Over the last 2,000 years we've never been able to make up our mindsby Simon Jenkins / April 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
410: The first Brexit—enforced detachment
After three and a half centuries of Roman rule, Britannia is declared “on your own” by the emperor Honorius. He withdrew his legions to defend Gaul. Britannia is left on Europe’s fringe throughout the Dark Ages. Its sovereignty is restored, sort of. But the arrival of Augustine from Rome precipitates the first Euro-referendum, at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Ionans of Lindisfarne are defeated, and victory goes to Wilfrid of Ripon and the pro-Rome faction. England agrees to join Europe’s Catholic community under the authority of the Pope. For a millennium it becomes a faith-taker not a faith-maker.
1016: The second Brexit—The first Norwegian option
Following the Viking invasion, a Saxon monarchy with ancestral roots in the heart of the continent is usurped, as Canute is crowned in London and England joins his Scandinavian empire. It is a proto-EFTA, trading with the Baltics and Russia. But it does not last. Before long the Saxons have wrestled the throne back, and then, in 1066, Harold of England is defeated by William the Conqueror, who carries the pope’s emblem and blessing into battle. England submits to the sovereignty of Norman Europe. The English court speaks French, and the church speaks Latin. Under Henry II, England is a cross-Channel political entity and a European land, from “the Cheviots to the Pyrenees.”
1453: The third Brexit—Beating a Bretreat
This Norman/Plantagenet union drags on into the 15thcentury, until it is shattered at the end of the Hundred Years’ War, at Castillon in 1453, triggering the first emphatic Brexit. England’s armies depart the continent. Its language, culture and art diverge from France. Architecture finds an English gothic. Yet within half a century, England’s crown cannot resist crossing the Channel again. Henry VII marries both his sons to Catherine of Aragon, sister of the future Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. In 1520 Henry VIII flirts with Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He champions Rome against Luther, and the pope crowns him defender of the faith. England is European again.
1534: The fourth Brexit—Can’t deal, won’t deal, no deal
But not for long. Within 15 years, Henry breaks with Rome over his divorce from Catherine. His Act of Supremacy is the first statutory Brexit, and it is…