Elizabeth I


Elizabethan England brings a focus to several family-related issues such as: the religious strife which caused the Jacobean Wars and ended Mackenzie power, the execution of Mary Queen of Scots ending the reality of Scottish independence, the settlement of America to challenge Spanish power in Europe, and the creation of a navy on which to build an empire. The Tudors were central to all these developments and those developments directly impacted on our ancestors' decisions. Family history is not all internal and these issues were critical factors.

Seemingly unconnected, Felipe II, of Spain (AKA Philip), his religious views, and the Spanish Armada were significant factors in English political considerations in the late sixteenth century. Spain was the world power and King Felipe II unleashed a Crusade against England to redress Tudor restraint of Catholic worship. By 1600 Spain was finished, in part because "...No less than 200,000 migrated from Spain [to the New World], most of them from Castile, and this was unquestionably a factor in the economic decline of Spain.[1] There was also a small matter of the cost of Spain's wars: the gold and silver began to stop flowing in proportion to the rise of England's privateer and naval strength. England had had five centuries of relative peace, which was only barely disturbed by the eight months of the secessionist Wars of the Roses. A significant result of that latter war was the decimation of the nobility (mainly Lancaster and York), which cleared the way for Henry Tudor to establish his strong central government.[2]

The establishment of the strong Tudor power had tremendous consequences for our family as it did for all of Britain. Fourteenth century England had experienced the Black Death and the 40% population loss of five millions, but life went on.[3] A migration to the emptied cities created a middle class and the industrial revolution, which created the essential base for the British Empire. Unlike French colonial policy, the British Empire was based on willing British colonists, a deliberate colonisation policy, and backing by British military power until the empire was fully extended around the globe. It all came down to trade and sea power.

North America, India and the Caribbean all came into the Empire at the same time and were later followed by much of Africa, Asia, and Australia. Naval power-projection was critical to this growth of Empire. The Tudors enabled the Empire which supported the colonial world of families like the Boultons, Johnsons, Moores, Dicksons, Mackenzies and others.

English Power Development

Henry VIII


Duke William of Normandy decided to invade England because of wounded pride resulting from a broken succession-promise. He called his barons together; significant amongst whom was our ancestor and William's 'close friend' Sir Other FitzOthoere.[4] William explained his intention to invade England , but feudal loyalties were stressed.[5] Since landing in Normandy 200 years earlier, the Vikings had lost some of their sea skills, but the Normans persevered in building William's fleet.[6] This tremendous gamble paid off and the Normans energised a new Kingdom. Beginning in 1066, the victorious Normans conquered Britain as much as England, but initially the new King barely controlled the Saxons and Angles, so he took stock (The Domesday Book) and entitled many Normans (including Sir Other and his son Walter) to property.[7] Their Scandinavian blood brooked no Celtic interference from the unruly Scots.[8] The Normans eventually pushed back the Scots and over the following century they dominated the Welsh. Finally in 1169, the Welsh-Normans invaded Ireland, notably led by Maurice FitzGerald, Baron Llanstephan. European monarchs all exploited Roman and feudal law to extend, control and retain power. The English kings Henry II and Edward I gained Wales, footholds in both Ireland and Scotland, and built castles to control the Island and guard their new possessions.

English pressure led to a natural Scottish alliance with France where the Normans had extensive lands. The Plantagenets became de-facto absentee landlords and this led to centuries of war with France. Eventually the French would prevail and in 1204 Normandy was retaken and the Angevin (Anglo-Norman) Empire ended. In 1214, French kings controlled one third of France and England held Gascony. By 1328, when Edward III was in England, French hegemony had increased to half and France was easily the richest and most populous kingdom in Europe.[9] But this created the internal English focus, which led to Henry Tudor's great chance.

The European stage was set and the Hundred Years War began in 1337 to decide the future of English power in France. The English lost. English victories at Crcy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356 and Henry V's 1415 invasion gave way to final French victory in 1453 and that led to the Wars of the Roses. Henry Tudor became Henry VII at Bosworth Field by defeating Richard III in battle in 1485. England was then just recovering from the economic crisis resulting from the earlier Black Death. Henry was a cautious businessman and he took care to gain control of the country's finances and his nobility. He created a 'behaviour bond' and as sole judge Henry was able to declare a man 'attainted' and forfeit his bond.[10] With a lengthy legal process avoided, Henry was able to build rapidly a solid financial base for his reign, more than trebling the royal income before he died in 1509.[11] However, the table below shows that inflation is not a modern invention.

