The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558

By J. D. Mackie | Go to book overview
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S ECURE upon his throne, Henry was able, during the last decade of his life, to reap the fruits of the foreign policy he had pursued with such care. Latterly, when the deaths of his wife in 1503, of Isabella of Spain in 1504, and of Philip of Burgundy in 1506 seemed to open new vistas of matrimonial alliance and dynastic acquisition, he indulged in fancies, which were no less repulsive than impracticable; but he made no serious attempt to carry out these unworthy projects and guided his action by the sound principles which he had steadily evolved. Above all, in a world full of contendings and intrigue he refused to go to war. 'In the midst of this, his Majesty can stand like one at the top of a tower looking on at what is passing in the plain.' So wrote Soncino to the duke of Milan, giving his master to understand that there was no chance of Henry's intervening in Italy.

Looming behind the European unrest was the ever-present threat of the Turks. Fortunately for Christendom the forces of Islam were at this time divided by the rise in Persia of the power of the Shah, whose followers claimed to be more orthodox than those of the Sultan -- they accepted as creed only the Koran and as caliphs only the son-in-law of Mohammed and his descendants. The might of Tabriz could not seriously challenge that of Constantinople but, with unrest in Egypt and the disastrous earthquake of 1509, it served to restrain the Sultan from any great adventure to the west. Even so the menace to Europe was serious. Between 1499 and 1503 Venice was engaged in a war in the course of which she lost some places in the Morea and suffered an invasion through Friuli which reached Vicenza. The Republic warded off the attack with relatively little loss, but the disunity of Christendom was made apparent. Seizing the opportunity of the jubilee of 1500 the pope preached a crusade but, as Polydore Vergil remarks, he considered not only the good of the world but his own advantage, and the princes of Europe followed his example. France sent some aid by sea and on one occasion the Spaniards gave a little help, but for both France and Spain the crusade


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