Brief History of the World Wiki
Early Scientific Revolution
Scientific revolution.jpg
Period Early Modern Ages
Dates 1547-1598 AD
Preceded by
Early Protestant Reformation
Followed by
Thirty Years' War
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

–Isaac Newton

The era of the Early Scientific Revolution lasted from about 1547 AD until 1598 AD. It began with the end of the reign of Henry VIII of England, when his three children tempered the English Reformation into its final form. It then ended with the Edict of Nantes, which finally settled the French Wars of Religion.

What has been called a Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th century, profoundly reshaped our understanding of the universe, nature, and ourselves. Although the work of medieval scientists was by no means as stagnant and uncreative as it was once the fashion to believe, it suffered from critical limitations. A number of truths produced by Biblical study and ancient Greco-Roman authorities were accepted without questions. Thus, like the Protestant Reformation, the Scientific Revolution was another break from accepted religious teachings. It is traditionally assumed to start with Nicolaus Copernicus' 1543 work on the heliocentric model of the solar system. The changed attitude of scientific inquiry largely came from Francis Bacon and René Descartes, who popularised the Scientific Method and Rationalism. The capstone of the Scientific Revolution would be laid by Isaac Newton's seminal work, Principia (1687), that finally provided the physical explanation of the Copernican universe, and brought together terrestrial and celestial knowledge. Much of the work done in this period is still considered today as the foundation of the major fields of modern science, from astronomy to mathematics, physics to chemistry, and medicine to botany.

Meanwhile, European politics continued to be dominated by religious conflicts of the Protestant Reformation. France's experiment with religious tolerance proved futile as the country descended into the four-decade-long Wars of Religion, from which Henry IV Bourbon emerged on the throne, a former Protestant converted to Catholicism. The English Reformation had to pass through fire, as Henry VIII's daughter Mary took the country back to Catholicism, while his other daughter Elizabeth broke from it again. The religious fissure meanwhile sparked major rebellions against monarchs in the Dutch Netherlands, Scotland, and Ireland, that drew-in neighbours, and ultimately provoked Philip II to launch the Spanish Armada against England. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation era conflicts would culminate in imperial Germany with the Thirty Years' War, one of the most destructive conflicts in human history.


Early Scientific Revolution[]

Figure of the Heavenly Bodies, an illustration by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho, 1568. The Ptolemaic geocentric model viewed the cosmos as centred on a motionless earth, with the planets (including the moon and sun) revolving around it in exactly circular orbits at a uniform speed, and the fixed stars at its outer perimeter. The earth was the perfectly spherical centre of a perfectly spherical cosmos.

In 1550, the Italian art historian Giorgio Vasari coined the word "Renaissance", in a series of biographies of the painters, sculptors, and architects of his era, whom he described as “rare men of genius”. One hundred and seventy-five years later, another cultural commentator, the English poet Alexander Pope (d. 1744), extended this judgment to a mathematician and physicist, Isaac Newton (d. 1727), offering a brief couplet as part of the outpouring of eulogies right after his death. "Nature, and Nature’s laws lay hid in night, God said Let Newton be! and all was Light". In terms of intellectual development, the period from Vasari’s biographies to Pope’s poem is often referred to as the Scientific Revolution (1543-1687), which profoundly reshaped our understanding of the universe and ourselves. Like the Renaissance, it is not an event with a specific beginning and end, but a series advances that built on earlier ones. This "revolution" can be attributed to the simple cumulative effect of more rapidly and widely circulated information through the invention of the printing press. The fundamental sources nonetheless lie deeper, in changes to the way learned individuals approached, conceptualized, and studied the natural world. Although the work of late medieval scientists had been by no means as primitive and uncreative as it was once the fashion to believe, it suffered from a few critical limitation. The study of the natural world had gone on primarily in Europe’s universities, where it was intrinsically linked with Christianity; a part of understanding the glory of God. Such study revolved around medieval synthesis of Christian accounts and Ancient Greek ideas and texts, particularly those of Aristotle, Galen, and Ptolemy. Both educated and uneducated Europeans shared a view that the earth was the motionless centre of the universe, that four basic elements - fire, air, earth, and water - were the material basis of the physical world, or that four "humors" - blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile - regulated the human body. These dogmatic assertions rested on assumptions that went untested for centuries, in part because the means of testing them were not available, in part because the wish to test them did not exist; to do otherwise was tantamount to heresy. Although experimental work of a sort went on within the alchemy, it was still directed by mystical and hidden forces. This remained broadly true until the mid-16th-century century. The Renaissance had its scientific manifestations, but they usually found expression in descriptive studies in the fields of anatomy and botany, and in the solution of practical problems such as those of perspective. One branch of this descriptive work was particularly impressive, that addressed to making sense of the new geographical knowledge revealed by the Age of Discovery. In geography, said a French scholar of the early 16th-century, "Ptolemy made progress. Yet, were he to return today, he would find geography changed past recognition". Here was one of the stimuli for a new intellectual approach to the world of nature. The Scientific Revolution also reflected changing attitudes towards traditional authority. Already in 1543, a tiny minority of educated men were no longer content to rely on the works of the ancients as the unquestionable authorities, but rather as a foundation and guide for future progress.

René Descartes, along with Francis Bacon, is considered the father of the Scientific Method. He is also credited as the father of modern philosophy, and his influence in mathematics was equally apparent; Cartesian coordinates still bare his name.

What was later called the Scientific Method provided the philosophical underpinning of the Scientific Revolution. Its development is most associated with Francis Bacon and René Descartes. Francis Bacon (d. 1626), sometime Lord Chancellor of England, was a man of outstanding intellectual energy and many unlikeable personal traits. Bacon rejected old accepted knowledge as based on faulty reasoning. Instead he advocated a study of nature based upon observation of many similar phenomena, and then using the powers of reason to propose a generalized hypothesis for the phenomena; a process now called induction. This hypothesis would then be tested with further experiments. He warned scientists to use a sceptical and methodical approach in order to avoid false notions, and also called for national support for scientific investigations; which led the founders of the English Royal Society in 1660 to see him as an inspiration. Yet Bacon's influence was later exaggerated by admirers. His own works seem to have had little or no contemporary effect, and other men - notably his contemporary Descartes - had much more importance in the advance of science. Nevertheless, he has rightly acquired something of the status of a prophetic figure. The French philosopher René Descartes (d. 1650) has often been dubbed the first modern philosopher, the thinker whose approach most influenced modern thinking. His first publication, Discourse on the Method (1637), was a response to the lack of sketicism he saw in the world of science. In this, he lays out his famous rules for methodic doubt, meant to ensure that our knowledge rests upon a firm foundation: accept only information you know is an absolute truth; break-down complex problems into many small units by means of incisive questioning; solves each part in turn, beginning with the simplest and grounding your ideas in reason; and make complete lists of further problems to ensure that nothing had been omitted. In Descartes' best known philosophical statement is "I think, therefore I am", he provides an example of an absolute truth; if we doubt then someone must be doing the doubting, therefore we know for certain that we exist. The 19th-century historians who developed the idea of a Scientific Revolution often tried to ignore the alchemical interests and traditional religious beliefs of the thinkers they championed. Descartes saw no conflict between science and religion, asserting that God created the world according to mathematical principles. He meanwhile dabbled extensively in many fields of science - astronomy, human anatomy, physics, philosophy, and mathematics - and his prestige won his work many followers, but, except in mathematics and philosophy, his theories were largely erroneous. Descartes the philosopher advocated a methodical and rational approach; Descartes the scientist did not always adhere to his own philosophy.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, best known for his contributions to math, in which he invented differential and integral calculus independently of Sir Isaac Newton.

