313 England is Ours


From a desk in a small suite of rooms in El Escorial Philip II ran a vast colonial empire. With France torn by civil war, war against the Dutch improving, thoughts turned to the Enterprise of England

Download Podcast - 313 England is Ours (Right Click and select Save Link As)


We have finally reached that stage, gentle listeners, where the gunwales of the Great Armada begin to loom in the view ahead – or might we better say the Anglo Spanish war. So, we are going to spend the next few episodes on that almost 20 year long conflict, before returning to more social history – witchcraft, the 1590s crisis of poverties and the poor law, crime, some architecture in the great rebuilding; and then we’ve politics too in Elizabeth and her last favourite, Essex, and of course the Nine Years war in Ireland. Tell that isn’t a cornucopia of historical delights.

Now then, I may have bored you before with the observation that while many people complain that they never did any history at school apart from the Tudors, I do not remember doing anything on the Tudors. Except one thing – the Armada. Now that I do remember; I remember constructing comprehensive lists of Spanish ships and the amount of biscuits they had available, though to be honest I can’t remember much more other than that it was a home win, largely because of the weather, and that we lived happily ever after.

So when I came to start reading up about the whole business, it was interesting. As normal, historians and journalists trying to scrap together a living, honest or not, complain resentfully of various myths, as though the myths have been purposefully constructed in order to visit some awful injustice on someone or other, and that we must clear our minds. But I have to admit that I personally did have a few misconceptions, so here’s a short list, and you can tell me what horrors of historical injustice I have missed.

The first is that the Armada rather sits out on its own – although maybe alongside some international barbering duty Drake undertook with his beard singeing. I really was only very dimly aware that what we have here is a very long war indeed, from something like 1585, although no one actually fired a starting gun so who knows – all the way to 1604, when an end date was officially stamped in what was a score draw effectively.

The next one was that I was only vaguely aware of what an international affair it was; I mean obviously I realised we were fighting Spain, and they weren’t a district of Wiltshire and all. But the critical importance of the Dutch revolt in bringing on the war, the role of the Dutch in how it turned out, the importance of the French religious wars and the threat of the Ireland as a strategic back door into England had rather escaped me, so that was interesting.

And thirdly, there’s the actual Armada conflict itself; I seem to remember getting the strong impression from my list of available biscuits that the Spanish fleet was old and badly organised and the English ran rings round them – but the Spanish ships were so enormous our cannon balls got stuck in their hulls and wouldn’t go through. So we had to wait for the wind, and that saved us from certain destruction.

That is essentially it as far as the Anglo Spanish war is concerned. I do not blame my teachers, I was without doubt thinking of something else, after all this was the 11-14 period, and all I can remember from lessons in that period of my life was Malthusian theory, and that was because we got new exercise books that day. But I suspect most of my preconceptions may be shared – oh, along with Francis Drake playing bowls and ignoring the Armada until he was good and ready.

So now I have the chance to put some of that right, and put the conflict into its proper perspective, although I can tell you that I nailed the biscuit thing, which I now understand to be akin to the biscuits and gravy Grandpa Walton liked. Let me reassure you though; I remember being unapologetic about spending 3 episodes on Agincourt – or was it Crecy? Or Poitiers? And honestly I cannot find it within my heart to apologise for that, but I won’t do that to you on the Armada itself. Well, not quite.

Now then we have spoken before about the torturous choices Elizabeth had to make in order to drive her foreign policy; her objectives were all about walking a line so thin even Lindsay Buckingham would have blenched. She relied on that hardy perennial to keep England safe – the rivalry between Hapsburg and Valois. She wanted a return to the status quo ante as far as the Netherlands was concerned – the preservation of a loose and weak Hapsburg authority with religious toleration for protestants; the French must be allowed to support the rebels, but must not under any circumstances be allowed to dominate the Netherlands – just so far and no further. The argument has always been that Elizabeth was not interested in being a protestant champion, and that she was as mean as mouseshit. But the evidence is a bit equivocal; Elizabeth acted constantly on the side of the Netherlands, reluctantly and rather meanly maybe, but she never decided to abandon their cause; her support for French protestants was also reasonably constant. The survival of Protestantism was definitely on of the list of things that weighed on Elizabeth’s mind. She also had the view of her people to bear in mind. Many of them were desperate for Elizabeth to don her finest armour, seize the excaliber of Protestantism from its sheath and challenge the catholic world to single combat. The lord Admiral of Devon for example declared a sense of fellowship with the Dutch rebels

‘we be embarked all in one ship …if they the whiles make a wrack, may we be safe?

