The Holy Roman Empire was a “complex of territories in central Europe.” The Kingdom of Germany was the largest of them; others included the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Burgundy and Italy – and the Duchy of Cleves (!). When the Emperor Maximilian died in January of 1519, there was no German contender – so an election was scheduled to determine the next Holy Roman Emperor.
The main candidate was Maximilian’s grandson, Charles V of Spain. But Francis I was also in the running – France’s Charlemagne had been the greatest of the Holy Roman Emperors and Francis was heir to that tradition (enough to make it worth his while to bribe a ton of people). Even Henry VIII thought he might have a chance. That’s where this post comes in.
How could he think that?
In 1519, Henry was 27 and still in his prime. Catherine had given him a daughter (Mary) and was still getting pregnant regularly, Henry FitzRoy was born in June. He was at the top of the world – along with his huge ego. How could no one have discouraged him from wasting the money on the bribes that were required to pursue this position? How did no one warn him just how unlikely he was to win? Or maybe they did. Maybe he joined the contest just to bother Charles and Francis, in keeping with the great rivalry that existed among the three great monarchs of the era – all relatively close in age, all acceding to their thrones around the same time, all dying around the same time. This is how Alison Weir explains it – she describes his easy acceptance of his loss as evidence that his involvement was a token one.
Still, the election took place on Henry’s birthday. You know there was a part of him that truly believed God would give this to him ….
As always, Wikipedia has a number of useful articles including ones concerning the Holy Roman Empire, the Imperial Election, Henry VIII and Charles V. And if you really want to dive into things, Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and his Court is always a wonderful source for all things Henry.