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Episode 071: Henry VIII foreign policy


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Notes and Web Sources
Simon Adams, ‘Tudor England’s relations with France’, State Papers Online, 1509–1714, Cengage Learning, Reading, 2009

Other Englandcast episodes on the Navy:
The Tudor Navy, November 2015

The Iron Industry of the Weald, December 2015

Episode 41: Benjamin Redding

The Italian Wars

France’s Richelieu and Foreign Policy:

Battle of the Solent

Battle of the Spurs

Battle of Flodden

Book Recommendation
Tudor Political Culture by Dale Hoak

BBC In Our Time on the Field of Cloth of Gold


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!

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 71, and we’re continuing our talk about France, specifically Henry VIII’s relationship 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.  Check out all the podcasts at AgoraPodcastNetwork.com. Also, you guys, we’re coming up on 75 episodes here soon. This is 71, then the next one is on the Field of Cloth of Gold, then two more episodes on France. Which takes us to 75. I want to do something special for it, so I’m thinking about a Q&A Ask Me Anything session. So you can go ahead and send questions awhile via twitter (@teysko) the Facebook page (facebook.com/englandcast) or my email – hello@heatherteysko.com. You can ask me anything about anything. Music, sports (I’m really into the Indian Premiere League cricket, for example), motherhood, Spain, travel, whatever you’d like. I’m an open book. So start thinking about sending in those questions, and I’ll be recording the episode here in a few more weeks. Also, remember I have another podcast – Watching the Tudors, where my husband and I watch The Tudors – him for the first time – and talk about what was real, what wasn’t, and I groan a lot at the Thomas Tallis storyline. So check that out – it’s all at Englandcast.com.

So we’re still on France, and how Henry VIII felt about the country. A few episodes ago when we started this series, we talked about Henry VII’s foreign policy, and this episode we’re going to look at Henry VIII. Now as usual when we look at large themes and subjects like this, me talking for 20 to 30 minutes isn’t going to cover it – this is meant to be an introduction, and then as we progress from time to time, we will look at things in more depth.

It’s important to remember that Henry’s big aims when he was King were to achieve fame, to be a great king, and to increase the status of England within Europe. Basically, he wanted to emulate Henry V, the famous warrior king who defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

He wanted to make England glorious again after the disastrous 15th century which was filled with civil war, and England losing all the land they had won except Calais. Where his father tried to avoid foreign wars, Henry jumped right in.

He married Katherine of Aragon immediately after becoming King, and that cemented his relationship with Spain against France, so there wasn’t any question whose side he was on to start with. Two years later, in 1511, he joined the Holy League with Venice and Spain, set up to defend the Papacy from France, which spent a lot of effort and energy during this period trying to win land in northern Italy that they had a claim to. So Henry joins with his father in law, and Italy, to defend the Pope. He promised to invade France, and in 1512 he began landing his troops there. After some initial struggles, he was successful in 1513 in the Battle of the Spurs, so named because of the speed at which the French horsemen left the battlefield, which Henry saw as a glorious victory, and led to Henry capturing Therouanne, and Tournai.

France was hoping that Scotland would distract England since France and Scotland were long standing allies, so it’s important to also note that this was also the time of the Battle of Flodden, which saw the death of over 10,000 Scots, and was the largest ever Anglo-Scottish battle. In this battle King James IV was killed, as well as three bishops.  It was well and truly a rout, and the Scots would be unable to provide much of a threat for years.

The Holy League never actually fulfilled their promises to Henry, and so Henry wound up making peace with France, and marrying his sister Mary to the very old French king. This, of course, is the famous story of Mary asking Henry for permission to marry for love if the French king died.

At this point Henry seemed clever. His sister was regent of Scotland. His other sister was married to the old French king, so if he died and she had a son, she would likely be regent. Plus he was still allied with the Holy Roman Empire.

