Chapter One: The Tragedies at La Rochelle and Ajaccio (1320-1660)
Îles d’étrangers
The Isles of Strangers: A timeline of a Francophone Aotearoa
"One thing that is most remarkable about these islands and the people that inhabit them, is their persistent isolation and indifference to worldly affairs. The great war barely impacted them, as they continued their own autarkic system as ever before; the people of the island may not know it, but to the rest of the world they are effectively strangers. They do not suffer from the recent depression the world has undergone, because they have no connection to the outside world that has undergone it; yet theirs is not a particular prosperity either, but a direct consequence of their long cultural and geographical demeanour, that is, aliens to the rest of us, and as isles of strangers to the rest of the world. Whether this system will continue to forge on or will die out, can not yet be known." - Joseph Paul-Boncour (1933), French foreign minister, A Report into the Federal Republic of Eseltaine.


The capital of Eseltaine, Sejan, viewed in 2008.

The Federal Republic of Eseltaine as it stands today is geographically much the same as Aotearoa, with the same kind of climate and a division between Māori and European people; however, culturally, the islands couldn't be any further from the English-speaking stable country that exists in your reality known as "New Zealand". But in order to understand Eseltaine, one has to go back before the foundation of Eseltaine itself or even its discovery by Europeans, and to the actual Eseltanians who make up the island themselves, or as they used to be known pejoratively as - the "Eselites". This requires one to go down a route of long and complicated history to find the origins of what were and in many ways still believe they are, an oppressed people with a traumatic past. To do this however, one must go back - all the way back to the 14th century France where the Eselites began.

Chapter One - The Tragedies at La Rochelle and Ajaccio


Contemporary engraving of the La Rochelle Disaster, 1329

The word "Eselite" comes from the 14th century priest Jean Esel (1297-1329), considered a proto-Protestant by some modern historians, who created a new religious movement which while not directly challenging Catholic doctrines was effectively a revival of the Waldensian movement that had existed prior, in its belief in an ascetic lifestyle and its shunning of the wealth and appropriation of power in the Catholic Church, and began with Esel's preaching in Angers prior to the onset of the black death and the hundred years' war, in 1321. During the 1320s, Esel amassed hundreds and hundreds of "Eselites", being followers of his new movement and questioning of the Catholic established traditions. As a consequence, the Church of Rome were displeased with his teachings which now had several thousand followers, and after allegations came around that Esel was comparing his lifestyle and personality to Christ's in 1328, Pope John XXII declared the sect heretical and there was now a real probability Esel and his followers could be burned at the stake. Consequently, King Philip VI gave Esel an ultimatum: leave or die.

Esel was formally exiled from France in 1328, however then disaster struck. A storm struck the ship he was due to be sent away on 3rd Jan. 1329, causing a wreckage that killed Esel and his 43 followers that were on the ship with him. To this day, this is considered the "martyrdom" in Eseltaine. The remnants of his movement were either forced to live in hiding in France or were locked away in the Bastille in Paris, some being tortured or even executed for their faith. The full remnants of the wreckage were not uncovered until 1968, and the legend that Esel was strangled by a rope from the ship before it went down affects the Eseltanian Coat of Arms to this day, which is surrounded by a rope. Over the next few centuries, the Eselites were a secretive group of several thousand largely in France although some spread to modern-day Spain, Italy, and England too. Similarly to the Jews or the Masons, they were viewed with suspicion and contempt. Several raids occurred which continued to traumatise the Eselite people, such as Esel's own grand-nephew Breagne de Mont (1351-1395), who was in 1395 during the hundred years' war burned at the stake for "heresy", after he claimed Catholic priests in France were charging interest on secretive loans, his burning still having a distant effect on controversies in Eseltaine to this day (more on this later!).

