Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy 1558-1603 by Susan Doran.
Hello, and Welcome to the Renaissance English History Podcast, a member of the Agora Podcast network. This is episode 75! Woohooo you guys! You’ve spent 75 episodes with me. Thank you! Episode 75 is going to finish off the Elizabeth and France unit. We’ve been looking at all the different Tudor monarchs got along with France, and so we’re finally wrapping up with Elizabeth.
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Also, a credit to Paige for the research for this episode. Thanks, Paige. You’re awesome.
So, Elizabeth. When we left off last time, Mary Tudor lost Calais, and said that when you cut open her body, you would find Calais on her heart. So it’s not a great time for England, in relationship to France.
Elizabeth’s goal with her foreign policy was similar to her grandfather, Henry VII, to try to stay out of foreign wars. She would find herself drawn into engagements through the years, most famously with the Spanish Armada. But France was also a source of frustration and potential warfare, especially early on in her reign as they supported the rights of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Much of the tension in Elizabeth’s relationship with France extended to Catholics in general. It’s impossible to think about Elizabeth and Catholics without remembering that Catholics considered her a bastard, born out of wedlock as Catherine of Aragon was still alive when Anne Boleyn had Elizabeth. If Elizabeth was a bastard, then the next person in the line of succession would be the children of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, who had married into Scotland. That would then trace us down to Mary Queen of Scots. The same Mary Queen of Scots who was married into France, and had a French mother, with extended French family. So if you were Catholic, you might just support the rights of a Scottish Queen who was linked with France over Elizabeth.
France at this time was going through their own messy Reformation which would see the escape of many protestant Huguenots into England. Later in Elizabeth’s reign we have the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which tens of thousands of Protestants were butchered over the course of several weeks, though the massacre lasted just a few days in Paris before spreading to the countryside. Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, on whom we did an episode two years ago, was in France at this time, and it would forever shape his view of Catholics, and the threat that Protestants were under.
One major benefit that Elizabeth had when it comes to France was the fact that France had a minority rule with a King who was only 10 when he inherited. The internal politics of France left England not quite as threatened as perhaps under Henry VIII when the French sent an Armada to invade. But still, many Protestant English wanted England to intervene to help the Protestant Huguenots, so there was still the possibility of being dragged into a messy war.
But back to Elizabeth’s early reign. Last time we also talked about how the Scots and French were linked, so again, Scotland was being ruled by Mary Queen of Scots’ mother, who was acting as Regent when Mary went to France to be married. So there are French people all over Scotland, who want to try to use it as a door into English politics. This would all fall apart for the French when the Protestants rebelled, and the new people in charge were more pro English than pro French.
Just two years into her reign, Elizabeth had some success against the French. The French had announced that they were going to help the Scots defeat the revolt of the Lords of the Congregation, which was the Protestant rebellion. At the same time, the French stated that Mary was the rightful Queen of England. Rather than waiting for more French troops to land in Scotland, Elizabeth sent her own troops into Scotland and forced the French force at Leith to negotiate a settlement. In the Treaty of Edinburgh (July 6th 1560) it was agreed that all English and French troops would withdraw from Scotland and that Mary Stuart would renounce her use of the coat of arms and title of England.
In 1562, just a few years into her reign, Elizabeth revived her claim to Calais as France was occupied with religious wars. She occupied the French port Le Havre, and said she was going to keep it until France gave back Calais. In 1563 the French forces beat out the English, and there was a treaty that acknowledged French ownership of Calais in exchange for a one time payment to England of only 120,000 crowns. Also the rights to Le Harve and freedom of commerce was agreed in the treaty. There was a bit of a miscommunication, of sorts, and the French believed that the English had forfeited all their rights to Calais. It wasn’t what they meant at all, but Elizabeth wasn’t in any position to press it. And so, after trying to get it back, Calais remained lost.
After Mary Tudor had died and Elizabeth was crowned, some in France saw things different. Basically, they thought that Mary, Queen of Scots should be Queen, and dear MSQ started going around with the royal colors, and being announced as the Queen while in France. Things turned bad for Mary when her husband died, and she went back to Scotland. The French weren’t in any position to help her anymore, moving on to other things, and Mary navigated a rough road in Scotland where she was unsuccessful at navigating the clan politics and rebellion that were part of Scottish life. I did do an episode on her life back in 2015, so you can check that out if you want the details of her life in Scotland.
When Mary had to leave Scotland thanks to another rebellion, she asked for Elizabeth’s help, but Elizabeth kept her at a distance, actually imprisoning her, which was an unprecedented move for one sovereign to make against another. Especially Elizabeth, who so clearly favored the rights of kings, and a strong monarchy. The problem for Elizabeth was, and continued to be, that as long as Mary was in the picture, there was a figurehead for any rebellion. As tensions with Catholic countries got worse, and Elizabeth was excommunicated by the Pope, effectively telling any Catholic that they had free reign to attack or depose her, Elizabeth would make the decision to execute Mary after she implicated herself in several planned rebellions. Mary really wasn’t the best political operator. But the execution of an anointed sovereign wasn’t good for Elizabeth, and many people say that it helped the Spanish decide to send the Armada when they did.
Elizabeth did have one positive side of her relationship with France, which was her single status. Elizabeth famously never got married. But that didn’t mean that she didn’t hint at the possibility when the timing would help her. One of those times was in the late 1570’s and 80’s when she entertained the idea of marrying Francis the Duke of Anjou. The English didn’t favor the match, but Elizabeth did consider it for a long time. Francis even came to England to court Elizabeth, which flattered her, as he was the only foreign suitor to do so. This was during the period when Elizabeth was being excommunicated, and the feelings of the Catholic powers against her were growing, so she really needed a continental ally if possible. The problem was that the English really did not support the match. John Stubbs, who wrote a book attacking the planned marriage, had his right hand cut off, as did the books’ distributor. The punishment was carried out in public in Westminster and the reaction of the crowd should have indicated to the Queen that there was much sympathy for the two men. And the duke left, still single.
Francis, our heartbroken Duke, actually died in 1584, and the Protestant Henry of Navarre became the heir presumptive to the throne of France. This shifted things again as the Catholics in France allied with Spain. Having Spain control France would be disastrous to Elizabeth, and so she started sending money to Henry, and when Philip of Spain invaded France in support of the Catholic League, Elizabeth sent 20,000 troops before 1594. The French religious wars officially ended in 1598, and it would be another several generations before France could threaten England again.
So that wraps up this episode, and this little mini unit on War with France. The book recommendation for this episode is Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy 1558-1603 by Susan Doran. I’ll put up a link on the website. Remember to go to the website for the transcript, to sign up for the awesome mailing list, and lots of other fun stuff, englandcast.com. You can also contact me with any thoughts, ideas, etc., at englandacst.com or through the facebook page at facebook.com/englandcast, or through twitter @teysko or the listener support line at 801 6TEYSKO. Next episode we’ll talk about Tudor Crime and Punishment, so stay tuned for that!
Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll talk with you soon!