Saturday, February 28, 2009

Do you agree with the view that opposition from 'an aristocratic party' was the main cause of Wolsey's fall in 1529?

During the Tudor dynasty between 1509 and 1529, Thomas Wolsey was probably the most influential person in England, sometimes more so than the king, Henry VIII. But in 1529, he was removed from power. It could be said that Wolsey’s underestimation of the nobility’s opposition led to his fall, as his pomp and power created jealousy among the nobility. However, it is possible to argue that his fall was caused by other reasons, such as his inability to achieve the annulment, which removed Wolsey from Henry’s graces.

Wolsey, who was a son of a butcher, had become the most powerful figure after the king. He became Henry’s most favoured servant, advising him and counselling him. This had provoked the nobility - Tudor England was a society with a solid hierarchy, and the nobility believed that they were the ‘king’s natural councillors’ and that they had a ‘rightful place’ next to the king. The nobles were angry at the fact that a person from an inferior origin (from their point of view) had become more powerful than them. Their jealousy caused strong opposition against Wolsey, and they wanted to eliminate him to restore the social hierarchy that the Tudor England was firmly based on.

The nobility’s opposition would have been less fierce if his personality was as humble as his origin. The sources clearly oppose this supposition. A poem from John Skelton describes how arrogant he was, where Wolsey looks down and belittles other people. He further says ‘all men must follow his desire’, describing how much power he has. The grandeur of Hampton Court, his residence, further supports this claim. All this caused stronger hatred against Wolsey, as the nobility was not used to have anyone more powerful than them except the king. The nobility was actually quite powerful, and as provoked as they were, they would use their power to bring down Wolsey, however powerful he was. However, they were not able to bring him down for a long time, suggesting that although the nobility viciously hated him, they weren’t able to remove him. This was because Wolsey had managed to remain under Henry’s favour. So it could be argued that events that removed Wolsey from Henry’s favour led to his fall. One such event was Wolsey’s failure to achieve an annulment.

Annulment was a very important issue for Henry. Henry had realised that his marriage with Catherine was against God’s laws. Catherine was his late brother, Arthur’s wife. The book of Leviticus states that if a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing and that he shall not have any sons. This was the actual case with Henry as he only had one daughter, Mary. Fearing that the dynasty might end with no heir, divorcing Catherine and marrying a new wife was crucial to Henry. His anxiety over the issue can be seen when he swore at Wolsey for him not being committed about the annulment, according to Scarisbrick. Henry had a reason to be angry, as Wolsey had conclusively failed to achieve the annulment. He wasn’t able to have an annulment at the Blackfriars, which illustrated the failure of Wolsey’s policy, and he also did nothing to stop the Treaty of Barcelona, which effectively ended any hope of the pope granting the annulment. His inefficiency and incapability on the issue destroyed his 15 years of service to Henry. Henry could not depend on him anymore, and Wolsey was therefore doomed to fall.

Other reasons also caused Wolsey being removed from Henry’s favour. Since 1526, Henry fell madly in love with Anne Boleyn. The fact that he calls himself her ‘most ensured servant’ in his letter to her shows how much influence Anne Boleyn had over Henry. Anyone who displeased Anne Boleyn would be displeasing Henry. Wolsey managed to do just that; he infuriated her with preventing her marriage with Henry Percy, and provoked her further when he was unable to get the annulment, as her letter to Wolsey, which says ‘the wrong you have done me has caused me much sorrow’ suggests. There was another conflict between Anne and Wolsey, where both of them wanted different persons to replace the dead Abbess of the Wilton Nunnery (Wilton Affair). Henry put forward a third candidate so as not to disappoint both of them, but Wolsey ignored this(either deliberately or not) and chose his own candidate, an action which made Henry furious.

The public had also lost faith in Wolsey. The Amicable Grant, which was his effort to supply money for the war against France, caused massive uprisings and rebellions. He also declared war on the Netherlands, which made him further unpopular, as the English economy depended on trading wool and cloth with the Netherlands. As a large portion of the population was associated with this industry, Wolsey was hated by most of the population.

