The quincentenary of Emperor Charles V's state visit to England has been largely ignored. Yet the six weeks spent in England by the most powerful ruler in Europe was of enormous importance to Henry VIII. It initially achieved far more than the famous meeting between Henry and King Francis I at the Field of Cloth of Gold two years earlier.
What follows is a summary of why the rulers wished to meet, the glamour of the visit, the agreements they reached, and why their alliance eventually collapsed. A more detailed account of the visit can be found in a follow-up blog - Emperor Charles V's visit to England in 1522.
Henry VIII and his chief minister, Wolsey, had gained much credit for the universal peace agreed by Europe’s Christian leaders in the Treaty of London (1518), much to the annoyance of Pope Leo X whose idea for such a peace had been hijacked. By 1521, however, Charles’ election as emperor, French concerns about encirclement by Habsburg controlled lands and Charles’ refusal to give ground meant that war had broken out between Charles and Francis I. Both wanted Henry’s backing, giving England’s king a powerful position which he intended to use to the full by demanding considerable concessions for his support.
Wolsey was involved in extensive negotiations with the representatives of both Francis and Charles, supposedly seeking peace but by late 1521 it was clear that England would side with the emperor. Henry’s ambition to take lands in France or even the French crown, England’s traditional trading links with Charles’ lands in Spain and the Low Countries, as well as his personal link to the emperor though his marriage to Charles’ aunt, Catherine of Aragon, all contributed to the decision. Charles needed to return to Spain from the Low Countries and it was planned that he would visit England at the start of the voyage.
Arriving in late May 1522 with an entourage of two thousand, the emperor was joined in Dover by Henry and the two remained in each other’s company for the next six weeks. They travelled to Greenwich Palace, to meet Henry’s family and enjoy feasting and jousting, before moving on to London, where celebrations were begun with a magnificent formal entry. This was followed by visits to Richmond Palace, Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Winchester and finally Bishop’s Waltham Castle before Charles departed for Spain from Southampton.
It was at Windsor that the terms of their treaty were finalised. After justifying their actions and settling financial matters, they were to ‘make a common war’ on France, known as the ‘Great Enterprise’. Charles was to marry Henry’s young daughter, Mary, when she became of age.
Both did invade France, the English from Calais in 1523 and Charles from Spain in 1524, but co-ordination was never achieved. Although both achieved some successes, none were consolidated and by mid-1524 both monarchs were complaining bitterly about the other’s failure to honour their agreement. Henry was soon in negotiations with the French. When Charles V’s armies achieved their stunning victory at the battle of Pavia in February 1525 and captured the French king without any English assistance the emperor felt no need to involve Henry in the diplomatic manoeuvres that followed. He also withdrew from the agreement to marry Princess Mary, which given her age had never been a realistic proposition, and instead married Isabella of Portugal. By 1526 Henry was supporting renewed French aggression against his erstwhile ally. When Henry decided to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon Charles used his influence with the pope to block the annulment. The two monarchs never met again.