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Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)

 

 

CHAPTER IX

HENRY'S FOREIGN POLICY


FROM the very beginning of his reign Henry had been anxious to cultivate friendly relations with all foreign powers, and to fortify himself with valuable alliances abroad. But what could have been the value of an English alliance at that time to any considerable State? England had lost her old possessions in France, her throne was insecure, and whatever force she possessed was more in danger of being wasted in renewed civil wars than likely to bring any accession of strength to an ally. No European sovereign, in truth, was likely to offer very high terms for so precarious an advantage. Yet the state of England itself was a matter of concern to other nations, and the character of its ruler was scarcely of less importance. France had helped to set Henry on the throne, doubtless in the belief that a Lancastrian prince who owed so much to her protection and favour was more likely than the Yorkist usurper Richard to leave her undisturbed. Spain, on the other hand, was more anxious to appeal to the national senti ments of Englishmen and form a strong alliance against France, without paying too dearly for the privilege.

We have seen already how this policy was followed out by Ferdinand and Isabella Henry, however, took no notice of their bad faith, for which there was only this excuse, that, being then engaged in their final struggle with the Moors, they had scarcely the means of carrying on at the same time a war with France. The conquest of Granada was in itself a far greater object than the restoration of Roussillon and Cerdagne, although these districts undoubtedly were a source of danger to Spain as long as they remained in the hands of a foreign power. It was achieved in the beginning of 1492, the very year in which Henry invaded France. The fame of it rang through Christendom, nor was England sparing of her congratulations on an event so long unprecedented as the gaining of fresh territory from the infidels. A rich and important kingdom which had been in possession of the Moors for over seven hundred years had been added not only to the dominions of Ferdinand and Isabella, but to the Christian world; and Cardinal Morton invited a large assembly at St. Paul's to celebrate the achievement.

The dual monarchy of Spain was greatly strengthened, but, instead of preparing for a war with France, the Spanish sovereigns endeavoured to procure the cession of Roussillon and Cerdagne by negotiation, leaving Henry and Maximilian to do the fighting for them. Maximilian did nothing, Henry, with a very slight degree of fighting, obtained his own terms from the enemy, and shortly afterwards Ferdinand and Isabella made their peace with France also. But in this treaty -- the treaty of Barcelona, as it was called (19th January 1493) -- having obtained the much-desired cession of Roussillon and Cerdagne, they agreed, in violation of all their pledges to Henry, to aid France against all enemies, especially the English, and not to marry any of their children with the royal family of England without the express consent of the French king. Henry at that time sent an ambassador to Spain, who came to them at Barcelona and evidently made some very inconvenient inquiries; but they simply answered that they were going to send an embassy of their own to England. They were going to send, but they certainly did not feel any necessity for haste, and what first prompted them to redeem their promise seems to have been the complaints of Spanish merchants in England that they were subjected to new restrictions. To remonstrate upon this subject they were about to have despatched in November 1494 an envoy named Sasiola; but he was taken ill, and his illness was made a very good excuse for a delay of two whole years after the treaty of Barcelona, when they at length sent to England -- not a very splendid embassy, but an agent of whom Henry VII. had already had some experience -- Dr. de Puebla.

Henry was rather surprised at his appointment. The man was neither of noble birth, nor of high personal character, nor even of a dignified presence, for he was a cripple. He was a mere pettifogging lawyer, who no doubt had shown himself very useful to the Spanish sovereigns in negotiating the hard conditions from which Henry was now emancipated. But if Ferdinand thought him a sufficiently good representative of Spanish interests in England, Henry had no reason to object. He had taken the measure of the man, and also of Ferdinand. In the course of a few years complaints were heard from Spaniards that De Puebla served England far better than his own country; and though Ferdinand did not see fit to recall him, he more than once expressed vexation at the fact that his ambassador had given Henry some undue advantage. De Puebla, in fact, somehow or other became a very great advocate of English interests and of English views in almost everything. Although a man who gave satisfaction to no one else, but excited un pleasantness in every one with whom he came in contact, he always got on very well with Henry, and Henry got on very well with him. Henry took him freely into counsel, showed him all the difficulties by which he was surrounded, expressed the most complete devotion to the interests of Spain, and finally inspired him with a profound conviction that he knew all the secrets of the King of England's heart. The doctor, indeed, was to some extent dependent on Henry's splendid hospitality; for England was a dear country to live in, and De Puebla was not the only ambassador in those days who found great difficulties in keeping up appearances on the scanty and irregular remittances he received from his own aourt. He dined for months together at the palace, and once when he was observed making his way to Court, Henry, having asked for what purpose he could be coming, laughed not a little when the courtiers replied, "To eat." The queen indeed, and her mother also, would sometimes inquire whether his masters in Spain did not provide him with sufficient food.

