Elizabethan Foreign Policy: Spain


Deterioration: The Netherlands

The Netherlands at the time were a collection of 17 provinces under the control of the Duke of Burgundy (and therefore Phillip). They were semi-autonomous and English prosperity depended on trade with the Netherlands.

Phillip, however, wanted to gain a tighter political control over the Netherlands and to root out heresy that had begun to spread over the the southern regions.

To Elizabeth's alarm, Phillip sent a large force under the control of the Duke fo Alba to the Netherlands to deal with a presummed rebellion. 

Elizabeth came under pressure by members of the Privy Council to aid the Protestants in the Netherlands but she was reluctant to do so. She had suffered greatly after her 1562 intervention in France and now had issues about aiding foreign rebels.

Elizabeth then, knowing she couldn't send a force to the Netherlands, found other ways to harrass and infuriate the Spanish.

1 of 14

Deterioration: Stealing Spanish Money

Elizabeth's opportunity to harrass the Spanish came in November 1568 when a storm forced Spanish vessels to seek shelter in Devon and Cornwall. 

The ships were carrying 400,000 florins that Spain had borrowed from Genoese bankers to pay for their troops in the Netherlands. Elizabeth decided to impound the money. She wasn't techinically stealing because it didn't belong to the Spanish and she had claimed she was simply taking over the loan.

Charles Wilson argued that it was risky and an act of piracy.

Cecil and Elizabeth had both believed that the action wouldn't result in any serious reprecussions. They would have been right if de Silva had been the ambassador, but his sucessor de Spes enouraged Alba to sieze English property in the Netherlands. This encouraged a ***-for-tat operation.

As a result, Anglo-Spanish and Anglo-Dutch trade came to a halt to the detriment of all.

While Phillip didn't support Pope Pius V's excommunication of Elizabeth, he was enthusiastic about the Northern Rebellion of 1569 and the 1571 Ridolfi Plot.

2 of 14

Deterioration: Expanding Trade to Americas

There had been several attempts to expand English trade in the mid-16th Century. There was attempts to break the Portugese domination of Africa and the Indian Ocean; The Muscovy Company was incorporated in 1555 to trade with Russia and northern Europe. There was growing trade with Morroco. The main centre of African trade was Guinea, where John Hawkins began to move into the Americas. In the process, he invented the English slave trade.

Hawkins made three expeditions, stating in 1562, aquiring slaves in Africa and moving and selling them in South America. His first two expeditions proved financially successful but he deeply infuriated the Spanish authorities.

By the time of the 2nd expedition, Hawkins had support from the Earl of Leicester and the Queen who supplied the ships. 

The 3rd expedition also had royal support but when disastrously wrong. Hawkins' fleet was blockaded by the Spanish at the port of San Juan de Uluta in September 1568. Only two ships made it back to England.

The fact that Elizabeth was involved suggests she was willing to risk antagonising Phillip II in return for profit.

3 of 14

Deterioration: The Netherlands 1570

Ideally, Elizabeth wanted the Netherlands to remain semi-autonomous so that she could keep trading with them.Werhnam said Elizabeth's policies were successful and consistent.

Wilson said her policies were inconsistent and largely unsuccessful.

The English unknowingly deteriorated relations after expelling the Sea Beggars (William of Orange's pirates) from English ports. They were forced to land at Brielle and sparked a rebellion against the Duke of Alba.

Elizabeth was content to offer herself as a mediator but offered covert support to the rebels by allowing them to recruit English soldiers. 

In 1575, the Spanish launched a massive offensive on the rebels. Either the Spanish would be successful or the rebels would gain support from France. Both were bad options. Spanish actions limited Elizabeth's neutrality in the conflict.

In November 1576, the Spanish Fury saw the forces go on mudering rampage around Antwerp. Collectively, this producted the Pacification of Ghent which called for the expulsion of foreign troops. The rebels demands were exactly the same as Elizabeth's aims.

4 of 14

England and Spain after 1564

Anglo-Spanish relations were healthy in the 1560's. Neither Phillip nor Elizabeth wanted to destroy the traditional Anglo-Burgundian friendship.

Phillip pursuaded the Pope not to excommunicate Elizabeth 2 times and encouraged his Habsburg relations to seek marriage arrangements with her. 

Relations were enhanced by the efforts of the Sanish ambassador, de Silva who was hightly tactful, an effective diplomat and much respected by Elizabeth.

