Anglo-Spanish Relations in the Sixteenth Century: The Twisted Road to the Spanish Armada | Ariana Cuevas|

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The decline of Anglo-Spanish relations during the 16th century is based on several influences, the accumulation of which led to the Spanish Armada. This silent Anglo-Spanish war was waged for many years and originated from a long history of animosity. Both Elizabeth and Philip’s courtiers played a critical role in their respective monarchs and ultimately led to the necessity of war with Spain. Predating Elizabeth’s reign, the relationship with Spain and, most importantly, the Holy Roman Empire was highly complicated. Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII, was overly cautious about solidifying relationships with any other country because he did not want to alienate any other country while doting on others. Cracks in the foundation of Anglo-Spanish relations would begin during Henry VIII’s reign, most apparent in his split from Rome. Looking at the first part of Elizabeth’s reign, the breaks in relation that Henry VIII caused did not affect relations early in her reign; instead, there was toleration for one another.[1] Tolerance would slowly end when neither ruler was unable to look the other way and address the issues that had been apparent for decades. Elizabeth’s courtiers were influential in persuading Elizabeth in making decisions that mirrored their views, especially on religion. The outcome of the Spanish Armada was positive for England even though England did not garner any land or spoils of war. This did not end the many portrayals of Philip II as a villain[2] and as the ruler who was in the wrong. Arguably, neither England nor Spain emerged as a winner; it was merely an altercation that needed to happen to release decades of tension.

To understand the complexity of Anglo-Spanish relations during Elizabeth’s reign, looking at Anglo-Imperial relations under her father, Henry VIII, is crucial. He ruled from 1509 to his death in 1547. Henry was married to a Spanish–born princess, Catherine of Aragon, and coincidentally, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was her nephew. This made Henry uncle to the emperor, although they were only eight years apart. Henry’s marriage acted as a catalyst for closeness between the two rulers, but it would not come to pass. Religious matters weighed too heavily in the Holy Roman Empire, and Charles had no choice but to defend the Catholic Church. In 1527, the King’s Great Matter, Henry’s need for a divorce[3], would ramp up the religious, ideological deviance that was already engulfing Europe. Henry needed special papal dispensation to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Pope Clement VII would not give it since his political ties rested with Charles V because Charles was occupying Rome, who tried to protect his aunt from any insult at the time of the case. Thomas More was a personal friend to the King and one of his most trusted advisors; More forged a relationship with Henry in his early teens. This intimate relationship would parallel many of the advisors that Elizabeth held. Before becoming Queen, Elizabeth secretly[4] developed relationships with many of her courtiers to keep their position for life. Like Elizabeth’s courtiers, More had his plan that he tried to implement by influencing the King. More did not wish a war with the empire; instead, he wanted to join forces to defeat the Ottoman Turks.[5] More encouraged Henry to root out the heresy in the East, but that would mean to forget about the divorce Henry so desperately wanted. Instead, Henry would not back down and to not provoke Charles, he assured him that he was not letting go of his marriage “but only for the discharge of his conscience, and for the quietness of his Realme.”[6] Growing impatient, Henry proceeded without dispensation and married Anne Boelyn in 1533. By ignoring a possible bond with Charles and forging a division in religion in England, the rest of Henry’s reign was littered with social and political turmoil that would continue to haunt Elizabeth during her reign. A 1532 letter written by Catherine of Aragon for her nephew, Charles V, perfectly states the fear she had for the future of England:

There are many signs of the evil meditated here; new books are being printed, full of lies, impurities, and blasphemies against our common Faith, shewing their staunch determination to bring the suit to an end in this kingdom, all of which, coupled with the contemplated interview of the two princes, and the infamy brought upon the whole kingdom by the lady companion the King takes with him, and the authority he bestows upon her, has, Your Majesty, may be certain, caused scandal and fear throughout this kingdom, and all dread that some great calamity is impending.[7]

Religion was still a significant division that kept England and Spain apart. In 1558, Elizabeth ascended the throne. There had been a substantial shift because of the sudden disappearance of Catholic fervor that intensified during her predecessor and sister, Mary I. Philip had briefly been King consort and offered Elizabeth a hand in marriage after Mary’s death, which she refused. For the first part of Elizabeth’s reign, this slight insult was the only thing keeping the monarchs apart in terms of dislike towards each other. However subtle this insult was to Philip, the most significant difference between the two monarchs was religion. Much of Elizabeth’s first half of her reign was marked by who she would marry, the reform of the church, and strife in Ireland. Beginning in the late 1570s, issues emerged that threatened and provoked England and Spain. These issues “tended to exacerbate the ill feelings growing out of their religious differences.”[8] Philip was a devoted Catholic Prince and his five years as King Consort in England made him believe he was an expert on English affairs. Philip was overzealous in his faith, commenting to a courtier, “May God give you life and health because you are engaged in His service and in mine – which is the same.”

