The Queen was at her best in her management of Spain. She allowed Philip to think she might marry him or his son; and in his hopes of winning England with a wedding ring, he played the game of patience till his friends were alienated and Elizabeth was strong. Pope and Emperor and a hapless Scottish Queen might beg him to invade England, but he was too doubtful of France, too troubled in the Netherlands, to venture upon so incalculable a throw of the political dice. He had no assurance that France would not pounce upon the Spanish Netherlands the moment he became embroiled with England. He was loath to encourage revolution anywhere. He trusted, in his heavy procrastinating way, that Elizabeth would in due time find one or another of the many exits that an ingenious nature has provided from our life; and yet he was in no haste to give the throne of England to a Scottish lass in love with France. For years he held back the Pope from promulgating the excommunication of Elizabeth. He bore in somber silence her treatment of Catholics in England, and her protests against the treatment of English Protestants in Spain. For almost thirty years he kept the peace while English privateers made war upon Spanish colonies and trade.
The nature of man confesses itself in the conduct of states, for these are but ourselves in gross, and behave, for the most part, as men presumably did before morals and laws were laid upon them by religion and force. Conscience follows the policeman, but there were no police for states. On the seas there were no Ten Commandments, and trade existed by permission of piracy. Small pirate craft used the inlets of the British coast as lairs and thence sallied forth to seize what they could; if the victims were Spanish the English could enjoy the religious fervor of plundering a papist. Bold men like John Hawkins and Francis Drake fitted out substantial privateers and took all the oceans for their province. Elizabeth disowned but did not disturb them, for she saw in the privateers the makings of a navy, and in these buccaneers her future admirals. The Huguenot port of La Rochelle became a favorite rendezvous of English, Dutch, and Huguenot vessels, which “preyed on Catholic commerce under whatever flag it sailed,”96 and, in need, on Protestant commerce too.
From such piracy the buccaneers passed to that lucrative trade in slaves which the Portuguese had opened up a century before. In the Spanish colonies of America the natives were dying out from toil too arduous for their climate and constitutions. A demand arose for a sturdier breed of laborers. Las Casas himself, defender of the natives, suggested to Charles I of Spain that African Negroes, stronger than the Caribbean Indians, should be transported to America, to do the heavy work for the Spaniards there.97 Charles consented, but Philip II condemned the trade and instructed the Spanish-American governors to prevent the importation of slaves except under license—costly and rare—by the home administration.98 Aware that some governors were evading these restrictions, Hawkins led three ships to Africa (1562), captured three hundred Negroes, took them to the West Indies, and sold them to Spanish settlers in exchange for sugar, spices, and drugs. Back in England, he induced Lord Pembroke and others to invest in a second venture, and persuaded Elizabeth to put one of her best vessels at his disposal. In 1564 he headed south with four ships, seized four hundred African Negroes, sailed for the West Indies, sold them to Spaniards under threat of his guns if they refused to buy, and returned home to be hailed as a hero and share his spoils with his backers and the Queen, who made 60 per cent on her investment.99 In 1567 she lent him her ship the Jesus; with this and four other vessels he sailed to Africa, captured all the Negroes his holds could stow, sold them in Spanish America at £160 a head, and was homeward bound with loot valued at £100,000 when a Spanish fleet caught him off the Mexican coast at San Juan de Ulúa, and destroyed all of his fleet but two small tenders, in which Hawkins, after a thousand perils, returned empty-handed to England (1569).
Among the survivors of that voyage was Hawkins’ young kinsman Francis Drake. Educated at Hawkins’ expense, Drake became, so to speak, a native of the sea. At twenty-two he commanded a ship on Hawkins’ futile expedition; at twenty-three, having lost everything but his reputation for bravery, he vowed vengeance against Spain; at twenty-five he received a privateer’s commission from Elizabeth. In 1573, aged twenty-eight, he captured a convoy of silver bullion off the coast of Panama and returned to England rich and revenged. Elizabeth’s councilors kept him in hiding for three years while Spain cried out for his death. Then Leicester, Walsingham, and Hatton fitted out for him four small vessels, totaling 375 tons; with these he sailed from Plymouth on November 15, 1577, on what turned out to be the second circumnavigation of the globe. As his fleet issued from the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific, it ran into a heavy storm; the ships were scattered and never reunited; Drake alone, in the Pelican, moved up the west coast of the Americas to San Francisco, raiding Spanish vessels on the way. Then he turned boldly westward to the Philippines, sailed through the Moluccas to Java, across the Indian Ocean to Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and up the Atlantic to reach Plymouth on September 26, 1580, thirty-four months after leaving it. He brought with him £600,000 of booty, of which £275,000 were handed over to the Queen.100 England hailed him as the greatest seaman and pirate of the age. Elizabeth dined on his ship and dubbed him knight.
