Tom Holland

The night that saved England

If King Alfred hadn’t escaped the midwinter raid, the country as we know it might never have existed

[Photo by Spencer Arnold/Getty Images]

Thanks to the centenary of the first world war, counter-factuals are much in vogue. How different might history have been had Archduke Franz-Ferdinand never been assassinated, had Britain kept out of the conflict, had the Allies been defeated? Questions such as these are more than just a parlour game. They serve to cast the shadow of contingency over events that otherwise can seem all too predetermined.

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