As the leading Catholic prince, close ties with the papacy went hand in hand; instead, the papacy was cold to Philip, often accusing him of inaction. In 1570, Pope Pius V issued his papal bull and excommunicated Elizabeth. Instead of Philip commending the Pope, Philip wrote, “that I could give him better information and advice on that kingdom and its affairs and people, than anyone.”[9] Pope Sixtus V and Philip mutually despised each other[10]The Pope merely saw Philip as a land-hungry expansionist. In contrast, Philip did not like how Sixtus pressured Philip into action using religion as a ploy to get him to do something. “Philip II wanted the cooperation of the papacy for financial reasons and for moral support in his claim to dispose of the crown of England,”[11] It was a challenge for Philip to get the Pope to do what he needed. Sixtus believed that Elizabeth was still amenable and could steer England towards Catholicism.  However, as time went on, Sixtus couldn’t ignore the reality, “while he regretted the necessity of the Armada and deplored Spanish slowness, he gave it his financial as well as his moral support.”[12]

All Philip was left with was the enormous pressure from the Pope to dispose of the pretender, Elizabeth. Instead of enacting a direct assault and invasion as the Pope wanted, Spain was not in the position to waste its precious resources. Philip acted as the ruler of the most powerful country at the time. He did not go out on a whim and begin the enterprise of England; he waited for the right time. Spain was basking in the glory of the discovery of the New World, garnering new foods and precious valuables. He did not want to throw away those achievements in a possible catastrophic war on England. It was a process; Philip would find himself trapped into the realization that England needed a strong Catholic ruler; only he could fulfill that position. But just as the Pope felt strongly anti-Elizabeth, he also saw the necessity for it, especially for the preservation of Catholicism. 1571 is the most critical turning point because it is “an episode that provides a superb example of the direct and decisive impact of Philip’s messianic outlook on his foreign policy.”[13] 1571 is the year the Ridolfi Plot was implemented and the first real threat felt by Elizabeth. This year initiated Philip’s long road to implementing plans for the Spanish Armada.

The two prominent advisors to Elizabeth were Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley. They were able to hold their positions from Elizabeth’s accession to their respective deaths. Their advice to the Queen “thus provided a vital continuity in government during a period of profound instability – constitutional, economic, religious, national and international.”[14] The Ridolfi Plot was a plot to gather Catholic support from Brussels, Rome, and Madrid under secrecy to replace Elizabeth with Mary, Queen of Scots. After the spymaster Walsingham uncovered the Ridolfi Plot, both Burghley and Walsingham urged Elizabeth to get rid of the constant potential threat that Mary, Queen of Scots, posed to Elizabeth’s rule. Similar to Philip’s Catholic fervor, Sir Francis Walsingham also possessed a strong desire to see England embrace Protestantism. A significant factor for diplomacy was religion, and he didn’t put much faith into alliances with Catholic Princes.[15] Walsingham wrote, “Above all things I wish God’s glory and next to the Queen’s safety.”[16] As one of the most powerful men in England, he saw the interests of Protestantism and England as the same. A Spanish courtier at the English court observed his fervor and proclaimed, “of all heretics the worst.”[17] Burghley was seen more as a conformist; he could begrudgingly conform to Catholicism and then happily rejoice in Protestantism under Elizabeth. Walsingham was adamant in supporting other Protestant countries. When the Dutch question became a significant part of Elizabeth’s foreign policy, Walsingham fought diligently to assure English support for the Calvinist rebels in the Spanish Netherlands even if Burghley opposed him. Burghley was keenly aware of the might of the Spanish naval forces and, as Lord Treasurer, would protect trading ports and routes:

Be yt remembred that I William Lord Burghley Lord Treasurer of England have made covenante in grant to Sir Thomas Cotton knight for the furnishing of one ship of war for the conducting of wool of late of four ships from the port of London to the porte and town of Bruges in the lowe countreyes of Flanders […]for the sum of five score pounds of lawfull English monie to be payed by the mayor constables and fellowship of the staples of England. W. Burghley.[18]

By 1581, Burghley saw the need to protect English merchant ships during the growing international tension felt with Spain. It was a costly investment but a necessary one.

