Throughout Continental Europe the Protestants, discomfited and dismayed, looked to England as their protector and refuge.
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
There was yet another and a stronger feeling which armed King Philip against England. He was one of the sincerest and one of the sternest bigots of his age. He looked on himself, and was looked on by others, as the appointed champion to extirpate heresy and reestablish the papal power throughout Europe.
A powerful reaction against Protestantism had taken place since the commencement of the second half of the sixteenth century, and he looked on himself as destined to complete it. The Reformed doctrines had been thoroughly rooted out from Italy and Spain. Belgium, which had previously been half Protestant, had been reconquered both in allegiance and creed by Philip, and had become one of the most Catholic countries in the world. Half Germany had been won back to the old faith. In Savoy, in Switzerland, and many other countries the progress of the Counter-reformation had been rapid and decisive. The Catholic league seemed victorious in France. The papal court itself had shaken off the supineness of recent centuries, and, at the head of the Jesuits and the other new ecclesiastical orders, was displaying a vigor and a boldness worthy of the days of Hildebrand or Innocent III.
Throughout Continental Europe the Protestants, discomfited and dismayed, looked to England as their protector and refuge. England was the acknowledged central point of Protestant power and policy; and to conquer England was to stab Protestantism to the very heart. Sixtus V, the then reigning Pope, earnestly exhorted Philip to this enterprise. And when the tidings reached Italy and Spain that the Protestant Queen of England had put to death her Catholic prisoner, Mary, Queen of Scots, the fury of the Vatican and Escurial knew no bounds. Elizabeth was denounced as the murderous heretic whose destruction was an instant duty.
A formal treaty was concluded in June, 1587, by which the Pope bound himself to contribute a million of scudi to the expenses of the war, the money to be paid as soon as the King had actual possession of an English port. Philip, on his part, strained the resources of his vast empire to the utmost. The French Catholic chiefs eagerly cooperated with him. In the seaports of the Mediterranean and along almost the whole coast from Gibraltar to Jutland the preparations for the great armament were urged forward with all the earnestness of religious zeal as well as of angry ambition.
“Thus,” says the German historian of the Popes (von Ranke),
thus did the united powers of Italy and Spain, from which such mighty influences had gone forth over the whole world, now rouse themselves for an attack upon England! The King had already compiled, from the archives of Simancas, a statement of the claims which he had to the throne of that country on the extinction of the Stuart line; the most brilliant prospects, especially that of a universal dominion of the seas, were associated in his mind with this enterprise. Everything seemed to conspire to such an end — the predominancy of Catholicism in Germany, the renewed attack upon the Huguenots in France, the attempt upon Geneva, and the enterprise against England. At the same moment a thoroughly Catholic prince, Sigismund III, ascended the throne of Poland, with the prospect also of future succession to the throne of Sweden. But whenever any principle or power, be it what it may, aims at unlimited supremacy in Europe, some vigorous resistance to it, having its origin in the deepest springs of human nature, invariably arises. Philip II had to encounter newly awakened powers, braced by the vigor of youth and elevated by a sense of their future destiny.
“The intrepid corsairs, who had rendered every sea insecure, now clustered round the coasts of their native island. The Protestants in a body — even the Puritans, although they had been subjected to as severe oppression as the Catholics — rallied round their Queen, who now gave admirable proof of her masculine courage and her princely talent of winning the affections and leading the minds and preserving the allegiance of men.”
Ranke should have added that the English Catholics at this crisis proved themselves as loyal to their Queen and true to their country as were the most vehement anti-Catholic zealots in the island. Some few traitors there were, but as a body, the Englishmen who held the ancient faith stood the trial of their patriotism nobly. The lord admiral himself was a Catholic, and — to adopt the words of Hallam — “then it was that the Catholics in every country repaired to the standard of the lord lieutenant, imploring that they might not be suspected of bartering the national independence for their religion itself.” The Spaniard found no partisans in the country which he assailed, nor did England, self-wounded,
“Lie at the proud foot of her enemy.”
For upward of a year the Spanish preparations had been actively and unremittingly urged forward. Negotiations were, during this time, carried on at Ostend, in which various pretexts were assigned by the Spanish commissioners for the gathering together of such huge masses of shipping, and such equipments of troops in all the seaports which their master ruled; but Philip himself took little care to disguise his intentions; nor could Elizabeth and her able ministers doubt but that this island was the real object of the Spanish armament.
The peril that was wisely foreseen was resolutely provided for. Circular-letters from the Queen were sent round to the lord lieutenants of the several counties requiring them to “call together the best sort of gentlemen under their lieutenancy, and to declare unto them these great preparations and arrogant threatenings, now burst forth in action upon the seas, wherein every man’s particular state, in the highest degree, could be touched in respect of country, liberty, wives, children, lands, lives, and — which was specially to be regarded — the profession of the true and sincere religion of Christ, and to lay before them the infinite and unspeakable miseries that would fall out upon any such change, which miseries were evidently seen by the fruits of that hard and cruel government holden in countries not far distant.
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