Once Upon A Time In Whitehall, Or, Why The Fields of Alt-History Are Full of Rabbit Holes

This the first in a series of guest posts by authors who, like me, have found themselves falling down into a Research Rabbit Hole, often with hilarious results. Because this is the true danger of research….it sucks you in!

Today’s Guest Author: Kat Otis

Like many research rabbit holes, this one started with a book. I don’t recall when or why I purchased The Collected What If: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, but it was worth every penny (however many pennies it was). You should check it out. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The premise of the book is simple: the history of our world isn’t inevitable and there are countless moments where a small change could have altered everything. Forty-five of them are presented in this book and one immediately captured my imagination. What if King Charles I of England delayed his 1641 trip to Scotland by a single week? What if he caught the same plague that broke out in a house near his London residence of Whitehall Palace? What if he – and his immediate family – died?

In other words, what if the British Civil Wars never happened?

The long-term implications of this for British history, French history, and American history are mindboggling, but I managed to avoid that research rabbit hole by dint of having fallen into a similar one a few years earlier. I still have several hundred years’ worth of alt-historical genealogical charts for the various late medieval Iberian monarchies that will never see the light of day because what the heck was I thinking???*


So I looked to the short term – to Charles I’s heir, his elder sister, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, the Queen of Hearts. To a dozen plus books on the Thirty Years War. To another dozen plus biographies for her and her thirteen(!!!) children. Aaaaaaand to the 2000+ pages of the Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the first two volumes of which cover her childhood, marriage, and early widowhood. Actually, I expect there to be another thousand pages or so when Volume III comes out, but only the first two volumes were necessary for this rabbit hole.


But wait. It gets worse. Because if Elizabeth became Queen, then her eleven surviving children would be catapulted from penniless exiles to extremely eligible princes and princess. Who might they marry? Foreign princes and princesses to create alliances across the Continent in the service of regaining the Palatinate and Bohemia in the Holy Roman Empire? English or Scottish noblemen and –women to secure the throne and ensure peace at home? What old friends would she raise to power? What foreign and domestic nobles will flock to the new Queen’s Court… and the rival Courts of her grown sons and daughters? All of which have dozens and scores and hundreds of books written about them.

Okay, okay, it was obviously time to reel it in. Because how much did I really want to write about political machinations? Hint: not much!

Luckily, while I have a massive historian crush on Elizabeth Stuart, I have almost as big an historian crush on one of her children – Sophia of the Palatinate, born a penniless exile, abruptly vaulted into the position of being heir to the British throne after the death of her first cousin twice removed, poor young Prince William, Duke of Gloucester. I consider it one of history’s minor tragedies that she missed becoming Queen of Great Britain by one month and a walk in the park. (Seriously: if she hadn’t been walking in the garden and run for shelter in a sudden rainstorm, she’d have probably outlived Queen Anne of Great Britain and taken the throne. Alas, she did die and we were stuck with King George I instead.) She’s kind of awesome and would make a great main character.

But if this novel (it’s a novel, or a maybe a series of novels, or let’s be honest here a series of series of novels…) was going to be more focused on a teen aged Sophia, that required a whole other set of research books on the street layout of 1640s London, the archaeological reconstruction of Whitehall Palace, seventeenth-century embroidery, banqueting menus, etiquette books, gaming manuals, books about horses because I knew nothing about horses, and…

Look, at this point, I think it’s best I just resort to quoting from my another of my historian crushes, Sir Thomas Roe:

“Great matters have small beginnings.”**

Have I dropped you down your own rabbit holes yet? If not, better luck to the next guest blogger!





*At this point in the writing of the blog post, I tried to find an animated gif or video clip of someone carefully stepping around a hole only to fall into another hole. I’m sure these exist. Alas, my Google-fu only turned up videos on how to make brick mortar repairs, advice on how to hike Mount Timpanogos safely, and “8 Reasons It Wasn’t Easy Being Spartan.” I’d like to say I resisted the urge to click any of those links… but we all know that would be a lie.

**Nadine Akkerman, ed., The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Vol. II, p. 523


Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair f cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there’s no country music involved.  Her most recent published work is The Gong-Farmer’s Daughter at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show  a story about plague, poison, and cesspits in Jacobean London

Follow her at: Website / Twitter



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