Frank McLynn

Year of the Sea Dog

England and the Spanish Armada: The Necessary Quarrel


Yale University Press 411pp £20 order from our bookshop

James McDermott chosen a very specific title for his new book, and he means it, for anything relating to the so-called ‘Enterprise of England’ in 1588 that does not directly involve Elizabeth I and her advisers has been ruthlessly expunged from his account; this is not the place to go if you want a reader-friendly version of the defeat of the Armada. McDermott’s concern is diplomatic history fairly narrowly conceived, with the result that the first two-thirds of his book are taken up with causes and origins, triggers and precipitants, context and background. But he does explain very clearly how England proceeded from neutrality to non-belligerency and thence to outright war with Spain. For twenty years Elizabeth I resisted the pleas and blandishments of her coreligionists in the Low Countries, who were engaged in the famous revolt of the Netherlands against the Spanish crown. Then, in 1585, England turned aside from the traditional ~policy of ~peaceful coexistence with Spain and set itself on a collision course with the Habsburg monarch Philip II. As James McDermott points out in this careful study, the decisive moment was actually in 1584, when William of Orange, the rebel leader, was assassinated, causing Elizabeth to believe that the final resolution of the Netherlands crisis was at hand. And in the same year an alliance between France and Spain moved all thought that France could be used as a counterweight to Philip’s campaign of pacification in the Netherlands.

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