Ambitious Servant of Papacy – Bishop Fox’s Protégé Takes England to War – Turmoil in Aquitaine – Pope Julius Dead – New Pope Leo X
Henry VII and his mother had been guided over many years by a council that had helped to turn England from a land of battling lords to a wealthy and peaceful realm. However, by the time the young Henry VIII acceded, these men were of an ageing, retiring and often poorly sort.
The early political influence that was exerted on behalf of the young king fell into the hands of Bishop Richard Foxe of Winchester and his secular adversary Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.
Luis Caroz de Villaragut, Spanish ambassador in England, noted, ‘The king is young, and does not care to occupy himself with anything but the pleasures of his age. All other affairs he neglects.’ Among the pleasures of his age were jousting, tennis, falconry and hunting. He enjoyed these activities and also acquired a passion for gambling.
Bishop Foxe employed an ambitious assistant, called Thomas Wolsey.
Wolsey contrived a vocation that included ambitions to manipulate both of these discomfited generations. The protégé and alumnus of Bishop Foxe, this younger (but by no means inexperienced) man, affable with the king’s young friends, astute with Howard and gradually able to foster a gracious relationship with the impressionable king, emerged from the establishment and settled himself firmly between the king and council. Thus, he set about ruling both.
Whatever Wolsey was and whatever he became, however, his first loyalty as a priest was firmly to the papacy – not an individual pope, but to the office itself and the unbounded potential for that institution of supremacy to dominate all Christendom. In the summer of 1511, therefore, when Giuliano della Rovere, Pope Julius II (the so-called warrior pope) called for a war (a Holy League) against France, Thomas Wolsey, who had become the youthful king’s almoner, saw this as an opportunity to announce himself as a willing and ambitious servant of the papacy.
The kings of England had, for centuries, claimed the kingdom of France. Henry II had married into part of it, King John had all of it, then lost it, and Henry IV won it back only for Henry VI to lose it again. The opportunity was perfect for Wolsey. With papal sanction, he soon persuaded the chivalrous young king to claim what was rightfully his: the French crown. With a double-edged sword, Wolsey organised a dual-purpose conflict, a holy war to impress the pope and by the same means a dynastic war to flatter his sovereign.
The war, however, began badly. In early summer 1512, Wolsey’s former pupil Thomas Grey, second Marquis of Dorset, led a disastrous attempt to invade Aquitaine. In what was planned as a joint operation with Henry’s father-in-law, Ferdinand, to invade south-west France, Ferdinand used the English as a diversion to enable him to conquer the adjacent kingdom of Navarre and to occupy that country for himself. He left the English in turmoil and his son-in-law humiliated. In February 1513, the ‘warrior pope’ Julius II died and a new, peaceful pope, Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici (Leo X) was elected in March 1513.