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Bob is a thirty year old atheist man from our modern times. One day, he is irreversibly thrown back into medieval France around 1300 C.E. His education consists of a Bachelor's degree in mathematics, and unfortunately he does not bring back any modern technology with him. By handwave, he becomes the king of France.

Bob's priorities (in no particular order) are:

1) Modern civil rights

2) Modern science and medicine

3) Widespread democracy

4) Limit peasant suffering and abuse

What sort of ruler should he be in order to help society move towards these goals? I understand that he will probably not be able to accomplish any of these developments in his lifetime, but can he do anything to at least accelerate them?

Some food for thought:

Should he try to give more rights to peasants at the risk of angering the nobles?

Should he attack and invade neighboring kingdoms in order to bring them under his kind rule, or should he set a peaceful example?

Should he invest a lot in education and science at the risk of being regarded weak by his nobility and neighboring kingdoms?

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    $\begingroup$ I feel like I've seen this question a few times in varying forms. Have you used the search feature and seen if any of the previous questions are close enough to what you are asking for to be useful? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 8 '16 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Yes, unfortunately all I've found were questions in which the time traveler went back to medieval times, but he was not a king. Those types of questions are substantially different, because the time traveler needs to establish credibility, manipulate the king, and be very careful to not be burned as a magician. In this question, Bob is already has all the credibility he needs and has different concerns. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 8 '16 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I have reorganized the question a little bit, is it better? Also, I realize that it's unlikely for him to achieve any of those developments in his lifetime. Is there anything he can do to at least accelerate them? $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 8 '16 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ Some could argue that none of these goals are attainable at all $\endgroup$ – Keltari Jul 8 '16 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Keltari Not in his lifetime, but is he able to accelerate their development, so that they take only 500 years instead of 700 years to come around (for example)? $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 8 '16 at 23:13

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Oh average Bob with his time-travel powers. What can we do for you.

Lets analise Bob problem.

Bob is now in XIV century France, a time where people tends to be really religious, in that expecific year it's not good time to be the king of France in the eye of the church, but this does not matter so lets move on.

You are right, to much investment in education and science will make Bob look like a wimp in the eyes of other rules, that will probably want a piece of France. Probably some cousin of the previous king that lives in England or some sort of pretender. Bob is from the future! Bob use his investment to develop gunpowder!

Not modern gunpowder, like we have today, but a fair amount of black gunpowder so when the invader army tries to invade, Bob army will be ready. And there it goes. They came, Bob conquered. Now Bob is a war hero, but there is a catch, now a sect of the nobility thinks Bob is an heretic because of his advancements. So what Bob do? What absolutists monarchs of the XIV century does best. He gather a sect of loyalists nobles, and his morale enhanced army and wipe his enemies in the accusation of treason, he takes their land and spread trough his supporters, making the rich, richer. Bob will not have to worry about any uprisings for the time being.

But now Bob has another problem. We still in the Middle Ages, where we don't have any sort of basic sanitation. So, that should be the next priority of Bob. Improving the infrastructure of their forts and cities. But to do that, Bob need a labor force.

So, Bob gathers his loyalists again and explain his plane. He wants to create a thing called job. We will start to pay your peasants some money for their labor, and he continues with that while everyone in the room is completely in shock. By paying back to your peasant for their labor, we get to making them happy, he will start to think that he is being valued by his lords, and will be more willing to comply.

In that time, some one shout that this is madness, what a peasant will do with money? Bob smiles and says that allied to the fact that we will be paying them for their job, we will be charging for our products. And by that, everything will be back to where it was.

So it starts. Bob now is constructing all sort of infrastructure. In mean time, He also introduces his next great idea, a machine that he put a blank paper, some metal pieces in form of letters and a ink and press it against each other. Bob is a simple man, so he calls that machine Press.

But now one of Bob lords brings him a new problem. Since parents are working in Bob infrastructure project, the children are alone because their parents aren't there to take care of them.

So Bob says, "I have the solution to this problem. Lets take the children and put them in a place where we can teach them the principles of what we are doing, so when they come to age, they will already know what to do. And I have a name for this place, School. We divide them by age, start teaching the basic things to the younger and the more complicated ones to the oldest".