Sink or swim together as it were. As far as the PC was concerned, there were hawks in the form of Leicester for example, and doves in the form of Burghley – I say dove, chicken might be a better fowl analogy; Burghley was plenty prot as we know, but was very worried about attracting the attention of the beast, Spain.

Now Philip II wanted rid of Elizabeth, and her heresies gone, but Elizabeth was quite right in thinking that he was much more worried about France than that small damp place off the coast. So, while encouraging various plots, it took him a while to walk the path of war. So, what we have then is a sort of phony war; Elizabeth carrying out raids on the Spanish colonial empire and in support of French Protestants that was deniable – not very credibly deniable in has to be said, but at a level where it was just about possible to keep a straight face – and Elizabeth was a master at keeping a straight face when confronted by the horrid truth, and in confounding and bowlderizing Ambassadors. And so it went through the 1570s. So what changed?

Well, English vulnerability in Ireland became more acute; at Smerwick, the Spanish showed they would contemplate landing troops in Elizabeth’s domains; and the FitzMaurice revolt de-stablished the English still further. Meanwhile, Spain went from strength to strength. In 1980, Philip became King of Portugal as well as Spain by right of his wife, and resistance in favour of a Portuguse pretender was pretty feeble, retreating only to the Azores. The acquisition brought enormous wealth to the Hapsburg crown with all Portugal’s overseas empire – and a fleet well designed and used to fighting in the Atlantic. In 1582-3, a Spanish fleet also crushed the remaining Portuguese in the Azores; it was a particularly important moment, because the Marques de Santa Cruz, victor of Lepanto, rather demonstrated that reports of the feebleness of the Spanish fleet in Atlantic warfare had been horribly exaggerated. And in fact they were rather good. Philip by the way, when he adopted a joint Portuguese and Spanish coat of Arms, chose the rather ominous motto, presumably inspired by future Jimmy Bond movies, Orbis non sufficit, or the world is not enough. It’s not the motto of a shy and retiring man looking to promote world peace and focus on his needlework.

Many of his most powerful subjects also saw the significance of the acquisition of Portugal

The captains who accompanied the Marquis of Santa Cruz…said openly that now we have Portugal, England is ours; and little by little we shall gain France also

But to understand why the amp was turned up to 11, we need to understand the situation both in France, but more importantly the Netherlands.  France first then; by 1584, the Catholic League, led by the Duke of Guise, were in the ascendant; they had complete control of the king, Henry III. His younger brother and heir the Duke of Anjou, Elizabeth’s Frog, died in 1584 and the next in line to the throne was Henry of Navarre – Henry III’s 9th cousin would you believe, so you know, never give up hope of a acquiring a throne, it could happen. The Guise forced Henry III to disbar Navarre from the throne as a protestant; France was an armed camp. The point about all of this was that while Phillip was at least partly engaged in this war, on the side of the Guise and the Catholic League, more relevant is the fact that France no longer presented much of a threat. So, that enabled Phillip to focus more time and cash on the revolt in the Netherlands. Now the Netherlanders had been most successful by and large in maintaining their independence, and that distracted Phillip from satisfying the Pope’s constant demands to take down Elizabeth. But if the revolt of the Netherlands went to eat with the fishes, well…who knew what Philip might do then.

Now I also have some apparently false preconceptions about the Dutch Revolt; and I’d like to start by apologising about my use of general naming; I am kind of aware that Holland does not mean the Netherlands, it’s just one province, but I am unaware if there is an alternative to general name of the people as the Dutch. I have looked, but I have not found, so if I am messing it up, I am sorry.

Anyway, my preconception of the Dutch Revolt was of a glorious revolt against tyranny of a united people against the European superpower of the time; a glorious history of liberty which may owe something to a shared Protestantism, and a well practised ability by the English to ignore the parallels between the Dutch and the Irish.

