History AS (Britain, 1483 - 1529) revision cards: Henry VIII in England and Europe

Summary of Henry VIII's domestic and foreign policies. 


Domestic policies

  • A monarch was expected to keep law and order; to administer the country efficiently; and to raise taxes when necessary. All Tudor monarchs feared internal rebellion, since they had no standing army or police to re-establish royal authority.

Administrative efficiency:

  • No major reform of gvt. administration under Wolsey who preferred to keep & further develop the administration established by Henry VII. Sir John Heron had been appointed Treasurer of the Chamber and kept that post until 1524.
  • In 1526, the King demanded reform of the royal household after he claimed that he had been denied access to sufficient counsellors through Wolsey's control over appointments to the Counsel.
1 of 20

Local government and Justices of the Peace

  • Relationships between the court and the country were key to national political stability. Central government needed the support of local magistrates, especially the Justices of the Peace (JPs).
  • Henry & Wolse continued Henry VII's policy of building links beyween the country and the court. Many local magnates and JPs were invited to attend court and participate in a ceremony of personally swearing allegiance to the King. The name of each man was recorded in a special book as a 'King's servant'.
  • The 'carrot' for those who received a position at court was the hope of further patronag. Some JPs did rise to the Privy Chamber of the Counsel. The 'stick' for those who disobeyed the rules, was to end up in the Court of Star Chamber.
  • Ralph Pexsall served Wolsey as clerk of the Crown in Chancery until 1522, then was appointed to local gvt. in Surrey, Berkshire and Devon. Wolsey's household was a training place for local government.
  • Wolsey used his powers in the Star Chamber to reduce alleged corruption and maladministration in the counties. Sir Robert Sheffield was a former member of the King's Counsel. He was brought before the Court of Star Chamber accused of aiding and abetting homicide. Sent to ToL.
2 of 20

Legal Reforms

  • As Lord Chancellor, Wolsey was well placed to reform the many abuses of the legal system. He was interested in the whole process of law making, despite his lack of legal training.
  • Wolsey had a greater impact on the work of the Court of Star Chamber, than he did in the Court of Chancery. Noblemen, because of their position were frequently able to avoid justice. In 1516, he put forward his principles that any crime should be punished, regardless of rank, and that justice should be cheap and impartial. He planned to use the Court of Star Chamber to acheive these --> number of cases rose from 20 to 120 pa.
  • When Wolsey prosecuted Henry Standish, Bishop of St Asaph for praemunire in the Star Chamber, he appeared to be getting revenge for a previous legal argument, won by the bishop.
  • Another criticism of the reforms is that Wolsey did not appear to plan ahead for the increased workload. He was unable to hear all the suits in Star Chamber. By 1529, the Court of Star Chamber had almost collapsed under the workload.
3 of 20

Financial management

  • Wolsey's most significant and lasting acheivements were in tax reform. The old system of a tenth and a fifteenth was inefficient as it raised insufficient income.
  • Wolsey aimed to replace these taxes with a directly-assessed subsidy. He was assisted by John Hales, a judge in the Court of Exchequer from 1522, who drafted the legislation for collection & assessment.
  • Taxpayers were assessed individually under oath by local officials. Every adult (except married women) had to be assessed, but only those whose incomes exceeded a prescribed limit had to pay tax.
  • The reform of the tax system caused problems because many of the propertied classes (those hit most by the new assessments) resented the new subsidy assessments.
  • In 1523, parliament voted subsidy at 4 shillings in the £ on goods and land, but eventually less than half of the anticipated £800,000 was raised. Even worse, the susbisdy was collected in instalments. There was growing resistance when the second instalment was due in February 1925.
4 of 20

The Amicable Grant, 1525

  • In 1525, Wolsey had to raise money to pay for the war against France but he did not want to risk calling a new parliament to grant a subsidy, as they had already raised one the year before - 1523 subsidy was still being collected.
  • Wolsey raised a non-parliamentary tax called the Amicable Grant, to appeal to patriotic sentiments. Tax payers did not receive the demand amicably, but rebelled at the imposition of a forced loan. Wolsey backtracked and simply requested a 'voluntary' contribution from selected tax payers to the crown.
  • The most serious resistance was in Suffolk, where 10,000 men took part in a very serious uprising which threatened to spread to the nearby counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire.
  • The King had wanted the money for the war, but Wolsey was left to take the blame.
  • The resistance to the Amicable Grant was the most serious breakdown in law and order in England whilst Wolsey was serving Henry - for most of the time the country was at peace.
5 of 20

