Did Henry VIII’s Tudor ‘Brexit’ lead to England’s trading glory, or a century of depression?

Did Henry VIII’s Tudor ‘Brexit’ lead to England’s trading glory, or a century of depression? By Ambrose Prtichard-Evans. The big Japanese bank Nomura, a member of the financial global elite, is spinning history to suggest that Brexit will be bad for Britain, leading to long stagnation and even depression. Hmmm, better do as we are told.

Nomura has a sober warning for Brexiteers. The last time England defied the European order in such a drastic fashion, the schism was followed by a century of economic stagnation and simmering conflicts that culminated in the Civil War. …

[T]he “obvious precedent” for Brexit is the English Reformation of 1534. “King Henry VIII passed the Acts of Supremacy making him ‘supreme head in earth of the Church of England’ and repealing any ‘usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority’.”

This act of petulance or patriotism — depending on your point of view — failed to usher in the golden age of Elizabethan prosperity that we have mostly come to believe. Or at least, that is Nomura’s reading of the reconstructed data on the real GDP per capita. There was no rise in living standards for the next hundred years. It was a depression.

Henry VIII of England, who instiaged the first Brexit in 1534, braking England away from Rome

Henry VIII of England: Caused the first Brexit in 1534, breaking England away from Rome.

There are strong similarities between the 2016 Brexit and the earlier Brexit in 1534:

The parallels with the Reformation are certainly striking. Church law was under the foreign jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church, enforced by a clerical apparatus that asserted supremacy and was widely resented. Church taxes were paid directly to Rome. .. The Catholic Church had become unreformable, just as today’s EU is trapped by its post-War ideology … Printing had taken off.  … The censors lost their monopoly over manuscripts.

Today we have the Internet — like the early printing press, mostly outside the control of government and the global elite.

Bollocks to Nomura. The earlier Brexit could equally well be seen as leading to a boom, a renaissance of sorts:

Whether Nomura is right about the grim economic fall-out from Henry VIII is an open question. You could equally make the opposite case. …

Whatever the GDP data purport to show — and we cannot even measure GDP accurately today — it was already clear by the mid-Elizabethan age that England was undergoing an economic and psychological revolution.

The fifteen years or so from the early 1570s to the Armada in 1588 was a time of astonishing vitality and can-do confidence, the moment when a backward, sleepy nation broke onto the world scene with ventures and exploration in all directions. The courage of these men is described vividly by A. L. Rowse in his ‘Expansion of Elizabethan England’. …

The oceanic voyages of Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher, and Hawkings  were backed by fraternity of geographers, mathematicians, navigators, and guided by the strategic minds of the Hakluyts, father and son. Missions were sent to Muscovy, Persia, and the Moghuls. English ships appeared in Istanbul, Basra, the Moluccas, and the River Plate.

Elizabeth I of England: Arguably the last Breixit led to a blossoming of England from sleepy backwater to world power

Elizabeth I of England: Arguably the last Brexit led to a blossoming of England, from sleepy backwater to world power.

“The truth is that it gradually became a national venture. Public interest was aroused, as never before, by the Virginia enterprise: people felt, not obscurely, that the future of the nation was involved, as it was,” he said.

By the end of the century, England and Holland had fought the imperial armies of the Counter-Reformation to a to a standstill, bankrupted Spain, and broken Habsburg power. They had won the seas.

The lessons of history:

[I]t may take a very long time to assess Brexit. Historians pay little attention to the ephemeral details of who lied about what in the referendum campaign, and will probably conclude that if it had not happened on June 23 2016, it would have happened sooner or later anyway. They will give more heed to the deeper forces at work…

hat-tip Stephen Neil