Henry VIII was a very powerful and wealthy king, but in Europe there were more powerful men. The Habsburg emperors controlled most of Europe, France was the richest country in Europe, The wealthy Ottoman Empire controlled all the Middle East and part of Europe, and the weak popes still held a powerful hold. Henry VIII was not the most powerful European in his time. Life in Tudor England was made stressful because of inflation and that encouraged the later English emigration to Massachusetts in the 1630s. The Tudors also paralleled a change in the personal acceptance of religion. Henry VIII's split from the Roman church is well known, but his daughters disagreed on the basic principles for a national religion.

The Pope and Spain

Economic Indices (1451-1475 = 100)

Price Composite of Consumables
Equivalent Building Craftsmen Wages[12]

In 1517 Pope Leo X had a jubilee sale of 'indulgences' to enable the faithful to enter Heaven. At knock-down prices the faithful were assured entry because men still believed absolutely in their faith and heaven and hell were real to them. However, reform was in the air and this credibility was finally strained too far. Martin Luther challenged Papal infallibility and bravely did not mince his words:

'The Papacy is Satanissimus'...'The devil founded the papacy'...'Because of God's wrath the devil has bedunged us with big and gross arses in Rome'... 'why do we not ...attacking arms these matters of perdition, these cardinals, these popes, and all this sink of Roman Sodom which has without end corrupted the Church of God.[13]

Henry VIII was a king at eighteen and he immediately married. In his day the primary responsibility of kings was stability, or continuity, and thus the production of a line of heirs. (His sister Mary was married twice in one year, after Louis XII inconveniently died, to ensure she produced heirs.[14]) Furthermore, men did not accept women as equals and so male heirs were the basis of dynasty. Curiously, Henry fathered Elizabeth, although he denied her during his life and he was certain that she would not be accepted as a queen in England. Henry's eldest daughter, Bloody Mary, buttressed her hold on the throne by marrying the Spanish king Felipe II. Great events were stirring and in 1513 Henry beat the French in August and the Scots in September (at Flodden where the English killed a reported 10,000 including King James IV). Cardinal Wolsey was then Lord Chancellor and he allied England with Spain against France.

But in 1520 Carlos I of Spain (actually born at Ghent in Belgium) was crowned Karl V, Holy Roman Emperor, in Charlemagne's octagonal cathedral at Aachen in Germany. Karl had unabashedly bought the election for 200,000 and gained enormous power and widespread territories. A clever man, he arrived in Spain in 1517 speaking no Spanish but he was fluent in one year. Karl lived most of his life in The Netherlands and gave his floundering Empire to his brother Ferdinand. However, Karl gave his expanded Spanish Kingdom to his son Philip (Felipe).[15] Suddenly, Spain was the world power.[16] Spain retained a hold in The Netherlands for the next one hundred years and that both upset the balance of power, and the nervous Dutch neighbours - the English. Spanish troops sacked Rome in 1527, the same year that Henry VIII demanded his divorce. Sir Thomas More was then Chancellor of England (the equivalent of a modern prime minister), and he refused Henry and lost his head in 1535. He had followed Cardinal Wolsey in trying to reconcile Henry with Rome.

Strategic Moves and Developments

Populations of Europe

The Netherlands
Germany (& Austria)
Swiss Confederation
Czech Bohemia

England had a small population, but also had powerful neighbours as shown and Henry VIII resolved on a strategy to ensure English security by conquering the rest of Britain. This would enable the English to focus outward and to expand their trade energies in making wealth, something the Tudors understood. Henry assumed the Irish Crown in 1541 and he decided that English law would apply equally in Ireland. (The results of this Irish policy are still with us.) The conquest of Wales was legally completed in 1543 and Tudors continued the Plantagenet struggle to win Scotland and rid Britain of the worry of French and Spanish subversion.

The development of the Navy Royal came about because of war with France, but for Henry VII and his son Henry VIII, navies were understood to be the transportation means to deliver armies. The naval weapons of choice were crossbows, swords, and pikes. Small wonder that the armada arrived off the English coast with land artillery, the ship captains and crews counted for very little. The sailors function was to sail the ship, carry the army, and perhaps fire one round upon the initial engagement of an enemy.