What had led Wolsey, who dominated the English politics for a time, to exile and a lonely death? Certainly, the nobility played a part. But conclusively, they were not able to deliver the knockout punch. As long as Wolsey remained under Henry’s favour, their opposition against Wolsey turned out to be fruitless. This can be seen when the nobility briefly returned to power when Wolsey had gone to France in 1927; when he came back, he won back Henry’s favour again and stayed in power for 2 more years.

It seems that Wolsey became saturated with arrogance and laziness in his later years of power. He had risen to power with his diligence and eagerness to work, to a point where he could almost rival the king. Hampton Court, which was Wolsey’s palace, was bigger than the king’s. Powerful as he was, he became complacent with his work, not realizing how vulnerable his position was. His recalcitrance over the annulment and Wilton affair showed how haughty he had become. His fall was also caused by events that Wolsey had no control of. The events in Europe, such as the Battle of Landriano and the Treaty of Barcelona were the deciding elements of failure of the annulment, which led to Wolsey’s downfall. In this light, the nobility had only a little part to play in his fall.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Was Henry VIII's foreign policy a success?

Henry VIII was very ambitious. Unlike his father, Henry VII, who had been more concerned in bringing stability to his throne, Henry VIII wanted glory and honour by increasing England’s international prominence. During his reign, Henry did taste some success; for example when he led the army of 40,000 himself into France to capture Therouanne and Tournai. However, His foreign policy sometimes ended up as failures, such as the betrayal he received from Ferdinand of Aragorn during the First World War.

Glory and Honour meant a lot to the young and the adventurous Henry VIII. His want for glory and honour was also fueled by his reading of Le Morte d’Arthur and other chivalric romance and by his necessity to prove himself as a worthy king. So in 1513, four years after he became king, he led the English army himself to invade France. He succeeded in seizing Therouanne and Tournai, and also took victory at the Battle of Spurs. This was surely a glorious feat by Henry, as at that time, England was a feeble nation consisting of 3 million people, whereas France was the strongest nation in Europe with the strongest army, only rivaled by the Holy Roman Empire. Henry further benefited from the fact that the pope had formed the Holy League against France(due to papal fears of French dominance in Italy), which meant that Henry was on crusade on behalf of the pope and the Catholic Church. How honourable! However, there were some incidents that stained Henry’s dignity. In 1512, during the Marquis of Dorset’s expedition to Gascony in France, Ferdianand, who was the ruler of Spain, had promised to provide supplies to English soldiers. He only used the English soldiers to distract France while he occupied Navarre and immediately withdrew, leaving English soldiers ravaged by hunger. Moreover, when Henry had subsidized Ferdinand and Maximillian I(the Holy Roman Emperor) to attack France, they didn’t bother attacking; indeed, they made a peace treaty called the Treaty of Etaples with France. Later on, in 1925, Henry was humiliated by Charles V’s rejection of the Grand Enterprise. This clearly showed that Ferninand, Maximillian and Charles V viewed Henry as inexperienced and immature, and had no respect for him whatsoever: not much glory there for Henry.

Henry inherited the claim for the French throne from his father, and he was willingly obliged to regain the territories in France. In 1513, Henry succeeded in capture Therouanne and Tournai, which was significant because they were the first French territories gained by England in 75 years. In 1923, the Duke of Suffolk and his army managed to penetrate deep into France, marching to within 50 miles of Paris. However, that was as far as Henry got, and considering what Henry’s ultimate aim was(seizing the French crown), his achievements could hardly be called a success. Furthermore, the territories which he had gained(Therouanne and Tournai) was much more strategically useful for Maximillian, which was why Cromwell called them ‘ungracious dog holes.’ Tournai was returned to France later. Henry had not lost any territory in France, but nor had he gained any.

