Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

England had disposed of similar claims to political and military authority in 1569, when medieval
feudalism made its last bid for the control of English policy. For ten years Elizabeth had been guided by

Sir William Cecil, a typical "new man" of Tudor making, who hoped to wean the common people from

dependence upon their lords, and to complete the destruction of feudal privileges which still impeded the

action of national sovereignty. The flight of Mary Queen of Scots into England in 1568 provided a focus

for noble discontent with Cecil's rule, and the northern earls rebelled in 1569. The rebellion was easily

suppressed, but its failure did not deter the Duke of Norfolk, the earls' accomplice, from joining Ridolfi's

plot with similar ends. He was brought to the block in 1572, and in him perished the last surviving

English duke. For more than half a century England had to do its best - defeat the Spanish Armada,

conquer Ireland, circumnavigate the globe, lay the foundations of empire, produce the literature of the

Elizabethan age - without any ducal assistance. It was left for James I, who also created the rank of

baronet in order to sell the title (1611), to revive the glories of ducal dignity in the persons of Ludovic

Stuart, Duke of Richmond, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1623).

Cecil's drastic methods of dealing with the opposition lords left the door of government open to men like
Walsingham, who were determined to give full play to the new forces in English politics. Discontented

reactionaries were reduced to impotent silence, or driven abroad to side openly with the enemy. Pius V's

bull excommunicating and deposing Elizabeth (1570) shattered in a similar way the old Catholic party.

The majority acquiesced in the national religion; the extremists fled to become conspirators at foreign

courts or Jesuit and missionary priests. The antagonism between England and Spain in the New World

did more, perhaps, than Spanish Catholicism to make Philip the natural patron of these exiles and of their

plots against the English government; and as Spain and England drew apart, England and France drew

together. In 1572 a defensive alliance was formed between them, and there seemed a prospect of their

co-operation to drive the Spaniards out of the Netherlands. But Catholic France resented this Huguenot

policy, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew put a violent end to the scheme, while Elizabeth and Philip

patched up a truce for some years. There could, however, be no permanent compromise, on the one hand,

between Spanish exclusiveness and the determination of Englishmen to force open the door of the New

World and, on the other, between English nationalism and the papal resolve to reconquer England for the

Catholic church. Philip made common cause with the papacy and with its British champion, Mary Queen

of Scots, while Englishmen made common cause with Philip's revolted subjects in the Netherlands. The

acquisition of Portugal, its fleet, and its colonial empire by Philip in 1580, the assassination of William of

Orange in 1584, and the victories of Alexander of Parma in the Netherlands forced Elizabeth into

decisive action. The Dutch were taken under her wing, a national expedition led by Drake paralyzed

Spanish dominion in the West Indies in 1585 and then destroyed Philip's fleet at Cadiz in 1587, and the

Queen of Scots was executed.

At last Philip attempted a tardy retaliation with the Spanish Armada. Its naval inefficiency was matched
by political miscalculations. Philip never imagined that a united England could be conquered; but he

laboured under the delusion, spread by English Catholic exiles, that the majority of the English people

only awaited a signal to rise against their queen. When this delusion was exploded and the naval

incompetence of Spain exposed, his dreams of conquest vanished, and he continued the war merely in the

hope of securing guarantees against English interference in the New World, in the Netherlands, and in

France, where he was helping the Catholic League to keep Henry of Navarre off the French throne.

Ireland, however, was his most promising sphere of operations. There religious and racial hostility to the

English was fusing discordant Irish septs into an Irish nation, and the appearance of a Spanish expedition

was the signal for something like a national revolt. England had not been rich enough in men or money to

 

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