This entry is part 1 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.

Richard I, King of England 1189-1199

Richard I, King of England 1189-1199, from Wikipedia Commons; Click the thumbnail for a larger image


A couple of weeks ago I described my ground rules for handling alternate histories in RPGs and promised to excerpt the writeup I did for my superhero campaign of Earth-Regency.

This is a world in which the sun never sets on the British Empire, in which the known world is – theoretically – either British or belongs to a mysterious people known as the Mao.

The changes in history that lead to this profoundly different history – without leading to a profoundly different society – really start with the events surrounding the signing of the Magna Carta. So that’s where this series starts….


The Royal Arms Of England, 1198-1340, from Wikipedia Commons; click the thumbnail for a larger image

Part 1: Imperial History through the Middle Ages

Although there were some small differences in history, the trickle of divergance between the history we know and that experienced by Dimension-Regency only became a raging torrent in the era of Robin Hood / King John II. The reign of John II received more than it’s fair share of negative spin-doctoring over subsequent centuries, so let’s begin by briefly setting the record straight on the situation he faced when called to the throne.

The Economic Crisis

The economy was virtually bankrupt. Richard I had kept the kingdom running by selling three northern counties to the King Of Scotland in 1189 for 10,000 Crowns, but had expended almost all of these in funding the third crusade, as well as the funds liberated from the Treasury at Winchester.

The Civil Crisis

Richard was a king in Absentia most of the time. Civil authority had devolved into the hands of the ruling Barons, who took full advantage of what was effectively absolute authority.

The Religious Crisis

The only potential rival to the authority of the Barons was the Church, but it had become estranged from the throne over the appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope of Rome had supported Langton at the time of his appointment, but King Richard had refused to accept the political appointee and had chosen Grey instead, who was personally loyal to Richard. In retaliation, the Pope shut down religious services throughout England – no baptisms, no last rites, no weddings, no funerals – and no church tithes. The Church in England became extremely poor, a situation not at all to the liking of the churchmen caught in the middle. These monks and scholars, who would later write most of the histories of the era, needed to blame someone other than the Church for their misfortunes, and targeted the aristocracy.

King John II

John thus faced opposition from virtually every other authority figure in the land. He was used as a scapegoat for all the sufferings inflicted on the commons by the Barons, and by the Pope.

John did reasonably well, under the circumstances; he reigned the Barons in, somewhat, and managed to reestablish the treasury. He proved a clever general, leading a number of audacious and forceful attacks into France.

John played political games which would make modern diplomats and senators look like amateurs. He played Baron against Baron, Nation against Nation, Barons against Pope, Pope against the King of France, the French King against the Dauphin, (The French King’s son and heir), and even the Germans, the Swabians, and the Flemish bought in. John trod a fine line of promises – promises, which, like all ‘good’ politicians, he never completely kept. But he was in command at all times. He played forward and rearguard actions against friends, relatives and enemies alike.

John failed in his next outing to France because he could not get the support of the Anglo-Saxon Barons of the north. Despite this lack of support, John was able to utilize good Generalship to lead his troops toward a strong victory. At the height of the conflict, the Barons who had refused to support John mounted a more direct challenge to the throne, with the support of the King Of Scotland. John was forced to abandon the conflict in France, leaving the troops under the command of his nephew, Emperor Otto of Germany, who fouled up what had until then been a successful campaign.

The Pope had excommunicated John, but the King had regained his good standing in the eyes of the Church by giving them England. The Pope immediately dismissed Grey and elevated Langton to the position of Archbishop. John never had any intention of honoring this compact; he stalled, and then utilized the rebellion to distract the church from the issue, by invading Scotland. John forced the Scottish King to swear fealty to the English throne, and took the King’s two sisters or daughters as hostages, a normal but all important practice of maintaining power, insurance to keep the trust.

He invaded Ireland, and forced Anglo/Norman Barons, Chiefs and petty Kings to give allegiance. He invaded Wales, took thirty hostages, stopped off at Chester and overcame a couple of his own unruly Barons, again forcing them to support him. His forays were impeccable. His two main objectives were to protect his money, and the hostages in his royal castles, both supervised by trusted men. Hostages were not ill-treated; many roamed relatively freely on their own cognizance, but they were an important political tool of power in those days.