Following this event and many other religious conflicts in Europe that the Eselites were embroiled in as they were accused of Catholicism by Protestants and Protestantism by Catholics, a decision was made by the paranoid and insular people to effectively collectively exile themselves to Corsica, in an edict known as the Tradeux Decree passed in a Bordeaux meeting in 1492, which proposed an organised system of stowaways and secretly moving a people to the island, still a small sect of under 10,000 that were now considered not just a religious sect but an ethnicity in disguise by much of French authorities, again similarly to the Jews. After the decree, one of its signatories - Roger de Casselle (1471-1514), became the effective patriarch of the Eselite people, with the Casselle family maintaining a level of control over Eselite affairs to this day. Casselle was a landowner in Corsica, who bought up large amounts of vineyards and agricultural plots around Ajaccio to create an effective 'safe haven' community for the Eselite people. This did not prevent oppression however. In 1535, an angry mob murdered Casselle's nephew and raped his wife, and incinerated a large part of the Eselite community in a tragedy that sadly only foresaw what was to come.


Contemporary depiction of the First Siege of Ajaccio (1536)

"A large gang amassed around the settlement armed with every ghastly apparition that could be conjured up by the imagination of Man, and thereafter every Man, Woman, and Child within the settlement were ordered under Arm to the village hall, where an Almighty display of cruelty occurred, where every single one of them was taken and hence made to lie down as they were beaten and treated cruelly by the men who surrounded them; but yet this was far from the worst disgrace to occur. The leader among them, the 'Chief', ordered that every man among them should be taken into one House, separate from Woman and Child, and therein the House was set ablaze, and every Man was burned alive Dead." - Luca Assarino, The Massacre of the Eselites (1659)

Despite the incident at Ajaccio in the 1530s, the Eselites were for a time able to live undisturbed in their land, so long as they did not rouse political trouble and their leaders - the Casselle family - were subordinate to whatever governing authority there was. The Eselite culture was over the next century a monastic and ascetic one, where joy and festivals were Puritanically shunned in favour of the Casselle favoured devotion to Christ. Part of this society was an expectation that women should bear as many children as possible to keep the society going and breed more soldiers of Christ, and the population of the society ballooned to nearly 50,000, making up a third of the Corsican population and for the first time living largely openly under Genoese authority. However, the Genoese were not too happy with what were still seen as a sect of heretics living under their jurisdiction and by the mid-17th century they were determined to do something drastic.

On June 18th 1658, the Doge of Genoa after a long-term campaign of incitement of the locals had the Eselite Quarter of the City of Ajaccio effectively razed, as an angry mob burned down the settlement and killed all the men and boys in it, with many of the women and girls also subject to kidnapping and rape, yet another traumatic experience for the Eselite people. The remnants of the Eselites remained across Corsica, but the incident killed nearly a quarter of their whole population and intensified the group paranoia, with the patriarch of the time - Marc de Casselle (1620-1658), being among those burned. After it, many of the Eselites went back into hiding and mingled back in with the mainstream population of the island, unwilling to publicly practice knowing what the consequences could be.

To be continued in Chapter Two....

Why would they go all the way to New Zealand? Wouldn't the Americas make more sense? Still, this looks really interesting.
Chapter Two: Dinner with Robespierre (1660-1796)
Chapter Two: Dinner with Robespierre

Painting of the Casselle family at the Court of Louis XV (1767)
"The consequence is clear and is as follows: that considering all the outrages that have been perpetuated, the libels sown, the violations made and the repulsive manifestations of them, where the very existence of our People has been threatened, there is only one answer to this outrage perpetrated against us; the People of Esel, the Children of Esel, must without equivocation and without compromise, become safe and secure only in the sanctity of our own Kingdom, with our own Men, our own Fleet, and our own King and His Ministers. Without the establishment of such a Kingdom, the very existence of any Eselite Peoples' in our World can be called into serious question, and our very lives shall be extinguished." - A Pamphlet in Advocation of an Eselite Kingdom, Baptiste Outrevouse (1756)