It was early in the year 1495 that De Puebla came on this his second mission to England. He met with a cordial reception, and having excused the delay of the embassy which Ferdinand and Isabella had promised to send, unfolded the causes of his mission, the main object of which was certainly not merely to represent the grievances of Spani.sh merchants. A great change had taken place in Ferdinand's relations with France, and De Puebla desired Henry, as a Christian prince, to aid the Pope against Charles VIII., then in Italy. His sovereigns also regretted that relations had become considerably strained between ~enry and Maxi milian, King of the Romans, on account of certain con spiracies fostered by the latter in England (those, namely, in favour of Perkin Warbeck); and if Henry would make use of their good offices they would be glad to promote a reconciliation. Henry's answer was in the best spirit. He accepted the e~cuses for the delay of the embassy, although, as he significantly wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella, he had been otherwise informed as to the causes of it. He could not believe the Pope to be in real danger, otherwise his Holiness, desiring aid from England, would surely have had the civility to write to himself. As to the King of the Romans, though he had given him not the slightest prete~t for quarrelling with him, and had done more for him than any other prince, he was quite willing to forgive his ingratitude and accept the good offices of Ferdinand and Isabella, if Maximilian himself was willing to be reconciled to him.

The fact is that, although it was but two years since Ferdinand and Isabella had abandoned England and made a secret league with France against her, they were now most anxious to reverse what they had done, and to gain England's adhesion to a new league which they were busy forming against France. The success of Charles VIII.'s invasion of Italy had completely changed the aspect of affairs, rousing the jealousy of his more powerful neighbours, while his imprudence had alienated

the friends who had invoked his assistance in Italy itself. But this was a matter that Henry could afford to treat with philosophic calmness. He did not, indeed, wish to see France too powerful, but his continental neighbours were much more concerned than himself to prevent such a result, and he had no desire to go to war again merely for their benefit. The league, indeed, was actually made without him at Venice on the 31st of March 1495, the parties to it being Pope Alexander VI., Maximilian, Ferdinand and Isabella, Venice and Milan. But Ferdinand and Isabella, after it was concluded, used every effort to convince Henry that it was for his interest that he too should join it. They could not, indeed, but admit that Maximilian had given him serious grounds of complaint, and moreover that he was under no particular obligations even to themselves, but was free to make what alliances he pleased. But they urged him to consider that France was not to be depended on, and though the old treaties between England and Spain had now lapsed, they were willing to renew the project of a marriage between Prince Arthur and Katharine on the conditions formerly agreed to. Besides, the league would be one of mutual defence, and Henry would be benefited by it if either France or the so-called Duke of York made war against him.

It was clear that the alliance of England with France at this time would have been a very serious danger to the Holy League, and Ferdinand wrote to De Puebla to do everything in his power to interrupt it. France, on the other hand, was not less alive to the great importance of England's continued friendship, and was making some new and very advantageous offers for a stricter alliance, to be cemented by the marriage of Prince Arthur to a daughter of the Duke of Bourbon. Even if Henry meant only to be neutral, France would be willing in some way to recompense his neutrality, whereas if he cordially took part with her, the French king could probably induce James IV. not to favour Perkin Warbeck or molest the English Border. These things Henry did not hesitate to suggest to the Spanish ambassador. But he had a still stronger argument against joining the Holy League, which it was really difficult to answer. How could he be asked to enter such a league while Maximilian was giving manifest aid and support to Perkin Warbeck? So long as the King of the Romans pursued such a policy he acted as Henry's enemy, and his alliance with England could be but a dissembled friendship. Nay, the alliance he had actually made with Ferdinand only gave him greater power to do Henry an ill turn; for it was cemented by two marriages which were at this time arranged and soon took effect -- the first between the Archduke Philip, son of Maximilian, and Joanna, second daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, an elder sister of Katharine of Arragon; and the second between Prince John, the son and heir apparent of the Spanish sovereigns, and Maximilian's daughter Margaret. How could Henry marry his son to Katharine if her sister was to marry Philip, who with his father, Maximilian, had been giving not only an asylum to Warbeck, but active assistance to an expedition against England? Ferdinand really had more need of England at this time than England had of him. He insisted that he could easily persuade Maximilian to abandon Warbeck, --nay, that he had positive assurance of Maximilian's desire to abandon him and be reconciled to Henry; and after Warbeck had actually left Flanders without having succeeded in landing in England, his pretensions had become so contemptible that there was no fear, Ferdinand pleaded, of Maximilian abetting them again. The Kings of France and Scotland no doubt might -- in fact most probably would; and that was all the greater reason for Henry now joining the league. But a Scotch embassy had just arrived in Spain, and Ferdinand believed he would be able, if Henry favoured his wishes, to prevent the King of Scots be friending Warbeck. In short, Ferdinand would do anything and everything to get Henry to desert France and join the Holy League. He was even ready, if all else failed, to become security to Henry for the strict fulfilment by Maximilian of a clause by which he would have been bound, not merely to refrain from aiding Warbeck, but actually to aid Henry against him. But De Puebla wisely refrained from communicating this offer to the king, and was afterwards thanked by Ferdinand for his exercise of a discretion which was no doubt allowed to him by his instructions.