The other major condition necessary for the significant progress of sciences was the advance of mathematics, which allowed proof of abstract theories. Although the thinkers of the early Scientific Revolution sensed that their new hypotheses and qualitative observations were correct, the old order was at first preserved in part due to the lack of clear and logical evidence to back them up. The realm of mathematics potentially offered this clear and logical evidence. Francois Viete (d. 1603) was among the first to introduce modern notation for arithmetic, in which indeterminate numbers were represented by variables. Simon Stevin (d 1620) popularised the decimal system of representing fractions, which greatly eased the task of calculation; it had been invented by the Chinese, and used by Jewish and Arab mathematicians for centuries. However, perhaps the most important mathematical advance of the early period of the Scientific Revolution was the invention of logarithms in 1594 by John Napier (d. 1617), which helps find the cause from an effect. Rene Descartes also did a great deal of work in geometry, in which he describes how any motion can be defined by its relation to surrounding planes or reference, which could then be defined by a mathematical equation thus granting insight into the forces at work on the object. Many mathematicians - notably John Wallis (d. 1703), Isaac Barrow (d. 1677), James Gregory (d. 1675), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (d. 1716) - are credited for the development of calculus, which provides a way of calculating the positions of bodies in motion. Armed with these tools, the scientists began to back up their hypotheses with mathematical proofs were nearly beyond question. Galileo Galilei (d. 1642) was one of the first modern thinkers to clearly state that the laws of nature are mathematical, writing "Philosophy [i.e., physics] is written in this grand book, the universe ... but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures".

Nicolaus Copernicus, the father of modern astronomy.

The most dramatic developments in early modern science came in the field of astronomy. The publication in 1543 of Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres is often cited as marking the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. Nicolaus Copernicus (d. 1543), a Polish priest and church official, became interested in astronomy while studying law in Bologna, where he befriended the astronomer Domenico Maria da Ferrara; and later became his occasional assistant. Upon returning to Poland, he took up his post as the private secretary of his uncle, the Bishop of Warmia, which gave him ample time to devote to his own interest in the planets. Copernicus was a theoretician, rather than a practical astronomer, and only made a handful of observations himself. Rather, he studied past observations, but became increasingly frustrated with the established Ptolemaic model of the universe, which placed the earth at the centre and required astronomers to resort to ever more convoluted adjustments in calculating planetary motion. Scholars believe that by around 1508, Copernicus had begun developing his own celestial model, a heliocentric planetary system, in which the earth and all the planets orbits the sun. Testing the idea, he founds that it tallied with the observations much more readily than the geocentric system. In about 1530 Copernicus began circulating a manuscript, giving an outline of his ideas. Plans were made to publish the full edition, but fearing his life's work would be ridiculed, or even condemned as heresy, Copernicus only agreed to publish On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres just before his death in 1543. Copernicus’s work was discussed by astronomers, but created no great controversy, especially as it also created problems. The fit was not yet perfect, because Copernicus still assumed that the planets move in circular orbits. Nor was the idea of a heliocentric universe new. The Greek astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos (d. 230 BC), had been the first to advance the idea, and Copernicus cited Aristarchus in a surviving unpublished manuscript, though it was removed from his final published work. There had also been a long tradition within Islamic astronomy of questioning the Geocentric model, beginning with Ibn al-Haytham (d. 1040) and culminating in Ibn al-Shāṭir (d. 1375); their diagrams and mathematical techniques so closely resemble some of those used by Copernicus that it seems inconceivable that he did not have a copy of their works. The French scholar Nicole Oresme (d. 1382) had proposed a similar idea too, 166 years earlier. Nevertheless, Nicolaus Copernicus was instrumental in establishing the concept of a heliocentric solar system in the mainstream intellectual circles.

Johannes Kepler, the first great Protestant astronomer.

The next two important astronomers were both refugees, who became guests of Rudolf II Habsburg at Benatky Castle near Prague. The older man, Tycho Brahe (d. 1601), was the first to provide true scientific data to support of the heliocentric model, though he himself did not accept it. Besides possessing the somewhat striking distinction of an artificial nose, Brahe began recording the movements of planets, first with rudimentary instruments and then, thanks to the patronage of the Danish king, from the best-equipped observatory of his age. The result was the first systematic collection of astronomical data to be made within the orbit of the western tradition since the 5th-century. After the death of his patron and an argument with the new Danish king, Brahe went into exile. The younger man, Johannes Kepler (d. 1630), was a teacher of mathematics at a seminary school in Graz in Austria, until he was expelled for being a Protestant. Brahe invited Kepler to Prague in 1600 as his assistant, but died the following year. Using the detailed results of a lifetime of observation, Kepler went on to make his own major theoretical step forward. In Astronomia Nova (1609), he put forward the radical and correct proposition that the sun was indeed the centre, but that the planets moved in elliptical orbits around it at speeds that varied according to the distance the planet was from the sun. He figured out the exact proportions of speed and distance – what were later called the “laws of planetary motion” – and asserted that these applied to all the planets, including the earth. With this insight, the last anomaly was removed from the heliocentric model of Copernicus. It was now unmistakably a simpler explanation of observable phenomena than the Ptolemaic model. The leading astronomers were by now convinced, but it still remained a topic of discussion in university halls; a compelling theory, with no definite proof. The Church establishment, guardian of the truth, was not yet involved in the debate. 

Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer and mathematician whose championing of Copernicus' heliocentric model saw him twice condemned as a heretic.

This situation changes abruptly in 1610, when Galileo Galilei (d. 1642) discovered firm proof of the Copernican thesis. The observations of Brahe and Kepler had all been done with the naked eye, but the invention of the optical telescope, tradition credited to Dutch optician Zacharias Janssen, in the early-17th-century allowed for closer observations. Galileo was professor of astronomy and mathematics at the universities of Pisa, and later Padua, an astute career move for Padua was ruled by Venice, which doubled his funding; he also established a profitable sideline selling telescopes to merchants who found them useful both at sea and as items of trade. By 1610, Galileo had so much improved his telescope that it magnified thirty-three times. Like many contemporary astronomers, Galileo had long been privately convinced that the heliocentric system of Copernicus was correct. What he now observed with his telescope offered firm scientific evidence that the Ptolemaic model was wrong: the existence of up to ten times as many distant stars; the moon's surface was pitted rather than smooth; and the sun itself was revolving, for sunspots moved across its surface. But the most dramatic discovery was that the planet Jupiter had four moons; if the planets were fixed to a crystal sphere, as Ptolemy maintained, these moons would shatter it. In Starry Messenger (1610), Galileo published a general account of his observations. It brought him instant fame. He was invited to Florence to work at the Medici court, and even well received in Rome at first. Feeling encouraged, he published Letters on Sun Spots (1613), in which he explicitly stated that Copernicus was right and Ptolemy wrong. This time there was outrage from the Church, culminating in 1616 with Copernicus' works and his theory being placed on the Papal Index of censored material. Galileo was obliged to abandon such opinions. But seven years later, he seemed to be given another chance. The new pope granted Galileo permission to publish a comparison between the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems, on the condition that no conclusion was reached as to the truth of either theory. In Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), Galileo, as required, prevaricated in the final summary, but the weight of the argument made his scientific conclusion obvious. He was once again summoned to Rome, forced to recant to save his own life, and spent the rest of his days under a sort of house arrest. In the traditional telling of the story, the trial of Galileo has a central role in the long struggle between Catholicism and science, in which science was ultimately vindicated, when, in 1992, Pope John Paul II publicly admitted the Church had been wrong to condemn Galileo. In truth, Galileo had many supporters within the Catholic Church, especially among the Jesuits. And Protestants were equally likely to feel an uneasy loss of bearings in the face of the Copernican system. Yet from this time onwards, heliocentric views dominated scientific thinking.

The Scientific Revolution is traditionally assumed to be complete in the "grand synthesis" of Sir Isaac Newton's 1687 Principia. The period saw a fundamental transformation in scientific ideas across many fields of inquiry, not just astronomy, especially mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine.


The Scientific Revolution had little impact on the everyday lives and thoughts of the mass of European citizens. One of the most prevalent superstitions of Europeans and their American cousins was the belief in the existence and powers of witches.

