CHAPTER V. HENRY VIII (i), 1509-27 - EGO ET REX MEUS
The three great Powers - France, Spain, and the Empire - which had been evolved out of the mediaeval European system, were united in the desire of preventing Italy from following their example and consolidating into a nation. Venice, as the one Italian State strong enough to have some chance of combining the rest under her leadership, was the object not only of their jealousy but also of the Pope's. A few months before the death of Henry VII., these four combined in the League of Cambrai, for the dismemberment of Venice. The allies, however, were not guided in their actions by any altruistic motives - any excessive regard for the interests of their associates. The French King, Lewis XII., by prompt and skilful action, made himself master of the north of Italy before the rest were ready to move. This was by no means to the taste of Ferdinand or of Pope Julius; but as yet Maximilian had seen no reason to be displeased. Ferdinand would not risk a quarrel with Maximilian, which might have led to that monarch's interference in Castile on behalf of the boy Charles - his grandson as well as Ferdinand's - the nominal King of that portion of what Ferdinand looked on as his own dominions. So the crafty old King bided his time, dropping a quiet hint to young Henry in England that a moment might be approaching favourable to an English attack on France, in revival of the ancient claim to the crown, or at any rate to Guienne.
Henry, as yet unskilled in the tortuous diplomacy of his father-in-law, was well content to be guided by his advice. Ferdinand intrigued to unite Julius and Maximilian against France, and to shift the burden of battle, when it should come, off his own shoulders on to Henry's. Meantime, the outward professions to France remained of the most amicable character.
[1512 Dorset's expedition]
Then Lewis made a blunder which gave his enemies their opening. He called a General Council at Pisa which was in effect an attack on the spiritual authority of Rome. By the end of 1510, Julius was at open war with the French King; Ferdinand was in alliance with the Pope; in the course of the next year, the Holy League was formed; a combined attack was concerted; and in June, 1512, an English expedition, under the command of Lord Dorset, landed in Spain, on the theory that it was to be assisted by Ferdinand in the conquest of Guienne.
The expedition was a melancholy failure. The English troops and their commander were alike inexperienced in war; Ferdinand would not move against Guienne, urging with some plausibility that the securing of Navarre was a needful preliminary; the soldiers wanted beer and had to put up with Spanish wines; finally they insisted on returning to England, and Dorset had to put the best face he could on a very awkward situation. Officially it was announced that the withdrawal was made with Ferdinand's approval.
So far, the European anticipations of England's incapacity had been duly fulfilled. A military fiasco had accompanied an innocence of diplomatic guile which looked promising to the Continental rulers. But the promise was to be disappointed.
[Rise of Wolsey]
Henry VII. had avoided war and had been his own foreign minister; when he died, he left to form his son's Council some capable subordinates like Fox the Bishop of Winchester, but no one experienced in the responsibilities of control. Among the noble houses, the Howards were shortly to display at least a fair share of military capacity. But it was to a minister of at best middle-class origin, a rising ecclesiastic who had, however, hitherto held no office of the first rank, that England was to owe a surprisingly rapid promotion to European equality with the first-class Powers.
With that skill in selecting; invaluable servants which distinguished his entire career, Henry VIII. by the time he was one-and-twenty had already discovered in Thomas Wolsey the man on whose native genius and unlimited power of application he could place complete reliance.
Wolsey had been employed on diplomatic missions by the old King; whose methods he had gauged and whose policy he had assimilated, but only as a basis for far-reaching developments. He was brought into the Royal Council by Fox, partly no doubt in the hope that he would counteract the influence of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, and others of the nobles who were martially inclined and imbued with a time-honoured hostility to France. It was no long time before he outshone his patron, who, however, had rightly judged his tendencies. Wolsey was no friend to war, and had no hostility to France, for the plain reason that he preferred diplomatic to military methods, and was quite as well pleased to advance English interests by alliance with France as by alliances against her if he saw his way to profit thereby. It is probable enough that he would have avoided the war with France if he had had the power; since he had not, he devoted his energies to making the war itself as successful as possible.
[1513 The French war]