And so it goes. A good ten years pass, all of Bob's infrastructure work is done. The first kids that go to school very young finish their study and now are ready to work, and to all sort of fields. The noble also adopt that model of Bob, but with private schools, witch focus another kind of fields of higher knowledge.

So another kingdoms see Bobs progress, some of them wants to buy their products, another wants to take what Bob have. Bob, that was not a fool, was improving his war machinery while at the same time their infrastructure is being build. And now that Bob have access to a factory and specialized work force, the less developed kingdoms ar no match to him, and his most brilliant war machine, the airplane. Bob's wrath rains down from sky in the stone forts from his opponents, and the marvelous products that Bob exports delights his allies.

But not everything is flowers. Some of the Bobs peasants started to think that their some Lords are tyrants, that they are being exploited and are threating to stop working unless their demands are accepted.

So Bob proposes a council, a House of Lords, composed by the nobility and a house of representatives elected by the people from common men to represent them, Bob calls that House of Commons. And to easy the anger of the Nobles, he announces that he will be giving way his powers as government leader, and maintaining only the powers of the state leader. He will ensure that the parliament (what he calls the joint of both houses), but the people and the lords should elect someone to decides what should be done.

And so it goes, for the first time the people have power to control their future, factions in both houses of the parliament are created but, Bob don't see problem in that. When asked by a member of one group that possess one of Bob press (Bob also calls them Press, he is a simple man after all), he says that is good to that thing that some man call democracy.

A few years pass by, some ups and downs. Bob makes another announcement, after all those years, and due is poor health, he is stepping down of the throne in favor of his son, Bob II. And so there is. Bob goes to his summer castle in a South France beach to live with his queen for his final years.

And so there it is, the history about how Bob changes history.

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    $\begingroup$ And how, exactly, does Bob know how to construct, or teach others to construct, planes? Does bob know how gunpowder is made? While that is not as complicated as planes there are still a lot of average persons who wouldn't know how to do it. Also, how is there a hereditary throne to pass to Bob II after the state was converted to a democracy? $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 10 '16 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Annonymus Bob is from the future. He knows how to go back in time. You really think with that kind of knowledge, he would not know more simple things? And, even if he don't, why he will travel back to time without some sort of plan and means to complete his plan? If he goes back with a written compendium of the basics of what I described above, he will be able to do it. $\endgroup$ – Lucas Leite Jul 10 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ Bob has only a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He most likely used a time machine without knowing how to build one. The expression "thrown back" also suggests an event that wasn't planned or foreseen. The "basics" of aerodynamics are also not sufficient to make planes. Airplanes are incredibly complex. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 10 '16 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Annonymus And yes. Democracy ain't a antonym of a Monarchy. See UK for exemple, it's what we call a Constitutional Monarchy. In fact, most of the more democratic countries in the world are monarchies. We think that monarchies are something old and inefficient, but is not. $\endgroup$ – Lucas Leite Jul 10 '16 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Annonymus, well those changes ain't there when I submitted my answer. For some reason they are made, and still, the OP choose my answer. It's not my fault. $\endgroup$ – Lucas Leite Jul 10 '16 at 15:20
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Start with sanitation. Armies and cities have to build proper outhouses. This will make you stronger, as more of your armies' people will survive conflict.

The 1632 series developed chloramphenicol and sulfa drugs for further medical treatment.

Increase the size of your personal armies so as to avoid nobles killing you. This works because of your increased survival rates.

Trade medicines to your enemies for use by nobles. Charge lots so as to finance your armies.

If you run low on money, go steal some by plundering your richer neighbors. Similarly, if short on farms to support your armies, expand your land. Note that you can choose to prey on the worst of your neighbors.

When soldiers, particularly officers, retire, give them their own noble title and domain from your new lands. These will be your counter-nobility. Hold them to a higher standard in terms of human rights. Encourage them to recruit additional peasants from outside your country.

Find a reason why a big, rich noble is a traitor. Kill him and take his lands. Spread them out to your retiring veterans.

