Scottish Ex-Pat Niall Ferguson: Don’t Be An "Angloony," Stay In EU And Defeat The Ottoman Empire

Historians in the News
tags: Niall Ferguson, EU



Mr. Ferguson, author of acclaimed books such as ‘Civilisation’ and ‘Empire‘, has writtenfor the Sunday Times, in an appeal to those who think more should have been done in 1520 to urge peace between Christian nations, and war against the Ottoman Empire. Instead of defending Christendom however, the meeting with King Francis at the Pale of Calais turned to Henry’s “illegitimate” divorce. It is unclear how many people Mr. Ferguson is seeking to appeal to with his article, which follows:

European negotiations were once glamorous. Five centuries ago, when Henry VIII met the French king Francis I near Calais, there was so much Tudor bling that the venue became known as the Field of Cloth of Gold. There was feasting, dancing and a great deal of lavish dressing-up. The English king even brought along a pair of monkeys covered in gold leaf. All in all, it was more like the Grammy awards than a modern-day European summit.


European leaders in those days took their time. The royal rendezvous of 1520 lasted close to 2½ weeks. Yet Tudor diplomacy was also a contact sport. The French king’s nose was broken in a joust. He then got his own back by beating his English counterpart at wrestling. Nothing of any substance was actually agreed, but everyone went home cheerful.


Contrast all this pomp and ceremony with the grimy ordeal David Cameron and his fellow European leaders had to endure last week as they hammered out the terms of Britain’s new “special” status in the European Union. A more dowdy and dishevelled group of people it would be hard to imagine than the leaders of the EU’s 28 member states by Friday evening.


During the Greek debt crisis, our continental neighbours unwisely got into the habit of negotiating into the wee small hours, not realising that this is something at which our prime minister excels, like anyone who has spent three years at Oxford, where all-night “essay crises” are the norm. The sight of a haggard Angela Merkel with a bag of chips brought back memories of the kebab vans of Carfax. She looked on the brink of cancelling her morning tutorial. Cameron, by contrast, got his essay done.


Viewed from the other side of the Atlantic, to be sure, the essay question did not seem especially taxing. I have had difficulty explaining to my colleagues that our country’s future could hinge on the number of years that a Polish plumber will not be entitled to claim UK benefits. They are baffled when I explain that this is an argument about the status of legal immigrants.


But that is not the real issue, even if it was the one that kept Cameron up all Thursday night. The real issue is whether or not we have learnt anything from approximately five centuries of history. Half a millennium ago, Henry VIII could still dream of asserting his claim to the French crown. But Cardinal Wolsey understood rather better that the monarchs of Christendom should join forces against the ambitions of the Ottomans. That was one reason Wolsey brought Henry and Francis together on the Field of Cloth of Gold. ...




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