All this time England had been technically at peace with Spain. Philip lodged repeated protests with the Queen; she made excuses, hugged her spoils, and pointed out that Philip also was violating international “law” by sending help to the rebels in Ireland. When the Spanish ambassador threatened war she threatened marriage with Alençon and alliance with France. Philip, busy conquering Portugal, ordered his envoy to keep the peace. As usual, good luck supplemented the vacillating genius of the Queen. What would have happened to her if Catholic France had not been cut in two by civil war, if Catholic Austria and the Emperor had not been harassed by the Turks, if Spain had not been embroiled with Portugal, France, the papacy, and its rebellious subjects in the Netherlands?
For years Elizabeth played fast and loose with the Netherlands, shifting her policy with fluid circumstance, and no charges of irresolution or treachery could make her move in blinders on one course. She had no more liking for Dutch Calvinism than for English Puritanism, and no more liking than Philip for abetting revolution. She recognized the importance, to the English economy, of uninterrupted trade with the Netherlands. She planned to support the revolt of the Netherlands sufficiently to keep them from surrendering to Spain or bequeathing themselves to France. For as long as the revolt continued Spain would stay out of England.
A blessed windfall allowed the Queen to help the rebels at a delectable profit to her treasury. In December 1568 several Spanish vessels, carrying £150,000 to pay Alva’s troops in the Netherlands, were driven by English privateers into Channel ports. Elizabeth, who had just heard of Hawkins’ disaster at San Juan de Ulúa, recognized a providential opportunity to make up for what England had lost in that defeat. She asked Bishop Jewel whether she had a right to the Spanish treasure; he judged that God, being surely a Protestant, would be pleased to see the papists plundered. Moreover, the Queen learned, the money had been borrowed by Philip from Genoese bankers, and Philip had refused to take title to it until its safe delivery in Antwerp. Elizabeth had the money transferred to her vaults. Philip complained; Alva seized all English nationals and goods that he could lay hands upon in the Netherlands; Elizabeth arrested all Spaniards in England. But the necessities of trade gradually restored normal relations. Alva refused to prod Elizabeth into alliance with the rebels. Philip kept his temper. Elizabeth kept the money.
The uneasy peace dragged on until continued English raids on Spanish shipping, and the appeals of the imprisoned Mary Stuart’s friends, involved Philip in a plot to assassinate the Queen.101 Convinced of his participation, Elizabeth expelled the Spanish ambassador (1584) and gave open aid to the Netherlands. English troops entered Flushing, Brill, Ostend, and Sluys; Leicester was sent to command them; they were defeated by the Spaniards at Zutphen (1586). But now at last the issue was drawn. Both Philip and Elizabeth prepared with all their resources for the war that would decide the mastery of the seas and the religion of England, perhaps of Europe, perhaps of the New World.
Spain had risen to wealth by grace of Columbus and Pope Alexander VI, whose arbitration decrees of 1493 had awarded nearly all of the Americas to his native Spain. With those voyages and bulls the Mediterranean ceased to be the center of the white man’s civilization and power, and the Atlantic age began. Of Europe’s three great Atlantic nations France was debarred by civil war from the contest for oceanic dominion. England and Spain remained, jutting out like grasping promontories toward the promised land. It appeared impossible to dislodge Spain from her preeminence in America; by 1580 she had hundreds of colonies there, England none; and each year immense riches passed from the mines of Mexico and Peru to Spain. It seemed manifest destiny that Spain should rule all the Western Hemisphere, and make both the Americas in her political and religious image.
Drake was not content with this prospect. For a time the war for the world was between himself and Spain. In 1585, financed by his friends and the Queen, he fitted out thirty vessels and sallied forth against the Spanish Empire. He entered the Estuary of Vigo in northwest Spain, plundered the port of Vigo, disrobed a statue of the Virgin, and carried away the precious metals and costly vestments of the churches. He sailed on to the Canary and Cape Verde islands, pillaged the largest of them, crossed the Atlantic, raided Santo Domingo, took £30,000 as a douceur not to destroy the Colombian city of Cartagena, plundered and burned the town of St. Augustine in Florida, and returned to England (1586) only because yellow fever had killed a third of his crew.