But then things turned sour. The French king died after just a few months, and Mary married one of Henry’s friends, Charles Brandon, without Henry’s permission. Plus France now wanted to make war on Spain. Then his other sister Margaret made a bad love choice by marrying the Earl of Angus, which looked like a really bad move because she had to leave Scotland all together, and she lost the regency since she had remarried.

It was during this period that Henry started to build up the Royal Navy. Within the first six years of his reign he built 18 new ships. I did a few episodes about a year and a half ago on the growth of the Navy under Henry, so if you want more information on that particular subject, please check out those episodes.  

Henry was disappointed that he was unable to recover lands in France, and he had been used as a pawn by Ferdinand and Emperor Maximilian in going to war with France, yet they didn’t provide any help. This would be the start of Henry’s declining relationship with his father in law.

By the end of the 15teens, Wolsey, whose star was firmly ascendant by this point, negotiated the Treaty of Universal Peace. In the episode on the Field of Cloth Of Gold we’ll talk a lot more about this particular treaty, but it was designed to enhance Henry’s visibility and status in Europe through negotiating peace rather than war. All of the participating countries agreed to not invade each other, and defend each other if they were invaded, and in turn they agreed to let Henry broker any issues they were having with each other. It was as part of this agreement that Henry and Francis, the new king of France, decided to meet each other, and thus, the Field of Cloth of Gold came to be.

Next week I’m releasing an entire episode on the Field, so I won’t go into too much detail about it here, but it is one of the most well known of Henry’s foreign policy activities, and it was a two week tournament in June 1520 that saw Henry and Francis in a great summit in which they attempted to impress each other with each others’ might and wealth. It was also cementing a peace agreement between the two.

It was out of this agreement that Henry and Francis decided to place a representative with each others’ courts, and so the French embassy in London, and the English embassy in Paris came to be. For the English it was the first embassy established by a treaty, and it was the only permanent one of the 16th century.

Of course, that peace agreement wouldn’t last long, as these things seem to not last particularly long, but no one could have known that at the time, and the Field was the culmination of this grand experiment of peace that was almost like a model United Nations, four hundred years early.

Henry and Francis are famous as being the two rival kings of the early 16th century in Europe. They were both similar in age, with Francis being a few years younger. They both were athletic, and artistic, and both were concerned about their standing in relation to the other. Henry and Francis would meet again, in 1532, right about the time when Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn.

The middle part of Henry’s reign was dominated by his attempts to leave his wife, and eventually leave the church. All of this left Henry vulnerable, as other European powers saw an opening to both gain land, and impress the Pope, through invading or threatening to invade England. Of course the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, was Katherine’s nephew, so there was the constant fear that he would invade England to support his Aunt in the divorce proceedings. Henry made the bet that Charles was too preoccupied with the threat of the Ottoman Turks on the eastern part of his empire to do too much with England, and that was a sound bet that paid off.

As the Reformation played out, France found itself in an awkward position in relation to England. The rivalry with Charles V was Francis’ initial priority, and the spread of Protestantism throughout Europe meant that France was losing a number of its allies. France conducted its foreign policy as if the Reformation never had happened. This would be the main theme of their foreign policy in relation to religion for decades, and indeed a century later Cardinal Richelieu would say that the main theme of French foreign policy was to defend and promote France’s interests, regardless of religion.

France was supportive of Henry’s desire for the Pope to declare his marriage to Catherine invalid. It was at that 1532 meeting when Francis welcomed Anne Boleyn as Queen, with all the honors and splendour that she would have been expecting as Queen. In October 1533, Francis was supposed to sign a treaty with Pope Clement VII, which Francis hoped would include some settlement to Henry’s problem. Francis was not doing this out of pure friendship, but because he wanted to create an alliance against the Hapsburg’s. Henry ended this try by saying he wanted to handle the situation himself. Henry could tell that Francis’s goals weren’t to help him because they were such good friends, but because he wanted to have this alliance against Charles, but Henry didn’t want to become involved in a war between France and the Hapsburgs. At the same time, he had to be careful to not offend Francis. While Henry could bet that he was safe from Charles, France was a different matter.  When Francis began approaching him about another marriage contract between his son and Henry’s daughter Mary, Henry just failed to answer at all.

