Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Question from Deb - Henry VIII in battle

I know have read that Henry VII was an active participant in the battle at Bosworth Field, fighting among his soldiers. Does anyone know if Henry VIII every took part in a battle? Did he actually fight alongside his soldiers or did he hang back to ensure his safety - being the king and all.

3 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Henry VIII was present at the Battle of the Spurs in the Low Countries in 1513, but I do not think he actually led any charges or participated in the front lines. Unlike his father Henry VII at Bosworth, Henry VIII's personal future and life were not dependent on the outcome of the Battle of the Spurs (though of course his pride and prestige were). I therefore suspect that he remained far enough back from the front to be essentially safe from injury, but close enough in to be able to claim that he was an active participant and not merely a rear observer. The ODNB, however, states that the Battle of the Spurs was "a skirmish fought in [Henry's] absence."

For the remainder of Henry's reign, he was either entirely absent from the vicinity of a given battle, or the event was a seige rather than a pitched battle.

I suspect that Henry's aggressive policy toward France throughout his reign was engendered in part by a frustrated desire to become the Tudor embodiment of the medieval warrior-king. (Oddly similar to one modern world leader@)

Foose said...

Henry and his advisors may also have been aware during his first campaign that he had no direct male heir, the Tudor dynasty was still fairly new, and that hazarding his person in open battle could be extremely risky not just for him, but for England.

His own brother-in-law James IV of Scotland was killed leading his army, with the result that Scotland experienced severe factional conflict and considerable interference by the English during the minority of his son. King Sebastian of Portugal, later in the century, went on crusade in North Africa and never came back; he had no direct male heir and the result was that his uncle Philip II of Spain was able to bring Portugal under Spanish rule.

Even if the king were not killed, there was the risk of capture; Francis I of France surrendered to the Emperor at Pavia in 1525, was imprisoned in Spain for several years, and was ultimately forced to surrender the duchy of Burgundy by treaty to the Imperials (he later reneged on this) as well as pay a huge ransom.

The risk continued even after Henry's children were born; first two daughters, comparatively useless as heirs, and then Edward. When Henry invaded France in the 1540s, he was really too old and decrepit to fight in battle; but again, he could not afford to expose himself to capture or death when the sole heir was a child.

Foose said...

Just as a followup, I've gotten my paws on John Schofield's new The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell.

In 1523, as a Member of Parliament, Cromwell made an interesting speech pertinent to thsi question. Henry VIII was planning to invade France, and while Cromwell admitted Henry's "'good and just' title to the throne of France ... he had heard something that 'putteth me in no small agony' -- our most gracious sovereign intended to take the field in person.'"

"'Which thing I pray God for my part never to see." Cromwell begged his audience's pardon, but 'he cannot consent to obey' for fear of the calamity that might befall the realm should any harm come to the king. For his subjects' sake, his kingdom's sake, and especially for the sake of his 'dear and only daughter' -- for upon her, next only to the king, 'dependeth all our wealth' -- Cromwell appealed to Henry to restrain his undoubted courage and zeal for a just cause, and remain within his own realm."

Cromwell was part of Wolsey's household at the time. I don't think he would have made this speech unless it was approved by Wolsey. Regarding the king's point of view, I don't know. Schofield's idea is that the speech was not designed to flatter Henry, but the effect might have been the same by suggesting that the king would automatically take the field.

However, also interesting is Schofield's contention that the speech shows that Princess Mary being the king's (female) heir was not seen as a problem at that time.