Anyway, around 1577, the Dutch Revolt had been at its height, combining most of the towns of modern Belgium, similar to the County of Flanders we’ve been talking about for so many centuries, and the Netherlands. The Revolt had proved just how difficult it was to succeed against the rebels, with a vast number of highly fortified towns, surrounded by sea or rivers, many of them islands or peninsulas. I have a quote for you, from an English traveller of the time, which just to warn you includes the use of the word buttock, and therefore must be good. He described the low countries as

The great bog of Europe. There is not such another marsh in the world, that’s flat. They are a universal quagmire…indeed it is the buttock of the world: full of veins and blood but no bones in it

Phillip II of Spain and his military leader the Duke of Alba had devoted vast treasure to reclaiming the provinces, sending hardened troops along the 700 mile route through Switzerland and eastern France to reach the low countries, the so called Spanish Road. But by 1577 the Prince of Orange effectively ruled a national government from Brussels, responsible to the States-General or parliament. Things were cooking.

But there arrived in 1578 a new Governor by the name of Alexander Farnese, the Duke of Parma. Parma was a ruler in his own right, and used income from Parma in Italy to fund his grand court of 1,500 people. He was related to Philip, and therefore an ideal choice as governor, because he was able to speak with Philip on level terms. And he might well have been a bone fide, honest to goodness 24 carat military genius. By 1581, Parma had drawn back several of the southern provinces back into the Spanish camp – by diplomacy, exploiting the divisions between Calvinists and Catholics, by bribery, causing many towns to surrender to him, and by his peerless and by now well stocked army of Flanders of 60,000 men. From 1581, Parma planned to capture the Flanders coast below Antwerp, to control the rivers and starve towns of their trade, and capture the great prize, the city of Antwerp, centre of northern European trade.

As Parma got ready to launch his strategy, far from being the magnificent and bravely united rebels of my imagination, the states were a complete mess, and shorn of leadership. For much of the time they had no leader, except when the Duke of Anjou became their Governor General for a while, before crashing and burning, trying with his French troops to take control of 10 Dutch cities. In 1581-4, Parma captured swathes of towns in the southern provinces, most of which were never again lost; in the face of this onslaught, the states bickered among themselves and town after town surrendered, until the big one itself, Antwerp, was threatened. Parma started construction of a huge bridge down stream from Antwerp across the Scheldt, cutting Antwerp off from trade and military support. Covert English help was on the Elizabethan model, covert half-hearted and deniable and honestly, largely useless or indeed worse; in February 1584 the town of Aalst surrendered to Parma – delivered by its English garrison. In July 1584, a second assassination attempt against the Prince of Orange succeeded, and the states were left in chaos.

So in October 1584, the English Privy Council held a series of meetings, and I have no doubt that in this story of peril and failure, around the table many a noble buttock was clenched. Spain had, though covertly, multiple times demonstrated their aggressive intent, even to the point of sending soldiers to Ireland at Smerwick; France was in a mess and after Anjou’s miserable failure and death was helpless and under the control of the Catholic League; Spain was empowered and strengthened both financially and militarily by the control of Portugal. Seriously, it did not look good, it did not look good at all. And the worst news of all had come to them from the fastness of the Escorial in Spain.



The massive Palace of Escorial was built by Philip over 20 years around the site of the Monastery church of San Lorenzo, at the foot of the mountains above the originally tiny village of Escorial. The church at the centre breathed the spirit of the counter Reformation, the palace around it reflected Philip’s faith that he stood at the centre of the temporal power of the church. Despite its size, the Escorial contained school, library, workshop, hospital, monastery – and so there was really no space for the vast horde of courtiers and supplicants who would like to have demanded his attention – and did so when Philip ventured out to Madrid or Valladolid. But then Philip liked his courtiers at arms length at the Escorial, because we all know that courtiers, just like customers, get in the way of a good day’s work.