This was war without its name. On February 8, 1587, the English government put to death the Scottish Queen. Philip informed Sixtus V that he was now ready to invade England and dethrone Elizabeth. He asked the Pope to contribute 2,000,000 gold crowns; Sixtus offered 600,000, to be paid to Spain only if the invasion actually occurred. Philip bade his best admiral, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, to prepare the largest armada so far known in history. Ships were gathered or built at Lisbon, stores were assembled at Cádiz.
Drake urged Elizabeth to give him a fleet to destroy the Armada before it could take irresistible form. She consented, and on April 2, 1587, with thirty ships, he hurried out from Plymouth before she could change her mind. She did, but too late to reach him. On April 16 he ran his fleet into Cádiz harbor, maneuvered out of range of the batteries on the shore, sank a Spanish man-of-war, raided the transports and storeships, captured their cargoes, set all enemy vessels on fire, and departed unharmed. He anchored off Lisbon and challenged Santa Cruz to come out and fight. The Marquis refused, for his ships were not yet armed. Drake moved north to La Coruña and seized great stores collected there; then to the Azores, where he took a Spanish galleon. With it in tow he returned to England. Even the Spaniards marveled at his audacity and seamanship, and said that “were it not that he was a Lutheran, there was not the like man in the world.”102
Philip patiently rebuilt his fleet. The Marquis of Santa Cruz died (January 1588); Philip replaced him with the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, a grandee with more pedigree than competence. When finally the Armada was complete, it numbered 130 vessels, averaging 445 tons; half the ships were cargo carriers, half were men-of-war; 8,050 sailors manned them, 19,000 soldiers sailed. Philip and his admirals thought of naval warfare in ancient terms—to grapple and board the enemy and fight man to man; the English plan was to sink the enemy’s ships, with their crowded crews, by broadside fire. Philip instructed his fleet not to seek out and attack the English squadrons, but to seize some English beachhead, cross to Flanders, and take on board the 30,000 troops that the Duke of Parma had ready there; so reinforced, the Spanish were to march on London. Meanwhile a letter composed by Cardinal Allen (April 1588) was smuggled into England, bidding the Catholics join the Spanish in deposing their “usurping, heretic, prostitute” Queen.103 To help restore Catholicism in England, hundreds of monks accompanied the Armada, under the vicar general of the Inquisition.104 A devout religious spirit moved the Spanish sailors and their masters; they sincerely believed they were on a sacred mission; prostitutes were sent away, profanity subsided, gambling ceased. On the morning when the fleet sailed from Lisbon (May 29, 1588), every man on board received the Eucharist, and all Spain prayed.
The winds favored Elizabeth; the Armada ran into a damaging storm; it took refuge in the harbor of La Coruña, healed its wounds, and set forth again (July 12). England awaited it in a feverish mixture of divided counsels, hurried preparations, and desperate resolve. Now the time had come for Elizabeth to spend the sums that she had saved through thirty years of skimping and deviltry. Her people, Catholic as well as Protestant, came manfully to her rescue; volunteer militia trained in the towns; London merchants financed regiments and, asked to fit out fifteen ships, provided thirty. For ten years now Hawkins had been building men-of-war for the Queen’s navy; Drake was now a vice-admiral. Privateers brought their own vessels to the fateful rendezvous. Early in July 1588 the full complement of eighty-two ships, under command of Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham, as Lord High Admiral of England, gathered at Plymouth to greet the advancing foe.
On July 19III the vanguard of the Armada was sighted in the mouth of the Channel. The defending fleet sailed out of Plymouth, and on the twenty-first the action began. The Spaniards waited for the English to come close enough for grappling; instead, the light English vessels—built to low lines and narrow beam—scurried around the heavy Spanish galleons, firing broadsides as they went. The Spanish decks were too high; their guns fired too far above the English vessels, doing only minor damage; the English boats ran beneath the fire, and their maneuverability and speed left the Spaniards helpless and confused. As night fell they fled before the wind, leaving one of their ships to be taken by Drake. Another was blown up, reportedly by a mutinous German gunner, and the wreck fell into English hands. Luckily, both ships contained ammunition, which was soon transferred to the Queen’s fleet. On the twenty-fourth more ammunition came, but still the English had only enough for a day’s fighting. On the twenty-fifth, near the Isle of Wight, Howard led an attack; his flagship sailed into the center of the Armada, exchanging broadsides with every galleon that it passed; and the superior accuracy of the English fire broke the Spanish morale. “The enemy pursue me,” wrote Medina-Sidonia that night to the Duke of Parma; “they fire on me from morn till dark, but they will not grapple … There is no remedy, for they are swift and we are slow.”105 He begged Parma to send him ammunition and reinforcements, but Parma’s ports were blockaded by Dutch ships.
