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Malcolm Redfellow

Sep 29, 2009
The "history repeats itself" notion is as old as historians (and lesser beings)who thought conclusions could be drawn from parallels and coincidences.

I've tended to assume (without any great reason) that its modern prevalence stemmed from Hegel in 1832, but largely because Marx trotted it out in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
So, here's Rupert Gavin having a vamp in the Financial Times:
Sovereignty at stake? Hatred of a costly, self-appointed continental bureaucracy? Scaremongering about the effect of a break with the European status quo?

No, these are not headlines from the run-up to the UK’s EU referendum. These were the hot issues of the early 16th century, when Henry VIII led the last campaign to leave Europe. Brexit 1534: for Rome then, read Brussels now.

The striking similarities do not end there. Both campaigns began with protracted negotiations that delivered little — in the 1530s, fruitless attempts to seek papal approval for the annulment of the king’s marriage; and today frustrated entreaties to our EU partners to limit the free movement of labour.
I don't take Gavin too seriously, and some of the implied comparisons seem strained, as he scampers through xenophobia then-and-now, the nature of power (the succession problem as experienced by Henry Tudor and Boris Johnson), and more than a bit of wishful thinking:
Back then, after a period of near bankruptcy, constant war and disruption, the breach was a trigger for economic growth, for the emergence of a thriving middle class and for the rapid expansion of London.
His punch-line, though, deserves relishing:
There is, however, one last similarity. Henry VIII did not control Scotland, a nation allied historically with France. If Mr Johnson’s campaign does win, one has to anticipate that he will then lose control of Scotland, taking us back to where we started in 1534.
A distant ancestor of my alter-ego was knighted by Lord Protector Seymour on the field of Pinky Cleugh (1547), during the "Rough Wooing". That was a fine example of a "Pyrrhic victory". I seriously doubt Nicola Sturgeon would be a softer touch for a hypothetic Boris Johnson government.

And, of course, the missing local X-factor is the one discussed today by Fintan O'Toole for The Guardian. The fall-out in Ireland from Henry VIII didn't do too well, either. On that score, I trust An Cór Innealtóirí are laying in supplies of razor wire, EU border, defence, for the deployment of.


Well-known member
Feb 24, 2013
Strained comparison, absurd even. If anything, Brexit may be the beginning of the unraveling of the immoral wealth grab that was the real English "Reformation." The ER was nothing but a scam by the 16th century oligarchs to profit at the expense of the poor. The rich wanted to be richer, they did so by both stealing Church land and enclosing the Commons. To do all this required the displacement of all those poor people living on that land. Over a period of 1000 years the English developed a social order that resulted in both wealth and the fattest and best clothed peasantry in Europe, it was a triumph of Christendom. That was destroyed so the Eighth could have his divorce, to gain the support of the aristocracy the Eighth promised them Church lands. The resulting deaths and dislocations of the poor must of been on the scale of An Gorta Mor. This is why the English ruling class could be so indifferent to Irish suffering, their wealth came from killing millions of their own centuries before.

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