For the sixteenth-century, as for the medieval, sovereign, the making of foreign policy was unquestionably part of the royal prerogative. It was not susceptible to routine political controls or to popular participation. The relations between states were, strictly speaking, the relations between dynastic rulers. On the other hand, like other domains of governance, it was subject to the loose convention that the ruler act by taking the good counsel of his advisers, although a ruler with sense was able to recognise the difference between the possible and the desirable. The conduct of diplomacy and the waging of war were inseparable, the risks taken in foreign relations high and the cost of war was a fact bound to involve interests wider than those of the court and the aristocracy. These basic propositions generate most of the debate that has developed about the nature of Henry VIII’s conduct of his relations with foreign powers, notably over the extent of the king’s actual control of his own policy. No ruler in Henry’s position could possibly manage his foreign relations alone; he was bound to take advice and it is in the nature of that advice and the extent to which the king could be manipulated that some of the main problems lie. Henry was particularly preoccupied by foreign policy and, judging by the periods of well-documented exchanges with ministers, took more interest in war and diplomacy than in most other areas.
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