It was during de Silva's tour, however, that the cracks begun to appear. The immediate cause was the actions of John Hawkins as begun to expand his slave trade to the Carribean. 

5 of 14

The Origin of War with Spain

In 1986, Burghley observed "the whole state of the world is marvellously changed when we true Englishmen have cause for our own quietness to wish good success to a French King and a King of Scots".

At first, neither Elizabeth or Phillip wanted to enter into a war, but eventually it became inevitable.

Phillip became increasingly more resentful of what he considered to be Elizabeth's challenges to his sovereignty in the Netherlands.

In 1580, Phillip managed to take over Portugal. Elizabeth chose to assist the rebel Don Antonio's attack on the Azores in 1580-81. Phillip had wanted the Azores to become a vital communications base for Spain and so feared that if the english settled in the Azores, they would destroy Spanish trade with the Americas.

The original Spanish plan for the invasion of England were made in 1583 in the light of Phillip's reaction to the challenges.

Elizabeth was becoming ingreasingly offended by Phillip's support of the plots against her. She was under pressure by the Privy Council to take action against a preceived Spanish threat.

6 of 14

The Threat of Invasion

Anglo-Spanish relations worsened in 1584, but war wasn't inevitable. The Treaties of Joinville 1583 and Nonsuch 1584 had made war more likely, but it seemed that both sides wanted to prevent.

War was made more than likely in 1585 after Phillip ordered the seizure of all English ships and goods in Spanish ports. Elizabeth also decided to pursue an alliance with the Sharif of Fez, which Phillip saw as a direct threat to Spanish territory.

The sending of English troops to the Netherlands challenged Phillips sovereignty and increased the cost of suppressing the revolt. Francis Drake attacked Spanish ports in September 1585. 

Phillip decided to send an Armada against England because he believed Elizabeth's actions had made a virtual state of war and it was better to end things decisively rather than engaging in a long-term conflict. Preperations for the Armada took over 2 years after Drake delayed progress by attacking Cadiz in April 1587. 
Phillip shrugged aside the misgivings of the Duke of Parma and so ended up with a long-term conflict in the Caribbean and the Netherlands, precisely what he'd been trying to avoid.

Simon Adams: war broke out because Elizabeth and Phillip both lost their nerve.

7 of 14

Why was the Armada Defeated: Actions of Spain

The whole Armada strategy depended on the fleet meeting Parma's army in the Netherlands. Parma, however, didn't have enough control of the costline to make this work. The Dutch exploited the problem and Justin of Nassau blockaded Parma's route out of the ports.

The death of the Marquis of Santa Cruz left the Armada without its leader. The Duke of Medina Sidonia lacked experience but was conscious of his limits and delegated roles to officers who had ample experience. Medina Sidonia is often wrongly seen as the decisive factor. Whatever, it was certain that there was not decisive outcome from 30th July to 6th August.

8 of 14

War at Sea

1592: Drake's expedition with attack on Lisbon. Cumberland and Frobisher gain profit during their expeditions.

1593: Hawkins' and Frobisher's expeditions were unprofitable. 

1594: Capture of the treasure ship Madre de Dios. Much of the £140,000 taken by the sailors.

1595: Drake and Hawkins in the West Indies. Some plunder stolen, but fleet never made it to the desired port of Panama.

1596: Capture of Cadiz by Walter Raleigh and Thomas Howard. Phillip orders attack on England, storms stop fleet at Biscay. Wallace MacCaffrey: Cadiz demonstrates Elizabeth's contradictory purposes.

Ireland makes situation worse. Essex goes to Ferrol 1596 to stop Spain attacking Ireland, driven back by winds. Go to Azores to get gold, Spanish slip past him and would have attacked Ireland if winds werent bad.

1598: Cumberland attack Puerto Rico with 18 ships to find money. Half of force die of dysentry

9 of 14

Why was the Armada Defeated: Actions of Elizabeth

The English benefited from the strategic decision on 7th August to send fireships into Spanish vessels anchored off Calais. They exploited favourable winds to make more damage. The Spanish didn't loose many ships during the English attack but were driven from their anchorage, dispersed and was forced away from Calais due to the winds. It was unlikely that the fleet would be able to meet Parma.

The English made the most of the disruption by engaging Medina Sidonia on 8th August. Three ships were sunk and three were driven ashore to the waiting Dutch. The greater manoeuvrability and long-range gunnery of the English was vital. Medina Sidonia wanted to keep fighting and tried to get the English to board his ships but they were wary. 

