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Wolsey’s Foreign Policy Essay

On one hand Thomas Wolsey’s foreign policy from 1515-29 was successful because he managed to get most of Europe to agree on perpetual peace which had previously been very difficult. This was what Wolsey’s Foreign policy was all about; acting as a mediator between other countries and gaining respect and prestige so this was a great success. In 1518 Wolsey hosted a great conference in London which representatives of the majority of European powers, including Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, attended and agreed to peace in Europe.

Furthermore with the signing of the Treaty by the Pope London became the centre of Christian Europe and meant Wolsey gained support from the Pope, resulting in future ambitions to become Pope, although these did not materialise. Wolsey’s foreign policy during this period was also successful because he managed to adapt to the changing situation in Europe thus keeping England in a position of relative strength. For example after Charles V’s victory over Francis I at Pavia in 1525 Charles V turned down Henry 8th’s idea to split France between them.

Instead of doing nothing Wolsey formed an alliance with France in August 1525 therefore changing sides and this led to the League of Cognac in May 1526 where there was a diplomatic revolution against Charles V from England, France, the Pope, Venice, Milan and Florence. This proves not only that Wolsey wanted to maintain peace in Europe and keep the balance of power but also that he was able to gain support from European powers and increase England’s standing in Europe.

However Wolsey’s foreign policy was not successful in this period because England was often humiliated by other powers and shown to be a minor player in Europe. A strong example of this was in 1516 when Charles V replaced Ferdinand of Spain and proceeded to make peace with France at Noyon. Wolsey’s attempt to set up a league against France had failed and also meant that England was threatened by a growing power from Europe.

Wolsey’s embarrassment continued in 1517 when the HRE took 40,000 florins from Wolsey to defend Verona from Venice but then sold it for 20,000 florins! Wolsey had failed to launch a new attack against France and also failed to get France out of Northern Italy. As a result of these events England had been humiliated, snubbed and isolated and Spain had gained further power. This meant that England gained no prestige and the balance of power in Europe had changed once more, thus making this a great foreign policy failure.

Wolsey’s foreign policy was also a failure because he failed to get Henry 8th a divorce from Catherine of Aragon which angered Henry and was the beginning of the end as far as Wolsey’s career was concerned. In 1527 Charles V captured the Pope and since Catherine of Aragon was Charles V’s aunt this made divorce virtually impossible, while also putting Charles in a position of strength and meaning that Wolsey and Henry had to act. Wolsey set himself up as Deputy Pope of France and invited the cardinals to Compiegne, however only 4 turned up meaning that Henry had to declare war on Charles V.

The South of England refused to pay any taxes to fund the war and Wolsey’s allies were weak and unreliable, as shown at Compiegne. Wolsey therefore was no longer of use. In conclusion Wolsey had some foreign policy successes such as the 1518 Treaty of London but these were far outweighed by the failures in Europe such as 1516 and 1517 when England was snubbed and humiliated by stronger powers. Above all Wolsey failed to get Henry 8th the divorce he craved and this explains why Henry turned on Wolsey after 1527.


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