Interlude: December 23, 1834 (12)
Northern Europe
Like Portugal, the Netherlands is a tiny nation that once bestrode the world but now has fallen behind it. Willem I[1] 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.[2] 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[3]) 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[4], Gauss and Weber installed lines in Hannover[5], 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[6], 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[7], 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[8], 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[9], 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.[10] 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.

[1] The Netherlands and Hanover are both ruled by kings named William I, so I’m going to try to keep them distinct.
[2] 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.)
[3] IOTL the first railway in Prussia was the Berlin-Potsdam railway, which opened in 1838.
[4] This happened in 1833 IOTL as well.
[5] Again for the sake of clarity, in this post I’m using “Hannover” for the capital and “Hanover” for the kingdom.
[6] IOTL he was deposed in 1830. Here, Prussia is keeping him on his throne.
[7] He was killed at Quatre Bras IOTL.
[8] Let me know if I got the German wrong.
[9] An expansion of “Agnete and the Merman” and “The Little Mermaid.”
[10] IOTL they did the same thing from Copenhagen.
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I would use either "the Zukunftsbrückenkopf" or "den Zukunftsbrückenkopf".
Thanks! (I've added an extra footnote to the Central Europe post. Going back over old posts, I realized there was something that needed explaining.)
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Interlude: December 23, 1834 (13)
History books will describe this as a time of modernization in Russia, but modernization is relative. At this moment, if you were to use the city of Hannover as your baseline, you’d say that New York, London, Paris, and Anvers clearly need to modernize. In places like Portugal, Russia, and the Cairene Empire, modernization means trying to catch up to nations that are already in an all-out sprint forward—or at least were before the Hiemal Period began.

In the case of Russia this year, modernization means building coal gas plants so St. Petersburg and Moscow can have gas lighting in the next few years. It means paying railroad engineers whatever money they demand to come and teach their trade in Russia—in such an enormous land, the value of railroads is obvious. It means paving streets and establishing new universities in other cities… universities that are, of course, under the control of the Ministry of Spiritual Affairs and Popular Enlightenment.

Lots of things in Russia are under the Ministry’s control these days, including the new-model prisons. There are several of them in the Moscow and St. Petersburg areas, and one outside Kiev. These are prisons for minor offenders, people the state would like to make its displeasure known to without banishing them to Siberia. The building plans were cribbed from Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia (which means these prisons have some of the best indoor plumbing in Russia) and the methods used are very similar—enforced silence, hoods and felt shoes for the prisoners, time spent gardening and reading the new Russian-language Bibles. If you’re an introvert, this is a little too much of a good thing. If you’re an extravert, it’s hell.

The good news is that these sentences are relatively short—usually three to six months, and rarely more than a year—and the prisoners do have more opportunities to interact than those in Eastern State. They get to sermons and make confession to a starets once a week. It’s not much, but it keeps the isolation from doing permanent damage. Prisoners tend to develop an attachment to the starets (the only person they get to talk to) but the Ministry sees this as more a feature than a bug.

And for the late-stage alcoholic or the young aristocrat with a morphine problem, these prisons are literal lifesavers. After three or four months on herbal tea, cabbage soup, black bread, and a whole lot of cold turkey, addicts find they’re well past the physical stages of withdrawal and are rediscovering how it feels not to NEED all the time… or at least not to need their drug of choice. They might still feel like they need the Ministry to keep them on the straight and narrow. Again, the Ministry is okay with this.

The bad news is that the Ministry (not exactly unbiased observers doing controlled experiments) are treating these successes as validation for the whole program. This sends the message that (a) this is what prisons are supposed to look like, and (b) good things happen when you put the Ministry in charge.

And now, the Ministry is even taking a hand in foreign affairs. In St. Petersburg, at the old Holy Synod headquarters, the Ministry is hosting a meeting over the winter between religious and political representatives of Serbia and Greece. Officially this is to sort out the jurisdiction of the Metropolitanate of Belgrade, which functions as the Serbian Orthodox Church within Serbia proper, and how much independence it and the Orthodox Church within Greece have from Constantinople. For some reason, nobody from Constantinople is at this meeting, but the Tsar’s foreign minister is. It’s probably nothing. Don’t worry.

There are places where the Ministry’s claim of governance over all Christian churches in Russia is really creating problems. The Catholic Church in Poland is still loyal to Rome, and absolutely refuses to give an inch to Moscow. They’re backed up by Grand Duke Konstantin in Warsaw, who’s privately skeptical of this whole spiritual reform movement. The Lutherans in Finland are having the same trouble with the Ministry that the ones in Prussia are having with their own king.

This is part of a larger problem in Poland and Finland—both were Russia’s testing grounds for constitutional government, but the government keeps going outside the limits of said constitutions. The people were promised a greater degree of freedom, but that promise isn’t being kept. And just outside the borders of Poland is the Free City of Krakow, which serves as a convenient meeting place for anyone who might want to talk about their plans away from the Grand Duke’s ears.

The Middle East
The Cairene Empire has been growing steadily for the past few years, to the point where it now rules most of the old Ottoman Empire. The kingdoms of Syria and Iraq are modernizing (again, relatively speaking) under the rule of Muhammad Ali’s sons Tusun and Ibrahim. Cairo dominates the Arabian peninsula either directly or via its Rashidi, Saudi and Kuwaiti vassals, Turkey and Kurdistan are also vassal kingdoms, the Berber tribes on the borders of the European powers’ North African possessions are reluctantly turning to it, and it’s expanding further up the Nile into Sennar and Ethiopia.

When an empire grows so quickly and so large, other powers—however distracted they may be—invariably notice. Palmerston in particular is devoting attention to this. His chiefest concern right now is that the biggest thing between the Cairene Empire and the Raj is Persia, Persia is in a state of civil war, and Muhammad Ali seems to have taken an interest in that war. Abbas Mirza, who holds the province of Fars, is backed by the Cairenes. What makes things worse is that the other contender, Ali Mirza, who holds Tehran and the north, is backed by Russia.

Palmerston would dearly love to grab a bag of popcorn and say “Let them fight,” but (a) the popcorn machine hasn’t been invented yet, and (b) if all he does is let them fight, there’s a serious risk that one of them will win. A Cairene ally that close to India could ally with Afghanistan and the Sikh Empire and threaten Britain’s hold on north India. If Ali Mirza wins, Russia will have access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Neither option is acceptable to him. So for most of this year he was trying to find a third party that would accept British backing.

