Interlude: December 23, 1834 (12)
Northern EuropeLike Portugal, the Netherlands is a tiny nation that once bestrode the world but now has fallen behind it. Willem I still rules as something close to an absolute monarch, having turned the States-General into a rubber stamp. This wasn’t how he wanted things to be. He wanted to be a modern, enlightened monarch well within the rule of law, with a constitution and everything. But he also wanted his entire kingdom, and for Talleyrand not to try to overthrow him in the (less populous) half he still got to keep. We don’t always get what we want.
In lieu of freedom, he offers his people propaganda. This propaganda is focused on three subjects.
The first is the promise of vengeance against France and liberation for Antwerpen and Brussel (the French forms of the names are actually illegal to use). This vengeance is supposed to be achieved with the help of the Netherlands’ stalwart allies, Britain and Prussia. The problem with this is that Britain isn’t showing any inclination to resume the war against France, and even cooperated with them during the Barbary Partition. As for Prussia, as a military ally it has its own problems which we’ll get to later. Anyway, although the Dutch are indeed still angry that France ate half their country, many of them are in correspondence with family south of the Waal, and know that those family members are enjoying more freedom and prosperity than they themselves are.
The second theme of Willem’s propaganda is the growth of trade and the glory of the Dutch Empire. Every newspaper in Amsterdam and the Hague carries glowing stories based on royal press releases and dockside gossip: Check out the growth of our sugar plantations in Suriname! And our trade missions to Asanteman, Benin and Burma! And our heroic victories over Aceh! Temmasek is becoming a hub of commerce in the East! Oh my—we just conquered Sulu! Read all about the visit of Dutch ambassadors and missionaries to the king of the Sandwich Islands!
King Willem and his ministers are doing their damnedest to make this look like some kind of rebirth of national power, and arguably it is one. But it’s done nothing for the economy except make a few rich people richer. The trade associations the “King-Merchant” founded were doing better, but the Hiemal Period has taken even that away from him. Ambitious young men are moving to Hannover or France, or overseas. The Netherlands is becoming a place to leave.
And more so than most people realize. Willem’s third theme is the spiritual revival of the Dutch people, and he has help with it. Back in 1820 he ordered an investigation of his predecessor Louis’s old Dutch tutor, the lawyer and poet Willem Bilderdijk. What he heard was such a pleasant surprise that he gave the man a royal audience. Bilderdijk’s political conservatism and devotion to the Dutch Reformed Church were just what the king was looking for.
Bilderdijk died two years ago, but his circle of friends still includes many of Willem’s closest advisers. One of these is Abraham Capadose, a Jewish convert with all the proverbial zeal of converts. The problem is, he (like Bilderdijk, whose experiences with opium pills may have left him with a skepticism toward the received wisdom of medicine) is opposed to smallpox vaccination, and has managed to convince the king that it’s contrary to God’s will. Willem can’t quite get the States-General to outlaw the practice, but his control of medical licensing means that for at least six years now, it’s been effectively unavailable in the Netherlands. The well-to-do can afford a trip abroad to get their children vaccinated, but everyone else can do nothing but pray.
Frederick William III, King of Prussia, has found a different way to use religion to inflict pointless harm on his people. One of his biggest priorities has been making sure the forms and ceremonies of Lutheran worship are completely uniform throughout Prussia, and as are “authentically” Lutheran—as much like he thinks old Martin would have wanted—as possible. There has been so much resistance to this, and he has cracked down so hard, that it basically amounts to religious persecution. A lot of pastors (not to mention their congregations) are trying to raise money to emigrate, which is harder in this economy. Prussia, even more than the Netherlands, is looking like a place to be from, not a place to be.
This is especially worrisome in the Rhineland. When Frederick William III first took over this land, he of course forbade any dissent from his rule, but left the legal code and structure the French had built mostly intact. It was easier than trying to restore every last feudal privilege of every last lord.
For once, the easy thing to do was also the right thing. For more than a decade, the Rhineland was the most prosperous place in Germany, only being edged out by Hannover around 1831. Even now, it’s the heart of Prussia’s economy and industry, and the place that’s paying for everything Frederick William wants to do. And for all this time, Rhinelanders have been wondering how long their king was going to keep leaving them alone. The “Prussian Union of Churches” doesn’t directly affect their bottom line, but they can’t help wondering what damage FW3 would inflict on them if he ever decided to make west Prussia more, well, Prussian.
FW3 isn’t hearing much from these people. He is hearing from Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse, and wishes he weren’t.