Invest in a food taster and a strong bodyguard force to avoid assassinations.

Loan armed forces with your soldiers and officers to your nobles when they ask. Make sure that your nobles' forces bear the brunt of the fighting. But ensure that they win in the end. This leaves them reliant on you, as their armies are diminished and they feel little pressure to replace them. Yes, I realize that this means that they will use your armies to do things of which you disapprove.

Tell your nobles that peasants are necessary for a strong economy and military, so they will be fined for any that die outside your armies. Note that you should probably wait to do this until after your armies are clearly bigger than theirs.

Draft serfs from your nobles' domains into your army. Both to deprive them of potential military personnel and to build your own army.

Recruit like-minded people into an organization dedicated to your ideals. Focus on idealistic youth. Raise them with better principles than their peers. Possibly take in orphans so as to start their education earlier.

Raise your kids in the organization. Make sure that the one who succeeds you is pro-democracy. Build a long term plan that you expect them and the organization to implement.

Send out colonists to the appropriate places to mine gold and other resources. The colonies can be more democratic. I would suggest that you also put your research and development there, where the natural resources are.

Over time, your goal should be to increase the power of newer, more democratic nobles at the expense of the existing nobles. Repeat until they can stop being nobles. Note that this may not happen in your lifetime.

Ratchet up civil and human right protections over time. Don't hurry. Whatever speed you manage is likely to be faster than what would happen without you.

Concentrate your medical and science research on your armies. Members of your armies should survive while your enemies' armies do not.

Encourage research centers to maintain especially high standards for education, rights, and democracy. Draw the aspirational to them.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Hi, I'm Brythan, and this is my 12-step program to escape the Middle Ages." $\endgroup$ – Nex Terren Jul 8 '16 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ I really like the ideas of colonies. He can set them up like republics, with a congress that only answers to Bob. He could do so without reproach (they will be small so nobody will care probably). The colonies can hopefully grow in power, and a few centuries down the line, maybe rebel like the U.S. did. They would serve as a model and be the envy of the oppressed peasants in other countries. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 9 '16 at 2:38
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The answer here is simple. Colonies. As a modern man in 1300 C.E. France, Bob, and Bob alone in mainland Europe, has access to the single most valuable piece of knowledge in geopolitical history—the existence of the American continents.

So what does Bob do? He invests in explorers and navigators, similar to what the rulers of Portugal did in the fifteenth century in Africa, except he instructs them to head westward, not southward. Some, to be sure, think this is suicide—after all, fourteenth century sailors don’t even know of the trade winds that would take them home, but there will always be someone in the country adventurous enough to take the risk. It won’t be easy for Bob to get off the ground, though, sailing technology was not as good in 1300 as it was in 1492. Bob’s noble rivals, like most educated Europeans at the time, understand the world is round, so they don’t think Bob is batshit crazy, but at the same time, they dismiss it as just another pet hobby of the king and privately gossip amongst themselves about how stupid the king is to send ships into empty water. They don’t anticipate any threat to their power.

1. Gold, Bob, and Glory

Then, one of Bob’s explorers comes back with news of a strange new land far across the ocean. Most likely, if they set out from France, his captain landed somewhere in Canada or New England and Bob is told that the land is cold, barren, uninteresting, and devoid of any precious metals worth mining. But Bob doesn’t give up. He sends more navigation parties out radially from France, knowing that the continent extends continuously for the entire length of Europe and Africa. Subsequent expeditions find the Caribbean, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, and all the accompanying treasures within. Colorful birds, Native American souvenirs, news of an entirely new land, all of this excites the populace. The serfs who previously knew of no greater life outside of their manor, are now clamoring for a taste of the great new world. Bob, who is now looking for loyal colonists, has no shortage of volunteers. Because they are mostly poor peasants with nothing to lose, most of his volunteers are loyal to Bob, and Bob alone.

