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Episode 067: Henry VII and his foreign policy

This is the episode in which I unashamedly destroy the French language in three words. Sorry, French speakers. Incidentally, someone left me a negative comment on iTunes (yes, I read the reviews) saying that my accent was too foreign. Eh? Huh. Who knew. Cheers for that. If my accent bugs you, you can feel free to read the transcript below.

Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can buy one of my journals, planners, or virtual tours!

Onwards …

Book Recommendation:
Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England (amazon affiliate link)

A really good Prezi presentation on Henry VII’s foreign policy:

Music from the episode (with Amazon affiliate links – buy through this link on Amazon, and pay the same price, but I get a small percentage, so you get to support the podcast at the same time. Woohoo!)

In this episode, I used a lot of music from Josquin Desprez – he was a French composer living during this time, and I wanted to feature his music.

Here are some albums to try:

Josquin Desprez: Stabat Mater / Motets (La Chapelle Royale/Herreweghe) by La Chapelle Royale (2011-01-11)

Renaissance: The Music of Josquin Desprez

Da Vinci – Music from His Time



Hello, and welcome to the Renaissance English History Podcast.  I’m your host, Heather Teysko, and I’m a storyteller who makes history accessible because I believe it’s a pathway to understanding who we are, our place in the universe, and being in touch with our own humanity. This is episode 67, and we’re going to talk about France. I have been wanting to do some episodes on France for a while. If you’re a longer time listener, you might remember that I did several episodes on Spain around this time last year, and so now I wanted to take a look at foreign policy with France.

But before I get started, a few reminders.  Firstly, please check out the Agora Podcast Network, of which this podcast is a proud member.  The Agora podcast of the month is

Remember you can get show notes for each episode along with the book recommendations, at Englandcast.com, where you can also sign up for the newsletter list and get extra minicasts, special book giveaways, and other fun stuff. Go to Englandcast.com to sign up.

So as I said, for right now I want to talk about foreign policy, specifically around France. I want to trace the relationships of all the different Tudor monarchs with France, starting with Henry VII and ending with Elizabeth. This episode is going to be on Henry VII. Next time we’ll do one on Henry VIII, then Edward and Mary in one episode, followed by Elizabeth in her own. So four episodes on Tudor Monarchs and France, and then we’ll cap it off with a supplemental on the Field of Cloth of Gold. It will be good, I promise. That will see us right the way through into March.

To get started, let’s talk about where England was on the European chessboard in 1485 when the Tudors came to power after Bosworth Field. England was a small backwater island, poor from having gone through decades of civil war. The Tudors were a brand new dynasty, and Henry Tudor, as we’ve talked about before, had a tenuous claim to the throne. His mothers line was through a bastard line dating to a relationship that John of Gaunt had with his mistress, Katherine Swynford. His father’s line was formed when Henry V’s Queen, Katherine of Valois, married her squire, Owen Tudor. So this was not a line that was old, or magnificent, or regal, or anything like that.

Henry’s primary aim in the early part of his reign was consolidating his power, and fighting off the many pretenders who tried to throw a wrench in his reign. If you know your Wars of the Roses history, you will remember that the Yorkist king, Edward IV, had two sons, who became the Princes in the Tower. Those two sons were murdered, or not – it’s a history mystery, and while I have my own thoughts on it, this isn’t the episode to go into that. The point is, Henry Tudor united the houses of Lancaster and York by marrying Elizabeth of York, who was also Edward IV’s daughter, so would have been a sister to those princes. Throughout Henry’s reign, he saw several men step forward saying that they were one of the Princes, claiming to have escaped. One of them, Perkin Warbeck, was supported by foreign governments (family members of Edward IV) and it created several crises for Henry throughout his reign. Foreign powers sought to create havoc and instability in England by supporting these pretenders.

When Henry first became King, his first thoughts were to consolidating his power in England, rebuilding the economy, and having England catch up to the rest of Europe in terms of culture, and exploration, and all of that stuff. England had been at war for decades, most of the nobility was dead, and Henry couldn’t afford to start any foreign wars. He was inclined to seek peace, and he also wanted alliances that would build up his reputation.

But he did have potential problems, first with France. Of course, the relationship between France and England went way back. 1066 and all that. England had fought France for 100 years claiming the French throne, right up until 1453, so just a few decades before Henry was king. France had spent the 16th century building and consolidating power, so that many of the independent feudal territories we know like Aquitaine, etc., were now under the French throne. By the time of Bosworth, France was three times larger than England, both in manpower, and money. France provided a nearby staging ground as well, for all those who were opposed to the new Tudor regime. The first foreign policy action Henry took was to sign a truce with France that lasted until 1489.

The crisis in Brittany challenged his relationship with France, though. What, you may ask, is the crisis of Brittany? Brittany is now part of France, but at the time, it was its own independent area, and it’s the little bit that sticks out in the west, into the coast. Both France and Brittany had helped Henry when he was living in exile during the wars of the roses. Brittany had been his primary base during his period of wandering in the wilderness, while France had provided funds for his fight against Richard III.

Brittany was the last independent area within France and was governed by the ageing Duke Francis, who had been a good host to the exiled Henry. The regent of France, Anne of Beuajeau, had decided that the best way to resolve the issue of Brittany’s independence was to marry her eight-year old brother, Charles VIII, to Anne of Brittany – the twelve-year old daughter of Francis and heir to Brittany. Clearly, this was something that the Bretons would not accept as it would put them directly under the control of France and it would mean that France was basically eating up Brittany. Things became more complicated when the recently widowed Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, said he intended to marry Anne of Brittany. Henry did not want to upset either France or Brittany but ended up sending 6,000 ‘volunteers’ to Brittany to defend the Bretons against the French.

