Elizabeth's foreign policy (2)

Spain and the Netherlands

bulletWhen Elizabeth first succeeded to the throne, England and Spain were allies. Philip had been married to Mary I and apparently toyed with the idea of trying to marry Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth's decision to restore Protestantism in England put an end to such plans.
bulletThe rivalry between the Hapsburgs and France initially offered some protection to England, but relations between England and Spain soon deteriorated.
bullet Charles V abdicated in October 1555, and control of Hapsburg possessions was divided. Charles' son Philip II was to rule the Netherlands and Spain; his brother, Ferdinand, controlled the German and Austrian lands, and his nephew (Ferdinand's son) Maximilian, had been chosen to succeed as Holy Roman Emperor.

Philip II
King of Spain, 1555-98

Philip II was wholly Spanish in his sympathies. He left the Netherlands in 1559 and ignored the opinions of the local magnates.

bulletLocal discontent was complicated by the spread of Protestantism - particularly in the cities. In August 1566, Protestants in Ghent, Antwerp and other large cities rose in rebellion and began rioting and smashing images.
bullet Philip responded in 1567, sending a large force of Italian and Spanish soldiers to the Netherlands. Their commander, the Duke of Alba, ruthlessly suppressed all opposition, and levied large taxes to pay for his army. This provoked further resistance amongst both Catholics and Protestants.
bulletCalls for Protestant unity were soon made in England, and even the secular Elizabeth was wary of Spanish Catholic troops just across the Channel.

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel,
3rd duke de Alba

An attack in 1568 by Spain on English privateers, illegally trading in the West Indies increased tensions.
At about the same time, four Spanish ships, carrying Genoese bullion to pay the troops in the Netherlands took refuge from pirates in England. Elizabeth detained them, Alba retaliated against English merchants in the Netherlands, and Elizabeth seized the bullion.


bulletDuring the 1570s, Elizabeth lent small sums of money to the rebels and allowed English volunteers to go to their aid, but she was reluctant to commit troops and provoke an open breach with Spain. Elizabeth did not want close, direct Spanish control over the Netherlands; nor did she want the French to intervene and gain control of the whole Channel Coast.
bulletIn 1575, the Spanish government went bankrupt, and its unpaid troops went on a rampage. This temporarily united every important interest in the Netherlands against Spain. But when Calvinist enthusiasts in Ghent and other large cities began trying to impose their beliefs on the Catholic population, the Netherlands split in two.
In 1579, the southern provinces formed the Union of Arras, and made peace with Spain. The northern provinces, led by William of Orange formed the Union of Utrecht, and repudiated Philip's rule (1581).

bullet Spain made a renewed effort to re-conquer the whole area. Philip's new commander, Alexander Farnese, had such success that in 1584 Elizabeth finally decided that she must commit troops to prevent Dutch collapse. In December, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester arrived with a force of about 7,000 men. Leicester's badly-led army achieved very little militarily at very considerable expense.


Anglo-Spanish naval conflict

bulletOn land Elizabeth's armies achieved little success, but England's sailors fared better.

In 1572, Sir Francis Drake attacked Nombre de Dios and ambushed the ships bringing silver back to Spain.


Drake's Voyage (1577-80)

Drake's next expedition (1577-80) showed he was willing not merely to go half way around the world to seize Spanish treasure, but entirely to circumnavigate the globe.


bulletThe Spanish had learnt to protect their Atlantic shipping from the attacks of English privateers, but Drake's unexpected appearance on the Pacific Coast netted him an immense prize. Drake and his sailors became popular heroes amongst the increasingly anti-Spanish population.
bulletElizabeth used English privateers as a proxy navy for her struggle with Spain; there were about forty large privateering ships (100+ tons) by 1585. Elizabeth was also building up a state navy; it had about 35 ships, nineteen of which were above 200 tons.
bulletFrom about 1586, Philip II began building a large navy of his own with which to attack England. The fleet would bring troops from Spain, and protect the Channel crossing of more troops from the Netherlands, loaded onto transport barges.

Elizabeth ordered Sir Francis Drake to launch a preemptive strike against Philip. He sailed into the harbor of Cadiz and destroyed about 10,000 tons of Spanish shipping. He seized the castle of Sagrez (near Cape St Vincent) and used it as a base while destroying more ships and timber supplies.

Sir Francis Drake

bulletDrake's raid delayed, but did not prevent Philip's plan to invade England, oust Elizabeth and impose Catholicism.


The Spanish Armada

[All dates were ten days later in Spanish reckoning as Spain had adopted the improved Julian Calendar].

The Spanish Armada of about 130 ships left Lisbon early in July but was forced to take refuge inshore by a storm.

1. 12 July - the Armada left Corunna.

2. 19 July - Armada sighted off Lizard Head

3. 21 July - First attack by English ships

4. 24 July - Second English naval attack

5. 28 July - English sent eight fire ships (ignited with pitch) into the anchored Spanish fleet.
The following day, the English were largely victorious in a general engagement with the Spanish ships. In addition, the wind shifted north-west and forced the Spanish vessels towards dangerous shallows.

6. July 30 to August 12 - Spanish ships withdrew north, pursued by the English, until the Firth of Forth.

7. August 13 - At a point between the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Spanish fleet headed westward

8. Late September/early October - the battered remnants of the Armada return to Spain

Only four Spanish ships were seized or sunk by the English navy, but about fifty-five were either wrecked off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, or disappeared into the oceans.


Continued clashes


The defeat of the Spanish Armada was not the end of Anglos Spanish conflict. Philip built more ships to replace those lost in 1588, and England continued to fear invasion throughout the 1590s.

In 1596, the English mounted another successful raid on Cadiz - temporarily seizing the town and destroying much shipping.

An early 17th Century picture of Cadiz and its defenders


Spain sent support to the Irish rebelling against Elizabeth. Over four thousand Spanish troops were sent to Ireland in 1601.


England aided the Dutch rebels against Philip and Henry of Navarre against Philip's French allies. By 1602, there were up to eight thousand English troops fighting in the Netherlands.


The Irish rebellion was finally defeated, and Spain was forced to acknowledge Dutch independence (1609). James I tried to improve relations with Spain. Nevertheless, fierce anti-Spanish feeling remained widespread in England for much of the seventeenth century.

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