Thursday, February 11, 2016

Question from Cameren - English power in Europe during the Tudor period

I'm writing an essay on the Tudor dynasty and need to know how England asserted itself as the dominant power in Europe during the Tudor dynasty. All answers welcome(especially correct one).

[I discourage people just giving answers to homework questions like this, but I thought the general question was interesting and could prompt an informative discussion, especially since I don't think that England generally really is considered a dominant power in that period. - Lara]

6 comments:

PhD Historian said...

I must agree with you, Lara, that England was not a dominant power in Europe in the sixteenth century. Henry VIII postured mightily in an effort to make it appear so, but it was mostly just show. Even during the long reign of Elizabeth I, England was still not able to climb to the top of the power pyramid. England would not become a "dominant" European power until the eighteenth century.

During the Henrician period, Spain was the dominant power. The Spanish King Charles I was also the Holy Roman Emperor, as Charles V. He thus had control over a vast amount of European territory, including Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, much of the Italian peninsula, much of what is now Austria and Hungary, and portions of Germany.

France was of course the other dominant power.

England was at best a distant third, if the Scandinavian and Slavic states are excluded (as they usually are, most improperly).

Foose said...

There's a semi-famous Papal Order of Precedence chart dating from 1504, ranking the various European powers, that historians have referred to when considering this question. It was thought to be official for a long time, but turns out to be from the diary of the Papal Master of Ceremonies to Julius II - an "unofficial estimate of the rank of various states and their rulers which, however, may reflect the contemporary perception of the structure and order of the Christian community of nations." (Fontes Historiae Iuris Gentium, 1995, Wilhelm G. Grewe, ed.)

Ordo Regum (Order of Kings)
◦Imperator (Holy Roman Emperor)
◦Rex Romanorum (King of the Romans, the Emperor's heir)
◦Rex Franciae (King of France)
◦Rex Hispaniae (King of Spain; differentiated perhaps from the King of Aragon directly below because Queen Isabella of Castile died in 1504, leaving her kingdom to her daughter while her husband continued to rule Aragon)
◦Rex Aragoniae (King of Aragon)
◦Rex Portugalliae (King of Portugal)
◦Rex Angliae (discors cum tribus predictis) (King of England; the Latin note means "in dispute with the preceding three as to dignity”)
◦Rex Siciliae (contendit cum Rege Portugalliae) (King of Sicily; the Latin note means Sicily contests precedence with the king of Portugal)
◦Rex Scotiae et Rex Ungariae (inter se discordes) (Kings of Scotland and Hungary, disputing their precedence)
◦Rex Navarrae (King of Navarre)
◦Rex Cipri (King of Cyprus)
◦Rex Boemiae (King of Bohemia)
◦Rex Poloniae (King of Poland)
◦Rex Daniae (King of Denmark)

So England was about seventh, but inclined to argue about it, as PhD Historian argues above. I'm not sure what the criteria for the list were - probably a contemporary estimate of the power, wealth, and ability to project influence. England might have ranked higher in a 14th-century estimate, after the French defeats at Crecy and Poitiers. Cyprus should have evaporated from the list in 1489, when Venice annexed it, but the king's widow was still alive, so maybe the Papacy was keeping the question open and refusing to confirm the annexation (or maybe it was just to annoy the Venetians, with whom Pope Julius quarreled periodically).

On the other hand, there might be a religious dimension to the ranking - the Emperor, guardian of the Church, and his heir rank at the top, followed by France, traditionally considered the "eldest daughter of the Church."

There's a subsequent ranking for Europe's independent dukes, including Brittany, Burgundy, Savoy, etc.

Lara Eakins said...

That's fascinating - thanks Foose!!

PhD Historian said...

Foose, the list to which you refer was based on nothing more than ceremonial precedence and social prestige, obsessions among courtiers at any court, even today. It actually had nothing to do with perceptions of political power or wealth.

One can see that in the list itself. The Holy Roman Emperor (HRE) held the most prestigious title since emperors outrank kings. The HRE is thus at the top of the list. And HREs were traditionally crowned by the Pope himself, a marker of the prestige of the title. And of course the HRE's heir would come second in the pecking order. France takes third because the French crown was among the most ancient, dating to the 5th century. The Spanish crown was quite “new,” having originated at the end of the 15th century, but because the Spanish monarch was also titled "Most Catholic," it got to leap up the social ladder a bit, at least at the Papal court. That, and the Pope from 1492 to the end of 1503 was himself a Spaniard (Alexander VI), so that the Spanish enjoyed great favor in the Papal Curia. The crowns of Aragon and Portugal both originated in the middle of the 12th century, but the closer ties between those countries and the Papacy afforded them greater precedence than the older (11th century) English crown. Yet in terms of political power and military might, England outranked Portugal certainly, and perhaps Aragon as well if that realm is considered individually and not as part of a greater Spain.

