Elizabeth—The Story of How England Was Saved from the Spaniards
PHILIP, King of Spain, who had been married to Mary I., wanted, after her death, to marry her sister Elizabeth who was now Queen of England. But Elizabeth would not marry him, and that made him very angry. Philip hated the English people and the Protestant religion, and he made up his mind to conquer England and punish Elizabeth. He gathered together a great number of soldiers and sailors and guns and ships, and made ready to invade England.
Among the many famous Englishmen of this time was a man called Drake. He had sailed in far-off seas to newly-discovered countries, and was very bold and daring. While Philip was busy making ready to invade England, Drake sailed over to Spain, and boldly entered the harbour where the Spanish vessels lay. He sank and burned thirty or more of them, damaged others, and then sailed away again. "This," he said with a laugh, "was just singeing the King of Spain's beard."
King Philip was very angry, but he at once set to work to repair his ships and to build others, and next year was ready to attack England.
In May 1588 A.D., one hundred and twenty-nine great ships sailed out from Spain but, hindered by a storm, it was many weeks later before they came in sight of the English coast.
These Spanish ships with their gilded prows and white sails shining in the sun made a splendid show as they sailed along in the shape of a crescent seven miles long. King Philip called his fleet the Invincible Armada. Invincible means, "which cannot be conquered"; Armada is a Spanish word meaning "navy."
Once again, as in the days of the Romans and as in the days of the Danes, the little green island in the lonely sea was threatened with conquerors coming in great ships.
The people of England had been slow to believe that there was any danger from Spain, and the Queen was unwilling to make preparations. But when at last they saw that the Spaniards meant to come, the country rose like one man. Roman Catholics and Protestants forgot their quarrels, and remembering only that they were Englishmen, worked together against the common enemy.
The English navy at this time was very small, but gentlemen and merchants gave money and ships, and soon it was almost as large as the Spanish navy, although the ships were smaller.
Besides these ships and sailors, a great army gathered on land in order to resist Philip, should he succeed in reaching England, in spite of the "wooden walls" as the English war vessels came to be called.
Men young and old flocked to the standard. Very few were real soldiers, but all of them were eager to fight for their Queen and for their country. Elizabeth herself reviewed the army and spoke such brave words that the hopes of the men who heard her rose high. "I am come among you," she said, "not for pleasure nor to amuse myself. I am come to live or die with you in battle; to lay down my honour and my life for my God, for my country and for my people. I know that I have but the body of a poor, weak woman, but I have the heart of a King, and of an English King. I think foul scorn that any Spanish Prince, or any Prince in Europe, should dare to invade my kingdom. Rather than be so dishonoured I myself will take up arms. Myself will be your general and the judge and rewarder of every one of you for your deeds in the field of battle."
So eagerly did the people work that England was ready before Spain, and Lord Howard, the chief admiral, sailed out to meet the enemy. But week after week passed, and as still the Spaniards did not come, he returned to Plymouth with his ships.
Elizabeth was not fond of spending money. She thought that it was dreadful waste to keep all these soldiers and sailors and ships waiting for an enemy who never came, and she told Lord Howard to pay off his men, and send them to their homes. But Lord Howard refused to obey, and he with his captains and his men held their ships in readiness at Plymouth. Day by day they kept watch, looking always anxiously out to sea, and spending the long, weary hours as best they could.
At last, one sunny day in July, when Drake and some of the other sea captains were playing at bowls, they were interrupted by a cry, "The Spaniards! the Spaniards!" The game was stopped, all eyes were turned towards the Channel. Yes, there at last, far out to sea, the proud Spanish vessels were to be seen. They were distant yet, but a sailor's eye could see that they were mighty and great ships, and the number of them was very large. But the brave English captains were not afraid.
"Come," said Drake, after a few minutes, "there is time to finish the game and to beat the Spaniards too."
So they went back to their play, and when the game was finished they went down to the harbour, got the ships ready, and sailed out to meet and fight the Spaniards.
For more than a week the battle lasted, the English always having the best of it. Their ships were smaller, but for that very reason they could be moved and turned about more easily than the great painted and gilded Spanish vessels.
The wind, too, was in favour of the English and against the Spaniards. In those days, before steam-engines and steamers had been invented, when ships were still moved by sails, the wind was of great importance.
Day by day the wind grew fiercer, the waves became white and wild, till the Spanish ships were driven northward by a terrible storm. Without pilots, through unknown seas, past strange islands they were driven. Shattered on unfriendly rocks, refused the shelter of every port, up to the north of Scotland and back round the west coast of Ireland they sped. At last, ruined by shot and shell, torn and battered by wind and waves, about fifty maimed and broken wrecks, all that were left of the Invincible Armada, reached Spain. Once again England was saved.
How the people rejoiced! Bells rang, bonfires blazed, and every heart was filled with thankfulness. In memory of the victory, the Queen ordered a medal to be made, and on it, in Latin, were the words, "God blew with his breath, and they were scattered."
Although Philip had lost nearly all his ships, he did not consider that he was beaten, and the war went on until the death of Elizabeth. But the English people no longer feared the Spaniards