English kings recognised the need for a standing navy, including Queen Mary Tudor's Spanish husband Felipe II. England was vulnerable to the Continental empires. Henry VII even married his eldest son Arthur off to the Aragonese Infanta Catherine to try to neutralise that potential Spanish threat. When Arthur died, Henry VIII married the new widow. Development of modern naval principles were also typically Tudor-era creations.

European Threats

During the Tudor era, first France and then Spain momentarily gained Continental power and then both lost their national momentum. Religion tied France into a civil war and both Spain and England exploited this vulnerability. In particular, Mary Queen of Scots was born to James V of Scotland and a French princess, also called Marie of the French Guise family of king-makers. Under pressure from England, James looked for support and renewed the Auld Alliance with France in 1549.

Tudor alliances shifted with Spain and France, depending on English perceptions of danger and advantage.[18] Basic elements of a fundamental clash were falling into place and the beginning of a European diplomatic tradition of balancing one power alliance against another, dependent on changing national interests.

Henry's political need for a successor and his sexual appetites had led England to the historic break from Rome and Protestantism. Scotland, France, and particularly Spain remained solidly Roman Catholic. Henry and Thomas Cromwell summoned Parliament and pushed through a series of laws severing any further relationship with Rome.

The king and Cromwell established the English monarch as the senior secular and religious authority, gave him the status of a lay archbishop, declared him Head of the English Church, and established the English succession. (This latter was to remove any question of Elizabeth's legitimacy, since she was perceived as a bastard in view of Henry's confusing marriages and succession laws pushed through the English parliament.[19] Christian Europe was outraged, but Henry was jubilant. As Head of the English Church, he became titular owner of the extensive church properties and he seized the English and Welsh abbeys and monasteries. At a stroke Henry's financial troubles were over as he auctioned off the new-found properties to the highest bidders. Suddenly Henry not only had enough money for his entertainment and petty cash fund, but also to provide for the defence of his kingdom: he would build a navy!

Henry's Navy

Henry VIII had used up all his father's carefully acquired wealth, but by the sale of about 560 monasteries, seized by 1540, he was able to renew the English treasury. After sale, this brought in annual rents of about 132,000, the money to buy him English support against Rome and to create his new navy.[20] Although Henry's daughter Mary married Philip, England needed to be cautious about both France and Spain - they were both Roman Catholic and powerful! Henry renewed his war with France, cementing French support for Mary Queen of Scots to succeed to the English throne. (Mary's successor Elizabeth could not leave her cousin Mary as a potential successor with such powerful Continental supporters, who indeed ceaselessly plotted to put Mary Stuart on the English throne).

With few international friends, Henry took an understandable interest in gunnery and made a priceless contribution to English history. In 1543 Henry ordered the development of cheap cast-iron guns: he then created a standing navy of 53 well-armed warships, by adapting the Spanish galeon design.[21] Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by his daughter Queen Mary. It was at this point that the real chance for future Empire was created. The English had begun to migrate to the towns and cities and the beginning of the industrial revolution was created in their exchange of ideas and need for work. In military terms Henry created both a new ship design and a gun which was a technical advance of the same magnitude as the rifle, the tank or the airplane. The Spanish Armada failed, as much as the weather and the English navy won, but one key to victory was the remarkable new English naval gun.


