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.


Anonymous said...

"such as the betrayal he received from Ferdinand of Aragorn during the First World War."

are you reatrded? First world war?

Anonymous said...

The holy leagues joint attack on France could be viewed as a world war,due to the mass of nations involved

Anonymous said...

Good piece, I'm sure Henry VIII didn't live in the 20th century though.

Anonymous said...

Good shit. MAGA