For all the growing confidence in scientific knowledge, there was little change in the way most Europeans understood and behaved. Throughout the 17th-century, many kings continued to consult astrologers to decide the date of their coronation; Kepler himself had a reputation as a skilled astrologer, and hoped to discover an explanation for how the heavenly bodies influenced human life. In England, Queen Anne (d. 1714) had, like medieval kings, touched for the King’s Evil, with the intent to cure various diseases. The 17th-century, indeed, had in one or two respects even shown regression. In Europe, there was an epidemic of witch-hunting far more widespread than anything in the Middle Ages; Charlemagne had forbidden witch-burning as a pagan belief. Nearly all pre-modern societies believed in magical forces, and made some attempts to control it. In the early-15th-century, however, Christian theologians added a religious component to the notion of what a witch was. Witches were no longer simply people who used magic to get what they wanted, but had made a pact with the devil and did the devil's bidding. They thus became the ultimate heretics: enemies of God. The earliest witch-trials involving this new notion were in the 1430s in Switzerland and France, and then in 1484, the pope authorized two Dominican monks to hunt witches in southern Germany. Because so many records have been lost or destroyed, it is difficult to make an estimate for all of Europe, but most historians agree that during the 16th and 17th centuries somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 were officially executed for witchcraft; about 80% of these were women. The reasons for the gender balance are complex: women were more involved in areas of life in which unexpected things happened, such as child birth or caring for children; were more likely to use scolding or cursing to get what they wanted; were viewed as weaker, so more likely to succumb to the devil’s charms; and were more carnal than a man - sexual relations with the devil formed part of popular ideas about witchcraft. Secular rulers increasingly agreed, passing witchcraft statutes authorizing the death penalty; Germany in 1532, and Britain in 1563. In many places, these statues changed the nature of witch-trials from an accusatorial legal case to an inquisitorial procedure: in the former, a suspect knew their accusers, and an accuser could in turn be liable if the charges were not proved, while, in the later, the authorities themselves brought the case. This made people far more willing to accuse others. Inquisitorial procedure required a confession before a suspect could be executed. This had been intended to keep innocent people from death, but in practice it led to the adoption of ever more gruesome forms of torture. There were great regional differences in the likely outcome of a trial. In southern Europe, all cases of witchcraft were handled by the Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian Inquisitions, which most often simply dismissed them; the Spanish executed only a handful, the Portuguese one, and the Italians none, though in each there were hundreds of cases. Witch-trials often involved the search for a witch’s accomplices, for most people believed that no witch could act alone. Thus small hunts occasionally grew into large-scale panics; in England in the 1640s; in Sweden in the 1680s, but most often in Germany and Switzerland. Many of the deadliest hunts were in the prince-bishoprics in the Holy Roman Empire, where bishops saw persecuting witches as a way to demonstrate their piety and concern for order; in one hunt in Ellwangen, over 400 people were executed, and one bishop of Bamberg acquired the nickname the “burning bishop of Bamberg”. Europeans took their notions of witchcraft with them to the New World, and a few people were executed in the European colonies of North America; most famously at the Salem Witch Trials (1692) in Massachusetts, which saw more than two hundred people accused and nineteen executed. Mass panics tended to end when it became clear to legal authorities that the scope of accusations defied credulity. It was similar skepticism that led to the gradual end of witch-hunting in Europe. In 1631, the Jesuit theologian Frederick Spee (d. 1635) questioned whether witches could ever do harm or torture could ever yield a truthful confession. These doubts gradually spread. Witchcraft trials were prohibited in France in 1682, England in 1736, Austria in 1755, and Hungary in 1768. By the late-18th-century, belief in witches often continued at the popular level, but this was now sneered at by the elite as superstition.

French Reformation[]


France was the first theatre of religious war in the "second phase" of the Reformation. Francis I Valois (1515-47) had been relatively tolerant of the new movement at first, under the influence of his beloved sister, Marguerite, who was genuinely attracted by Luther's ideas. He perhaps also found it politically useful, as the religious turmoil in Germany harmed his great rival, Charles V Habsburg. The French king, however, had no quarrel with the established religious order. The Italian Wars had been ruinously expensive for the French crown, which sold royal offices to raise revenue. After victory at Marignano in 1515, Francis forced the pope to accept the Concordat of Bologna (1516), a treaty that gave him control over the appointment of all French bishops and abbots, thus dramatically expanding the number of offices that could be sold or given as rewards. He, thus, had a vested interest in maintaining Catholicism. The religious clash first became a prominent issue in France with the so-called "Affair of the Placards", when radical Protestants indulged in an unwise and intemperate gesture. On the morning of Sunday 18 October 1534, placards appeared all over Paris violently attacking Catholic mass, in a language that terrified their readers. The city was swept by a wave of hysteria as the rumours spread: all churches were to be burnt to the ground; the faithful were to be massacred in their places of worship. The panic only increased further when it was learned that the placards had also been found in Orléans, Tours, Blois and Rouen. One, it was said, was even discovered fixed to the door of the king’s bedchamber at Amboise. The search for those responsible began at once. Countless arrests were made; several innocent unfortunates were burnt at the stake. And so the persecution continued, and was officially codified in the Edict of Fontainebleau (1540), which declared that Protestantism was high treason. In 1541, two Parisian printers were sent to the stake. In 1542, the Sorbonne began to compile the first index of forbidden books. The worst of the atrocities, however, occurred in the little town of Mérindol, north of Marseille. The victims were not even Protestants but Waldensians, a harmless Christian sect dating back to the 12th-century. In 1545, 3,000 French troops arrived to deliver the town's death warrant; they destroyed not only the town itself, but two dozen neighbouring villages. Thousands were killed, thousands more were left destitute, while hundreds of able-bodied men were sent off to forced labour on French galleys. Many Huguenots fled persecution into exile, among them a certain John Calvin. Religious policy becomes more rigid during the reign of Francis's son, Henry II Valois (1547-59). One of his first acts was to set-up a special court in Paris for the trying of heretics. The French Reformation was about to acquire its uniquely intense and political character. At first, the reformed faith spread mostly among urban artisans, attracted by the role it gave to the laity and its emphasis on hard work; encouraged with enormous energies by Calvin, based safely in Geneva. Protestant mobs in many cities smashed statues, paintings, and stained-glass, often inspired by fiery sermons. Catholic mobs responded by defending churches, and open street-battles that left hundreds dead, often in gruesome ways. In 1559, the Protestants were confident enough to organise a national synod in Paris. By then, there were powerful nobles in the Protestant camp, who saw accepting Calvinism as a way to combat the absolutist power of the monarchy; among them even members of the great Bourbon branch of the royal family, direct descendants of Louis IX. Their enemies were the Guise, passionately committed to the Catholic cause. The French Wars of Religion (1560-1598), thus, split French society at all levels, as well as being a struggle between two great noble families. The sides were so evenly balanced that civil wars based largely on religion lasted for four decades.

Catherine de' Medici, the Italian-born French queen, mother of three French kings, and regent. She has often been largely blamed for the Wars of Religion. Modern historians tend to be more moderate, viewing her as an intelligent and pwerful woman in dangerous times.

In 1559, Henry II suffered an untimely death, at aged 40, in a freak accident at a jousting tournament held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, The next twenty years saw three successive kings of France, all brothers, all young, thus creating a political vacuum that encouraged the rise of factions, eager to grasp power. First came Francis II Valois (1559-60), physically frail husband of Mary Queen of Scots, who reigned for only 17-months. Although 15-years-old and technically in no need of a regent, he voluntarily delegated his authority to Mary’s uncles, Duke Francis de Guise (d. 1563). His mother Catherine de' Medici (d. 1589), still in deep mourning, made no objection. Many others, however, did. They were led by Antoine of Bourbon (d. 1562); as far as he was concerned the Guises nothing but ambitious upstarts from German Lorraine, now French only through service to Francis I. They certainly had no right to take advantage of the king’s youth, as they were so "obviously" doing. Their regime of austerity made them more unpopular still; a vital necessity since the wars against Charles V had left France on the brink of bankruptcy. But more than anything, their continued persecution of Huguenots brought matters to a head. In 1560, a group of Huguenot noblemen managed to convince themselves that the young king himself was not really anti-Protestant, and if they could "liberated" him from the Guises influence, then things would get better. So the Amboise Conspiracy (March 1560) was hatched to abduct the king, but the plot was betrayed almost before it had begun. Their leader was drawn-and-quartered, and hundreds of suspected plotters were arrested and executed, their corpses hung from hooks on the façade of Amboise Château. The sudden death of the childless Francis II in December only added to the tension. The throne passed to his ten-year-old brother, Charles IX Valois (1560-74). Queen-Mother Catherine managed without too much difficulty to secure the regency for herself. Though a devout Catholic, she was pragmatic enough to try and steer a middle course; easier said than done. In 1561, a national council of clergy met in the town of Poissy to debate the religious issue. The next year, the regency issued the Edict of Saint-Germain (January 1562), granting limited religious tolerance of Protestantism; allowing them to worship in private and publicly outside of towns. For many Catholics, however, this was a step too far, chief among them Francis of Guise. Only two months later, Francis, returning to his estates, stopped in the village of Vassy to attend Mass. There, in a barn outside town, he came across a group of Huguenots holding a service of their own. When his men failed to push their way inside, he ordered them to set fire to the barn, killing sixty-three and wounding a hundred. The massacre of Vassy provoked open hostilities between the two religious factions. Louis of Bourbon (d. 1569), prince de Condé, seized and garrisoned strategic towns along the Loire River. His brother, Antoine of Bourbon, suspected architect of the Amboise Conspiracy, was killed in 1562 trying to seize Rouen. Francis de Guise, who foiled that plot, was assassinated in Orléans the next year. Queen-Regent Catherine - who had shown remarkable moderation throughout - succeeded in mediating a truce, resulting in the Second Edict of Amboise (1563); though less permissive than its predecessor, it still allowed Protestant worship in private houses of nobles, and in one designated suburb of every principal city. There followed a year of very uneasy peace, but, the next year, France had calmed to the point that Queen Catherine and her son Charles made a grand tour of the country. Fighting resumed in 1567, provoked largely by events in the Dutch Netherlands; reports of the Iconoclastic Fury (1556) alarmed Catholics, while Philip II Habsburg's mobilisation against the Dutch revolt alarmed Protestants. After another unsuccessful attempt to abduct the king, the Surprise of Meaux (September 1567). a number of cities, most notably La Rochelle and Nîmes, declared themselves independent Huguenot republics on Calvin's model in Geneva; Nîmes witnessed a particularly hideous massacre of defenceless Catholic laymen and clergy.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by Huguenot painter François Dubois. Catherine de Medici is shown supposedly emerging from the Louvre castle to inspect a heap of bodies.