England's Royal Navy Evolution

The first naval dry dock was built at Plymouth for construction of new ships adapted from the Portuguese carrick and the Spanish galeon. England's navy then consisted of only 15 ships and new ships were funded by Henry VIII's seizure and sale of former church properties.
Naval gunport concept developed for ship-board guns and ships as fighting gun-platforms. A new emphasis on artillery reflected the mastery of gun founding in England, which developed four-wheeled carriages or trucks for naval guns by the mid-16th century. Henry was concerned about the cost of brass cannons and pioneered the development of iron guns. The purpose of the wheels was not so much to add mobility, but to counteract recoil.
As a result of war with France, the Henry Grace a Dieu was launched at 1,500 tonnes with two decks, gunports, and brass cannons. Trinity House was inaugurated to develop navigational aids such as lighthouses, buoys and beacons, the latter being used to signal the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
The Mary Rose was re-built with 15 large bronze guns, 24 wrought-iron carriage guns and 52 smaller anti-personnel guns.
The Council of the Marine (the British Admiralty) was established to manage the navy. By 1540 the English navy consisted of 45 ships, and in 1545 a fleet of 160 ships defeated a French fleet of 130 attempting to invade England at the Battle of the Solent.
On the Mexican coast at San Juan de Ulloa Captain John Hawkins saved his ship by fending off the attacking Spanish by using his ship's iron guns as mobile artillery. The lightly-armed Spaniards were out-gunned and the English continued to use ships as mobile artillery platforms. English ship design was widened to support gun recoil and re-charging inside the ship (after the 1588 Armada battles).
Off Brazil's coast Captain Francis Drake hanged a 'gentleman' sailing with him, essentially for disloyalty (and mutiny). Up to that point social class made distinctions, but Drake set the precedent that "...gentlemen ...haul and draw with the mariner...". This incident established the custom that the ship's captain was in absolute command, despite any question of social rank.[22]
Lord Admiral Thomas, Lord Howard, commanded the English fleet defending against the Spanish armada. With close to 300 ships in the English Channel, Howard decided to divide his fleet into squadrons, each with its own commander. Navies have since retained this basic organisation. Howard also invented a 'line ahead' formation to allow a squadron to go into action in single file, fire as the enemy was approached, and then turn away to enable the next ship to fire. This became standard naval practice for the next three centuries.
Samuel Pepys (Navy Board Surveyor General) professionalised the naval officer corps by introducing comprehensive and mandatory examinations for admission to the rank of lieutenant. Additionally, naval candidates had to be at least twenty years old and must have spent at least three years at sea.
Vice Admiral Edward Vernon took a fleet to the Caribbean and captured the Spanish port of Portobello on the Panama coast. Vernon was concerned that his sailors would get drunk and lose their discipline. Vernon issued his own version of drink: rum diluted with water. It was called 'grog' after his nickname (old Grog). It became an issued drink for the entire navy.
Captain George Anson left England with 1,900 men in a squadron to harry the Spanish in the Pacific. Anson returned in 1744 with 500 men left of his world trip. This established the British navy with global responsibilities in peace and war. Since Anson's casualties were due primarily to scurvy, Dr James Lind conducted the first controlled medical experiments and found that the ascorbic acid in lime juice prevented the disease.

The Spanish and English ship-borne guns had very different capabilities. The Spanish brought army guns (after all they thought of ships as buses for their army), and the English had tailor-made naval guns. The Spanish army pieces had long, rear gun-trails to absorb the firing recoil by digging into the earth - on land. Fired on ship they rolled across the upper deck, limiting fire to one round per day and burial-at-sea for anyone behind the weapon when it fired.[23] There were no Spanish naval guns and many of the Armada's ships were actually galleys from the in-shore Mediterranean coastal waters: they had no room for guns. Spanish ships had an army officer in command, with a 'pick-up' crew and too-often an inexperienced captain.

The new English galleons were built with multiple decks, so as to free space on the upper deck for sailing the ship. English guns were often housed below-deck and they could re-fire quickly, but in 1588, English ships were too narrow to support gun-recoil inside the ship and the guns had to be lashed into the opened gun-ports. (Later ship designs widened the ship's waist to enable gun-recoil and to support gunners reloading.) In 1588, English guns could re-fire in an hour; this was later improved to two shots per three minutes by 1800. The typical Elizabethan-era guns were made of expensive bronze, while the English used Henry's cheaper, cast-iron guns. English naval guns had small, solid wood wheels (banded with an iron rim) for trucks and used ropes to take the recoil. Unlike their Spanish counterparts, English ships had permanent naval gun crews (also trained as sailors) and used little deck space, because their barrels projected out over the side through ports. Francis Drake's Golden Hind carried 22 guns of three calibres, the largest firing a four lb solid shot.[24]

Spanish and English Naval Artillery: c1585


Spanish ships carried land artillery and those (mostly) brass guns were designed to absorb the gun-recoil by digging rearward into the earth itself. The large wheels were intended to help travel over mountainous terrain, but made the gun highly mobile after firing on a ship. To stand behind this type of gun fired from a solid wooden deck would have been suicide: the ship could not manoeuver while these guns were being fired. Naturally Spanish guns could only fire at best once per day and that would be from a wide variety of different guns, which defied simple logistical supply. The operational concept was to fire only once, prior to letting the army soldiers deal with the enemy.[25]