This is another thing that goes back to the Congress of Vienna and the Battle of Velaine. Louis I, father of the current grand duke, lost the Duchy of Westphalia to Prussia in the Congress. To make up for it, they granted him land around Mainz. Then Napoleon and Masséna took that away from him.
Louis I died in 1831, still mad about it. His son is no less insistent that “Mayence” must, must, must be liberated from French tyranny and restored to its rightful ruler at whatever the cost. Louis II is something of a joke in Berlin because his wife responded to his philandering by kicking him out of her bed many years ago and spent the ‘20s giving birth to five children who look nothing like him, but he does occupy a strategic position on the border and has one of the better armies in the Nordzollverein. (There’s a reason George III hired Hessians.)
FW3 is going to have to say no. Prussians know war, but part of that is knowing when you’re outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, and outplanned. Intelligence reports that France has better weapons, more gunboats on the Rhine, and a canal grid and nascent railroad grid that already can get more men to the front lines and keep them in supplies. Five years from now, Prussia’s army will be reformed… again. Ten years from now (if they’re being optimistic—it’ll probably be at least fifteen) they’ll have a railroad grid of their own. But right now, in the event of war, Prussia would quickly lose everything west of the Rhine and would be lucky to ever see any of it again. Austria (whose ally Bavaria also lost Rhenish Bavaria after Nancy) might be an ally… if they hadn’t just underperformed in a war with France’s ally Italy. No help there.
The success story of the Germanies has been the tiny third Zollverein of Hanover and Oldenburg, plus the independent cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven. Hannover’s railroads are farther along than Italy’s, and Hanover has much less ground to cover. Even now, this kingdom is attracting more people from other parts of Europe than it’s losing to the U.S. These days investment capital is hard to come by, not least because in a deflationary economy, a savings account or a sock full of cash under your mattress is an investment of sorts. But the genius of Carl Gauss and Wilhelm Weber and the money of the Fitzclarence family have produced a guaranteed winner—a new invention called the telegraph. Following their successful test in Göttingen last year, Gauss and Weber installed lines in Hannover, allowing the king, parliament and ministries to communicate with each other using a code written by Gauss himself. With the money from this contract, they’ve opened commercial telegraph offices for the public and plan to expand their lines to Hildesheim, Celle, and Walsrode next year, following the railroads and revolutionizing communication.
For intellectuals of all sorts—scientists, philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer, poets—Hannover and the university city of Göttingen have become… not Meccas. Pilgrims go to Mecca, but then they leave again. The poets and writers, in particular, are embracing the blue flower, a symbol so mystical and arcane nobody can say exactly what it’s a symbol of, and certainly nobody would be so dorky as to ask. The idea is to act like you already know.
In all seriousness, it does mean different things to different people. To the poets and Romantics, it can represent either the longing for something unknown or ineffable or the reaction of the soul to overwhelming beauty. To the Germanists, it represents a longing for, well, Germany—one whole, independent of other nations and at the very least not ruled by decrepit dynasties like the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns… possibly not ruled by any king at all.
Even if it weren’t for this, there would be friction points between Hanover and the Nordzollverein. The entire reason Hanover didn’t join is that FW3 was leaning too heavily on the smaller members of the customs union. But what keeps coming up between them is disputes over trade, especially with all those exclaves. Hanover and Oldenburg both have chunks of territory inside the Nordzollverein, and some Nordzollverein states have bits inside Hanover. Worse, Göttingen itself is in the middle of a large exclave, separated from the bulk of Hanover by the Duchy of Brunswick… and here’s where things get complicated. (Not making any promises, but these maps might help.)
The current duke of Brunswick is Charles II, nephew to the late Queen Caroline of Great Britain, which means Queen Charlotte and King Wilhelm are both cousins of his. (It also means he’s the grandson and direct heir of the man who put his name on the Brunswick Manifesto, thereby plunging Europe into three decades of horror. People who meet him find this easy to remember.) He inherited the duchy at the age of ten, when his father was killed at Velaine, but was placed under the guardianship of Prince Regent George, who didn’t actually do any guarding. By agreement, he was deemed to have reached his majority in 1823. Wilhelm wanted him to join the Hanover and Oldenburg bloc, but he resented his British cousins and admired the Prussians his father and grandfather served. Wilhelm tried to get Brunswick to approve a constitution that would turn Charles into an effective vassal, but Prussia intervened. Charles has been ruling as part of the Nordzollverein ever since.
He’s not a popular ruler in his own territory, and he depends on his own army and Prussian support to keep him in power. He’s even less popular in Hanover, since he isn’t letting them build a railroad through his land to connect Hannover to Göttingen, and anyone who goes through by road has to pay tolls twice. A lot of Hanoverians are avoiding this by claiming to be from Thedinghausen, a Brunswick exclave inside Hanover. This sometimes works—Charles’ regime is corrupt, inefficient, and subject to bribery—but sometimes not.
