As many readers of this blog will well know, my love for Henry VII runs deep; as evidenced in the various posts about his problems with various rebellions, including the forgotten pretender Ralph Wilford, whilst attempting to compare Henry to the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen, as well as being the chief character of one my shambolic plays: ‘The Death of Henry VII’. Furthermore, the last post in the War World Cup series also concentrated on Henry VII, with a focus on the so-called Breton Crisis of the early years of his reign. Yes, I admit it: I am a big fan. A “Henry-addict”, if you will.
The last post about the Breton Crisis concluded that even though Henry VII lost Brittany to an enlarged France he ultimately achieved his goals:
the enlargement of France was – in many ways – inevitable. Perhaps Henry knew this, and therefore he looked to seize the initiative by utilising the unfavourable situation to his advantage. He ended 1492 safer on the English throne and with more money in his pocket. Furthermore, the French were never an issue or problem again during his reign. All in all, a good bit of business (hence the 1-0 scoreline to the English).
Yes, a victory for Henry when one considers the small means at his disposal. However, despite obtaining the support of France (who would not trouble England again until the early years of Henry VIII two decades later), Henry continued his reactive foreign policy throughout the 1490s. This defensive approach concentrated on obtaining the support of foreign monarchs to cement the Tudor name on the English throne, whilst also exposing and removing Yorkist pretenders (notably that of Perkin Warbeck). The Treaty of Etaples of 1492 removed any French support for Warbeck, however, Warbeck himself remained at large and continued to create anxiety due to his jumps from court to court across Europe.
However, Warbeck’s arrival in Scotland in 1495 destabilised the Anglo-Scottish relationship. The Scottish King – James IV – was a young man and wanted to establish himself as a warrior king of note, as shown in the huge amounts spent on weaponry. The arrival of Perkin Warbeck – the man who pretended to be the rightful English king Richard (one of the Princes in the Tower) – provided James with the excuse to create a war against England. Warbeck was paid a handsome pension and even married James’ cousin (Lady Catherine Gordon), all of which spelt news for Henry.
In September 1496 the Scottish army invaded northern England, however, James lust for glory on the battlefield wasn’t fulfilled: the army ran out of resources and retreated. The hope of people rising for Warbeck didn’t happen and James realised that Warbeck himself wasn’t as valuable an asset as he initially believed. Henry was quick to retaliate: he built a large army and sent up the Early of Surrey to extinguish the threat. James removed all support for Warbeck (who would return to Ireland before ending his travels in the south-west of England in 1497) and a new agreement was reached between the two kings. The 1497 Treaty of Ayton confirmed peace, with Henry agreeing to marry off his daughter Margaret to James, thereby strengthening the bonds between both countries.
As with the Breton Crisis, this conflict highlights Henry’s reactive foreign policy: with limited means at his disposal he would gladly accept peace just as long as foreign monarchs recognised his hold on the throne. The Tudors themselves were impostors, a fact that Henry was always aware of; his canny navigation through dangerous waters ended in a successful passing of the throne to his son Henry VIII in 1509, and with England in a much stronger position.
To attempt a football analogy, Henry VII’s equivalent would be Jose Mourinho: both employed reactive, defensive tactics, and both were very successful in such tactics. If we were to imagine Henry VII as a football coach in the dugout he might just well endorse Mourinho’s own philosophy:
‘There are lots of poets in football but poets don’t win titles.’
It is interesting to imagine just how Henry VII would have fared if he had a more confident, united country at his disposal: perhaps he would have been more ambitious with his foreign policy and relations with other monarchs. However, even Mourinho himself retained a defensive, reactive philosophy even when in charge of one of the world’s richest football clubs at Manchester United from 2016-2018. Perhaps Henry’s own risk-adverse approach was melded into his DNA, especially when considering the earlier experiences of his life when living in Brittany as a somewhat forgotten and poor noble.
So, the Scottish War of 1496-97 failed to live up to the billing as a full-blown war: it was a small invasion that collapsed in a matter of weeks. There is an argument to suggest that Henry could have directed a full on avenging invasion of Scotland in 1497 – even despite dealing with the problem of the Cornish Rebellion of that summer – however, he was wise enough to ensure that he did not become embroiled in a mess north of the border. He wanted a settlement with James, and this is exactly what he achieved. All of this makes for a rather dull stalemate, however, Henry ultimately achieved what he set out to achieve.