Henry Ignores Pleas to Stay in England – New Queen Is Regent
in Henry’s Absence – King’s Chaos in France – Boulogne Taken
A Map of Boulogne c 1544
These plans were soon set in motion, and throughout May and June 1544 fighting men were ferried across the Channel to build up forces in the Pale of Calais in preparation for the invasion of France. Some four thousand soldiers were ordered to be transferred from Scotland to France, a thousand of them by sea.
By mid-June, Henry’s war was under way. The king, however, was still in England, and half-hearted efforts were made to keep him from the stress of the operation. Ambassador Chapuys reported his own concerns over Henry’s obstinacy to Charles; he told him that Henry VIII was too old, was too overweight and had ‘the worst legs in the world’.
He also reported to Charles’s sister Mary Queen of Hungary, who was his regent in the Netherlands. ‘All those about him have tried every means to dissuade him from it but it is no use,’ and Chapuys ‘does not think that there can be any other means except that the Emperor should wish to excuse his going, for the King would hold it a point of honour to go if the Emperor were there.’
Charles certainly did not agree with that idea, he was not going to excuse himself for anyone. While he was sympathetic to Henry’s health problems, the emperor was younger and lustier than the King of England and, after all, he had come from Spain via Italy and Germany, specifically, to lead his army in battle.
Henry’s bravado prevailed, if Charles were going, he would also go and show the emperor himself what a good soldier he was.
While Henry’s military prowess was under discussion at home, over in France Norfolk moved off with his troops. On 22 June 1544, at a crossroads with Ardes in one direction and Boulogne in another, he wrote back home for instructions. ‘Am conveniently placed to besiege Arde and little out of the way to besiege Boulogne, and in the highway towards Mounstreull. Expected ’ere this to have learnt the kings pleasure’ – or, put another way, ‘Now what are we supposed to do?’ The whole business was a shambles, with a fundamental lack of organisation and a shortage of beer, bread, guns and even shot.
When Norfolk did receive his orders, there was no mention of the attack on Paris, a critical part of the original plan, but he was to go and lay siege to either Ardes or Montreuil, a little over forty miles from Calais. The duke chose Montreuil. Henry then decided after all that he would take to the field and set off with a horse winch, litter and all the paraphernalia needed to ship a decrepit old man across the narrow sea. He arrived in Calais on 14 July 1544.
During Henry’s foray to France, Katherine was appointed Regent of England and her secret lover, Thomas Seymour, was appointed to the new and illustrious senior post of Master General of the Ordinance.
Her brother William received the title he coveted: Cromwell’s former earldom of Essex.
The strategy changed; Seymour’s plan was adopted and, instead of the impossible task of retaking the entire lost Angevin Empire, the objective was switched to holding the port of Boulogne.
Edward Seymour joined the king on 13 August and Boulogne fell on 12 September. On 18 September, the king entered the town in triumph. Henry had the church, probably where he had married Anne de Boulogne, pulled down to make way and provide materials for the construction of a bastion.
Under the original plan, by this time, the English should have been at the gates of Paris. The siege and capture of Boulogne had turned the entire operation on its head and so now the emperor made a unilateral peace with Francis. The one-sided agreement allowed the French to disengage from the Imperial forces, march west and concentrate their firepower on the English. The dauphin, Francis, launched an attack on Boulogne on 9 October 1544; the French, however, were repelled. The English garrison held but the fighting season was over for the year and Francis’s son returned to Paris.
Seymour held Boulogne, a key strategic possession, but in the spring of 1545 the French were advancing a plan for revenge.