There were genuine reasons of state behind most of these engagements, aside from Henry's personal glory and that which he wished to bestow on his countrymen through victory. The early wars with the French were conducted, in part, as an effort to keep the power of the French king at bay. Alongside Charles V's great, inherited empire, France was the major power in Europe, and its aggressive behavior toward the Italian states showed what an acquisitive appetite such power fostered. France's threats to the Papacy were also looked upon with great disquiet in Henry's England. Henry joined the Holy League and fought expressly in defense of the Holy See in Rome with singular zeal. He was urged along in this zeal by the tremendous influence of Cardinal Wolsey, who sought to please the Vatican and position himself, unrealistically, as a potential candidate for the papal tiara.

Henry's posture in foreign relations shifted dramatically after the break with Rome, and he had to balance new hostilities with the Emperor Charles, a staunch Roman Catholic and Catherine of Aragon's nephew, with the ever-present dangers posed by the French, England's traditional Enemy Number One. His switched alliances with the French and the Emperor throughout the decades of his reign demonstrate, as historian G.R. Elton puts it, "the treacherous diplomacy of the time which so largely consisted in switching allies at the right moment." Henry may have injured England's international position by fighting against the powerful Charles at the close of the 1520s. In the end, with a small victory over the French in the 1540s, Henry proved himself but a mediocre force on the international scene.

The Scottish wars were the most pressing of Henry's military concerns, and it was fortunate for him that his armies conducted these wars successfully. It was an unfortunate situation for a king such as Henry, looking for international prestige, that the northern lands of the main British island formed a hostile nation against England–allying itself with England's enemy the French–and would not be subdued. English kings had claimed lordship over the Scots for many centuries, and fought for unified government over the whole of the island. Henry's victories laid some groundwork for such a future unity.

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