|The defeat of the Spanish Armada
is one of the most famous events in English history. It was arguably Queen
Elizabeth I's finest hour. For years she had been hailed as the English
Deborah, the saviour of the English people, and now it seemed that this
is what she had really become. She was now Bellona, the goddess of war,
and in triumph she had led her people to glory, defeating the greatest
power in the 16th century world.
Spain was the most powerful country in
the world. Philip II ruled vast territories of land, and had unparalleled
wealth from the New World. England was a small country, with little wealth,
few friends, and many enemies. If Queen Elizabeth ever felt nervous about
challenging the greatest power in the known world, she never showed it,
and appeared to believe completely in the devotion and loyalty of her people.
By believing in them, they believed in her.
King Philip had dreamt of invading England
for many years. He dreamed of conquering England and restoring the country
to the true faith. Although relations between Spain and England had began
rather well, with Philip even proposing marriage to the English Queen,
over the 30 years since the Queen's accession, relations had deteriorated.
There were many reasons for this. To begin with, England was a Protestant
country, and Spain was a Catholic one. The Spanish made no secret of their
hostility to the English Queen, who they believed was illegitimate and
had no right to the English throne, and had been involved in plots to dethrone
her. Elizabeth herself had encouraged the activities of the English pirates,
who plundered Philip's ships as they made their way from the New World,
seizing their treasures. This had angered Philip immensely, especially
as the stolen treasure was used to help fund those people rebelling against
his rule in the Netherlands.
As early as 1585, Philip had begun to prepare
a great fleet that, under the Spanish commander Santa Cruz, would invade
England. It was perhaps an omen, however, that from the start, the Spanish
faced problems. Santa Cruz died, and his successor, the Duke of Medina
Sedonia, was not at all suited to the post. He had little faith in the
enterprise, and little experience. He begged Philip to release him from
the charge, but the King was adamant. The enterprise had received another
set back when Drake and his men had sailed to the coast of Spain, and destroyed
many of the Spanish ships at Cadiz.
Queen Elizabeth had heard mutterings of
the intended invasion of England by Spain for some time. She was not, however,
at first concerned about the rumours. She had heard such rumours for almost
30 years, and easily dismissed them. Her Councillors were not so dismissive.
It eventually became clear to Elizabeth, however, that this time, the Spanish
were really going to send a fleet against England. Although the Queen had
spent considerable amounts of money funding the Netherlands campaign, she
now employed all her efforts in raising funds to ensure that when the Spanish
fleet came, England would be prepared.
Despite numerous setbacks the Spanish had
received, they were determined to set a fleet against England, and in the
May of 1588, at last the great fleet set out.
The plans of the Spanish were meticulous.
It was planned that the Spanish fleet, consisting of over 100 ships, would
sail up from Spain along the English Channel, and meet with the forces
of the Duke of Parma, Philip's nephew, making their way from the Netherlands.
Together they would sail towards England. It was believed that this force
would overwhelm the English. The English would be conquered, and
the heretical Queen would be captured.
But the English were waiting. On the cliffs
of England and Wales, men watched the seas day and night, waiting for the
first sighting of the great Armada. When at last the great ships appeared
over the horizon, beacons were lit on the hillsides, which sent the message
over the cliffs and throughout the country, that the Spanish were coming.
The beacons sent the message quicker than any horseman could ever ride,
and by morning, London and the Queen knew that the day of reckoning had
come. As soon as the ships began to make their way up the channel, the
While English soldiers and sailors fought
for England's liberty, Queen Elizabeth made her way to Tilbury. She was
not going to sit trembling inside a guarded Palace while her people fought,
but was going to go to the coast of the battle and "live or die" with them.
Like a true warrior Queen, Elizabeth, upon a White Horse, inspected her
soldiers, and made what was possibly her most famous speech of all.
this print at Allposters.com
My loving people, we have
been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how
we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery. Let tyrants
fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my
chief strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects.
And therefore I am come amongst you all, as you see at this time, not for
my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of
the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and
for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust.
I know I have the body of a week and feeble woman, but I have the heart
and stomach of a king, and a king of England too. And think foul scorn
that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe, should dare to invade the
borders of my realm!
The Queen's confidence in God and her
people was rewarded. In the English channel, the Spanish were suffering
a humiliating defeat. The weather was dreadful, with the wind and rain
against them, and they were not able to compete with the superior English
ships and war tactics. They fled in terror when fire ships were aimed at
them. The only way back to Spain was the perilous journey around the coast
of Scotland, and many a Spaniard never saw his home country again. The
battle was over, the English had won.
The Queen and her people were jubilant.
No more were they a second rate sea power, for they had conquered the fleet
of the mighty Spanish Empire. A thanksgiving service was held at St. Paul's
Cathedral for the delivery of the country, and a medal was struck, with
"God blew and they were scattered" inscribed on it. They
believed that the storm that had besieged the Spanish ships was no ordinary
storm, but the work of God.
But amongst the joy, there was considerable
sorrow for the Queen. The Earl of Leicester, who had been her companion
since her accession, and who she undoubtedly loved, had died unexpectedly
not long after sharing with her the great victory. The Queen was devastated
and secluded herself for a while. In the Armada portrait she reputedly
wears the pearls he left her in his will. But her people needed her, and
despite her grief, the Queen participated fully in the celebrations at
St. Pauls. "God bless you my people" she called out, and her people called
a thousand blessings on her.
Although King Philip sent other fleets
against England in the 1590's, none was as significant, or as threatening
as that of the great Armada of 1588, and none has captured the imagination
of successive generations as much.