Today is the day – it’s the EU Referendum, when British voters decide whether they want to ‘Remain’ a member of the European Union or ‘Leave’ it. The 23rd June has, historically, seen many events regarding Britain’s relationship with other countries and so I thought I’d put together this HistoryPod Extra to share some with you.
On this day in 1314, the Battle of Bannockburn led to one of the most important Scottish victories of the First War of Scottish Independence that was fought intermittently from 1296 until 1328. Robert the Bruce, who had seized the Scottish throne in 1306, defeated King Edward II of England and secured Scotland’s de facto independence. Although a Second War of Independence followed, Scotland retained its independence until the Treaty of Union joined England and Scotland together as the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.
Two centuries before the Union, in 1520, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France met together in Northern France at what became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The meeting was designed to improve friendship between the two nations, but was in many ways just an opportunity for them to show off the wealth of their respective kingdoms. In fact it got its name from the large amounts of expensive fabric woven with gold and silver thread that was used in the tents and clothing of the attendees. On the 23rd June, the kings of England and France shared mass together in a specially constructed chapel. However, the good relations didn’t last for long – they were at war again just a few years later.
By 1661 closer relations with Europe were again being sought, and on the 23rd June Charles II entered a marriage contract with Catherine of Braganza, the most senior noble house in Portugal. Despite the intention of forming closer ties with Portugal, however, the marriage was met with resentment in England since Catherine was a Roman Catholic in a predominantly Protestant country. As queen, she became the target for the inventors of the Popish Plot – a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that claimed Catholics were attempting to assassinate the king. Although the plot collapsed, it highlighted the level of Anti-Catholicism present in Britain at the time. As an interesting aside, despite the accusations against her, Catherine is credited with introducing the drinking of tea to Britain.
In 1758, the Seven Years War was raging. On the 23rd June British forces defeated French troops at the Battle of Krefeld in Germany. The war had begun four years earlier in 1754, and went on to involve every major European power – except the Ottoman Empire – in a conflict that split Europe into two coalitions led by Britain on one side and France on the other. When the war ended in 1763, Britain emerged as the world’s most dominant colonial power and gained huge tracts of land in the Americas –much of which it subsequently lost as a result of the American War of Independence a few years later.
It’s pure chance that these four events occurred on the same day as the EU Referendum is taking place. I certainly don’t intend to see them as a pattern for the future but, if there’s anything to be learned from them, it’s that British history is full of surprising twists and turns. 2016 promises to be no different.