By 1569, the Huguenots had suffered a severe setback at the Battle of Jarnac (March 1569), where Louis de Condé was slain, and succeeded as leader of the Huguenot cause by Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (d. 1572), on behalf of Louis' young nephew, Henry of Navarre (d. 1610); the future Henry IV Bourbon. At the same time, the staggering royal debt meant that it appeared as though a more permanent truce was possible. The Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1570) granted further concessions to the Huguenots: control of four fortified cities - La Rochelle, Cognac, Montauban, and La Charité. To cement the peace, the marriage was arranged between the king’s sister, Margaret, and the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre; son of Antoine of Bourbon. The Catholics of course were horrified, and protested with vehemence; the Huguenots on the other hand were delighted, and leading Huguenot nobles flocked to Paris for the lavish royal wedding, which was planned for 18 August 1572. Feelings in the city were running dangerously high. Admiral de Coligny was suspected by the Guises of having ordered the assassination of Duke Francis in 1563. Four days after the wedding, Coligny narrowly escaped an attempt on his own life. Two days later he was not so lucky; Henry de Guise (d. 1588) and a group of followers burst into his lodgings and ran him through with their swords. But Coligny was far from being the only victim. This assassination began the series of events known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572). For the next five days, Paris erupted as Catholic mobs massacred Huguenot men, women, and children. Over the next few weeks, the violence spread to more than a dozen cities across France. Historians estimate that 2,000 Huguenots were killed in Paris and thousands more in the provinces; in all, perhaps 10,000 people were killed. For centuries afterwards, Protestant writers accused Catherine de' Medici of orchestrating the planned bloodbath, but historians have never determined exactly who ordered exactly what and why. The massacre caused a major international incident: Queen Elizabeth of England went into mourning, and even Ivan the Terrible expressed horror at the carnage, while the pope and Philip II of Spain sent their congratulations. As for the French king, Charles IX never recovered from the shock, and died childless in May 1574, aged-23. The throne passed once again to a brother, the third of Henry II’s sons, Henry III Valois (1574-89). This time the succession proved rather more complicated, since it happened that Henry was already king of Poland-Lithuania. With two elder brothers, no one had expected him to be King of France; he had therefore been considered an admirable candidate for the elective Polish throne. Henry returned to France with all possible speed, and was crowned in the Cathedral of Reims in February 1575. But the questioned remained: would he produce an heir? It seemed unlikely. By all accounts, he was basically, and indeed flagrantly, homosexual; he was certainly accompanied everywhere by a group of effeminate young men. That question, as it turned out, would be extremely important. Meanwhile, the nightmare civil war would drag on for another fifteen years. Huguenot opposition to the crown was seriously weakened by the deaths of so many of its leaders, but those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Yet they struggled to recover, while Henry de Guise was gaining steadily in strength and influence. This he would prove beyond doubt when the king’s only remaining brother and heir presumptive, Francis of Anjou, died in 1584. As Henry III had no son, under Salic Law, the next heir to the throne was his distant cousin, Henry of Navarre, a direct descendant of Louis IX. and a Huguenot. Henry de Guise refused absolutely to countenance this, and forced the French king to issue an edict annulling Henry of Navarre's right to the throne. The religious turmoil that had racked France for a decade, was thus transformed into a succession crisis, known as the War of the Three Henry's: Henry of Navarre, as leader of Huguenot France; Henry de Guise, as leader of Catholic France; and King Henry III hoping to steer a middle course. In this part of his reign, there is no doubt that Henry III was completely, if unwillingly, under the control of the Guises. There was, he knew, one way to regain his independence. He bided his time and then, two days before Christmas 1588, he invited Henry de Guise, with his powerful uncle Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, to Blois Château, where he had them both murdered in cold blood. The reaction was immediate; the whole of Catholic France rose in revolt against the crown. In staunchly Catholic Paris, a popular uprising raised barricades on the streets of the city, and Henry fled his capital. Catholic presses began printing anti-royalist tracts, proclaiming that it was just and morally necessary to commit regicide; in one, an illustration depicted a snuffed out candle with the caption, "Thus does God extinguish the Valois race!" In August 1589, at the royal camp in Saint-Cloud, a Dominican friar named Jacques Clément gained an audience with the king and drove a knife into his stomach. On his deathbed, Henry III named Henry of Navarre as his heir, in keeping with Salic Law, and begged him to become a Catholic, to end the brutal civil war. With him died the royal House of Valois.

An equestrian statue of "Good King Henry" erected four years after his death on Pont Neuf, Paris's most famous bridge, completed during his reign in 1604. Despite the name, it is now the oldest in the city. The statue was torn down during the French Revolution, but was one of the first to be restored.