Philip I of France

King Philip I of France, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons; click on the thumbnail for a larger image

Philip I of France

The Barons in the north had appealed to the French King Philip against the progressive abuse. The King of France was presented with a glorious opportunity. But John kept up his onslaught of the Barons. He wrecked their estates, took more hostages, and redistributed the power more evenly.

Finally, John was reluctantly forced to deal with his rebellious barons at Runnemede outside Windsor Castle in June 1215. He had danced his force of 2000 knights around southern England for a month with promises that he would meet them. They had marched from Northampton, to Bedford, to Stamford, to Brackery (Brackley), and to Oxford. The force became desperate, some were becoming irresolute, and supplies were low. On May 5th, the Barons arrived in Wallingford and formally renounced their allegiance to King John. Despite victory after victory in both the political and military arenas, John was forced to negotiate a settlement with the Barons by virtue of the fragility of his own command.

In addition to the terms that had been offered by King Henry 1st over a century earlier, John was forced to offer additional concessions. These were John’s agreement to release his hostages, ensuring his loss of power, and to allow virtual rule of England by the 25 Surity Barons. The frills also included formal recognition of many authorities and existing unofficial practices of John’s era, notably the civil authority of Sheriffs and Serjeants, much of which had already been conceded by Henry 1st.

King John II signing the Magna Carta

King John II signing the Magna Carta, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons; click the thumbnail for a larger image

The Magna Carta

It took four or five days under a tent to formalize the agreement in what was called the Magna Carta. The document was sealed on June 15th, 1215; but probably it was really argued and agreed four or five days earlier by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury – the same man who had been rejected by Richard the Lionhearted. It became law on June 19th. In apparent defeat, John instructed William, Earl of Salisbury, to return all confiscated lands and parks to the Surety barons. The Magna Carta was born and John shared rule with an oligarchic committee.

By giving England to the Barons – seemingly unwillingly – John ensured that he was unable to fulfill his promise to give it to the Church. Pope Innocent immediately annulled and abrogated the Magna Carta, describing it as a conspiracy against, and persecution of, his vassal, King John of England. He ordered Stephen Langton to excommunicate all the Barons who were signatories to the Magna Carta. On September 24th 1215 Pope Innocent excommunicated the rebellious Barons personally, because Langton had refused to do so. The Baron’s attempt to implement the Magna Carta resulted in armed conflict. In hindsight, it was another masterful move by the astute politician, King John, playing the Church against the Barons.

The Puppet Master’s Finest Hour

John behaved as expected of a correct vassal of the Church, in effect relegating his Barons down in the pecking order to mere under-tenants, a very different social and power status, and essentially, reduced them to being landless. He retired to the countryside and defended his royal castles beyond, and nominally complied. He released a few hostages, and readjusted some of his administrative functions and loyal men.

The Barons had negotiated an instrument which legalized what amounted to high treason. They could present John with any concocted grievance and unless corrected within 40 days, he could virtually lose his throne, under the terms of the Magna Carta. But they still lacked most of the hostages – they still lacked real power. They were apprehensive about John’s loyal tenants-in-chief, the real power behind the throne. The rebels controlled London and little more – John now held the North strongly, as well as a fortified ring of castles around the capital. In time, the Barons would inevitably be forced to return to the negotiating table, giving up the power claimed through the Magna Carta in exchange for John’s refuting the agreement with the Church. John’s power would again be absolute, having played rebellious Barons against a greedy Pope – and having acquired Fealty from Scotland, Wales and Ireland into the bargain.

The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta, originally known as the Charter Of Liberties, enacted in England, 1215, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons; click on the thumbnail for a larger image

It all unravels

However, a long-hidden alliance headed by the French recognized that at the current moment, John was vulnerable, and invaded, and John was never able to force the withdrawal of the Magna Carta – he needed the troops subject to the Barons in order to secure the boarders. For once, John had been caught short in his planning.