England had always been the ‘third fiddle’ in the European politics, a distant island at the end of the world. So when nearly every major European rulers, including Francis I, Charles V, Maximillian I and the Pope, signed the Treaty of London in 1918, a treaty of universal peace and friendship, it was definitely a big step forward for English international prominence. Also, after Charles V became the Holy Roman Emperor, he visited England to win Henry to his side. This meant that the balance of power, which was tightly balanced between the Valois and the Habsburgs, could be unbalanced by Henry. As a crucial ally, Henry became an important figure in the European politics. However, Henry was never able to dominate any action; he could only decide to support either of the two powerful countries. There were signs that Henry was only respected when he was needed, but completely ignored otherwise. Charles V rejected Henry’s plea to finish France off after Charles had beat the French in the Battle of Pavia, and the Treaty of London, which was hailed in England as a diplomatic triumph, was treated as nothing more than a piece of paper; Habsburg-Valois War broke out two years after the treaty was signed, completely ignoring it. Although Henry had been a more significant monarch to European rulers compared to other English monarchs, he was still treated as a king of England, which was yet an unimportant country.

Henry was a great warrior, but apparently not a very good mathematician. David Potter suggests that one of the reasons why Henry invaded France was because he wanted to increase the pension paid by the French. The amount of pension received was insignificant compared to the amount of money used to fund the war, and Henry wasted more money by subsidizing other countries to fight France(which they never did) and by inviting Francis I to the Field of Cloth of Gold, which cost England one year’s worth of its revenue. Not realizing that the English economy depended on cloth exports to Antwerp, which was under Charles V’s control, Henry declared war on Charles, creating havoc in the English economy. As a king of governance, Henry was a failure.

One could say that Henry enjoyed success over their ‘auld enemy’, Scotland. In the Battle of Flodden, the English army had annihilated the Scottish army, killing their king, 11 earls, the Archbishop of St Andrews and 10,00 men. England had defeated Scotland a numerous times before, but a victory this big had been rare. However, looking at Scotland’s population and wealth, which was very small, it was obvious that England should win. If the battle was a glorious event for England, it was no so much to Henry, a s the victory was not his, but his wife’s(Catherine of Aragorn)(Henry was in France at that time and Catherine was in charge of England)

Lastly, Henry wished an annulment of marriage to Catherine of Aragorn from 1927 onwards. He had wanted a male heir, but she had only given him a daughter, Mary, and became too old to have another baby. He had to persuade the pope to grant him an annulment, which became impossible when Charles V’s troops sacked Rome and imprisoned the pope. Charles would never agree to the annulment as Catherine was his aunt, and the pope under his captivity did not dare to oppose him. This meant that freeing the pope was the only way of securing the annulment, but this also meant that he had to confront Charles V, the most powerful person in Europe. After Francis I had lost to Charles V in the Battle of Landriano, Henry had no way to beat Charles V and free the pope. The Peace of Cambrai between Francis and Charles was significant in the fact that the myth of England controlling the European diplomacy was completely destroyed; it revealed that England was irrelevant in Europe and that it was insignificant. After the Peace of Cambrai, which was the creation of the alliance between the pope and Charles V, there was no more hope of obtaining the divorce.

Henry VIII, was surely extraordinary compared to his predecessors, and left behind some footprints of success, such as the seizure of Therouanne and Tournai. But was this ever close to him becoming the king of France, which was his aim? Surely not. Henry had high aims, and his meager achievements were insignificant compared to what he believed he would achieve. Henry’s foreign policy was an immature one, where attacking France for the sake of proving his chivalry, or seizing towns that were not beneficial to England clearly shows. However, he should be applauded for his efforts to make impact on the European history, despite the restrictions set on him as a ruler of a minor country.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why did Stalin support keeping the NEP in 1925 but then abandoned it in 1928~9?

Stalin's decision that abandoned the NEP and supported industrialization was very significant in shaping the Communist Russia in time to come. Although the NEP was generally considered a success, clearly there were limitations; the NEP was only a means of recovery, to help Russia get up on its feet after the devastating effects of the Civil war. Stalin, at first, supported the NEP, but then in December 1927, he made The Great Turn, abandoning the NEP. Although some may say that he did this because he came to realize the limitations of the NEP, but it is also credible that he did this simply to gain power. This view is supported by a claim made by Bukharin: Stalin ‘changes his theories according to whom he needs to get rid of next.’