On the twenty-seventh the Armada anchored in Calais roads. On the twenty-eighth Drake set fire to eight small and dispensable vessels and placed them in the wind to sail amid the Spanish fleet. Fearing them, Medina-Sidonia ordered his ships to put out to sea. On the twenty-ninth Drake attacked them off the French coast at Gravelines, in the main action of the war. The Spaniards fought bravely, but with poor seamanship and gunnery. At noon Howard’s squadron came up, and the full English fleet poured such fire into the Armada that many of its ships were disabled and some were sunk; their wooden hulls, though three feet thick, were penetrated by the English shot; thousands of Spaniards were killed; blood could be seen flowing from the decks into the sea. At the close of that day the Armada had lost four thousand men; four thousand more were wounded, and the surviving vessels were with difficulty kept afloat. Seeing that his crews could bear no more, Medina-Sidonia gave orders to withdraw. On the thirtieth the wind carried the broken fleet into the North Sea. The English followed them as far north as the Firth of Forth; then, lacking food and ammunition, they returned to port. They had lost sixty men and not one ship.
For the remnants of the Armada there was no haven nearer than Spain itself. Scotland was hostile, and Irish ports were held by English troops. Desperately the injured ships and starving men made their way around the British Isles. The water was rough and the wind was wild; masts were shattered and sails were torn; day after day some vessel sank or was abandoned, dead men were dropped into the sea. Seventeen ships were wrecked on the rugged Irish shores; at Sligo alone 1,100 drowned Spaniards were washed up on the beach. Some of the crews made landings in Ireland and begged for food and drink; they were refused, and hundreds, too weak to fight, were massacred by the half-savage denizens of the coasts. Of the 130 vessels that had left Spain, 54 returned; of 27,000 men, 10,000, most of them wounded or sick. Philip, learning of the prolonged disaster day by day, shut himself up in his Escorial cell, and none dared speak to him. Sixtus V, pleading that no invasion of England had occurred, sent not one ducat to bankrupt Spain.
Elizabeth was as careful with ducats as the Pope. Wary of peculation in the navy, she demanded account of every shilling spent by navy and army before, during, and after the battle; Howard and Hawkins made up out of their own pockets whatever discrepancies they could not explain.106 Elizabeth, expecting a long war, had kept the crews and troops on short rations and low pay. Now a violent disease, akin to typhus, ran through the returning men; on some vessels half the crew died or were disabled; and Hawkins wondered what England’s fate would have been had the epidemic preceded the enemy.
The naval war continued till Philip’s death (1598). Drake took a fleet and fifteen thousand men to help the Portuguese in their revolt against Spain (1589); but the Portuguese hated Protestants more than Spaniards, the English drank themselves drunk on captured wine, and the expedition ended in failure and disgrace. Lord Thomas Howard led a fleet to the Azores to intercept the Spanish flota bringing silver and gold to Spain; but Philip’s new Armada put Howard’s ships to flight—except the Revenge, which, caught lagging behind the rest, fought fifteen Spanish ships heroically until overcome (1591). Drake and Hawkins made another sally to the West Indies (1595), but they quarreled and died on the way. In 1596 Elizabeth sent still another fleet to destroy ships in Spanish ports; at Cádiz it-found nineteen men-of-war and thirty-six merchantmen; but these escaped to the open sea while Essex plundered the town. This expedition too was a failure, but it demonstrated again the English mastery of the Atlantic.
The defeat of the Armada affected almost everything in modern European civilization. It marked a decisive change in naval tactics; grappling and boarding gave way to cannonading from shipside and deck. The weakening of Spain helped the Dutch to win their independence, advanced Henry IV to the throne of France, and opened North America to English colonies. Protestantism was preserved and strengthened, Catholicism waned in England, and James VI of Scotland ceased to flirt with the popes. Had the Armada been more wisely built and led, Catholicism might have recovered England, the Guises might have prevailed in France, Holland might have succumbed; the great burst of pride and energy that raised up Shakespeare and Bacon as the symbols and fruit of a triumphantEngland might never have been; and the Elizabethan ecstasy would have had to meet the Spanish Inquisition. So wars determine theology and philosophy, and the ability to kill and destroy is a prerequisite for permission to live and build.