What If ... Henry V had lived on

In the summer of 1422, Henry V, founder of the Plantagenet empire and one of the decisive figures in world history, was at the Château de Vincennes, near Paris, when he was struck down by dysentery. By the end of August, he had made arrangements for his brother to rule as his baby son's guardian.

But then, as one chronicler put it, "God smiled on England." The fever lifted and medieval history's hero king pulled through. A year later, he was back in the saddle and the subjugation of France went on. Had Henry been struck down at such a young age, it is plausible that the Treaty of Troyes, guaranteeing him the French crown after the death of the incumbent, would have fallen apart. It is even possible that England would have lost the Hundred Years War, unlikely as that sounds today.

In the event, Henry became the first dual king of England and France, with isolated territories in the south holding out until the 1430s. By that time, not even his infatuation with his mistress, a former prostitute from eastern France called Joan - sarcastically nicknamed "the Maid of Orleans" - could detract from his popularity and prestige.

When Henry died at the age of 60, the Anglo-French dual monarchy was established. The court had moved from London to Paris, and as a result French was confirmed as the language of the political classes - a situation that endured until the first half of the 19th century. His successor, the pious Henry VI, ruled over one of the richest, most stable societies in Europe.

By the time his son, Edward IV, succeeded to the throne in 1485, the dual monarchy was at the vanguard of the movement we know as the Renaissance, with Leonardo da Vinci just one of the many artists lured north by Edward's patronage.

It is doubtful, however, whether the dual monarchy could have lasted. By the time the Wars of Religion began in the 1580s, many English merchants had come to see the Plantagenets as remote, French autocrats. Protestantism and English popular resentment became tightly intertwined. Shakespeare even wrote a celebrated political play, Henry V, satirising the former king as a sissified Catholic fop.

It was not until 1789 that England definitively went its own way, the storming of the Tower of London paving the way for a republic under Charles James Fox.

The irony is that, even though France remains the ancestral enemy, the cultural special relationship could hardly be stronger. The beret and the polo neck remain essential components of English national dress, pétanque is still our national sport and, above all, everybody loves a mime artist. What a tragedy for England it would have been if Henry V had died young.

Dominic Sandbrook is a historian and author. His books include Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles and White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties. He writes the What If... column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.