Great what ifs of the past – how the course of history can turn on a sixpence...

The statue of Boudica and her chariot on Londons Embankment. What if the warrior queen had succeede

The statue of Boudica and her chariot on Londons Embankment. What if the warrior queen had succeeded in driving the Romans from Britain? Picture: CATHY SHELBOURNE - Credit: Archant

Every decision we take or mistake we make will have a knock-on effect on our lives. Here are some of the bigger consequences in history.

What if Queen Elizabeth I had married? Picture: ARCHIVE 16th Century portrait painted by GEORGE GOWE

What if Queen Elizabeth I had married? Picture: ARCHIVE 16th Century portrait painted by GEORGE GOWER - Credit: Archant

New Year Resolutions ? we’ve all made them; we’ve all broken them and, just occasionally, we have stuck by them and changed our lives for the better.

In December 1999 I resolved to enter the new millennium a size 12 or go naked into 2000. In the end I stayed the same size and kept my clothes on because the neighbours popped round on New Year’s Eve.

Like so many pivotal moments in our lives, it is always easier to calculate what we might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. Here are some what ifs that might have changed history for better or worse and eliminated uncertainties.

William Shakespeare: If only, Will, you had decided on December 31 1608 to write an autobiography with an account of your work as a playwright. Just a chapter on your early life and education might have hushed the naysayers who allege you didn’t write your plays because you were not posh enough. You could have nipped in the bud the debate over the authorship of your work. As it is, there is a body of opinion that some other chap penned your tragedies, comedies and histories because the son of a humble glove-maker from Stratford-Upon-Avon couldn’t possibly have been as literate as you – but maybe your genius was from your mother’s side?

Bayeux tapestry scene

Bayeux tapestry scene - Credit: Archant


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William the Conqueror: What if, Bill, you had arrived on our shores when King Harold’s English Army had not been really tired after a battle up at Stamford Bridge (not involving Chelsea FC) and then had to march all the way to Hastings for another battle? William arrived on our shores in October 1066 but had originally intended to set off from France two months earlier. Strong winds and wet weather (welcome to England) delayed the sailing. In August, Harold’s troops would have been fresher and stronger and numbered 25,000 rather than the 10,000 that fought at Hastings. We cannot be sure Harold would have won but he would have had a better chance. It could have been one in the eye for William and the Bayeux tapestry might have been the Brighton tapestry.

The sinking of the Titanic: A towering tragedy of the early years of the 20th Century, RMS Titanic, dubbed “unsinkable”, was on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic when she hit an iceberg and sank with the loss of about 1,500 lives. But a last minute decision to switch officers meant that Second Officer David Blair left the crew before Titanic sailed. He forgot to hand in the key to a locker that contained binoculars for the lookout. As a result the men charged with looking out for icebergs had only their eyesight to rely on. Had Titanic survived its journey, one of the biggest-grossing films of all time would not have been made and Celine Dion wouldn’t have had that hit.

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Elizabeth I: Had you married, Good Queen Bess aka Virgin Queen, the whole of British and European history would have been slewed. Your options of husband were limited. On the one hand you could have married one of the European crowned heads of state but they were mostly Catholic and England was a Protestant nation, or you could have wed a countryman in a morganatic marriage but, judging by the poor examples of statesmanship shown by your favourites, the Earls of Leicester and Essex, there really wasn’t anyone worthy of you. Had you gone on to give birth to an heir, we might never have had a Civil War and had a brief dalliance with republicanism.

Boudica: What if you, warrior queen of the Iceni, had managed to rout the Romans and drive them out of Britannia? Until you and your allied tribes fatefully decided to march on from London, you were doing a grand job. Had you consolidated your position, Emperor Nero might have taken his legions home. Would the country have become the next world superpower with you, a woman from what is now East Anglia, as its empress? It’s a nice thought but bearing in mind the unruliness of its many tribes, it is unlikely the nation would have united under one ruler. And if the Romans had left, would we have had so many straight roads? Would Hadrian’s wall have been Boudica’s fence?

What if William Shakespeare had written his autobiography? Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

What if William Shakespeare had written his autobiography? Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As we look towards 2018, there are new “what ifs” to look forward to. What if EastEnders has a happy episode? What if the London-Norwich Intercity line has uninterrupted weekend services for a whole year? What if Norfolk and Suffolk get their first motorway?

(Sources: www.scifiideas.com www.escapistmagazine.com whatculture.com)

What if the look-outs on RMS Titanic had been able to access the bimoculars? Picture: PA/ARCHIVE

What if the look-outs on RMS Titanic had been able to access the bimoculars? Picture: PA/ARCHIVE - Credit: PA

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