The next step in solidifying mistrust between the two rulers was the discovery of the Throckmorton Plot in 1583 by Sir Francis Walsingham. Similar to the Ridolfi Plot, Walsingham and Burghley wanted to execute those involved immediately. This plot was unique, for the Spanish were engaged in trying to overthrow Elizabeth. Bernardino De Mendoza was the Spanish Ambassador in England who constantly wrote to Philip to relay daily events at court. After discovering his involvement in the plot, he wrote to Philip II, “Her Majesty was much displeased with me on account of the efforts I had made to disturb her country.”[19] Elizabeth, urged by Walsingham and Burghley, needed to show her displeasure. Parliament and her courtiers wanted to execute Mendoza. Elizabeth saw that it would cause too much turmoil with Spain, and despite the influence of her courtiers, expelled him from the country. Mendoza continued, “For these reasons, it was the Queen’s will that I should leave the country, without fail, in fifteen days. I replied that I was surprised that the Queen had summoned them and me for so small a matter as this.”[20] In the same letter, Mendoza expresses his displeasure at the dramatic behavior of the Queen; Mendoza viewed himself as innocent:

 I said I laughed at the idea of the Queen punishing me and should be overjoyed to go away the moment she sent me [word]. I said that, as she was a lady there was nothing strange at her being the least thankful to those who desired to serve her, as I had done, but as I had apparently failed to please her as a minister of peace she would in future force me to try to satisfy her in war.[21]

Mendoza would continue to serve Philip II in France, with Mendoza’s envoys traveling to England to relay court details. Mendoza also kept writing to Mary, Queen of Scots, trying to garner support for her in France. After his expulsion from England, Mendoza was a strong supporter of military action against England and wrote to Philip to encourage him.

            Early preparations for the Armada were considered in 1581, and news of the Armada would reach England, and talk of it would spread all over Europe. Roger Bodenham[22] wrote to Lord Burghley, “there is no cause much to fear any army that Spain can make from hence against England because of the uncertainty of a harbour and the strength of the queen’s navy.”[23] Philip was a fervently religious man, and he desired to see England return to Catholicism. Still, he did not view the Armada as a tool necessary to accomplish this because it was too costly. For years even as the preparations were beginning in 1581, he would try to pursue other means. “Like Elizabeth, he equated peace with prosperity, but neither monarch was a completely free agent, and the policies of each impinged on and in numerous ways impeded the other.”[24] The role of the couriers and their influences on the two monarchs directed them towards war on each other despite the knowledge that war was extremely costly. Walsingham encouraged intervention in the Netherlands, directly threatening Philip’s sovereignty and Philip’s courtiers saw this action as the best justification for the continuation of plans for the Spanish Armada.

In 1576 Elizabeth received an offer from the Netherlands that would anger Philip and ultimately further his plans for the Armada. Elizabeth was offered the election as the countess of Holland.[25] She didn’t outright refuse the offer, but she also didn’t want the possible acceptance to ruin the relationship with Spain. Again in 1585, a Dutch embassy gathered in England to offer Elizabeth the United Provinces.[26] Both offers resulted from the crippling losses of the province’s army and the impending Spanish offensives. In 1585 a three-part agreement known as the Treaty of Nonsuch was decided that Elizabeth would aid the Dutch rebels. “The main difference between the sovereignty and protectorate treaties was that the latter outlined the specific military assistance expected from Elizabeth, which would have been unnecessary if she were sovereign.”[27] The negotiations headed by Burghley, Walsingham, and the Earl of Leicester were muddled in various interests and fear over Spain’s retaliation. Burghley wrote in 1576 that he knew the fear early on, “suddenly into a war with the king of Spayne.”[28] And because of that fear, Elizabeth only accepted to aid the Dutch with money and soldiers. Ideally, Elizabeth and her courtiers wanted a treaty that would give England functional ruling powers in the Dutch government. Since Elizabeth did not accept when she had the chance, she missed out on the opportunity. Mendoza wrote to Philip II, “the Queen would help them with 10,000 men and would send Lord Grey as Governor. She told them that, even if France would not aid them, she would do so, and in such a way as would prevent your Majesty from ever subduing them, and that henceforward she would do so undisguisedly.”[29] Mendoza expressed that he saw this as an unashamed and direct action against the king. The purpose of Elizabeth waiting almost ten years from 1576 to finally aiding the Dutch in 1585 is in a sense a mystery; she was waiting for the right time to strike and was pressured by Walsingham to assist fellow Protestants.

