corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 23 — Protestantism in England From the Times of Henry VIII

Chapter 17 — The armada — its building

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20

The Armada—The Year 1588ęProphecies—State of Popish and Protestant Worlds previous to the Armada—Building of the Armada— Victualling, Arming, etc., of the Armada—Number of Ships—of Sailors— Galley-Slaves—Soldiers—Guns—Tonnage—Attempts to Delude England—Second Armada prepared in Flanders under Parma— Number of his Army—Deception on English Commissioners— Preparations in England—The Militia—The Navy—Distribution of the English Forces—The queen at Tilbury—Supreme Peril of England

While Mary Stuart lived the hopes and projects of the Catholic Powers centered in her. But Mary Stuart lived no longer. The ax of the headsman in Fotheringay Castle had struck the center out of the great Popish plot: it had not, however, brought it to an end. The decree enjoining the extirpation of Protestantism on all Christian princes still stood recorded among the infallible canons of Trent, and was still acknowledged by the king of the Popish world. The plot now took a new shape, and this introduces us to the story of the Invincible "Armada."

The year of the Armada (1588) had been looked forward to with dread long before it came, seeing it had been foretold that it would be a year of prodigies and disasters. [1] It was just possible, so had it been said, that the world would this year end; at the least, during its fatal currency thrones would be shaken, empires overturned, and dire calamities would afflict the unhappy race of men. And now as it drew near rumors of portents deepened the prevailing alarm. It was reported that it had rained blood in Sweden, that monstrous births had occurred in France, and that still more unnatural prodigies had terrified and warned the inhabitants of other countries.

But it needed no portent in the sky, and no prediction of astrologer or stargazer to notify the approach of more than usual calamity. No one who reflected on the state of Europe, and the passions and ambitions that were inspiring the policy of its rulers, could be blind to impending troubles. In the Vatican was Sixtus V, able, astute, crafty, and daring beyond the ordinary measure of Popes. On the throne of Spain was Philip II, cold, selfish, gluttonous of power, and not less gluttonous of blood—as dark-minded a bigot as ever counted beads, or crossed himself before a crucifix, no Jesuit could be more secret or more double. His highest ambition was that after-generations should be able to say that in his days, and by his arm, heresy had been exterminated. France was broken into two struggling factions; its throne was occupied by a youth weak, profligate, and contemptible, Henry III. His mother, one of the monstrous births whom those times produced, governed the kingdom, while her son divided his time between shameful orgies and abject penances. Holland was mourning her great William, bereaved of life by the dagger of an assassin, hired by the gold of Spain, and armed by the pardon of the Pope. The Jesuits were operating all over Europe, inflaming the minds of kings and statesmen against the Reformation, and forming them into armed combinations to put it down. The small but select band of Protestants in Spain and in Italy, whose beautiful genius and deep piety, to which was added the prestige of high birth, had seemed the pledge of the speedy Reformation of their native lands, no longer existed. They were wandering in exile, or had perished at the stake. Worst of all, concord was wanting to the friends of the Reformation. The breach over which Calvin had so often mourned, and which he had attempted in vain to heal, was widened. In England a dispute which a deeper insight on the one side, and greater forbearance on the other, would have prevented from ever breaking out, was weakening the Protestant ranks. The wave of spiritual influence which had rolled over Christendom in the first half of the century, bearing on its swelling crest scholars, statesmen, and nations, had now these many years been on the ebb. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and Coligny were all off the stage; and their successors, though men of faith and of ability, were not of the same lofty stature with these who had been before them the giants who had commenced the war. And what a disparity in point of material resources between the nations who favored and the nations who opposed the Reformation! Should it come to a trial of strength between the two, how unlikely was it that England with her four minions of people, and Holland with even fewer, would be able to keep their ground in presence of the mighty armies and rich exchequers of the Popish world! It was coming to a trial of strength. The monarch whose scepter was stretched over some hundred minions of subjects, was coming against her whom only four minions called their sovereign. These were the portents that too surely betokened coming calamity. It required no skill in astrology to read them.