The English used a four-wheeled, solid-wood truck as a platform for their iron cannons. Some of the later cannons fired a solid cannonball weighing 24 lbs from guns weighing several tons. The weights of the guns and balls were standardised to aid in logistical supply and tactical control. The truck was built from thick layers of wood to raise the gun to a working level. A series of ropes and pulleys anchored the gun within a small area to absorb the tremendous recoil from firing. The effect of the design allowed the deck to be kept clear to sail the ship itself; and the dedicated gun crews were positioned on either side of the gun to further keep the deck clear. Elizabeth's gun crews could fire every hour.[26] Finally English ships were purpose-designed for the guns, so extra decks and gun-ports were built to allow firing guns to project their barrels through the hull and free-up even more working space.

Naval Gun Platforms

Queen Mary Tudor and her husband Philip II of Spain persuaded Parliament to build an additional three ships. When Mary died and Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, there was the basis of a strong royal navy and an even larger fleet of well-armed privateers all experienced in Atlantic waters. This was critical, since both hostile France and Spain confronted England. Henry's gift was to support the development of the gunnery, which in turn influenced ship design. This collaboration resulted in a true naval gun, which was very different from the typical army field gun. The new guns were made of iron and were specifically designed to be fired from moving ships; and to be quickly re-loaded, aimed and re-fired. However, in Henry's time the new gun merely added to the confusion of calibres on a ship. Evidently it was Elizabeth's navy that took the extra step to standardize a ship's guns to improve logistical and tactical efficiencies. The English navy discovered that a few big guns were less effective than the controlled, simultaneous fire of many small standardised guns. Elizabeth's navy developed a killing reputation and even Philip II warned his admirals to care for the deadly English artillery.[27]

The French and Spanish navies remained equipped with these massively cumbersome army field guns which occupied the entire deck and could only be fired once easily. The new English gun design projected a heavier barrel, under the main deck outside the hull and was supported by a shorter, carriage that better absorbed the recoil with ropes and pulleys. The new gun was provided four small wooden truck wheels for minimal naval mobility and was built by a newly emerging powerful industrial strength in England. The last of the Angevin Empire in France was given up by Henry's daughter Mary and the English set their hopes on creating Great Britain (actually a term coined by James I Stuart) as a secure basis for trade expansion.[28]

Elizabeth's favourite admiral, Sir Francis Drake, directed that all members of the ship (specifically including the officers) must be competent to perform all naval tasks.[29] At a stroke, English ships became fast-firing, mobile artillery batteries and the redesigned ships exploited their new mobility, while the professional gunners and sailors co-operated to enable effective, rapid fire. This required considerable training and experience to ensure the co-ordination of the ship's roll with the timed fire of the English gunners. This platform coordination then had to be matched against the enemy vessel's speed and pitch to ensure the exposed enemy target hull was holed below the water line. English naval effectiveness was improved dramatically. English gun-fire capabilities improved well-beyond any previous experience, while the Spanish continued operations with the out-dated concept of a mobile small arms and infantry platform. The Spanish viewed their navy as only their army's transport. The Spanish navy did carry the Spanish army's artillery, but this could only provide one naval broadside (fire from all the guns on one side) to support an army boarding party.

War With Spain

European Crusades

Asia Minor, Palestine
Syria, Palestine
Cyprus, Palestine
Prussia, Lithuania
Greece, Constantinople
South France
Palestine, Egypt
Spain, Portugal, N Africa
Spain, North Africa
St Louis'
Palestine, Egypt

In Catholic Spain, Philip II succeeded to the throne as Felipe II in 1556, while the Holy Roman Empire began to dissolve into squabbles and religious in-fighting. Succeeding to the Spanish Inquisition, Felipe would not tolerate dissolution of his own Catholic Empire: yet in The Protestant Netherlands equally fervently rejected Spanish rule. The pope appealed to Felipe for support in restoring England to Catholicism, and promised Philip 250,000 for an armed Crusade against Elizabeth. The pope's goal was to obtain freedom of worship for Catholics. Of course Felipe also wanted to force the English out of Holland and to make Elizabeth pay war indemnities for the costs of his Spanish Crusade for the Church.

