Before we start with this one, lets just set the scene…
You’re a young and handsome newly appointed King. At 21 years old, you’ve already been in post for 4 years and inherited your miser Dad’s fortune, but you’re beyond desperate to move away from the reputation of being a tight-arse that he inherited for himself. So, you like to party and like to spend. Afterall, you need the public to know how radiant you are, if your reign isn’t to be a steaming pile of dog shit.
You’re a gobshite at the best of times and there’s clear issues with your over-inflated, yet immensely fragile ego… not that you’ve noticed it yourself. Your confidence is at a record-breaking high, some might even say verging on cuntishness, and your balls are bigger than your brains. However, there’s a problem! So far, you’ve done fuck-all to show what an absolute God you are on the battlefield. If you don’t sort this unwelcomed predicament out pronto, your subjects will start to think you’ve got a tiny dick.
But wait!!! Opportunity presents itself. The bigger boys in Europe that you so desperately want to impress have a gang which roam about Europe, battering the French because the Pope wills it. This might just be what you need to show what a top lad you are. Furthermore, your wife’s old man, the dirty shagger and not so much Dad of the Year that is Ferdinand of Aragon, is a big hitter with these lads. It would be daft to not get involved right?
The year is 1513, and you are of course Henry VIII, (though only in this scene setting activity I have taken you on, and hopefully not some sort of horrific reincarnation. If you are indeed a reincarnation of the big man himself, may I suggest you please stop reading as I fear your pride might not be able to cope with the rest of this post)
At this time, it was all kicking off in Europe in what was called the “Italian wars”. Basically, this was a series of scraps whereby people seemingly pissed off the Italians by trying to steal land. This included the Turks and the French. The Italian wars went on and on, and between 1494 to 1559 countries scrapped and swapped sides at ridiculous rates. The situation in 1513 was that the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I, the Pope, and Ferdinand of Spain were all trying to stop the French taking parts of Italy and keeping parts of France. They formed a little boys club and called it the ’Holy League’ like some sort of shite medieval vigilante posse. This is 100% true. I have no words for this.
This presented Henry with an opportunity to become an ally. A year or so earlier, the previous Pope, Julius II, had said Henry could have France after deciding Louis XII, the French King, wasn’t allowed it. So, Henry got his shit together and, with his dad’s saved ‘tax everybody’ cash burning a hole in his pocket and his testosterone permeating the air like a wet fart, he sends his troops to war to fight the French. In May1531, he packed them off to Calais under the command of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury – a personal fave of mine as he’s a local boy. Henry remained on standby in England until he was needed, (and I use that term loosely).
In June of the same year, things were looking juicy across the channel, giving Henry opportunity to look like he knew what he was doing, and prove his place as a warrior king. Henry’s ever bad-ass wife number 1, Katherine of Aragon, was left to reign as regent, protecting the country in his absence, as Henry popped to France. He’d also called in the back up, taking with 11,000 more men with him, all supplied to him by his pal Wolsey, holder of the almes funds. Say no more.
When Henry arrived in Calais, he was greeted by Maximillian I. Katherine was made up with this; making an impression on the Holy Roman Emperor himself would only help Henry to secure his place in history as one of the greats. Little did Henry know at this point it would be Katherine that would make the biggest impression, (well with me at least). But we’ll get to that in due course.
On August 16th, 1513, in Guinegate, just south of Thérouanne, Calais, the English troops managed to successfully outflank the French army. The French cavalry were completely outnumbered and taken by surprise, so turned on their heels and fled, running into the horizon like proper scaredy-cats. The spurs on their boots glistening in the sunlight. Hence the “Battle of the Spurs”.
Now, this is where the story divides, as there are two accounts of what happened at the battlefield that day. The first is Henry’s own account as recorded in his letters to Margaret of Savoy. This story tells of a great battle with casualties on both sides, of how the English faced three times their numbers and how they captured nine or ten different standards. It speaks of Henry’s bravery at the battle, and how he fought proudly at his men’s sides.
The second story is the truth. This is a tale of how a cowardly King stood back at a safe distance, so as not to get hurt, whilst his men chased off the French for 3 miles before stopping, and how only a few standards were left behind as the French fled.
What’s clear though is the so called ‘battle’ of spurs, wasn’t really a battle at all. More a poncey game of tig that the just so English happened to win. Henry didn’t let this small detail derail him though. He marched onto Thérouanne to help secure the hold there, Billy Bullshitting all the while with crap about what a top lad he was and how the battle was won all thanks to him. When he arrived at the garrison in Thérouanne, the soldiers there were apparently unimpressed at the feeble effort that had gone into capturing French colours. Something else Henry wasn’t so quick to talk about.
