for at least a generation.

It was now that the Empress Victoria began to make her mark as a monarch; she negotiated a bargain with the Prime Minister. Income Taxes would apply to everyone, but an Exemption would be placed within Common Law – so that only the nobility had to pay them. In return, Victoria demanded that the Government support her legislating ladylike behavior on the part of the female population, starting by outlawing their employment as miners and in other forms of “Hard Labor”. What was more, the labors of male children were to be strictly supervised to protect them from excessive work demands. Victoria was determined to civilize the Empire, and this was her first step. It occurred in 1842, even as news of the massacre of 150,000 troops in the Khyber Pass by the Chinese and the collapse of the truce with China were reaching the heart of the Empire.

Meanwhile, the Empire had begun its preparations for the resumption of War. They first had to modernize their military and address the endemic morale problems; the former was simply a matter of money, which had now been provided for, but the latter meant that the newly-stabilized government would need to be realigned once again to be able to cope with this new threat. The supreme commands of the various military branches were made specialist military roles and the military were removed from the direct control of the Monarch. Only the monarch could order their use, but once the order was given, it was up to the military itself and a new specialized series of branches of the Civil Service to determine the actual military objectives and plans, under the guidance of the joint leadership of the houses of Commons and Lords.

Unfortunately for the Empire, Victoria found this too convenient a way out; unless she deigned to take a personal interest in the matter, i.e. it bore some relation to her personal mission of cultivating the “Civilized Virtues Of Society”, she abdicated all responsibility and placed the matter directly under the control of the Civil Service. This was in direct opposition to the essential concept of the Empire as established by George I, and would lead to the bloated bureaucracies of the latter 20th century.

Another problem to emerge from the China War was the need for significant government investment in research, which had until now been principally privately-funded; but with so many industries going their own way, this was going to be extraordinarily difficult to coordinate. The only solution was to nationalize (“Imperialize”?) key industries such as communications and transport. Communications in particular would benefit, as the Empire immediately authorized the construction of the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, intended to link the expanding communications networks throughout the Empire into a single global network.

Dances With Politics

This had an immediate impact on Imperial Politics. The cable would not be complete for several years (it was first used in 1866), and even then the Pacific Region and African Subcontinents would not be linked in, but the inevitable end result would be the virtual elimination of the communications delays that prevented simultaneous elections.

The Lower House were practically salivating at the thought of being able to actually see out a four year term without the constant threat of dismissal, and painted a rosy picture of the forward planning that such terms would permit.

The Lords saw this as an imminent threat to the now-traditional roles of government, and countered with suggestions of a Lower House able to ignore public opinion for three years out of four – or five out of six, if the rumored plan to extend the term of Parliament were correct. In truth, this was bald-faced propaganda; there was no such proposal on the table, but it aroused public anger at the then-Government. More significantly, it marked the first intrusion of the Upper House into the field of Public Opinion, which immediately proved to be a formidable new weapon in their political arsenal.

At the same time, the Leader of the House, the Right Honorable Duke of Glengarry, exacted his revenge on the Lower House for their secret discussions and deals with the Empress Victoria by having his own secret discussions with her. Pointing out that as the social reforms would be publicly popular (another little white lie, they weren’t), giving the Lower House the capacity to ignore popular opinion would also give them the capacity to ignore her plans for the Empire. By manipulating everyone else in this fashion, the Peerage were able to persuade the Monarch that entrenching the accidental pattern of the past into law would be in everyone’s bets interests, and further to persuade the public – to whom the lower house were still answerable on short notice – that attempts to block such a political change would be bad for them. Victoria issued an Edict to that effect, which the Upper House did not want to block, and which the Lower House could not afford to try to block – a move that would have been doomed to failure in any case.

The transformation of the Imperial Government into a political hotbed was now complete, and the Empire showed itself to be the true legacy of King John the Great, with each of the 4 elements of Government (this includes the Civil Service) making and breaking political alliances with each other and seeking to play one element against another. Some modern critics of the Government have suggested that this event marks the date at which Power slipped from everyone’s grasp, while other, more astringent historical commentaries, flag it as the first hint of the inevitable slump into Decadence.