Felipe sent the Duke of Alba as Governor of the Spanish Netherlands with 10,000 men in 1567, and then later replaced him with Alejandro Farnesio, Duke of Parma and 20,000 more men. Although Parma managed to re-conquer Antwerp he could not defeat the stubborn Dutch. In any event, Parma reportedly sulked and when the armada finally arrived to pick up his army there was nothing: no army, no transports loaded with guns, and no Parma!

The strengthening 30,000 man Spanish army in nearby Flanders concerned the English and Elizabeth kept Dutch support alive to ensure the Spanish stayed tied down. Next, Elizabeth sent Drake with a fleet of 25 ships into the Caribbean to divert Spanish attention. In October 1585 Drake began to attack Spanish shipping and Caribbean ports and in December they burnt Santo Domingo the Spanish capital of Hispaniola in the Caribbean and the source of Spain's wealth. Drake's efforts succeeded in delaying the inevitable Spanish attack, but only until 1588. Elizabeth's additional concern was that there was no army, or coastal English defences.

Elizabeth pulled some levies together, but they would never have withstood Parma's disciplined army - and everyone knew it! It was a bluff (and the strengthening of motivation for a later standing militia). In the summer of 1588, Elizabeth appointed her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to command 4,000-man militia levy at West Tilbury in Essex, to guard the Thames approaches to London.

Meanwhile, in October 1585, Felipe had decided to invade England. With his commanders Felipe planned to send an Armada of 130 ships and 25,000 men to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma's 30,000 men to be embarked in their own transports. The fleet was then to escort the army to land in England and seize the country for the sake of God. The Armada's appointed commander was the highly experienced Álvaro de Bazán, but sadly for Felipe, he died in February 1588, and the reluctant Medina Sidonia was appointed in his place. The Duke of Medina Sidonia was an experienced soldier, with no naval experience. Medina Sidonia would command this Armada from the San Juan, flagship of Castile. Felipe's ships were a mix of heavy transports, ships of-the-line, galleys (with Mediterranean style oars), and merchantmen. At best it was unwieldy and few Spanish captains were familiar with the Atlantic seas or naval warfare.[30]

Clerical Longevity in Liège

Average Age at Death

On its final departure from Lisbon the Armada carried 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers and the fleet was so large that it took two days to leave port. The plan was to close with the English ships and allow the army to board after a single blast of cannon fire from their 2,500 guns. Parma was to be escorted to Kent, Southeast of London, for an assault landing supported by the Armada. In Spanish favour there were no English defences and no trained militia. Had Parma landed he could have easily overcome English resistance from the 4,000 men at Tilbury. It took the Spaniards two years to actually organise the details of ships, men, weapons, food, ammunition, and supplies.

Sadly for the Spanish, Parma sulked because he was not to become king of Spanish England. Apparently Parma refused to support Felipe and when the armada finally arrived there was no Spanish army to escort! In the event, Parma planned to delay final preparations until he had received positive word from Medina Sidonia. Even then, Parma finally waited at Dunkirk with only 16,000 of the promised 30,000 men.

In the drift to war, in 1587 Mary Queen of Scots was executed and England was politically isolated. Felipe retaliated by seizing English assets and Elizabeth then ordered her favourite Admiral Drake 'to singe Philip's beard' to provoke a war she knew was then inevitable. Drake left quickly on 11 April 1587 before she could change her mind and took a fleet of 23 ships into Cadiz on 29 April. This was Duke Medina Sidonia's primary assembly port for the Armada with sixty ships at anchor of which Drake destroyed or captured 24. In early July in the Azores, Drake also captured the Spanish treasure ship So Phelipe with a cargo of 140,000 value. Sir Francis Drake had gained England an additional year to prepare for the Armada (Spanish for fleet). Most of the English crews came from the 'West country' and knew each other and their captains, unlike the Spaniards, who fought in newly created crews.