One had but to look, not at the stars, but on the earth, and to contrast the different circumstances and spirit of the contending parties the friends of Romanism acting in concert, devising vast schemes, veiling them in darkness, yet prosecuting them with unrelaxing rigor; while the friends of the Reformation were divided, irresolute, cherishing illusions of peace, and making little or no preparations against the awful tempest that was rolling up on all sides of them.

The building of the Armada had been commenced two years before the execution of Mary Stuart. The elevation of Mary to the throne of the excommunicated Elizabeth was to have been the immediate outcome of it, but the preparations did not slacken from what had occurred in Fotheringay Castle. Neither time, nor toil, nor money was spared to fit out such a fleet as the world had never before seen. The long line of coast extending from Cape Finisterre to the extreme point of Sicily was converted into one vast building-yard. [2] Whereever there was a harbor or river's mouth, advantage was

taken of it to construct a war galley or a transport craft. At intervals along this line of some 1,500 or 2,000 miles, might be seen keels laid down of a size then deemed colossal, and carpenters busy fastening thereto the bulging ribs, and clothing them with planks. The entire seaboard rang without intermission with the clang of hammer, the stroke of ax, and the voices of myriad men, employed in building the vessels that were to bear the legionaries of Spain, the soldiers of the Inquisition, over the seas to the shores of heretical England.

Wherever ship builders were to be found, whether in the West Indies or in America, Philip II searched them out, and had them transported to Spain to help forward his great and holy work. The inland forests were felled, and many a goodly oak and cork tree were dragged to the coast; thousands of looms were set to work to weave cloth for sails; hundreds of forges were in full blaze, smelting the ore, which gangs of workmen were hammering into guns, pikes, and all sorts of war material. Quantities of powder and shot, and whatever might be needed for invasion, as grappling-irons, bridges for crossing rivers, ladders for scaling the walls of towns, wagons, spades, mattocks, were stored up in abundance. Bread, biscuit, wine, and carcasses of sheep and oxen were brought to Lisbon, where the main portion of the Armada was stationed, and stowed away in the ships. [3]

The Catholic king," says Meteren, "had finished such a mighty navy as never the like had before that time sailed upon the ocean sea." The ships were victualled for six months. It was believed that by the expiry of that period the object of the Armada would be accomplished, and the sailors and soldiers of Spain would eat of the corn of England.

The Armada numbered 150 vessels, great and small, armed, provisioned, and equipped for the service that was expected of it. On board of it were 8,000 sailors; 2,088 galley-slaves, for rowing; 20,000 soldiers, besides many noblemen and gentlemen who served as volunteers; its amour consisted of 2,650 pieces of ordnance; its burden was 60,000 tons. [4] This was an immense tonnage at a time when the English navy consisted of twenty-eight sail, and its aggregate burden did not exceed the tonnage of a single Transatlantic steamer of our own day.

The ships were of great capacity and amazing strength. Their strong ribs were lined with planks four feet in thickness, through which it was thought impossible that bullet could pierce. Cables smeared with pitch were wound round the masts, to enable them to withstand the fire of the enemy. The galleons were sixty-four in number. They towered up above the waves like castles: they were armed with heavy brass ordnance. The galliasses were also of great size, and "contained within them," says Meteren, "chambers, chapels, turrets, pulpits, and other commodities of large houses." They were mounted with great guns of brass and iron, with the due complement of culverins, halberds, and field-pieces for land service. Each galliass was rowed by 300 galley-slaves, and "furnished and beautified with trumpets, streamers, banners, and warlike engines. [5]