Needless to say, under these circumstances no lawyer ever goes hungry. Especially not a brilliant and ambitious young lawyer from a Junker family back east, who’s fresh out of the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen and already having to turn away work.
21-year-old Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck-Schönhausen is feeling torn—he loves his homeland and means to return there one day, but he’s in love with Hannover. It’s an exciting place to be right now, much more so than Berlin or Frankfurt. Poets and radicals are calling it the Zukunftsbrückenkopf, the place from which the future is beginning its conquest of the world. It’s a place where people can literally communicate at the speed of electricity—that’s more than even Paris or London can claim, never mind Berlin. It’s a place where ideas that would trigger a riot or a crackdown back home are tossed about like toys over coffee or beer. Hannover is exhilarating.
Best of all, you sometimes meet English girls there. For young Bismarck, English girls are a turn-on. It’s the accents.
Speaking of lands with a reputation for cold weather and hot women… Scandinavia. Denmark is yet another former center of wealth and power that feels like history has set sail without them. In some ways, they’re worse off than the Netherlands—at least King Willem doesn’t have to pretend to be France’s ally. And instead of great overseas victories to celebrate, there’s news of the British taking over and shutting down their slave-trading outposts in West Africa. King Frederick VI has been quietly modernizing his army and fleet, but… that damn Hiemal Period again.
In Copenhagen, Hans Christian Andersen has the usual problems of a full-time writer in a bad economy, but he lucked out back in ’32—the king gave him a travel grant to visit Hamburg, Hannover, France and Italy, and his travelogue has proven somewhat popular. In spite of this and the sale of a novel called Mermen, right now Andersen’s just barely scraping by, but he’s hoping to turn things around next year. As long as people keep procreating, there’ll be a market for children’s stories.
Sweden and Norway are doing as well as anywhere in the world right now. The iron and steel Hanover is buying in bulk for tools, railroads, locomotives, and other things is from Swedish iron ore, shipped via Norwegian ports.
Stockholm isn’t Paris or Hannover, but it does have its own literary scene. One of the stars of that scene is writer and newspaperman Magnus Jacob Crusenstolpe, who has recently caught the ear of King Charles John. Since the king can be proud and censorious, having his attention even in a good way is an uncomfortable thing. Just to keep things awkward, Crusenstolpe has also become drinking buddies with Konráð Gíslason, Jónas Hallgrímsson, Brynjólfur Pétursson, and Tómas Sæmundsson, four men who absolutely will not shut up about how THEY ARE BEING SILENCED!! ICELANDIC VOICES ARE BEING SILENCED!!!
These men are in Stockholm to print Fjölnir, an annual Icelandic journal aimed at raising Icelandic national consciousness and advocating independence from Sweden. Despite the subversive character of their writing, the hard part wasn’t getting permission to print—it was paying for the press and finding someone to make the type for the letters thorn and edh. Crusenstolpe agrees that Iceland definitely should have something better than a dependency, although he’s not sure how much influence he has with the king.
Why has Sweden-Norway, a personal union between two nations that outsiders can barely tell apart but that don’t like each other very much, lasted so long? It’s not that everyone trembles in fear of King Charles John, and it’s not just the economic convenience of a common market. Left to themselves, it appears likely to everyone that Norway would end up junior partner to Britain and Sweden would need Prussia to protect it from Russia. Sweden-Norway has more options than either nation would have alone, including the best option of all—staying out of trouble.
 The Netherlands and Hanover are both ruled by kings named William I, so I’m going to try to keep them distinct.
 IOTL, fortunately, Capadose’s medical advice had the opposite effect—Dutch parents made extra efforts to get their children inoculated. ITTL, alas, he’s being heeded by someone in power. (I should mention that Willem’s rule here is very different than it was IOTL, mostly because of the post-Velaine defeats and the aftereffects of Talleyrand’s mischief.)
 IOTL the first railway in Prussia was the Berlin-Potsdam railway, which opened in 1838.
 This happened in 1833 IOTL as well.
 Again for the sake of clarity, in this post I’m using “Hannover” for the capital and “Hanover” for the kingdom.
 IOTL he was deposed in 1830. Here, Prussia is keeping him on his throne.
 He was killed at Quatre Bras IOTL.
 Let me know if I got the German wrong.
 An expansion of “Agnete and the Merman” and “The Little Mermaid.”
 IOTL they did the same thing from Copenhagen.