How Effective Was English Foreign Policy 1515 -1529

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 25 November 2016

How Effective Was English Foreign Policy 1515 -1529

How effective was English Foreign Policy by Eniola (Enny) Salau The English Foreign Policy from 1515 to 1528 can often be described as incoherent; this is because the aims of foreign policy from 1515 to 1529 kept altering due to the change in balance of power in Europe. This meant that for England to keep acting as the centre for European affair the foreign policy would have to keep changing. A result of this was that the foreign policy seemed ineffective due to lack of structure, the high costs, and few territorial acquisitions was the traditional opinion on the foreign policy that it was a failure. However with all of these mentioned factors the foreign policy could also have been seen as very effective. This was due to its ability to adapt to situations that arose in the period 1515 to 1529. If you break down this time period into smaller sections you can look at them individually and see where the foreign policy was effective on a smaller scale.

When looking at this way it is easier to get a bigger picture as to how effective the foreign policy actually was. Gaining international recognition and influence for England was a big part of Henry’s foreign policy; this was because England had not been an active part of European affairs since the end of the hundred year’s war in 1453. So with Henry’s ascension to the throne and wanting to make g his mark this was a very important factor on judging how effective the foreign policy was because this was one of the more consistent of the factors of the foreign policy from 1515 to 1529. An example was in 1513 Henry gained Tournai and Therouanne, this is a good example of how the foreign policy was effective as Tournai was a significant achievement as although it wasn’t a city of great economic or strategic importance it was internationally known therefore bringing England prestige, this would add to the international recognition got England.

The capture of Therouanne in the same year also meant that Henry was gaining an ally and this was another factor that links in with whether or not the foreign policy was effective. This was because with Therouanne once England captured Therouanne it was given to Maximilian who wanted it and then burnt to the ground. Connections with Maximilian due to this exchange would increase England’s international influence as he was now in the league of major personalities in European affairs. Also during England’s campaigns in 1512-13 Emperor Maximilian served under the English flag and pay. This would build up English influence as it would mean that countries less important than England would start to look towards England as a powerful force as it had been good enough for the Holy Roman Emperor.

This also links to personal glory and status of Henry during this period. Success at the Battle of the spurs and battle of Flodden in 1513 also increased England’s influence as it showed that England was eliminating enemies on the continent and those closer to home, showing that England was a powerful force even though she may not have been as powerful as countries such as England and France. During 1512 to 1513 the successful examples above shows that the foreign policy was very effective and did implement Henry’s aims. Although these examples also have negatives as territorial acquisition is a factor that can influence a country’s international recognition and influence as the more land you have the more powerful you were but due to what little territory was actually acquired with all the effort that was put in this made gaining international influence and recognition was a failure therefore making the foreign policy ineffective during 1512 – 13.

Contrastingly from 1518 to 1521 the foreign policy could be seen as effective in gaining international influence and recognition for England as in 1518 the Treaty of London gained international recognition for England as using the international influence gained from 1512-1513 England had been able to bring the twenty leading states of Europe together and make them adapt a policy of collective security and be at peace with one another. Henry and Wolsey also used this as an opportunity to gain more influence as the Treaty of London meant that they had removed some of the power from the Holy Roman Empire as it had originally been the Pope’s plan. The Bruges Treaty of 1521 showed that England’s influence had some a long way since 1512 as both France and the Holy Roman Empire had been bidding for English support. Although this period can also be seen as showing that the foreign policy had been ineffective in gaining England international recognition and influence as the land that had been gained (Tournai) was now being given away to France in the Treaty of London so nothing significant had been gained as it had been an exchange instead.

Overall the foreign policy was effective in gaining England international support and influence as this provided bargaining tools for the future but with hindsight the foreign policy didn’t actually gain much recognition and influence for England. Acquiring personal glory and status was a big part of Henry’s aims as he wanted to be seen as a chivalrous and valiant king. Examples of how the foreign policy was effective in succeeding this aim were in the Battle of Flodden 17th September 1513 and the Battle of the Spurs 16th August 1513. Henry had shown that his army could be victorious with and without him leading as he had such a powerful military this enhanced his own personal status that the Battle of Flodden had been won while he was on the campaign in France.

