10 Historical What Ifs | Sarah Stook
We’re fascinated by ‘what ifs?’ What if we picked another university? What if we didn’t go on a second date with that person? What if we did get that job?
History is no exception. Events have occurred that have changed the course of history.Both huge and minor decisions have caused ripples. How have they affected us? What would our lives be like had things been different? Perhaps we’d practice a different religion or even live in a different country. The world could be unrecognisable!
I’ve imagined ten scenarios in history. Some have plagued scholars for years whilst others are just minor musings. I’ve thought of what would have happened as a result of those things.
What if JFK was never assassinated?
This is a popular one. Picture this: John F. Kennedy heads to the Dallas Market Center for lunch. As the car goes down Dealey Plaza, nothing happens. No shots ring out. The trip went smoothly. JFK returns for his son’s birthday as promised.
1963 turns into 1964. The Beatles make a splash in America, invited to the White House to meet the Kennedys. John Lennon’s sarcastic quips make JFK double over in laughter whilst Jackie is charmed by Paul McCartney.
Worried about the upcoming election, Kennedy decides against pushing for civil rights for now. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War continues to heat up. The Gulf of Tonkin incident occurs and a reluctant Kennedy allows LBJ to push Congress for assistance. As in the real timeline, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution passes.
Barry Goldwater wins the Republican nomination. He and Kennedy are friendly rivals so enjoy better relations than LBJ and Goldwater. The infamous ‘Daisy’ advert never airs, though Johnson and Bobby Kennedy’s teams work to push Goldwater as insane. Kennedy wins, though does not get the landslide LBJ did.
After his second inauguration, Kennedy gets to work on civil rights. With the help of Johnson and Bobby Kennedy, he pushes with the landmark Civil Rights Act. It takes longer than he would have liked as they don’t have the sympathy vote as in the original timeline. Bobby Kennedy pushes his brother into more frequent meetings with Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy becomes more amenable to the cause. In 1966, both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights act passed.
Unfortunately, Vietnam still weighed against the government. Kennedy decides to stop the bombing of North Vietnam earlier than Johnson does, but many soldiers still die. There are still protests, but Kennedy uses his famous charm and encourages police to be less harsh on protestors. Whilst he makes inroads, Kennedy is unable to stop the war progressing.
Term-limited, Kennedy supports his brother. LBJ, concerned about his health and popularity, declines to run. He still has some popularity and Bobby’s campaigning, especially after the tragic murder of MLK, is successful. Unfortunately, he is unable to escape death in an alternate timeline- he dies exactly the same way on the same day. A devastated Kennedy throws his weight behind Senator Hubert Humphrey.
Republican candidate Richard Nixon takes full advantage of the Southern Strategy, as well as the unrest of 1968. He wins comfortably against Humphrey.
In 1969, Kennedy’s ill health finally caught up to him. His Addison’s disease leads to a serious adrenal crisis that gets him hospitalised. He developed sepsis and on the 25th May 1969, a few days before his 52nd birthday, he died in hospital with family members around him. Jackie never remarries. LBJ dies on the same day as he did in the real timeline, the stress of the Vice Presidency not helping.
Kennedy is fondly remembered, though does not have the reverence he received from his assassination. LBJ is seen as one of the finest and most powerful Vice Presidents in history by historians.
What if George V had let the Romanov family into Britain?
Fearing for their lives after being forced out of power, the Romanov family reached out to other monarchies for help. George V immediately offers aid. In this timeline, he decides to ignore his government’s advice and get the Tsar and his family to Britain.
Nicholas II, his wife, their children, and other family members are welcomed by his cousin with open arms. They set up home in London. There are, however, immediate protests. As the government predicted, the people aren’t happy and an anti-monarchy spark is ignited. In order to quell the protests, Nicholas and his immediate family are sent to live far away from the country, a great distance from court.
Meanwhile, the government attempts to mend relations with the new Russia. Lenin extracts a promise from Nicholas that he will not return to Russia, ever, nor will his heirs. Though depressed at being unable to return, Nicholas settles into life in the country. This happiness does not last long, however. Tsesarevich Alexei, a hemophiliac, scrapes his knee while playing. Due to his condition, this is life threatening. After a couple of days, he dies.
Nicholas and Alix, as well as their daughters, are devastated. Alexei is buried at their country house. Over the years, Nicholas attempts to marry off his daughters to heirs to foreign thrones and even his cousin’s sons. Scared of offending the Russian government, they are refused the chance to marry princes. They eventually marry minor nobles.
The former Tsar died of cancer in 1930, aged 62. Tsarina Alix followed him in 1952 aged 80. Monarchists in Russia attempted to get the heirs of eldest daughter Olga into power over the generations but failed.
What if Prince Arthur had lived?
Prince Arthur of Wales, elder brother of Henry VIII, survived the sweating sickness that killed him in reality. A month later and he consummates his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.
Catherine falls pregnant soon later and they have a daughter, Mary. Though it is not a son, the couple are thrilled to have a child. Unfortunately, Princess Mary dies as an infant. By the time Henry VII died, Catherine has suffered several miscarriages. Soon after Arthur becomes king, Catherine gives birth in 1510 to a healthy son named for his father.