And then he got word of Delijan and Nimvar.

On September 25, 1834, Ali Mirza’s army met Abbas Mirza’s army a little northeast of Delijan, defeated it and cut off its retreat to Isfahan. Three days later, they caught up with it at Nimvar, and what happened next was somewhere between a rout and a massacre. When it was over, Abbas Mirza was dead. His Persian troops were fleeing in all directions, and the Arabs from Egypt, Iraq, and Arabia who had marched with him were mostly dead.

Cairo’s seemingly unstoppable winning streak has, for the time being, stopped. Iraq has claimed Khuzestan and Kurdistan has expanded a little, but other than that they’re taking no further interest in this war.

It appears as though the Tsar has handed the Persians, Muhammad Ali and Palmerston a fait accompli… but the war isn’t over yet. There is still resistance to Ali Mirza’s rule. Abbas Mirza’s son Bahram Mirza has escaped Isfahan, and on this day—December 23—he has arrived in the port of Bushehr and is sending word with a British trader that he’s ready to make a deal with Whitehall.

Persia isn’t the only place where Palmerston would like to set limits to the expanding power of Cairo. The good news is, there are four Middle Eastern states not yet bending the knee to Muhammad Ali—Bahrain[1], Oman, Yemen, and Lahej. The bad news is, Britain has antagonized the first, is at war with the second, and the other two are at war with each other.

In the case of Bahrain, this was the Royal Navy doing its usual anti-piracy thing in the Persian Gulf in the 1820s. Oman’s entire economy depends on the slave trade in East Africa, which Britain is doing its level best to destroy.

Then there’s Yemen and Lahej. Lahej is a breakaway state at the southernmost tip of Arabia, which Yemen has been trying to reconquer. It doesn’t look like much on the map, but it contains the city of Aden, which happens to be the perfect location for a coaling port…

North and East Africa
It’s easy to look back at the career of Alexander or Napoleon, point to that one moment when they were at the height of their power, and say, “Why didn’t he stop here? Why did he go on, wasting his strength on wars he couldn’t possibly win? Why didn’t he quit while he was ahead?”

With the benefit of hindsight, anyone can do this—including other conquerors. Especially a conqueror who’s smarter than most people, now rules many of the places Alexander once conquered, and has personal memories of Napoleon. Muhammad Ali rose from Albanian mercenary to Ottoman viceroy by exploiting divisions on his own side. Since then he’s become king of Egypt, founder and sultan of a new empire, and single most powerful man in the House of Islam. The secrets of his success have been sucker-punching the weak, imposing order wherever chaos emerges, and above all, staying out of the way of the Powers until his empire is strong enough to join their ranks—and one of his sons or grandsons might see that day, but he knows he will not. In the meantime, he won’t make the mistakes others before him have made.

But he has been enormously, extravagantly successful, and for a while there it was starting to go to his head. When you’re on a winning streak, it is very hard to spot the moment when you should collect your winnings and call it a night—especially since stopping at any previous moment would have meant missing out on a big prize. When you suspect people are thinking of you as a lucky jackal, it’s hard to resist the urge to prove yourself a mighty lion. And when you’re a devout Muslim and God Himself appears to be blessing you with success and good fortune, it feels wrong to deny yourself whatever further blessings He might have in store. Hence the intervention in the civil war, risky as it was—the prospect of a Cairo-allied Persia was too great a prize to resist.

Then Nimvar happened. It wasn’t entirely a disaster for the Sultan—though the Arabs who fell there were loyal to him, they were also some of the more traditional-minded soldiers who objected to further modernization (this is part of the reason he sent them on this dangerous mission) and their defeat will make it easier for him to carry out such modernization while persuading his own armies not to mutiny like the Janissaries. But for him it was a much-needed reminder of why he has always chosen the path of opportunism and risk minimization. There is still a certain frailty to his empire, after all. Plenty of ex-Mamluks and petty lords would be happy to carve their own little realms out of his great one, if it seemed like he was about to fall.

So he will make no further efforts to provoke the Powers directly. But where he has a chance to expand his power and influence without running up against them, he will continue to do so. For instance, although his usual rule is to leave Christian-majority lands alone, the collapse of Ethiopia into warlordism has made it a target of opportunity. Likewise, British interest in Lahej means that Yemen proper may be open to an alliance. Berbera and the other Somali city-states still treasure their independence, but they don’t mind serving as conduits for guns that happen to end up in the hands of Omani fighting the British. It’s just business. And it’s better than trying to send weapons by caravan across the Arabian desert—not everyone in Saudi lands is reconciled to the Sultan’s rule.

More important is building up strength at home, in the form of education and industry. The cataracts of the Nile power cotton mills (although the collapse of the cotton market has hurt here too). Egypt has some iron, Syria has coal, and deeper in Africa there is plenty of timber. Ali has imported steam engines from Britain and France, and has set people to work on building more. The one missing ingredient is… once again… investment capital.

European engineers are well-paid in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, but other scholars are welcome as well. Though his health is failing, Jean-François Champollion[2] found the strength for a final journey last year. It wasn’t a great success as far as archaeology went, but in Wadi al-Hitan, he found bones so old and massive he asked some paleontologists to come and check them out. They’re now confirming the existence of a prehistoric beast they call Leviathanus pharaonicus, the sea monster like a king of ancient Egypt.[3]

The biggest thorn in his side is, of course, the Barbary Partition. When the War of the Sardinian Succession began, the Sultan did have the beginnings of a plan to use this to free at least part of northwest Africa—ally with Austria to free Tunisia from Italy, then ally with Britain to chase France out of Algeria. It wasn’t very realistic, but it was better than trying to take on six nations at once. But before he could so much as draft a letter to the Austrian ambassador, facts on the ground rendered all his plans irrelevant.

In January of 1832, a rebellion broke out against Austrian rule in Tripolitania. Since the Austrian garrison had no chance of resupply or reinforcements from home, it seemed as though they were doomed. The rebellion failed, for two reasons:
• At the head of the rebellion was Ali, son of the deposed Turkish pasha. Ottoman rule in Libya was no more gentle than Austrian rule, and the Turks claimed a lot more territory. Ali was chosen because the various Berber and Bedouin tribes couldn’t agree on a leader among themselves. He quickly wore out his welcome by having people he perceived as his rivals assassinated. The rebels then rebelled against him, killed him, and spent the rest of the year trying to manage the uprising by committee.
• The British government anticipated this problem and, not wanting any part of the Barbary Partition to fail, was quick to order a few regiments to Tripoli as reinforcements.

