Y’all – do you know about the Brexit? It’s this thing where some people think that Britain should leave the EU because something something making Britain great again, something something.
There are, of course, any number of reasons why leaving the EU is stupid, as academics who work on modern Europe and the freedom of movement can explain to you.
As an academic who works on Medieval Europe, I can explain to you why it makes no sense within an historical context as well.
First off, one of the reasons a lot of people want to vote to leave the EU is that Schrodinger’s EU immigrant is somehow both taking our jobs, and in the UK claiming benefits. They feel that immigrants should not be coming to the UK from the EU, and the UK should instead remain steadfastly British.
As any medieval historian can tell you, however, the history of the island of Britannia is one of a series of mass migrations. So if immigrants shouldn’t be living in Britain, you need to somehow prove to me that you are 100% Druid or GTFO.
The dudes who made Stonehenge were the first ones here that left real cultural markers, then came the Celtic invasions (shout out to my homeboys the Picts and also the inimitable Sláine comics), then of course the much celebrated Romans. (If you ask me, and you didn’t, but imma tell you anyway, Boudica was right (#BoudicaWasRight), and fuck the Romans, and their slave having, and raping.)
Then we hit the Anglo Saxons. The Anglo Saxons, of course, WERE NOT FROM BRITAIN. Our homeboys rolled up heavy from somewhere in the Lowlands to Denmark region, bringing Beowulf (#FuckYeahBeowulf) and instituting one hell of a bureaucracy when they did so.
Of course during this time there were also a bunch of Viking invasions, and so Scandis were up in the house, you know, naming York, and whatever. There were so many Vikings in Scotland that the second most northernly country in Scotland is called Sutherland because it was the most southernly part of the Viking sphere of influence for a while.
Then, of course, we hit 1066 when the Normans were like – hey check out England – imma have that. Now, just so you know the Normans were *also* not from Britain. Hard to believe, I know, but they were French. Oh yes they were. That’s why the could invade England. Because they were not from England. And they made pretty short work of the Anglo Saxon dynasty (RIP awesome names like Aelfric), and took over the whole damn country.
And here’s the thing about the Normans ruling England at the time – they were really really French. Like SUPER fucking French. So any idiot Britain First person who comes at you with some dumb ass stuff about Richard the Lionheart should maybe be reminded that motherfucker ONLY spoke French. He did not speak English, because LOL, who speaks English? Peasants, that’s who. (You may also want to remind any EDL idiot that St George, (you know him whose cross is on the English flag and that) was Middle Eastern, and that the dragon allegedly lived outside Beirut, but their heads might actually explode.)
So basically the entire history of Britain is a history of successive waves of immigration, and you’re being stupid if you think that there is some sort of native British person who actually exists.
Moving on – some people say it’s not about immigration if you back them into a corner over this. They’ll say it’s about British people having the right to say what goes on in Britain and something something unelected EU bureaucrats. (This is actually a fundamental misunderstanding of what the EU Commission is, and ignores the fact that the ENTIRE HOUSE OF LORDS IS UNELECTED, but never let it be said that facts got in the way of team Brexit.) Well kittens, I hate to break it to you, but the entire medieval period is a bunch of French people telling English people what to do.
Yeah the English monarchy was so goddamn French that this is why the Angevins (akaRichard the Lionheart’s family) started the Hundred Years War. The Angevins were French enough that they could actually inherit the crown of France, until the Valois were like, ‘Umm, actually the throne can’t be inherited through the female line. Because I just said so. Right now. Please don’t look into this.’ So the rough and celebrated fabric of the English monarchy was actually largely presided over by first a bunch of dudes from Denmark (the Anglo Saxons), then a bunch of dudes from France (the Normans).
And here’s the thing, you hear a lot of moaning about how the EU shouldn’t control what goes on in Britain, but much like you don’t hear these people bemoaning the Angevin attempts to take over France, you don’t hear them admitting how much influence Britain has on other EU countries by the same token.
The point of all of this is that the longing for a supposedly pure Britain – free of the influence of continental Europe – is a longing for a Britain which never existed. Even if you want to make the case that a pure Britishness started with Henry VIII and the Church of England, you have to acknowledge that a great many of his wives were foreign and had a lot of influence in his statecraft. Hell the current royal family is originally from Germany, and changed its name from Wettin to Windsor during the First World War because it sounded too German. Because it was a German name. They are German.
Vote Brexit if you want to (ha, joking, please don’t), but don’t try to legitimise it with history.
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For more on politics and the medieval period see:
On Odious Debt
On the King’s two bodies and modern myth making
Emergency Post: That is not what the “good” in Good Friday means
On defeats, small people, and the UK election
On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history
On Q Anon and systems of knowledge
On Jerusalem and the Apocalypse, or why you should be deeply unsettled right now
On Mike Pence, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Christian interpretations of Jewish utility
On the medieval separation of Church and state, or, putting the ‘holy’ in Holy Roman Empire
History is a discipline, not a virtue
On medieval healthcare and American barbarism
Keep the word ‘Judeo’ out of your racist mouth Nigel Farage
On chronicles versus journalism and ruling versus governing
On the American election, teaching history, and why it matters
Such a nasty woman – on Eleanor of Aquitaine, femininity, reputation, and power
On power and entitlement to the bodies of lower-status women
Islam was the party religion, or, why it is lazy and essentialist to say that Islam oppresses women
(This post was originally published 23 June 2016 here.)