It was, indeed, a difflcult matter to answer for Maximilian. No sooner was one assurance framed for Henry's acceptance than it was falsified by the sailing of the expedition with which Warbeck attempted to invade England Ferdinand had hoped that his own and the Duke of Milan's exhortations would have availed to induce the King of the Romans to withdraw his countenance from the pretender; for Maximilian had married only the year before Bianca Maria Sforza, niece of the new Duke Ludovico, by whose exhortations mainly he had been drawn into the league. But the policy of Maximilian and the Archduke Philip was for the present governed by Margaret of Burgundy, and no arguments of friends, relations, or allies could induce them to desert the pretender until the experiment to which they had committed themselves had turned out to be an unequivocal failure. And this was not the conclusion they came to from his ill success at Deal; for, as they were doubtless well aware from the first, if attacking England failed, he had still a chance in Ireland, and a still better one in Scotland. And though Warbeck lost the first two chances with amazing rapidity, he was royally received in Scotland within little more than four months after his attempt at Deal. Maximilian just so far yielded to the pressure put upon him as to agree to the inclusion of England in the league, but he must have some proviso inserted relative to "the Duke of York," whose cause he could not bring himself altogether to abandon.

It is needless to say that Henry would not listen to a proposal which in any way recognised the adventurer's pretensions; and Maximilian's envoy, having gone as far as his instructions warranted, desired him to send Lord Egremon -- an able diplomatist, probably of the Percy family (though our peerage historians know nothing of him), who had been employed before this in negotiations with Scotland -- to the Court of Maximilian, then staying at Nordlingen in Suabia. He arrived at the beginning of January 1496. But the political situation had changed not a little since Perkin left the Netherlands, and his first inquiry was whether the league, which his master had been asked to join, was not virtually dissolved. For in fact a separate peace had been made with France by Ludovico Sforza more than two months before, and there were rumours that Venice, as well as Milan, was included in the treaty.