However, the Bretons could not hold out against the French and in December 1491 they accepted defeat. Anne married Charles VIII and the marriage ended Brittany’s independence.

At this point Henry got a bit more assertive. This was during the time when he was dealing with pretenders to the throne, namely Lambert Simnel, and the early stages of Perkin Warbeck, both of whom claimed to be two different Yorkist princes with a better claim to the throne than Henry. Some foreign governments, like Burgundy, were supporting the pretenders, and Henry needed it to stop.

Henry likely knew that France was more interested in expanding her influence and power in northern Italy, and he decided to distract them. He announced his intention to assert his claim to the French throne. Parliament voted two subsidies that paid for 26,000 men. They crossed the Channel in October 1492 and besieged Boulogne. The advisors of Charles VIII wanted rid of Henry to leave them free to concentrate all resources in north Italy. The result was the Treaty of Étaples (November 3rd 1492). Henry received a promise from Charles that he would no longer give any assistance to any pretenders to the English throne. Henry also received a total of 745,000 crowns – the cost of the venture – to be paid at 50,000 crowns a year. This amounted to about 5% of Henry’s total annual income, and it was actually a paying of a pension due to Edward IV agreed in 1475.

Spain gave Henry a different set of problems. Aragon and Castille had united in 1479 under Ferdinand and Isabella, and was the dominant power in the Western Mediterranean, currently on a quest to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula from the last vestiges of Moors in southern Andalucia, where, coincidentally, I live now.

Henry wished to see greater English trade in the Mediterranean and Spain could have seen this as a threat to their status in the region. However, rather than antagonise Spain, Henry saw the country as a very useful potential ally on the southern border of France. The Treaty of Medina del Campo (1489) was signed to tie England and Spain closer together via the marriage between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. When the negotiations started, Arthur was barely three years old and six months younger than Catherine! This was a coup for Henry as the Tudors were still a brand new dynasty, and there was the fear in Spain that Henry was not as secure on the throne as they would wish – if he suffered a rebellion, Catherine would be at risk as well. The signing of the treaty was a success for Henry as it gave legitimacy to his rule from one of Europe’s most powerful nations. When Catherine finally arrived in England in 1501, she brought with her a dowry of 100,000 crowns.

Then in April 1502 Arthur died, changing all the plans. However, in June 1502, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain gave their blessing to the marriage between Prince Henry and Catherine – though this would have required a Papal dispensation as Catherine was Henry’s brother’s widow – too closely related to be married without a dispensation.

But relations with Spain took a major downturn in February 1503. Elizabeth of York died and aside from his own personal grief, Henry faced a very real problem. Two of his three sons had died and understandably, he was worried about Prince Henry – who was definitely active and participated in what might be seen as dangerous sports. To ensure that the Tudors had a surviving male heir, it seems that Henry wanted to find a new wife. This, ironically, led to a clash with Ferdinand whose wife, Isabella, had died in 1504. With two kings seeking a wife, and the options open to them being limited, the two former allies were on course to becoming major rivals.

Henry never remarried but he tried to develop closer ties with Burgundy. This pushed Ferdinand into the arms of the French and he married Germaine de Foix, the niece of Louis XII, in October 1505. With Spain and France now linked by marriage, Henry was in a vulnerable position.

Scotland was a potential source of trouble for Henry. While they had been favourable to Henry at Bosworth, he could not guarantee that this would always be the way. In July 1486, Henry signed a three-year truce with the Scots. In 1488, James III of Scotland was assassinated and James IV – a fifteen year old, succeeded him. With such a young king on the throne, Henry believed that the Scots had more domestic issues to deal with rather than become a thorn in the side of England.

Scotland’s support for Perkin Warbeck was directly aimed at Henry; Warbeck and married the cousin of James IV, and this was seen as a major threat to the king of England. The fact that the Warbeck rebellion petered out did not disguise the part played by Scotland and Henry, saw how fragile border was, and wanted a truce. In 1497, the Truce of Ayton was signed and after the execution of Warbeck it became a full peace treaty. This was the first peace agreement between England and Scotland since 1328, so it was a huge deal for Henry. In August 1503, Henry’s eldest daughter, Margaret, married James IV to bring both countries even closer together.

In January 1487, Henry renewed a treaty with the heir to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. In 1496, England also joined the Holy League formed to force France out of northern Italy. However, Henry only signed on the condition that England did not have to go to war with France and at the same time he signed a commercial treaty with France.

How successful was Henry’s foreign policy? From a position of extreme vulnerability in 1485, he had acquired a decent reputation abroad by the time of his death. Even though England was not part of the League of Cambrai (1508), the members of the League stated that they would not threaten England’s interest abroad. As well as being a wily diplomat, Henry also had luck on his side. For a number of years during his reign, France and other European powers were more concerned about events in northern Italy, an area where England had minimal interests. Therefore, Henry was given more of a freer hand than he might otherwise have expected. Polydore Vergil wrote that Henry was “fortunate” and in many areas of foreign policy he probably was.

The book recommendation this week is Thomas Penn’s Winter King, which is a really great narrative biography of Henry VII – I’ll put a link up on the website. Remember there are show notes, everything like that, at englandcast.com. Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll be back in 2 weeks with more on France, now with Henry VIII in charge. In between there you will hear a joint episode I did with James Boulton of the Queens of England Podcast – a fantastic show that I highly recommend – where we talked about Katherine of Aragon. So that will be coming up next week, and then we’ll resume our regularly scheduled French programming. Thanks so much for listening!

Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can buy one of my journals, planners, or virtual tours!