Some of my friends are both Catholics and Eurosceptics. They are sensible people, and rightly see nothing contradictory in that stance. The once Catholic kingdom of France is now a secular Republic, and once Catholic Spain is no longer an aggressive exporter of the faith by force of arms. Protestant Germany is an important motor of the EU. The forces which impelled England to the Protestant anti Spanish anti French side in the wars of religion have mercifully dissipated.
I make this point because I was thinking about yesterdayâ€™s anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth. It wasnâ€™t much of battle in many ways. 5000 troops loyal to the invading Henry, the Lancastrian, took on maybe 12000 troops of Richard, the Yorkist King. In less than two hours the Stanleys switched sides and the battle was over, as their substantial force completely changed the odds.
There were two remarkable things about Bosworth. The King himself died on the battlefield, with no obvious Yorkist successor capable of claiming the title. His early death ended the battle. Henry Tudor and his heirs arrived in triumph, and proved able enough to unite England and Wales under their rule and put an end to the long and miserable history of succession squabbles and mini wars which had characterised much of the fifteenth century.
So I asked myself, What did the Tudors do for us? Time and space does not permit a full answer, for there is so much. If you like me saw any of the Globe productions, then just look around you. The flowering of English poetry, drama, music, art and architecture in the later Tudor period was remarkable.
The Tudors certainly knew how to spin and to brand. They blazoned the portcullis and crown logo on so much, the constantly travelled their country bringing government to the people. They left us a version of history which portrayed their achievements in a good light. Whether it was Henry VIII on the field of the cloth of gold, or Elizabeth seeing off the Armada, they established England as a force to be reckoned with. They played the courtiers off against each other, ensuring power was mainly brokered by them at court.
Above all they led England and Wales decisively into Reformation Europe. This was much more than a religious choice which some of my readers will now regret and criticise. It was a general statement of foreign policy and even of economic policy. It meant our country aligned with the smaller countries of western Europe, with Holland and the German states, against the bureaucratic Empire and against the Catholic superpowers. It meant the property of the monasteries passed into new landowners hands which helped power and economic advance based on enterprise and family capital. It meant the anti clericalism of the English was allowed reasonable freedom. I see the anticlericalism of the 1520s and 1530s as the forerunner of the scepticism about big government and expert opinion we still see today.
The Tudors ensured England and Wales would be a united country, a unity that has never been split to this day. They established a stronger rule of law from the centre, but relies on substantial devolution of power to local JPs, municipal authorities and local landowners. They had to recognise the limits of their power in an age before instant communication and huge government budgets.