Phillip was an austere, secretive, even self effacing man in some ways. When he attended the wedding of his daughter in Savoy in 1585 everyone put on their Sunday best

Except the king, who looked very ordinary dressed in black just like the citizens

Phillip felt uncomfortable when he had to stand out. In Zaragosa one day he met a religious procession coming towards him; he stepped back into the crowd and kneeled among them all, praying bareheaded until it had passed. He was deeply pious, in a slightly obessive way – though in that of course, Philip was hardly alone in the 16th century. But you might find it a bit odd if I tell you that Philip possessed 7,422 relics, including 12 entire bodies, 144 heads and 306 complete limbs. He had an absolute faith that God was on his side, and would sort matters out for him. Here is but one example; when his plans for the invasion of England were criticized by Parma he wrote back

We are quite aware of the risk that is incurred by sending a major fleet in winter through the channel without a safe harbour but….since it is all for His cause, God will send good weather.

Philip and Elizabeth had vastly different, shall we say, management styles. Elizabeth was a nightmare to work for I would imagine, but she was thoroughly part of her court; she would meet individually with many of her counsellors, and then leak the conversation to others to see what the reaction was; she was at her happiest when her advisers were divided so she could decide or prevaricate, and when they were united she’d throw a tantrum to avoid making decisions she didn’t want to. She had deep confidence in her own ability, but none the less most of the work of planning and execution was done for her by the extremely able and long serving Privy Council.

Phillip lacked any level of this collaborative and consultative approach. At the heart of the Escorial, right next to the monastery church, lies a rather small suite of rooms. There is a workroom there, rather small, and an alcove bedroom, with shuttered windows opening onto the interior of the church. [1]It is almost a retreat, a hiding place. And yet it was from here, hidden away in the vast complex, that Phillip ruled his empire from his desk, usually working for 8 or 9 hours a day. All orders of any significance must be signed by his hand; and he would regularly get through 40reports and memoranda every day. Although he was absolutely prepared to receive and consider advice and reports, his decision making process did not involve discussion and the taking of views and a corporate decision; if caught in open water and forced to attend a meeting, he would say little, the renaissance equivalent of the colleague who contributes nothing to a meeting, apart maybe for asking for a custard cream or two on occasion. Philip made the decision, he made it alone, and once made, everyone must obey.




And the empire he ruled was incredibly complex. I am aware of cheating slightly with you lot because in the interests of aggrandising the level of threat facing the Little England, I have rather emphasised the size of the Hapsburg Empire; but I should note in the words of Spiderman, with great power came great commitments. Phillip’s income was vast; but his commitments were also vast and wide flung; he rarely felt flush with cash; obviously the treasure fleets were enormously, toe curlingly valuable; but usually they were all fully spoken for, mortgaged to service the massive debt several years ahead; so extensive were Philip’s commitments that his Empire would go bankrupt several time. There is a written exchange with one of his personal secretaries that went like this. The private secretary, pitying his master’s work rate wrote

If God had meant your majesty to remedy all the troubles of the world He would have given you the money and strength to do it

Philip wrote in reply

I know you mean well but these are not matters that can be abandoned…because the cause of religion takes priority over everything[2]

It’s a very revealing note. It reflects the vast range of commitments, and Philip’s dedication to doing every single thing – and the fact that though his secretary would be in hailing distance, this is a written exchange, not a chat on the balcony over a fag and a cup of tea.

Anyway, the point of all of this, apart from giving you a little colour, is that the English Privy Council learned something in 1584; they learned that Phillip had been planning an invasion. He had the advice of the greatest of his admirals, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, who composed a vastly detailed plan for an amphibious force to land an invasion of 55,000 troops on the shores of England. As part of the 150 ship Armada there would be a critical squadron of 40 Galleys; this aspect came from Santa Cruz’s experience in the amphibious landings at the Azores; the Galleys would be crucial for the inshore work to keep the English Navy away from the vulnerable troops on the many shallow-draughted flyboats they would need. Meanwhile Parma’s opinion was also sought; he favoured a sneak attack, launched from the Netherlands with 30,000 troops relying on surprise to get across the narrow seas. Quite how be expected to achieve surprise with everyone talking about the possible invasion and a permanent English squadron guarding against such a crossing, Parma did not explain. Even Philip noticed the flaw in the plan, scrawling by the need for surprise the words ‘hardly possible!’ The conclusion in 1583 was that it would be better to wait until the Netherlands was conquered; and then the attention could be turned to England, an invasion carried out and a new monarch installed. And so for the moment it rested.

