18. March 2019

The First Brexit, anno 1534 – a reminiscence

Historical decisions allow historical reminiscences. So this week we are going to vote on the Brexit – finally? Not at all? Better later or perhaps somewhen under the rainbow?


In Westminster the so and so many acts of an absurd spectacle are given, “Droll Britannia” or rather “Drool Britannia” ?


How to divorce from my Queen?


As a reminder: At that time, in the years after 1520, Henry VIII Tudor was pushing for the papal dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the aunt of the Spanish King Carlos and the German Emperor Charles V, in whose empire the sun never set.


Nothing unusual in the highest European circles. Depending on political circumstances and financial commitments, such a divorce went down, quite often without much noise.


Queen Catherine, the Princess of Wales, was very popular with the people in her modest way, a Queen of Hearts, long before the paparazzi showed up.



Non Possomus, the Pope decided – and England’s solo effort began


This time not, because Pope Clement VII refused, his “Non possomus“, “We cannot do that”, quickly found its way into every Latin collection of quotations. Moreover, his motifs were less spiritual than secular. Finally, he owed his return to the Vatican to Katharina’s nephew, after a prolonged and bloody military tour.


And just as the Brexiteers of today like to compare Brussels with the Vatican at that time, thus making the President of the EU Commission papabile, so also Henry’s partisans once regarded his answer to the papal refusal as the beginning of the English special way: Out of the Catholic Church of the West, into the insular Church of England. On November 3, 1534 this detachment was finally approved by the parliament in London by the Act of Supremacy.




The first Brexit was a purely English affair – a déjà vu?



The first Brexit was thus completed. No, stop, sorry for that: Britain did not exist at that time, only England. Whereas Scotland was a Catholic kingdom of its own glory. It was not until the Act of Union of 1707 that the two parties came together.


Therefore, we prefer to speak of the first Eexit, England’s first withdrawal from the European Union.


Another parallel to today: Until then Henry had appeared as a passionate opponent of the Reformation of Martin Luther, much to the favour of the Pope. In any case, the Vatican had much more pleasure in this king than in the French or many a German ruler.


Just like today: In the transposition of EU directives into national law, reviled by the Brexiteers as an attack on their own sovereignty, the United Kingdom is among the 28 members of the EU among the eight most virtuous nations.




Is that really so nice – sitting alone in the Atlantic?



So why the absurd theatre at Westminster ? Perhaps the English have a problem then as they do now.


Nicholas Boyle, Emeritus for German Literature at the University of Cambridge (and thus no longer able to provide any information for any Brexiteer, because too “continental”), has recently come up with a wonderful formula.  “The English,” according to Boyle, are “unlike Scots and Welsh, for example, not used to being part of a larger unit – unless the unit is identical to themselves”.


Boyle’s good advice, which unfortunately will be blown over the islands in the spring storms: If the economic consequences of Brexit were to be seen in ten to 20 years, one would probably conclude, says Boyle that it would be better to cooperate with other nations “than to sit alone in the Atlantic“.




Write a comment