With English ammunition running short, Medina Sidonia may have won by north-westerly winds threatened to destroy the rest of the fleet and was forced to head for the North Sea. Any chance of ever meeting with Parma was lost. The remaining fleet had to sail north around Scotland before going back to Spain, which cost them many ships.

Elizabeth had shown great skill, but without the 'Protestant Winds', everything might have been lost.

10 of 14

Was Elizabeth to Blame?

  • Elizabeth knowingly infuriated the Spanish. (expulsion of the Sea Beggars, knighting Francis Drake, supporting John Hawkins). She did nothing to eliviate tensions.
  • Elizabeth became involved in the Netherlands, when she had no sovereignty over them
  • She stole (not technically) Spain's loan from the Genose banks in 1586
  • She supported Don Antonio, a rebel against the Spanish. 1589
  • Phillip's Spanish Fury 1583.
  • Annexation of Portugal 1580.
  • Tried to gain a stronger hold on the Netherlands, threatening England's prosperity
  • Phillip had supported the 1571 Ridolfi Plot and showed some enthusiasm for the 1569 Northern Rebels.
  • Relations could never have remained civil between England and Spain. Too many differences between Protestants and Catholics.
11 of 14

Deterioration: Netherlands 1580's

After 1580, the already bad situation in the Netherlands was made worse. Henry III of France's refusal to join an anti-Spanish alliance, Anjou's Dutch campaign was a disaster and Parma's conquest gained a huge momentum.

The Dutch rebels' inspirational leader William of Orange had been assassinated in 1584 and the rebellion looked doomed to fail. To make matters worse, Phillip and the French Catholic League joined together in the 1584 Treaty of Joinville. Phillip could now support MQS, a member of the French Catholic Guise family.

To counteract the Treaty of Joinville, Elizabeth formed an alliance with the Dutch rebels in the Treaty of Nonsuch 1585. She refused the soverignty of the United Provinces but offered to pay for a force of 6,400 infantry and 1000 cavalry. As security, England was given the ports of Brielle and Vlissingen. 

She was trying to avoid war, despite supporting Drake, and tried to make peace with Parma but eventually she sent the Earl of Leicester to the Netherlands, resulting in disaster. Leicester's actions were so bad, he tried to create a full coup (failed) and then resigned his command in January 1588. When the Dutch rebels found out that Elizabeth had gone behind their back to make peace with Parma, they felt that they had been abandoned.

12 of 14

Deterioration: The Second Rebellion

The rebellion resumed the next year and Spanish troops entered the Netherlands again. Intelligence even suggested that the French were about to support the Spanish governer Don John of Austria who supported MQS's claim to the English throne. Elizabeth had to boost the rebel cause.

She promised the Dutch Estates General £100,000 and military support if the French became involved. She told Phillip II that she would aid the rebels if he didn't accept the Pacification of Ghent. She never gave military support to the rebels.

She didn't want to get into a war with Spain and was distrustful of the rebels, but also didn't want France or Spain to control the Netherlands. She compromised by hiring a mercenary army to fight on her behalf. The rebels were divided by religious grounds, making it unlikely that they would win.

Elizabeth alienated the Spanish while doing nothing to help the Dutch rebels or preventing the Netherlands to come under Spanish domination. 

With the Duke of Anjou ready to invade the Netherlands, Elizabeth began to negotiate a marriage contract with him to get herself out of the mess. For the English, the situation in the Netherlands had only gotten worse.

13 of 14

The Continuing War with Spain

Elizabeth and her ministers knew that the defeat of the Armada would not be the end of the war with Spain. However, they didn't realise the war would last for another 16 years and would only end after both Phillip and Elizabeth had died. 

Elizabeth's war aims were modest. Unlike some, she only wanted to protect national security. This meant she wanted an autonomous Netherlands, which would require direct English involvement. 

Spain's alliance with the Catholic League in France put more pressure on England to intervene on the side of the Huguenots. 

It seemed increasingly obvious that England was becoming involved in a war against a universal Catholic conspiracy that needed to be contained. This meant that assistance to Protestants in France and the Netherlands was important. Burghley shared this view. 

Despite their differences, all the Privy Council assumed that they weren't in an old-fashioned dynastic war but a religious war. Minimalists wanted to concentrate limited resources on the Netherlands to fight Parma. Some like John Hawkins wanted a more expensive naval campaign along with a land campaign in the Netherlands

14 of 14


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The Triumph of Elizabeth: Britain, 1547-1603 resources »