Thursday 3 November 2016

Brexitwatch: a lesson from history - when in doubt, blame foreigners.

In 1517, resentment against people from the rest of Europe swept through London. They were supposed to be buying up all the food in the markets, a Frenchman had bullied a shopkeeper into selling him two pigeons, competition from German merchants importing furniture and leather goods was ruining local tradesmen, the Venetians were using their own galleys to bring in goods, depriving English shipowners of work, and so on and so on.

A vicar at Spitalfields denounced these interlopers from his pulpit, urging Londoners to expel them. On April 30, the London mob rioted, with thousands attacking any foreigner they could lay their hands on and burning their houses. The disorder continued into what became known as ‘Evil May Day,’ with the French ambassador having to flee his house and hide.

Henry VIII was at Richmond when the news reached him. He knew that, whatever the mob felt, foreign merchants were crucial to London’s prosperity, so he ordered the Duke of Norfolk to gather a force of 2,000 men and march on the capital without delay.

By evening, the duke was in the city. He quickly suppressed the disorder and arrested several hundred rioters. Many were charged with high treason, for stirring up hostility against states with which the king was at peace. More than a dozen were executed.

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