Assess the reasons for England’s changing relations with Spain Things to consider

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Assess the reasons for England’s changing relations with Spain

Things to consider (in the planning stages)

  • Marriage agreements (marriages between monarchs) e.g. Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, Mary I to Philip

  • Marriage agreements (marriages to heirs/betrothals) Arthur to Catherine of Aragon, the agreement for Henry VII’s son Henry to marry Catherine following the death of Arthure (Henry VII later got his son to protest against this) 1523 agreement that Mary (Henry VIII’s) daughter would marry Charles V, Elizabeth’s negotiations with Philip II of Spain at the start of her reign.

  • The threat posed by the French/the monarch’s attitudes towards the French

  • Events in the Netherlands (e.g. the importance of the Antwerp cloth market, the collapse of the Antwerp cloth market, Spanish involvement in the Netherlands during the Dutch Revolt)

  • Elizabeth’s decision to use privateers to disrupt Spanish trade with the New World

  • Plus anything else you consider important

Introduction or first major paragraph

Give an overview of how relations changed over the period. For the vast majority of the period, Spain was England’s major ally. One of Henry VII’s first major foreign policy moves was to sign the Treaty of Medina Del Campo, with Arthur’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1501 formalising these strong links. Although relations deteriorated towards the end of Henry VII’s reign following the death of Arthur, they were restored under Henry VIII, who quickly married Catherine of Aragon. Although there was again a brief but severe deterioration in relations from 1533-40, by 1544 Henry was fighting on the same side as the Spanish against the French. Amicable relations with Spain continued during the rule of the protectors, and reached a new high under Mary who married Philip and went to war alongside the Spanish in 1557. It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that relations with Spain truly plummeted, however even during the first few years of her reign Spain was arguably England’s closest ally, with Philip persuading the Pope not to excommunicate her at the very start of her reign. By 1588 however relations between the two countries had reached a nadir culminating in the sending of the armada, however even the defeat of the armada did not lead to a thaw in relations, as shown by the English raid on Cadiz in 1596. Then identify some of the themes/reasons for changing relations.


On the surface, this factor is particularly important, as of the two monarchs who faced problems with Spain Henry VIII brought in certain Protestant practises, and Elizabeth was a Protestant. On closer investigation it would however appear that the importance of this factor is overrated and possibly masks other more important factors. Under Henry VIII Spain immediately severs relations post Henry VIII’s break from Rome in 1533, however the fact that Charles was willing to reconcile himself with Henry VIII once more in 1544 (in order to invade France) would suggest that religious factors had only a short term impact on relations with Spain. Although Elizabeth I was undoubtedly more Protestant than Henry VIII (who fundamentally remained a Catholic, albeit one who rejected the authority of the Pope) through until the 1560s Philip of Spain pressured the Pope not to excommunicate Elizabeth. Although he began to change his attitude towards the mid to late 1560s this was more to do with his anger at England’s involvement in the Dutch Revolt (accusing Elizabeth of being a heretic was a convenient way of masking the true reason for his anger against her).

Although it can not be denied that England and Spain were at their closest when Philip and Mary I (a staunch Catholic) were married, this would suggest that there was only a four year period in which religion significantly affected relations between England and Spain. Interestingly England had remained on good relations with Spain during the rule of the Protectors despite the fact that both were committed Protestants (however they did hold back at times so as not to isolate the Spanish).

Dynastic Security

For large parts of the period, the dynastic security of the Tudors was dependent on good relations with the Spanish, and it is noticeable that when the dynastic security of England depended on good relations with Spain (e.g. the monarch/heir was married to a Spaniard), relations were generally positive; the end of Henry VII’s reign (following the death of Arthur and collapse of the marriage to Catherine of Aragon) led to the temporary collapse of relations between the two countries, something mirrored under Henry VIII (albeit only temporarily) after divorcing Catherine in 1533. Mary’s marriage to Philip brought the two countries incredibly close (as shown by England’s involvement in the Italian Wars), however these good relations lapsed upon her death.

