WAR WITH SPAIN: 1587-1603
ELIZABETH is not seen at her best in war. She did not easily resign herself to its sacrifices. It frightened her to see the money which she had painfully put together, pound by pound, during so many years, by many a small economy, draining out at the rate of £17,000 a month into the bottomless pit of military expenditure. When Leicester came back she simply stopped all remittances to the Netherlands, making sure that if she did not feed her soldiers some one else would have to do it. She saw that Parma was not pressing forward. And though rumours of the enormous preparations in Spain, which accounted for his inactivity, continued to pour in, she still hoped that her intervention in the Netherlands was bending Philip to concessions. All this time Parma was steadily carrying out his master’s plans for the invasion. His little army was to be trebled in the autumn by reinforcements principally from Italy. In the meantime he was collecting a flotilla of flat-bottomed boats. As soon as the Armada should appear they were to make the passage under its protection.
It would answer no useful purpose, even if my limits permitted it, to enter into the particulars of Elizabeth’s policy towards the United Provinces during the twelve months that preceded the appearance of the Armada. Her proceedings were often tortuous, and by setting them forth in minute detail her detractors have not found it difficult to represent them as treacherous. But, living three centuries later, what have we to consider but the general scope and drift of her policy? Looking at it as a whole we shall find that, whether we approve of it or not, it was simple, consistent, and undisguised. She had no intention of abandoning the Provinces to Philip, still less of betraying them. But she did wish them to return to their allegiance, if she could procure for them proper guarantees for such liberties as they had been satisfied with before Philip’s tyranny began. If Philip had been wise he would have made those concessions. Elizabeth is not to be over-much blamed if she clung too long to the belief that he could be persuaded or compelled to do what was so much for his own interest. If she was deceived so was Burghley. Walsingham is entitled to the credit of having from first to last refused to believe that the negotiations were anything but a blind.
Though Elizabeth desired peace, she did not cease to deal blows at Philip. In the spring of 1587 (April-June), while she was most earnestly pushing her negotiations with Parma, she despatched Drake on a new expedition to the Spanish coast. He forced his way into the harbours of Cadiz and Corunna, destroyed many ships and immense stores, and came back loaded with plunder. The Armada had not been crippled, for most of the ships that were to compose it were lying in the Tagus. But the concentration had been delayed. Fresh stores had to be collected. Drake calculated, and as it proved rightly, that another season at least would be consumed in repairing the loss, and that England, for that summer and autumn, could rest secure of invasion.
The delay was most unwelcome to Philip. The expense of keeping such a fleet and army on foot through the winter would be enormous. Spain was maintaining not only the Armada but the army of Parma; for the resources of the Netherlands, which had been the true El Dorado of the Spanish monarchy, were completely dried up. So impatient was Philip –usually the slowest of men–that he proposed to despatch the Armada even in September, and actually wrote to Parma that he might expect it at any moment. But, as Drake had calculated, September was gone before everything was ready. The naval experts protested against the rashness of facing the autumnal gales, with no friendly harbour on either side of the Channel in which to take refuge. Philip then made the absurd suggestion that the army from the Netherlands should cross by itself in its flat-bottomed boats. But Parma told him that it was absolutely out of the question. Four English ships could sink the whole flotilla. In the meantime his soldiers, waiting on the Dunkirk Downs and exposed to the severities of the weather, were dying off like flies. Philip and Elizabeth resembled one another in this, that neither of them had any personal experience of war either by land or sea. For a Queen this was natural. For a King it was unnatural, and for an ambitious King unprecedented. They did not understand the proper adaptation of means to ends. Yet it was necessary to obtain their sanction before anything could be done. Hence there was much mismanagement on both sides. Still England was in no real danger during the summer and autumn of 1587, because Philip’s preparations were not completed; and before the end of the year the English fleet was lying in the Channel. But the Queen grudged the expense of keeping the crews up to their full complement. The supply of provisions and ammunition was also very inadequate. The expensiveness of war is generally a sufficient reason for not going to war; but to attempt to do war cheaply is always unwise. “Sparing and war,” as Effingham observed, “have no affinity together.”
