As something of a fan of the Marvel movies set within the MCU, I was excited by the announcements for the upcoming stream of films and TV shows that will be released over the next couple of years. But as pleasing as it will be to watch Doctor Strange in the fantastically entitled ‘Multiverse of Madness‘, I think I am mostly hopeful for the TV series ‘What If…’ This concept is based on an old comic one, whereby writers and artists have been able to use the established characters in different scenarios on a one-off idea. So, for example, what if someone else became Spider-Man, or what if the Fantastic Four had never obtained super-powers.

One of the reasons as to why I’m so fascinated with this idea is because it connects to the same historical area of debate: the counter-factuals of history. Years ago I read a book edited by Niall Ferguson called Virtual History which outlined some interesting areas of debate throughout history. The Second World War is a particular hot-spot for this, with questions posed such as: What if Churchill never became Prime Minister? What if America never entered the war? What if Operation Sea-lion was successful? What if Hitler obtained the atomic bomb first?

what if panel

So, in the spirit of this idea, I thought I would try this method out, but within the framework of the Tudor period. Over the next few months I hope to outline a short essay on the following areas:

  • What if Richard III won at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485?
  • What if the Lambert Simnel Rebellion succeeded in toppling Henry VII in 1487?
  • What if Prince Arthur lived?
  • What if Henry VIII stayed married to Catherine of Aragon?
  • What if the baby born in 1533 was a boy rather than a girl?
  • What if Edward VI had lived to an adult?
  • What if the Devise to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne was successful?
  • What if Mary Queen of Scots became Queen of England?
  • What if the Spanish Armada triumphed in 1588?
  • What if Queen Elizabeth married Robert Dudley?

Some of these questions are ones that I have asked in the A-level classroom, and the discussion can turn out to be very fruitful (and perhaps I will ask a few of these to students over the next year to gauge their own arguments). Such debate has been dismissed in the past as a simple parlour game discussion, thereby meaning not fit for proper, academic study. But clearly such a dismissal is wrong. Such debates open up new ideas for students and teachers alike, all of which allows for greater critical thinking (a key skill for any historian).

I’m currently drafting a response to the second question on the list: what if Henry VII’s reign was ended after two brief years? Already the idea of the end of the Tudor dynasty (and possible grisly murder of his son Prince Arthur) provokes further question marks about the final outcome of the unstable alliance formed. How long would Lambert Simnel remain in the hot-seat? Would he be able to overcome his figure-head status? How long would it be until John de la Pole revealed himself as the real power behind the throne? Questions that lead onto questions! Hopefully the first essay will provide some answers.