Relations with parliament

  • Wolsey did not prove adept at managing parliament and only called two parliaments. In 1515 and 1523.
  • The 1515 parliament was dominated by worries over Church affairs in the aftermath of the Hunne case (charged with heresy in Ldn - 1514. Refused to pay the standard mortuary fee for the death of his baby). The discussion was so intense that Wosley dismissed parliament efore it even voted on its taxation.
  • The 1523 parliament was overshadowed by the need to raise funds to fight the war in France. As chief minister, Wolsey chose to go to parliament to persuade the House of Commons into voting the subsidy. The speaker, Thomas More, remininded Wolsey that he had no constitutional right to enter the commons.
  • Relations between Wolsey and parliament were so butter that Wolsey avoided calling a meeting. In 1525, he chose, instead to raise additional revenue by the ill-fated Amicable Grant.
6 of 20


  • Tudor England suffered from serius economic problems. There was poverty, high prices, unemployment, crime and depopulation. The cause of these was the increase in population from its late medieval low point.
  • Humanists like Wolsey and Thomas More believed that one task of government was to find remedies to these economic problems. However they did not understand the population increase, and instead blamed the problems on the enclosure of fields.
  • The enclosure of open fields and common lands was therefore perceived as evil.
  • Government had already passed laws to restrict enclosure in the past (1489, 1514, 1515). In 1517, Wolsey launched an enquiry as to how effective the previous legislation had been.
  • In 1523 he agreed to suspend his enclosure policy, unpopular with landowning MPs, in order to secure their support for the parliamentary subsidy to fight the war against France. 
  • He also granted amnesty for landowners who had enclosed land which led to discussions over whether he was against enclosure only to weaken wealthy opponents. 
7 of 20


  • Wolsey stated a desire to resolve other social evils besides enclosure. In particular, he wished to protect ordinary people from extortionate overcharging for basic food.
  • He dealt with food racketeers from the Court of Star Chamber. 
  • In 1518 he fixed poultry prices in London and investigated the scarcity of other meats.
  • He issued proclamations against grain dealers who profiteered in grain. However, he did little to enforce these measures.
  • In 1520, six grain speculators were brought before him but he referred the cases back to their local justices, claiming he was too busy. 
8 of 20

Foreign policies

  • The King of France persistently tried & failed to win control over Naples, Sicily and Milan. All Henry could do in terms of France was to invade from the north, usually with the help of the Duke of Burgundy, to put pressure on the French gvt.
  • The defining point in foreign relations came in 1519, when Charles Hapsburg was elected as Holy Roman Emperor combining that role with his existing powers as King of Spain and Duke of Burgundy. 
  • English economic interests were much more tied to the Hapsburgs because English cloth trade depended on the markets of the duchy of Burgundy.
  • A restriction on foreign policy was that it always had an impact on domestic issues. Henry VIII wanted to become a warrior king, but there was little support in England for war. 
9 of 20

Relations with France to 1521

  • Henry dreamed of war against France to reclaim the ancient right of English kings to the throne of France The anti-war faction in the Counsel had the early advantage. Archbishop Warham and Richard Fox advised the King to; secure a peace treaty with France in March 1510 and discuss the possibilities of war with Counsel in 1511 & then discard the proposal as dangerous & expensive.
  • From 1511 however, the pro-war faction led by the Earl of Surrey became more popular. There are several reasons for this:
  • a) By 1511, Surrey had won the argument in favour of war in Counsel.
  • b) Catherine of Aragon encouraged her husband to declare war against France. She knew such action would reinforce her father's position. 
  • c) One of the key anti-war campaigners, Margaret Beaufort, died a few months after her son. This was useful to both HVIII and Wolsey. 
  • d) The international situation changed. The League of Cambrai formed in 1508 by the Pope to attack Venice had been too successful. The French in particular had success in northern Italy, and the Pope now saw the French as a threat. He resumed his previous policy of playing off France and Spain against each other by forming the Holy League in 1511 (papal, Spanish & Venetian alliance against France, which England joined in November 1511). 
10 of 20

Relations with France to 1521 (2)

  • The Holy League was diplomatic preparation for Henry VIII's first war against France. By 1513, he also had alliance with Maximilian. The war eventually provided Henry with several desired victories in northern France but proved to be a short-lived success. In 1514, Henry was deserted by both his allies, Ferdinand and Maximilian and so had to make terms with France. 