2. Sorry, Pocahontas.

First, Bob needs to deal with the Native Americans. Despite any progressive quips he might have inherited from the 21st century, this choice is already made for him. Disease wipes out the Native Americans whether or not he wants to. The rest are reduced to bands of survivors, wandering what is, to them, a post apocalyptic world with an alien invasion thrown in—something of a mix between the Walking Dead and Falling Skies. Bob is now free to move in with his forces.

Millions of natives are still around, and more than a few attempt to mount a resistance, but Bob has knowledge of something called “gunpowder”, and he instructs his tinkerers and alchemists to start improving upon the strange explosive dust coming over from the Middle East at the time. His tinkerers, psychologically, are also benefiting from the expanded horizons resulting from the discovery of a new continent, and so they start experimenting and hacking. Soon, Bob has new explosives, new alloys, new weapons, etc. The Native Americans, never much of a match to begin with, are steamrolled by Bob’s armies, who, with their new military technologies, Bob also uses against the nobles in France. If he is smart, he swiftly takes them out before they have a chance to adopt and incorporate his new weapons into their own armies. If he is really smart, Bob the Atheist uses the existence of the New World to discredit the church & expels the Catholic clergy from the country as a “cult of liars and conspirators”.

3. Bob the Athiest

The Pope, never as powerful to begin with as we usually imagine him to be in this time period, is helpless to stop it, as Bob’s neighbors in Germany, Spain, and England start hatching their own plots to expel the church. Kings and nobles across Europe are very interested in this new “I don’t have to listen to the Pope anymore!” idea. The Protestant Reformation comes early.

Now, Bob’s power is vastly magnified. He has land. He has natural resources. He has weapons. He has exclusive divine right, from expelling the Catholic church. He has money, from the silver mines of Mexico and Bolivia. (The silver messes with his economy for a little while, but that’s fine because all of Bob’s rivals in Europe are affected too.) Because he has land, he has the loyalty of the population, since he can gift peasants with their own land in the New World in exchange for service. Because he has the loyalty of the people, he has an army.

4. Liberté, Égalité, Roberté: How Bob protects his empire

Now, Bob puts his knowledge of 21st century civil rights and liberties to use. He teaches his people about natural rights, about freedom, about democracy. He promises that his colonies will become republican utopias for the poor. The people also begin to take an interest in education, since they now have a vision of becoming men and women into themselves. They begin valuing rights and freedoms, and the new education fad doesn’t hurt Bob’s ability to get new military or health technologies either. Bob’s people quickly become the most educated, healthy, and wealthy people in Europe (though at the time, this isn’t exactly a high bar to clear). But even more important than that, his people are transformed from subjects to citizens. And that gives Bob, and Bob alone, access to the most terrifying force in world history—the citizen army.

The citizen soldier isn’t like the your typical mercenary in a king or noble’s army. The citizen soldier is motivated. He (not she; Bob’s technology and social cohesion is still not sufficient to launch a full blown women’s rights revolution) is willing to die for his country. And not just his country. Just as Bob invents the citizen in this timeline, Bob also invents the nation state. The nation state is not like anything else in Europe, or many thousands of miles from Europe. (China was a nation state many times in its history, but China is China, and very far from Europe.) His people pledge allegiance to the flag of France, everything it represents, and by extension to Bob. To his citizens, France is no longer just the place they live, it’s an ideal, a cause worth dying for. It’s also transferable.

5. World Domination?

By now, the peasants in surrounding Europe have probably heard of the enlightenment Bob has set off, and a few demagogues amongst them may already be fomenting revolutions. If Bob is smart, he preempts them. Bob knows if the King of Castille (Spain isn’t one country yet even) gets overthrown by the local demagogues, his own French constitutional monarchy is probably next, since these revolutions have a habit of spiraling out of control. Instead, Bob uses this to his advantage. He invites the people of Spain and Germany to “join France”. Remember, he now runs a nation state, not a country, and just because you speak Spanish or German doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be a part of his new state. Bob casts himself as a liberator. The locals cheer on Bob’s armies as they take out their old rulers.

Most of the locals don’t mind being ruled by France, because they no longer see themselves as Castilian or Aragonese or English. Remember, Bob’s rival monarchs never managed to convert their own countries into nation states. The King of Spain (Castille) never had a chance to imprint his own flag on his people. France is the first state they know. And instead of seeing themselves as Castilian or French or English, his people see themselves as “Free Europeans”, with “Slave Europeans” as the out-group.