After the 1658 massacre, the Eselites remained mainly on the island of Corsica for the next couple of decades although their quantities had thinned significantly and there was a significant feeling of ill-will towards the Genoans who ruled the jurisdiction. There was a widespread feeling that the Eselites wherever they were had become a scapegoat to the ruling classes and so were particularly vulnerable as a stateless people to violent mob attacks and other outrages. One of the patriarchs, Robert Casselle (1640-1708), went to Paris in 1682 with a small delegation with an attempt to begin discourse with King Louis XIV citing the apparently purely Catholic nature of Eselite practices and potential assistance in stamping out the Huguenots. While this may seem ironic as the Eselites themselves were originally accused of Protestantism, the growth of the reformation had led to the monastic and ascetic lifestyle of the Eselites being viewed as a purer form of Catholicism by some, and Casselle was invited to live in the Palace of Versailles. He was still sceptical however of a perceived division between Eselite practices and the Catholic Church, so did not grant a full exodus of Eselites at this point (not that it would be practicable now anyway!)

Robert died in Versailles in 1708, with the majority of his people still living under fear and repression in Corsica (although without any major incidents like the one in 1658), but his son Thomas (1664-1762) kept in contact with the French monarchy, also being permitted to live at Versailles. Despite this, the revolutions in Corsica meant the relationship between the remaining Eselites there now living in hiding and the general population was improving, with the Eselites helping assist the revolution in 1729 against a common enemy (the Genoese) and again in 1736. There were some attempts at repression of these however as the Genoese gradually lost control over the island any attempt to instigate locals into reprisal attacks against the Eselites was met with very little success as had been so easy in the previous centuries. Living with this possibility was difficult however, and so in 1747 in return for military assistance King Louis XV offered the Eselites effective asylum in France with the ability to run their own community, the short-lived community of Gergonne that existed on the outskirts of Marseilles.

Gergonne was dissolved in 1756 after a series of internal scandals, with the Casselle family and other powerful Eselites accused of theft and hoarding money, and the Eselite population became effectively dispersed across France with a relative liberty to practice their faith that had not existed in Corsica with the now ancient Thomas Casselle confirming the Eselites' alignment to the Catholic Church. Despite this, a new Eselite movement had emerged with enlightenment Eselite authors such as Outrevouse calling for the French King to establish an Eselite colony in North America, however this was rejected by the Casselle family who were already worried about losing their monopoly on power.


The Eselite Riots (1778)

In 1770, the Casselle Family established a new residence in Paris putting them near the centre of French authority, with new patriarch Angus Casselle (1742-1779) signing a compact with the French monarchy to defend it against potential revolution, a deeply unpopular move that roused the Eselite people in the coming years. The young Angus would also hire prostitutes with the tithes of his people and his behaviour was considered scandalous to many contemporary audiences. In 1778 his embezzlement resulted in riots within the Eselite community in Paris, forcing the French army to step in to quell the misconduct. Eventually, the level of scandal was too much for the authorities to bear, with Angus being beheaded in public in 1779 for his corruption to satisfy the rioters.

A deep resentment now existed within the Eselite people for the Casselle family, which reflected the wider resentment for the monarchy that now existed in France. An absolutist, unquestionable power that abused and mistreated whenever it could. In the eventual French Revolution that took place in 1789, many of the Eselite rioters partook in the revolution, however the feeling of brotherhood that still existed within the Eselite community was enough to prevent the Casselles from being put on the Guillotine or exiled as the chaos of the 1790s rolled around. As a result, the mercy of the Eselites were ultimately their undoing as even the new revolutionary government continued to use the Casselles as their consulted representatives. However, the revolutionaries were wary of the associations of the Casselles with the Ancien Regime and so were quite determined to send them away as far as possible, if they couldn't be executed.

