Charles’ visits to England
Charles visits England twice in the early 1520’s
Charles visited England on two occasions – in 1520 on his way from Spain to his coronation as emperor and in 1522 on his return journey to Spain. Charles had first met Henry in 1513 when he had been taken by Margaret of Austria to meet him after the English victory outside Therouanne (known to the English as the ‘battle of the spurs’). He was impressed by the king, nine years his senior and by then married to his aunt, Catherine of Aragon.
In May 1520 Charles left Spain in turmoil (King in Spain), having planned to visit Henry VIII, en route to the Holy Roman Empire. He landed at Dover on 26th May and was greeted by Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. Charles was keen for a meeting with Henry as his relations with France were deteriorating and he was fully aware of the forthcoming meeting between the English and French kings. He was only just in time. Henry had already left London in readiness to cross the Channel for his famous meeting with Francis I at The Field of the Cloth of Gold between Guines and Ardres, outside Calais. On 27th May Charles and his entourage proceeded to Canterbury where Henry awaited him together with Queen Catherine, Mary, Henry’s sister (to whom Charles had been linked with in a possible marriage for many years until she married the elderly Louis XII of France and on his death, a few months later, the Duke of Suffolk), and almost the whole of the English nobility, on their way to France. After two days of negotiations (largely led by Wolsey on the English side) and banquets, an agreement was reached on 29th May. The trading treaty between England and the Low Countries was extended for another five years, fine words of friendship were exchanged and it was agreed that they would meet again soon. Charles then travelled to Sandwich from where he sailed to Flushing in the Low Countries and Henry with his vast company crossed to Calais (then still in English hands).
That second meeting agreed between Charles and Henry in 1520 took place between Calais and Gravelines later in June, immediately after the extravagance and false affection of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry and Francis had much in common – Renaissance monarchs who found pleasure in jousting, hunting, food, drink, women, an interest in the arts and both were ambitious. The problem was that these ambitions often clashed and they were bound to see each other as rivals. Henry, encouraged by Wolsey, aimed to gain as much as possible by acting the peacemaker between Francis and Charles. Although Charles’ meetings with the English king were no-where near as lavish, diplomatically they probably accomplished more. Henry probably saw Charles as less of an immediate threat than Francis, possibly because he was younger and Henry had no claim on any of his lands. Within two years Charles and Francis were at war and Charles had Henry’s support.
In June 1522 Charles set out to return to Spain, honouring his promise to return there within three years. He recognised the dangers of his voyage and had drawn up his first will ‘having regard to our coming perilous journey’. In 1521 war had broken out between Charles and Francis. Wolsey had been sent by Henry to act as mediator, but could hardly be regarded as an honest broker. In November 1521, much encouraged by Margaret of Austria, Charles’ aunt and regent in the Low Countries, a secret agreement was signed in Bruges between representatives of Charles, Henry and the Pope, by which Charles would marry Henry’s daughter Mary when she was 12 years old (realistically he was unlikely to wait that long – he would by then be 28!), he would visit England on his voyage to Spain and Wolsey would receive an imperial pension to replace his French one!
So it was that in June 1522 Charles landed in Dover once again and was to remain in England for some weeks. He travelled to London where he was greeted with full ceremony, and then on to Windsor for a state visit. Charles had taken with him some of the superb treasures of Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, which had been sent to him by Hernando Cortes from Mexico. Articles such as gold shields and feathered cloaks had gone first to Spain and then on to Brussels before coming to London. They impressed all who saw them with their beauty, ingenuity and value. Albrecht Durer wrote: ‘In all my life, I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things’. While the monarchs were involved in jousting, feasting and dancing, their advisers were putting the final touches to the Treaty of Windsor, signed on 16th June, with secret sections signed three days later. The terms were similar to those of the agreement of November 1521 with the addition that both Henry and Charles agreed that they would invade France in 1524.
Charles never returned to England or met Henry again. Their relationship was soured by the failure of their planned invasions of France (each blaming the other for a lack of support) and then in the late 1520’s by Henry’s decision to ask the pope for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and replace her with someone with whom he might produce a male heir. Charles was able to use his power to block such plans for many years, resulting in England leaving the Catholic Church and the setting up of the Church of England. Charles was unable to have cordial relations with Henry until after Catherine’s death in 1536. Even after that, when there was the suggestion that Charles’ niece, Christina, might marry Henry, Charles did not insist when she refused the match saying: ‘If I had two heads, one of them would be at the disposal of the king of England’.