Drake strongly urged that, instead of trying to guard the Channel, the English fleet should make for the coast of Spain, and boldly assail the Armada as soon as it put to sea. This was the advice of a man who had all the shining qualities of Nelson, and seems to have been in no respect his inferior. It was no counsel of desperation. He was confident of success. Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral, was of the same opinion. The negotiations were odious to him. For Burghley, who clings to them, he has no more reverence than Hamlet had for Polonius. “Since England was England,” he writes to Walsingham, “there was never such a stratagem and mask to deceive her as this treaty of peace. I pray God that we do not curse for this a long grey beard with a white head witless, that will make all the world think us heartless. You know whom I mean.”
With the hopes and fears of these sea-heroes, it is instructive to compare the forecast of the great soldier who was to conduct the invasion. Always obedient and devoted to his sovereign, Parma played his part in the deceptive negotiations with consummate skill. But his own opinion was that it would be wise to negotiate in good faith and accept the English terms. Though prepared to undertake the invasion, he took a very serious view of the risks to be encountered. He tells Philip that the English preparations are formidable both by land and sea. Even if the passage should be safely accomplished, disembarkation would be difficult. His army, reduced by the hardships of the winter from 30,000 men, which he had estimated as the proper number, to less than 17,000, was dangerously small for the work expected of it. He would have to fight battle after battle, and the further he advanced the weaker would his army become both from losses and from the necessity of protecting his communications.
Parma had carefully informed himself of the preparations in England. From the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, attention had been paid to the organisation, training, and equipment of the militia, and especially since the relations with Spain had become more hostile. On paper it seems to have amounted to 117,000 men. Mobilisation was a local business. Sir John Norris drew up the plan of defence. Beacon fires did the work of the telegraph. Every man knew whither he was to repair when their blaze should be seen. The districts to be abandoned, the positions to be defended, the bridges to be broken, were all marked out. Three armies, calculated to amount in the aggregate to 73,000 men, were ordered to assemble in July. Whether so many were actually mustered is doubtful. But Parma would certainly have found himself confronted by forces vastly superior in numbers to his own, and would have had, as he said, to fight battle after battle. The bow had not been entirely abandoned, but the greater part of the archers–two-thirds in some counties–had lately been armed with calivers. What was wanting in discipline would have been to some extent made up by the spontaneous cohesion of a force organised under its natural leaders, the nobles and gentry of each locality, not a few of whom had seen service abroad. But, after all, the greatest element of strength was the free spirit of the people. England was, and had long been, a nation of freemen. There were a few peers, and a great many knights and gentlemen. But there was no noble caste, as on the Continent, separated by an impassable barrier of birth and privilege from the mass of the people. All felt themselves fellow-countrymen bound together by common sentiments, common interests, and mutual respect.
This spirit of freedom–one might almost say of equality–made itself felt still more in the navy, and goes far to account for the cheerful energy and dash with which every service was performed. “The English officers lived on terms of sympathy with their men unknown to the Spaniards, who raised between the commander and the commanded absurd barriers of rank and blood which forbade to his pride any labour but that of fighting. Drake touched the true mainspring of English success when he once (in his voyage round the world) indignantly rebuked some coxcomb gentlemen-adventurers with, ‘I should like to see the gentleman that will refuse to set his hand to a rope. I must have the gentlemen to hale and draw with the mariners.” Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher were all born of humble parents. They rose by their own valour and capacity. They had gentlemen of birth serving under them. To Howard and Cumberland and Seymour they were brothers-in-arms. The master of every little trading vessel was fired by their example, and hoped to climb as high.
It is the pleasure of some writers to speak of Elizabeth’s naval preparations as disgracefully insufficient, and to treat the triumphant result as a sort of miracle. To their apprehension, indeed, her whole reign is one long interference by Providence with the ordinary relations of cause and effect. The number of royal ships as compared with those of private owners in the fleet which met the great Armada-34 to 161–is represented as discreditably small. By Englishmen of that day, it was considered to be. creditably large. Sir Edward Coke (who was thirtyeight at the time of the Armada), writing under Charles I., when the royal navy was much larger, says: “In the reign of Queen Elizabeth (I being then acquainted with this business) there were thirty-three [royal ships] besides pinnaces, which so guarded and regarded the navigation of the merchants, as they had safe vent for their commodities, and trade and traffic flourished.”