The truth was that Charles VIII., even after winning the decisive battle of Fornovo, could not immediately make his way out of Italy without leaving in the lurch his cousin Louis, Duke of Orleans, who was closely besieged in Novara by Ludovico Sforza. Louis was the grandson of that former Duke of Orleans, brother of Charles VI., who was murdered in the streets of Paris, by his marriage with Valentine, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, first Duke of Milan. He had thus a claim on the duchy, for the Sforzas were not legitimate successors; and unfortunately for himself, he had shown that he in tended to make good his right. He had seized Novara, but was surrounded by the forces of Ludovico. He and his soldiers suffered extreme privations, and Charles called in Swiss mercenaries to raise the siege. But Ludovico was willing to make terms if the French would but leave Italy and engage to respect his rights in future. A treaty was accordingly made in which his claims were fully satisfied, and he undertook to give the French king every assistance to maintain his hold on Naples. The Venetians were strongly urged to give in their adhesion to this treaty, but they refused. Ludovico Sforza had acted in the matter with singular duplicity. He still professed to adhere to the Holy League, while he had in fact pledged himself to facilitate what that league was founded to prevent -- another French invasion of Italy. The allies, however, seem to have persuaded themselves that his agreement with France was only a matter of temporary convenience, and that it was bettor for their interests not to cast him off. So Maximilian, after con sulting the representatives of the league at his Court, assured Lord Egremont in the first place that Venice had made no peace whatever with France, and secondly, that in the treaty made by the Duke of Milan there was an express clause stating that he still remained a member of the league. So all was made smooth for the King of England's entrance into the league also; but it was owing to the ambassadors at Maximilian's Court that the result was not quite the reverse. For Maximilian him self had drawn up a reply to Lord Egremont in which he justified his conduct with regard to Perkin Warbeck, firmly believing him, he said, to be the real son of Edward IV., but offered, if Henry would join the league, to negotiate a ten years' truce between him and the pretender; insisting also that the King of England should be bound to invade France at Easter. This, however, was suppressed in consequence of the united remonstrances of the Spanish, the Venetian, the Neapolitan, and the Milanese ambassadors, who unanimously insisted that any allusion to the so-called "Duke of York" would be fatal to the negotiation, and that it would be very advisable that Maximilian should now drop him altogether; moreover, that the King of England had distinctly refused to be bound to act on the offensive lest he should be made a cat's-paw, but that, if admitted unconditionally, the Spanish sovereigns would pledge themselves on his behalf that he would do his part along with the other confederates. The ambassadors further added that if they failed to secure England as an ally, she would certainly unite with France and so become their enemy.

Maximilian was uncomfortable. He had done so much to help Perkin Warbeck's enterprise, and he had still hopes that it would be successful; yet he was to make an ally of Henry VII., who, he was sure, would not go to war with France, whereas "the Duke of York" would certainly do so if he only obtained the crown! He could not help thinking, in his own wise head, that the other powers were wrong; that Henry VII. could do the league neither good nor evil, and that it was only from his fear of the favour they might show to "the Duke of York" that he was anxious to be on good terms with himself and the league or with France. He, how ever, yielded to the representations of his allies, and sent to the Spanish ambassador in England -- because he thought he could not do it himself, considering his engagements to Perkin Warbeck -- ample instructions for receiving Henry into the league on his undertaking to attack France. This again was a condition by which Henry had already refused to be bound. It would have been no doubt an immense advantage to the league if Henry had diverted the attention of aharles from Italy by an invasion of France. But former experience had warned him that he was likely, if he entered into any engagements with such allies, to have the whole burden of the war thrown upon himself; and he doubted par ticularly whether Maximilian would be ready to begin the attack along with him. It was enough for him, however, from a diplomatic point of view, that Maximilian was now visibly yielding. He sent his old friend Christopher Urswick to the emperor at Augsburg; who, after giving him a hearing, was persuaded by the ambassadors of the other powers to agree with him for the admission of Henry into the league -- if possible with thc obligation to attack France, but if this was refused, on the same terms as the other confederates.

Maximilian, there can be little doubt, believed it would be worth Henry's while to buy his friendship. Ferdinand and Isabella, on the contrary, had been in serious anxiety lest, instead of joining the league at all, he should ally himself with France and marry Arthur to the Duke of Bourbon's daughter. Great therefore was their relief when they were informed by Henry himself that he had dismissed a French embassy, requiring Charles to evacuate Naples, restore Ostia to the Pope, and forbear to disturb the peace of Europe. They had reason to believe that Henry told the truth, and they were not mistaken. He had, indeed, at one time thought of requiring the league to be reconstructed in England, rather than that he should be simply admitted into it as a new confederate; and as De Puebla had power to act not only for his own sovereigns but also for the Pope and Maximilian, it might not have been difficult to do so. But considering the urgency of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the fact that the French were even then preparing to invade Italy a second time, Henry sent Robert Sherbourne, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, to Rome to declare his entry into the league, with an exemption, which was allowed to him, from certain specific obligations incumbent on the other allies. This was done upon the 18th of July 1496.

