Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
Asylum Christi : Samuel Smiles explains how Tudor England was transformed from sleepy backwater to hive of industry.
Asylum Christi

From ‘Men of Invention and Industry’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

Samuel Smiles has been writing about England’s sluggish economy early in Elizabeth’s reign, with London acting as little more than a trading post for prosperous merchants in Amsterdam and Antwerp. Something needed to change the culture in England’s declining market towns.

THE religious persecutions of Philip II of Spain and of Charles IX of France shortly supplied England with the population of which she stood in need — active, industrious, intelligent artisans. Philip set up the Inquisition in Flanders,* and the Duchess of Parma, writing to Philip II in 1567, informed him that in a few days above 100,000 men had already left the country with their money and goods, and that more were following every day.*

They fled to Germany, to Holland, and above all to England, which they hailed as Asylum Christi. The emigrants settled in the decayed cities and towns of Canterbury, Norwich, Sandwich, Colchester, Maidstone, Southampton, and many other places, where they carried on their manufactures of woollen, linen, and silk, and established many new branches of industry.*

Modern England was then in the throes of her birth. She was about to become the England of free thought, commerce, and manufactures. Up to the accession of Elizabeth, she had done little, but now she was about to do much.

* The ‘Council of Troubles’ convened by Governor Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba, in 1567 executed some 5,000 dissidents (mainly Jews and Protestant Christians) in five years. British scholar Jonathan Israel has estimated that some 60,000 people fell foul of the Council’s judgments, though these are convictions, not executions – many of the convicted escaped to neighbouring countries. The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre Paris in 1572 saw around 3,000 slaughtered in five days.

* Margaret, Duchess of Parma (1522-1586) was Governor of the Netherlands from 1559 to 1567 and again from 1578 to 1582. She was also Philip’s half-sister.

* A major cause of this decay was the English Reformation, in which Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII had destroyed and plundered the monasteries which for centuries, and despite their well-catalogued faults, had farmed the land, facilitated trade, maintained roads and bridges, educated the poor and cared for the sick.

From ‘Men of Invention and Industry’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Picture: © Helmut Zozmann, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Sandwich Weavers, in Strand Street, Sandwich. Photographer Helmut Zozmann tells us that it was used as their home and workshop by Dutch refugees from the Inquisition of Flanders in 1567. Samuel Smiles attributed the sudden liveliness of England’s economy in the 17th century to these refugees, coming to England in search of a more congenial society.

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