A useful comparison would be to compare Henry VII and Mary, and then contrast with Elizabeth and Henry VIII in the later part of his reign.

National Security

This is a factor that evolves considerably as the period progresses. Whereas for much of the period Spain were a vital ally to England in checking the power of France (e.g. look at how Henry VIII had allied with Spain 3 times against the French, as did Mary in 1557), by the 1560’s, the Spanish were the dominant power in Europe, ensuring they turned from a protector of England’s national security to a major threat by the reign of Elizabeth (as shown by her determination to involve herself in the crisis in the Netherlands). A possible comparison can however be made between Elizabeth and Henry VIII, as in 1525 when Spain became increasingly powerful after their victory over the French at Padua, Henry signed the Treaty of the More with the French (however he would go on to attack France again in 1544).


Similar to religion, trade (or economic interests) seem important on the surface. It was only following the collapse of the Antwerp Cloth market in 1551 (which meant that English monarchs did not have to worry as much about keeping positive relations with the Spanish who had administered the Netherlands since 1515) that relations began to deteriorate under Elizabeth. As if to reinforce this claim, Henry VIII had to abandon his plan to attack the Netherlands in 1527/8 (actually an attack on Spain who administered the Netherlands) due to protests from the merchants who wanted to remain on good terms with the Spanish (and thus be able to continue to trade with Antwerp). Closer investigation however reveals that the importance of trade in influencing relations between England and Spain is greatly over exaggerated; although the treaty of Medina Del Campo under Henry VII allowed certain trade concessions, it gave England no access to the New World trading markets, yet Henry VII was not concerned by this, as his motive was dynastic rather than economic security. Henry VIII lost all trade with Spain in the period 1533-40, and under Mary I, Philip actively supported the German Hanseatic League in their quarrels against the English Merchant Adventurers ALL SUGEGSTING TRADE WAS NOT A MAJOR INFLUENCE IN DETERMINING RELATIONS BETWEEN ENGLAND AND SPAIN. This idea that national/dynastic security was of greater importance is further evident under Elizabeth. Although she tried to break the Spanish monopoly on trade with the New World (as shown by the actions of privateers, Hawkins Slave voyages, and Drake’s voyage to Panama in 1596) ALL OF WHICH SEVERELY DAMAGED RELATIONS, her motive for such moves was not a desire for economic gain, but a desire for national security (by reducing the power of Spain- possible link to Henry VIII and his desperate search for dynastic security which pushed him into opposition with Spain post 1527, or post 1533 dependent upon how you look at it). The fact that when Elizabeth began negotiating with Philip III in 1598 she was willing to exclude England from trade with the New World in return for a neutral Netherlands (securing England’s national security) shows how little importance was assigned to it; thus it was not something that any monarch was particularly willing to fall out with/draw closer to Spain about. On the other hand, the establishment of a replacement market at Hamburg in the 1570s meant that England no longer needed to be on good terms with the Spanish for trade.


This is a factor that is certainly open to debate. On the one hand, when relations with France were negative, relations with Spain were generally positive (as shown under Henry VIII and Mary with their attacks made on France in conjunction with Spain. Similarly at the start of Elizabeth’s reign, the Spanish tried to uphold English interests and support them against the French at the Treaty of Cateau Cambresis). After 15 years of Elizabeth’s reign however, relations with the French improved (as shown by the 1573 Treaty of Blois), yet relations with the Spanish deteriorated, as shown by the crisis in the Netherlands.

There is however a counter to this argument- that it was relations with Spain that determined England’s policy towards France. For example Elizabeth drew closer to France when relations deteriorated with Spain (e.g. following the crisis caused by the seizure of the Spanish bullion in 1568), similar to Henry VIII who temporarily drew closer to France when Charles V refused to share with him the spoils of victory following the Battle of Padua.

Notice how Henry VII does not seem affected by this factor!

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