Henry IV Bourbon (1589-1610) was recognised by the Huguenots only too happy. As might have been expected Catholic France remained adamantly opposed; was there no Catholic prince anywhere with a stronger claim? Thus it very quickly became clear to Henry that if he was to rule his new kingdom, he must first of all conquer it. The leadership of Catholic France had devolved to Henry de Guise's younger brother, Charles of Mayenne (d. 1611), who held the north and east. Henry inflicted two severe defeat on the Catholic forces, at the Battle of Arques (September 1589) and at the Battle of Ivry (March 1590). His forces then went on to besiege Paris, but this was no easy task; the city was prepared to fight to the death rather than accept a Huguenot king. Henry's siege was lifted after 5-month when a Spanish army marched from the Dutch Netherlands under the Duke of Parma. Then, what had happened at Paris, was repeated at Rouen the next year. After three years of campaigning, Henry was "no closer to capturing Paris". Finally, he was forced reluctantly to accept that Henry III had been right; he would never be generally accepted as king as long as he maintained his Protestant faith. It may well be that Henry never said the famous word attributed to him, "Paris is well worth a mass", but the sentiment is true to history; an unprecedented act of religious reconciliation in the era of the Reformation. Henry took his time, refusing to allow himself to be converted "with a dagger at my throat", and, in 1593, he was formally received into the Catholic Church. Now at last he could be crowned king in Cathedral of Chartres in 1594, as Catholics still firmly held Reims. Radicals on both sides were aghast; Protestant had hoped to win not just concessions but a reformed French Church, while Catholics doubted the sincerity of the king's conversion. But mutual fatigue, and an increasing fear of disorder, led more moderate forces on both sides to accept Henry as king and stop fighting. Radical Catholics still worked against Henry across the country, but all relied on Spanish support. So in 1595, the king declared war on Spain, to show Catholics that Spain was using religion as a cover for attacks on the French state. The conflict mostly consisted of action aimed at French Catholic rebels, defeating Charles of Mayenne once again at the Battle of Fontaine-Française (June 1595). But the Spanish did launched a concerted offensive from 1596, capturing several ports including Cambrai, Amiens, and Calais. In March 1597 the French crown laid siege to Amiens until its entire Spanish garrison surrendered in September. As result of this victory, Henry was in a strong position to negotiate Peace of Vervins (1598) with Spain. Meanwhile, in an effort to improve the lot of Huguenots, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes (1598), which went as far as he dared. It declared clearly that France was officially a Catholic country, but Protestantism was no longer to be treated as heresy; they had the right to practice their faith in certain defined areas, the right to work for the state, and the right to maintain military garrisons (safe havens) in eight cities and 150 towns. In fact the Edict pleased neither side: Catholics resented the recognition of Protestantism as a permanent part of French society, while Protestants still felt themselves to be second-class citizens. But it achieved its primary purpose; bringing to an end the religious wars which had plagued France for the best part of half a century. Only now could Henry turn to the huge task of rebuilding his kingdom and royal authority. In this, he had a trump card; an immense charm for which he was famous, and his subjects found irresistible. They loved him too, as they had Francis I, for his unconcealed delight in beautiful women. But first, he had to secure his dynasty's future. His first marriage, to Henry III’s sister, had not been a success, and the couple had remained childless. His second marriage, to Marie de’ Medici, was not much happier, though she bore him six children; a remarkable achievement considering he fathered at least nine illegitimate children by four different mistresses. Henry was supremely fortunate with his faithful right-hand man, Maximilien of Sully (d. 1641). He and Henry together put the crown's finances in order through prudent expenditures, eliminating corruption, and consolidating the state's debt. They were not original thinkers, and believed that France’s wealth lay above all in the land itself; undertaking public works such as draining swamps; encouraging the free circulation of produce by building bridges and elm-lined highways; digging the Canal de Briare linking the Loire and Seine to secure the grain supply and prevent famine; and reforested vast areas left desolate by the wars. The one novel policy was regularizing the sale of royal offices (begun by his predecessors), by making officials pay an annual fee (the Paulette), if they wanted their offices to remain hereditary. This both provided a steady source of revenue to the crown, and gave officials a stake in strengthening the state; it also allowed taxation on the peasants to be lowered somewhat. Under his successors, service to the state might eventually bring a noble title, known as noblesse de robe ("Nobles of the Robe"). Meanwhile, Henry restored Paris as a great city, making two major contributions: the Grande Galérie de Louvre, running along the bank of the Seine and linking the old palace with the new one built by Catherine de’ Medici; and the Pont Neuf, despite its name is the oldest of the Seine bridges still stands, now marked by Giambologna’s superb equestrian statue of the king. Henry's vision extended beyond France, sponsoring the voyages of Pierre Dugua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain as founders of the city of Quebec, and laying the foundations of New France (modern-day Canada). Few kings had been more violently opposed than Henry IV at the start of his reign; few had become more deeply loved. Much of Henry’s magic was due to the simple fact that he genuinely loved his people; "If God keeps me alive, I will ensure that no peasant in my kingdom will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sundays". Alas, God failed to keep His side of the bargain. Considered a usurper by some Catholics and a traitor by some Protestants, Henry, now fifty-six, had already survived at least 12 assassination attempts; but the 13th proved fatal. In May 1610, when his coach was held up by congestion, a Catholic fanatic named François Ravaillac wrenched open the door and plunged a knife into his chest, bringing to an abrupt close the life of "Good King Henry".

The year 1610 marked something of a watershed for France. Over the last 164 years there had been ten French kings; for the same period afterwards there were to be only three, all named Louis. Henry was succeeded by the first, his son, Louis XIII, who was only eight.

Dutch Reformation[]

Spanish Netherlands.jpg

Hostility to a monarch was also part of the Reformation and religious wars in the Low Countries (now Belgium, the Dutch Netherlands, and Luxembourg). It had been inherited by Charles V Habsburg (d. 1556) from his grandmother Mary of Burgundy, and was made up of seventeen quite independent provinces, most of them centred on cities that were wealthy centres of trade and production. The southern Flemish cities, such as Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, and Antwerp, had long been famous for cloth-production and cloth-finishing, and had since diversified into other profitable activities. Antwerp was the richest and second largest European city north of the Alps at this time. The northern Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht, had also grown entrepreneurial; “Dutch” is a variant of the word “Deutsch,” meaning German. By the 15th-century, Amsterdam was the primary trading port for grain in Europe. Charles V had been born in Ghent, and grew up near Antwerp, though his broader responsibilities soon removed him from his childhood home. His personal link with the region no doubt contributed to the relative calm which prevailed until 1555. In the early-16th-century, Protestant ideas steadily gained ground across Europe, including in the Low Countries, infiltrating from Lutheran northern Germany and later down the Rhine from Calvinist Zurich; the first Dutch martyrs were burnt at the stake in 1523. Merchants and artisans in the thriving cities were particularly attracted to Calvinism because of its sense of purpose and validation of hard-work. Charles V was determined to suppress Protestantism, but his sister, Mary (d. 1558), who was appointed as governor, always strove to enforce his religious laws as little as possible, fearing persecution would only strengthen them; in a region dependent on trade, tolerance was considered essential. Thus, by 1555, the Protestant community had become a significant minority in the Low Countries, though the later Protestant Netherlands and Catholic Belgium was as yet inconceivable, with the two religious persuasions mixed on both sides of the future boundary; that would change as a result of events and migration over the next few decades. Like the Reformation phenomenon everywhere, the religious question became entangled with local political and economic issues. There was an increasing sense of the Low Countries being on the periphery of a Habsburg empire with different political priorities, and constant demands for taxes to fund seemingly endless wars with France and the Ottoman Turks. These wars were perceived at best as unnecessary; at worst as downright harmful, because they were directed against important trading partners. At the same time, Charles V set out to improve the management of his vast empire through provincial centralization. Dating back to the Middle Age, the provinces of the Low Countries had been represented by municipal councils and provincial stadtholders, appointed from the urban merchants and high nobility. Under Mary, traditional power was increasingly supplanted by central government from Brussels and professional officials, causing suspicion and resentment.

Philip II, king of Spain, the Low Countries, and later Portugal, an empire with territories on every known continent. Yet he failed to suppress the revolt of the Dutch Netherlands and lost the “Invincible" Spanish Armada in the attempted invasion of England.

In 1555, Charles V decided to retire to a monastery at St. Yuste, abdicating in all his territories, and dividing them between his son, Philip II Habsburg (1556-98), and brother, Ferdinand I Habsburg (1556-1564). Philip got the lion's share, inheriting the Low Countries, Spain, the Spanish possessions in Italy, the Spanish New World, and later Portugal. Ferdinand received the title of Holy Roman Emperor, Austria, Bohemia (now Czechia and Slovakia), and later parts of Hungary. With the French crown stricken by the four-decade-long Wars of Religion, Philip II was the most powerful European monarch of his day, an era of war and religious conflict, which has made objectively assessing his reign extremely difficult. Even before his death, his supporters had started presenting him as the ideal king, full of Christian piety, whereas his enemies depicted him as vain, short-sighted, cruel, fanatical, and imperialist. Although some effort has been made by historians to separate legend from reality, a re-analysis of Philip's reign is still debated, largely because it would necessitate reassessing his great opponents, Elizabeth I of England and the Dutchman William the Silent, both regarded as national heroes in their homelands. For Charles V, retirement to a monastery was an unprecedented period of seclusion at the end of a life spent travelling from country to country. For his son Philip II, seclusion became almost a style of government. After concluding the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) with France, he returned to Spain, and, in the remaining 39-years of his life, never left again. He established his seat of government in Madrid, which has remained Spain's capital ever since; Madrid had been a relatively unimportant city before this time. In 1563, he commissioned the extraordinary building which was his residence when not in Madrid; El Escorial. In the 16th-century, other European monarchs were constructing buildings of secular splendour. Philip's creation, of no less splendour, was as much monastery as palace. The design perfectly reflected his role as the leading monarch of the Counter-Reformation. At its centre was a great church surmounted by a dome, like its contemporary, St Peter's in Rome; to the north was an actual monastery, while to the south was the king's palace. Here he ploughed through correspondence from his royal officials and provincial governors carrying out crown instructions. He felt it necessary to be involved in the detail. He also presided over dozens of specialised councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the Inquisition. All historians (and some of his contemporaries) agree that this approach to ruling dangerously slowed down a system of government already notorious for its dithering. Philip was not a man to bring a sense of unity to his diverse realm. He relied almost exclusively on Spaniards for advisors, preferably Castilians, and appointed none but Spaniards to high office. Meanwhile, despite his vast realm, Philip would face financial troubles throughout his reign. Like France, the Italian Wars had left the Spanish treasury in staggering debt. The flow of bullion from the New World proved vital to his annual revenue, but his exchequer several times faced bankruptcy. Indeed, he had to default on loans 1557, 1560, 1575, and 1596, including one debt to Poland-Lithuania that continued to be disputed all the way until the Partition of Poland of 1795. But the matter of paramount importance for the devoutly Catholic Spanish king was the suppression of Protestantism. He exhibited a disdain for religious heterodoxy typical of 16th-century monarchs; both Catholics and Protestants believed that their territories should have one official state church. In Spain itself, the few Protestant enclaves had been driven-out of existence by the Inquisition under his father. In the Spanish possessions in Italy, the Reformation had collapsed quickly too. But as he ploughed painstakingly through mountains of paperwork in El Escorial, much of it brought to his notice the seemingly insoluble problem of the Low Countries. 

