How successful was Henry VIII foreign policy.
On this question there are two opposite views. First, traditional, is that Henry’s and Wolsey’s foreign policy was a complete failure; it was short-sighted, naïve, anachronistic and way too expensive. As John Guy said in 1988, Wolsey ‘overreached himself in diplomacy’. The other view, in contrast, is that Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, although not reaching much success had a very practical, flexible and purposeful foreign policy. Witness for this view is Mandell Creighton who in 1888 said: ‘Wolsey had a capacity which amounted to genius’. However, in my opinion, both these views are extremes, stressing too much some fact or other in English foreign policy in 1509-1529.
The traditional view points out Henry’s most important failures and misfortunes in his foreign policy. First of all, Henry VIII was unlucky in the war with France of 1512-14, as his army proved to be quite disorganized when he first went to battle in 1512. On the other hand, the Battle of Spurs was a triumph for Henry and Wolsey, as they occupied the city of Tournai and the fortress of Therouanne. The traditional view, however, is that this battle was of little importance to the whole English foreign policy and was soon forgotten. But it can’t be denied that this battle proved to be helpful for the policy, as the occupied city and fortress were used for bargaining and therefore Henry was able to gain something out of it.
Sometimes Henry VIII is compared to Francis I, as both were young Renaissance kings, but French ruler proved to be much more fortunate and glorious than Henry. On the other hand, the King couldn’t be blamed for a worthy competition. But while it’s difficult to deny that, Henry was to blame for being unable to find an ally against Ferdinand, so in the end, England was isolated.
One of Wolsey’s greatest diplomatic achievements (if not the greatest one) was the Treaty of London in 1518, that was hijacked...
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