Although this can also be seen as a failure of the foreign policy as it showed that Henry wasn’t that successful a king as the battle of Flodden arranged and organised by his wife Catherine of Aragon, which removed the Scottish menace to England for years to come. This therefore upstaged Henry’s victory in the Battle of the Spurs was not a personal glory for him. The Field of Cloth of Gold was also an example of how Henry and Wolsey used the foreign policy to acquire personal glory and status. Even though it was not the most significant in terms of making policies and deals it did show that the Henry was at the same level as Francis I in 1520. This asserted England’s status in European affairs. Again in August 1525 in the Treaty of the More the agreement to receive pensions from the French meant added possible glory for Henry as in his campaign in 1513 he believed that he would be able to go back to France in 1514 and be crowned the King of France but due to a lack of funds he was unable to return.

This meant that the pensions that would be received as a result of the Treaty of the More could eventually lead to personal glory for England leading on to an elevated status. Although towards the end of this period in foreign policy all of England’s efforts to have increased glory an status appeared to be a waster as in 1529 in the League of Cambrai England became isolated as Francis 1 and Charles V had agreed to bring fighting to an end this meant that England could no longer act as an arbiter was no longer an equal to France like it had been during the Field of Cloth of Gold. Although during the later years of the foreign policy there were some successes such as the Treaty of Westminster in April 1527 which meant that there was a perpetual peace between England and France, Francis I had also agreed that either him or he’s second son would marry Mary I this would assert England’s status and give Henry a personal glory as he had made a useful connection and developed an alliance.

This would therefore make the foreign policy more effective in the later years. However incoherency of the foreign policy did dampen the glory of the later years of the foreign policy as in 1526 due to the League of Cognac Henry had agreed to fight Charles if he refused to join the peace, this meant that war was declared on France in 1528. England declared war but didn’t cut off trade as the profitability of the English cloth market was extremely dependent on the Flanders Cloth market. Due to this “double-play” situation England was left humiliated and so removing most of the status and glory that had been developed for England with the foreign policy from 1515 -1529. Generally the foreign policy was quite effective in acquiring personal glory and status as it meant that England wasn’t constantly working towards gaining more and even though they were losses they were equally matched with victories.

Gaining territory or control over France as mentioned in the theme of gaining international influence and recognition for England was a big issue for Henry as France was England’s traditional enemy, also Henry had wanted to revive the victories of Henry V and take back lands that he believed England held claim to. As we know a lot of Henry’s Foreign policy was based around going to war so this should have been a theme that the foreign policy was actively trying to make the most effective part of the foreign policy from 1515 to 1529. In the early Henry did manage to gain Tournai in 1513 which was internationally known and did act as a bargaining tool in the Anglo-French Treaty in 1518, as it was a result of this that France signed the Treaty of London. Therouanne was another acquired territory in 1513 but it was given away to Maximilian and burnt to the ground making it a waste of resources as they didn’t gain any extra land, but it did mean that Tournai was easier to capture as the people of Tournai feared Maximilain so believed it would be easier to give into England.

England also had the advantage of having funding to be able to attack France so as to be able to gain control and territory in France, for instance in 1523 parliament grating Wolsey money for the attack on France and the forced loans of 1522 and 1523 provided even more money. This should have meant that the foreign policy was very effective as England now had the funding to attack France which had been all that had stopped England in 1514. Although several things stood in England’s way for instance in 1515 when Francis I allowed the Duke of Albany to return to Scotland an replace Margaret as regent this removed the English influence in Scotland and also meant England’s two enemies were now linked causing a bigger threat an making England to lose control over them.

The failure of Bourbon in August 1523 to rally up support to rebel against Francis I ruined Henry and Wolsey’s chances of beating France. In this factor England’s successful alliance with Charles would have given England the chance to gain territory and control over France as when Charles defeated Francis at Pavia in 1525 Henry had wanted to gain some land but failed to due to the lack of things to actually offer to Charles in return as Charles no had everything he actually wanted. This was one of the least effective parts of the foreign policy from 1515 to 1529, this was because England didn’t gain any land but instead gave lots away and in doing so also gave away his right to attempt to gain these lands back, so England had made a loss with this factor in the way foreign policy had been set out in terms of gaining territory and control over France.

Managing the finance of the wars was one of the themes of the foreign policy for this time frame that can be seen as a failure as the cost of the wars and campaigns were just too expensive in comparison to what was actually got in return. This is because on average England had an income of about £110,000 while from 151 to 1525 Henry spent £1.4 million on warfare, this is made even worse by the fact that there was no real tangible gains at the end of 1529. Successes of being able to manage the finances were that there was always a place to draw money from for instance in the heavy parliamentary taxation in 1523-4 and the forced loans of 122 and 23; this meant that there wasn’t ever a massive shortage of money. This could also be seen a s a hindrance for Henry as this supply of money may have been the reason for him entering campaigns for the benefit of allies or even “potential” allies even if they didn’t have that great a benefit for England.