In 1525, Prince Henry married Renée of France, younger daughter of Louis XII. Arthur and Catherine had another living son, Henry in 1513 and Mary I in 1516. They manage to keep the Protestant Reformation out of England. Their marriage is a happy one and they encourage a cultural renaissance in England.
Their eldest son Arthur marries Charlotte of France, who survives childhood in this timeline. Henry is betrothed to Maria of Portugal, daughter of Manuel I, but he dies before they can wed. Mary is wed to the later Henry I of Portugal, as he did not take religious orders in this timeline. Free of the unhappiness and ill health of reality, this Mary is blessed with the children she always wanted.
King Arthur died in 1543. Prince Arthur succeeded to the throne, followed by his son Prince Henry in 1578. Henry’s son Edward took the throne in 1583 after his father’s death. To the surprise of everyone, he marries Anna of Sweden. Anna, who’d converted from Catholicism, had been persona non grata in European court. Her influence leads Edward to break from Rome and create the Church of England. This is sealed by his death in 1610, when his daughter Elizabeth succeeds him.
What if Robert Kennedy became President?
On the advice of security, Robert Kennedy does not take the shortcut through the kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel. He lives to fight another day and win the Democratic nomination. With Hubert Humphrey as his ticket mate, the two win a tight race over Richard Nixon.
Kennedy continues to champion civil rights and helping the poor, though alienates the remaining Southern Democrats. His main issue is breaking down organised crime. This, however, comes back to haunt him. In late 1971, about a year before the election, Kennedy was at a school in Massachusetts. Upon exiting, he is shot by a man named Frank Caputo. He is rushed to hospital but dies a couple of hours later.
Humphrey is caught in the crossfire, but lives and is confirmed as the new President. It turns out that Caputo had possible links to the mob, but he manages to kill himself before the trial. Humphrey is expected to fight for 1972, but his injuries from the assassination have made him too exhausted.
Georgian Jimmy Carter runs against House Minority leader Gerald Ford. Ford wins by a comfortable margin but is eventually widely unpopular and loses against Carter in a rematch in 1976. History continues as normal from then on.
What if the French Revolution failed?
Various factors lead the French Revolution to fail. Whilst politicians gain more powers over the monarchy, Louis XVI stays in power. The government appoints the tutors and servants of the royal children. Marie Thérèse marries her cousin Louis Antoine as she does in history. Louis XVI is pressured to abdicate upon his son Louis turns 18 and does. He wed Marié Isabella of Spain.
Meanwhile, Napoleon rises to power. He becomes a thorn in the side of the monarchy, as he is widely popular and extremely successful. Louis XVII worries that he will try to overthrow him, but is pleased when Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo. He prevents Napoleon from being exiled, but the General dies soon after.
The monarchy remains until WW1. After the Russian Revolution, many in France began to turn against the monarchy, blaming them for the war. In order to avoid the same fate as the Romanovs, the King of France abdicates and moves to Sweden to live out the rest of his days.
What if Britain hadn’t pledged support to Poland before WW2?
Without any promises to Poland or other countries, Britain waits to see if Germany is willing to attack. Seeing that Germany doesn’t want a war with them, they decide to stay out of the conflict at first. Without Britain’s help, the Allies struggle against a German force. The Russians manage to hold off the Germans from gaining Moscow, but still suffer as they did in the timeline.
This changed in 1940 when Chamberlain died of cancer. Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister and plots to get into the war. He manages to send aid to the Allies covertly, but German spies soon discover the truth and declare war in January 1941.
With the arrival of Britain, the Allies gained a boost. Out of revenge, the Germans make England suffer during a new Blitz, killing thousands. Britain ups their offensive and holds steady until the Americans join the war as well.
After the bombing of Japan and ending of the war, the British government gets interested in nuclear war. After their first successful test in 1952, they secretly continued plans to use it in warfare. These plans were leaked by a retired civil servant in the 1990s.
What if Britain didn’t get involved in the Iraq War?
George W. Bush approaches Tony Blair in hopes of getting help invading Iraq. This time, when Blair reads the information given, he makes a different decision. Concerned that this war won’t make a difference, Blair informs Bush that he won’t help. This causes the Special Relationship to sour and ends the friendship between the leaders.
Blair wins the 2005 election handily and focuses on closer integration with the EU as both foreign and domestic policy. In 2006, the Cash-for-Honours scandal broke out. This time, Blair is in even more trouble and just about survives a vote of no conference by his own MPs. He manages to give a successful speech about why he needs to stay on until 2010. Though unpopular with the public, he continues his course for EU integration.
Blair steps back to allow Brown his promised chance at the premiership. His integration policies with the EU harms both the Lib Dems and Labour, despite Nick Clegg’s popularity. This allowed the Conservatives under David Cameron to win an outright majority in 2010. Labour is out of power for the first time in 13 years, whilst the Lib Dems essentially become the main opposition despite having fewer seats
What if we voted to Remain?
On the 24th July 2016, newscasters announced a different verdict- the EU had voted to remain in the EU. David Cameron rejoiced, safe in his victory and his premiership.