But of course for the English Privy Council this was electric news. Darn it, they thought, that’s a bit of a blow. So they considered their options, and two bodies of thought appeared; one group were in favour of the turtle approach – develop that carapace of our fleet, and defy the Spaniards to get through it, while we chill in East Sussex and wave our mai thais at the Spanish stuck on their ships while we party. But another side said that this would not do, not one little bit. We cannot let the Dutch sink; if they do, however many mai thais we knock back, eventually we’ll be next; and anyway what about the cause of Protestantism? No, we must put boots on the ground in the Netherlands. And anyway here’s the thing – if we are a little more aggressive, we can make a few quid, carrying war to Spain’s colonial empire. Courage mes braves, courage, fortune favours the bold. This plan, presented by Walsingham, was called the Plott for the Annoying of the King of Spain.

It was this plan that Elizabeth went for and the suggestion of an alliance went off to the Dutch – but they at this stage were hopeful of a better offer, that Henry III of France would become their leader – but in March 1585, Henry refused that offer and so events rested.

Then in April and May 1585, Phillip and Elizabeth rather unexpectedly fired the starting gun. I mean as I said there were no actual declarations of war, and his action this time in other circumstances might not have precipitated war either, but this was the boot up the collective backside that led Spain and England to lurch into war. In April, Elizabeth declared an embargo on all trade with the Spanish Netherlands; in retaliation Phillip issued a decree confiscating all English goods and shipping in Iberian harbours, which was sort of upping the ante a bit; a captured Spanish captain confirmed Philip’s intention that

Hearing that the Hollanders seek aid in England and fearing they shall be aided, [King Phillip] meaneth by this arreste to feare the English from aiding them[3]

They also intercepted a letter from a Spanish merchant speaking of ‘the state of war that exists between the two kingdoms’. So, that all sounds like a starting gun then. We are off, and the races shall not be wacky. Burghley noted that the plan now committed England ‘to sustain a greater war than ever in any memory of man it hath done’. Which sounds a bit like an echo of the famous Edward Grey words in WWI that ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time’.

By June 1585 then, one of the doors into England had been sealed, through the defensive alliance agreed with Scottish king James VI. Walter Ralegh’s brother attacked a Spanish fishing fleet off Newfoundland almost immediately. Drake was allowed to provision a fleet with 1600 men, to sail from Plymouth and take war to destroy Spanish shipping. But most importantly, in August Elizabeth concluded a treaty with the Dutch. The Treaty of Nonsuch made at Henry VIII’s palace provided for Elizabeth to send an army of 4,000 foot and 500 horse, though by the end of the year there would be 8,000 troops in the Netherlands paid for by England. They would pay the States General £127,000 towards the cost of the war. They would also provide a Governor General, namely Leicester, but no thank you, Elizabeth turned down the generous offer of the crown of the Netherlands. The troops under the Commanders Sir John Norris and Leicester began to arrive just before Christmas 1585, desperate to save Antwerp which was wobbling. Earlier that year desperate efforts had been made to destroy the Spanish bridge, almost achieved by floating bombs fiendishly designed by an Italian engineer called Giambelli, which exploded on impact with the bridge, killing 800 Spanish and so traumatic they were described as ‘hellburners’.

Now look, I think we have established the principle of this podcast; you get 3 episodes on Agincourt, and a brief mench of Formigny and Guescelin. You’ll get a day on Rorke’s Drift, 2 minutes on Isandlwana. So you will not be hearing much of the military exploits of Leicester and Norris, and that might give you a clue on how well they perform. They failed to save Antwerp, which fell to the Spanish despite the hellburners, to be followed by the fall of the remaining cities of Brabant to the Spanish machine. From there on in, things frankly got worse for Leicester; he was supposed to establish strong central authority. Frankly he made a bit of a hash of it; not all his fault – Holland and Zealand in particular were opposed to anything which would strengthen central authority away from their provincial control. In 1587 he was recalled to help the queen decide what she should do with Mary Qof S; and while he was away two catholic English commanders decided now was the right time to betray their country and one surrendered the town of Deventer to the Spanish, and another a critical fort near Zutphen. Seriously, in technical terms what a bunch of clowns, and I feel tempted to use that staple phrase of English journalism – you couldn’t make it up. The Dutch were bemused at all this coming and going and must have wondered if the English were a help or a hindrance. Thomas Wilkes recorded that