So Austria’s rule over Tripolitania is still pretty solid, even if it’s still enforced as much by Britain as by Austria. Tunisia is a peaceful state with just enough army to keep order in its own territory, independent except for having to run its defense and foreign policy decisions by Terni, where the Bey of Tunis has sent his son Ahmad so he can learn how the strong nations do things. The islands off Tunisia’s shore are being gradually settled by Italy, but via gentrification rather than genocide.

Hussein Dey has been dead for the past year, having been killed at Lakhdaria. The scattered resistance to now-direct French rule and French settlement is being led by Abd al-Qadir, who has to divide his attention between the French in Algeria and the British in Orania. Joseph Dupuis, British governor of Orania, controls the city of Oran and the coast. He’s trying to encourage the growth of cash crops—wine (fairly successful), prickly pear (less so), and gum arabic (too early to tell—the trees aren’t fully grown yet). Trouble is, coastal Oran is about as cool a climate as the trees in question[4] can take, which will limit productivity. Dupuis has heard from botanists that Australia has many species of acacia—“wattles,” they call them—that are more suitable for the climate, and is trying to get samples.

In Morocco, Abd al-Rahman is not doing too badly. He’s stamped out the rebellions, gotten his sultanate’s finances in order, and started to modernize his country (again, relatively speaking). There are Spanish officials in Fez being far more intrusive than the Italians in Tunis, but they can’t always get the attention of Madrid, which has imperial territories all over the world to keep track of.

But the biggest problem is what’s happening to the west, in Tangeria. It would be an exaggeration to call it genocide, but not by nearly enough. There’s usually some village along the coast that isn’t paying taxes to Lisbon or is showing signs of rebellion, which is all the excuse the Portuguese Army needs to go in and… well, few things are dirtier or messier than ethnic cleansing. Portugal can usually find settlers to replace them.

Abd al-Rahman is under a lot of pressure to take action. People are telling him: This is the Crusades all over again. You call yourself our leader, but if you don't lead us into battle against these murderers, we'll find someone who will. Really, he’d love to, but it would mean fighting two countries with not enough army to face one.

When a smart man is forced to do something stupid, that man becomes very dangerous. He starts thinking of smarter, more effective, more hey-we-might-actually-live-through-this ways to do it.

[1] Which at this point rules Qatar as well.
[2] He died in 1832 IOTL.
[3] IOTL Basilosaurus isis
[4] Senegalia senegal or Acacia senegal
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Another good overview of parts of the world right now. What's happening in Russia is rather disconcerting to say the least with the prisons. A shame about Ethiopia, but hopefully it'll get back on track soon enough and not just be one of Ali's domains as well.


I forgot to say earlier, but thanks for adding the threadmarks, it makes it much easier to find and read the actual story updates!
Though his health is failing, Jean-François Champollion[2] found the strength for a final journey last year. It wasn’t a great success as far as archaeology went, but in Wadi al-Hitan, he found bones so old and massive he asked some paleontologists to come and check them out. They’re now confirming the existence of a prehistoric beast they call Leviathanus pharaonicus, the sea monster like a king of ancient Egypt.[3]
Alternate paleontology! Hurrah!

Another fine update as usual. I think it goes without saying that the history of the Near East is going to be forever altered by the existence of this new Arab-Egyptian empire. Assuming the state is able to modernize as successfully as it is implied, I have a suspicion that something akin to Arab nationalism will appear - and unlike the version that appeared in our time, this one has already attained virtually all of its irredentist goals and has a single powerful nation carrying its torch. One merely hopes that it will be more kindly towards its minorities than the late Ottoman state was, though it seems many of them reside in the state's autonomous vassals instead of directly under the purview of Cairo.
Leviathanus Pharaonicus
Honestly, that's a much more badass name than Basilosaurus. A perfect name for the king of the oceans (during the late Eocene).
Thank you.

I'm fine. Where I live is a hotbed of social rest—all we had was a few very peaceful demonstrations last year. Everyone in my family has managed to stay safe (or at least asymptomatic), and my parents got their COVID shots this month.

I'm trying to get Locksmith's War finally finished, but I'm also working on the last few updates to the Interlude. (JSTOR's free article views are a big help there.)
Interlude: December 23, 1834 (14)
West Africa
West Africa: a land of contrasts.

No, seriously. You can find every level of social organization here, from societies where each village is effectively its own state, to feudal aristocracies, to empires that wouldn’t have been out of place in the ancient world, to states with institutions that are almost up to code for the modern world, to colonies like Freetown and Ajudá.

The one commonality is the effect of the slave trade, which has been reduced to a single bloody trickle but has not been entirely cut off. That trade destroyed the weak and hideously distorted the strong. Take prisoners, trade them for guns, use those guns in war, take more prisoners, etc., etc. To survive, and to keep your people safe, you had to be a ruthless sociopath willing to launch unprovoked attacks on innocents and subject them to a terrible fate. Otherwise you’d have no way of defending yourself and your loved ones when somebody else tried to do it to you. Which is why, even though every state in Europe has turned against the slave trade, kingdoms like Danhome, Oyeau, and Benin are still making under-the-table deals with the slavers who still operate. Palm oil, peppers, and even ivory just aren’t the same.

Asanteman—the Ashanti Empire—is possibly the strongest of the West African states, and certainly the one least affected by the diminishing of the slave trade. The reason is, Asanteman has gold. Europeans even call this place “the Gold Coast,” which tells you why they care about it. Gold always finds a buyer, but it’s almost impossible to overstate its importance at this particular moment. In a deflating world economy where most currencies are either gold-backed or bimetallic[1], gold is like water in the desert—every drop is needed by someone. So Asanteman is one of the few places to draw a net benefit from the Hiemal Period. Every country in Europe with a seaport trades here. (Britain and friends don’t like them trading with France, but France has revolvers and thimmoniers. Hard to say no to that.)