Duke William "the Silent" of Orange, a wealthy nobleman who at first served first governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Unhappy with the political centralisation and religious persecution, he turned on his former master to become the most influential and politically capable of the early leaders of the Dutch Revolt. He was the great-grandfather of the more famous, William III of Orange, later King William III of England.

Charles V had been a staunch defender of Catholicism and of his princely powers, but was genuinely respected in the Low Countries; they thought he had understood them. Philip II never was. Unlike his father, he was Spanish in upbringing, spoke neither French nor Dutch, and was always considered a foreigner. His first governor to the Low Countries was his half-sister, Margaret of Parma (d. 1586). She continued Charles' policy of retaining members of the Dutch-Flemish nobility, as stadholders, on the governing council, but only heeded the advice of Cardinal Granvelle. William of Orange (d. 1584), the wealthiest, most astute, and most eloquent of the stadholders, emerged as Granvelle’s chief opponent; better known as William "the Silent" for his quiet skill in negotiation. Persecution of Calvinism continues apace, but the Inquisition failed to stem the tide of change. By 1564, Margaret was urging Philip II to come up with more realistic policies to prevent violence; some limited religious tolerance. Although the hated Granvelle was recall, Philip responded that sterner measures were the only answer. In April 1566, some 400 lessor nobles and municipal officials delivered a petition known as the Compromise of Nobles, pledging to resist further curtailment of their liberties. Howewer, Philip II took a long time to respond, and any chance of compromise was overtaken by events. In early August 1566, a monastery at Steenvoorde was sacked by a Calvinist mobs, inflamed by a puritan preacher. This incident was followed by similar rampages across the Low Countries, that destroyed religious images, statuary, and stained-glass in over 400 Catholic churches; known to history as the Iconoclastic Fury. Upon hearing the news, Philip II resolved upon harsh measures. He ordered Duke Fernando of Alba (d. 1582), a veteran of many military campaigns, to march north at the head of 10,000 troops, and restore order by any means necessary. This illustrated one of the vexing problems for the Spanish king in dealing with the ensuing Dutch Revolt (1566-1648); also known as the Eighty Years' War. The division of Charles V's empire between the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs had created logistical difficulties for moving troops: from Italy, it meant marching north through potentially hostile Protestant northern Germany; and from Spain, it meant sailing through the English Channel between perpetually hostile France and traditionally friendly, but now Protestant, England. Philip's hopes of maintain peace with Queen Elizabeth would prove another of the vexing problems of his reign. The Duke of Alba, arriving in August 1567, introduced a reign of terror, but did so, at first, through stealth. He made use of Margaret to lure two of the three leading dissident nobles into accepting his hospitality, and had them arrested; William the Silent wisely slipped into exile in Germany. This prompted Margaret resigned as governor in protest. Alba then set-up a special court called the Council of Troubles, and had both men tried and executed. But they were merely the first victims of Alba's tribunal, which becomes known to the Dutch as the Council of Blood. His agents acted with the quiet efficiency of a modern police state, visiting suspects in their homes and taking them from their beds. In the end, the tribunal sentenced some 9,000 people to death, though most were tried in absentia, so only about 1,000 sentences were carried out. Thousands more received lessor sentences, such as confiscating property. Alba spared nothing and nobody. Two prominent Catholic nobles, Egmont and Horne, who had been loyal to the Spanish king, lost their heads for their tolerance to Protestantism. It was during these sombre years that the “Wilhelmus” was written, a song of faith, hope, and trust that went on to become the Dutch national anthem.

A 19th-century painting by Cornelis Kruseman of a purported meeting between Philip II of Spain and Prince William of Orange, on the dock in Flushing in 1581.

Dutch-Flemish resistance to Spanish rule began in 1668, when William the Silent returned to try and drive the Duke of Alba from Brussels. Although he did achieve the first minor Dutch victory of the Eighty Years' War, at the Battle of Heiligerlee (May 1568), his campaign ended in failure, when William ran out of money and his own army disintegrated. William's first real success was almost accidental. Spain was having serious manpower shortages against the Dutch-Fleming rebels, because it was waging wars on multiple fronts, particularly in the Mediterranean against the Ottoman Turks. Meanwhile, English privateers, manned by savage crews, had for some time been visiting the Dutch coast to prey on Spanish vessels; they were derisively known as the Gueux de Mer (Sea Beggars). Then in March 1572, Queen Elizabeth abruptly expelled their ship from English ports, during a brief thaw in Anglo-Spanish relations. So William hired the Sea Beggars to fight for his cause, with funds secretly provided by the Ottomans. In April 1572, a squadron of Sea Beggars was sheltering near the Dutch port of Brielle, where they were surprised to find out that the Spanish garrison had left to deal with trouble in Utrecht. So they took the undefended port, and raised the flag of William the Silent. This token victory spurred Calvinists all over the Low Countries into open rebellion once more. Within weeks, all along the coast of Holland and Zeeland, towns expel their Spanish garrisons and declared for William; notable exceptions were Amsterdam and Middelburg. A spontaneous movement of liberation had given William a clear identity as the leader of a cause; and a strong base from to fight that cause. He was formally recognised as the leader of the rebel provinces at a meeting in Dordrecht in July 1572; at this stage he still maintained the legal fiction that this was a revolt, not against the Spanish king, but against a "bad" governor, Merchants offered funds for his war chest. William had himself been raised Lutheran, but, realizing that Calvinists had been the driving force behind the movement, he formally converted to that reformed faith. There were bitter battles to be fought in the years ahead, as the Duke of Alba fought to recover what had been lost. There was also discord among the Dutch-Flemings. On one side, a militant Calvinist minority that wanted to oust Catholic Philip II, and convert all citizens to Calvinism. On the other end, a Catholic majority that wanted to remain loyal to the Spanish king, even if they sought for restore local privileges. Alba quickly affirmed his hold on the southern ten provinces, and a few pitched battles gave way to prolonged sieges, because most cities were protected by defensive-walls. Spanish troops committed appalling atrocities in the campaign; as in the massacre which follows the capture of Haarlem in July 1573, after having tenaciously resisted a  seven-month-long siege. Alba's next target, Alkmaar, only avoided the same fate by breaching the dikes. After a Dutch naval victory at the Battle on the Zuiderzee (October 1573), the Duke of Alba finally lost his appetite for the fight, together with no doubt Philip II's confidence. Alba was replaced by Luis de Requesens (d. 1576), and a new policy of moderation. By this time, the money to fund Spanish troops had been exhausted; Philip II defaulted on loans in 1575. Requesens tried to mediate an agreement with William the Silent, but, in March 1576, he unexpectedly died. In the ensuing power vacuum, unpaid Spanish troops mutinied and sacked Antwerp at the cost of some 8,000 lives. This so-called Spanish Fury stiffened the resolve of the entire Low Countries to take fate into their own hands. In 1576, in Ghent, a peace conference was convened between William the Silent on one side and the stadtholders of the southern provinces on the other. The result was the so-called Pacification of Ghent (November 1576), uniting all seventeen provinces in opposition to Spain, but leaving the vexing question of religion unanswered.

