This was the year in which we marked the quincentenary of Martin Luther (who triggered the Reformation in 1517) and it was also the year in which we discoursed rather a lot about Brexit – the British exit from the European Union.
According to Peter Marshall, a professor of history at Warwick University, the two are connected. The English Reformation, writes Prof Marshall, was a kind of Tudor Brexit. “A large international institution, straddling Western and Central Europe, and promoting the idea of a pan-European identity,” is how he describes the papacy of Tudor times. Even to its adherents “it appears overly hierarchical and top heavy, and riddled with endemic corruption”.
A political crisis arises and as it escalates “the arcane rules and complex doctrines of the institution prove no match for the punchy vernacular slogans and eye-catching propaganda of its critics”.
Henry VIII’s break with Rome was but a Brexit before its time. And he couldn’t have done it without Martin Luther’s initial challenge to Rome.
Prof Marshall, writing in the winter issue of the Irish Jesuit academic journal Studies, admits that the parallel is a little strained, but that there is some similarity is inescapable. Henry VIII was a kind of Nigel Farage of his time.
There is also a parallel as between Britain and Ireland. While Tudor Brexit subsequently proceeded apace towards a Protestant state, Ireland remained aligned with Catholic Europe, notably France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Ireland’s adherence to that European tradition remains pretty solid.
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