Monday, February 22, 2016

The Countess of Castiglione and How France gained a World Empire

In 1810, Napoleon Bonaparte had managed to create a sort of West European Empire that would have generated a much different Europe, today, if it had lasted. 

History is supposed to be driven by gigantic and impersonal forces that govern the economy and the movements of nations. What happens, it is often said, happened because it had to. And yet, sometimes, we see that history is on the balance. We can imagine that just a little push on one or another direction could have changed the destiny of whole nations and empires. Of course, thinking of these tipping points is just an exercise in fiction; but it is a fascinating one. So, here is a pseudo-history of Europe that could have taken place if the Countess of Castiglione had not seduced the emperor of France, Napoleon III,  If you want to read what happened in reality, you can do that in the blog "Cassandra's Legacy"  in a post titled "Coal, Wars, and Beautiful Women." Here is, instead, the fiction. (don't take it for anything political, it is just that: fiction) (revised and modified in August 2020)

In 1858, some momentous events take place in Paris. It is said that Emperor Napoleon III is so influenced by his mistress, the Italian Countess of Castiglione, that he has promised to her to help the King of Piedmont, Vittorio Emanuele II, to carve out for himself a much larger reign than the North-Western corner of Italy where he reigns: the whole Italian peninsula. 

But a curious twist brings doom to the beautiful Countess. As she walks in Paris, she is hit by a falling tile blown by the wind. Taken to the Hôpital Général, she is pronounced dead on arrival. It is said that Napoleon III is devastated, not the same appears to be the case for Empress Eugénia, his wife.

The death of the Countess has momentous consequences. When Count Cavour attempts to have Napoleon III sign the treaty that they had agreed upon, he finds that he has changed his mind. More negotiations follow, but Napoleon III doesn't budge. In 1859, Cavour attempts to force the game: the Piedmontese army attacks Austria even without the French support. 

It is a disaster that repeats the outcome of previous attempts by Piedmont to push Austria out of the Northern Italian plains. But this time, it is way worse. Not only the Austrians hold their ground against the smaller Piedmontese forces, but an enraged Napoleon III declares war on Piedmont and annexes the regions of Nice and Savoy, North and West of the Alps. 

Defeated on both sides, the King of Piedmont, Vittorio Emanuele, abdicates, but it is too late. The Austrians don't stop their advance and the French cross the Alps to stop them to annex Piedmont completely. In the end, Vittorio Emanuele finds refuge in Sardinia. Piedmont is partitioned between Austria and France. The French flag is raised in Turin. 

in 1861, A desperate Vittorio Emanuele tries a last resort attempt to turn the tables. With the help of Great Britain, a military expedition led by an Italian adventurer, Giuseppe Garibaldi is launched against the Kingdom of Southern Italy. It is another big gamble that fails.

With the protection of the British navy, Garibaldi lands unopposed in Sicily. Then, he manages to soundly defeat the Neapolitan army and his men march North, nearly unopposed. But Napoleon III is outraged and reacts by sending a corps of 10,000 elite troops, the chasseurs, to Italy. The joint French and Neapolitan armies stop Garibaldi advance in the Southern tip of Italya. Garibaldi himself is wounded and captured. Transferred to the fortress of Gaeta, off the coast of Naples, he will end his life there, old and forgotten. With the disappearance of their leader, Garibaldi's troops melt away and the King of Naples, Francesco II, regains control of Sicily, mopping away the last resistance pockets. 

In the years that follow, the political situation in Italy remains unchanged. Austria and France agree to keep Britain away from the peninsula and to maintain its fragmentation in statelets, convenient for both. The North-Eastern region of Italy is increasingly Germanized, the rest of the peninsula is gradually becoming more and more French. Already in Piedmont the language most commonly spoken is French, and it gradually spreads south, where the Kingdom of Naples remains occupied by French troops. 

In the rest of Europe, the rising star is Prussia: a young state that commands the richest coal mines of Europe, in the Ruhr region, and that developed an efficient army with advanced artillery technologies. The plan of the Prussian government is to annex the statelets of German-speaking central Europe and create a strong German state, able to dominate Europe. 

In 1864, Prussia and Denmark clash in a territorial dispute known as the 2nd Schleswig war. It is a quick victory for Prussia at the Battle of Dybbøl. France tries to intervene to help Denmark, but it is too late and Napoleon III is caught unprepared. It is a lesson that he won't forget, though.

In 1866, Prussia turns on Austria-Hungary for a decisive war that will decide the fate of Central Europe. Austria's forces are easily beaten by the Prussians, but this time Napoleon III is not letting Prussia do what they want. As the Prussian troops are engaged on the Austrian front, the French occupy the Ruhr and its rich coal mines. The Prussians are enraged, but it is the Fait-Accompli.