During the time that this unprecedentedly vast fleet was being built in the harbors of Spain, everything was done to conceal the fact from the knowledge of the English nation. It was meant that the bolt should fall without warning and crush it. In an age when there were hardly any postal communications, secrecy was more easily attainable than in our day; but the preparations were on far too vast a scale to remain unknown. The next attempt was to propagate a delusion touching the real destination of this vast armament. At one time it was given out that it was intended to sweep from the seas certain pirates that gave annoyance to Spain, and had captured some of her ships. It was next said that Philip meant to chastise certain unknown enemies on the other side of the Atlantic. All that craft and downright lying could do was done, to lay to sleep the suspicions of the people of England. Even the English agent at Madrid, with the Armada building as it were before his eyes, was induced to credit these fabulous explanations; for we find him writing home that there had recently been discovered richer mines in the New World than any heretofore known; but that these treasures were guarded by a gigantic race, which only this enormous fleet could overcome; and this, he felt confident, was the true destination of the Armada. Even Walsingham, one of the most sagacious of the queen's ministers, expressed his belief—just fifteen days before the Armada sailed—that it never would invade England, and that Philip's hands were too full at home to leave him leisure to conquer kingdoms abroad. Such being the belief of some of her ambassadors and statesmen, it is not surprising that Elizabeth should have continued to confide in the friendly intentions of the man who was toiling night and day to prepare the means of her destruction, and could with difficulty be roused to put herself and kingdom in a proper posture of defense against the coming blow.

Nor was the fleet now constructing in Spain the whole of that mighty force which was being collected for the overthrow of England and the destruction of Protestantism. There was not one but two Armadas. In the Netherlands, the possession of which gave Philip coasts and ports opposed to England, there was a scene of activity and preparation as vast almost as that upon the seaboard of the Atlantic. Philip's governor in Belgium at that time was the Duke of Parma, the ablest general of his age, and his instructions were to prepare an army and fleet to cooperate with the Spanish force as soon as the Armada should arrive in the English Channel. The duke, within his well-guarded territory, did not slacken

his exertions night or day to execute these orders. He brought ship-wrights and pilots from Italy, he levied mariners at Hamburg, Bremen, Embden, and other places. In the country of Waas, forests were felled to furnish flat-bottomed boats for transport. At Dunkirk he, provided 28 warships. At Nieuport he got ready 200 smaller vessels, and 70 in the river of Watch.

He stored up in the ships planks for constructing bridges and rafts for fording the English rivers, stockades for entrenchments, field-pieces, saddles for horses, baking-ovens—in short, every requisite of an invading force. He employed some thousands of workmen in digging the Yper-lee for the transport. of ships from Antwerp and Ghent to Bruges, where he had assembled 100 small vessels, which he meant to convey to the sea by the Sluys, or through his new canal. The whole of the Spanish Netherlands, from which wholesome industry had long been banished, suddenly burst into a scene of prodigious but baleful activity. [6]

The duke assembled in the neighborhood of Nieuport a mighty host, of various nationalities. There were 30 regiments of Italians, 10 of Walloons, 8 of Scots, and 8 of Burgundians. Near Dixmuyde were mustered 80 regiments of Dutch, 60 of Spaniards, 6 of Germans, and 7 of English fugitives, under the command of Sir William Stanley. There was hardly a noble house in Spain that had not its representative within the camp of Parma. Quite a flock of Italian and Neapolitan princes and counts repaired to his banners. Believing that the last hour of England had come, they had assembled to witness its fall. [7]

Meanwhile every artifice, deception, and falsehood were resorted to, to delude Elizabeth and the statesmen who served her, and to hide from them their danger till the blow should descend. She sent her commissioners to the Low Countries, but Parma protested, with tears in his eyes, that there lived not on earth one who more vehemently desired peace than himself. Did not his prayers morning and night ascend for its continuance? And as regarded the wise and magnanimous sovereign of England, there was not one of her servants that cherished a higher admiration of her than he did.

While indulging day after day in these deliberate lies, he was busy enlisting and arming soldiers, drilling regiments, and constructing flat-bottomed boats and transports to carry his forces across the German Ocean, and dethrone and lead captive that very queen for whom he professed this enthusiastic regard. This huge hypocrisy was not unsuccessful. The commissioners returned, after three months' absence, in the belief that Parma's intentions were pacific, and they confirmed Elizabeth and her minister in those dreams of peace, from which they were not to be fully awakened till the guns of the Spanish Armada were heard in the English Channel.