What complicates their relationship with the rest of the world is their traditional religion, which does involve a certain amount of human sacrifice. The authority of the king and government is built around this belief system, so they can’t just all convert to Christianity or shout the shahada and be done with it—not without a revolution. Of course, there are missionaries from several Christian denominations at work in the ports.

It isn’t just Asanteman that has gold. So do the neighboring, much smaller kingdoms to the west, Sanwi and Indénié. A little further west is what was the kingdom of the Baoulé before it collapsed into warring families… which turned out to be an even worse move than usual. The Crou are to the west of the Baoulé and expanding, from what Europeans call “the Pepper Coast” into what they call “the Ivory Coast.” The Crou were already looking for more land and more slaves, and you can imagine their reaction to finding out that Baoulé country has gold in them thar hills. You might also be imagining the Asantehene[2] Kwaku Dua I’s reaction to seeing his neighbors under threat of conquest. The smart move would be to ally with Sanwi, Indénié, and the Baoulé against this obvious growing threat… right?

In another part of the world, yes. But this is West Africa, where (it bears repeating) for close to three centuries the smartest move you could make was to sucker-punch your next-door neighbors. The level of trust necessary for even the simplest defensive alliance between kingdoms just doesn’t exist here. Besides, what the Asantehene is really worried about is Dagbon, the Muslim kingdom to the immediate north. West Africa is experiencing a breather in the Fulani wars, but nobody expects this to last, and when they start again, Dagbon will be on the side of the Fulani, because of course the part of West Africa where alliances actually work would be this part. So the Baoulé are fighting, and losing, alone.

Central and Southern Africa
The Zulu Kingdom (Zululand, as it will be known to the outside world for at least the rest of this century) has a new king. Umhlangana has, with British aid, overthrown and killed Shaka and taken over. He isn’t bad as kings go, but the moment when Shaka saw the palisades and mud-brick walls of his kraal knocked down by British artillery will become a metaphor for sorrow, failure, and defeat among the Zulu people even when nobody else knows what they’re talking about.

With this, Zululand, Basutoland under Moshoeshoe I and Swaziland under Sobhuza I have become the equivalent of princely states. They’re not fully independent, but they at least have the right to bar others—specifically Europeans—from swooping in and settling their land. Good news from their perspective, not so much to the Boers.

Madagascar’s civil war is also over. With a little help from the Royal Navy, King Rakotobe is establishing control over the whole island. His supporters are setting up new vanilla plantations in recently conquered lands.

A lot of people in high places try to claim that the things they do aren’t really their fault, and Rakotobe can make a better case than most. If he hadn’t fled the country after his aunt seized power, she would have killed him. If he hadn’t been willing to try and take his kingdom back, the British might have handed him over to his aunt as a peace offering. And to get his kingdom back, he needed British help, and all that that implies. Like openly converting to Anglicanism and letting them set up missions and schools all through his kingdom. Or signing very favorable trade agreements with representatives from Whitehall.

Another key reform—setting up a real police and court system. Determining guilt or innocence by feeding poison to the accused and seeing if they survive is exactly the sort of thing that makes the British roll their eyes. Worse (from Rakotobe’s point of view) it doesn’t really tell you if your aunt’s old loyalists are plotting against you. Speaking of loyalists, this reform lets Rakotobe set up his followers as police and magistrates all over the island, cementing his control.

We turn our attention from the lands where the colonizers have won to the land the colonizers are barely aware of the existence of. In the land of lakes and mountains, well to the southwest of Ethiopia, are a number of small kingdoms—Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro, Burundi, Rwanda, Tooro and others—some of which trace their founding to the breakup of the old empire of Kitara. Two of them (Buganda and Bunyoro) both saw the accession of a new king this year. In both of these kingdoms, succession is a lot more complicated than just the king’s eldest son inheriting—in fact, in Buganda the eldest son is specifically barred from the throne. And if you’re picturing two men engaged in single combat at the top of a waterfall, what happened in Bunyoro was even more cinematic than that.

In the rising power of Buganda, King Kamaanya’s rule spanned an even twenty years.[3] The ruling council had long since chosen the next king from among his 62 sons, but in accordance with custom had kept their decision secret so nobody would know whom to assassinate. They chose 13-year-old Ndawula[4], which was something of a hint that they intended to exercise real power through him for as long as possible.

In the declining power of Bunyoro, which more than any of the others is the Kitara successor state, Nyamutukura had ruled for nearly fifty years[5], and his sons were starting to get old. He had chosen Mugenyi[6] to be his successor, but in order to be accepted as king, Mugenyi had to preside over his father’s funeral—and as it happens, Nyamutukura was just outside the capital when he passed. The result was a sort of combination state funeral, coup d’etat, and very bloody game of Capture the Flag, in which Mugenyi was the first to reach the body, but was killed by the prince Kamasura[7] and his retainers, who stole the king’s body, brought it back to the capital and buried it with all proper ceremony while fighting off an attack by Prince Isagara and his men. If all this sounds like it should have been accompanied by a death metal rendition of “Yakety Sax,” bear in mind that Bunyoro’s system guarantees that whoever ends up as monarch will at least be decisive and competent, without the national self-harm of a civil war every generation. More than one empire has failed at this. And now that they both have kings, Buganda and Bunyoro can get back to doing what they do best—fighting over land. Buganda will probably win. That’s the safest bet these days.

At the moment, none of these developments matters much outside the Great Lakes region of Africa. It will be some time before this part of the world is… slated for development.

[1] Right now, as IOTL, the pound is gold-backed, while the franc and the U.S. dollar are bimetallic.
[2] The Ashanti king
[3] He died in 1832 IOTL.
[4] IOTL, Kamaanya’s successor Ssuuna was 12.
[5] He died in 1835 IOTL.
[6] His successor IOTL
[7] Who tried to overthrow his father and was killed IOTL
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Interlude: December 23, 1834 (15)
India and Afghanistan
In the British Isles, replacing George IV and the Duke of Wellington with Charlotte I and Earl Grey has made a big difference. In the West Indies, it’s made all the difference. But in India… meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The captive markets of the subcontinent are the sacred cash cows of the British Empire. No one in the Government wants to mess with them in any way, except to expand and strengthen London’s control. Just this year the East India Company conquered the small South Indian statelet of Kodagu, or Coorg.[1]

The island of Ceylon has been under direct rule for most of twenty years, with the last trace of rebellion brutally snuffed out fifteen years ago. With the last king dead, the island is now a British crown colony. The highlands are being devoted to tea and coffee plantations, which means British coffee importers will have a stronger hand when negotiating with Franco-American-aligned Gran Colombia, not to mention the Spanish Empire.