Such criticism aside, Victoria’s 4th Decree maintained the status quo by dividing the world into 12 zones, whose elections would be evenly interspersed over a four-year period. To ensure that regional issues did not overwhelm policy as each corner of the world became of electoral dominance, a 4+1 pattern was adopted. This meant that while Germany and England/France had adjacent zones, their elections would be perpetually 20 months apart. Which meant that every 20 months, instead of every 4 years, the regional European situation would become important to the Government – ensuring that they were never ignored.

The Asian Comedy Of Errors

The final problem arising from the China War was to find a way to gather intelligence from within the Chinese Empire, a task at which the Empire had never succeeded. They had, in fact, never even managed to get a spy more than 2 miles into Chinese territory – or if they had, no such spy had ever succeeded in reporting back. The only hope lay in the newly conquered territories – and that meant making special efforts to obtain the loyalty of the citizens there, in the hopes of obtaining some spies who were of the same racial stock as the target.

Accordingly, in 1843, both Korea and Hong Kong were declared full and individual Kingdoms within the British Empire – a shortsighted move which immediately led to heightened resentment and unrest in all the other British Colonies, especially India and South Africa, which had been loyal to the Empire for decades now, and who saw this as a deliberate slur against them. In 1857, this resentment would explode into violence, as India demanded recognition as a Kingdom in its own right.

The Empress Victoria refused to be blackmailed in this fashion, and ordered the rebellions to be suppressed ruthlessly. This drove many recognition movements in many Imperial colonies underground, where they would fester and ultimately threaten the survival of the Empire itself. In India, the focus of the current wave of repression, the sense of persecution that resulted made the “subject nation” ripe for sedition, an opportunity which the Chinese lost no time in exploiting. Underground cults based around the old religions flourished, in particular that of the Thugee, This was one of Victoria’s biggest mistakes, and one which would ultimately come back to haunt her Empire.

For the next quarter century, the Empire seemed quiet, peacefully investing in technology and domestic infrastructure; but beneath the surface, tensions heaved. So angry were the various colonies and subject nations that to support any of Victoria’s social reforms would have been electoral suicide, and would have led to mass uprisings that could culminate in Civil War. The House of Lords and the Civil Service now emerged as the political heavyweights within the Empire – both arch-conservative and unwilling to promote change of any sort (unless it led to greater profits). It would not be going too far to suggest that Victoria had inadvertently given the general public the same morale problem that had beset the army at the time of her ascension – they had no faith in their Monarch or Government.

The Middle-Class Entrepreneurs

Instead, they put their faith in themselves and in what they could create with their own hands. As has been suggested, Infrastructure investment and exploration was at an all-time high, and many entrepreneurs hitched their wagons to a dream. The discoveries of Gold in California, Diamonds in South Africa, and other mineral wealth in other corners of the Empire, the railroads and steamships, all led to the rise of small-to-large businesses – outside the control of the traditional (Noble) corporate heads.

As the wealth and power of the emerging middle class consolidated, the shape of the Lower House – which had become more-or-less redundant at the hour of its greatest influence – began to change. Divisions that had been about Colonial Power shifted to issues of Wealth and its circulation. The existing political parties split and recombined until the ideological divide was reshaped into the contrast of Workers Rights vs. Business & Management. Along the way, the Whigs lost their political identity and were reconstituted as the Labor Party – but for many years to come they would be in the political wilderness.

The Rise Of Labor

It was not until 1869 that the Labor Party managed to accumulate the voting numbers to sweep into power, but their arrival heralded a series of significant developments. They tested the waters by abolishing the practice imprisoning debtors who could not pay, instituting the concept of Bankruptcy in the wake of the failures of a number of speculative enterprises. The following year saw the legalization of Trade Unions; as a concession to enable the passage of the legislation, they were forced to make the practice of picketing illegal. At the same time, the Civil Service completed remaking the military in its own image, by prohibiting the practice of selling Commissions in the Armed Forces. Henceforth, the military would be a professional organization, a meritocracy.

