At some point well in the past, the history of the world in which Wulfenbach Europa emerged started diverging in both small and great ways from the history to which we are more accustomed. A barbaric tribe led by an unnaturally clever man called Ht'rok-din settled into a lush land formerly called Dacia1 and began to terrorize the lands about him; Newton made mechanized apples with reinforced stems; Christianity became administered by seven Popes (all at the same time); and the Spark made all the difference.
Those gifted (or cursed, some might say) with the Spark began to acquire power to themselves and their houses as Europa drew out of the medieval period. Before, they were at hazard for being burned as witches and sorcerors; now, in an age of scientific enlightenment, knowledge became power, and the Great Houses grew from the ashes of the old warlords. They were often cults of personality, however - the natural charisma of the Spark drew minions to individuals, who were not able to transfer their power before dying usually in some spectacularly messy way. So died the peasants as well. Normal soldiers rampaging across a countryside are bad enough, but when the troops consist of giant ambulatory carnivorous pea-plants, there is little escape to be found for those without massive mechanical soldiers to counter. The inherently prickly personalities of these Spark lords, taking great umbrage in even the smallest disagreement, inevitably led to the Long War.
This perpetual conflict raged not just across the continent of Europe, but around the world, for centuries. The map we know does not apply due to the destructiveness of Sparks. Great Britain is an archipelago with London in a glass dome beneath the waves of the sea2. The lands we know as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania - they do not exist, at least in a form nothing like what they have in either the Linden Era or Steelhead's time. Most of the Pannonian Plain is part of the Wasteland, vast stretches of abandoned land in which abandoned and half-functional monsters both biological and mechanical roam. The only safe passage is by well-armed caravan. A lone traveller is either foolhardy or an adventurer. Either way, he is very likely to end up dead.
About 50 years before what we may term "current", a very unusual woman was taken to wife by the head of that tribe mentioned above. In the centuries since they settled into the Transylvanian Alps, the town called Mechanicsburg grew up inside their defenses, and the family name became "Heterodyne". Lady Heterodyne produced two sons (quite typical for the line, as they very rarely produced daughters) whom she managed to raise with her values instead of them taking on their father's. She eventually managed to poison her husband, losing her own life in her effort, freeing the way for her humanitarian and truly kind sons to lead the family in a new direction. William and Barry Heterodyne not only managed to change their family's centuries-long reputation of fearmongering, massacre and enthusiastic invasion in only a few decades, they managed to charm most of Europe into ceasing hostilities. They and their band of companions, including the constructs Punch and Judy, Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (a fellow Transylvanian), and occasional others, traveled to such exotic lands as the Hidden City of Skifander and the Americas as well as all over Europa.
Sadly, this golden age came to a quick end about 30 years ago, when Castle Heterodyne was attacked by an unknown force. Bill's wife, the former villainess Lucrezia Mongfish Heterodyne, vanished, presumed kidnapped. Their toddler son Klaus Barry, named after Bill's best friend who had vanished without a trace over two years earlier and Bill's brother (and other best friend), died with the new Heterodyne seneschal in a fall of rubble. When the brothers came back, they cleaned up the mess, packed up supplies, and left Mechanicsburg for good. They spent the next year or so searching for Lucrezia, and fighting a new enemy - the Other. The Other seemed to be out to exterminate all other Sparks, by whatever means possible. The devastation of the Long War actually seemed paltry compared to the scorched-earth path the Other cut across Europa. Slaver wasps left a permanent legacy of terror - insects that would infect normal people, turning them into shambling zombie-like servants of the Other, following any command they were given by their new master. The Heterodyne Boys left a trail of reports of their efforts, but suddenly, the Other vanished - and so did the brothers.
The remaining Sparks (43 of the Great Houses had been wiped out completely) slowly crept out of hiding, and foolishly but inevitably started fighting among themselves again. Baron Wulfenbach returned from wherever he had been, and after finding his own home, family and village had been devastated as well, decided to put an end to this nonsense and pacified Europa his way. No more Herr Nice Guy, like the Heterodyne Boys had been; no, he laid down one law: Keep the peace. Anyone not keeping the peace would be quelled with extreme prejudice. After a few challenges, the rulers of the various small states started to take him very seriously indeed, and he ended up administering most of middle and eastern Europa3.
About 10 years ago, due to an odd series of events, Lady Agatha Heterodyne, the well-hidden second child of Bill and Lucrezia, came out of hiding and reclaimed her heritage. This changed the balance of power in Europa drastically, especially when a group supporting the heir to the Storm King, the last serious opposition to Heterodyne power, tried to take advantage of Baron Wulfenbach's injury4 and her general inexperience, apparent lack of resources and the public's unfamiliarity with her.
Matters eventually settled out, leaving the Pax Transylvania in place, and Lady Heterodyne taking up her predecessors' role of wandering troubleshooter, with some help from some friends of her own5. Between the Baron's long-term plans, and Lady Heterodyne's personal involvement, Europa might actually have a chance of a true and lasting peace setting in.
Map of Wulfenbach Europa overlaid on 2009 map - inaccurate depiction of British Isles
W>E and N>S: Oxford, London, Paris, Monaco, Milan, Munich, Prague, Stockholm, Venice, Wulfenbach, Mechanicsburg, Beetleburg, Bucharest (approximates)