Wolsey’s French Plans in Chaos – King Francis Captured and Sent to Spain – Henry VIII’s Excitement at Invading France with Charles
Wolsey halted the pay to Bourbon’s Imperial army, which scurried back over the Alps chased by Francis’s fresh forces. The Imperialists fell back to Pavia, twenty-five miles south of Milan. By halting the supply of wages, Wolsey had adroitly left them stranded. They were surrounded by Francis’s army and should have been overwhelmed in what was expected to be a glorious military victory for the French.
But Francis did not attack and instead lay siege. The delay allowed Bourbon to leave Milan and raise money elsewhere and so fund reinforcements. In Austria, he recruited the experienced commander Georg von Frundsberg.
On hearing the news that Francis was returning with a substantial force, the Imperial army broke from the siege in the middle of the night and, in the small hours of 24 February 1525, took the sleeping French forces by surprise. Thousands of French soldiers were killed, including many of their finest captains.
The humiliation was completed with the capture of King Francis, who was later shipped to Spain and held prisoner there. For all the cardinal’s scheming, surely he could not have foreseen this turn of events. His new strategy had begun with a calamity. The news resounded over Christendom, and when it reached Henry VIII, who of course believed his country was still on the Imperial side, he was cock-a-hoop at the capture of the French king. ‘And Richard de la Pole?’ he asked the messenger. ‘The White Rose [de la Pole] is dead … I saw him dead with the others’, the messenger replied. Henry was ecstatic. ‘All the enemies of England are gone’, he declared, and for the messenger: ‘Give him more wine!’ He had not a clue that Wolsey had been negotiating for an alliance with the French for a year.
Gallant and chivalrous, Henry could, in his mind’s eye, see himself leading the charge of his heroic English army to join an invasion with Charles from the south and Bourbon from the east. Between them, victorious, they would divide up the kingdom and he would be the rightful King of France.