One of the consequences of the rise of independent contractors and competitive bidding for contracts was the inevitable corner-cutting that made low-bids profitable.

Zulu costume by the Lewes Bonfire Society

The Reinvention of the Tories

Nine years after the arrival of the Labor Party and their remaking of the industrial culture of the Empire came the inevitable result; in 1879 the Tay Bridge collapsed in a storm taking a train with it. The subsequent enquiry – conducted by the Civil Service at the insistence of the Empress Victoria – revealed a scandal of incredible proportions. Everyone involved from start to finish had cut corners and/or provided substandard or shoddy workmanship, from the people who provided the under-strength bricks to the concreters who diluted their cement slurry with sand. The Bridge had been a disaster waiting to happen, and only good fortune had prevented a far worse calamity. An immediate secondary investigation was launched to review the safety of all other public works carried out within the Empire over the last 15 years. The resulting outcry was enough to force the Labor Party from power, electing the Tories, who had remade themselves into the ‘friends of the Middle Class Citizen’.

At the same time, the colonies’ resentments had reached boiling point. The first to act were the Zulus of southern central Africa, who had been experiencing substantial levels of oppression at the hands of the colonials, especially those of neighboring South Africa. What began as a peaceful protest over their treatment soon degenerated into a violent uprising against the Empire. The Empress Victoria – who had been quiescent for decades, contenting herself with tea parties and leaving government in the hands of others – was forced to act. She had not changed overly as a person, and neither had her response – the uprising was to be put down by the Army without mercy.

The first significant outing of the new-look military command proved that there was still a crack or two in the system. Although the Zulus, lacking modern armaments, were easily routed, the Army commanders were so abrasive toward the colonials that South African resentment of their lack of status within the Empire overcame their good sense (given that they had just seen the power of the Empire).

They demanded independence of recognition as a Kingdom by the Empire – and if they were not granted the latter immediately, they would take the former by force and without apology. Much of the army were trapped behind enemy lines and cut off, and for the first time in almost 50 years the Empire faced a significant military threat. The Boar War would grind on for many years to come.

Being called apon to exercise the power of the throne repeatedly in such close succession reawakened Victoria’s social agenda. She had been forced to set it aside, decades earlier, as it had become a hopeless cause; but the new Middle Class, and the new Government, represented an element within society that would welcome Victoria’s innovations. So it was that in 1880 Victoria resumed her “civilizing” of the Empire, with a decree mandating school education for 5-10 year olds. She then sat back and waited for people to grow used to the idea for a year or two, having learned patience and political maturity.

She followed it with the Married Women’s Decree of 1883, which granted married women the right to own property in their own name; and a year after, by extending the vote to agricultural workers – something that Victoria personally disliked, but felt to be necessary. She had to extend and expand the scope of the middle class, and that required the serfs and peasants to be able to aspire to a better life. With time, enough of them would acquire property and prosperity sufficient to make the Middle-Class targets of her reforms general throughout the Empire.

In the meantime, the influx of people who viewed themselves as having more in common with the working class proved sufficient to restore the Labor Party to government, temporarily bringing a pause to Victoria’s social agenda. The last act of the outgoing government was to establish Greenwich Mean Time as the prime meridian of the world – a propaganda move intended to remind every Imperial Citizen of their place within the larger whole. 1883 also saw the eruption of Krakatoa near Java, causing a tidal wave that killed an estimated 30,000. It would be years before the Empire would suspect the real cause of that catastrophe.