It seems to be overlooked that the royal navy, such as it was, was almost the creation of Elizabeth. Her father was the first English king who made any attempt to keep a standing navy of his own. He established the Admiralty and the first royal dockyard. Under Edward and Mary the navy, like everything else, went to ruin. Elizabeth’s ship-building, humble as it seems to us, excited the admiration of her subjects, and was regarded as one of the chief advances of her reign. The ships, when not in commission, were kept in the Medway. The Queen personally paid the greatest attention to them. They were always kept in excellent condition, and could be fitted out for sea at very short notice. Economy was enforced in this, as in other departments, but not at the expense of efficiency. The wages of officers and men were very much augmented; but in the short periods for which crews were enlisted, and in the victualling, there seems to have been unwise parsimony in 1588. The grumbling of alarmists about unpreparedness, apathy, stinginess, and red-tape was precisely what it is in our own day. We know that some allowance is to be made for it.
The movements of the Armada were perfectly well known in England, and all the dispositions to meet it at sea were completed in a leisurely manner. Conferences were still going on at Ostend between English and Spanish commissioners. On the part of Elizabeth there was sincerity, but not blind credulity nor any disposition to make unworthy concessions. Conferences quite as protracted have often been held between belligerents while hostilities were being actively carried on. The large majority of Englishmen were resolved to fight to the death against any invader. But, as against Spain, there was not that eager pugnacity which a war with France always called forth, except, perhaps, among the sea-rovers; and even they would have contented themselves, if it had been possible, with the unrecognized privateering which had so long given them the profits of war with the immunities of peace. The rest of the nation respected their Queen for her persevering endeavour to find a way of reconciliation with an ancient ally, and to limit, in the meantime, the area of hostilities. They were confident, and with good reason, that she would surrender no important interest, and that aggressive designs would be met, as they had always been met, more than half-way.
The story of the great victory is too well known to need repetition here. But some comments are necessary. It is usual, for one reason or other, to exaggerate the disparity of the opposing fleets, and to represent England as only saved from impending ruin by the extraordinary daring of her seamen, and a series of fortunate accidents. The final destruction of the Armada, after the pursuit was over, was certainly the work of wind and sea. But if we fairly weigh the available strength on each side, we shall see that the English commanders might from the first feel, as they did feel, a reasonable assurance of defeating the invaders.
Let us first compare the strength of the fleets: –I will insert this graphic as soon as possible–Marilee
The Armada carried besides 21,855 soldiers. The first thing that strikes us is the immense preponderance in tonnage on the part of the Spaniards, and in sailors on the part of the English. This really goes far to explain the result. Nothing is more certain than that the Spanish ships, notwithstanding their superior size, were for fighting and sailing purposes very inferior to the English. It had always been believed that, to withstand the heavy seas of the Atlantic, a ship should be constructed like a lofty fortress. The English builders were introducing lower and longer hulls and a greater spread of canvas. Their crews, as has always been the case in oar navy, were equally handy as sailors and gunners. The Spanish ships were under-manned. The soldiers were not accustomed to work the guns, and were of no use unless it came to boarding, which Howard ordered his captains to avoid. The English guns, if fewer than the Spanish, were heavier and worked by more practised men. Their balls not only cut up the rigging of the Spaniards but tore their hulls (which were supposed to be cannon-proof), while the English ships were hardly touched. The slaughter among the wretched soldiers crowded between decks was terrible. Blood was seen pouring out of the leescuppers. “The English ships,” says a Spanish officer, “were under such good management that they did with them what they pleased.” The work was done almost entirely by the Queen’s ships.” If you had seen,” says Sir William Winter, “the simple service done by the merchants and coast ships, you would have said we had been little helped by them, otherwise than that they did make a show.”
