On this day in 1588, off the coast of Gravelines, France, Spain’s so-called “Invincible Armada” is defeated by Queen Elizabeth I’s English naval force under the command of Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake. After days of bombardment and a brilliant assault by British fire ships, fanatical King Phillip II’s dream of religious conquest was dashed on the rocks and silty bottom of the Channel.
By the time the last of the surviving fleet reached Spain in October, half of the original Armada was lost and some 15,000 men had perished. Queen Elizabeth’s decisive defeat of the Invincible Armada made England a world-class power, introduced effective long-range weapons into naval warfare for the first time, ended the era of boarding and close-quarter fighting, and made her the very first English rock star.
Elizabeth I (September 7 1533 – March 24 1603) was made Queen of England and Ireland from November 17, 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last monarch of the House of Tudor. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was beheaded two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth’s birth, reportedly while Elizabeth looked on. Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother, sickly Edward VI, ruled for only six years until his death in 1553, aged 15 years.
On his deathbed, Edward bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey, a 15-year-old first-cousin once-removed, ignoring the legal claims of his two half-sisters Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary. Lady Jane in turn reigned for nine full days before being deposed by Mary I and remanded to The Tower; she was beheaded and according to some, eventually memorialized in a pretty cool Rolling Stones song on the Aftermath album.
Mary I was no great shakes herself; short, stout, and of peculiarly unpleasant visage. A hysterically devout Roman Catholic, she reigned for only five years to her own death but wreaked havoc, working to return England to Catholicism, restoring papal authority and undoing various reforms to the English church instituted by half-brother Edward. She also resurrected laws against heresy, saw to it not less than 300 Protestants were burned alive at the stake, and married pipsqueak Prince Philip of Spain, a dead-ringer for Eric Trump, and an ill-fated loser whose Armada was whooped by Elizabeth on this day.
Among those killed by Mary were Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury and an adviser to kings Henry VIII and Edward VI, and Mary’s father and brother. Mary herself, in turn, lived on at weekend brunches within the tomato-based hangover-cure cocktail bearing her nickname.
Finally in 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister to the throne and set out to rule by good counsel, a new concept. She depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers, led by William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. One of her first actions as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement was to evolve into the Church of England.
It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line; she never did, despite numerous courtships. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, wisdom, curiosity and occasional whimsy, and ushered in an era of English civic and cultural life unparalleled to this day. A cult grew around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the era, and she caused Cate Blanchett to win a BAFTA Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Best Actress nomination.
And finally, the lesson endeth.