After a few days, Thérouanne and nearby Tournai were captured with minimal fuss and Henry had a ‘battle’ under his belt – though, let’s be honest, it wasn’t much to brag about. Meanwhile, back at home, whilst seemingly proud of her husband’s glory, Katherine was having a hard time holding the fort against the enemies in the North- the Scots.
The sharper amongst you will recall the title of this post hinted at his and hers wars, and I wasn’t lying. Before Henry left, the relations between England and Scotland had been starting to fray at the seams, and Henry and Katherine were both concerned that whilst Henry was away playing Barry Big Bollock, the Scots would seize the opportunity to invade. This was of course just what they did.
Now the temptation here is to think this was a dick move by James IV, the Scottish King, but in hindsight it was sort of fair enough. A few years earlier in 1502, James and Henry VII (or Henry Senior, if you like), had signed the ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’, and agreed to put the previous bad blood between the two countries behind him. Henry Senior even gave his daughter, the Princess Margaret, to James to marry to sweeten the deal. One slight issue was that James had an old allegiance with the French, something that made it particularly awkward for him a few years later when Henry Junior decided to fuck off and scrap with them.
Prior to Henry leaving, James had begged his brother-in-law not to go to France, knowing the situation would become dire for him and mean he’d ultimately have to pick a side. Of course, Henry being Henry went anyway. James, being the gent he was and in accordance with ‘the rules’ of war at the time, sent a polite letter to Katherine and the English council stating that he would invade England within a month in an attempt to bring Henry home and for all the awkwardness to stop. Obviously, this didn’t work – Henry was preoccupied with building a reputation as a badass with the Holy League and his public to give a shit about James threats, so Katherine prepared for battle.
James’s call to arms amongst the Scot’s was very popular. Within no time at all he’d rallied together more than 40,000 men to go and lay waste to the English…after all the English men were in France so realistically, how hard was it really going it be?
The problem is that to Henry’s credit, (and it’s not often I say that), he knew James would try some shit like this so had prepared. He’d sent men from the south counties to fight in France, keeping men in the north to protect against possible Scottish invasion. Henry’s army of 25,000 men didn’t really match James’ army in numbers, but this didn’t matter. The English army geared up and headed North, where James was already winning in Northumbria.
Henry’s army, led by the formidable Earl of Surrey, played a bit of a blinder. They let James’ army advance south into the northern towns as they snuck off around the back of them to block their retreat. A lot of James’ armies had been looting the small towns and castles along their way down, filling their pockets with riches as they went, so had decided to fuck off back home as rich men, leaving the rest of James’ men to face the English.
The reduced numbers only served to make an easier attack for the earl of Surrey, who advanced on the Scots from behind and handed them their arses on Flodden Field. This time it was a proper full-on blood on the floor, bodies piled high kind of battle, unlike whatever the fuck that was Henry had led in France. James IV was killed on the battlefield, along with a third of his men. It was a fucking disaster for the Scots and loss at the battle of Flodden removed the Scots reputation as hard hitters from the European stage from that point on.
Katherine on the other hand was made up. She’d been on her way North with her English and Spanish banners, ready to get involved in the action herself. She only made it to Buckinghamshire when news of the victory came through. Surrey’s men had the Scottish kings decapitated body and were heading home with the mother of all trophies. Where the Henry’s men had captured a few flags and a couple of political prisoners in France, Katherine’s men had killed the Scottish king and sent the message through to their neighbours not to play their silly games in their back yard for threat of severe consequences.
Katherine sent James’ coat to Henry in France to be used as a banner. She was going to send his head but reported to Henry in her letter that the English nobles were a bit soft for this kind of thing, so had restrained herself and kept it, storing the body in the lumber room at Sheen Priory.
The irony of going in search of glory boasting like a motherbitch, only to have your wife who sat humbly before dethroning a King was not lost on Henry. The fragile masculinity that he was famed for was getting him down and despite being a victor over 2 countries at the same time, was annoyed that Katherine has stole his thunder. Katherine on the other hand sat quietly proud knowing that England had at least one badass warrior monarch sat on its throne. Well, until he did the dirty on her at least. What a nasty little cock end he was.
If you’re interested in reading more about James IV and Margaret Tudor, you can do so here: 8th August, 1503: The Rose and the Thistle – The Tudorials. Likewise, if you want to follow my rather tenuous link to a post about Hardwick Hall (and not so much about George Talbot), you can do so here: Hardwick Hall; More Glass Than Wall – The Tudorials