I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too.”
Continuing Defeat of the Spanish Armada,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Place: English Channel
“We do look,” said the Queen,
that the most part of them should have, upon this instant extraordinary occasion, a larger proportion of furniture, both for horsemen and footmen, but especially horsemen, than hath been certified thereby to be in their best strength against any attempt, or to be employed about our own person or otherwise. Hereunto as we doubt not but by your good endeavors they will be the rather conformable, so also we assure ourselves that almighty God will so bless these their loyal hearts borne toward us, their loving sovereign, and their natural country, that all the attempts of any enemy whatsoever shall be made void and frustrate, to their confusion, your comfort, and to God’s high glory.”*
* Strype, cited in Southey: Naval History.
Letters of a similar kind were also sent by the council to each of the nobility and to the great cities. The Primate called on the clergy for their contributions; and by every class of the community the appeal was responded to with liberal zeal, that offered more even than the Queen required. The boasting threats of the Spaniards had roused the spirit of the nation, and the whole people “were thoroughly irritated to stir up their whole forces for their defense against such prognosticated conquests; so that in a very short time all her whole realm, and every corner, were furnished with armed men, on horseback and on foot; and those continually trained, exercised, and put into bands in warlike manner, as in no age ever was before in this realm.
There was no sparing of money to provide horse, armor, weapons, powder, and all necessaries; no, nor want of provision of pioneers, carriages, and victuals, in every county of the realm, without exception, to attend upon the armies. And to this general furniture every man voluntarily offered, very many their services personally without wages, others money for armor and weapons, and to wage soldiers — a matter strange, and never the like heard of in this realm or elsewhere. And this general reason moved all men to large contributions: that when a conquest was to be withstood wherein all should be lost, it was no time to spare a portion.”**
** Copy of contemporary letter in the Harleian Collection, quoted by Southey.
Our lion-hearted Queen showed herself worthy of such a people. A camp was formed at Tilbury; and there Elizabeth rode through the ranks, encouraging her captains and her soldiers by her presence and her words. One of the speeches which she addressed to them during this crisis has been preserved; and, though often quoted, it must not be omitted here.
“My loving people,” she said,
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; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear! I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come among you, 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 among you all, to lay down for my God, for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood even in the dust.
“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too, and think it foul scorn that Parma, of Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm, to which, rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns: and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time my lieutenant-general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject, not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valor in the field we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”
Some of Elizabeth’s advisers recommended that the whole care and resources of the government should be devoted to the equipment of the armies, and that the enemy, when he attempted to land, should be welcomed with a battle on the shore. But the wiser counsels of Raleigh and others prevailed, who urged the importance of fitting out a fleet that should encounter the Spaniards at sea, and, if possible, prevent them from approaching the land at all.
In Raleigh’s great work, the History of the World, he takes occasion, when discussing some of the events of the First Punic War, to give his reasonings on the proper policy of England when menaced with invasion. Without doubt we have there the substance of the advice which he gave to Elizabeth’s council; and the remarks of such a man on such a subject have a general and enduring interest beyond the immediate crisis which called them forth.
Surely I hold that the best way is to keep our enemies from treading upon our ground; wherein if we fail, then must we seek to make him wish that he had stayed at his own home. In such a case, if it should happen, our judgments are to weigh many particular circumstances that belong not unto this discourse. But making the question general, the positive, Whether England, without the help of her fleet, be able to debar an enemy from landing, I hold that it is unable so to do, and therefore I think it most dangerous to make the adventure; for the encouragement of a first victory to an enemy, and the discouragement of being beaten to the invaded, may draw after it a most perilous consequence.
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