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Lucy Worsley sparked Brexit debate over ‘King Henry VIII laying foundation for leaving EU’

Reformation: Expert draws parallels with Brexit Britain

The TV historian returns to screens tonight on the BBC show Blitz Spirit With Lucy Worsley, which explores World War 2 through six survivors’ accounts. The 47-year-old has delved into the deep crevices of the past to unearth little-known information and, at times, dispel historic mistruths. In one account, Worsley sought to show the connection between Brexit and actions under Henry VIII.

Worsley described the 16th-century monarch as “fancying himself” as a King Arthur-figure of that time. 

She explained that he was “quite happy” to blend the truth “with colourful myth-making from back in the mists of time” to back his claims.

The TV star argued that Henry had “an extraordinary gift” for believing in things that “just happened to be to his advantage”.

She cited his decision to “drive a wedge between England and the rest of protestant Europe” by adopting a different form of Christianity.

Lucy Worsley henry viii brexit eu european union

Lucy Worsley’s documentary found links between King Henry VIII and the modern day Brexit debate (Image: GETTY / BBC)

Lucy Worsley henry viii brexit eu european union

Lucy Worsley and Professor Adam Pabst debated the Brexit link to King Henry VIII (Image: BBC)

That time period, which lasted for eight years until 1537, was known as the Reformation.

The King, who notoriously tied the knot six times during his 38-year reign until 1547, was furious after the Catholic Church refused to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and allow him to remarry.

Worsley investigated additional reasons that influenced the monarch to break away from not only the religion but Europe too.

In an episode of Royal History’s Biggest Fibs last year, the documentary argued that the Pope had “diplomatic and economic powers” over the nation. 

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Lucy Worsley henry viii brexit eu european union

Blitz Spirit With Lucy Worsley, which analyses World War 2, airs on BBC tonight (Image: GETTY)

The BBC show stated: “[Chief Minister Thomas] Cromwell’s actions gave Henry the power he craved but also left him isolated, rejecting Rome wasn’t only a religious matter.”

Worsley asked Professor Adrian Pabst, of Kent University, about the connection between “people talking negatively about the EU” and Henry’s mission.

She continued: “Those acts that Henry and Cromwell set up [said], ‘England is exceptional, it stands alone. It’s an empire, entirely self-contained.’”

Prof Pabst “undoubtedly” believed there was a link due to the “natural disconnect” between the UK and Europe – due to our geographical positioning.

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Lucy Worsley henry viii brexit eu european union

Express.co.uk list five of the key moments that led to the vote for Brexit in 2016 (Image: EXPRESS)

He said: “I think there is this idea that when you’re an island… you are very special and your fate and destiny lie elsewhere.

“Clearly, that is what the Reformation and I think people having this sort of discourse today have in common.”

Prof Pabst argued that both decisions argued there was “only one source of legitimacy”, which was “the nation being represented by the monarchy”.

He continued: “That really changed the relationship hugely to other countries, to the papacy, [and] to institutions across the world.

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Lucy Worsley’s show documented scepticism of the Continent’s power before Brexit in Henry VIII’s era (Image: GETTY)

“Because you’re essentially saying the individual has rights – his or her individual rights.

“Plus the state essentially guarantees them and nothing mediates that relationship anymore.”

Prof Pabst described “the most striking parallel” between the Reformation and Brexit was “this idea that we are better off on our own”.

He continued: “We’re better off out and essentially national sovereignty and the will of the people should prevail over anything else.”

During the Reformation, Prof Pabst claimed the narrative was about the Catholic Church “being decadent, being over-centralised and not really being to our benefit”. 

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In relation to the 2016 EU Referendum, in which 52 percent of the nation voted to leave the bloc, he felt there were similar complaints.

Prof Pabst believed Brexiteers were concerned about the EU “being undemocratic, potentially authoritarian and sort of riding roughshod over what people really need and want”. 

He argued that Henry’s actions in the 16th century laid “deep roots” within the nation that Britain was better on its own. 

Prof Pabst felt that the Reformation “reinforced” that idea and cast doubt on “Britain as part of a wider European continent”.

He added: “I think that’s where EU scepticism has its deep roots in the Reformation.”

Lucy Worsley henry viii brexit eu european union

Lucy Worsley is a historian who has produced a number of documentaries for the BBC (Image: GETTY)

Worsley appeared surprised by the claims and remarked that “it all happened in the 1530s”.

She added: “That’s when a lot of these seeds were planted that are still shooting up to the sky today.”

Prof Pabst replied: “If you’re looking for the origins of Brexit, look no further than Henry VIII.”

A short extract of the BBC show, which was posted on Facebook in February last year, drew a positive response from viewers.

One commenter wrote that they “quite enjoyed it”, while others gushed praise for Worsley, including one that read: “Love Lucy.”

Blitz Spirit With Lucy Worsely airs at 8.30pm tonight on BBC One.



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