The war against France:

  • By 1512, Henry was in a position to move towards a declaration of war against France by restating the ancient claim of the King of England to the kingdom of France. 
  • He called his second parliament to approve a subsidy to war. The war had two phases: it begun badly but then became much more successful after the project was re-engineered by Wolsey.
11 of 20

The war against France

Phase 1: to April 1513

  • Henry was guided by father-in-law Ferdinand of Spain under whose guidance he sent an expedition, led by the Marquis of Dorset, to help the Spanish. 
  • The English army landed near Bayonne in south-west France but proved ill-disciplined and achieved little more than to distract the French while Ferdinand achieved his objective of taking Navarre. 
  • Meanwhile, Henry's army was defeated and Admiral Edward Howard, one of Henry's close friends, was killed. 

Phase 2: to August 1514

  • Wolsey prepared and equipped a new army of 30,000 men to be led by the King himself when it set out from Dover bound for Calais. This time the army was allied to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian, so advanced towards Flanders capturing the French fortress of Therouanne which was a threat to Max's territories in the Netherlands. 
  • A French resistance force was easily defeated in a battle later called 'The Battle of the Spurs'. Soon after the English successfully captured Tournai.The war in France continued after the King's departure, but proved costly. 
12 of 20

Anglo-French relations after 1514

  • Anglo-French relations remained tense for several reasons; 
  • The accession of Francis I in 1515 brought another 'young gun' to European politics who Henry VIII considered a rival. The Pope immediately feared further French aggression in Italy and appealed to his ally, Henry VIII, for support.
  • Francis soon confirmed his status as a dynastic power in Europe. By September 1515, he had won a sweeping victory over the reputedly invincible Swiss at the Battle of Marignano in 1515, forced a treaty on the Pope, taken control of Milan and forced Queen Margaret to flee from Scotland. 
  • Wolsey searched depserately for allies, but failed. At this time, the European powers were engaged in extensive treaty making. Maximilian made peace with Francis I. England was isolated and diplomatically insignificant. 
  • Wolsey seized the moment and organised the Treaty of London in 1518. Made possible by Pope Leo X who called for peace between warring states of Europe. Wolsey jumped on the papal bandwagon and suggested this could be in the form of an Anglo-French peace treaty strengthened by a non-aggression pact signed by the other nations. 
  • The improvement in Anglo-French relations was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.
13 of 20

Relations with the Holy Roman Empire to 1521

  • Henry had built an alliance with Maximilian in 1513 and co-operated with the emperor during the first war against France. Anglo-Imperial relations remained on a steady footing and Max was one of the participants in the Treaty of London - however his death three months later undermined the principles of peace. 
  • The election of Charles V to the title Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 created an empire large enough to challenge France. Wolsey had to work hard to preserve relations with Charles V, meeting him twice in 1520. 
  • Henry was enthusiastic about the Hapsburg alliance, which he planned to seal with marriage between Princess Mary and Charles V. 
  • Over the period of time leading up to 1521, England moved closer to an alliance with the emperor and towards a declaration of war against France. 
14 of 20

English response to Hapsburg-Valois wars

  • Francis I declared war on Charles V in April 1521 by invading Luxembourg.
  • In August 1521, a conference was called at Calais, attended by representatives from France and the Empire, to find a way to avoid further conflict - Wolsey was chosen as international peacemaker to negotiate a peace deal, though both sides were playing for time.
  • England had to choose - ally to Hapsburg (Charles) or Valois (Francis). 
  • While the Calais conference was underway, Wolsey attended the Secret Treaty of Bruges, where he agreed with Charles to declare war on France if Francis refused to make peace. This treaty would be kept quiet until Francis had paid the next instalment of the French pension, after which Charles agreed to compensate England for pension payments lost during the war. 
  • In 1522, England declared war on France. By this time it became clear that Charles was more interested in fighting in northern Italy, especially after he recovered MIlan. 
15 of 20

English response to Hapsburg-Valois wars (2)