The strongest of India’s princely states is Hyderabad, and its Nizam, Nasir-ud-Daulah, has spent the last five years trying to minimize British influence and reform his state. It helps that he has an independent source of wealth, because Hyderabad is a center of gold and gem mining. Forget the gems—the gem market has the same problem as the fur market, but worse because (compared to even the best-maintained fur) diamonds really are forever. But as in Asanteman, gold makes up for everything, and much of the revenue from mining ends up in the royal pocket. So there is basically no part of India under British control better placed to show independence. How’s it going?

Not well. While the Nizam is trying to thumb his nose at London, his nobles are thumbing their noses at him, stealing land from the poor and withholding taxes. Many of these nobles have been taking out loans from the Royal Bank, and given the choice between paying their Nizam and paying the British, well, they know who scares them most. Aristocrats like this are the reason The Governing Elites is going to be (a) well over a thousand pages long, and (b) an international bestseller despite being banned by many of the world’s governments.

The last part of India not under British rule is the northwest. It is dominated by an alliance of sorts between the Sikh Empire, under Ranjit Singh, and Afghanistan under Shuja Durrani. Ranjit helped Shuja reclaim his throne a few years ago, but what’s keeping Afghanistan friendly is not so much honor or gratitude as better opportunities elsewhere. Persia is weaker and more divided than it’s been in a long time. That’s an opportunity for Afghanistan and Balochistan to help themselves to western territory. (Also, as far as the Pashtuns are concerned, Ranjit Singh is the boogeyman. They’ve fought him before and do not wish to do so again.)

The Sikh Empire has one big problem. In order to do a proper job of modernizing, it needs access to the sea. The most direct path is the still-independent state of Sindh, at the mouth of the Indus. But last year, Sindh experienced an unexpected change of government.

A reformist Islamic scholar named Syed Ahmad Barelvi has been knocking around India for the past fifteen years or so, preaching and distributing his writings. His main concerns are Shi’a Islam—he’s against it—and certain practices which look to him too much like idolatry. He has attracted an enormous following—a following so large that it’s basically become his own personal army, and in a surprise move he led that army to Sindh and conquered it before anyone could react.

Why not go after the British? Because he tends to think of them as more of a symptom of the problem than a cause. As he sees it, God wouldn’t let Christians rule over Muslims unless the Muslims had somehow fallen into error. One state of the faithful doing things right will be invincible—just look at Muhammad Ali and all he’s accomplished. (Religious reform is all he really knows how to do, so of course he thinks it’s the most important thing in the world.)

So now that he’s had about a year to straighten out the Sindhi, what next? Will he turn south to begin liberating the Muslims of India from British rule? Or will he join the Afghans and Balochs in their war against the motherland of the Shi’a creed he so hates? Now would be a great time to take a big sip of your beverage of choice, because Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s next target is…

…the Sikh Empire.[2]

The British in Calcutta are laughing their heads off. The two men in India that they’re most afraid of are about to be at war with each other.

[1] As IOTL.
[2] IOTL he’d already been killed at this point fighting Ranjit Singh.
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Makes you wonder just how much divide and rule was an actual strategy of the British Empire or whether they just kept on blundering into it and made everyone think that they were smarter than they actually were. A good insight into India, although it isn't looking good for the people there.
Interlude: December 23, 1834 (16)
Well, it's taken most of a year, but the Interlude of Unusual Size is finally done.


Japan and Korea
This November in the great city of Edo, the autumn leaves fell.

This is a poetic way of saying the city burned to the ground.

Not for the first time, either. Edo is Japan’s capital[1] and largest city, and at over a million people is more than half the size of Greater London and about the same size as Paris.[2] And with all those people using lanterns and charcoal, there are many, many opportunities for accidents every day. Also the city is mostly made of wood and paper and floored with tatami. If the Japanese heard of the Savannah Fire, they’d wonder what the Americans were making such a fuss about. They’ve actually gotten used to their capital burning down every once in a while.

It’s much worse that this year, Hokkaido and northern Honshu were hit by severe flooding that destroyed much of the harvest. Japan is a nation of 27 million—more than the British Isles—and has to rely on itself for food. It’s never more than one bad harvest away from famine.[3]

Shogun Tokugawa Ienari is 61 years old and has ruled Japan for 46 years. He hasn’t been a particularly attentive or diligent ruler, but even he can see troubles ahead, not least because his grandchildren by his son and heir, Prince Teijiro, keep getting sick and dying young. Luckily, he has lots of concubines. One of his children just has to live.

Japan at this point has a reputation as a hermit kingdom that tolerates no outsiders, and that reputation didn’t come out of nowhere. Last year some Japanese mariners whose ship was wrecked by a storm were picked up by a French merchantman—but when the French tried to return them, they were shot at. They had to transfer the mariners to another ship that sailed to Dejima under Dutch colors.[4]

But this worked because Japan’s policy of sakoku isn’t complete—the Dutch have an enclave on the artificial island of Dejima, in Nagasaki harbor. The fact that the Netherlands came out of the last war in such bad shape has made the Japanese even more comfortable with them—they don’t seem like a threat. (Although after the conquest of Sulu, some people are starting to wonder about that.)

The important thing is that the Dutch have become a conduit for Western knowledge—what the Japanese call rangaku—into Japan. A community of scholars has formed to study this knowledge, and the more they study, the more worried they get. The distant Western powers are getting really good at military organization and weapons manufacturing. The American demologoi and British Congreve rockets, in particular, sound like monstrous versions of the turtle ships and hwacha the Koreans used to such effect against them more than two hundred years ago. These scholars are trying to tell the government that Japan had better start catching up before it’s too late, but most people still see this dire warning by academic experts as rather, well, academic.