In 1794, Maximilien Robespierre (before his downfall) met with patriarch Yves Casselle (1764-1819) and uncovered to him the plans of the French Government to grant land to Casselle in a newly-discovered piece of land in a part of the world hitherto nearly undiscovered by Europeans. The islands of Nova Zeelandia, originally discovered by the Dutch in the 1650s, had been being mapped by the French since the expedition there of Jeanne Baret in 1762. While Baret had initially thought of the islands as dangerous and subject to volatile conditions including natural disasters, Robespierre had concluded that it was unsafe for the Eselites to remain in France (or go to North America with extant French settlers) and so sought to grant land to the Casselles on the island to establish a French colony there, and maintain their hegemony over the rest of the Eselite people. Yves accepted.... the first ship of settlers departed from Bordeaux in 1796.

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So, an Ultramontanists (?) Catholics Pilgrims ('Mayflower') like French Aetorea... This is a definitively unusual but very promising TL premise. Watched with interest.
So, an Ultramontanists (?) Catholics Pilgrims ('Mayflower') like French Aetorea... This is a definitively unusual but very promising TL premise. Watched with interest.
Slight correction - I wouldn't use "ultramontanist" as a descriptor as it was for perceived heresy from the Catholic Church that the Eselites were persecuted for in the first place. However with the growth of Protestantism by the 17th century they were allowed in as a potentially useful asset by the French monarchy.

By the 18th century certainly however the original religious difference didn't really matter anymore and they had assimilated back into Catholicism, but the Eselites had been isolated and lived in separate communities and traditions for so long they were viewed as a secret society or even an ethnicity on similar lines to Masons, Jews, Roma, etc. despite maintaining a version of the French language.

Robespierre sent them to Aoteroea as a means of gaining the upper hand in the area over the English and also of removing a minority he was suspicious of as the Casselles had co operated with the Ancien Regime. Additionally there is also the legacy of the Eselites being viewed as monastic religious radicals, although this had certainly decreased by the late 18th century, which didn't cooperate well for the new French state which effectively disavowed Christianity.
A TL about New Zealand? Now thats a blue moon if I ever seen one, but as for these “Eselites”, I can’t seem to find anything about them online. Note even so much as a stub article on wikipedia.
A TL about New Zealand? Now thats a blue moon if I ever seen one, but as for these “Eselites”, I can’t seem to find anything about them online. Note even so much as a stub article on wikipedia.
Umm, they're not real, the POD is the birth of Jean Esel in 1297... I feel that's kind of self explanatory...
What is the current Eselite population, and what percentage are eventually going to emigrate to New Zealand?
Only around 40-45,000 as of 1796 so a small minority. There were more in Corsica but got genocided repeatedly so the population has only been steadily growing since they were first allowed back into France in the 1740s.

The majority will go to NZ because they are at mortal risk in France due to the ongoing wars + regime changes and their association (certainly of the Casselles) with Catholicism and the monarchy. Also it's literally an offer of free land to run their own society without anyone threatening them.
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France must have naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean, otherwise the Royal Navy would just take over French Aotearoa during the Napoleonic Wars.

How do you plan to deal with that?

IMO it would be fun to have a Napoleon interested in building, instead of in the American continent, a large French colonial empire in the southern hemisphere, from Madagascar to New Zealand, passing through Australia.
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Also, New Zealand is a little too far from Port-Louis, Mauritius. You must necessarily establish a port of call in Tasmania or Melbourne Bay (and therefore consider colonizing these regions) if you want to prevent all your sailors and colonists from arriving in Aotearoa dying of scurvy.
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Chapter Three: Bougainville and Beyond! (1796-1830s)
Chapter Three: Bougainville and Beyond

Depiction of the 1796-99 Eselite voyages (1822)

