It happened today - October 2, 2015

Henry VIIOh stop it. Just stop it. That’s my reaction to the news that in 1492… King Henry VII of England invaded France. What for?

It’s certainly not high on the list of great things English kings did. I don’t even remember any memorable defeats, let alone victories. And certainly the English didn’t end up conquering France, though they continued to claim they had until 1801 when there wasn’t a French throne to claim any more (the Jacobites didn’t even give it up then.)

Now Henry didn’t invent invading France, even by English monarchs. Ever since Edward III conjured up a tenuous claim to the French throne in 1340, when the direct Capetian line fizzled out, there had been more or less continuous assertions, and sporadic efforts at enforcement, of those claims including in the Hundred Years’ War. Much blood and treasure was expended, and much suffering caused in France, for something that wasn’t likely to work and wasn’t really a good idea anyway.

I’m glad these claims did not work out, because there were no functioning parliamentary institutions in France. And especially in the early days, when the English monarchs and nobility were strongly connected to their Norman French roots, it was at least potentially dangerous to English liberty for their rulers to aspire to such dominion.

Indeed, at one time Henry VII got fed up with such parliamentary limits on his power that he said he would never call another parliament and instead rule “in the French fashion”. But he never dared try it, and a good thing too.

For what it’s worth, I think England was realm enough for any monarch. And while it may seem absurd for me to stand athwart the 15th century shouting “Stop,” fortunately I’m not the only one. Those same parliamentary institutions limited Henry’s ability to waste money pursuing such ambitions.

To defend legitimate English interests was one thing, and Parliament would fund it, though often grudgingly, through the years. But absurd and costly foreign ventures, like other vainglorious, expensive and oppressive autocratic undertakings, were not possible to sustain in England.

The king could start them. But someone would stand up and shout “Stop it” and he would have to. Then and now, because that’s the system we inherited centuries later and must preserve in our own time.