casting out immigrants -- 2/15/17

Today's selection -- from Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd. One of the most common and recurring themes in history is the protest against foreigners by some significant portion of a given country's native population. Quite often, it has been the rulers or government who have been in favor of immigration, while that same immigration is opposed by that portion of the workers or businesses whose livelihood is impacted. And so it was in the England of King Henry VIII, where the immigrants viewed with suspicion and hatred were from Paris and Florence and Venice and Genoa:

"In the spring of 1517 a bill was posted upon one of the doors of St Paul's, complaining that 'the foreigners' were given too much favour by the king and council and they 'bought wools to the undoing of Englishmen'. This helped to inspire the riots of 'Evil May Day' in which the radicalism or insubordination of the London crowd became manifest. At the end of April a preacher had called upon Englishmen to defend their livings against 'aliens', by whom he meant the merchants from Florence and Venice, from Genoa and Paris. [Cardinal Thomas] Wolsey had sent for the mayor on hearing news that, as he put it, 'your young and riotous people will rise and distress the strangers'. A disturbance of this kind was deeply troubling for an administration that had no police force or standing army to enforce its will.

"The mayor denied any rumours of sedition but on the evening of 30 April 2,000 Londoners -- with apprentices, watermen and serving men at their head -- sacked the houses of the French and Flemish merchants. They also stormed the house of the king's secretary and threatened the residents of the Italian quarter. Wolsey, wary of trouble despite the assurances of the mayor, called in the armed retainers of the nobility as well as the ordnance of the Tower. More than 400 prisoners were taken, tried and found guilty of treason. Thirteen of them suffered the penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered; their butchered remains were sus­pended upon eleven gallows set up within the city.

"In a suitably elaborate ceremony the other rioters, with halters around their necks, were brought to Westminster Hall in the presence of the king. He was sitting on a lofty dais, from which eminence he condemned them all to death. Then Wolsey fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out 'Mercy, Mercy!' Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and, as a London chronicler put it, 'jumped for joy'."


Peter Ackroyd


Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I


St. Martin's Griffin


Copyright 2012 by Peter Ackroyd


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