In 1870, the two largest powers of Central Europe, Prussia and France, face each other in a series of battles that will decide the destiny of the continent. The French are badly defeated by the Prussians at Sedan, but a strong contingent from Piedmont and from the friendly Kingdom of Naples arrives in time to stop the Prussians from annihilating the French army. Napoleon III himself narrowly escapes capture, but he is saved by the Piedmontese cavalry. Eventually, the combined French armies manage to stop the Prussians. A treaty is signed and Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck agrees to cede the Ruhr to France. The French-Prussian agreement is the last political act of Napoleon III, who dies in 1873, handling the crown to his son, Napoleon IV.

Under the leadership of the new Emperor, France continues to encroach the Western Mediterranean region. The French had already taken Algeria in 1830, they occupy Tunisia in 1881 and Morocco in 1904. In 1911, France occupies unopposed the region called Libya. The Kingdom of Naples feebly protests about that, but it remains occupied by French troops and cannot mount an effective opposition. The Mediterranean is becoming more and more of a French lake. The British cannot stop the French expansion, and decide not to try. It is the start of the decline of the once powerful British empire, gradually overcome by the expanding French Empire.

In 1914, the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Serbia. That leads Austria to invade Serbia in an action that inflames the whole Balkan region. The French Empire intervenes with all its military might, rapidly defeating Austria and forcing all the parties involved to start negotiations. In the end, Austria is awarded most of the Balkans in exchange with the Austrians ceding the Northern Italian regions to France. By now, Italy is a French Peninsula. Only the peasant still speak Italian, all the elites speak French.

There follow some years of peace, but dark events are brewing. In 1922, Benito Mussolini leader of the Padanian Fascist Party, marches to the Milano, with his black shirts and seizes power proclaiming that the Northern Italian regions are now the "Republic of Padania". France is slow to react and Mussolini consolidates his power. In 1933, a young Austrian hothead, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Austrian Nazi party, is elected Chancellor of Austria. Later on, he will seize power exploiting the fire of the Reichstag of Vienna, whom he attributes to the Communists. The King of Austria is exiled and Hitler becomes the sole ruler of Austria.

In 1939; the Nazi Austrian regime allies with the fascist regime of Padania, forming a European "Axis." With the support of Prussia, still trying to dominate Europe, the Axis attacks the French-European empire. The attack is successful: Paris is occupied by the Prussian-Austrian troops, while Padania advances in France from the South. At the same time, the Padanian Armies invade Southern Italy,  occupying the whole Italy. They recall the  King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele III, who was still claiming to be the King of Piedmont, who takes the crown of what's called now "Kingdom of Italy".

At this point, Hitler makes the wrong decision of attacking Russia and the Austro-Prussian-Italian troops are soundly defeated after a harsh Winter campaign. While the Austro-Prussian army retreats in disorder from the Russian front, the outremer French troops disembark in Normandy and force the Nazi armies back to Vienna in a pincer movement together with the Russian troops. French troops also disembark in Sicily and push Northward the Padanian troops that retreat in disarray. In 1945, the Russians enter in Vienna and Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his bunker, while Benito Mussolini is hanged in Milano while trying to escape away from Padania. Britain had remained neutral during these events, but at this point, the British crown is forced to find an agreement with France. Britain becomes a French protectorate and the French empire is re-established in Paris with Napoleon VI crowned Emperor of Europe in 1948.

In the 1950s, the Euro-Mediterranean Union (EMU) is formed, under the auspices of the Emperor of France, blending together all the nations of North Africa and Europe in an alliance for peace and prosperity. Today, everyone in Western Europe and Northern Africa speaks French. In Europe, only some barbarous islanders in the North-West keep speaking a barbarous language that's referred to as "Ingliss"


  1. Thank you Maestro Ugo for the lessons in European History of which I no next to nothing. Linking in Chaos Theory and history with powerful women too.

  2. Excellent counterfactual Ugo! Changing not too many things we get a vastly different world. Harry Turtledove would be proud of you!

  3. It is fun to think of this fictional history. And, yet, in doing that, I keep being amazed by the enormity of Napoleon III's mistake. Not only he lost the possibility of creating a Mediterranean French Empire, but he created an entity, Italy, that turned out to be often hostile to France. So, in 1870, Italy switched allegiance and joined Prussia against Austria and - indirectly - against France. That was the disaster of Sedan for France, and another big blow to the French ambitions of being a great power. But imagine that Italy didn't exist in 1870. Then, Piedmont, a much French-ized country, would probably have joined France in the fight against Prussia, while Austria would have been more powerful, with the control of North-Eastern Italy and at the same time, would not have had to fight at its Southern border. Would that have been sufficient to turn the tables and see Prussia defeated? Of course it can't be said, but surely Bismarck would have had a much more difficult time!

  4. A far more preferable outcome to today's mess.