The principal and final battle was fought off Gravelines. The Armada therefore did arrive at its destination, but only to show that the general plan of the invasion was an impracticable one. The superiority in tonnage and number of guns on the morning of that day, though not what it had been when the fighting began a week before, was still immense, if superiority in those particulars had been of any use. But with this battle the plan of Philip was finally shattered. So far from being in a condition to cover Parma’s passage, the Spanish admiral was glad to escape as best he could from the English pursuit.
During the eight days’ fight, be it observed, the Armada had experienced no unfavourable weather or other stroke of ill-fortune. The wind had been mostly in the west, and not tempestuous. After the last battle, when the crippled Spanish ships were drifting upon the Dutch shoals, it opportunely shifted, and enabled them to escape into the North Sea.
It would not be easy to find any great naval engagement in which the victors suffered so little. In the last battle, when they came to close quarters, they had about sixty killed. During the first seven days their loss seems to have been almost nil. One vessel only-not belonging to the Queen–became entangled among the enemy, and succumbed. Except the master of this vessel not one of the captains was killed from first to last. Many men of rank were serving in the fleet. It is not mentioned that one of them was so much as wounded.
Looking at all these facts, we can surely come to only one conclusion. Philip’s plan was hopeless from the first. Barring accidents, the English were bound to win. On no other occasion in our history was our country so well prepared to meet her enemies. Never was her safety from invasion so amply guaranteed. The defeat of the Great Armada was the deserved and crowning triumph of thirty years of good government at home and wise policy abroad; of careful provision for defence and sober abstinence from adventure and aggression.
Of the land preparations it is impossible to speak with equal confidence, as they were never put to the test. If the Spaniards had landed, Leicester’s militia would no doubt have experienced a bloody defeat. London might have been taken and plundered. But Parma himself never expected to become master of the country without the aid of a great Catholic rising. This, we may affirm with confidence, would not have taken place on even the smallest scale. Overwhelming forces would soon have gathered round the Spaniards. They would probably have retired to the coast, and there fortified some place from which it would have been difficult to dislodge them as long as they retained the command of the sea.
Such seems to have been the utmost success which, in the most favourable event, could have attended the invasion. A great disaster, no doubt, for England, and one for which Elizabeth would have been judged by history with more severity than justice; for Englishmen have always chosen to risk it, down to our own time.(1) No government which insisted on making adequate provision for the military defence of the country would have been tolerated then, or, to all appearance, would be tolerated now. We have always trusted to our navy. It were to be wished that our naval superiority were as assured now as when we defeated the Armada.
The arrangements for feeding the soldiers and sailors were very defective. A praiseworthy system of control had been introduced to check waste and peculation in time of peace. Of course it did not easily adapt itself to the exigencies of war. Military operations are sure to suffer where a certain, or rather uncertain, amount of waste and peculation is not risked. We have not forgotten the “horrible and heart-rending” sufferings of our army in the Crimea, which, like those of Elizabeth’s fleet, had to be relieved by private effort. In the sixteenth century the lot of the soldier and sailor everywhere was want and disease, varied at intervals by plunder and excess. Philip’s soldiers and sailors were worse off than Elizabeth’s, though he grudged no money for purposes of war.
Those who profess to be scandalised by the appointment of Leicester to the command of the army should point out what fitter choice could have been made. He was the only great nobleman with any military experience; and to suppose that any one but a great nobleman could have been appointed to such a command is to show a profound ignorance of the ideas of the time. He had Sir John Norris, a really able soldier, as his marshal of the camp. After all, no one has alleged that he did not do his duty with energy and intelligence. The story that the Queen thought of making him her “Lieutenant in the government of England and Ireland,” but was dissuaded from it by Burghley and Hatton, rests on no authority but that of Camden, who is fond of repeating spiteful gossip about Leicester. No sensible person will believe that she meant to create a sort of Grand Vizier. She may have thought of making him what we should call “Commander-in-Chief.” There would be much to say for such a concentration of authority while the kingdom was threatened with invasion. The title of “Lieutenant” was a purely military one, and began to be applied under the Tudors to the commanders of the militia in each county. Leicester’s title for the time was “Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen’s armies and companies.” But we find him complaining to Walsingham that the patent of Hunsdon, the commander of the Midland army, gave him independent powers. “I shall have wrong if he absolutely command where my patent doth give me power. You may easily conceive what absurd dealings are likely to fall out if you allow two absolute commanders” (28 July). Camden’s story is probably a confused echo of this dispute.