Not all the Dutch are exactly Dutch. One of the most prominent men in Dejima is Philipp Franz von Siebold, who teaches Western medicine to the Japanese, has a Japanese common-law wife and has smuggled out numerous botanical specimens.[5] And as we’ve seen, some of the Dutch are… well, they’re ethnically Dutch, they speak Dutch (although they have to spend months on board ship learning to disguise their accents before meeting other Dutch in Dejima) and their ships fly the flag of the Netherlands whenever they’re anywhere near Japan, but they’re actually citizens of France whose home port is Anvers and who work for the Compagnie de Commerce de L’Orient.

This company was founded sixteen years ago. If you’re wondering why you’re only just now hearing about it, it’s because it hasn’t been much of a success. In China, their traders are thought of as “like the British, only weaker and poorer,” so they don’t get a lot of respect. They’re outright barred from Temmasek and other Dutch-controlled ports, and they’ve only had access to Manila for the past two years (Napoleon II returning the Spanish royal rock collection helped there). The situation in Siam and Vietnam is changing in ways we’ll get to later, but for most of this time the only places they’ve really been welcome are Rangoon and Honolulu, and the Burmese always want to be paid in gold because they still have indemnity payments to meet.

But the Compagnie has cultivated the virtues of patience, persistence, opportunism, and an absolute lack of anything resembling pride or shame, and now it’s paid off. One of the sailors they rescued last year happened to speak some Korean (again, sakoku isn’t total—there is some contact between Japan and Korea) and he put them in touch with others who spoke it even better and were willing to work for the right salary. In Dejima this year they learned that the king of Korea, Sunjo of the Joseon dynasty, had just died, and that Crown Prince Hyomyeong (now King Monju)[6] was planning his coronation.

So much of life is all about timing. Korea at this point is at least as isolationist as Japan. At any other time, French overtures to Korea would have been rebuffed out of hand. But here was a young monarch coming into his own and feeling ready to try new things, and here were representatives of a barbarian nation bearing marvelous mechanical gifts and being as obsequious as they knew how to be—which from his point of view meant they had the right attitude.

The coronation was mainly a showcase of Monju’s skills as a writer, composer, and dance choreographer. The poetry of course was lost on the French envoys and the music was not to their taste at all, but the jeongjae, the formal court dances, were impressive.[7] Of course, the French were effusive in their praise for everything they saw and heard.

Monju is a showman at heart, and there’s nothing a showman loves more than an appreciative audience. And he could see from the thimmonier and the revolvers that these barbarians were clever. He commanded them to give his advisers a tour of their ships. They were especially interested in the steam engine, which the engineer explained ran on coal.[8]

Once the coronation fun was over, King Monju issued his decree. The French would not be permitted to live or engage in trade on the peninsula itself, but would be permitted to take shelter in Korean ports and purchase food, water, and coal. The trade (silk for manufactured goods) would be conducted on Jeju Island—Monju and his court see Jeju as kind of a disreputable, backwater place to begin with, and they don’t mind so much if foreigners get their cooties all over it.

We’re talking about a tiny volume of trade here, and not just because the ports on Jeju Island are so small. The silk industry ultimately depends on the white mulberry, Morus alba, that silkworms live on. It’s fast-growing, for a tree, but it will still be a few years before Korea can seriously increase silk production.

Which suits Monju just fine. He can see that army will get some use out of the revolvers, and of course the thimmoniers will make women happy, but ultimately his interests lie with art, literature, music, and dance. And he still believes in keeping foreigners at arm’s length, especially since Korea is supposed to be a Chinese vassal, and he’s not sure the Chinese would approve of any of this.

But he’s not the only one looking at these things. Korea has its own tradition of engineering and innovation, which produced those weapons the Japanese still have nightmares about. That tradition may have fallen by the wayside in the country’s isolation, but there are still those who can look at the French contraptions and figure out how they work. And precisely because they will be few and expensive, there will be room in the market for someone who figures out how to make more of them.

China has finally crushed the rebels in the west, and the northern and western frontiers are at peace. But now Korea is opening itself (slightly) to foreign trade, beyond Tibet the Sikh Empire is becoming a formidable power, and Siam seems poised to dominate Southeast Asia. China launched an unsuccesful invasion of Burma back in the 1760s, and their military intervention in Vietnam to restore the Lê Dynasty was such a flop that it still leaves a bad taste in their mouth nearly fifty years later, so seeing both of these nations brought low (oops—spoiler!) is filling them with a mixture of schadenfreude and nervousness. After all, one of these days they might have to fight Siam themselves. So how is China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs preparing to respond to all these developments?

Trick question. China, at this point in its history, doesn’t have a Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A number of different agencies handle different aspects of China’s relations with the outside world. For example, the Ministry of Rituals handles all relations with Confucian/Chinese-influenced states like Korea and Siam. Their job is mostly making sure these states are properly subservient and respectful of China’s superior culture. King Rama is perfectly capable of observing the Confucian forms, and Monju, of course, eats ritual for breakfast. So this Ministry’s officials, although not completely blinkered, haven’t found anything they feel like they can complain about.

And they’re about the only ones who haven’t. One of Earl Grey’s reforms concerned the HEIC’s opium trade with China. Seeing this company foisting addictive drugs and ruining Britain’s good name, Grey decided… to end their monopoly on opium and let other British traders join in.[9] This year, the British sold nearly 30,000 chests of opium to China, and each chest held between 130 and 160 pounds (that’s the weight of the drug, not its value in British currency).[10] Add to this the opium from Stabler’s traders, and there’s a massive drug epidemic going on.

Even in a society with as many tools for self-monitoring as China, it’s hard to quantify the damage caused by opium addiction, but people in all walks of life can see it happening—especially among the richer and more important families, who are more likely to be able to afford opium. Particularly outspoken is Zeng Linshu, who has just passed the imperial examinations.[11] Zeng has been driven in his career by the memory of his brilliant son Zicheng, who could have had a great career in the civil service, but who developed an opium problem. He went off the drug for a while, but relapsed and died of an overdose. No one will ever know what Zicheng might have accomplished if he’d lived[12], but there are a lot of families like the Zengs trying to get the ear of somebody important in the Forbidden City. Normally, being outspoken in matters of public concern is a bad idea in China, but here the government doesn’t mind so much because there are foreigners to blame.

