Full marks to Tom Ash. Earlier this week he nailed an historic parallel for Brexit. That was Henry VIII and the reformation.
However, those who favour an open, outward-looking UK, can claim an older, greater precedent than the Brexit-like Henry VIII, who broke with Europe basically because he couldn’t perform in bed sufficiently to produce enough healthy sons. (OK, there’s a bit of historic licence there and I’m being a bit (a lot?) cheeky – apologies – and I also apologise to the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish that this is all about England).
King Alfred and his family established England as a country from amongst the wreckage of the Vikings and several disparate kingdoms. He laid the foundations of our boroughs, shires, parliament, navy, coinage and justice. But as historian Michael Wood observes in the excellent BBC 4 series King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, he encouraged an open, outward-looking, peaceful nation. As a boy he visited Rome twice and met Pope Leo. These were visits which greatly influenced his thinking. He self-taught himself Latin. He beat the Danes in battle at Ashdown, but made peace with them and sponsored the baptism of Guthrum, his Danish arch-enemy.
So, OK, allow Brexiteers to think that they have a champion in the shape of a selfish, destructive king in search of Viagra – Henry VIII. In fact, us remainers, and others who want a outward-looking, open, peaceful nation can cite an earlier and more impressive standard-bearer in the shape of King Alfred the Great, the founder of England.