Alan Murad is a Research Executive at the Get Britain Out campaign.
Legions of bookworms and history buffs have eagerly awaited Wolf Hall, the BBC’s TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell. But the show should appeal to Eurosceptics too, portraying events which echo today in British politics.
A keen eye can spot current controversies about the EU, national sovereignty, the overruling of our courts, all being echoed in the political intrigue of Tudor England.
The Booker-prize winning books on which the show is based, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, give a counter-intuitive portrayal of Thomas Cromwell as leading a political revolution.
Cromwell is a self-made man of lowly birth – the son of a blacksmith – who becomes a lawyer serving Cardinal Wolsey. After his master loses the favour of King Henry VIII , Cromwell rose up the ranks of the Tudor to becomes Henry’s chief minister, the second most powerful man in England. He pits himself against the vested interests of the Roman Catholic Church, in the service of his monarch.
The Pope was a foreign despot with pretensions of authority over the King of England, while simultaneously a puppet of the supreme power in Europe: the Holy Roman Empire. English courts could be overruled by appealing to the Pope, whose network of monasteries in England were tax-exempt and incredibly wealthy.
Wolf Hall finds King Henry frustrated by the difficulty of procuring an annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon. His sovereignty is limited by the whims of distant elites. This should all seem familiar to Eurosceptics.
Cromwell effectively introduced national sovereignty by writing the Act of Supremacy, which made King Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The Statute in Restraint of Appeals was introduced to make English courts the highest power in the land, rather than the Holy See.
The book is almost a blueprint for Britain leaving the EU and restoring national sovereignty. Wolf Hall also portrays a key turning point in English history, when the country arose from being a backwater into the leading nation of Europe.
As for the unrepentant, hardcore Europhiles? One can compare them to Thomas More, saint and Lord Chancellor, who was beheaded for his loyalty to Rome and refusing to accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church. While literature usually treats him sympathetically – as a martyr in the play The Man of All Seasons – Wolf Hall subverts this tradition.
Here is is the villain of the piece – a stern, inflexible fanatic, entirely intoxicated in Catholic ideology compared to Cromwell’s cool pragmatism. Today, naïve hopes which underpin the EU are portrayed as idealism at its best while Euroscepticism is treated as a modern day heresy. Europhiles have no appetite for criticism of the EU and revere the Single Market.
In tonight’s episode (Entirely Beloved) we should expect further attempts by Cromwell to get closer to Henry’s mistress Anne Boleyn. Last week, Henry took notice of Cromwell, who used laconic wit and self-assurance to charm the King in a promising first encounter. As Cardinal Wolsey slips further out of favour with the court, so Cromwell’s star will rise.
There will be significant plot progression on the foreign affairs front, focusing around the international crisis of Henry’s bedchamber. As Cromwell rubs against Thomas More tonight in another tense dinner exchange, the political themes will come to the fore.
Whether you read the books or not, Wolf Hall should be essential viewing for all Eurosceptics, containing invaluable lessons and insights to delight anyone interested in politics.
Wolf Hall tells the viewer that cutting ties with powerful and unaccountable forces in continental Europe can be something radical and innovative, not a nostalgic yearning for the past. It shows political heresy can overthrow established ways and become victorious. And today, what greater political heresy is there than the call to Get Britain Out?
Here is a narrative which goes against the grain, where England’s violent separation from Europe is portrayed positively: the reinforcement of the nation-state as a prerequisite to greatness. The EU, an outdated customs union, represents nothing more than mediocrity.
By unshackling from EU, we can become a global trading nation again. The call to Get Britain Out must not be mistaken for nostalgia, it is absolutely necessary to become a prosperous nation and a land of liberty.