The Spanish Armada
Sir Francis Drake
Despite numerous setbacks the Spanish had received, they were determined to set a fleet against England, and in the May of 1588 at last the great fleet set out.
The plans of the Spanish were meticulous. It was planned that the Spanish fleet, consisting of over 100 ships, would sail up from Spain along the English Channel and meet with the forces of the Duke of Parma, Philip's nephew, making their way from the Netherlands. Together they would sail towards England. It was believed that this force would overwhelm the English. The English would be conquered, and the heretical Queen would be captured.
But the English were waiting. On the cliffs of England and Wales, men watched the seas day and night, waiting for the first sighting of the great Armada. When at last the great ships appeared on the horizon, beacons were lit on the hillsides, which sent the message over the cliffs and throughout the country, that the Spanish were coming. The beacons sent the message quicker than any horseman could ever ride, and by morning, London and the Queen knew that the day of reckoning had come. As soon as the ships began to make their way up the channel, the fighting began.
Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury
While English soldiers and sailors fought for England's liberty, Queen Elizabeth made her way to Tilbury. She was not going to sit trembling inside a guarded Palace while her people fought, but was going to go to the coast of the battle and "live or die" with them. Like a true warrior Queen, Elizabeth, upon a White Horse, inspected her soldiers, and made what was possibly her most famous speech of all.
The Queen's confidence in God and her people was rewarded. In the English channel, the Spanish were suffering a humiliating defeat. The weather was dreadful, with the wind and rain against them, and they were not able to compete with the superior English ships and war tactics. They fled in terror when fire ships were aimed at them. The only way back to Spain was the perilous journey around the coast of Scotland, and many a Spaniard never saw his home country again. The battle was over, the English had won.
The Queen and her people were jubilant. No more were they a second rate sea power, for they had conquered the fleet of the mighty Spanish Empire. A thanksgiving service was held at St. Paul's Cathedral for the delivery of the country, and a medal was struck with the words "God blew and they were scattered" inscribed on it. They believed that the storm that had besieged the Spanish ships was no ordinary storm, but the work of a Protestant God.
But amongst the joy, there was considerable sorrow for the Queen. The Earl of Leicester, who had been her companion since her accession, and who she undoubtedly loved, had died unexpectedly not long after sharing with her the great victory. The Queen was devastated and secluded herself for a while. In the Armada portrait she reputedly wears the pearls he left her in his will. But her people needed her, and despite her grief, the Queen participated fully in the celebrations at St. Pauls. "God bless you my people" she called out, and her people called a thousand blessings on her.
Although King Philip sent other fleets against England in the 1590's, none was as significant, or as threatening as that of the great Armada of 1588, and none has captured the imagination of successive generations as much.