The news was hailed with delight by all the other confederates, except by Maximilian, who was still keeping up communications with the young man in Scotland. Henry's accession practically made it a new league altogether, which was proclaimed at Venice, and celebrated by the burning of bonfires and ringing of bells for three successive days. The Pope, in acknowledgment of this timely aid, sent him a sword and cap of maintenance, which were received with due reverence on All Saints' day, and a solemn procession took place at St. Paul's in honour of the event. Isabella too, though she could have wished to bind Henry to make war on France at once, expressed great satisfaction at the event, and was now particularly anxious that the marriage of Arthur and Katharine should be pressed on, as some guarantee for the permanence of the alliance. For though it was a great gain to have won Henry over to the league on any terms, the conditions were not satisfactory, and if he could not make war on France at once, he must at least be bound to assist Spanish vessels at sea, and De Puebla, as he saw opportunity, must urge him to still further concessions. For if he did no more than make preparations for war, the longer he did so the greater would be the offers made to him by France. He must be warned that the French king was still intent on making himself lord of Italy, that he had already a hold on Milan and Genoa, and that if he were allowed to keep these places no other power would be able to resist him. The Pope himself would become merely his chaplain. Henry really ought to rescue the patrimony of St. Peter from spoliation, and even in kindness to the King of France himself, prevent him rushing to his own destruction.

Such were the views of Isabella of Castile, as communicated confidentially to her ambassador. But she and her husband were not unmindful of certain pledges they had given to Henry in order to induce him to cnter the league at all. Henry must be effectually protected from molestation on the side of Scotland. They would endeavour to make James give up his patronage of Perkin Warbeck and be friends with Henry. Some years before they had, for purposes of their own, dangled before the eyes of the Scotch king the hope of obtaining one of their daughters in marriage, without any serious intention of fulfilling his expectation. But now James had sent an ambassador to them repeating the request, and stating that, as he had some grounds of dissatisfaction with France, he would gladly ally himself politically with Spain instead. The Spanish sovereigns were a little perplexed. They would now really have been willing apparently to marry one daughter to the Prince of Wales and one to the King of Scotland, if they had daughters to spare, as it would have tended to the more complete isolation of France and to promote a friendly under standing between England and Scotland. But they had already other projects for all their four daughters. So they determined to keep the renewed negotiations for Arthur's marriage with Katharine a profound secret, amuse the King of Scots with the project as long as possible, and in the meantime urge Henry to give James one of his own daughters instead, with a suitable dowry.

With this view they sent into Scotland Don Pedro de Ayala, a negotiator of a very different stamp from De Puebla in England. His suavity of manners and perfect knowledge of the world rendered him the fittest man possible to smooth down whatever was rough in the difficult business of diplomacy. His sovereigns greatly regretted that he arrived in Scotland too late to prevent James's invasion of England in favour of Perkin Warbeck. But from the moment of his arrival there things tended gradually towards peace. He soon acquired great influence over James, who had a very high regard for him, and of whose character and accomplishments he wrote a very interesting account for the benefit of Ferdinand and Isabella. While residing in England a little later he was described by careful and dispassionate observers as the only man there that really understood Scotland. The English, as a rule, flew in a passion whenever Scotland or Scotchmen were spoken about. How, in the face of prejudices so general, Henry ventured at last to give his daughter to the Scotch king is only a little less wonderful than how Ayala should have mitigated Scotch prejudices on the other side and got James to give up his demand for a Spanish princess for the prospect of an English one.

On this subject we shall have more to say hereafter. For the present a few words are necessary as to Henry's relations with other princes. Even before he had joined the league a resumption of commercial intercourse with Flanders had been found absolutely necessary on both sides; and Philip, having sent over to England ambas sadors of the highest standing in his country, a mercantile treaty, called the Intercursus Magnus, was concluded between him and Henry on the 24th of February 1496. This in itself no doubt exerted a considerable influence on Maximilian, who was so slowly brought to the disagreeable conviction that all his efforts and expense on behalf of Perkin Warbeck had been utterly thrown away. Henry saw his way was safe, rejected the offers of France, and entered the league in July following; so that in the latter part of the year France found herself completely surrounded by a circle of confederates pledged to keep her thenceforth out of Italy. Chharles was obliged to sign a treaty for the evacuation of Naples, where he had still some garrisons after he had left Italy with his army, and somewhat later to make a truce with Ferdinand, whose armies, now having possession of Roussillon, harassed his southern frontier. This was meant to pave the way for a general peace, and Ferdinand did not forget to include England in particular in the truce, his other allies having done little, after the danger was past, to relieve him from the burden of an expensive war.

So French ambition had been muzzled for the time, and the peace of Europe seemed tolerably secure, when the sudden death of Charles VIII. gave rise to new combinations, of which we shall speak hereafter.