Prince Henry and the Wider World

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The Embarkation of the Elector Palatine in  the Prince Royal from Margate, 25 April 1613 by Adam Willaerts, 1622 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK

The Embarkation of the Elector Palatine in the Prince Royal from Margate, 25 April 1613
by Adam Willaerts, 1622
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK

 

By the time he was in his late teens, Henry had an active role on the world stage, not just as a precocious collector and cultural patron, but also as the focus of wider political and religious activity and aspiration. Marriage proposals were one of the most important kinds of international political exchange. A number of possibilities were considered for the prince, mostly with Catholic princesses, which was a source of concern for him. Henry was also involved in the negotiations for his sister Elizabeth’s marriage, promoting the most significant Protestant candidate, Frederick V, Elector Palatine. In addition he corresponded with various European leaders – both Catholic and Protestant – whom he admired, including his godfather King Henri IV of France and the Dutch leader Maurice of Nassau.

Henry’s interest in foreign politics and religion was closely linked to his support for the navy and exploration. The early seventeenth century was a time of important developments in astronomy and navigation, which contributed to military capability and also enabled the exploitation of new worlds. The prince benefitted from an education in these subjects, in which he took a keen interest. The shipwright Phineas Pett built for Henry the largest, most magnificent ship in the British fleet. Henry also gave his name to one of the earliest settlements in Virginia, and sponsored a voyage to find the Northwest Passage to China.