The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Beyond the Armada

Battle of Hastings, Agincourt, Spanish Armada: the monuments of English military history in the popular (I laughingly call) imagination come sparse and mythified to buggery.

An excellent piece of analysis, accessible to, but without patronising, the layman comes in Paul Hammer's Elizabeth’s Wars: War, Government and Society in Tudor England, 1544-1604, a tome which, unlike some of my suggestions, I have actually read from cover to cover (344 pages).

Popularly, Elizabethan military and naval history is all derring-do, singeing the King of Spain's beard and like nonsenses. The politics are rather more substantial - and of correspondingly greater interest to grown-ups.

One key difficulty, for example, was the fact that Elizabeth, as a woman, was unable to lead her army into battle (a basic duty of any European sovereign), and was reduced to the media stunts like the infamous Tilbury speech (weak and feeble woman), whilst trying to control the men around her who would do the actual fighting.

Whilst father Henry VIII was a pay any price kind of guy, infatuated by a Quixotic fantasy of chivalry and the glory of war - his final, ruinous expedition to France is described - Elizabeth knew she was chronically borassic, and vulnerable to a Franco-Spanish alliance. Divide and not be conquered was the policy.

The most despised theatre of her wars was Ireland - where Errol Flynn, aka the Earl of Essex, made his fatal defiance of her. Unromantic and deadly.

An interesting-looking (I haven't read it yet!) thesis [1] La cuestión irlandesa en la política internacional de Felipe II by Enrique García Hernán looks at Philip II's attempts to exploit England's vulnerable rear entrance.

On the face of it, Elizabeth, playing defense, had the simpler task of the pair. Philip's overstretch, relative to the logistics of the day, was immense. But still, most of the gallant naval forays made by the likes of Hawkins and Drake to singe whatever parts came to hand were ignominious failures.

  1. Parts one and two - around 20MB each.

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