Dutch War of Independence 1576-1609.jpg

The same idealism and unity was enshrined in the Union of Brussels (January 1577), which established a formal government structure. But it proved the last agreement of this kind that represented the whole of the Low Countries; the next two unions were specifically sectarian. In the southern provinces, in October 1577, puritanical Calvinist mobs went on rampage once again in Ghent, sacking churches and burning monks in the market squared. In the northern provinces, in May 1578, Calvinists arrested Catholic member of the municipal council of Amsterdam, and took control of the last major Catholic city. These events prompted three southern provinces to form the Union of Arras (January 1579), for the purpose of defending the Catholic faith; reconciliation with the Spanish king was a natural next step. The three Calvinist northern provinces responded a few weeks later with the Union of Utrecht, committed to independence from Spain. William the Silent did his utmost to save the Pacification of Ghent, but met a worthy foes in the new Spanish governor, Duke Alexander of Parma (d. 1592). With admirable skill and new Spanish troops, Parma consolidated control of the ten southern provinces through a subtle blend of diplomacy and sieges: Maastricht (1579), Tournai (1581), Oudenaarde (1582), Dunkirk (1583), Bruges (1584), and Ghent (1584). At each, Parma offered generous terms of surrender: there would be no massacres or looting; historic urban privileges were retained; there was a full amnesty; a return to Catholicism; and Calvinists were granted safe passage north. Finally in July 1584, Parma besieged the port of Antwerp, one of Europe's richest cities, strongly fortified, and a rebel stronghold since Spanish sack on 1576. The siege lasted over a year, but, in August 1585, the city finally surrendered; of the pre-siege population of 100,000 people, only 40,000 remained. Many of Antwerp's skilled merchants and artisans were included in the Calvinist migration to the north, laying the commercial foundation for the subsequent Dutch Golden Age. Spanish Belgium accepted Philip II as their king. The arrangement worked, and, by the early-17th-century, Antwerp, the home of Rubens, was a thriving and sophisticated city once again. The rude arrival of Napoleon in 1794, would set-off a series of events that eventually led to the establishment of an independent Belgium in 1830. Meanwhile in the northern provinces, the Act of Abjuration (July 1581) formally deposed Philip II. At this stage, it was assumed that there would a replacement king; a role their existing leader, William the Silent, was not considered to have the necessary royal pedigree to hold. So the Dutch chose as their new king, Francis of Anjou (d. 1584), the youngest brother of Henry III of France. But it did not last. Francis chafed under severe restrictions on his royal power, and, after a shambolic attempt to conquer Antwerp in January 1583, his position became increasingly untenable; he fled the country in July. The issue had not been settled when William the Silent was shot in 1584 by a German-born assassin loyal to Philip II. Slowly, the representative assemblies in each of the seven provinces determined that they liked not having a monarch, and instead came to see themselves as a form of government unique in contemporary Europe; the Dutch Republic (1588-1795). The republic was a confederation of seven semi-autonomous provinces, which had their own parliament (State) and an appointed executive (stadtholder). They sent representatives to a centralized assembly (States General), which met in The Hague and decided matters of foreign policy and war, though its decisions had to be ratified by each provincial State. In theory, the seven stadtholders formed a centralized executive. However, in practice, the same individual was generally chosen as the stadholder in all seven provinces, all of them descendants of William the Silent; the House of Orange thus became effectively the Dutch royal family. In the first, William's son Maurice of Orange (d. 1625), the young republic found a leader to match his illustrious father. Although only twenty-one in 1588, he proved a very capable military leader. He set about creating a disciplined and sophisticated Dutch army, which for the first time was the equal of the Spaniards. Maurice achieved a series of striking successes, driving the Spanish steadily back until the lands north of the river Meuse were in Dutch hands; the last royalist garrison was reduced in 1597. In this, he was great helped by the geo-political situation in Europe at the time; for Philip II, the Dutch Revolt had become a side-show in comparison with meddling in the French Wars of Religion and war with England including the disastrous Spanish Armada. This period of expansion and consolidation was so exhilarating that it became known in Dutch history simply as the Ten Years. In 1596, both France and England give de facto recognition to the Dutch Netherlands. In 1609, Spain opened peace negotiations, and agreed to the Twelve Years' Truce, effectively granting the Dutch de facto recognition too; formal recognition would not come until the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which ended the Thirty Years War. This political independence was facilitated by amazing commercial prosperity; the Dutch Golden Age.

Scottish Reformation[]


Scotland’s political history under the House of Stuart (1371-1661) was in many ways similar to England’s: succession controversies that verged on civil war; the development of a parliament with strong influence over taxation and other legislation; and power struggles between the nobility and the crown. Stuart rule was bedevilled from the start by the power of the great nobles, in particular the Douglas and MacDonald families, whose rich ancestral territories (in the southern lowlands, and northern highlands respectively) had been the reward for supporting Robert the Bruce and then his son David II Bruce. The Douglases and MacDonalds were respectively the leading families in the northern Highlands and southern Lowlands, which served not only as the classic geographic divide in Scotland, but also the major cultural, linguistic, and political divide. In rough terms the Lowlanders were more settled and Anglicized, while the Highlanders were fiercely independent and spoke Gaelic. To the south, the English remained as eager as ever to foment trouble when an opportunity presented itself. Even so, during the 15th-century, royal authority was gradually established in most parts of Scotland. The marriage of James III Stuart (1460-88) to a Danish princess in 1469, brought into Scottish hands the last two island groups still held by Scandinavians since the Viking Age; the Orkneys and Shetlands. His son, James IV Stuart (1488-1513), proved the ablest and most popular of all the Stuart kings, a ruler of vigour, intelligence, piety, and a born leader of men. During his reign, the Renaissance reached Scotland and its years were marked by William Dunbar’s The Thistle and the Rose, by Gavin Douglas’s translation of the Aeneid; and by Blind Harry’s popular epic of William Wallace. Architecture, too, became important. The great castles ceased to be mere strongholds, and took on some of the magnificence of palaces; Falkland, Linlithgow, and Craigmillar amongst them. Education, though still the privilege of the few, increased. More books were imported, the first printing press made its appearance in Edinburgh in 1507, and King’s College, Aberdeen came to join St. Andrews and Glasgow as Scotland’s third university. James, like his predecessors, made an attempt to tackle the recurrent problem of the Highlands and Isles. Here life went on much as it had for five hundred years or more, and what happened in Edinburgh or the Anglicized Lowlands had very little relevance. In war and peace alike, the clan chief had absolute power over his people and his land by ancient custom rather than by any feudal charter or legal right, both warlord and law-giver. The humblest clansman bore his chief’s name, and liked to believe themselves - and often were - descended, as he was, from the "name-father" of the clan. In 1492, James did something that none of his predecessors had done. He made a series of visits to the Highlands and Isles - armed and escorted, it is true - but coming as a friend rather than as an invader, feasting and hunting with the chiefs, whose Gaelic language he had actually learnt; the last Scottish king known to do so. However, James found the response to his overtures disappointing, and reversed his policy, exchanging his patriarchal approach for a more feudal one. In 1493, he claimed for himself the MacDonald's title of Lord of the Isles, and appointed two loyal lieutenants as hereditary earls of Argyll and Inverness, with broad powers throughout the north of Scotland. This inevitably provoked a series of revolts, that were finally suppressed by 1506. In the hope of keeping order, the king now established a series of strategically placed strongholds throughout the Highlands, and substantially strengthened his fleet. Having achieved a measure of peace in his own country, James turned his attention to Scotland’s southern neighbour. History showed that a hostile England could hamstring Scotland, and vice versa. Of late, relations had been particularly strained owing to James' support of the Yorkist pretender, Perkin Warbeck. But in 1501, he agreed to marry Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII of England, amid scenes of unparalleled splendour, which dazzled the grudgingly admiring visitors from south of the border. The so-called marriage of "The Thistle and the Rose" would eventually lead to the union of the English and Scottish crowns under Margaret's great-grandson, James VI Stuart. It was a remarkable reversal of fortune, for a Welsh upstart who had usurped the English throne was seeking much-needed legitimacy, in the eyes of European royalty, by marrying into the ancient and illustrious House of Stuart. The following year, Scotland and England signed an improbably titled Treaty of Perpetual Peace. But Scotland’s new alliance with England did not mean the end of her Auld Alliance with France. On the contrary, in 1511, in the midst of the Italian Wars, the pope, Habsburg Spain and Austria, and Venice formed what they called the Holy League against France. They were joined by James’ brilliant but bellicose brother-in-law, Henry VIII of England. France now stood alone save for Scotland. To the last James sought to mediate between the hostile powers, but, by May 1513, France, attacked on all sides, was in deadly peril. James sent one final ultimatum to Henry VIII, but he insolently declared himself "the verie owner of Scotland", a land he considered to be held by the Scottish king in homage; clearly Scotland’s own survival was at stake.