Liberty Regina Victoria - based on an illustration NYFreiheitsstatue2

Golden Jubilee

Four years later, the Empire celebrated as June 21 marked Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Although she had made a mess of things on several occasions, she had become a fixture, an element of permanence within the Empire. The French Kingdom had been contracted to mark the occasion with the construction of 5 especially magnificent structures in different corners of the world. In India, they completed the construction of the Taj Mahal (whose religious significance and nature was an attempt to counter past mistakes in dealing with the residents). In the Kingdom of the United States, Birthplace of the Empire, they erected a colossal statue of Queen Victoria overlooking New York Harbor. Paris saw the creation of the Eiffel Tower, while in Australia they sponsored the commencement of a bridge to span Sydney Harbor. The 5th and final monument was located across most of the Empire, as a common rail link connected France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Prussia for the first time.

Sydney Harbour Bridge - photo by WikiWookie


It took eight years for Victoria’s agricultural middle class to become a reality, but the steadily mounting standard of life throughout the Empire had now given her social agenda a momentum that could not be stopped, only slowed. In 1891 she made Primary Education both free and compulsory; in 1892, she limited the working underage – the under-18s – to a mere 74 hours a week. At the request of the Civil Service, she implemented Local Governments throughout the Empire in 1894, and in 1896 she officiated at first Empire Games, modeled after the Olympics of Ancient Greece. In 1897 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and at the request of the Labor Government of day, she promulgated the Workman’s Compensation Act which made employers liable for the insurance of the workforce.

Eiffel Tower and general view of the grounds, Exposition Universal, 1900, Paris, France.

The Boer War

South Africa had long since become the loudest colonial voice for equal treatment, and not even the forcible suppression of their secession attempt 30-odd years earlier had derailed the deep-felt anger and resentment the Boers felt over their lack of independence within the Empire. In 1898, the time was ripe for another attempt, with funds provided by the Chinese. Tensions between the two great empires had not eased, and despite 75 years of mutual separation the cold war between them had showed no signs of abating. The Empire had continued to fail at its attempts to place spies within the Chinese Empire for all that time, a matter which had reached the point of desperation amongst Imperial Intelligence. Unknown to the Empire, internal problems had delayed the Chinese prosecution of the inevitable war, but those problems had now been resolved. The Chinese Emperor had been replaced by a shadowy ruling class called the Mao, who were far more subtle and Machiavellian in their tactics. It would not be until 1902 and the end of the Boar War that these facts would become known to the Empire – and only with Victory on the part of the Rebels, as the Empire was forced to choose between the granting of full Status as a Kingdom or of an even more humiliating military defeat.

The Taj Mahal - photo by Amal Mongia - click the thumbnail for a larger image

The Final Days of The Victorian Era

Victoria was drawing close to the end of her days, her sheer longevity having marked her as one of the most significant Monarchs of the Empire. Even while her troops were fighting and dying for her reign in South Africa, she continued with her social agenda, raising the school leaving age to 14 years. The next steps would have been to broaden access to University education, while removing Women from the workforce; but her health failed before she was able to carry out these plans. Nevertheless, the social momentum she had created would eventually compel these social changes, so it must be said that ultimately she achieved her objectives, with an uncompromising determination characteristic of every British Monarch since the accession of King John the Great.

Her final act was to respond to the threat of imminent uprisings in other British Colonies by setting down clear standards of social welfare, prosperity, and self-sufficiency which when met would permit, and compel, the founding of an independent Kingdom within the Empire. India, Pakistan, and Australia became Kingdoms on January 1, 1901, exactly three weeks before Victoria passed into the pages of History for the last time. These Kingdoms would be followed by South Africa in 1902 and New Zealand in 1907. It would be the 1970s before the last British Colony would become a Kingdom.

The last decade of this era, and the first of the 20th century, would see the culmination of the social changes instituted during Victoria’s reign. The creation of Secondary Education to prepare students for University, the creation of the 8-hour working day, Juvenile Court, and Old Age Pensions – all took place as the Empire began to move from the Industrial Era to the Technological Era, an era which would pose its own, more serious challenges. In Victoria’s era, the consequences of conflict were largely intangible; in the new century, the survival of the species would be at stake.

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