"While both were discovered upon the same voyage, the outcome that has been produced in both territories of the former French East Indies could not be further from one another. The Southern territory has effectively become a settler colony, which in the Indian population have been completely dominated by an enthusiastic class of Eselite settlers wishing to create a Nation on their own terms in the islands. The Northern territory on the other hand has been completely fragmented; the southern part thereof has been completely absorbed into His Majesty's Empire pursuant to the terms of Congress of Vienna, and the remaining island territories are now divorced from France pursuant to the same Congress, however with an extremely troublesome Oriental class that continue to resist the descendants of Frenchmen governing their affairs. What can be further stated is, that these islands unlike the Southern territories do not belong to a determined and brave Eselite class forging her own destiny, but rather the standard smattering of colonial officers and merchants." - Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston's report to the House of Commons on the French East Indies, 1832

The initial fleet of Eselite voyages departed from Bordeaux on the 6th September 1796, attempting to sail around the Cape and stop off at Mauritius before establishing further colonies eastwards. The fleet was initially a remarkable success, with no major disasters or conflicts and nearly all near thousand men on board all the ships combined remaining alive and relatively healthy. It is worth noting that the fleet's aim was to establish a widespread colonial Empire for the French, and as a result there were many ships of non-Eselite Frenchmen who would establish new colonies along the way. The fleet successfully made it around the Cape almost unscathed, and then arrived in Madagascar in 1797 where a French "protectorate" was established in order to begin the long-term project of French naval supremacy across the Indian ocean. The Eselites and some others continued their long-term voyage however, arriving firstly in Mauritius - already established as a French colony - in late 1797 and giving information and developments about the new colony in Madagascar. By the time the developments eventually reached Paris several months later, more colonists were sent over to the African island.

After Mauritius, the official plans were to establish a colony in relatively unexplored Australia before finally settling the remaining Eselites in New Zealand. However, then would be the time that this voyage would lose its way, and the French fleets were blown off course. In 1798, rather than heading South around Australia like intended, the elements ended up sending the French fleet north towards the Dutch East Indies and the northern coast of Australia. By this point, further reinforcements had been sent in from Mauritius to fend the risk of any naval battle with the British. Colonists ended up in the relatively unexplored Indonesian island of Sumba, where French settlements were established. The Eselites, however, had no interest in remaining with the other French colonists and so continued to explore Bougainville, New Caledonia, and eventually arrived on the North Island of New Zealand on the 5th October 1799. The original Eselite colonists consisted of 496 surviving males who established the first Eselite community of "Gourville" in November 1799.


Settlement at Gourville, French East Indies (1812)

Over the turn of the century, while accounting for intermittent naval conflicts with the British, the colonies discovered - both Eselite and otherwise - were organised by Napoleon into the "French East Indies" in 1806. Napoleon invested a huge deal of money into these colonies as he saw them as a means to challenge British naval supremacy and build a legacy into the far east, and so they expanded much more rapidly than could be easily expected. By 1810, the French East Indies in particular contained the islands of Sumba, Komodo, Sumbawa, Lombok, Flores, Sawu, Roti, Timor, Yamenda, Aru, Kai, significant proportions of southern Papua, northern areas of Australia - in particular, modern-day Queensland and the Northern territory, Bougainville, New Caledonia, and the northern island of what was now being called 'Eseltaine'. Following the French invasion of the Netherlands in 1810, there was a significant British attempt to overwhelm these colonies with naval force however this was largely unsuccessful with the "Eastern Net-work" of the French Navy providing a strong defence through its ship manufacturing centres in Madagascar and Indonesia. As a result, France were able to hold all their eastern colonies militarily up to 1815, despite increasingly withering away everywhere else.

The Congress of Vienna, however, would change all this. Originally, Britain wanted to seize all the French colonies in the east however this was quickly seen as impracticable. As a consequence, the French were allowed to hold on to the East Indies (excluding all the territory on Australia which was ceded to Britain to become a penal colony), and ceded Mauritius and Madagascar. However, this did not necessarily mean France could keep control of all the territories it had established. Colonists in the East Indies had already been enraged by Napoleon's insistence on effectively using them as a shipbuilding factory, and with some British arms outright rebelled against French rule in 1813. A weakened France could not withstand this, and by 1817 an independent "Seandanne Republic" was established on the territory of French Indonesia, led by George Seandanne (1756-1822), that effectively operated an Apartheid system of the dominant colonist class against the natives who frequently rebelled against the white man. This led Eseltaine, Bougainville, and New Caledonia as the sole possessions left from the original 1799 expedition. Britain was satisfied with this and saw any attempt to seize an isolated Eseltaine as more trouble than it was worth, formally recognising French possession of the North Island in 1823.