A wounded Nigel Farage decides to continue fighting against the EU but finds that there’s not too much public appetite for a referendum again. Meanwhile, those on the right and Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party are attempting to regroup. They are forced to wait due to Cameron’s relative popularity at the time.
Meanwhile, leaked documents emerged in late 2017 that reveal Jeremy Corbyn’s Euroscepticism and the rumour that he voted to Leave. Angered by this, the PLP decided to pursue a vote of no confidence. Corbyn loses and is forced to campaign for leadership against Andy Burnham and Keir Starmer. Burnham drops out and lends his support to Starmer. Despite considerable support from the membership, Corbyn loses to Starmer.
Cameron’s popularity plummets when he and several other MPs are caught in a scandal involving second jobs and payments. He just about survives a vote of no confidence but decides to step down at the 2020 election. The 2020 election is delayed by a year due to COVID. By this time, the government’s handling of the pandemic and Cameron’s unpopularity had cost him. Labour wins a majority in May 2021, sending the Tories on a search for a new leader
What if William Adelin had lived?
As the White Ship sank off the coast of France, William Adelin managed to safely get on a dinghy along with a few others. This time, he didn’t hear the cries of his half-sister Matilda FitzRoy as she drowned. He managed to safely get to shore. The heir to the English throne survived.
England seemed secure when William and his wife Matilda of Anjou later returned home safely. With a strong alliance with the powerful Anjou, Henry I of England had no reason to worry. William Adeline continued to be pampered, whilst his sister Matilda remained on the continent as Holy Roman Empress. William enjoyed the company of mistresses like his father had and preferred them to his wife. He and Matilda struggled to conceive.
In 1135, Henry died and William Adelin became William I. Meanwhile, Matilda had remarried after widowhood and had three healthy sons. Meanwhile, William was unable to sire a legitimate heir.
Matilda’s husband Geoffrey of Anjou decided that they should attempt to retake England. Knowing that the English would not accept a female ruler, they plotted to have their son Henry installed on the throne. In 1140, they attacked England. Despite her husband’s unpopularity, Matilda managed to use being the mother of sons to her advantage. William’s pampered nature made him unpopular in court and with no heir, the English court worried for the future.
Despite her ruthlessness, Matilda did not want to kill her brother. She offered him the chance to be exiled to Anjou with France. Seeing no other option, William agreed. He abdicated on the 31st December 1140 and the crown went to Matilda’s son Henry. The next day, William Adelin and his wife departed England on a ship to France.
On the journey, William died of an illness. He was buried in Anjou and his wife Matilda took the veil in her native lands. In England, Geoffrey and Matilda were unpopular, but Henry II had a solid grip on the throne. Geoffrey and Matilda both remained in Anjou apart from a few visits to England. They died in 1151 and 1167 respectively.
What if Edward VIII didn’t marry Wallis Simpson?
Edward VIII loved Wallis Simpson, but he loved power more. Besides, he had never been one to settle down. He listened to Parliament and told Simpson that they could not be together. She returned to America.
The King was unpopular, whilst his brother Albert and his family became beloved by the people. With no Queen, Edward was forced to allow his sister-in-law Elizabeth to be hostess. This only increased her family’s popularity and infuriated Edward. He was an angry and unpleasant man who bitterly insulted his family.
When war broke out, the government worried about Edward’s sympathy for the Nazi government. A group led by Churchill decided to encourage the King to go to Canada for his own safety. Edward agreed, believing that the people would welcome him upon his return. Meanwhile, Albert, Elizabeth and the girls remained in London. In Canada, Edward waited the war out, away from Germany.
Edward arrived back in Britain just before VE Day. He joined his family on the Buckingham Palace balcony, waving and smiling. For the time being, Edward put on a happy face and pretended to be close to his family. Inside, he was furious that his brother’s unpopularity had eclipsed his own.
Things came to a head when it was discovered that Edward had been corresponding with Simpson since he was sent to Canada. Meanwhile, the populace was angry with Edward after discovering his Nazi sympathies. They accused him of cowardice and not supporting his country.
Edward was confronted by Prime Minister Clement Attlee, his brother Albert and several other influential men. They demanded that Edward cease communications with Simpson but he refused, stating that he hated himself for letting her go. Aware that Edward was damaging the reputation of the monarchy, several of the men formed a plan. In exchange for Edward abdicating, he would be allowed to marry Wallis Simpson.
Albert, who had been enjoying a happy life with his wife and daughters, knew that he could be King one day, but hoped against it. He attempted to get his brother to change his mind once again, but Edward angrily refused. Edward angrily insulted Albert and mocked his stutter. This was when Albert finally lost hope for his brother.
Edward abdicated in 1949. He bought a place in France and Wallis Simpson followed. They married, with Edward losing all of his titles and privileges. Out of pity, the new George VI gave him a pension so that he would not fall into poverty.
After his abdication Edward returned only once to England in his life. This was for his brother’s funeral. He wanted to bring Simpson but was refused permission. After an altercation with his family after the funeral, Edward returned to France. He passed up several invitations, including the funerals of family members. During a trip to France, he requested that the Queen visit him, but she only dignified him with a telephone call.