Writers who are loth to admit that the trust, the gratitude, the enthusiastic loyalty which Elizabeth inspired were the first and most important cause of the great victory, have sought to belittle the grandest moment of her life by pointing out that the famous speech at Tilbury was made after the battle of Gravelines. But the dispersal of the Armada by the storm of August 5th was not yet known in England. Drake, writing on the 8th and 10th, thinks that it is gone to Denmark to refit, and begs the Queen not to diminish any of her forces. The occasion of the speech on the 10th seems to have been the arrival of a post on that day, while the Queen was at dinner in Leicester’s tent, with a false alarm that Parma had embarked all his forces, and might be expected in England immediately.
But the Lieutenant-General had reached the end of his career. Three weeks after the Tilbury review he died of “a continued fever,” at the age of fifty-six. He kept Elizabeth’s regard to the last, because she believed–and during the latter part of his life, not wrongly–in his fidelity and devotion. There is no sign that she at any time valued his judgment or suffered him to sway her policy, except so far as he was the mouthpiece of abler advisers; nor did she ever allow his enmities, violent as they were, to prejudice her against any of her other servants. His fortune was no doubt much above his deserts, and he has paid the usual penalty. There are few personages in history about whom so much malicious nonsense has been written.
We cannot help looking on England as placed in a quite new position by the defeat of the Armada–a position of security and independence. In truth, what was changed was not so much the relative strength of England and Spain as the opinion of it held by Englishmen and Spaniards, and indeed by all Europe. The loss to Philip in mere ships, men, and treasure was no doubt considerable. But his inability to conquer England was demonstrated rather than caused by the destruction of the Armada. Philip himself talked loftily about “placing another fleet upon the seas.” But his subjects began to see that defence, not conquest, was now their business–and had been for some time if they had only known it:
Cervi, luporum preda rapacium,
Sectamur ultro quos opimus
Fallere et effugere eat triumphus.
Elizabeth’s attitude to Philip underwent a marked change. Till then she had been unwilling to abandon the hope of a peaceful settlement. She had dealt him not a few stinging blows, but always with a certain restraint and forbearance, because they were meant for the purpose of bringing him to reason. Thirty years of patience on his part had led her to believe that he would never carry retaliation beyond assassination plots. At last, in his slow way, he had gathered up all his strength and essayed to crush her. Thenceforward she was a convert to Drake’s doctrine that attack was the surest way of defence. She had still good reasons for devolving this work as much as possible on the private enterprise of her subjects. The burden fell on those who asked nothing better than to be allowed to bear it. Thus arose that system, or rather practice, of leaving national work to be executed by private enterprise, which has had so much to do with the building up of the British Empire. Private gain has been the mainspring of action. National defence and aggrandisement have been almost incidental results. With Elizabeth herself national and private aims could not be dissevered. The nation and she had but one purse. She was cheaply defending England, and she shared in the plunder.
The favourite cruising-ground of the English adventurers was off the Azores, where the Spanish treasure fleets always halted for fresh water and provisions, on their way to Europe. Some of these expeditions were on a large scale. But they were not so successful or profitable, in proportion to their size, as the smaller ventures of Drake and Hawkins earlier in the reign. The Spaniards were everywhere on the alert. The harbours of the New World, which formerly lay in careless security, were put into a state of defence. Treasure fleets made their voyages with more caution. “Not a grain of gold, silver, or pearl, but what must be got through the fire.” The day of great prizes was gone by.
Two of these expeditions are distinguished by their importance. The first was a joint-stock venture of Drake and Norris–the foremost sailor and the foremost soldier among Englishmen of that day–in the year after the great Armada (April 1589). They and some private backers found most of the capital. The Queen contributed six royal ships and £20,000. This fleet carried no less than 11,000 soldiers, for the aim was to wrest Portugal from the Spaniard and set up Don Antonio, a representative of the dethroned dynasty.