The Eseltaine territory had grown in relative isolation and peace away from British naval attacks, and more and more Eselite settlers came to the island by the early 19th century. In 1800, the population of the colony was only 976. By 1820, it had grown to nearly ten thousand, and additional settlements were established around Gourville. There was some conflict with the native Maori population, however at this stage there was little fighting as most of the island remained effectively unexplored. The Casselle family had reasserted political and economic dominance of affairs, and a formal colonial administration was established with them at the helm in 1827, with the construction of the current capital (Sejan) on an island in the East Coast Bay, with the development of a Courthouse and colonial administration office. The colonial government was formally established in 1839, with Sejan being near completion, and its first administrator being Gerald Casselle (1801-1876), one of the first figures in the island's history to be actually born there. As for now, the continued domination of the Casselle Dynasty over the Eselites was all but certain...


1871 photograph of Gerald Casselle, the first Administrator of Eseltaine from 1839 to 1865.
First Glossary (early 1800s)
Early 19th Century Glossary of figures in Eseltaine:

George Argonnes (1760-1838) - Often regarded as the founder of Eseltaine, he was a captain on the first ship which settled onto the islands and while not a Casselle himself is often associated with them, through his marriage to Alice Argonnes (nee Dirgon), the niece of Yves Casselle, (1781-1867), in 1807. He was a wealthy landowner who controlled much of the economy of the early colonies.
Anton Beatizutes (1807-1879) - Early photographer and Eselite journalist based in Eseltaine who helped transport images of the islands to France and across the western world.
Daniel Casselle (1805-1861) - Younger brother and rival of Gerald Casselle, and founded the Légion des nationalistes (LN) in 1835, an early organisation supporting Eseltanian independence with British funding. Under French pressure, he was imprisoned by his own brother in 1844 after being found guilty of sedition and was jailed for eight years. Upon early release in 1851, he continued to forment support for independence but in a more subtle manner. Open discussion of independence would not begin until the 1880s.
Gerald Casselle (1801-1876) - Eldest grandson of Yves Casselle and formal Administrator of the colony from 1839 to 1865, known for his moderate views. He is the founder of the "secrecism" policy of the Eseltanian colonial Government from the mid 19th century until independence in 1924, a form of isolationism that believed that if Eselite practices and their distinction from mainstream Catholicism were downplayed and kept secret in both French and international press, there would be a co-operative relationship between all parties and reduce the risk of conflict. Supported moderate isolationism but still pursued some foreign links, coined the term "lonely island" in 1860. Led the "great expedition" to the Southern Island in the 1850s. Known for his pro-French views and silencing of early independence advocates. He has some association with the Maori Purges that would occur later in the century, but at the time he was regarded as more moderate toward the Maori People and favoured co-opeation.
Yves Casselle (1764-1819) - Last patriarch of the Eselites in France, and was heavily involved in the expedition to Aotearoa in the 1790s. Was initially very influential however became infirm with an unknown illness, possibly motor neurone disease according to a modern medical understanding, in 1809. He never fully recovered and died in 1819 with little power or influence.
David Chapperone (1807-1854) - Eselite Catholic priest and notable ally of the Casselle family, preaching holy justification for the colonisation and speaking against early calls for independence. Was criticised for his attempts to integrate the Church into the colonial Eselite State, an increasingly unpopular fringe position by the 1870s.
Robert Girgon (1772-1865) - Early architect in Eseltaine that developed the building of housing and infrastructure across the North Island. Known for his refusal to finance the construction of railways. Despite this, he was revered during the "years of nostalgia" in the mid-to-late 1950s and a statue was constructed of him in 1957 outside the legislature.
Elizabeth Gurnhelme (nee Lupienne) (1750-1856) - Sister of Michel Lupienne, born in Corsica. Known for her extreme longevity and cantankerous demeanour, was the effective matriarch of the whole Gruienne area. Her death resulted in an armed duel between her sons for property and created tension in the area for decades to come.
Michel Lupienne (1741-1823) - Founder of the settlement of Grueinne that would be heavily impacted in 1968 earthquake. Known for being cousin of Robert de Silmonte.
Angus Monfort (1790-1861) - Admiral of the French Navy that helped organise Eseltanian involvement in the Crimean war in the 1850s.
Jean Ourugontes (1793-1855) - Early lawyer in the Eseltaine Colony and presided over relatively all civil and criminal cases on the islands from 1839 to 1855. Responsible for the sentencing of Daniel Casselle and largely seen as a "lame duck" judge that did the Casselles' bidding. Presided over the controversial 1849 trial and beheading of Maori Otopo for murdering a white settler over a dispute for land.
Robert de Silmonte (1797-1854) - Deputy under Administrator Gerald Casselle from 1840 to 1853, known for his paranoia and forcefulness. Supported scorched earth policy against Maori attacks and seen as corrupt, often took bribes. Looked upon very poorly by modern historians.
Michel Tannasse (1751-1821) - Early wealthy property owner in Eseltaine, known for military background and aggressive demeanour.
Titore (c. 1772 - 1837) - Early Maori chief who co-operated with the Eselites. Died in confrontation while fighting an anti-colonialist Maori tribe.
Benjamin Urvoltes (1789-1874) - Ran taxation and financial affairs for Casselle in the 1840s and 1850s, known for his competence.


