Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

than the source of his profits that excites social prejudice against the shopkeeper in England. On the
Continent, however, class feeling prevented the governing classes from participating in the expansion of

commerce. German barons, for instance, often with only a few florins a year income, could not

supplement it by trade; all they could do was to rob the traders, robbery being a thoroughly genteel

occupation. Hence foreign governments were, as a rule, less alive and less responsive to the commercial

interests of their subjects. Philip II trampled on commercial opinion in a way no English sovereign could

have done. Indeed, complaints were raised in England at the extent to which the commercial classes had

the ear of parliament and the crown; since the accession of Henry VIII, it was said in 1559, they had

succeeded by their secret influence in procuring the rejection of every bill they thought injurious to their

interests.

There was no feeling of caste to obstruct the efficiency of English administration. The nobility were
separated from the nation by no fixed line; there never was in England a nobility of blood, for all the sons

of a noble except the eldest were commoners. And while they were constantly sinking into the mass of

the nation, commoners frequently rose to the rank of nobility. Before the end of the fourteenth century

wealth derived from trade had become an avenue to the House of Lords. The justices of the peace, on

whom the Tudors relied for local administration, were largely descended from successful city men who

had, like the Walsinghams, planted themselves out in the country; and Elizabeth herself was

great-great-granddaughter of a London mayor. This social elasticity enabled the government to avail

itself of able men of all classes, and the efficiency of Tudor administration was mainly due to these

recruits, whose genius would have been elsewhere neglected. Further, it provided the government with

agents peculiarly fitted by training and knowledge to deal with the commercial problems which were

beginning to fill so large a sphere in politics; and finally, it rendered the government singularly

responsive to the public opinion of the classes upon whose welfare depended the expansion of England.

Englishmen likewise took to the sea, when the sea became all-important, as readily as they took to trade.
English command of the Narrow Seas had laid France open to the invasions of Edward III and Henry V,

and had checked the tide of French reconquest before the walls of Calais. English piracy in the Channel

was notorious in the fifteenth century, and in the sixteenth it attained patriotic proportions. Henry VII had

encouraged Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland, but the papal partition of new-found lands between Spain

and Portugal barred to England the door of legitimate, peaceful expansion; and there can be little doubt

that this prohibition made many converts to Protestantism among English seafaring folk. Even Mary

could not prevent her subjects from preying on Spanish and Portuguese commerce and colonies; and with

Elizabeth's accession preying grew into a national pastime. Hawkins broke into Spanish monopoly in the

West Indies, Drake burst into their Pacific preserves, and circumvented their defences; and a host of

followers plundered nearly every Spanish and Portuguese colony.

At last Philip was provoked into a naval war for which the English were and he was not prepared.
Spanish rigidity embraced the Spanish marine as well as Spanish theology. Clinging to Mediterranean

and medieval traditions, Spain had failed to realize the conditions of sea-power or naval tactics. England,

on the other hand, had, largely under the inspiration of Henry VIII, adapted its navy to oceanic purposes.

A type of vessel had been evolved capable of crossing the ocean, of manoeuvring and of fighting under

sail; to Drake the ship had become the fighting unit, to the Duke of Medina Sidonia a ship was simply a

vehicle for soldiers, and a sea-fight was simply a land-fight on sea. The crowning illustration of Spain's

incapacity to adapt itself to new conditions is perhaps the fact that only a marquis or duke could be made

a Spanish admiral.

 

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