A perfect example of this reliance on precedence and prestige of title in compiling the list can be seen in the origins of the title "King of Ireland." Prior to 1541, the King of England was styled simply "Lord of Ireland." But in that year, Henry VIII had the Irish Parliament pass an act creating the title King of Ireland. Henry thus became a king in two realms. And he began referring to himself as an "Imperial" monarch and to England as an “imperial realm,” since emperors commonly reign over multiple separate kingdoms (the HRE in 1504 was Maximilian I, who was simultaneously governing Duke of Burgundy, King of the Romans, King of Germany, King of Hungary, and more). This is also the point at which the English crown assumed the double arches across the top, double arches being associated with imperial crowns rather than mere kingly ones. Likewise, it is the point at which the form of address “His/Your Majesty” rather than “His/Your Grace” began to be used with much greater frequency when referring to the English monarch. In Henry’s case, he was trying to make himself equal in social precedence to the HRE Charles V and to the French King Francis I (Frances could claim imperial status owing to his control over certain quasi-independent territories in what is now France and over certain Italian territories).

We still see the same thing in the modern English or UK context. Recall the recent squabbles over Camilla’s court precedence. Traditionally, as a second (and perhaps morganatic) wife and a “mere” Duchess of Cornwall, she should be outranked by the Duchess of Cambridge, who, although she too is a “just” a duchess, is a first wife to an heir and (more importantly) mother of the heir’s heir. Yet the Queen decreed some time ago that Camilla should enjoy higher precedence than Katherine, largely so that she can be at Charles’s side in court ceremonials (e.g.: State Opening of Parliament) rather than being relegated to some position away from Charles and behind William and Katherine. It is all about who is more socially important and who gets to walk in front of whom, not who is most powerful or most wealthy.

Foose said...

Yes, I wouldn't disagree with you on the question of Spain's or France's status, PhD Historian. I have to argue the case of Portugal, though. Although on the periphery of Europe, in 1504 it was enormously wealthy from the revenues flowing in from the Indies, with its ruler hailed as the "king of Spice," whereas England was painfully recovering from a half-century of civil war and a disrupted economy. In 1525 the king of Portugal was able to dower his sister with a million ducats in hard cash - a key consideration that led the Emperor to break off his engagement to Mary Tudor and marry Isabella of Portugal (although there were geographically strategic reasons as well). So I don't think England was considered to be a power clearly superior to Portugal at that time, except by the English, of course.

PhD Historian said...

I am happy to concede the point, Foose, that in 1504 Portugal had wealth superior to England, thanks in largest part to the various treaties and papal bulls giving Portugal a significant share in the overseas territories then being claimed mostly by Spain.

But I do not think Portugal was viewed as a political or military power by other European nations in the same way that France, Spain, and England were (except perhaps by the neighboring Spanish). Portugal had a superior navy, without question, but it very wisely used that navy to look beyond Europe and to assert itself through colonies and conquests in South America, Africa, India, and the Far East. It did not involve itself in the many territorial disputes of *continental Europe.* Portugal simply was not a player in domestically European politics. The only European power that Portugal engaged with to any degree was Spain, but even then the disputes centered on territorial and trade disputes beyond Europe, not within Europe. When the Ordo Regum was drawn up in 1504, Portugal simply did not figure in European continental politics.

But again, its placement on the Ordo Regum had nothing to do with its wealth or even its status as the first world power. Rather, its status as unexpectedly high on the list as number six was, I believe, predicated on its close association with the Papal Curia or Court. King Manuel of Portugal was a deeply religious man and sponsored vast numbers of Catholic missionaries to the Americas, to Africa, to India, and eventually to the Far East. The papacy returned the favor by confirming for Portugal the exclusive right to explore, claim territory, and trade in certain ocean-seas, especially the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. England enjoyed no such close relationship with the Papacy circa 1504, so that England's older crown had to yield precedence to much "younger" Portugal.

As with the case of the current Queen Elizabeth II and her favor toward Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall cited previously, the entity setting orders of precedence (in the case at hand, the Papal Curia) can and often are guided by little more than personal affinity, unless certain customs (antiquity of title) utterly prohibit doing so. Portugal enjoyed precedence before England simply because the Curia liked Portugal more than it did England.