Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 1510 – Young Henry VIII Dies Jousting

A mere nine months after his coronation, the brave and cunning King Henry VIII of England died while jousting incognito at Richmond in North Yorkshire. Only eighteen years old, Henry had been married to his brother Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, shortly after his father’s death. Remaining something of a wild prince, Henry sneaked away from court and participated in the lists in Yorkshire, jousting admirably until a spur broke and the mysterious knight was thrown to the ground, breaking his neck. It was a tragedy that would ignite the War of English Succession.

Succession had already recently been a violent matter in England Wars of the Roses between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. After much bloodshed, the overall question was solved completely by the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, bringing the two houses together. Henry VII had known that the key to continuing the newly conquered peace was firm succession, and the tragic death of Arthur had put a great deal of pressure on young Henry to live long and produce a male heir. With no heir, the crown was in the air, readying to be caught by any of a number of successors.

In England, men with lesser holds to the crown were beaten out by the overall clout of Queen Catherine of Aragon. Though technically a Spaniard, she held great cunning herself as well as the significant economic and military influence from her father Ferdinand II. Acting as a placeholder, she would chose from the many English who wished to be king and marry him with blessing of the Pope.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic dealings of Henry VII had expanded the Tudor claims beyond the English borders. His daughter Margaret had married James IV of Scotland while his daughter Mary Tudor had married the aged Louis XII of France. Louis’ claim was weak at best, especially as he only had daughters and neither from Mary, but he threw his support behind James as the Auld Alliance had tied the two nations together against England for centuries. James decided he must secure the crown for a future son, so he embarked on an invasion of England.

Catherine called up support from her father in Spain, who sailed a fleet of troops to London to bolster her forces. The English reacted negatively to the foreign soldiers, and local approval of Catherine began to decline, either in favor of less powerful claims or toward James. Civil war broke out among the factions, and James attempted serious invasion where he could garner his support. Meanwhile, he called to Louis for aid, which the French were slow to supply as they were fighting in Italy with the Venetians, who had taken up an alliance with the Papal States. In 1512, the Pope would declare a Holy League against France, allowing Spain to join in an alliance directly against France as well as Scotland, and the War of the League of Cambrai expanded to become a theater mirroring the war in England.

Battles in England would teach James the valuable lesson of keeping back his officers rather than placing them on the front line as leading knights and using pikes like the medieval model. His great victory would come at Flodden Field, September 9, 1513, when he, unscratched, led his army to a crushing victory over mixed Spanish and English supporting Catherine. Following the victory swiftly by a march to London, where the English dukes would swear allegiance and Catherine would escape to Spain. She would hold great prestige in her father’s court as the “rightful Queen of England” but never again rule. Meanwhile, James would solidify his command and begin building up a great fleet using England’s naval prestige, sparking wars among Spain, France, the Dutch, and Scotch England over influence in the Americas and East Indies.

The Union of Britain would ultimately be short-lived as the English chafed under Scottish rule by James III. Ultimately, the English Parliament would lead the rebellion, splitting up the island once again and separating colonies into competing spheres.

In reality, Henry survived his jousting and gained great applause before revealing himself as king to the amazement of the crowd. His reign would continue until 1547, during which he would conduct numerous wars and overthrow the Catholic influence in England to secure a divorce from Catherine in his attempt to achieve a male heir. James IV would indeed go to war against England following the Auld Alliance as Henry invaded France, but he would be rebuffed at the disastrous Battle of Flodden, where James would be killed as Catherine served as Regent in Henry’s absence.

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