The two previous plots threatening Elizabeth’s reign in 1571 and 1583 have been rallying cry for England to begin to seriously consider military defense preparation that would help defend the realm. Gradually, Spain became more and more a constant symbol of anti-English interests and a symbol of fear. As a prominent figurehead of Catholic fervor, Philip himself is an obvious antithesis to the progression of Protestantism in England. The Babington Plot in 1587 demonstrated the heightened progression of religious differences. The war in the Netherlands with England on one side aiding Protestant rebels on the other side was Philip II demanding to retain the Catholic normalcy that his reign provided. The Babington Plot unleashed those religious differences paralleling the clash in the Netherlands. The conspirators in the Babington Plot were Anthony Babington, who would pass coded messages to Mary Queen of Scots, who was confined at Fotheringhay Castle.[30] Mary, Queen of Scots, was used by Philip II to spur momentum for Catholics in her home in Scotland and England. Many believed Elizabeth was a usurper because of her religion and thought Mary had to replace her. It was not only religion that propelled Mary’s claim to the throne it was also the importance of her legitimacy. Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was through her father Henry VIII, but her mother, Anne Boelyn, was heavily disliked, and the marriage between her parents, Henry and Anne, was annulled. Mary’s claim rested on her legitimacy claim because she was a great-granddaughter of Henry VII[31]. Therefore, there was ‘more’ royal blood present in Mary, whereas Elizabeth’s mother was a disgraced woman who was beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII. Mary used this popular notion to gain support from other Catholic believers. It was advantageous for her to garner support in England because Mary could not raise an army by herself.

The most prominent supporter that Mary, Queen of Scots, was able to solidify a relationship with was the strongest Catholic prince, Philip II. Their alliance was an obvious one because they shared a yearning for Catholic uniformity. Mary had been pursuing it relentlessly, writing to Anthony Babington, “the longer that they and wee delay to put a hand on the matter on this, the greater leaves have our said enemies to prevail and win advantage over the said princes.”[32] Once again, Philip II had meddled in English affairs by secretly showing his support for Mary. The support is corroborated by Mary writing in the same letter that urges Babington to “impart with all diligence to Barnardino de Mendoza, ambassador to the king of Spaine residing in France.”[33] Mary goes on to write that Mendoza is faithful and trusting of the cause. Although not directly helping Mary by providing troops to dethrone Elizabeth, Philip advocated for her release by writing to the Pope and Elizabeth. After the writings from her co-conspirators, Walsingham found this was enough justification for Elizabeth’s courtiers to demand Elizabeth execute her cousin and lawful monarch in her own right.

 Philip used Mary as a ploy for his self-interests. Philip saw the opportunity for himself to advocate for a Catholic monarch to replace Elizabeth; it was a tool for Philip to force Elizabeth into action. The Babington Plot revealed that Philip wrote to Mary and offered support, but they were only words, and he was slow to provide any real aid. With the pressure mounting from Walsingham and Burghley, Elizabeth wrote to Mary on 12 October 1586, “therefore require, charge, and command you make answer for all I have been well informed of your arrogance.”[34] This was the last straw for Elizabeth; she no longer tolerated the overtly treasonous behavior from Mary and sentenced her to death.[35] The Babington Plot had not been the first plot to threaten Elizabeth; the Ridolfi and Throckmorton plot directly threatened her rule. Elizabeth chose to ignore the plots and entrap Mary under house arrest for her safety. Although, under pressure from Sir Francis to get rid of Mary from the very beginning, Elizabeth understood the international backlash from killing an anointed queen. While alive, Mary used her faith to garner support from other influential Catholics; as the most powerful Catholic prince, Philip also encouraged English Catholics to rebel. After Mary’s death, she was transformed into a symbolic martyr, and Philip used her death to villainize Elizabeth as a monarch-killing tyrant.