Also for Henry to be able to compete with countries such as France and the Holy Roman Empire he would need to spend like this. For instance France had an annual income of £350,000 while the Holy Roman Empire had an annual income of £560,000. Although this supply of money wasn’t always available, for instance, failure of the amicable grant in 1525 due to the taxpayers revolt. This was not an effective part of foreign policy as it did not make use of the supplies that had been provided for England, such as the money that had been saved by Henry VII. Making alliances was an important part of the foreign policy an ought to have been very effective this was because to do anything you usually need the support of other countries especially in the case of England where it was not the very strongest companies and the opponents were often stronger.

Overall Henry and Wolsey’s foreign policy didn’t make any alliances that were beneficial 100% of the time, but they did make several alliances that did benefit them most of the time. Although the alliances that were made did have advantages in the short term but not necessarily in the long term. Making alliances with almost all of the key players in Europe meant that the foreign policy in this time was very effective as it allowed Henry to get the most out of people around him. Examples of where Henry was able to successfully develop alliances was with the Treaty of London in 1518 Henry and Wolsey were able to get alliances with both Ferdinand and Charles by being an arbiter or peace, this meant that England was preventing being isolated and was using both leaders to England’s advantages.

The Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 was also important to making reliable alliances as even though it appeared that England was taking France’s side Henry and Wolsey had cleverly planned it by meeting Charles before the Field of Cloth of Gold and afterwards at Gravelines. Once again using both leaders to his advantage. Although this did affect how effective the foreign policy as the distrust built up between Henry and alliances meant that in the future when Henry wanted something from the allies they could very easily turn on him like after Pavia in 1525 when Charles didn’t give Henry parts of France even though they were allies at the time and it was what Henry had wanted. Henry also used his alliances to get money and gain a position of neutrality. Where the foreign policy failed to make reliable alliances was with the Treaty of Cambrai in 1517 where an agreement was made between France and Charles meaning that everything Henry had tried to avoid had happened.

The switching of alliances was also a way of preventing one power or country becoming extremely powerful and being able to rule all so setting them off against each other and never permanently assigning themselves to one or the other meant that England was able to keep the balance of power spread and not heavily based around one country. Getting Henry a divorce was one of the more personal aspects of the foreign policy, this was because the divorce had more negative effects for England than it did positive effects yet it was what Henry wanted. The foreign policy was effective in getting Henry closer towards getting a divorce as after the Treaty of London in 1518 Henry was held high up in the church and was a Papal Legate therefore he could influence the Pope’s decision or at least try and get the divorce solved in a way that would benefit Henry such as having the case solved in England.

Henry’s alliance with Charles who was the Holy Roman Emperor could help him, although this didn’t go to plan as the foreign policy failed to help Henry get a divorce as Charles was Catherine of Aragon’s nephew and was therefore opposed to the divorce and would therefore do anything to stop it. After the sack of Rome in 1527 the Pope was under Charles’ power, so therefore unlikely to grant the annulment for Henry against Charles’ wishes. Also toe Pope wasn’t in support of Henry after he stole the idea for the Treaty of London right from underneath him in 1520. This is an example of how although the foreign policy was ineffective as all of the effort sometimes amounted to nothing.

In conclusion I believe that the fact that Henry was struggling to get a divorce is a good example to summaries why the foreign policy was ineffective this was because due to the unreliable allies and the constant drive for international influence an recognition Henry had failed to develop political friendships that he so desperately needed when it came to personal matter like the divorce. It was also the incoherency of the foreign policy that added to this.

Although the foreign policy couldn’t be dismissed as being totally ineffective even though it did put very extreme stains on resources such as money with the heavy expenditure on warfare, it did result in the most manipulative and beneficial way to run a country of England’s size and status without getting too actively involved as the tense relationship between Francis I and Charles V made it very difficult to hold a position of neutrality. The foreign policy was effective on the short term as it did more than once give useful results; the advantage of this was that it meant that if there was a problem, with the foreign policy it could be easily adapted to benefit England. Therefore the incoherency and lack of structure in the foreign policy for England led to a policy that was best suited to the ever changing centre of power for Europe from 1515 to 1529.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 25 November 2016

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