GREAT BRITAIN’S PLACE IN MODERN EUROPE.

The formation of modern Europe began with the colonisation of parts of the Mediterranean and Black sea coastal areas by Greeks to form City States around 2,000 BC.

Some 1,700 years later the rise of Rome was to eventually overlay, but never eliminate, the influence that Greek colonisation had implanted around a considerable part of the Mediterranean.

Rome was to dominate the greater part of Europe for a further 600/700 years and was in control of every European, African and Asian Mediterranean coastal territory at its zenith around 180AD.

The decline of Rome around 395AD seeded a number of potential successors – the Kingdom of the VisiGoths, the Frankish Kingdom and the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.

For a while the Arab surge westwards from Medina, in present day Saudi Arabia, in the second half of the seventh century AD was to halt further European consolidation as the Arabs swept across the entire North African coast into Spain and Portugal by 716 AD. The VisiGoth Empire was overwhelmed, and the advance of the Arabs (Moors) was only halted at Potiers in France by the Frankish Kingdom under Charles Martel in 732 AD.

The partition of the Frankish Kingdom in 843 AD  can be said to have roughly seeded the modern Kingdom of France in western Europe, modern Germany in central Europe and the fragmented Balkans in eastern Europe. France was one of the first in Europe to consolidate into a sovereign state. Germany was to continue for nearly a thousand more years as a number of disparate German speaking states within a loose boundary eventually called the Holy Roman Empire; and eastern Europe was to continue as a fragmented region under many and short-lived powers such as Poland, Lithuania, Sweden and of course, the Ottoman Empire.

Besides France, England was another earlier region to develop into a sovereign state. England, Wales and southern Scotland had been occupied by the Romans for up to 400 years and when they left in the 5th century AD the native British were unable to repel the subsequent invasions and settlements by Germanic people such as Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Vikings. These settlers from the east would have come to establish the British Isles as a distinctive part of Germanic Europe were it not that in 1066 AD Viking settlers in Normandy carried out the last successful invasion of Britain up to the present day.

The Normans had taken on the Latinised influences then prevailing in France and, as a result of their invasion, they were to overlay the Germanic language and culture being established, just as the Roman culture had overlaid the Greek in Europe much earlier. Britain was to become a bi-cultural island, having both Germanic and Roman roots with, of course, the native Celtic peoples now on the fringes in Wales, Ireland and parts of Scotland. It is interesting that the English language is derived from Latin, 38%, Greek, 14%, German Saxon, 17%, Norman French, 13%,  and the other 18% sundry other European languages, world languages other than European and place names, literary names, biblical names, personal names etc.

Meanwhile, the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire reclaimed parts of the previous Greek influence of the region and continued, from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, to be a power until its defeat by the Ottoman Empire – inheritors of the Arab conquerors – in 1453, when its capital, Constantinople, was captured, which ended its thousand years existence.

In Eastern Europe, an expanding Russia, beyond all Greek, Roman or Germanic influences was able to successfully repel the onslaught of the Golden Horde from Asia in the late 15th and early 16th century. Under Peter the Great – 1682 to 1725 – Russia was fast becoming the dominant regional power, supplanting Sweden, Poland and Lithuania. Later, under Catherine the Great, the 18th century Russia took over the territories north of the Black Sea from the Ottoman Empire. In its religion the new resurgent Russia was to adopt the Orthodox Christian religion, thus linking itself with the now defunct Byzantine Empire.

The Arab/Moorish/Ottoman threat to Europe was settled in western Europe by the Spanish driving out the Moors in 1492 which meant that this region once again reverted to its previous cultural linkage with the Roman Empire. The Ottoman Empire remained a threat to eastern and central Europe up until nearly two hundred years later when, in 1683, their attempt to capture Vienna was repulsed. The balance of power swung against the Ottoman Empire after this, although it was to retain a significant European presence for a further 200 years. But it was never again a direct threat to Europe.

Well before this – England and France – the first two European sovereign states – were to fight what is called the ‘Hundred Years War,’ in the fifteenth century and England failed in its attempt to colonise France when King John lost the Angevin Empire it turned its back on attempts to dominate Europe, and instead, began to lay the foundations of its future World Empire.

Thus we have modern Europe emerging from the vicissitudes of innumerable power struggles amongst the many different states and confederations both within its borders and outside as well, to where it is at the present time, an embryonic and developing, loosely knit Union of sovereign states.

The two principal components of this Union are France – representing Charlemagne’s western Europe and of Roman influence, and Germany – a country that began as an off-shoot of the Teutonic Knights, evolving into Brandenburg and then Prussia, the latter being instrumental in creating a united Germany representing Charlemagne’s central Europe and of Germanic influence. And add now the later members of the E.U. the countries of eastern Europe and Spain, Portugal and Ireland on the west, all of these no doubt expected to adhere to the Franco/Germanic hegemony. And so, at long last, Roman western Europe has made common cause with Germanic Europe.

And where does this leave Great Britain? A world leader, through its Empire until the Second World War weakened it to the extent it was obliged to dismantle the Empire and see its world power pass to the United States of America, its former colony. In an attempt to maintain its World status it sought to forge a Commonwealth of the now independent countries of its former Empire. It was successful in the creation of such an organisation but not to achieve the objective it desired. Rather the Commonwealth became a cultural association, and no more.

Great Britain next sought an alliance with the new world power, the USA, but this objective has been seen to fail with its recent role as a junior partner in the abortive attack on Middle Eastern countries. Now Britain stands on the crossroads of having to opt for full integration into Europe, not in a dominant role as was sought in the 15th century but as a partner with a leading role with France and Germany, or to try and go it alone. The risk of going it alone and becoming a country without the necessary powers to defend itself and without any adherence to another power block would be like a return to its condition in the Tudor times; vulnerable in a dangerous world at a dangerous time. It triumphed then by achieving a successful and independent future for the next five hundred years. Which way would it go this time?

The British Isles were invaded by sundry European invaders for a thousand years, from the Romans to the Normans. For the next thousand years after the Norman invasion, Britain was never successfully invaded again, but was itself the invader and settler of a great part of the world when it established an Empire. Now it is what it is; an inheritor of both the Roman Empire culture and the Germanic culture – a bi-cultural merging, the consequence of which has enabled it to establish a unique cultural brand, one already exported all over the world. With its former world role and its special history, Britain has much to offer the European Union were it to commit itself fully, but it must go in as a genuine partner enabling Britain to become one of the top ranking countries in the Union.

March 2012

An update

The Cameron Conservative Government of Great Britain called a referendum in 2016 on the question of whether the country should stay in the European Union or leave. The result was to leave by 52% to 48%. Cameron resigned as a result and there has been a vacuum within Government headed by the new Premier, Theresa May up to the present time. Parliamentarians cannot agree on any option regarding a deal or no deal with the Union and Britain is drifting towards a crisis that, if not resolved before the end of March 2019 – the leaving date – will precipitate a situation which, at the best could be an economic collapse and, at the worst, civil commotion.

21 December 2018

A further update resulting from a visit from Cliff on the 2nd May 2020 as we sat in the garden during the Great Shut-down. Knowing his interest in and knowledge of History I had previously asked him to read the above blog and comment upon it; so we discussed it and he said that he agreed with the outline whilst it could be usefully widened by the inclusion of the religious factor. This I agreed with but, at the time of writing the Blog had only been interested in the narrower Geo-Political aspect of the subject.

MAY 2nd 2020