There will be no Treaty of Tordesillas. Bob is now head of a state that rules the entirety of Western Europe, and the Eastern and coastal portions of the Americas (it will take generations to settle the interior, but Bob has time). Bob is now at a crossroads. The enlightenment he has set off has not been lost on his colonists in the Americas. Bob himself probably has nothing to worry about. His colonists will be content to gorge on the plentiful land for perhaps a century if he is lucky. But, if no changes are made, they will eventually demand self-rule. If there is to be a central government, every citizen of Bob’s vast hemispherical nation must feel like they have a say in the composition of that government, and elections are very hard to hold when it still takes months to cross the Atlantic.

6. Who’s in charge?

Bob, a hero to his people, can probably get away with autocratic federal rule as “benevolent dictator for life” (with citizen legislatures in each province to provide democratic local rule), but his successor would certainly have to be democratically elected. The people would not automatically pledge allegiance to his son, although his son would probably have the best chance out of any candidate in a theoretical election. Quasi-hereditary rule is a bad precedent to set for the new democracy, but Bob would have to be of substantial character and republican virtue to instruct his people to not automatically “vote the bloodline”. Bob’s nation, having been built in a few decades, does not have the benefit of a long tradition of enlightenment and republican literature that the United States did in the 18th century, although the U.S. in the early 19th century does demonstrate it is possible for the populace to teach themselves a great deal of democratic ideology in a very short amount of time (~30–40 years).

7. “War against the brown people” vs. “The Federal Republic”

Bob’s successor would have two choices to preserve the unity of the nation. He could start a racial war against the “others”, further expanding the borders of “liberated” (and white) France across the world. Racism is a pretty recent invention, a product of the need to justify African slavery; for most of human history skin color was like any other physical trait—hair color, eye color, etc. What mattered was what was “inside”—religion, language, customs, etc. But even without the concept of racism, there would still be plenty of ways to stir up hatred against nonwhites in this timeline. Citizen armies would be fighting “savage” natives in the American interior, and “ignorant” Slavs and Arabs in Eurasia. A patriotic expansionary war would probably keep the secession genie in the bottle for a while, especially if it was portrayed as a war of liberation to spread democracy. But this would have to last until the communication technology caught up to make planetary democracy workable. Or the war could devolve into a war of perpetuity as the citizen armies come up against their limits in Africa and India.

Alternatively, Bob’s successor could devise a federal system capable of withstanding long communication times. This would be the more difficult, but also more sustainable solution. Each province of Greater France would elect four sets of representatives—two to form a local legislature, and two to represent the province in the central government in metropolitan France. Bob’s knowledge of bicameral legislatures proves very valuable in getting every citizen of Greater France to agree to this. Greater France becomes the Federal Republic of Greater France. The central government would initially be very weak, both by design and by circumstance, as the sheer distances involved make it unresponsive and remote. Most of the power would be vested in the regional legislatures. However, as communication and travel technology improves, the central government would become more and more powerful. You essentially have a single nation of white people ruling half the planet—unimaginable in our own timeline (though perfectly imaginable for anyone who has ever watched a sci-fi show with single-culture aliens).

8. What about everyone else?

It is interesting to think about what would happen to the rest of the world in the federal scenario. It is possible that an expansionary war would still be waged, although the leaders of the Federal Republic would probably be prudent to invest their resources in improving communication infrastructure rather than expanding the borders of an already overextended nation. More likely, the enlightenment ideals unleashed by Bob would travel beyond the French umbrella, but not across the entire globe. Arabs, Indians, and Chinese would all probably pose rough, though not impassable terrain for Bob’s democracy. You would probably see many small “vassal democracies” spring up along the borders of the Federal Republic in Russia and North Africa (Bob will be unable to colonize Sub-Saharan Africa for the same reasons that prevented European colonization in our timeline until the late 19th century).

