Armada I

Philip II

As the Bible began to freely circulate in Britain, it soon changed the character of the people, putting an end to the barbaric and bloodthirsty methods that had been the tools long employed by the Church of Rome to suppress all who were in opposition to her authority. In some instances it might be argued that Roman Catholics were treated with unnecessary cruelty, but it must be remembered that England was in a period of transition. The nation was just emerging from the Romish school of blood after centuries of training. Britain and North America are today what the Bible made them.

While Mary Stuart, the Roman Catholic Queen of Scots, lived, Rome’s hope of bringing England back under the control of the Catholic Church centered in her. Their death, however, effectively put an end to all of these hopes. The papal decree ordering all Christian princes to actively work for the destruction of Protestantism still remained as one of the infallible canons of the Council of Trent and was still acknowledged by the kings of the Catholic world. The plot to bring about the overthrow of Protestant England now took a new shape in the form of the invincible Armada.

It required no supernatural insight to recognize the approaching storm. Sixtus V, who even among popes was outstanding for his craft and daring, was just beginning his reign. Cold, selfish, hungry for power, and dedicated to the overthrow of Protestantism, Phillip II was on the throne of Spain. No Jesuit could be more dedicated in purpose, nor shrewd in disguising his purposes. His great ambition was that after-generations should be able to say of him that in his days and by his arms, heresy had been exterminated.

The Jesuits were operating throughout Europe, working to inflame the minds of kings and statesmen against the Reformation, seeking to organize them into armed combinations to put it down. Protestantism had been effectively purged from Spain and Italy. Worst of all, even among the friends of Protestantism there was fragmentation and disagreement. The spiritual influence, which like a mighty wave had rolled across all Christendom in the first half of the century, bringing with it scholars, statesmen, and nations, was now on the ebb, and Catholicism was was on the verge of gaining back that which it had lost. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and Coligny had all passed from the stage of action; and their successors, though men of faith and ability, were not of the same stature as those who had laid the foundation of the Reformation. In terms of facilities that generally determine the strength of a nation, there was little to compare between those who favored the Reformation and those who opposed it. To all human appearances, it seemed that the flame of the Reformation, which but a few years earlier had burned so brightly, must soon flicker and die.

Before her powerful enemies, England, with her little population of four million, and Holland, with even less, appeared completely vulnerable before the mighty armies of the Catholic world, enriched with their gold plundered from the New World. While the friends of the Reformation were divided, irresolute, cherishing illusions of peace, and making little or no preparations, there were omens that only too clearly betokened the coming conflict.

In 1584, two years before the execution of Mary Stuart, Phillip began preparations for building a fleet, the likes of which the world had never seen. For such an effort and for such a glorious cause, money and effort were of no object. Stretching along nearly two thousand miles of coast line there was not a harbor or river’s mouth that could be utilized which was not taken advantage of for the building of ships that were to bear the Spanish soldiers of the Inquisition to the shores of heretical England.

The completed fleet was to have provisions for six months, as well as quantities of power, shot, and all of the other materials that would facilitate an invasion. The completed Armada numbered 130 vessels, great and small. On board were 8,000 sailors in addition to 20,000 soldiers. This group was augmented by many noblemen and gentlemen who had volunteered to serve. The armor consisted of 2,650 pieces of ordnance; its burden was 60,000 tons. This was an immense tonnage at the time when the English navy consisted of twenty-eight ships and an aggregate weight that did not exceed the tonnage of a single, modern seagoing vessel.

The Spanish 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 a cannon ball could pierce. Cables smeared with pitch were wound around the masts to enable them to withstand the fire of the enemy. Sixty-four of the ships were galleons. Armed with heavy brass, they towered above the waves like castles.

During the time that the vast fleet was being built, Spain did everything that could possibly be done to conceal the knowledge of what was taking place from England. With poor, if any, postal communications, secrecy was more easily attainable than today. It was impossible however, to keep such a vast project a complete secret. In order to ease the concerns of the English, Philip resorted to dissimulation. It was said at one time that the new fleet’s purpose was to sweep from the seas certain pirates that gave annoyance to Spain and had captured some of her ships. Later, it was said that Philip meant to punish certain unknown enemies on the far side of the Atlantic. All that craft and lying could do was done to allay the suspicions of the people of England. Even Walsingham, one of the most discerning and clear sighted of the queen’s ministers, expressed 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.

Duke of Parma

In reality, there were two Armadas being prepared to attack an unsuspecting England. In the Netherlands, at that time in the possession of Philip, there was a scene of activity nearly as great as that which was taking place in Spain. Philip’s governor in Belgium, the duke of Parma, was perhaps the most able general of his age. His instructions were to prepare an army and fleet to cooperate with the Spanish force as soon as it arrived in the English Channel.

The whole of the Spanish Netherlands suddenly burst into activity. Assembling 28 warships, along with several hundred smaller vessels, the duke gathered regiments of soldiers from every Catholic nation in Europe. There was scarcely a noble house of Spain that was not represented within the camp of Parma. Believing that the last hour of England had come, they assembled to witness her fall.

During this time of preparation, every imaginable deception was practiced toward Elizabeth and the statesmen who served her to hide from them their great danger until it should overtake them. She sent her commissioners to the Low Countries, but Parma protested, with tears in his eyes, that there lived not on earth anyone who more sincerely desired peace than himself. Did not his prayers morning and night ascend for its continuance? And as regarding the wise and magnanimous sovereign of England, there was not one of her servants that cherished a higher admiration for her than did he. This monumental hypocrisy was not without effect. The English commissioners returned, after three month’s absence, in the belief that Parma’s intentions were peaceful and confirmed Elizabeth and her ministers in dreams of peace. England did not fully awaken from this illusion of peace until just days before the guns of the Spanish Armada were heard in the English Channel.

To aid in the war effort, Sixtus V issued a bull against Elizabeth in which he confirmed the previous one by Pius V, absolving her subjects of their allegiance and conferring her kingdom upon Philip II, to have and to hold as tributary and feudatory of the papal chair. While the pope with one hand took away the crown from Elizabeth, he conferred with the other the red hat upon Father Allen. Already the archbishop of Canterbury, Allen was at once both the archbishop of Canterbury and, by order of the pope, papal legate. Allen now had the pope’s bull translated into English, intending that upon arrival of the Spanish fleet, it should be published in England.

Suddenly, as if from a deep sleep, England awoke to her great danger just before the Spanish ships were to arrive. How was the invasion to be met? England had but a handful of soldiers and a few ships to oppose the host that was coming against her.

◄List of Articles►Next Article