THE SPANISH ARMADA 1588
Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury
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.
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 honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak 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 the words "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 a Protestant 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.