Quick Alternate Histories: A Franco-German Empire

I've decided to start a new series of posts on the blog, entitled "Quick Alternate Histories." In these posts I will suggest in a brief format a surprising idea that just might have been a historical reality, had events turned out a little differently. Of course, my intention is merely to make amusing and thought-provoking suggestions. Even if my ideas are utterly unrealistic, thinking about alternate histories is a healthy and constructive exercise: It emphasizes for us that history is neither preordained nor inevitable, nor will it ever be.

So, what is my first Quick Alternate History? I believe there could have been a lasting Franco-German empire during the 19th century.

Napoleon rose to power during the turmoil of the First French Republic, transforming France into an empire within a few years' time. There were a great number of wars waged against France over the time of Napoleon's command, going from the War of the First Coalition all the way to the War of the Seventh Coalition. France, of course, was at the apex of its political and military might, and fought variously against all of the great powers of Europe during this period, defeating the first through fifth coalitions. Some argue Napoleon's empire could only survive as long as there was constant war. I, however, disagree: I believe a lasting peace could have existed following the end of the Fourth Coalition and the signing of the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807.

By the time of the signings at Tilsit, France had soundly defeated Austria, Prussia, and Russia on multiple occasions, cowing them into reluctant alliances. The Low Countries and most of Germany had either become part of the French Empire or satellite states under its aegis, and the Spanish and Italians were allies. At this point, only Britain remained intact as a powerful enemy of France, so Napoleon attempted to wage economic war against it through his Continental System. Seeking to enforce the continental blockade, Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, facing British and Portuguese reprisals thereafter. The Emperor then sparked rebellion and chaos in Spain in 1808 when French troops overthrew the government, turning the Spanish against them and starting many years of guerilla war there.

highly detailed map of Napoleonic possessions
and satellites in and around Germany
Had Napoleon not created the blockade, I think France could have made peace with Britain after Tilsit, and had the Peninsular War not occurred, he may have stayed on his throne far longer. Of course, Napoleon need not have invaded Russia in June 1812, but before then I believe it was the Peninsular War and France's entanglement in Iberia that really opened the path for the demise of France's First Empire. Had Napoleon settled with his substantial gains following Tilsit and ended his aggressions, there need never have been a Congress of Vienna. The Holy Roman Empire would have ceased to exist, while Prussia and Austria remained. However, Prussia and Austria would be the only independent Germanic states in Europe, dwarfed by a massive Napoleonic Franco-German empire that would even include Switzerland. These territories and satellite states could have been steadily integrated into that empire during the following times of peace, eventually recreating a modern Frankish Empire.

Think about a Franco-German Empire in the early 19th century. There would have been no Pax Britannica, no Franco-Prussian War, no Prussian-led creation of a German nation, no Great War or World War II as we know them. The history of the modern world would have looked entirely different.

(Note that in the future I will make these posts more "quick." This one went a little long. Please leave a comment about what you think!)

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