Stalin hated Trotsky. During the Civil war, Trotsky had removed him from his military post when Stalin disobeyed Trotsky's orders. Stalin was venomously jealous of him; Trotsky was a brilliant orator and the hero of the October Revolution and the Civil war, whereas he was a not-so-talented speaker, who had done nothing significant during the October Revolution – he was a ‘grey blur’, as Sukhanov put it. Therefore it was obvious that Stalin would oppose whatever Trotsky proposed. As Trotsky wanted to abandon the NEP, Stalin supported the NEP, and when Trotsky was removed from power, Stalin had no more incentive to defend the NEP.

Stalin understood that opposing Lenin was an unwise stance to take if one wanted to gain support. Lenin was the father of the Russian Revolution, and to oppose him would be betraying the Revolution. Trotsky had opposed him in numerous occasions, which was one of the important reasons that led to his loss of support and his consequent downfall. Stalin adhered to Lenin’s policyies on almost every occasion. Originally, he supported the policy of continuing the war, but after Lenin gained prominence in the Revolution, Stalin abandoned his policy to follow Lenin’s , which opposed the continuation of the war. He also tried to carry Lenin’s legacy by speaking as the chief speaker at Lenin’s funeral and by opposing the publication of Lenin’s Testaments, which carried unfavourable comments on Stalin. The NEP was Lenin’s brainchild, and supporting the NEP would mean that he was following Lenin’s footsteps. Stalin was able to abandon the NEP later as he had made a strong power base and as Lenin began to fade away from the people’s memories.

All the contestants of the power struggle had their own policy on how Russia should be run and followed it devotedly. Trotsky believed in the Permanent Revolution, Bukharin supported the NEP, Kamanev and Zinoviev wanted a socialist coalition, and Tomsky fought for trade union rights. However, Stalin was an exception. According to Westwood , Stalin stood back without following a clear policy, and only supporting one to eliminate others by ‘offering his spade’. Stalin only supported the NEP to eliminate Trotsky, and then abandoned it to remove Bukharin. Some may argue that Stalin did have a policy, which was Socialism in One Country. However, Stalin only followed this policy because this was the popular alternative to Permanent Revolution, as it appealed to patriotism and nationalism. Stalin was not following a policy that he believed in but a policy which would give him power.

The reason why Stalin supported industrialization in 1927 and onwards may be explained by his unlimited hunger for power. Stalin was always obsessed with gaining more power; he readily took the post of General Secretary while others rejected it as he saw how much power lied in it. Lenin realized this and stated in his testament that he was not sure whether Stalin would use his power with ‘sufficient caution’, which meant that Lenin feared Stalin using his powers to gain more power. In 1928~9, Stalin realized that he needed industrialization to secure his power. The general atmosphere among the communists was that of a building a socialist society, and the NEP was preventing this. Also, in 1928, there was a war scare that increased fears about Russia’s vulnerability to foreign attack, so that industrialization was need to arm and defend itself. Stalin obviously had to defend Russia from foreign attacks if he wanted to preserve his power.

Some may argue that Stalin abandoned the NEP because he genuinely realized the limitations it carried and because it was only a measure of recovery from the civil war. This claim is supported by his visit to the Urals where he investigated the actual effects of the NEP in the countryside, where he saw that agriculture was still very backward. However, his visit to the Urals lasted for only 3 weeks, which was an extremely short time to properly analyze the countryside, given the colossal expanses of Russian countryside. He may have just visited the Urals to make people think that he abandoned the NEP for genuine reasons, so as to dismiss the claim of him abandoning it for the sake of the power struggle.

It is clear that Stalin’s change of policy, The Great Turn, was only brought about because Stalin needed it to assure him of gaining more power. This can be seen from his malleable stance on policies and his hunger for power which mattered in every decision that Stalin made. Had the NEP been popular among the party members, Stalin would have supported it to gain the support of the party.

Note : This is an opinionated essay, and does not define the history of power struggle in Russia.