There grew a wonderful alteration in the hartes and affections of the people against the English. They uttered lewde and irreverent speeches of his excellency and the whole nation

Well I have to say that you haven’t made it until you’ve been subject to lewde and irreverent speeches, I get lewde and irreverent speeches all the time from my lot. But seriously, the English, and specifically Elizabeth’s behaviour to the Dutch was more than a little dispiriting – half hearted, changeable, inconstant. In 1588, desperate to avoid the fall of the Spanish boot on the delicate English neck, she even opened peace negotiations with Parma; in which Parma had no authority to deal, but kept it going anyway to keep the English and Dutch confused and at odds. And yet whatever the stresses and strains both Dutch and English knew that they would sink or swim together.

So, while all this was going on, Drake had been released from Plymouth with his 23 ships and 1600 men. There were many similarities with previous Drake expeditions – he was aimed at the Caribbean for example, but also this was a voyage largely funded by private enterprise. This is a critical feature of Elizabethan war at sea – the overlap between private and state involvement in war. It is often commented on with deep disapproval by commentators; it is chaotic to carry on in such a way, and certainly it resulted in mixed objectives which did cause problems; Drake had to think of making a return for his investors as well as meeting his Queen’s strategic objectives. It would need to change in the longer term – but we might reflect that Elizabeth funded a war against the greatest power in Europe, without leaving a massive debt to her successor. So you know, it had its positive side too. However, there were also differences in this latest Drake expedition. The queen had made an honest man of Drake – he now carried the Queen’s commission, and was no longer a pirate; and with his fleet went two of the Queen’s ships. The other difference lay in the inconvenience that he was told not to make money – although you know, name me the queen of England who didn’t like a bob or two. But he had a strategic objective to meet. This had been defined by Walsingham’s paper – that to defeat Spain, England would need to cut Phillip’s sinews of war. So the mission must destroy his Caribbean trade and with any luck capture that blessed flota treasure fleet.

Drake sailed first to Spain as it happens – he attacked Vigo and Bayonna on the Spanish coast, and even held them for two weeks while the Spanish failed to respond militarily. Then he sailed on and in November captured a town at the Cape Verde islands off west Africa; by January 1586 he had arrived in the Caribbean and captured Santo Domingo. Next it was Cartagena’s turn to be sacked and captured, but he missed the blessed Flota by a few hours, so then on to Florida, pick up some dispirited settlers from Croatan, and back home by June 1586.

Now look. Phillip II as I keep saying was the most powerful man in the world, jealous of his reputation, and jealous of the reputation of his military power and colonial empire. And to a degree, his power rested on that reputation to inspire, and to enforce obedience and intimidate potential enemies and rebels. The shock of Drake’s campaign to the psychology of the Imperial Hapsburgs was profound. Drake had a captured and held a string of Imperial towns, with complete impunity. Not only that – but he had visited the humiliation of seizing cities on Spanish soil, and again, there had been nothing Imperial Spain could do about it. A wave of panic swept through the Caribbean, disrupting trade and fertilising investment in new fortifications. Elizabeth’s intention might have been to make war harder for Phillip to win – but without doubt Drake’s voyage made war inevitable, if it hadn’t been already.