How did France manage to turn the entire island of Madagascar into a protectorate by sending just one fleet over there?? It's not possible without a long and costly military expedition.
How did France manage to turn the entire island of Madagascar into a protectorate by sending just one fleet over there?? It's not possible without a long and costly military expedition.
They claimed the whole island as a protectorate and had some colonies on it but you're quite right; in practice most of the island was still under native control. But there were further fleets sent in the decade 1800-1810.


They claimed the whole island as a protectorate and had some colonies on it but you're quite right; in practice most of the island was still under native control. But there were further fleets sent in the decade 1800-1810.
Madagascar has geographical characteristics that make it impossible to colonize completely and under a direct rule before the end of the 19th century, as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps the French should make a local alliance and ally themselves with the Merinas (before the British, who did that in OTL in the 1820s) in order to have indirect influence over the whole island after military unification by the Merinas?

In OTL, before the contemporary era of colonialism, France helped many indigenous countries to modernize, such as Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty in the 1780s or the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1860s. I'd find it also amusing that the Merinas pull a Meiji thanks to French advisors.
Madagascar has geographical characteristics that make it impossible to colonize completely and under a direct rule before the end of the 19th century, as the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps the French should make a local alliance and ally themselves with the Merinas (before the British, who did that in OTL in the 1820s) in order to have indirect influence over the whole island after military unification by the Merinas?

In OTL, before the contemporary era of colonialism, France helped many indigenous countries to modernize, such as Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty in the 1780s or the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 1860s. I'd find it also amusing that the Merinas pull a Meiji thanks to French advisors.
They didn't colonise it completely. Like I said before, it was a case of claiming the island rather than actually having control. Such as the claims of "Virginia" in the 16-17th century. In reality only a few outposts on the island. Same with the British now they "claim" it.

I appreciate your input as always, and thank you for your suggestions, and would consider editing it in order to make it slightly more realistic along these lines if it was more relevant to the timeline as a whole, but considering Madagascar is essentially a very small part of the TL here and isn't going to really play a role again, it's not the most pressing of matters.