The vassal democracies will be dwarfed by the vast Federal Republic and will be under its heavy influence, for economic reasons, if none other. They will mostly function as cultural and migratory buffers for the Federal Republic, and military buffers protecting the rest of the world. While small, the vassal democracies are nation states like the Federal Republic, and their populations will resist any attempt by the French to bring them under their direct military control. So they would hem in the enormous superstate on its northeastern border. Because smaller democracies would pop up as soon as Bob’s superstate stopped expanding, the Federal Republic would be unable to start expanding again if it ever stopped, something its leaders would be unlikely to foresee. Thus, it’s very possible that “One World Government” does not occur in this timeline.

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Probably the only thing he could realistically do is create a solid education system. It would be funded by the government, as well as guided, but not controlled. The more educated people are, the faster they will move to a modern society. As access to education has increased in our lifetime, monarchies have fallen and democracy has grown. Science advances by leaps and bounds. Morals and civil rights have increased. Etc. Education gives people power.

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OK, by handwave he becomes king of France. Now what? He doesn't speak the language, he has no ties of blood to provide a base for alliances, he's an atheist in a time when public piety was essential, and he can't even fight for himself.

He has no time to spare for widespread social reform - survival will take up all his energy. And in some respects all he has to do is wait. In less than 40 years the Hundred Years' War kicks off (in our time), and in less than 50 years time the Black Death comes a'knocking.

As for Bob's priorities,

1) Modern civil rights

What? Do you include suffrage? Any attempt to empower the 80 to 90% of the population which are peasants will be seen as a direct blow to the power of the nobility, and will ensure that the nobles join together to take him down. The Church (which was by modern standards wildly influential) will support the existing order, and any suggestion that women should be given power will only harden the Church's resolve to get this heretic off the throne.

2) Modern science and medicine

Without knowing any science or medicine? Please. Stop and think about this. Another answer suggested increasing his power base by pushing for public sanitation. Where? In the lives of the peasants? In the cities? Do you have any idea of the capital investment required to retrofit a country with water pipes? Or the technological advances needed to make those pipes on the scale required? Or the cultural changes needed to get people to actually use plumbing? Some diseases will potentially respond to sanitation (cholera, for instance, but that requires a heroic waste control effort). Others, such as the Black Death and typhus, won't. Even as late as the end of the 18th century, control of fleas was pretty much nonexistant. There exists a letter from George Washington to a young woman who will move to the big city, warning her that a high-class woman does not scratch her flea bites in public.

3) Widespread democracy

Democracy in 1300 is, simply, treason. Treason was dealt with by death and torture. I suggest you read about the fall of the Knights Templar (1308 - 1312)

4) Limit peasant suffering and abuse

What abuse? Beyond the taxes they paid to support their rulers, there isn't a great deal of evidence of abuse, at least by local standards. In fact, France as a whole at that time had a markedly lower incidence of peasant revolts than England and Germany.

Unless you want to eliminate serfdom itself, so that the peasants are not legally tied to their land. In that case, you'll just make section 1 all the worse.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well I think it's implied that he knows the language already, given that he found a way to become king. I didn't mean that he should try to make all of these changes overnight, just that he wants to guide society (as much as he can) on a path which will achieve these goals faster than they otherwise would've been achieved. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 9 '16 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ Considering the way the Black Death is going to shake things up in 50 years, I don't think Bob is likely to make a perceptible change. You also need to address the whole "staying in power and staying alive" thing. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jul 9 '16 at 5:03
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Politics of the time aside, there are 3 things he could do to accelerate development of the country

1) Schooling. Maybe institute something along the lines of the the Hitler Youth. Teach children how to read, regardless of class, with propaganda. Train them in basic drill and tactics with the peasant weaponry of the day. Make sure that they learn to revere the king fist, the local lord second. Reading is the most important thing in this, with the farthest reaching pass along effects. Propaganda and militarism are the bonus points here. As the youth come of age, you will have more effective military forces when the serfs have a clue. They will also be more loyal to you, personally. Also teach things like basic sanitation and agriculture. A huge thing to teach, though, would be the Scientific Method. Pound this into their heads.

