Having previously covered some aspects of the foreign policy of Henry VII, I considered how successful he was during his twenty-four year reign from 1485 to 1509. In 1507, toward the end of his reign – and in relative security from earlier crises – Henry spoke to the City of London:
‘This our realm is now environed, and, in manner, closed in every side with such mighty princes our good sons, friends, confederates and allies, that by the help of our Lord the same is and shall be perpetually established in rest and peace and wealthy condition.’
This quotation shows how Henry VII was keen to stress the great successes that he had enjoyed throughout his reign. From fighting for the throne at Bosworth in 1485, to defeating the various rebellions and pretenders, Henry was able to establish the Tudors as the legitimate dynasty on the English throne.
This “environed realm” that he speaks of refers to the safety and security that the Tudors felt by the late 1500s. So, how about a straightforward list of the “pros” and “cons” of Henry VII’s foreign policy in order to assess just how strong the English realm was by 1507.
- Peace with France: Henry VII’s involvement in the Breton Crisis threatened to bring about a ruinous war, however, he ended it with the Treaty of Etaples that brought security and a nice pension.
- Peace with Scotland: his relationship with the Scottish was uneasy for the first decade; then, in 1496, the Scottish under James IV invaded the north of England and stated that they supported the claim of Perkin Warbeck. Henry managed to come to an agreement with James which led to the Treaty of Ayton in 1497; part of the deal was his eldest daughter, Margaret, marrying the Scottish king.
- Alliance with Spain: arguably Henry’s most effective treaty was the one he signed with Spain in 1489 (Medina del Campo). Spain was a rising power and Henry obtained a strong partner, leading to the marriage agreement between his eldest son, Arthur, and Catherine of Aragon.
- Magnus Intercursus: the so-called “Great Settlement” with Burgundy was the result of a three-year trade war which Henry waged due to their support of Perkin Warbeck. This treaty ended that support and also boosted English trade.
However, what of the failures:
- Failure to boost trade: despite attempts to break the power of the Hanseatic League, Henry realised that England’s might was not enough to dictate trade in the Baltic and the North Sea.
- Wasted opportunities: John Cabot’s voyage to the New World to find a North-West Passage to Asia was funded, however, once this turned to disaster (Cabot was never seen again) Henry did not agree to further ventures. Arguably this set imperial designs back by half-a-century, with the English only venturing into the New World in the Elizabethan era.
- The “Spanish Gamble”: in 1506, Henry supported the claim of Philip of Burgundy to the Spanish throne. However, Philip died, thereby leaving Ferdinand in control of the Spanish kingdom. His former friend was turned into an annoyed rival, and if Henry had lived for more years this could have proved difficult in his foreign policy.
The above bullet points are a summary and do not cover other issues or events, such as Henry’s relations with Ireland or the wider Holy Roman Empire. On the whole, his boasts to the City of London in 1507 are accurate: although Henry may have had his fingers burned with his gamble in 1506, his foreign policy was largely successful. However, it was a reactive policy rather than proactive; this risk averse approach was the cornerstone of his approach throughout his reign.