In aid of Philip's earthly armies, the Pope, when all was ready, mustered his spiritual artillery. Sixtus V fulminated his bull against Elizabeth, in which he confirmed the previous one of Pius V, absolved her subjects from their allegiance, and solemnly conferred her kingdom upon Philip II, "to have and to hold as tributary and feudatory of the Papal Chair." While the Pope with the one hand took away the crown from Elizabeth, he conferred with the other the red hat upon Father Allen. Italian honors to English Papists are usually contemporaneous with insults to English sovereigns, and so was it now: Allen was at the same time made Archbishop of Canterbury by the Pope, and Papal Legate. "This Allen," says the Dutch historian, "being enraged against his own native country, caused the Pope's bull to be translated into English, meaning upon the arrival of the Spanish fleet to have it published in England. [8]

There was no longer disbelief in England touching the destination of Philip's vast feet. In a few weeks his ships would be off the coast; how was the invasion to be met? England had only a handful of soldiers and a few ships to oppose to the myriad host that was coming against her. The royal army then was composed of such regiments as the nobles, counties, and towns could assemble when the crown required their service. Appeals were issued to the Lords Lieutenant of the several counties: the response shows the spirit which animated England. The total foot and horse furnished by England were 87,000. Wales contributed 45,000: making together 132,000. This force was exclusive of what was contributed by London, which appears to have been 20,000. [9] This force was distributed into three armies: one of 22,000 foot and 2,000 horse, for the defense of the capital, and which was stationed at Tilbury under the Earl of Leicester. A second army, consisting of 28,900 men, was for defense of the queen's person. A third was formed, consisting of 27,400 heavy horse armed with lances, and 1,960 light horse armed with different weapons, to guard the coast. These were stationed at such points in the south and east as were likely to be selected by the enemy for landing. Beacons were prepared, and instructions were issued respecting their kindling, so that the soldiers might know on what point to converge, when the signal blazed forth announcing that the enemy had touched English soil. [10]

The fleet which the queen had sent to sea to oppose the Armada consisted of thirty-four ships of small tonnage, carrying 6,000 men. Besides these, the City of London provided thirty ships. In all the port towns merchant vessels were converted into warships; and the resisting navy might number 150 vessels, with a crew of 14,000. This force was divided into two squadrons—one under Lord Howard, High Admiral of England, consisting of seventeen ships, which were to cruise in the Channel and there wait the arrival of the Armada, The second squadron, under Lord Seymour, consisting of fifteen ships, was stationed at Dunkirk, to intercept Parma, should he attempt to cross with his feet from Flanders. Sir

Francis Drake, in his ship the Revenge, had a following of about thirty privateers. [11] After the war broke out the fleet was farther increased by ships belonging to the nobility and the merchants, hastily armed and sent to sea; though the brunt of the fight, it was foreseen, must fall on the queen's ships.

At this crisis Queen Elizabeth gave a noble example of patriotism and courage to her subjects. Attired in a military dress she appeared on horseback in the camp at Tilbury, and spiritedly addressed her soldiers, declaring her resolution rather to perish in battle than survive the ruin of the Protestant faith, and the slavery of her people.

The force now mustered in England looks much more formidable when set forth on paper than when drawn up in front of Philip's army. These 100,000 men were simply militia, insufficiently trained, poorly armed, and to be compared in no point, save their spirit, with the soldiers of Spain, who had served in every clime, and met warriors of all nations on the battlefield. And although the English fleet counted hull for hull with the Spanish, it was in comparison but a collection of pinnaces and boats. The queen's spirit was admirable, but her thrift was carried to such an extreme that she grudged the shot for the guns, and the rations for the men who were to defend her throne. The invading navy was the largest which had ever been seen on ocean since it was first ploughed by keel. The Spanish half alone was deemed more than sufficient to conquer England, and how easy would conquest become when that Armada should be joined, as it was to be, by the mighty force under Parma, the flower of the Spanish army! England, with her long line of coast, her unfortified towns, her four minions of population, including many thousand Papists ready to rise in insurrection as soon as the invader had made good his landing, was at that hour in supreme peril; and its standing or falling was the standing or falling of Protestantism. Had Philip succeeded in his enterprise, and Spain taken the place of England, as the teacher and guide of the nations, it is appalling to think what at this hour would have been the condition of the world.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, March 17th, 2018
the Fourth Week of Lent
There are 15 days til Easter!
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology