What If Columbus Sailed From England Instead?


This is a little more of an outline than anything else, but it might provoke some debate.


Historically, Christopher Columbus went looking for backing from quite a few royal courts in Europe.  Most of them, IIRC, regarded it as a fool’s errand.  (They knew the world was round, not flat, but they thought it was much larger and didn’t know about America.)  It was Spain, eventually, that gave Columbus his chance, allowing him to discover the New World in 1492.  What if he’d gone to England instead?


Henry VII (Henry Tudor) had assumed the throne only a few short years ago, after the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth.  His throne was still shaky, but he might see value in funding a handful of ships in hopes of finding something useful.  Let’s assume he does so at around the same time.  Christopher Columbus sails west from England and stumbles across the New World, eventually returning home to report (incorrectly) that he has found a new way to Asia.  Entranced by the prospect of new trade routes, and more wealth for England, Henry funds more missions, as well as a basic colony effort.  This irritates many English sailors, who resent an Italian getting funds they want.  They start sending out missions of their own.


Over the next ten years, as the English explore the New World, it slowly becomes clear that they haven’t found Asia after all.   However, there is still a lot to find.  The handful of colonies grow more important as the settlers find gold and suchlike, helping the settlements to become more self-supporting.  There is no suggestion, in this timeline, that the New World is the exclusive territory of Britain, but there are fewer powers interested in snooping around or converting the natives.  The English sailors are more interested in wealth and power than religion.


This doesn’t save the natives from smallpox and other diseases, which devastate their populations over the years since contact.  The English bring in more settlers to make up the shortfall (rather than slaves, at least at first.)


As time goes by, Henry VII sees the new territories as his younger son’s inheritance.  Prince Henry – the future Henry VIII – was a very able young man, the kind of person who could become dangerous if he feels he has been deprived of his birthright by his brother.  (How much of this was apparent to the king, at the time, is unclear.)  Henry’s brother dies as OTL, leaving Henry the Crown Prince.  Historically, Henry was very keen on building up the Royal Navy.  With a growing network of overseas settlements and bases, this would only be accelerated.


The steady exploration of the New World would eventually bring the English into contact with the Aztecs and Incas.  The English might not want to wage wars of conquest, but they’d be very interested in the gold.  Trade goods and weapons would start to flow into Mexico, followed rapidly by smallpox (etc, etc).  In OTL, this opened the gates for the Spanish to invade.  In ATL, the empires have a chance to recover.


And then what?


If it is England, rather than Spain, that gains access to the wealth of the New World, what will it do for the country?  Henry VIII was a warmonger who lacked the resources to wage his wars, even before he started going through wives.  Would he be more successful here?  Or would he start a series of wars he couldn’t win, even with vast resources from the New World?  What would happen to Spain?  Or the reformation?


There’s a thought.  Henry VIII becomes much more powerful, so the Pope grants his request for a divorce without demur.  If England doesn’t leave the Church, the reformation will take on a very different air ... if it exists at all.  (Henry was not, at least at first, a reformist.)  Of course, this then leads to Elizabeth still being female and thus the problem would be repeated, again and again ...