That is how it is recorded in our history. But in Dimension Regency, events turned out a little differently…

The Regency Twist

In that reality, one of the rebellious Barons turned coat on his fellow conspirators. Baron Kay of Wessex forewarned John of the Barons’ plans and of the conspiracy against his rule that the French had orchestrated. John therefore knew that he needed to distract France while he was engaged in dealing with his domestic rebellion; he falsified orders to a unit of the French Army, making them agents provocateurs against the Italians, and at the same time planting some falsified intelligence which would eventually fall into the hands of the French, suggesting an alliance between the Pope and the Flemish aimed at starting a war between Italy and France. This relieved some of the pressure on Otto, enabling him to at least hold onto the territory John had captured, which in turn meant that the French could not afford to leave themselves vulnerable by invading England while John was resolving his domestic problems.

What’s more, the presence of additional troops courtesy of Baron Kay, the need to subdue one less opponent, and the presence of a mole within the highest councils of the enemy command, all permitted John’s forces to succeed more rapidly in the ensuing moves against Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and his domestic Barons. Baron Kay advised John that the conspirators were counting on deterioration of morale after a long campaign to force John to the negotiating table. This forced John to actually keep his word to his troops, secretly meeting them en route to Oxford, bearing with him fresh supplies. The resultant morale boost late in the campaign was carefully hidden from the Rebellious Barons; they overconfidently declared their independence at Wallingford, and demanded a meeting between themselves and John at Runnemede to negotiate terms of his surrender of power. John seemingly went along, and in no respect were events overtly different to those documented by normal history; Once again a treaty, the Magna Carta, was “forced” out of him, and once again he played the Church against the Barons. He then starved the Barons out until they were forced to surrender, exactly as he had planned.

The small differences

The terms of the Magna Carta were not exclusively to the advantage of the Barons; some of them replaced the practice of Tithing with a general taxation system, and established common law – in theory, to protect the commoners against the throne, but the wording negotiated could in fact cut two ways – something the Barons learned when John made an example of Baron Ethan of Chinchester for his abuse of the peasants on his lands. John thus became a public hero to both the commons and the church, ensuring that history would record his rule in markedly different fashion.

At this point, another of John’s ploys came home to roost, as the Italians and French negotiated a peace treaty, and the French discovered the planted intelligence accusing the Pope and the Flemish of being the instigators of the Franco-Italian conflict. This weakened the church’s support considerably, ensuring that they were in no position to attempt to force John to honor the terms of his agreement assigning England to them; he renegotiated the deal, offering them an equal share of the spoils of victory from the ongoing invasion of France.

John then turned his attention back to the campaign against the French, which had stalemated under Otto’s inept leadership, leading a flanking force to surprise the French. Taking advantage of the tactical stagnation on both sides, and the reduced numbers of French defenders, he was quickly able to cut the supply lines of the resistance and capture fully one-third of the French Army, and leaving the way clear to invade Paris itself. The French had no alternative but to surrender and negotiate terms.

England thus acquired the Northwestern third of France, an Oath of Fealty from the French King, and undisputed dominance of Western Europe. The Northeast of France was turned over to the Germans, and the Southeastern provinces were given to the Church, placating the Pope. The Germans soon discovered that claiming possession a territory was not the same as owning it, and Northeastern France declared independence. They attempted to return to the control of the French King, who was undoubtedly tempted – but he had been left vulnerable by the heavy occupying force to his Northwest. Laying claim to those provinces would have overextended his forces and left what little remained of France vulnerable to renewed British aggression.

The dominos begin to fall

European History was disturbed only slightly by these changes for a considerable period of time. The essential difference was that France was unable to periodically bleed England of troops, and that as a result, England grew in power both militarily and economically. In time, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish emerged as new rivals to European Dominance as the age of exploration began, and Naval power began to overtake infantry as the premier field of conflict.

That was when England’s growth, in both budget and manpower, truly showed itself, overcoming the Spanish in South America, settling the North American Continent, Seizing control of the entire African Coastline, and taking control of Canada from the Dutch and French. Spain held Central America, Portugal held remote islands here and there and parts of the African Interior, the Dutch had Indonesia; the rest was British.

Then came the US War Of Independence – but that’s a subject for part 2…

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