Blaming foreigners is one thing, but punishing them is another. Again, China—famed throughout the world for its all-encompassing bureaucracy and the professionalism of its civil service—hasn’t put any one authority in charge of all this. The Ministry of Rituals handles the more acceptable foreigners, the military handles relations with the central Asian tribes (despised as barbarians, but also feared for their power), and the emperor’s household has an office that handles missionaries. In Canton, there’s an official called the Hoppo (don’t ask) by Westerners and the Administrator of the Canton Customs by Chinese, who governs trade in that city. In matters of law, the East India Company and other traders are under the jurisdiction of local magistrates[13], although Beijing has handed down regulations that govern how magistrates punish infractions by traders. Nobody thinks this is fair—traders think it’s unfair that there’s no appeals process for magistrates’ decisions, and Chinese gentry think it’s unfair that the magistrates aren’t allowed to beat confessions out of traders, which is something that often happens to Chinese suspects. And that’s without taking into account the effects of bribery and corruption, which are considerable.

No country as big as China ever has just one problem. One of China’s problems, in fact, is that it is so big. There are close to 400,000,000 people in China. It is, by a considerable margin, the most populous country in the world. As in Japan, this means that famine is never more than one bad harvest away, but it means more than that. There are only so many positions in the government or in trade, which means the examinations are getting more demanding. When Zeng Linshu passed the imperial examinations, he achieved what less than 1% of Chinese students in his time manage to do. In this, the most proudly self-sufficient country on earth, there is one thing in desperately short supply—opportunity.

In a grim way, the opium crisis is easing some of this pressure—by ruining so many lives, it’s cutting down on competition in the aspiring class. But even with that, Chinese society feels like it’s heading toward a breaking point. A good person to ask about this is Gong Zizhen, a 44-year-old scholar who’s made a special study of the Spring and Autumn Annals. Gong is one of those people who wants to be an optimist. He wants to believe in progress towards order and peace, until China becomes the perfect and timeless kingdom its greatest minds dream of.

But Gong is of the empirical school of thought known as kaozheng. That means he can’t ignore the evidence, and the evidence is not good. Opium is a society-wide catastrophe. Foot-binding, he says, is also a society-wide catastrophe, but one that people are used to.[14] The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting children, the British opium dealers are getting the better of them all, and something’s got to give.

Certainly the scholar Hong Huoxiu, nearing his 21st birthday, feels this way. He’s certainly one of the best minds of his generation, but again, only the top scholars pass the imperial examinations. His friends have tried to tell him he can retake the tests again, but he knows that’s no good—it costs money, and there are always more and more young people to compete with. If he doesn’t pass the tests and do his family proud, he’s just going to go crazy.

Southeast Asia
Burma is still in a bad way. Next year, they’ll have their indemnities to Siam and Britain paid off. King Bagyidaw is worried that this might make them less safe, not more. Britain had no need to try conquering a nation that was already handing over its lunch money. When those payments stop, either Whitehall itself or the East India Company will start getting hungry again. If that doesn’t happen for a few years, Burma might be able to rebuild its strength—but Siam has gotten used to not having to worry about their western neighbor, and might not let them do that.

For the past year, Siam and Vietnam have been at war. Bagyidaw would dearly have loved to use this as an opportunity to get back some of his own, but—in more senses than one—he couldn’t afford another war. In fact, if Siam turns his direction again, he might have to seek British protection. That would make his humiliation complete.

Turning to that war, both countries are to blame for it. Minh Mang has been assisting Lao and Cambodian rebels in Siam, and Siam has retaliated by backing a coalition of Christians, Chinese settlers and other disaffected Vietnamese under the nominal leadership of Prince My Duong but the real command of Le Van Khoi.

Who is Le Van Khoi? He’s the son of the late general Le Van Duyet, and he’s rebelling against Minh Mang to avenge his father. The funny thing is, even though Minh Mang and Le Van Duyet hated each other, the Emperor of Vietnam didn’t kill Le Van Duyet—he just waited until Duyet died of natural causes, then desecrated his tomb.[15]

While Minh Mang was making needless enemies, Rama III was making useful friends, playing French and British representatives off against each other until both agreed to help fund and arm him as much as they could in this economy. My Duong, meanwhile, promised that as emperor of Vietnam he will grant France trading privileges and the right to send more missionaries.

The result is that for the last two months, Siam’s forces have been moving steadily up the Vietnamese coast toward the capital of Hue. And after years of fighting Lao rebels, Siam has many soldiers trained in the art of mountain warfare, which Rama has organized into an army. Once the Siamese reach the Perfume River[16], that army will strike through the mountains and cut Hue off from the north, placing the capital under siege.

But the important thing is, the Emperor of Vietnam got to scribble “eunuch” all over a tomb. Totally worth it.

Governor George Arthur[17] is very pleased with the work he’s done in Australia. He’s been able to lift martial law in Van Diemen’s Land, as the natives have become peaceful (mostly because so many of them are dead) and he’s implemented the New System so thoroughly that there’s a place in it for everyone. For recently-arrived convicts, there are the mainland prisons. For free settlers who want convict labor, there’s Sydney, Perth, and the outlying towns. For free settlers who want nothing to do with convicts, there’s the towns of Greyhaven and Kinjarling. For ex-convicts who turn recidivist, there are the prisons on Van Diemen’s Land, Arthur’s old post. For convicts who commit crimes while still in prison or on work gangs, there’s Norfolk Island, a long way away from everybody else. For the natives, there are various tiny islets and remote stretches of outback where white people will teach them English and Anglicanism but otherwise leave them alone, because Arthur’s a humanitarian (just ask him). And for those free settlers who so disappoint him as to either commit crimes (very few—most of them don’t want to be mistaken for convicts), interfere with the New System, or speak out against his rule where a convict might hear (basically anywhere outside the two aforementioned towns), there’s a new prison in the most disappointing place in Australia, Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land.

If the late Lachlan Macquarie had ever gotten a good look at this place, he would never have named it after himself. For anything bigger than a sloop, it’s one of the few harbors that’s actually more dangerous than the open sea. Entering it means trying to thread your ship through an obstacle course of rocks, shallows, and treacherous tidal currents while that ship is being pounded in the butt by the humongous waves of the Southern Ocean. There’s a reason sailors call it “Hell’s Gates.” Arthur’s most outspoken opponents, newspapermen William Wentworth and Robert Wardell, have not gotten any fonder of the New System since being sent here last year[18].