  • In 1523, the Duke of Bourbon (powerful French noble) raised troops against Francis. Plans were drawn up for a three-pronged attack on Paris by the Dukes of Suffolk and Bourbon, and imperial forces from the Netherlands.
  • Only Suffolk came close to Paris but was abandoned by his allies so had to return to England in disarray. Henry lost interest in the war and Wolsey returned to negotiations. 
  • Between the autumn of 1523 and early 1525, Wolsey made no positive contribution to the Hapsbury-Valois wars. He resisted Charles V's requests to send another English army to northern France while he opened secret negotiations with the French although these achieved little. 
  • Charles V knew that his ally, Henry, was likely to desert him. 
16 of 20

Diplomatic revolution: English response to the war

  • Until 1525, Wolsey had pursued the traditional line in English foreign relations - pro-Imperial (HRE) and anti-French. However from 1525, the alliance with Charles V did not serve English interests. Wolsey sought an Anglo-French alliance, which was risky because many Englishmen opposed this new direction. 
  • By 1525, Wolsey had opened negotiations for peace with France and this led to the Treaty of the More. 
  • The creation of the anti-Hapsburg League of Cognac in 1526 confirmed the shift in diplomatic policy. The League included France and the Italian states (Venice, Pope, Florence, Duke of Milan). 
  • The diplomatic revolution was more marked in 1527 when Charles had control over the Pope and it became clear that the Pope was not going to grant the divorce. 
  • Firstly, he signed the Treaty of Westminster which declared peace between England and France, with plans for Francis to marry Princess Mary. Later in the same year, Wolsey signed the Treaty of Amiens, an Anglo-French agreement to attack Charles V.
17 of 20

Diplomatic revolution: English response to the war

  • In January 1528, England declared war on Charles V. Wolsey imposed a trade embargo on the English cloth trade with Burgundy, as Henry VII had done, planning to put pressure on Charles to negotiate. In retaliation, Charles V ordered English merchants to be held hostage. 
  • The trade embargo led to widespread unemployment in England. Wolsey had no choice but to remove the embargo.
  • The 'Ladies' Peace' of 1529 also known as the Treaty of Cambrai, was negotiated by Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy to settle the conflict between France, the Empire and the Pope. The Treaty excluded English interests, leaving England diplomatically isolated, and therefore unable to influence negotiations between Charles and Francis. This Treaty confirmed Charles' victory over Henry VIII.
  • This diplomatic revolution was pushed through by the King. Wolsey preferred to be flexible; to keep his options open and to negotiate both with Francis and Charles. 
18 of 20

Relations with the papacy

  • Henry VIII had good relations with the papacy until their disagreement over the annulment of the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. 
  • Some historians (Alan Pollard writing in 1929), argued that Wolsey, as cardinal and papal legate, actually conducted foreign relations in the interests of the Pope. Pollard also argued that Wolsey was ambitious and aspired to become Pope himself. 
  • Later historians have revised this view after examining Wolsey's immense efforts at securing the annulment for Henry and Catherine, despite prolonged Papal opposition, and have concluded that Wolsey really did put the King's interests before those of the Pope. 
19 of 20

Relations with Scotland

  • Scotland remained a great threat to Henry VIII because of its traditional alliance with France, since the majority of Henry's foreign policy was anti-French. 
  • James IV was married to Henry's sister Margaret but this did not secure his loyalty to the English monarch.
  • James had a history of supporting anti-Tudor impostors so there was little surprise that he intervened in the Anglo-French war in 1512 when a Scottish army marched on England with the intention of diverting English troops from France. This proved disastrous when the Scottish army was routed and King James killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.
  • The new king of Scotland, James V, was only 17 months old. Queen Margaret initially became Lord Protector, but she had little support among Scottish nobles who were advised by Francis I to resist her. She handed the job over to the Duke of Albany - cousin to the young King. 
  • When Henry prepared for the second war against France in 1523, he tried to remove the threat of the Scots by offering them a 16-year truce and marriage between James V and Princess Mary, provided that Albany was removed. The Scots refused so Henry sent an English army to ravage the borders.
  • After 1525, there were friendly relations between England and Scotland. James V was now old enough to rule & French defeated in Battle of Pavia in 1525.
20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all British monarchy - Tudors and Stuarts resources »