In 1535 the duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, died and Charles and Francis were focused on each other and who should succeed the duke. This meant that Henry had a bit of peace when it came to France, and he ordered all the english diplomats in France to pursue neutrality, and to keep relations with France, “cold”.

Though Henry still had to be careful that he didn’t push Francis into Charles’ arms after the two had concluded their rivalry over the succession. Henry did greatly fear an alliance between the two of them. By 1538 it seemed like a distinct possibility when Charles and Francis both met with the Pope. It seemed as if all of the Catholic powers were uniting against the protestant ones, and Henry seemed to be in a week position against a league of Catholics.

This was during the period when Henry’s wife Jane Seymore had died, and Henry was on the marriage market again. He offered to marry several French princesses, but that never panned out, and he also negotiated marriage with the niece of Charles V, Christina of Denmark, but that also never happened. In December of 1538 the Pope sent out an order that supported deposing Henry, calling him “the most cruel and abominable tyrant.” This essentially meant that Henry, end England, were available to any Catholic prince who wanted to take them.

Henry started to develop relationships with the Lutheran princes of Northern Germany. They weren’t powerful enough to have been able to fight off the Hapsburgs allied with France, but they were located in a strategic spot in Europe that would have made invasions difficult.

In 1539 Henry married Anne of Cleves. At the same time, Francis had allowed Charles to march across France to put down a rebellion in Charles’s land in Ghent. This clear cooperation worried Henry.

Henry started another period of naval buildup during this time. The French ambassador wrote in 1539 that there were 120 ships in the mouth of the Thames, and 30 in Portsmouth. Remember that he only inherited about 7 ships from Henry VII, so this was a huge building project. He also ordered the coastal defenses to be modernized, and he used materials and money from the nearby dissolved monastaries.  

Henry was lucky in the fact that Charles and Francis were clear enemies, at war over lands in Italy, and constantly rivals for eminence in Europe. Henry could more easily remove himself from the conflicts, and being an island helped to keep him physically apart from them. In 1539 Francis and Charles came to an agreement, but within 2 years it ended and they were back at war. In 1543 Henry allied with Charles, and planned to attack France within 2 years. Henry particularly wanted to win back Boulogne, and so Henry committed 5,000 troops which sieged the city. In September 1544 Boulogne surrendered to the English. All seemed to be going well, but then Charles screwed Henry again and made his own peace with Francis.

What followed were several tough years for Henry, leading up to his death. A French navy landed on the Isle of Wight, and this was also the period of the Battle of the Solent where the famous ship, the Mary Rose, sank. The fleet that was set to invade England was actually larger than the Spanish Armada, but luckily for Henry, Francis was distracted and wound up suing for peace. Henry was granted Bolougne for eight years, and also agreed to pay Henry a pension for the rest of his life.

And so, the theme of relationships with France for Henry seems to have been on again, off again. Trying to stay neutral, and removed from French politics and wars, while also engaging where appropriate, and trying to avoid war. Henry never captured back the lands won in Crecy and Agincourt, and as we’ll see in the future episodes devoted to his childrens’ relations with France, more land would be lost in the coming decade. But that’s for the future.

The book recommendation this week is Tudor Political Culture by Dale Hoak (that’s an Amazon affiliate link). Remember you can get the show notes, and this transcript, as well as sign up for the newsletter all at the site, or by texting the listener support line at 801 6TEYSKO or tweeting me @teysko. That’s also the best way to get in touch, or also through the facebook page at facebook.com/englandcast. Remember also to sign up for the newsletter to get the digital advent calendar!

Thanks so much for listening everyone.  The next episode is going to be on the Field of Cloth of gold with an interview with Glenn Richardson, who wrote a really comprehensive book on the subject. So stay tuned for that, and then we’ll move on to Henry’s children.

(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!)