In fact, almost everyone in Australia hates Arthur and his System, except for prison guards and a few rich settlers who will accept almost any tyranny in exchange for cheap convict labor. They also hate Sir John Russell, and Queen Charlotte herself is none too popular. Some people have left Australia entirely—not to return to Britain, but to go to the new town of Grahamport[19] on a bit of recently-acquired territory in New Zealand. Most are simply trying to get word back to the mother country of how bad things are and waiting for a change of days. It will come, but not in a way anyone expects.

In the South Pacific, HMS Chanticleer[20] is about two years into its five-year mission to explore strange new islands, seek out new people and new civilizations, and give them venereal diseases. (Disclaimer; this is not the actual mission statement.) But they’re spending Christmas in Tahiti, which is already well known to British explorers. All the Chanticleer’s explorers are pleased to see the progress that Christianity and the forms of what they think of as civilization have made in Tahiti… except for a young gentleman traveler named Charles Darwin, who’s mainly interested in studying birds and other wildlife.

The previous king of Tahiti, Pōmare II, has recently died of typhus. His 21-year-old daughter ‘Aimata, now Pōmare III (it’s a dynastic name)[21] is the new queen of Tahiti, and is trying to command the respect of the elders, all of whom remember her as a toddler. With a total population of about 6,000, the kingdom of Tahiti really is a small town, where it’s hard to overcome first impressions, even if your name means “eye-eater.”

Hawaii (which Westerners still think of as the Sandwich Islands) is much larger, but has had the same problems of losing people—including monarchs—to epidemics. That’s why Kamehameha III has taken the throne. His parents died of measles last year.

For a place at the end of every trade route in a bad economy, Hawaii is doing surprisingly well. British, French, Americans, Russians, Dutch—everybody comes here, and the only reason the king hasn’t converted to Christianity is that choosing a specific Christian church would be like taking sides. But in recent years they got a windfall from Spain of all places.

This is a side effect of the Haitian War. The number of troops from the Philippines that could be shipped across the Pacific in a given convoy was limited by the fact that the ships had to carry enough food and water to keep them all alive. Shipping them back was a little easier, because the westward currents ran far enough south that it was practical to stop in Hawaii and buy more food. This encouraged Hawaiians to plant more food, and the Spaniards were happy to share more tropical food crops with them. That’s pretty much over, but the net effect is that right now Hawaii is well-fed and flush with Spanish silver… which they’d gladly spend to get back all the people they lost.

But the biggest news is in the Philippines. When he took the throne, King Carlos decided to send a fresh crop of civilian and military officials to Manila to assert his authority. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in mother-country arrogance. Colonel Andrés Novales, a hero of the Haitian War, was demoted to captain basically because he wasn’t a peninsulare.

For Novales, it was the last straw. He contacted his old war buddies, found them equally dissatisfied, and took up arms. They spent years getting a masterclass in guerrilla warfare from the Haitians, and now they were ready to teach what they had learned. Beyond the city of Manila, the island of Luzon is on fire with revolt, as Creoles and natives alike rally to Novales’ banner.

Things are no more peaceful in the southern Philippines. After the Dutch took the Sulu Sultanate, the pirates moved to ports in the north of Mindanao… and went right back to piracy. (This is all they know how to do. It’s not like learning to code is an option.)

Of course, the Dutch (in addition to expanding their control of the Indonesian archipelago) are attacking these pirate havens. The problem is, the havens are in Spanish territory, and Carlos is getting pissed off. To him, a few pirates here and there are part of the price of doing business, but a foreign navy in Spanish waters is a challenge to his authority. The Dutch are responding by saying the same thing they said about Sulu—join us or stand aside.

This is driving Palmerston up the wall. The Netherlands and Spain are both technically British allies. More to the point, if Napoleon II wakes up tomorrow and decides he wants to be about his father’s work, it will take many nations joining forces to stop him—especially if he has Italy’s help. The British foreign minister can’t afford any splits in the Next Coalition.

But some things even he can’t stop. Both countries have been having a rough 19th century and feel the need to prove their strength to the world, and both are ruled by kings who feel the need to prove their own strength to their own people. So next year, Spain and the Netherlands will be at war over an island neither of them wants very much.

That’s the trouble with being an overseas imperalist. If the sun never sets on your empire, when are you supposed to sleep?

[1] Although the emperor lives in Kyoto, which also burns down, but not nearly as often.
[2] IOTL and ITTL, Greater London at this point has a population of about two million.
[3] IOTL the Great Tenpō Famine began in 1833.
[4] A similar incident with an American ship happened at about this time IOTL.
[5] IOTL he’d been kicked out of Japan at this point after being caught with maps of the country.
[6] IOTL he died at 20, never became king, and was given the name of Monju posthumously.
[7] You can see one of these dances here.
[8] France’s larger freighters are steam-and-sail combos like the Turenne-class frigates. The engines are mainly used to cross the doldrums.
[9] As IOTL
[10] This is roughly extrapolated from OTL sales figures.
[11] IOTL he only passed the prefectural examination in 1833.
[12] At least, no one ITTL. In IOTL we know him by the name he later chose, Zeng Guofan.
[13] These magistrates have both police and judicial powers. Basically, they are the law, except in cases where somebody higher up finds out what they’re doing and overrules them.
[14] He isn’t the only one who feels this way. IOTL and ITTL, Li Ruzhen completed a novel called Flowers in the Mirror in 1827, which was sort of a Chinese Gulliver’s Travels. It featured a chapter called “The Country of Women,” about a merchant who travels to a land where gender roles are swapped, and ends up having his feet bound.
[15] As IOTL.
[16] The river that runs through Hue
[17] Who is not Sir George Arthur, as he hasn’t been knighted yet.
[18] IOTL Wardell was killed by an escaped convict this year.
[19] IOTL Auckland
[20] A ship of the same class as the Beagle.
[21] IOTL Pōmare II died in 1821, and there was a six-year rule by a child king. ‘Aimata became monarch after his death.
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Love it! I'm so glad this is continuing. I am reading this with my little brother right now and he is absolutely loving it. Keep up the good work!
A good run through of the different Asian nations and beyond here. Seems like Australia's in for a shock, which is rather needed at this point. Then there's Korea perhaps gaining steam engines which have major impacts later on. The thought of a war between Spain and the Netherlands should be interesting. Britain is going to be forced to try and keep it under wraps, although I wonder if France is going to try and tip the scales for anyone as well.