Henry VIII's Foreign Policy, 1509-1529

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Henry's Aims

Glory: Henry wanted to establish England as a major power in Europe and planned a more adventurous policy than his cautious father. He had imperial ideas involving re-conquest of lands, particularly in France. He also wanted to establish his own reputation as 'The most goodliest prince that ever reigned'.

The Reasons for the dominance of fp in the first twenty years of his reign were: 

- England had governed much of France during the Middle Ages. Henry wanted to win back French territories lost during the previous century. He reffered to himself as the King of England and France. (Therefore another key aim of Henry's was the conquest of France).

- He was young and virile. He found war glamourous and wanted to assert himself as a dashing soldier-king. His heroes included Henry V, who had won the battle of Agincourt in 1415, and the mytholocigcal King Arthur. 

- Henry wanted to be politicallt at the heart of Europe, not just a small nation on the periphery. Believed he could exploit the rivalry between the superpowers of Spain (ruled by the Hapsburgs) and France (House of Valois) to develop England's importance. 

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Aims continued

The Succession and Securing the Dynasty: Henry concerned throughout his reign to ensure the Tudor dynasty was secure. This would be achieved through having a male heir and securing the marriage of his children to other European rulers, such as Mary to Charles V or Edward to Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Trade: Althoug Henry, unlike his father, is not usually seen as being interested in trade, this is not completely true as he was concerned to maintain good relations with the Netherlands because of the cloth trade with Antwerp. 

Money: Although most historians have not seen this as a priority, David Potter has argued that Henry was concerned to secure the French pension that his father had won and he has shown that this demand was present in all the wars Henry fought against France. 

Imperial Ambition?: Pollard argued that Henry had imperial ambitions and wanted to absorb Scotland into a 'Great Britain', but this view had been largely discredited by historians such as R.B. Wernham, who argued that Henry was principally influenced by a dislike of the Socts and concern to protect the back door of England from invasion. 

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Was there any change in Henry's aims?

  • Some historians have argued that there was a subtle change to the manner in which Henry's aims would be ahieved during the 1520s, and that this change reflects the influence of his chief minister, Wolsey
  • Scarisbrick argued that Wolsey pursued a policy of peace- war was too expensive for England to sustain and went against his humanist principles.                                                                                 - Wolsey strove to achieve glory through elaborate meetings and high-sounding peace treaties designed to keep England at the centre of European affairs. 

Aims and directions of FP changed in the late 1520s-dominated by Henry's desire for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. 

  • Main aim was to create a European situation in which the Pope could and would grant him a divorce.
  • Result: switch in the general direction of FP away from friendship with Spain and the HRE, towards France. 
  • Break with Rome- Policy became less aggressive as he sought new allies against a possible joint Catholic crusade from the Hapsburgs and Francis I. 
  • Defensive Policy- illustrated by the vast sums of money that were spent on fortifications along the South coast. 
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Who was in charge: Henry or Wolsey?

Historical debate about who was actually in charge of policy- imp. when trying to discern aims, particularly if Henry and Wolsey had different views. 

  • Contemporary, Thomas Skelton, believed that the real power was Wolsey's, when he wrote 'Hampton Court hath the pre-eminence'
  • Supported by Venetian Ambassador who wrote that 'the Cardinal is the person who rules both the King and the entire Kingdom'. 
  • However, Scarisbrick believed that, although it was often Wolsey alone who guided English affairs, the King could and did become furiously involved and that he had particular interests- largely foreign affairs. 
  • Supported by Paul Crowson- compared Henry to the cretor and owner of a private business who has retired and left his affairs to a manager, but then rings him up 3 times a week to ensure that he is doing what the owner wants.
  • Other historians have argued that the relationship was more like a partnership, but the imp. decisions of war and peace rested with the King. 
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