The First French War

We’ll look now at the first French war of Henry VIII.

It lasted from 1511 to 1514, four long years. 

Henry joined what was called the ‘Holy League’ in 1511; this was a group of countries who were set against France, in order to take the land of France and divide it up amongst them.

In 1512, Henry and the League declared war on France, and agreed that his part would be to attack the south west of France with King Ferdinand of Aragon (now part of Spain).

But, Henry was what we call naïve.

Does anyone know an easy definition of naïve?
It means that someone easily believes what they are told, they rely on people being honest and don’t try to think too much, if someone promises something.

It was June 1512. Henry was naïve. Ferdinand of Aragon (Picture 1) (Spain) betrayed him. This means that Ferdinand attacked but kept a very important city (called Navarre) for himself and for Aragon.

When a city was taken by the enemy, the people became part of the empire of the country that took them over; and instead of paying taxes to their real government or king, paid them to the king who had invaded. And that made the invading king even more wealthy.

Henry pretty much ignored that betrayal although he was rather angry; in 1513 he decided that on his own (well, with 25 000 soldiers) he would attack the northern part of France.

This was much more successful, and Henry took over two very large cities/areas called Therounne and Tournai (picture 2). As I said - the victorious king also started receiving income from the places he ‘won’ in battles. And Henry needed the money so he could continue making wars.

In the same year, there was quite an ordinary battle which became important because Henry captured some of the foreign nobility (the high-up people). The battle is known as The Battle of the Spurs.

Who knows what ‘spurs’ are?
They are the metal spiked devices (picture 3) attached to the boots of horse riders, used to make the horse go faster or to stop the horse from hesitating in battle.

If a horse was too scared, the rider could hurt the horse by pushing the spikes on his boots into the horse and obviously, the horse went forward. Spurs were expensive, so only those people with money could buy them - the nobility.

Capturing the noble people was therefore known as capturing the spurs - the Battle of The Spurs (picture 4). This was an impressive thing for Henry to do - and yes, he actually fought in the battle.

Again, in those days the kings didn’t stand back and watch from a safe place, they were right there in the fighting, slashing, stabbing, battering the other side’s soldiers.

In August 1514, Maximilian of The Holy Roman Empire (picture 5) and Ferdinand of Aragon (Picture 1) agreed to make peace with France and stop the war. Henry agreed with them, and he also stopped fighting.

Henry kept the towns he had captured, the money from them. The income and all the goodies too. The Anglo-French Treaty recognised his claim to the French throne (which means they also agreed that Henry was the proper King of France) he received money which had been owed to the French king, and he gave his sister to King Louis XII (picture 6). Louis was 34 years older than Mary and didn't live long - apparently he was a bit too energetic in the bedroom, and died 3 months after the marriage.

He did what? He gave his sister to the French King. It was a normal sort of thing way back then, to give a sister or a daughter to a king who you had defeated, as something like compensation and also to make the bond between two countries much stronger. It’s not something we do these days.

So that was the end of the First French War.

Who really won, do you think?
Well, all sides won and lost something. Henry gained some important towns, but did not become the French King; the French king lost lands and income but gained a wife; Ferdinand kept the towns he invaded and even Maximilian gained land and money.

But while all this was going on, there was trouble at home for Henry. At that time, Scotland was a separate country from England, and had it’s own king - James IV (picture 7). Of course, Henry was aware that countries would invade each other if they could, and he knew that is he was away fighting in Europe, there was a chance that James might think about trying to invade England.

And that’s just what James did!

But intelligent Henry had made a plan for this - he arranged for three lines of defence in England - in the North, near Scotland, in the midlands (the middle of the country) and in the South of the country, just in case James went that far south.

As it turns out, The Earl of Surrey’s soldiers (troops - same meaning) defeated (overcame or beat) James’s army in the North - at Flodden (picture 8). Not only that but James the King was killed too and so were many of his nobles.

A defeat as big as that, where a king is killed, makes a country very weak, because they no longer have a leader. So, while Henry was away, his own nobles killed off the threat from Scotland.


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