The Three Lions of Europe


Britain’s association with Europe goes back much further than entry into the European Community in 1973. Ever since the climate improved enough to make Britain a place where anyone would want to live, there have been waves of migration from Europe. Following centuries of settlement by a range of European people, Britain became a province of the Roman empire, remaining so for about four hundred years, from AD43 to around 410AD. When the Romans left there was a period of chaos, which Scandinavian invasions in the ninth century helped to end, directly through imposed rule, or indirectly by providing the surviving English kings with a formidable enemy to unite against. Then in 1066 the Normans invaded, and Britain became a northern province of the Angevin Empire based on Normandy and areas of what is now western France. As time passed this empire suffered stresses and strains between its senior leaders, and was attacked by the kings of France. By the thirteenth century only the English rump of the Angevin Empire remained. England, led by kings such as Edward III and Henry V then spent a few centuries trying to recreate the old empire, a struggle which ironically is often told in terms of English patriotism. In 1485 Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, representing the line which once ruled the Angevin Empire, was killed at the Battle of Bosworth. This ended a period of 1400 years when Britain was either part of a European reality, or struggling to recreate it.

After 1485 there was a change. The Tudor monarchs, Henry VIII excepted, tended to look outside Europe for links that would help a small island nation find some influence in the world. These explorations would eventually lead to the period of the British Empire, which for a few hundred years in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries allowed Britain to wield huge global influence. This brief, and historically anomalous time soon passed, ending with the Second World War. After that, with the Empire falling away, it would be natural that a small island on Europe’s northern flanks should look back towards a large neighbouring continent. It is historically incorrect to see Britain as an ancient island nation which only now is threatened by bureaucrats in Brussels. From an historical point of view, Britain as part of Europe is the more normal state of affairs.

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