2) The Printing Press. This kind of goes hand in hand with Education. Once the peasant knows how to read, you can give them something to read that is not insanely expensive to produce with the printing press. You can make sure they are reading what you want them to read at first. Include information on germ theory, sanitation, agriculture, and how to deal with the black death. Make a drumbeat of the Scientific Method. Appease the church by printing Bibles. They won't realize the dangerous part of that until it's too late.

3) Libraries and Universities. Give people a place to learn. The commons could go to the libraries, the Nobility to the university. Take the power of information control away from the Church by bypassing it.

You could probably get away with these and they will likely have the largest impact on civilization as a whole. Maybe you can bring about the Renaissance early.

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Well, here's one idea. Try to exploit the most influential social network in the country, the church. Get it to start teaching more children to read and write, and teaching mothers basic hygiene. If you can do that and get it established, you're laying the foundations for long-term development.

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Introduce basic industrialization (this doesn't mean machinery necessarily, just assembly lines, specialization) and advanced agricultural practices. Work on sanitation, especially any advancements that contribute to a lower child death rate and fewer casualties to birth.

These will work to accelerate the development of the middle class, and allow France to shift workers away from agriculture and towards innovation, education, and other advancement.

Use the freed headcount and wealth to introduce basic education as widespread as possible, thus further encouraging innovation and development after his lifetime.

I'd say these things, if successfully implemented without making enemies, would certainly speed up the development of the world, and push it faster towards the popularization of democracy.

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Being King does not make you God, despite what Kings try to say. The King's word is not law because it's the King's word. It only becomes law because other people with power like it and/or are willing to go along with it.

So whatever the King does, it has to be something which will not upset the existing noble structure.

I'll group your priorities based on the ease with which a King could actually accomplish them:

Modern science and medicine

This is something a King could actually help kickstart. Kings have money, so the King could fund various people. Indeed, a lot of the scientists/alchemists/etc of that era were wealthy noblemen. Find some of these people and fund them.

But the most important thing the King can do with regard to this is bring forth future knowledge. While most 30-year-olds probably aren't conversant enough with the history of science to know the best place to jump-start a scientific revolution, even a basic education can help them move certain things forward.

The medical profession would probably be a good place to start. The King could start training medical professionals in germ theory (firing those who don't want to give up their leeches). The King may not know much about antibiotics, but the concept of sterilization could work wonders for relatively primitive surgeries. If these techniques are effective, then those medical professionals trained in them will likely be hired by other nobles (who else can pay for a physician?), which can help the King build up support among them.

The King's ability to improve matters of science would be very contingent on how much the person knew. If he learned calculus, being able to teach the mathematicians about the Fundamental Theorem could work wonders long-term. Someone knowledgeable about the Theory of Evolution might be able to assemble a cabal of biologists to accept it and gather evidence to help sustain it.

But even so, there are many scientific fields that even a trained modern scientist couldn't help with, simply because they don't know how to use the tools that would exist in that day.

Limit peasant suffering and abuse

The suffering due to general day-to-day life for most peasants is a consequence of having to do lots of back-breaking agricultural work day-in and day-out. One King cannot invent the time-saving machines and infrastructure that would allow such a society to alleviate that kind of suffering.

Nor can the King simply get more peasants so that they individually don't have to work as hard. Just as in modern capitalism, the number of people working the fields is essentially the fewest number they can get away with. More bodies means more cost for the same agricultural return, which now must be divided among more mouths to feed.

And that cost will be taken out of some noble's pockets, since the King doesn't actually own those nobles' land. Take it out of enough of them, and suddenly the King will no longer be King.

Abuse of peasants comes in two directions: bandits/lawlessness and the nobility.

While banditry certainly existed, it's not like it was an epidemic or something. Criminal acts against peasants generally were not tolerated. So there's not a whole lot the King could do to improve things. At least, not without costing a lot more money for relatively little gain. Plus, the nobles might start thinking that the King's trying to undercut their authority in their own lands.

As for noble abuse, curbing that would require serious politicking. Most 30-year-olds cannot politic at the level required to effect such change.

