Henry VII’s Relations with Spain (Nov 2015)

By Kieran Hughes M.A.

Henry’s formation of foreign relations always had a motive. Trade and finance, dynastic expansion and home security often underpinned his diplomatic decisions. The Crown coffers were so depleted after decades of territorial wars with France that England was in a precarious financial position. After Bosworth, Henry needed to develop positive, non-aggressive foreign relations with the likes of France and Spain.

While Henry was securing his reign, Spain was becoming increasingly important in Europe. It was still divided into two kingdoms, Castile and Aragon.  There had been an image of unification since the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469 but both parts were effectively still independent. Henry regarded a friendship with Spain as a necessity to off-set the overwhelming power of France in Europe. David Ferriby (2015) refers to it as an insurance policy against future problems with France.[1]  

In 1489 Henry VII tried to support Brittany against French desires to turn its suzerainty into an annexation through marital rather than military maneuvers. Meanwhile, Henry VII had been pursuing a marriage alliance between his heir Prince Arthur and the infant Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon. Negotiations had begun for the betrothal of Arthur in 1488. Roger Turvey (2015) states that England’s public and successful Spanish relations showed the rest of Europe that the Tudor dynasty could not be ignored.[2]

Meanwhile, the international scene was changing, with the Duchess of Brittany marrying Charles VIII of France in 1491, and their realms uniting. The marriage between Arthur and Catherine was cemented by the signing of the Treaty of Medina del Campo, in March 1489. C.N. Truman states that the treaty gave Henry ‘legitimacy to his rule from one of Europe’s most powerful nations.’[3] The wedding was planned for 1501 and Catherine set sail for England. Spain and England became allies, agreeing on equal trading rights between them (actually more in favour of England), they agreed to defend each other’s lands and not enter into unilateral agreements with France.

Nicholas Fellows (2015) argues that the union with Spain was the most significant of his foreign policies because it helped with international recognition and linked England to Europe’s new great power.[4] The marriage of Arthur and Catherine took place in England in 1501 and Ferdinand paid 100,000 crowns to Henry as a dowry. Arthur died in 1502 and Henry faced having to give back the half dowry sent as ‘a deposit’. Anglo-Spanish relations were rescued when Papal dispensation was given to Arthur’s only surviving brother, Prince Henry (the future King Henry VIII), to take Catherine’s hand in marriage.

The friendship between the two countries took an unexpected twist after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1503 and the death of Queen Isabella in 1504. Both widower kings, Henry and Ferdinand were competing on the European marriage market. Henry tried to improve his relationship with Burgundy which encouraged a stronger Franco-Spanish union. The consequence was the marriage of Ferdinand and the niece of Louis XII of France, in 1505. Spain and France were now allies through marriage. Henry no longer enjoyed a special relationship with Spain against France and was left isolated.

[1] D. Ferriby et.al. The Tudors, England 1485-1603, (London: Hodder, 2015).

[2]  R. Turveu, The Early Tudors: Henry VII to Mary I 1485-1558 (Abingson: Hodder, 2015).

[3] C.N. Truman ‘Henry VII and Europe, historylearningsite.co.uk (March 2015).           

[4] N. Fellowes, England 1445–1509, (London: Hodder, 2015).