Wars of Tudor England: Conflicts under the Tudor Kings 1485-1553, Part I

Through the lens of warfare and diplomatic historical analysis, the timeline of Tudor England from 1485-1553 is fascinating because of the complex nature of late medieval and renaissance culture. Furthermore it was a time where weapons (gunpowder: firearms, artillery and naval cannon) and strategic understanding were advancing rapidly but the medieval style of combat from the skirmish, to cavalry, and siege warfare, remained entrenched in the values and teachings of the past. What makes this period so fascinating is that it was the end of medieval era chronologically, though technically speaking the realm's military institutions would only begin to modernize into the later reign of Henry VIII and his daughters.

Henry VIII as he looked in his later reign

The medieval influences on the reign of the Tudors cannot be overstated, it was an era which saw the end of the ‘bastard feudalism’ which tore England apart, and signaled the beginning of a modern Great Britain, united under the English throne.

Elizabeth I (b.1533-1603), the ‘Virgin Queen’ who became the last ruling monarch of the House of Tudor before the House of Stuart ascended to the throne under James VI King of Scots and later James I of England & Scotland, brought England into the modern age as one of the first pre-eminent world powers. Generally we can trace the origins of the era beginning in the 17th century to the tide of growing imperial power and inter-state rivalry which was developing as European nations united and consolidated to some degree into modern nation-statesThe Tudors owed their power to some of the more dramatic victories won on the field of battle during the last melees of the greater Wars of the Roses period from 1400-1499. The patriarch of the Tudor Dynasty, Harry Tudor, Earl of Richmond later Henry VII, won the throne on the field at Bosworth in August 1485 at the high-point of 'bastard feudalism' in medieval England. His descendants in turn would fight to keep the realm intact under the House Tudor and fight to keep England free of foreign invasion or influence.

Last Charge of Richard III, Battle of Bosworth Field, August 1485. 
From Osprey's, Bosworth 1485: Last Charge of the Plantagenets

Henry Tudor managed to survive a slew of uprisings and rebel plots, including those of Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the throne in 1487, and then Perkin Warbeck’s Cornish uprisings of 1497.

Warbeck who was actually a Flemish (Dutch) commoner claimed to be one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, rallying some Scots, Welsh, and continental mercenaries to his cause as Richard IV, becoming one of the gravest threats to Henry Tudor’s reign since he usurped the throne from Richard III at Bosworth.

Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender

After Warbeck’s execution in 1499 Henry Tudor lived out the rest of his reign under fear and uncertainty over what sort of realm he would be leaving his descendants if he could maintain power. His two immediate heirs were Arthur Tudor (b.1486-1502) and then Henry, who would ascend to the throne as Henry VIII, following his older brothers untimely death at the age of 15.

King Henry VII (b.1457-1509)

When Henry VII died in 1509 he left his son with a fragile peace in England and abroad in France and Italy, were England become a key player on the continent throughout the renaissance age.

King Henry VIII perhaps more than anything, besides wanting a legitimate male heir, wanted to be a classic King of medieval England, winning victories at the head of his army for the glory of realm (especially in France), and for his family the newly established Tudor dynasty. During his early reign before and after the English Reformation following Henry’s break from the Pope in Rome, War in France and rebellion in the British Isles were to be central events to Henry VIII’s reign. Wars with Scotland and Ireland punctuated this international conflicts as well. The most significant uprising related to religion though ultimately of little threat to his control of England was the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536-1537, a popular Catholic uprising in the North led by Robert Aske and Baron Darcy.

Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebels

In many ways King Henry VIII was not just a quintessential Renaissance king but also a medieval-minded monarch who understood his history and his own legacy in relation to that of his fore fathers and predecessors who fought and died for the throne and power over the realm. He was a lover of the joust tournament and saw himself most likely in the mold of men like his father, and of the Kings who came before him such as Henry IV and Henry V. Like his predecessor kings, Henry VIII saw the path to a mighty legacy through conquering France and attaining the French crown, fighting and commanding his armies himself in several important battles & campaigns throughout his reign from 1509-1547.

His first taste of this glory was at the Battle of the Spurs in France 1511. It began with a landing at Calais (the staging area for most English campaigns in France). Henry and his comrade Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, the son of his father’s standard bearer who was killed by Richard III at Bosworth, first saw how battles were fought. Henry was held in the back and not allowed to charge, but Guinegate was where the Tudor Knights of Henry's army "broke spears" with the French Knights,  in a rout of little military significance, though the English captured many lords and knights.  The Battle of the Spurs was essentially the last medieval style battle between England and France, a remnant of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses from c.1400-1499.
Charge of Tudor knights at the Battle of Spurs Osprey

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

The Battle of the Spurs, which took place at Guinegate in North France, was one of young Henry and Charles Brandon’s first of many achievements together as king, lord and loyal retainer. The battle takes its name from the jest that the French mounted knights fought the battle with their spurs instead of their swords, retreating under the charge of Tudor knights after they had been broken on the field by artillery.

Battle of the Spurs

The Italian Wars are most critical to Tudor diplomacy on the continent because of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s desire to beat France and her allies along with Henry’s own kingly ambitions in France. Of course English allegiance and intervention in Italy and elsewhere on the side of the non-French states was critical diplomatically and politically speaking to British military interests in France. Henry and his courtiers were able to curry favor with the Holy Roman Empire and the Italian States diplomatically through mostly good relations with the prime enemies of France. Strategically this made a campaign or major with conflict France easier for England with the help of her continental allies from Italy, to Germany through to Spain & Portugal during the early Tudor period.

King Henry VIII during his marriage to Anne Boleyn

The sieges of Boulogne 1544-1550, were Henry VIII’s last chance at conquering France and taking the crown. Brutally fought over in siege and counter sieges launched by both sides thousands died of disease alone in the King and the Duke of Suffolk’s quest to break France and win some spoils of conquest (no matter how big or small seemingly).

Though initially Henry’s armies had been successful in France, the War of Rough Wooing with Scotland brought his armies back to England very short of any resounding triumph. The thousands of lives lost in France during the sieges and occupation for naught. In 1558 Calais is surrendered to the French and English France is no more. The War of Rough Wooing is instigated after the Scottish refused to marry Henry’s heir Edward to then infant baby girl, who would grow to become Mary, Queen of Scots.

Siege of Calais 1558

Despite several major defeats French aid to the Scots helped to ultimately force a settlement. Mary Queen of Scots would later give birth to the future King of England, Scotland, & Ireland James VI/I in 1566 and the original jus ad bellum “right to war”, was voided by the Tudors in favor of the Scottish Kingdom.

Wars of Tudor England during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII

Lambert Simnel’s Rebellion 1486-1487-Battle of Stoke Field, June 1487.

Cornish Uprisings 1491-1499-Perkin Warbeck’s Yorkist Rebellion.

Wars in Italy 1511-1559-Battle of the Spurs (Guinegate, France) 1511.

Scottish Wars 1513, 1544-1550- Flodden Field 1513, Death of James IV, King of Scots. Battle of Solway Moss 1542.

Kildare, Silken Thomas Rebellion (Ireland) 1534

Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537- Northern Uprising of Lincolnshire Catholics.

French Campaigns 1544-1546- Sieges of Boulougne, captured in 1544, surrendered to the French in 1550.

The Rough Wooing (War with Scotland) 1542-1550- Burning of Edinburgh 1544, Battle of Ancrum Moore 1545, Battle of Pinkie Cleugh 1547.

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