Armed as he was for battle, the ambitious Henry VIII didn’t shy away from conflict. Here’s a quick overview of warfare in Europe during his reign.
The Europe of the early 1500s was a confused conglomeration of disputes and dynastic claims, with few settled borders.
The most important players were the French Valois dynasty and their main continental rivals, the Habsburgs, who controlled a huge swathe of central Europe.
Henry, galvanised by tales of English hero-kings, was eager to grab a piece of the action. He wanted to build an empire of his own, and military victories meant more cards to play at the next round of negotiations, when new alliances were agreed, lands were exchanged and marriages arranged.
A débâcle in Gascony, 1512
This was a pitiful early attempt by Henry to make his mark in Europe, by picking a fight against the French. His Spanish allies, provided by his father-in-law Ferdinand of Aragon, failed to show up. Henry’s troops either died of disease or mutinied and struggled home.
French sack Ravenna, 1512
While Henry was failing in Gascony, the French sacked Ravenna and scored a notable victory against their big rivals for Italian domination, the Imperial Habsburgs. Italy was the main theatre of war in the early 1500s. England was a minor player, causing trouble on Europe’s margins, hoping for a share of the bigger spoils.
Battle of the Spurs, 1513
Henry famously led a cavalry charge against the French, who ran away so quickly that all that could be seen were their spurs, glinting in the sun. In the famous painting of the battle, Henry is shown in the centre of the action on a white horse. Except Henry was behind the front line, not in the heart of the battle, as the King’s Council refused to let him take part. Henry went on to take the towns of Therouare and Tournai.
Francis I and Marignano, 1515
Francis I, the King of France, was young and ambitious and cut from the same cloth as Henry VIII. He took his own quest for European supremacy deep into Italy, capturing Milan after this bloody battle.