Lord Howard of Effingham with his deputies, Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, commanded the 197 ships of the English fleet. The fleet carried 16,000 men who were virtually all sailors. This too was a mixed fleet, based on Henry's 34 serviceable ships of-the-line, which constituted the royal navy.[32] But there were an additional 34 merchant ships, 30 ships paid for by the City of London, and a mix of additional ships, 'great and small'. Henry VIII had conceived English tactics and the ships were indeed used as mobile gun batteries. They used the radically redesigned naval gun mounted on its stepped carriage. Most of the gun length lay outside the ship and the extra space had been exploited by using heavier barrels. Thus the English could out-fire the Spanish using a heavier shot to make more punishment and damage.

The Armada 1588

The Armada's Area of Operations: 1588


Elizabeth's spies soon knew Spain's intentions and she resolved to defeat Spain at sea. England held it's breath until late 1588 and Elizabeth took her assessments from the men who should know. Medina Sidonia's fleet was seen on 19 July 1588 off Cornwall. The first report came from Admiral Sir John Hawkins on 10 August, that although the final action had been fought, his ship had no ammunition and the fleets had lost contact. Very worried he asked for '...an infinite quantity of powder and shot'. On 18 August the Lord Admiral confided '...I do warrant you, all the world never saw such a force as their's was.' On 30 August Drake added the Duke of Parma was a great soldier '...we should have a great eye on him.'

On 19 July the Spanish decided against trapping the English in Plymouth harbour and Howard and Hawkins led out a 55-ship squadron. Despite a series of 'running engagements' as the Armada sailed up the English Channel, the outgunned Armada was still intact, although Medina Sidonia missed an opportunity to confirm that Parma was indeed ready. The early skirmishes gave the English navy increased confidence. The Armada groped its way to the Dutch coast searching for Parma and his 30,000 soldiers. (A messenger finally learned the guns and ships were still on shore, with no men in sight! There was no Parma. Parma was at Dunkirk.)

On 27 July, the Armada was able to anchor at Calais where the English sent in fire ships that night. The tightly-packed Spanish ships were highly vulnerable and the terrified Spanish sailors cut their anchors and drifted away from the fire-ships, which were packed with explosives and flammables. Although the Spanish fleet was saved they had lost any tactical formation and were badly out-gunned and out-manoeuvered at the 8 August 1588 Battle at Gravelines (in The Netherlands). Since the English ran out of ammunition, the Spanish had only 2,000 casualties; but the rendezvous with Parma was defeated and then the winds came up and blew the fleet away from Flanders, up the English North Sea coast.

After the English had run out of ammunition, but still pushed the Spaniards up to Scotland, Howard called of the pursuit on 12 August. The Armada then floated past northern Scotland and sailed around Ireland's most dangerous Atlantic coast. All was still well, despite several lost ships - but then they ran into the gales! Without their anchors they had serious trouble, not being Atlantic sailing ships but heavy transports, and thirty more ships were lost as the fleet made its way around Ireland. The Irish in Sligo County fell upon many of the wrecks and further tormented and killed their few survivors. The remaining fleet finally made land at Santander.

Of the 130 ships that had sailed only sixty could be accounted for and many of those were spread along 500 miles of coast and were un-seaworthy.[33] Over 6,000 Spaniards died on the Irish coast alone. Twenty-eight ships were sunk in the Atlantic gales as the Spanish had neither experienced pilots, nor good maps to help navigate: ten ships crashed into an unmarked peninsula and their crews were all lost. Elizabeth wrote a hymn to the weather God, who had saved England. With this English victory, the world balance of power had changed and a new (Tudor) empire was feasible. The English navy began to find its sea-legs and never looked back.

With the end of the Spanish threat there was no further impediment to global exploration, trade and power. The Tudor plans, made from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, were to pay off in global power. Henry VII seized the throne, Henry VIII created the necessary wealth and built a basic fleet, but Elizabeth created and used most effectively a powerful navy. The English maintained their navy as the basis of their empire to control the sea and enable the trade. By 1595 there were 38 Royal warships, carrying a total of 1,059 guns (628 of them heavy 9-pounders and above). 'Despite her celebrated reputation for parsimony, Elizabeth spent heavily on naval construction, and on the maintenance of a permanent cadre of officers and men, throughout most of her reign', with the result that 'the navy was stronger in both ships and firepower at the end of the war than it had been at the beginning'.[34]


1               NJG Pound, An Historical Geography of Europe, 1500-1840, p. 19.

2               Alison Weir, The Wars of the Roses, p. 415. She notes that only 38 Peers died, but that the fighting narrowed the gap between the kings and the nobles and hastened the end of chivalry. The Lancaster symbol was a red rose and the York was white, which Henry Tudor combined together.