Stopping on their way at Corunna, they took the lower town, destroyed large stores, and defeated in the field a much superior force marching to the relief of the place. Norris mined and breached the walls of the upper town; but the storming parties having been repulsed with great loss, the army re-embarked and pursued its voyage. Landing at Peniché, Norris marched fifty miles by Vimiero and Torres Vedras, names famous afterwards in the military annals of England, and on the seventh day arrived before Lisbon. But he had no battering train; for Drake, who had brought the fleet round to the mouth of the Tagus, judged it dangerous to enter the river. Nor did the Portuguese rise, as had been hoped. The army therefore, marching through the suburbs of Lisbon, rejoined the fleet at Cascaes, and proceeded to Vigo. That town was burnt, and the surrounding country plundered. This was the last exploit of the expedition. Great loss and dishonour had been inflicted on Spain; but no less than half of the soldiers and sailors had perished by disease; and the booty, though said to have been large, was a disappointment to the survivors.
The other great expedition was in 1596. The capture of Calais in April of that year by the Spaniards, had renewed the alarm of invasion, and it was determined to meet the danger at a distance from home. A great fleet, with 6000 soldiers on board, commanded by Essex and Howard of Effingham sailed straight to Cadiz, the principal port and arsenal of Spain. The harbour was forced by the fleet, the town and castle stormed by the army, several men-of-war taken or destroyed, a large merchant-fleet burnt, together with an immense quantity of stores and merchandise; the total value being estimated at twenty millions of ducats. This was by far the heaviest blow inflicted by England upon Spain during the reign, and was so regarded in Europe; for though the great Armada had been signally defeated by the English fleet, its subsequent destruction was due to the winds and waves. Essex was vehemently desirous to hold Cadiz; but Effingham and the Council of War appointed by the Queen would not hear of it. The expedition accordingly returned home, having effectually relieved England from the fear of invasion. The burning of Penzance by four Spanish galleys (1595) was not much to set against these great successes.
One reason for the comparative impunity with which the English assailed the unwieldy empire of Philip was the insane pursuit of the French crown, to which he devoted all his resources after the murder of Henry III. In 1598, with one foot in the grave, and no longer able to conceal from himself that, with the exception of the conquest of Portugal, all the ambitious schemes of his life had failed, he was fain to conclude the peace of Vervins with Henry IV. Henry was ready to insist that England and the United Provinces should be comprehended in the treaty. Philip offered terms which Elizabeth would have welcomed ten years earlier. He proposed that the whole of the Low Countries should be constituted a separate sovereignty under his son-in-law the Archduke Albert. The Dutch, who were prospering in war as well as in trade, scouted the offer. English feeling was divided. There was a war-party headed by Essex and Raleigh, personally bitter enemies, but both athirst for glory, conquest, and empire, believing in no right but that of the strongest, greedy for wealth, and disdaining the slower, more laborious, and more legitimate modes of acquiring it. They were tired of campaigning it in France and the Low Countries, where hard knocks and beggarly plunder were all that a soldier had to look to. They proposed to carry a great English army across the Atlantic, to occupy permanently the isthmus of Panama, and from that central position to wrestle with the Spaniard for the trade and plunder of the New World. The peace party held that these ambitious schemes would bring no profit except possibly to a few individuals; that the treasury would be exhausted and the country irritated by taxation and the pressing of soldiers; that to re-establish the old commercial intercourse with Spain would be more reputable and attended with more solid advantage to the nation at large; and finally, that the English arms would be much better employed in a thorough conquest of Ireland. These were the views of Burghley; and they were strongly supported by Buckhurst, the best of the younger statesmen who now surrounded Elizabeth.
Elizabeth always encouraged her ministers to speak their minds; but, as Buckhurst said on this occasion, “when they have done their extreme duty she wills what she wills.” She determined to maintain the treaty of 1585 with the Dutch. but she took the opportunity of getting it amended in such a way as to throw upon them a larger share of the expenses of the war, and to provide more definitely for the ultimate repayment of her advances.
We have seen that three years before the Armada Elizabeth had lost the French alliance, which had till then been the key-stone of her policy. Since then, though aware that Henry III. wished her well, and that he would thwart the Spanish faction as much as he dared, she had not been able to count on him. He might at any moment be pushed by Guise into an attack on England, either with or without the concurrence of Spain. The accession, therefore, of Henry IV. afforded her great relief. In him she had a sure ally. It is true that, like her other allies the Dutch, he was more in a condition to require help than to afford it. But the more work she provided for Philip in Holland or France, the safer England would be. The armies of the Holy League might be formidable to Henry; but as long as he could hold them at bay they were not dangerous to England. She had never quite got over her scruple about helping the Dutch against their lawful sovereign. But Henry IV. was the legitimate King of France, and she could heartily aid him to put down his rebels. From 2000 to 5000 English troops were therefore constantly serving in France down to the peace of Vervins.
Philip, in defiance of the Salic law, claimed the crown of France for his daughter in right of her mother, who was a sister of Henry III. To Brittany he alleged that she had a special claim, as being descended from Anne of Brittany, which the Bourbons were not. Brittany, therefore, he invaded at once by sea. Elizabeth, alarmed by the proximity of this Spanish force, desired that her troops in France should be employed in expelling it, and that they should be vigorously supported by Henry IV. Henry, on the other hand, was always drawing away the English to serve his more pressing needs in other parts of France. This brought upon him many harsh rebukes and threats from the English Queen. But she had, for the first time, met her match. He judged, and rightly, that she would not desert him. So, with oft-repeated apologies, light promises, and well-turned compliments, he just went on doing what suited him best, getting all the fighting he could out of the English, and airily eluding Elizabeth’s repeated demands for some coast town, which could be held, like Brill and Flushing, as a security for her heavy subsidies.
When Henry was reconciled to the Catholic Church, Elizabeth went through the form of expressing surprise and regret at a step which she must have long expected, and must have felt to be wise (1593). Her alliance with Henry was not shaken. It was drawn even closer by a new treaty, each sovereign engaging not to make peace without the consent of the other. This engagement did not prevent Henry from concluding the separate peace of Vervins five years later, when he judged that his interest required it (1598). Elizabeth’s dissatisfaction was, this time, genuine enough. But Henry was no longer her protégé, a homeless, landless, penniless king, depending on English subsidies, roaming over the realm he called his own with a few thousands, or sometimes hundreds, of undisciplined cavaliers, who gathered and dispersed at their own pleasure. He was master of a re-united France, and could no longer be either patronised or threatened. Elizabeth might expostulate, and declare that “if there was such a sin as that against the Holy Ghost it must needs be ingratitude:” gratitude was a sentiment to which she was as much a stranger as Henry. The only difference between them was the national one: the Englishwoman preached; the Frenchman mocked. What made her so sore was that he had, so to speak, stolen her policy from her. His predecessor had always suspected her–and with good reason–of intending “to draw her neck out of the collar” if once she could induce him to undertake a joint war. The joint war had at length been undertaken by Henry IV., and it was he who had managed to slip out of it first, while Elizabeth, who longed for peace, was obliged to stand by the Dutch.
The two sovereigns, however, knew their own interests too well to quarrel. Henry gave Elizabeth to understand that his designs against Spain had undergone no change; he was only halting for breath; he would help the Dutch underhand–just what she used to say to Henry III. She had now to deal with a French King as sagacious as herself, and a great deal more prompt and vigorous in action; not the man to be made a cat’s-paw by any one. She had to accept him as a partner, if not on her own terms, then on his. Both sovereigns were thoroughly veracious–in Carlyle’s sense of the word. That is to say, their policy was determined not by passion, or vanity, or sentiment of any kind, but by enlightened self-interest, and was therefore calculable by those who knew how to calculate.
Notes: 1. The Earl of Sussex, after inspecting the preparations for defence in Hampshire towards the end of 1587, writes to the Council that he had found nothing ready. The “better sort” said, “We are much charged many ways, and when the enemy comes we will provide for him; but he will not come yet.”
From Queen Elizabeth by Edward Spencer Beesly. Published in London by Macmillan and Co., 1892.
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