How the English became the Scourge of the Seas, Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs

B1814

The author has wisely decided to concentrate on what made England distinctive from any other Renaissance State of the period, ignoring the crass political distortions that have been made fashionable today. The result is a book that is delightful, incisive, entertaining and moving. It makes no false apologies and it provides a factual review of how Spain unintentionally encouraged the rapid expansion of England as a global trading nation, and laid the foundations for the British Empire.

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NAME: How the English became the Scourge of the Seas, Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
FILE: R1814
DATE: 030313
AUTHOR: Hugh Bicheno
PUBLISHER: Conway Maritime, Anova
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 383
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth I, Elizabethan Age, galleon, race-built galleon, Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher, circumnavigation, Spain, South America, North America, Armada, Great Castle ships, canon, fire ships
ISBN: 978-1-84486-174-3
IMAGE: B1814.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/d9lhryf
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The author begins by observing that the Elizabethans were not from a society as Britain in the 21st Century. The politicisation of everything, including education, that perhaps began in 1945, and accelerated very rapidly under the Blair Brown Regime, has tried to tell us that the British before Blair were not nice people and needed to apologise for every imagined slight including the potato famine in Ireland. This is a mixture of rank ignorance and over weaning National Socialist politics. It renders history to a meaningless mass of trivia and destroys its ability to inform and warn future generations.

The author points out that England in the 16th Century was emerging from the Medieval Period into the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and Scholarship. However, it was still a brutal age were few survived past their 30th birthday, killed by war, poor diet and disease. The population of England was no more than half the population of Greater London five hundred years later. When compared to the society of only one hundred years before, Elizabethan England was a place of peace, learning and tolerance, with the powers of the Church reigned back and restructured by the Anglican Catholic Church created by Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII. Many of the assets of the Roman Church were confiscated by Henry for his own benefit, or to distribute amongst his supporters. The result was that Elizabeth inherited a Kingdom that was relatively at peace. There was still a bubbling conflict with Scotland, stirred up by the French, but this was changing and would see the Union of Crowns of England and Scotland on the death of Elizabeth as a result of an agreement negotiated with the Scots. Where there was conflict it was in matters of trade and religion, distilled into the entity of Spain.

The author has wisely decided to concentrate on what made England distinctive from any other Renaissance State of the period, ignoring the crass political distortions that have been made fashionable today. The result is a book that is delightful, incisive, entertaining and moving. It makes no false apologies and it provides a factual review of how Spain unintentionally encouraged the rapid expansion of England as a global trading nation, and laid the foundations for the British Empire.

The religious differences between England and a Europe dominated by Spain also extended into trade. The Roman Church had divided the New World, at that time primarily the Caribbean, Central and South America between Portugal and Spain, with Spain gaining the lion’s share and dominion over the scattered islands of the Pacific. The Spanish King took that monopoly as the justification of exclusion of other nations from trade in the area. The religious differences were also extended by Spain intriguing with Mary Stuart who had been forced into exile in England by the Scots. That intrigue led to Elizabeth reluctantly executing Mary and, in turn, led to Philip of Spain claiming this execution as a justification for the planned invasion of England and the killing of Elizabeth. Within England, religion took a different interpretation. There was popular hatred of Spanish Papists but, from Elizabeth down, there was a degree of tolerance. Provided that Roman Catholics did not flout their differences in public and refrained from treason, they were largely allowed to live as they chose and worship as they pleased. It also has to be remembered that the Anglican Catholic Church and its services differed from the Roman Catholic Church only in that the Anglicans did not recognize the supremacy of the Pope, having the Monarch as head of State and Head of Church, and English was replacing Latin as the Anglican language. It was not until Cromwell’s Commonwealth that the Churches were shorn of statues, altar screens and stained glass windows, to develop a more Protestant appearance.

Within this environment, England was effectively a rural society that also enjoyed a strong fishing industry because of the long coastline where nowhere was far from the sea and the sea and the rivers provided the main communications arteries. There was strong trade with Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic States including Russia. Elizabeth granted a whaling monopoly to the Muskovy Company to be carried out in the Spitzbergen Islands that were claimed as English territory. Amongst the many marriage proposals received by Elizabeth is one from Ivan IV of Russia. The English continued to enjoy a very profitable wool trade and traded woollen product from Germany and the Baltic region, but was largely excluded from trade with the Spanish Netherlands, France, Iberia and the Mediterranean. Africa did not yet feature as trading or colonial area and that left the Americas as a logical point of expansion, denied by the policies of Spain.

It was therefore only natural that English seamen would seek ways to profit from those areas that attempted to exclude them. Elizabeth was in no position to force the Spanish blockage militarily, but she could encourage her ship’s captains and even invest her own money in some of their expeditions. The result was that a relatively small number of ships attacked the Spanish blockage as free expeditions and not was English warships. Their courage was outstanding. They undertook long voyages and circumnavigations at a time when the ships were small and the crew accepted poor food and limited water supplies. In their voyages they faced massive Spanish warships and succeeded through cunning, daring, initiative and flexibility.

The author explains how the corsair culture grew up and prospered. He avoids the Victorian penchant for portraying the English adventures as paladins and he equally avoids the National Socialist propaganda that seeks to demonize them as viscous racist criminals. He shows them for what they were, people of their time, behaving within the social codes that applied to them and fighting the Spanish blockade with the weapons available to them for the benefit of their own pockets, trade and their country.

In the process, they enraged a Spanish King who considered himself above all others and to be carrying out what he believed was God’s Will. As English seamen intercepted gold and silver shipments from the New World to Spain, they threatened the flow of wealth to a King who already saw the defeat and death of Elizabeth as God’s Work. The attempt to invade England was inevitable and it was to be the English corsairs who were to frustrate this plan by the defeat of the Spanish Armada as it attempted to reach the Low Countries to collect a large Spanish army. All of the skills of seamanship learned in the years of adventures across the seas, and the nimble English race-built galleons combined to deflect and weaken a huge Spanish fleet that was to be finished off by storms, marking the contraction of Spain and the expansion of England. Two colour plate sections and the use of single colour illustration through the body of text add to the author’s words and make this an enjoyable read

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