3               Lacey Smith, This Realm of England, 1399 to 1688, p. 28.

4               Mackenzie Mackenzie outlines the facts and David Douglas, William The Conqueror explains how pp. 184-5.

5               The defeated King Harold was himself of Danish Viking descent.

6               The Bayeux Tapestry shows Viking ships, with dragonheads; Mediterranean ship design was more advanced. The boats are 15-75', with men, weapons, horses and supplies. David Howarth, 1066 The Year Of The Conquest, pp. 120-121, estimates 400 Norman boats requiring 10,000 trees for 10,000 men and 3,000 horses. The primary boats were 50' and carry either 60 men or 30 men and ten horses.

7               Ibid, pp. 95-96, details the Domesday Book, also see AL Poole, Domesday Book to Magna Carta.

8               Else Roesdahl, The Vikings, p. 206, describes the Danish or Norwegian Chieftain Rollo and his successful settlement of Normandy (terra Normannorum, or land of the Northmen), began in 924 and 933. However (p. 210), the Vikings had been in Britain since at least the end of the eighth century.

9               Douglas Johnson, A Concise History of France, p. 43.

10            Henry also tried to control his nobles' armies: see Penry Williams, The Tudor Regime, pp. 126-129.

11            Ibid, p. 83. notes Henry's annual public income rose from £52,000 to perhaps £142,000. Additionally Henry gained a private income of £42,000 while his wealthiest noble could then only boast £4,000. The nobility had been tamed! For a sobering view of Henry's limited power see James Reston Jr, Defenders of the Faith, p. xxi. Reston notes that England and France were secondary powers at the time and that real power was then held by Charles V and Sulayman .

12            EH Phelps Brown and SV Hopkins, Economica, no. 92, Nov. 1956, n.s. vol. xxiii.

13            William Manchester, A World Lit By Fire, pp. 157-158.

14            See Lady Sabine du Bourbonnais, HERALDIC DISPLAY, Women's Heraldic Frocks, Cotehardies, Sideless surcotes, Elizabethans and Mantles, http://www.sca.org.au/st_florians/university/library/articles-howtos/heraldry/HeraldicFrocksS.htm.

15            Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire, p. 150.

16            William Manchester, op. cit., pp. 157-158.

17            NJG Pounds, An Historical Geography of Europe 1500-1840, Cambridge, 1979, and EA Wrigley & RS Schooled, The Population History of England 1541-1871, London, 1981.

18            John Guy, Tudor England, pp. 184, 191-192.

19            NJG Pounds, op. cit. p. 196.

20            Kenneth Morgan, The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, p. 249. Henry first built his flagship the Mary Rose in 1511. She was the first purpose-built battleship and a four-masted Carrick of 700 tonnes. She was re-fitted in 1536, carried a crew of 700 men and was sunk defending Portsmouth on 19 July 1545 against 235 Frenchmen.

21            Martin and Parker, The Spanish Armada, p. 50; and Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves, pp.102-103.

22            Quoted from Drake's meeting with his crew on 10 August 1578. See Samuel Bawlf, The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580, pp. 108-111.

23           Martin and Parker, op. cit.

24            See Golden Hind, at http://en,wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Hind.

25            For an overview of the armada and the failed attack, see Spanish Armada, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#Tilbury_speech.

26            Ibid.

27            See BBC report 'Superguns' of Elizabeth I's navy , http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7899831.stm, dated 20 February 2009.

28            Henry at Tournai in Belgium built one of the last English Continental towers.

29           Stephen Coote, Drake, pp.135-136; and Arthur Herman, op. cit., p. 85.

30            Martin and Parker, op. cit., and Stephen Coote, op. cit., pp., 248-266.

31            J Ruivet, 'Les Inégalités devant la mort, les Pays-Bas et la principauté de Liège du XVIe au XVIIe siècle'.

32            Martin and Parker, The Spanish Armada, pp. 258-259.

33            Ibid.

34            See English Armada, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Armada, which cites Geoffrey Parker, The Dreadnought Revolution of Tudor England, Mariner's Mirror, 82 (1996), p. 286.

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