Philip believed that there was a small window of opportunity after Mary’s death to further twist the outcome to his self-interest. Under the ‘Phantom Will,’ he considered himself the heir to Mary, Queen of Scots. The Phantom Will is the small claim that Philip is the heir to the throne because he was once married to England’s queen, and since she did not have an heir, the kingdom should become Philip’s. This suggestion would not come to fruition because of the lack of evidence suggesting he was Mary’s heir. His uneasiness in doing anything involving his military prompted him to proceed with caution. Philip did not have a keen interest in having a new state to govern.[36] It was, however, important enough for Philip to write to Count de Olivares, Spanish Ambassador to Rome, to see what type of support his cause can obtain, in a letter dated February 1587:

You will cautiously approach his Holiness, and in such terms, as you think fit endeavor to obtain from him a secret brief declaring that, failing the queen of Scotland, the right to the English crown falls to me. My claim, as you are aware, rests upon my descent from the House of Lancaster, and upon the will made by the queen of Scotland, and mentioned in a letter from her, of which the copy is enclosed herewith. You will impress upon his Holiness that I cannot undertake a war in England for the purpose merely of placing upon that throne a young heretic like the king of Scotland who, indeed, is by his heresy incapacitated to succeed. His Holiness must, however, be assured that I have no intention of adding England to my own dominions but to settle the crown upon my daughter, the Infanta.[37]

Through this letter, Philip demonstrates yet another example of his intervening in internal English affairs. Philip advocated for his power to be strengthened by writing that he wants his Holiness to intervene on his behalf. Desires expressed in the letter did not come to pass. Yet plans for the Armada were still underway, and the death of Mary “gave it a new justification and urgency”[38] The Babington plot marked the end of complicity from both Elizabeth and Philip. Elizabeth was unable to ignore the interference from Philip; from the constant pressure from Burghley and Walsingham, she was instructed, by them, to start preparing for defense. Philip no longer focused on other events of his reign; abandoning the focus on the Netherlands and problems in Portugal, he focused all attention on preparing the Armada from pressure from the Duke of Alva.

The preparation for the Armada and its defenses looked different for both England and Spain. Both Burghley and Walsingham were keenly aware of Elizabeth’s everlasting hope of a solution of peace with Spain, and Walsingham continued to be frustrated by Elizabeth’s ignorance and inaction. Burghley wrote to Walsingham underlining the position England found it herself in:

As God would be best pleased with peace, so in nothing can her majesty content her realm better than in procuring of peace, which, if it cannot be had, yet is she excused before God and the world. In short, seek peace, but prepare for war.[39]

This letter reveals that Burghley was trying to reassure Walsingham that Elizabeth extremely valued peace but that the time for peace was over and England needed to prepare for war. It was safer to be ready for battle as opposed to ignoring the signs that Spain was exhibiting.

Both Burghley and Walsingham were adamant about preparing for the Armada. On October 9, Burghley drew up the first provisions of defense.[40] Burghley could not have provided suggested measures to the Privy Council if he did not have some sort of authorization from the queen. In the list, defensive measures were commandeering merchant ships as warships, mobilizing the standing navy, purchasing other vessels from the Low Countries, and the ramp-up of surveillance towards dangerous Catholics within the English population.[41] For England, this was the first real attempt made to prepare defenses. These preparations also acknowledge the fact that the Spanish Armada preparations were not successful at all at secrecy. It gave England time England to create an atmosphere of fear, and the talk of the Armada was enough for Walsingham and Burghley to become worried. An important note was that royal warships were not placed under the conditions of being prepared for war. As historian Robert Hutchinson writes, “Elizabeth point-blank refused to implement this sensible precaution and the most her discouraged councilors could wring out of her exchequer was an additional two ships to join the small fleet stationed at the English Channel but for only six weeks of service.”[42] England would continue to proceed with caution. The hesitation stemmed from the self-awareness both monarchs had of each other’s economies. Neither country had the right amount of funds to pursue any war with each other. Elizabeth instead focused on increasing the encouragement of exploration and allowed the provocation inflicted by her privateers. Spain would see it not as a threat to Spain itself but to the imperial legacy it was creating.

Philip had always found the idea of a great fleet appealing but pressing matters in the Netherlands, funding exploration, and unrest in Portugal took too much of his attention. He asked his prominent advisor, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, to draft out the costs of the hypothetical fleet. The plan asked for 556 ships and an army of 95,000 men.[43] The total estimate for the plan was 1.5 billion maradevis.[44] Philip saw the plan as extremely risky; his troops were tied up in the Netherlands, and he had gone bankrupt twice already.[45] As hesitation was the element driving Elizabeth to caution, Philip’s limitations stemmed from the monetary risk that the Armada posed. Philip didn’t see a way around the financial danger it posed, but his courtiers, Marquis of Santa Cruz and Bernardino de Mendoza, continued to press the necessity of the Armada. The extreme wealth that the empire possessed in the early 1570s soon became catastrophic as Spain’s debts increased. At the time of preparations for the Armada, Spain was experiencing monetary difficulties. Spain was founded on the riches extracted from the New World that Philip encouraged his explorers to grab; since Elizabeth was threatening that wealth, Philip saw it as enough justification to finalize preparations for the Armada. Since Elizabeth had provided aid to rebels in the Netherlands, the biggest threat to Philip was about to come.

The provocation in the sea would be the final leg of back and forth between England and Spain. Spain relied on the wealth pouring in from the New World, and the so-called English Sea Dogs that pursued the Spanish ships heavily was seen as a threat; it enraged Philip that England was benefiting from Spanish ships. Elizabeth did not shy away from encouraging her privateers to entrap Spanish ships and make them give up their cargo. Sir Francis Drake was a privateer, sea captain, and explorer who successfully captured favor with Elizabeth. Barbara Fuchs describes the position England took, “England pursued a highly aggressive para-naval policy towards Spain; in the 1570s and 1580s, piracy became England’s belated answer to Spain’s imperial expansion.”[46] Elizabeth saw the opportunity simultaneously to help Sir Francis Drake pursue his exploration ambitions to profit her realm by attacking Spanish ships.

Attacks on Spain were closer to home when Sir Francis Drake attacked the Spanish port of Cadiz in 1587, and the Earl of Essex again attacked the same port in 1596. Such provocations would not go unnoticed, and Philip II felt he had no other choice than to command the Marquis of Santa Cruz to prepare the Armada. Jensen wrote that preparations were delayed because, “Yet the more Philip importuned the more Santa Cruz delayed; the ships were not ready, food supplies were still short, cannon and powder were inadequate”[47] Philip was in a highly compromising position because he needed to find the right window of opportunity while simultaneously trying to satisfy his two leading men, the Duke of Parma and the Marquis of Santa Cruz.  The promise of a papal subsidy was not forthcoming, and Philip found himself unable to find a solution in financing the Armada. The most significant blow came when the Marquis of Santa Cruz died on 9 February 1588, and Philip appointed the Duke of Medina to replace him. This change of leadership caused the Armada to be delayed once again for about six months.

For England, the Armada was a long-awaited fear; talk of the Armada was not a secret around Europe, and England had been preparing its defenses. John Hawkins, the Treasurer of the Navy, expressed the feeling that the war was soon coming:

Best assurance is to seek our peace by a determined and resolute war, which in doubt would be both less charge, more assurance of safety and would best discern our friends from our foes… abroad and at home and satisfy the people generally throughout the whole realm. [48]

For Hawkins, the impending conflict was necessary to bring the realm peace and satisfaction, finally getting to the forefront of the enemies of the realm. 

The long venture of the Armada came to a dramatic end with the persistence of stormy weather and hastily rearranged Armada plans. The failure of the Spanish Armada would lead to the questioning of its purpose and the importance in the larger historical context of the relations between the Spanish and England. The long animosity that the two shared stemmed from the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign and persisted generations to the reign of Elizabeth. Religious zeal and leadership from Philip II led to the creation of numerous plots that saw the involvement of many Spanish and Catholic leaders. Elizabeth’s courtiers’ pressure and persistence to establish Protestantism as the dominant religion in England led to provocation in the Netherlands and the New World. The slow deterioration of tolerance led to the growing sense that war was the only answer to the uneasy relations. The Spanish Armada was the climax of the conflict between the English and the Spanish because it directly resulted from all the past grievances that the other two caused each other. 

The defeat of the Spanish Armada was an enormous personal victory for Queen Elizabeth and a substantial personal and financial blow for Philip II. In the aftermath of victory, the English commemorate the win with a medal. The words on the medal, “He (God) blew, and they scattered.”[49] signifying that the English believed God was on their side. Spain’s defeat meant bankruptcy and questioning the leadership of Philip, for Elizabeth victory meant her legitimacy as a ruler and praise for her and her strong counsel. The famous Armada Portrait created in 1588[50] exemplifies the confidence and strength that Elizabeth can command and exude. Her image had changed from the beginning of her reign from a semi-legitimate queen to a legitimate confident, glorious, and virgin queen. Esra Melinkoglu writes about the portrait in the way it highlights the costume and the body politic. Melinkoglu explains that the portrait “displays patriotic self-confidence in the face of the defeat of the Spanish ships that were wrecked against the Scottish rocks constitutes an important example of paintings that reveal Elizabeth’s traditional look: it is keeping with the feminine ideal of the time, but, on the other hand, every thread, pattern, and ornament exudes power.”[51] Looking at the Armada Portrait, Elizabeth is dressed extravagantly as a symbol of her power with ships over her shoulders denoting the defeat of the Armada, and her hand placed delicately on top of a globe indicating her imperial power. A big part of her image is Elizabeth’s importance on the label of a ‘virgin queen.’ This image illustrates Elizabeth’s legacy; the virgin queen who could transform herself into a masculine, powerful, and strong ruler. Elizabeth’s image was transformed from an illegitimate queen to a powerful female monarch. “Her maidenly chastity was therefore interpreted not as a sign of political or social deficiency, but rather as a paradoxical symbol of the power of a woman who survived to govern despite illegitimization, subordination of female to male in the order of primogeniture, patriarchy, and masculine supremacy, and who remained unwed at a time when official sermons favored marriage and attacked the monastic vow of celibacy and veneration of the Virgin Mary.”[52]

The Spanish Armada’s legacy is also felt throughout the reign of Elizabeth’s successor James I. Because the relationship was heavily strained during Elizabeth’s reign, James’ policy towards Spain was one of mending. Historian Louis B. Wright writes, “all England rang with warnings of the disasters believed certain to follow in the wake of the King’s stubborn and unpopular foreign policy, which sought, at any price, to conciliate Spain.”[53] Years of religious conflicts plagued Elizabeth’s reign, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada did not vanquish religious differences. The most prominent dissenters within James’ court were the Protestant clergy which saw James’ need to please Spain as a wedge in English affairs. The thought of the Spanish Armada was still felt after the death of Elizabeth in 1603, and James ascended to become an adamant advocate for peace with Spain.

[1] January 1559; Philip II proposed marriage to Elizabeth signaling a desire to make amends. Elizabeth became known to be elusive to her other numerous suitors. J.E. Neale. Queen Elizabeth I: A Biography. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957).

[2]  Elizabeth, directed by Shekhar Kapur (1998; United Kingdom: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, 1998)- received anti-Catholic accusations, Buffalo News reporting that, “every single Catholic in the film is dark, cruel and devious”.

[3] Catherine of Aragon gave birth to three children; one stillborn, one son who died in infancy and one daughter who ultimately became Queen of England. Because no male heir was produced in the long marriage, Henry believed it was his duty and mission to produce an heir consequently he needed to erase his marriage to Catherine to produce a legitimate heir with another wife.

[4] During the reign of Mary I; many wealthy protestants including Sir Francis Walsingham fled England in fear of prosecution. Elizabeth regularly kept correspondence with Sir Francis and after Mary’s death was appointed to become a member of Elizabeth’s first parliament.

[5] Merino Eugenio, “Thomas More and Charles V Part II/III: A Good Servant of the Queen,” Moreana 50, no. 193/194 (2013): p. 191.

[6] Henry VIII in a letter to Charles V in Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle: Containing the History of England during the Reign of Henry the Fourth, and the Succeeding Monarchs, to the End of the Reign of Henry the Eighth (London: printed for J. Johnston et al.,1809) 768.

[7] “Spain: September 1532, 16-30,” in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 2, 1531-1533, ed. Pascual de Gayangos (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1882), 514-523. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2020.

[8] De Lamar Jensen, “The Spanish Armada: The Worst Kept Secret in Europe,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 19:4 (Winter 1988): p. 621.

[9] Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, 1569-71, no. 1139

[10] J. Lynch, “Philip II and the Papacy,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 11 (1961): p. 36.

[11] J.  Lynch, “Philip II and the Papacy.” p. 36.

[12] Text of the Treaty of 29 July I587 in A. O. Meyer, England and the Catholic Church under Queen Elizabeth, Eng. trans. (London,916), pp. 520-23

[13] M. J. Rodriguez-Salgado, ‘Paz ruidosa, guerra sorda: las relaciones de Felipe II e Inglaterra’, in La monarquia de Felipe II a debate, ed. L. Ribot Garcia (Madrid, 2000), p. 67.

[14] Jayne Archer, “‘There is less danger in fearing too much than too little’: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Defence of the Elizabethan Realm,” Intelligence and National Security 28, no. 5 (2013): p. 749.

[15]Conyers Read, Walsingham and Burghley in Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council,” The English Historical Society 28:109 (January 1913): p. 36.

[16] Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, 1569-71, no. 1139.

[17] Calendar of State Papers, Spanish, Elizabeth, II, no. 482.

[18] The National Archives, “Proclamation by Lord Burghley 2 March 1581” Letter Transcript.

[19] Calendar of State Papers, Simancas, Mendoza, 26 Jan.

[20] Calendar of State Papers, Simancas, Mendoza, 26 Jan.

[21] Calendar of State Papers, Simancas, Mendoza, 26 Jan.

[22] Sir Roger Bodenham was a tenant of Lord Burghley, Burghley gave him small positions in local affairs, title of arbitrator, Lord Burghley wrote to him often

[23] Calendar of state of papers, Foreign Series of the Reign of Elizabeth (London, 1927)

[24] DeLamar Jensen. “The Spanish Armada: The Worst Kept Secret in Europe,” p. 627.

[25] Adam Simon, “Elizabeth I and the Sovereignty of the Netherlands 1576-1585,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 14 (2004): 309.

[26] Simon, “Elizabeth I and the Sovereignty of the Netherlands 1576-1585,” p. 309.

[27] Simon, “Elizabeth I and the Sovereignty of the Netherlands 1576-1585,” p. 318.

[28]  The National Archives (Public Record Office), 70/137

[29] Calendar of State Papers, Simancas. Mendoza. 16 July.

[30] Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned for 18 years (previous imprisonments sites being Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor) because she was a threat to Elizabeth’s reign, Fotheringhay Castle was her last imprisonment site. In 1586 she was convicted of treason and soon executed.

[31] Henry VII (1485-1509) was Henry VIII’s father

[32] Babington, Anthony Mary, Queen of Scots et. al, “Queen Mary to Anthony Babington,” in Mary Queen of Scots and the Babington Plot, ed. Pollen, John (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1922), 26.

[33] Babington., “Queen Mary to Anthony Babington,” p. 39.

[34] G. B. Harrison, The Letters of Queen Elizabeth I, (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968), p. 179.

[35] Queen Elizabeth painstakingly took weeks to come to a decision in the end she could not ignore the plots and the threat to her throne.

[36] Jensen, “The Spanish Armada,” p. 632.

[37] Simancas: February 1587′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain.

[38] Jensen, “The Spanish Armada,” p. 632.

[39] Charles Dack, The Trial, Execution, and Death of Mary, Queen of Scots (Northampton: The Dryden press: Taylor & sons, 1889), p. 16.

[40] Robert Hutchinson, Elizabeth’s spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the secret war that saved England, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), p. 226.

[41] Sir Amias Paulet, ed. The letter-books of Sir Amias Poulet: the keeper of Mary, Queen of Scots, (London: Burns and Oats, 1874), p. 226.

[42] Hutchinson, Elizabeth’s spymaster, p. 226.

[43] Jay Williams. The Spanish Armada, (San Francisco: New World City Publishing, 2015).

[44] A Spanish copper coin and monetary unit

[45] Williams, The Spanish Armada.

[46] Barbara Fuchs. “Faithless Empires: Pirates, Renegadoes, and the English Nation.” ELH 67:1 (Spring 2000): p. 45.

[47] DeLamar, “The Spanish Armada,” p. 637.

[48] Hutchinson, The Spanish Armada, p. 41.

[49] “The Collection.” Medal Commemorating the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588 – National Maritime Museum,

[50] George Gower, “Armada Portrait” oil painting, 1588, Woburn Abbey.

[51] Esra Melinkoglu, “The Armada Portrait: Costume and the Body Politic,” Litera 16 (2014): p. 4 .

[52] John King, “Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the Virgin Queen,” Renaissance Quarterly 43:1 (1990): p. 31.

[53] Louis B. Wright, “Propaganda against James I’s ‘Appeasement’ of Spain,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 6:2 (Feb., 1943), p. 1.