In 1586, Phillip had two plans on his desk – one, as we have said, from his greatest Naval commander, Santa Cruz, to take a massive fleet with 55,000 men to the West Country of England, land them, and crush the feeble English army like grapes, Mwa mwa mwa mwaa. The other plan came from Parma, his greatest land based general, to sneak 30,000 men across the channel from the Army of the Netherlands, and crush the English heretics like grapes. And I say again Mwa mwa mwa mwaa. At this point there was no council of war to thrash out the pros and cons; instead, Phillip listened to a third opinion from an experienced strategist, who had been coordinating naval campaigns on the Mediterranean for over 20 years, Don Juan de Zunuga. Don Juan identified some problems with Santa Cruz’s plan – that it required both the recruitment and payment of a fleet, and an army. And the problem with Parma’s plan was – sneak across the chanel with 30,000 on the naval equivalent of paper plates designed to carry jelly and ice cream in the face of the English Navy? And let it be noted that big and powerful through Imperial Spain was, they were not over confident – they had enormous respect for the English Navy, probably more than it deserved, but in 1586 one remarked that

All that I have heard from the experts is that the great strength of the English is at sea, so that your majesty’s fleet will have to be much stronger than what they can gather in those waters[4]

So Philip and Don Juan came up with an alternative plan. Let’s combine the best of both they concluded. We’ll send a fleet from Spain. It will go and land an army in Ireland. Meanwhile, Parma would hoop across the channel with the Army of Flanders. Parma would then defeat and capture Elizabeth, she would be issued a severance notice, and a replacement monarch with the correct religious affiliations would be selected by a proper recruitment process. If, horror of horrors, Parma couldn’t capture Elizabeth he could negotiate – complete religious toleration for Catholics, English troops out of the Netherlands, and the places they garrisoned to be surrendered to Spain. This plan, the Enterprise of England as it became known should be carried out in August of September the following year, 1587. Cry Harry…oh rather Cry Pip, and St James!

The evaluations of this plan are as wide and varied as shells on the beach; for some historians it was, in the words of Rosie and Jim, completely potty noggin and stood not a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. To others – egad, it came within an ace of succeeding, if just a few things had fallen differently, we’d all be speaking Spanish right now and we’d have some decent tapas for a change. However you hang it, and I guess we’ll see next time, there were a few things poorly defined; how was Parma’s army to get to the fleet of deep water ships from the Netherlands? how would two massive forces get to meet up at the right place and time?

Well, let’s find out how the story unfolds next time.  That will be in two weeks time as it happens. But if you get bored can I remind you that there are around 80 hours of podcast listening available to you if you become a member, on an array of topics, from how landscape shaped the lives of Anglo Saxons, to the roots of religious conflict and the growth of toleration, to a history of Scotland, the lives of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Margaret Beaufort. I could go on. The world is a lobster that belongs to the history of England Member. Plus you get an average of 90 minutes new every month. All for 40quid a year or £4 a month. There can be few chips so cheap. Also, you’ll make me very happy, so to join up go to the history of Englan.co.uk and click on ‘become a member’

Meanwhile to all of you, thank you for your comments and reviews, to my members past, present and future special and everlasting thanks, and thanks to all of you for listening.

[1] Mattingly, G Defeat of the Spanish Armada

[2] Martin & Parker The Spanish Armada pp107-8

[3] Parker, G Imprudent King p 280

[4] Rodgers ‘The Safeguard of the Sea’ p256



3 thoughts on “313 England is Ours

  1. Thanks for a wonderful episode. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Geoffrey Parker’s books on Philip and the Armada. “Don’t touch the relics!”
    While Elizabeth’s staff could be exposed to tantrums, long delays in decision making and even having the odd shoe chucked at them, “the nightmare” was a remarkably loyal and supportive boss, seeing off a court conspiracy against Cecil in 1572 and seeing many of her staff dying in their beds in the large houses paid for by feathering their nests. (There are exceptions, notably Davison, scapegoated for MQS’ execution.) Contrast this with Henry VIII executing two of his chief ministers for poor performance, and Philip’s habit of murdering inconvenient noblemen without trial and hanging Antonio Perez out to dry for carrying out Philip’s order to murder Don Juan’s Secretary Escobedo. While Elizabeth asked Paulet to murder MQS, his refusal brought no harsher reprisal than some hard words from the boss. Yelling and even flung shoes seem better than the axe or garrote.

    1. Absolutely agree. The comparison with Henry VIII makes it crystal clear! Also I suspect (but don’t know) that Elizabeth’s tantrums were often very calculated to allow her to retain control.

Leave a Reply