War and fighting was commonplace across Europe at the time of Henry’s birth. Being able to win a war meant everything – power, glory and riches. As a small child, Henry grew up learning about the great battles of the past, and one particular king stood out to him – his ancestor, Henry V. Henry V had restarted the Hundred Years’ War against France and won a spectacular victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The young Henry was desperate to win glory, lay his claim to the French crown, and be seen as the greatest king in English history.
Henry’s father, Henry VII, had been cautious about fighting wars without good reason. They were very expensive, and could cause problems at home in England if people thought they were being taxed too heavily to pay for them. When he became king in 1509, Henry had few of these concerns. In the beginning, his father’s old advisers persuaded him not to go to war, but eventually Henry had his way.
Henry’s war against France in 1513 was not very successful. He captured two towns, but it was very expensive to keep them, and Scotland had taken the opportunity to invade England whilst much of the army was in France. Thankfully for Henry, some of his noblemen fought back against the Scots and killed their king, James IV. Gruesomely, Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, sent him the bloodied coat of the dead Scottish king so that Henry could wave it as a banner and show everyone how successful he had been.
Henry went to war against France again in 1544, but was left alone when his ally, Charles V, made peace with the French without consulting Henry about it. Ultimately, Henry just didn’t have the money to fight against countries which were more powerful and richer than England. He was forced into trying to win glory through diplomacy, such as the Treaty of London in 1518 – an agreement which meant that the major European powers would not attack each other. However, this peace did not last long and Henry had to accept that England was not a big player on the European stage.