What is the most feasible change that could be made to European History to allow the creation of a United European Empire during the Middle Ages, before the Third Crusade?
My story starts some time after the Last Crusade. The anglo-frankish European Empire descends into civil war when a duke loyal to the old Holy Roman Empire tries to secede with his lands.
The main character is a down-on-their-luck peasant in a border village who gets caught up in the conflicts. They’re about 20 years old and have lived their whole life under this European Empire. Their father took part in the highly successful Last Crusade.
My goal is to end up with an alternate history European Empire scenario in the middle ages, where Continental Europe (plus England) is united under a single banner for a significant period of time, before being fractured by internal conflict and politics. I have the majority of this part of the story mapped out, it just needs a feasible historical point of divergence as background.
I'd like help evaluating the feasibility of my current timeline, and/or alternate suggestions to achieve this setting.
Preferable constraints on the main question:
- It happens before the Third Crusade - (my story requires the tech level of the time, and the Holy Land has been utterly conquered before the main characters birth)
- This Empire is Anglo-Frankish - (reaching across continental Europe roughly according to this map: https://i.imgur.com/22ermx6.jpg)
- This Empire is stable* for at least 20 years - (or long enough for the main character to have lived their whole life under this rule)
This Empire has a single/‘national’ army - (this is my reason for using the Knights Templars and Christianity as a core)
Bonus points: The dissolution of this empire would weaken Europe to such an extent that non-European kingdoms can roll in and take it
Some artistic license is obviously okay. It doesn’t have to be perfectly realistic, just narratively feasible without fantasy elements like magic and miracles.
I have chosen the 12th century because because of features like the White Ship Disaster, the religious mistrust after the failure of the Second Crusade, the Anarchy in England and the Investiture Controversy. I feel like all these things align to allow the possibility of a European Empire.
My main problem is getting the empire united and ‘stabilised’* in a pretty short space of time.
*By ‘stable’, I mean the kingdom can continue to exist uninterrupted by civil war for at least of a couple of decades, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to be perfectly happy about it.
TL;DR - Henry II dies and never becomes King of England. Eleanor of Aquitaine takes advantage of the religious and political turmoil of Europe to round up the land under the pretext of a new christendom.
In my current timeline: Henry II dies during The Anarchy (unable to pay his mercs, and Stephen doesn’t pay them off for him) and never becomes King of England. King Stephen continues to rule before dying in 1159 and being succeeded by his son William. Eleanor of Aquitaine, ambitious as she is, marries King Stephen’s vulnerable/inexperienced son William. Bam, an Anglo-Frankish union with Aquitaine’s significant resources.
She then has designs on the French throne and King Louis is down on manpower after the failure of the Second Crusade. Bernard calls for a follow up crusade, and King William (with Eleanor’s support/direction) says he will financially back it, but the sinful elements of leadership that lead to the failure of the Second Crusade have to be removed first. With this he garners the support of the Knights Templar and leads a sort of Christian Revolution/Purge of France. With this he takes France, leading to an alternate version of the Angevin Empire.
Chasing Empress Matilda back to Italy, the Anglo-Frankish Templar union then takes advantage of the aftermath of the Investiture Controversy to absorb the Holy Roman Empire (by picking off individual states through marriage, claims and conflict). William and Eleanor become St. William and St. Eleanor, King and Queen of Europaea. After a short period of reorganisation, they announce the Third Crusade, waged almost entirely by the ever-growing Knights Templar, which ends up successfully retaking Edessa.
The romanticism of the victory helps stabilise the Empire for a while and the Knights Templar expands into the de facto ‘national’ army of Europe. In addition, William and Eleanor set up a sort of council for vassal kings to help facilitate organisation of the Empire.
Reasons for Current Concept
- The Carolingian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire and the Angevin Empire were all close to a wide-reaching European Empire, but had different conceptual basis to my fictional empire, often being a loose collection of states rather than a single empire
- The Anarchy only ended because after King Stephen's son Eustace died, it was easier and better to concede the throne to Henry II; without him, Stephen's son William may have ascended to the throne
- The Second Crusade was a failure; King Louis VII was at odds with Eleanor (who supported retaking Edessa); the Crusader orders mistrusted eachother over the failure; St Bernard publicly blamed the failure on the sins of those involved, some crusaders prepared to take up his call for an immediate follow up crusade
- The so-called Angevin Empire that formed in our timeline formed with relative ease, there was little impetus for the Angevins to conquer the Holy Roman Empire and the rest of Europe
- Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful women in Europe, was known to be ambitious, politically intelligent, and supported the Knights Templar and the Cistercian Order
- The Holy Roman Empire was vulnerable due to the Investiture Controversy
- The Knights Templar were one of the most powerful organisations of the time
- Piety and honour are hugely important to people in this period, so a religious impetus seems most effective for establishing unity
Issues with Current Concept
- The length of time from the White Ship disaster to the Third Crusade being too short for this to happen (perhaps starting from Charlemagne would be better)
- Even if Henry II dies, Empress Matilda had two other sons who were similar age to Henry II (but didn't actively participate in the conflict), so the peace treaty that ended the Anarchy could have involved one of them instead
- What's to say that Eleanor marrying one King of England over another will actually have a difference
- Eleanor was perhaps not on the best terms with Bernard of Clairvaux
- Whether it’s believable for Eleanor of Aquitaine to be ambitious beyond marrying the King of England
- Whether the characters involved would actually be able to garner this kind support from the Knights Templar
- Whether keeping Eustace, King Stephen’s son, alive might be better, and if so, whether Eleanor would even marry him
- Whether the conflict of the Anarchy is necessary to precipitate this fictional Christian Revolution
- The Papacy; I still don't fully understand its role and the public opinion of it during the time, I'd considered the possibility of removing them entirely with the Christian Revolution but I don't know if that'd go down well