On an outing to see the Bayeux Tapestry in the 1990s our coach made an enforced stop to collect a young man taken ill a few days before. He was to be collected from the local hospital so his fellow passengers were given an hour prior to our recrossing the English Channel for a return to Portsmouth. It was at a little port called Ouistreham on the French coast. I wandered into a local church; it was empty so I duly tossed a franc in and lit a candle. Then I read a baptismal entry in amazement. It was from the 14th Century and it was an entry for Prince Edward (the father) and a French lady (but not Princess Joan, Ed’s wife and consort). The child being christened was their son, Prince Richard, who later was crowned King Richard II. In other words the Plantagenet royal family tree is based on a lie. Yet, Henry Bolingbroke redeemed that lie by usurping Richard from the throne, in 1399.

However my point is wider because Henry spoke his coronation oath in the English language for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066 and there would be still a lot of blood-letting between the Norman/English royal elites. Meanwhile the mercantile class of England began making money not swords. By 1601 the East India Company from a 3 per cent start of world trade had by the 1690s increased that to 60 per cent against virulent opposition from France, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal. Traders became rich. An example is Jasper Pitt, who exchanged a precious stone in Amsterdam for £30,000 and founded the Pitt empire. One Pitt became Lord Chatham while the second William Pitt the younger was Napoleon’s nemesis.

Trade led to the need for protection and the Royal Navy was born, paid for by the newly created Bank of England. In 1815 the UK became number one in the world and also the richest, which lasted for too short a time because by 1945 Britain was broke yet it still managed to create the National Health Service, still spawned the world’s greatest democracy, India, and its richest nation, the USA, whose flag the Stars and Stripes proclaims the 13 original English colonies. The US and the UK (while war still raged) formed the United Nations and post-war helped formed NATO as the bedrock of democratic governments in a Europe threatened by Soviet communist expansion and subsequently by Putin’s aggressive Russia and China’s menacing Xi Ping.

Yet the world does not stand still and a newly independent Britain will from January 2020 challenge Germany, Japan, China to win its place in the world. To paraphrase Churchill in 1945: Forward Britannia, long live the British people!

Ron Pearse

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