Do you have any thoughts on who would be the closest historical comparison for Aegon V, in regards to being a sort of doomed idealist?
The world is full of doomed idealists. But the first historical figure I think of when I think of Aegon V is Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor and the least successful of the three “enlightened despots” of eighteenth century Europe (alongside Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great). Though he ruled as Emperor for nearly 25 years, only in the last 10 did Joseph really begin to implement the program of reforms he desired for his empire (the first 15 he had spent co-ruling with his formidable mother, the Empress Maria Theresa). Over the course of his reign, the Emperor issued an average of 690 decrees a year, targeting a wide variety of areas for reform. In 1781, Joseph formally abolished serfdom, giving serfs personal freedom (although not rights over the lands they had worked). Joseph also attempted to implement a more fair and egalitarian tax system to be administered throughout his empire. Despite the Habsburg monarchy being traditionally one of the most entrenched Catholic powers in Europe, Joseph granted wide religious freedom to Protestants, Jews, and Greek Orthodox within the Empire, and severely limited the power of the Catholic Church in his domains, dissolving monasteries and ecclesiastical tribunals (so much so that even the Pope came to protest, albeit without success). Education was made compulsory, and censorship largely abolished.
Unfortunately, Joseph’s reforms, well-intentioned or not, were not met with the sort of praise he might have expected. The nobility refused to comply with his taxation reforms and the changing relationship between landowner and land worker. Former serfs as well as landowners rejected the requirement that the newly liberated serfs be paid in cash, as their economy was largely based on barter. Non-German peoples in the Empire resented Joseph’s insistence on centralizing governance in Vienna and implementing German as the official language. In a number of provinces, rebellions broke out, and Belgium even (briefly) succeeded in declaring independence. Weeks before his death, Joseph II repealed a majority of his reforms (save the freedom of the serfs, religious toleration, and the banning of certain religious orders). The Emperor, despondent at his lack of success in reforming his empire, was said to have suggested that his epitaph read “Here lies Joseph II, who failed in all he undertook”, though this did not come to pass (insert some joke about his last failure being the failure to ensure his own epitaph read according to his wishes).
There are obvious differences, of course. Joseph was not an unlikely prince to succeed, but was the eldest son of Empress and her consort Francis I (although he was born in the midst of the War of the Austrian Succession, a conflict over his mother’s right to succeed to the Habsburg possessions of her father, Charles VI). Joseph’s desire for reform came not from living peasant experience but from reading the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and his reforms also aimed for an increase in the state’s power, something I think was not as much on Aegon’s mind. Both of Joseph’s marriages were dynastic arrangements, and he fathered no children who survived childhood (his elder daughter Maria Theresa died aged 7, while his younger daughter Maria Christina died the day of her birth, as did her mother). The differences between the Seven Kingdoms and the Holy Roman Empire culturally and politically are considerable as well. But, Joseph is still interesting to consider as a possible influence on Aegon V.