Henry Vii's Foreign Policy in the Breton Crisis, Just One of Many Small Victories

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"Henry's greatest foreign policy success was his handling of the Breton Crisis." Explain how far you agree or disagree with this statement.

In some respects the statement is correct because Henry VII's military decisions pressured France into signing the Treaty of Etaples in 1492 which secured him a large amount of money and ensured the independence of Brittany (thus repaying Brittany for sheltering him during the reign of Richard III, and preserving the land mass divisions across the channel, reducing the power France had over Britain). However, Henry failed to send the full number of troops he'd promised to Brittany, to secure more English land in France during the conflict and to prevent the absorption of Brittany into France in the long term. In some respects the statement is also incorrect because Henry VII also secured successful outcomes from England's involvement in other foreign engagements, such as the Italian Wars, the Castilian Succession Crisis and Scottish conflict with England from 1485 – 1509.

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Henry's initial involvement in the conflict between Brittany and France could be interpreted as a failure because engaging in a financially-draining war was unpopular with his subjects and left him vulnerable to usurpation. Francis Bacon wrote in 'History of the Reign of King Henry VII' in 1621 that Henry 'was possessed with many secret fears touching his own people, which he was therefore loth to arm, and put weapons into their hands'. This implies that a war may also have been an ill-advised move because Henry's subjects had not yet adapted to his reign and were not entirely convinced of his right to the throne. A war could also have reopened tensions between England and France over the land that Henry V conquered during the Hundred Years War that was only reclaimed by France in recent decades, and also over the port of Calais that was still occupied by English invaders. Despite Henry's careful crafting of the Treaty of Redon in 1489 which stated that the only purpose of his allegiance with Brittany was to 'defend the independence of Bretons', tensions invariably arose and led to the receipt and protection of the pretender Perkin Warbeck by the French nobles. In some respects this shows that Henry's initial involvement in the Breton Crisis was unsuccessful because it only allied and strengthened his opposition, however some historians such as Dr John Watts in his review of 'Henry VII' argue that this was only the beginning of 'the desire of a succession of foreign rulers to cause problems for Henry' and was not a direct result of any political mistakes he made.

Henry made the calculated military observation in 1492 that France was more interested in the emerging Italian wars than they were invested in absorbing Brittany, so he made the gamble of sending 12,000 troops across the Channel. Because of this decision, France accepted the terms of the Treaty of Etaples, thus paying England £159,000 and allowing Brittany to retain its independence. Although Henry's handling of the Breton Crisis was successful financially, the success was not long term: he did not secure any more English land in France and Brittany lost its independence in 1532, after his death.

Henry wanted the Italian Wars, which began in 1494, to last as long as possible because they drained the time, resources and the support foreign that his rivals had access to. This in turn meant that the threat of usurpation was much lower. However, Henry was reluctant to participate in the war against France because doing so could result in severe French retaliation, which would be expensive and distract Henry's focus from Yorkist threats to the throne. Henry's decision to form an alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) alongside a commercial treaty with France was effective because it appeased his allies and avoided antagonising France, thus avoiding expensive and destructive conflict. Therefore it could be argued that although Henry's handling of the Breton Crisis was successful, it was not his only significant foreign policy because his limited participation in the Italian Wars prevented unwanted conflict with France.

Henry chose to form an alliance with Archduke Philip of Burgundy in 1504. This was an effective decision because in doing so Henry VII would not be committing his first son, Arthur, to a marriage that would only give him influence over Aragon, a country with little influence in comparison to Castile. His alliance also allowed him to maintain England's cloth trade with Burgundy and gave him access to Edmund de la Pole, the Yorkist pretender who was being sheltered by Philip's son. Although Henry's decision to oppose Ferdinand of Aragon created tensions between Castile and England after Philip's death in 1506, Henry swiftly amended the situation with the betrothal of his second son, Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon instead. Although Henry VII's alliance with Archduke Philip was miscalculated, his decision to betroth his son as a gesture of peace to Ferdinand avoided conflict salvaged England's trade links with Castile and gave Henry VIII influence in Castile following his father's death.

The conflicts across the Northern border between Scotland and England - coupled with the betrothal of Perkin Warbeck into Scottish nobility - is described by historian Steve Gun as 'perhaps the greatest crisis of his [Henry's] reign'. Realising how vulnerable the border was to invasion and the threat posed by Warbeck when he gained money and power by marrying into the Scottish bloodline, Henry did not attempt to fight Scotland as his predecessor Edward IV had. Instead he signed the Truce of Ayton in 1497. As a consequence (and despite the hostility and violence that continued along the northern border) Warbeck was forced to retreat to Ireland. By betrothing his eldest daughter Mary to James IV in 1502, Henry convinced James to sign the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. Aside from James' abrogation of the treaty in 1513, the marriage created peace between the two countries in centuries to come when James VI claimed the English throne through Mary Tudor. Therefore, although Henry's pursuit of peace was not entirely successful he did minimise the power held by Perkin Warbeck and create the foundations for peace in the future.

In conclusion, although Henry's handling of the Breton Crisis successfully secured him a large amount of money and the short-term independence of Brittany, his success was not long-term as Brittany only retained its independence for four decades after Henry's victory. Furthermore Henry failed to send the promised number of troops to aid Brittany and also to fight for their independence without provoking France. Henry's handling of the Castilian Succession Crisis was far more effective because of his profitable alliance with Archduke Philip. Philip's death was an unpredictable factor and should not detract from Henry's effective decision to ally himself to Philip, or from his swift reparations with Ferdinand when he resumed his rule over Castile. Therefore, the statement is incorrect because Henry failed in several aspects of his handling of the Breton Crisis and the outcome was only short term, whereas the outcomes to conflicts such as the Castilian Succession Crisis, conflicts with Scotland and the Italian Wars were successful in the long-term.

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