Modern civil rights

What does that even mean? Free speech means very little to a populace where the literacy rate is a rounding error and most people live&die in the same village in which they were born. Free practice of religion is going to piss off the local church. Right to privacy is irrelevant to people who live in shacks and don't have very much stuff. And so forth.

Most civil rights just don't make sense for the kind of society that these people live in. The most you could do is just strengthen the existing justice system. But even that requires getting the permission of the nobility. And they would make sure that such judicial inquiry cannot be brought against them.

Widespread democracy

Define "democracy". Leadership of local towns and really local issues were often handled "democratically" by some measures.

But if you're talking about significant self-governance, that's not going to happen. Not so long as there is a nobility in place who has all of the de-facto power.

Should he try to give more rights to peasants at the risk of angering the nobles?

Not being King anymore will help nobody. So no.

Should he attack and invade neighboring kingdoms in order to bring them under his kind rule, or should he set a peaceful example?

If this guy is trying to make significant reformations in his kingdom, that's going to be expensive. Whether it's funding research, large public-works projects, buying the loyalty of nobles so that he can set up independent tribunals to investigate matters, whatever. Doing all of that as well as funding a war is insanity.

It should also be noted that random 30-year-olds probably don't know the land well enough to know who would be a good idea to even attack, let alone the ramifications of declaring war.

Should he invest a lot in education and science at the risk of being regarded weak by his nobility and neighboring kingdoms?

This is really coming closer to the biggest unasked part of your question: can a random 30-year-old actually function as King without being deposed or conquered?

I highly doubt it.

Imagine running a business. Can most 30-year-olds actually keep a business functioning? Drumming up new customers, keeping old ones, getting things done on time, dealing with competition and government regulations, etc? Lots of small businesses fail, after all.

Now, how many such people could run Apple, without cratering the company within 10 years.

The thing about running a kingdom is that you have to run it. And the fact is, most people wouldn't have the first damn clue what to do with a kingdom.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well some king were crowned as children, no? I guess they had advisers to help them. The king doesn't have to reveal his whole plan to his advisers, but I guess he could give them limited information and ask for help. For example, he could ask "I want to get the nobles to agree to reform X, how can I do that?" without telling them the bigger picture (which would make him sound crazy). I might increase the age to 40 or 45 though if 30 is too young. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jul 9 '16 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Ovi: It's not about age per-se. It's about knowing what they're doing. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Jul 9 '16 at 14:23
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I would certainly want to encourage science with endowments for scientific research and so on.

What about democracy, human rights, and limiting peasant suffering?

IMHO War violates democracy (killing people who have not voted to be killed today)(drafting people into the army against their will), and human rights, and causes massive peasant suffering. So therefore I would want to eliminate the independent sovereign national governments of Europe that would kill a couple of hundred million people with their future wars, and caused vast poverty by their crushing military taxation, and strengthen the Holy Roman Empire and the eastern Roman or "Byzantine" Empire.

By chance this question makes the time traveler the evil rebel anti king of France, the leader of the forces of evil that will cause so much horror and suffering in the future, soon after the French kingdom turned evil and began increasing its evil power.

So it would be relatively easy for the time traveler who somehow made himself leader of the forces of evil to sabotage and reverse this evil process, and weaken France and strengthen the Holy Roman and Eastern Roman Empires. By weakening France and strengthening the Holy Roman Empire so that France can never destroy it, he can prevent the independent nations of Germany and Italy from ever arising to afflict an unhappy world, thus killing three evil birds with one stone.

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I want to add to my answer that for many centuries the French governments believed that what was bad for the Holy Roman Empire and the kingdoms of Italy, Burgundy and Germany within it was good for France. But what was bad for the Holy Roman empire and the Kingdoms of Germany, Italy, and Burgundy was good for the future nation of Germany, and what was good for the future nation of Germany was bad for France.

So for many centuries the the actual result of French foreign policy was basically making 1914-18 and 1940-45 possible.

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    $\begingroup$ "I want to add to my answer" then do exactly that. There is an 'edit' button. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Jul 9 '16 at 21:52

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