The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 2: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

The Navigator Queen




In the summer of 1475, Anne, Queen of England, celebrated the fifth anniversary of her assumption of power from her regency council. They had been five fruitful years; her first act had been to standardise weights and measures throughout the realm. Some of these we still use today. Her second act had been to order the reconquest of Wales and Cornwall, which had broken away after the English defeat in the Hundred Years’ War. These campaigns did not last long: the English army was a pale shadow of what it had been a generation earlier, but it still outnumbered the Welsh and Cornish three to one. Now, as foreign ambassadors filed in to pay their respects, the queen seemed justified in resting on her laurels.


(Anne was a competent though uninspired ruler – she had a 3 in all her stats, out of a maximum of 6. Still, after Henry VI’s solid zeroes, this felt like manna from heaven.)


Then, as Anne waited for her next audience to begin, a man tumbled out of a rug. A moment later, he began to speak – very quickly, as the queen’s guards and the bolder courtiers were advancing on him. Apologies for the intrusion, but this was the only way he could think of to gain an audience. His name was Albert Gloucester, navigator and sea captain. He planned to sail west through the Atlantic, and that way reach distant Asia. Would the queen sponsor him?




She would. The next year, in May 1476, Gloucester set sail from the Portuguese-controlled Azores with three ships. He was not heard from until the following January, when his three ships limped back into the Azores, badly damaged, their crews half-dead, starving… and bearing tales of a New World.


It was decades before English monarchs could make practical use of Gloucester’s discovery. It was soon clear that he had not, in fact, found a new route to Asia; and while some in England dreamed of colonising the new, sparsely settled lands, it was another generation before this became feasible. Ships of the time could only just barely make it to the New World and back, and even that was chancy – Gloucester perished at sea on his third expedition. Several other English explorers met similar fates. It was not until 1491 when the first English colony was finally established in the New World at Rio Grande, along the coast of Brazil. Mass English colonisation did not begin until the 1500s.


(The limiting factor in early European exploration/colonisation is diplomatic points, which are used to unlock National Ideas – for a very rough parallel, think cultural bonuses in Civilization V – and to improve naval technology. Like other monarch points, diplomatic points are generated by advisors and by monarch skill; I spent this stretch of the game waiting for them to accumulate.)


Still, as the 1500s progressed, Queen Anne and her successor Queen Elizabeth avoided continental European entanglements, although they did peacefully amalgamate England and Scotland into the new realm of Great Britain, and wage several campaigns in Ireland. That left them free to focus their energies on the Americas – specifically, North America, with its lucrative trade route. Earlier efforts in the Caribbean and Brazil were largely abandoned.




(The new trade route system, and the way it intertwines with other aspects of strategy, is one of my favourite things about the game. Trade flows around the map along predetermined routes, and manipulating that flow requires a whole mass of interesting decisions. Steering trade requires merchants, who are available in only limited numbers; mine steered trade from North America to the British Isles, and from the Caribbean to North America. To boost my merchants, I dispatched trade fleets to the Americas; and established colonies which would give further bonuses to trade. My diplomacy focused on keeping Spain and Portugal happy, as their navies could have threatened my trade; and just in case things went wrong, I built warships and fortified key American provinces.)


By the middle of the sixteenth century, Britain was the dominant power along the coast of North America. Further inland, the native Creek and Iroquois nations had been beaten back, and the British had established a friendly vassal kingdom, the Shawnee:




Elsewhere in the world, the Ming Dynasty held the northern half of a fragmented China. In the south, a rival kingdom, the Zhou, had emerged, with the small buffer state of Xi between them:




The French army was the terror of Europe, but the British remained confident in their fleet:





When Queen Elizabeth’s nephew, Frederick William I, ascended the throne in 1554, everything was going according to the British monarchs’ plan. And then, everything went very wrong.


Here I Stand


To this day, historians still cannot agree on the death toll the Wars of Religion took in the British Isles. Protestantism had begun to spread across Europe in the last days of the 1400s, and by the mid-1500s, most of England and Scotland had converted. In 1561, confronted with massed risings across the land – peasant and Protestant – Frederick William made the momentous decision to convert.




The evidence suggests that Frederick William genuinely did believe his conversion could bring peace to the realm. He was wrong. The rebellions continued, in Britain and in the colonies. There were rebellions by Scottish separatists and North American particularists. There were rebellions by peasants, more of them. Most of all, there were rebellions by Catholic zealots – funded with French money, led by French officers, and armed and organised along the latest French lines. Over 50,000 Catholics took up arms in Ireland alone, at a time when most armies numbered fewer than 40,000 men:




England saw multiple outbreaks of Catholic rebellion, each numbering 40,000-50,000; to the beleaguered British monarchs, it felt as though the king of France had discovered a never-ending supply of dragon’s teeth that he could fling across the Channel. Adding insult to injury, the Protestant rebels who had originally been such an irritant were nowhere to be found now that a Protestant monarch could have used their help. Before long, Britain was denuded of manpower, forcing London to go deeply into debt to hire foreign mercenaries:




A generation later, the realm had been bled white – yet the fighting continued. As the weary British king Augustus I led his army of boys, greybeards, and foreign hirelings into the ruins of London, where they would confront an army of confident rebels backed by the latest French military innovations, the golden age of the Navigator Queen seemed nothing more than an ancient fairy tale.




(Rebels – and their ability to keep popping up, no matter how many have already been killed – are one aspect of the game that I think could be fine-tuned. One or two gigantic, well-equipped rebel armies would have been a fun challenge, as well as thematically appropriate. It’s also good to know that the computer player is smart enough to support rebels when this is in its interests. However, the endless waves of French-backed super-rebels have left me frustrated, annoyed, and facing the risk of a death spiral. I’ll probably convert back to Catholicism and take my chances with Protestant rebels, and I really hope that will work! I had a great time until the last part of this update, and I don’t want to abandon this playthrough.)


The above Let’s Play is based on a review copy supplied by publisher Paradox Interactive.

Series Navigation<< The World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 1: Never Pick on Someone Your Own SizeThe World that May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play — Part 3: If You Can’t Beat Them… >>

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