The Flodden Memorial, commemorates the battle in 1513, which ushered-in a profoundly unsettled periods of Scottish history.

Mustering the most splendid army a Scottish king had ever commanded, James IV crossed the Tweed at the head of his troops in August. For a couple of weeks the campaign went well, with four English castles falling to the Scots. Then on a wild afternoon at the beginning of September the two armies met near Branxton at the Battle of Flodden (September 1513). For a time it seemed as though the Scots might win the day. Their most heavily armoured men advanced on the left, so that English archers had little effect, and pushed the enemy back, with some elements running off. James, observing this initial success, ordered a general advance. The Scottish foot soldiers had been equipped with the 18-feet Swiss pike by their French allies, a new weapon which had proved devastating on continental battlefields. But it required long training, discipline and suitable terrain to use effectively. When the Scots encountered an unexpected marshy area in their path, their formations broke-up, and the resulting close-quarter fighting became a massacre. The king was slain, and with him the flower of Scottish chivalry; James’s eldest son, nine earls, fourteen lords, the chiefs of many Highland clans, an archbishop, two bishops, and thousands of Scotland’s best young men all perished on that day. The situation in which Scotland now found herself was extremely precarious. Her king was dead. Her old enemy England was triumphant and more aggressive than ever. Her new king, James V Stewart (1513–42), was just seventeen-months old. His mother, who now assumed the regency, had all the faults of the Tudors without their brains, and was in any case of doubtful loyalty. Such nobles as had survived Flodden were, with her encouragement, intriguing among themselves. In 1514, the situation, though still confused, took a turn for the better. When Margaret married Archibald Douglas of Angus (d. 1557), she forfeited the regency her husband, but the Scottish parliament then asserted itself, and appointed John Stewart of Albany (d. 1536) as regent. During the years that followed, the French educated Albany, supported by the parliament, headed the national party; or French party. Against him, at the head of the English Party, stood Margaret and Angus, who now plotted with Henry VIII, Albany prevailed until 1524, when James, at the age of 12, dismissed his regent and was proclaimed an adult ruler by his mother; he was to-all-intents-and-purposes a prisoner of his step-father, Angus. However, four years later in 1528, James escaped from his captors disguised as a huntsman, and reached Stirling where some relatively loyal supporters awaited him. "I vow", said James of Angus, "that Scotland will not hold us both". He was as good as his word. After a sharp clash, Angus was driven across the border into exile in England. The young king now set to work restoring order in his troubled kingdom, both the rebellious Lowlands and ever-troublesome Highlands. He enjoyed a measure of success thanks to his conciliatory policy. Meanwhile, Europe was in turmoil. In 1517, four years after Flodden, Martin Luther had nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Soon the continent was to be split into two armed camps, and Cujus regio, ejus religio was the order of the day; every sovereign sought to impose his own religion on his realm, and as often as not on his neighbour’s too. In this contest, Scotland was eagerly sought after; Henry VIII offered James his daughter, Mary, in marriage; Charles V Habsburg pressed the claim of his sister; and even the pope proffered his formidable niece, Catherine de' Medici. In the end, James opted to bolster the traditional French alliance, by marrying Marie de Guise (d. 1560), of France's leading family of Catholic nobles. But the two sons she bore him died. The English, meanwhile, were becoming ever more aggressive. Having himself broken with Rome in 1534, for reasons not entirely theological, Henry VIII was set upon making Scotland Protestant, and so turning her against France. The death of James' mother (Henry's sister) in 1541 removed any incentive for peace, and war broke-out between he neighbours once again. James responded to English border raids with one into northern England. However, having taken ill with fever, he was unable to lead the army in person. The Scottish campaign was a fiasco, with one noble and then another declaring himself to be James's chosen commander, and parts of the army refusing to march. This squabbling Scottish advance was routed at the Battle of Solway Moss (November 1542). Sick at heart, James withdrew to Falkland Palace, and there, two weeks later, received the news that his wife had borne him a daughter, who was christened Mary. To the dying man this was the last straw. Before he died, remembering how the crown had come to the Stuarts through the daughter of Robert the Bruce, he said, "It came with a lass, and it will gang with a lass". Indeed, the last Stewart monarch in Britain was a woman, not Mary Queen of Scots but Anne Stuart Queen of Great Britain (d. 1714).

Mary Queen of Scots, few figures in Scottish history had a more turbulent and troublesome life.

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-67) was a six-day-old infant when she succeeded to the throne. The outlook was disturbing. By one means or another her great-uncle, Henry VIII of England was determined to make himself master of Scotland. Ten years earlier he had wanted James V to marry his daughter. Now he sought to win the little queen as a bride for his own sickly son, the future Edward VI of England. A treaty of marriage was duly negotiated by James Hamilton of Arran (d. 1575), who was inclined to favour an English rather than a French connection, and had claimed the regency based on a version of James' will that his opponents dismissed as a forgery. But Marie de Guise, the clever and determined queen-mother, and her unprincipled but extremely able adviser, Cardinal David Beaton (d. 1546), had other plans. Little Mary was carried off to the safety of Stirling Castle, and the Scottish parliament was persuaded, without difficulty, to repudiate the treaty of marriage. Henry VIII’s answer was to invade Scotland. During the summer of 1544, an English army raided Edinburgh and laid waste to the Lowlands, perpetrating appalling atrocities. This Rough Wooing, as it came to be known, left a legacy of hatred which was to endure for centuries. Even the Douglas family felt less affection for the English, since it was their lands devastated and the tombs of their forefathers violated. In 1547, death came to Henry VIII, but the Duke of Somerset, as regent for the young Edward VI of England, continued his policy, sending a fresh army to Scotland which inflicted a resounding defeat on the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh (September 1547). Until now little Queen Mary had been in Scotland, moving from castle to castle, as English troops hunted Edward's reluctant bride. Now in 1548 she was sent to France, to become, it was decided, the bride of the French Dauphin, the future Francis II of France (d. 1560). It was a choice fraught with political, national, and religious implications. Was Scottish independence threatened more by a dynastic union with Catholic France, or one with Protestant England? The latest turn of events had driven the Scots for into the arms of the French, but it was, for a variety of reasons, an alliance that lacked stability.

John Knox, the leading force behind establishing the Presbyterian form of Calvinism in Scotland.

To Scotland, the Reformation came later than England, but no less dramatically. Perhaps nowhere at this time was the Church more corrupt and decayed. "Pilates rather than Prelates", Pope Eugenius IV (d. 1447) had called the Scottish bishops, while Archibald Hay, a relative of Cardinal Beaton, had found it necessary to warn him that priests "come to the heavenly table who have not slept off last night’s debauch". Many ordinary folk impotently stewed about bishops living in luxurious ostentation with their mistresses; of crippling rents charged by fat, venal abbots; of royal bastards squatting upon lucrative ecclesiastical offices; of illiterate priests delivering services in Latin that none could understand. But the system was, needless to say, not without its advantages to the crown. In exchange for his loyalty to Rome, James V had been allowed to heavily tax the church. From the 1520s, the ideas of Martin Luther began to have influence in Scotland. In 1528, Patrick Hamilton, a young scholar of noble birth who had been convinced of the new doctrine while studying in Paris and Marburg, became the first Protestant martyr in Scotland; he was burned at the stake for heresy at St. Andrews. Hamilton’s death, and the courage with which he met it, attracted more attention than ever to the ideas for which he had suffered. The Scottish church responded with a series of councils, modelled on the contemporaneous Council of Trent, that sought reform from within, but already it was too late. From 1544, a Zwingli-influenced preacher called George Wishart (d. 1546) travelled Scotland from east to west, denouncing the errors of the papacy and abuses in the church. In danger of his life, he was accompanied wherever he went by a black bearded, grim-faced young priest, carrying a large two-handed sword; a certain John Knox (d. 1572). At this time, the Rough Wooing was in full swing, and Henry VIII had generously offered a thousand pounds for the murder of Cardinal Beaton, chief minister to Marie de Guise, Mary's mother and regent. Wishart, for his part, had more than once publicly expressed approval of murder, provided it was from the right motives. In early 1546, Cardinal Beaton had him duly arrested on charges of plotting with the English; Knox, at his side, was loathed to leave his master, but Wishart sent him away, saying "One is sufficient for a sacrifice"; Wishart was burned for heresy at St Andrews in March. If the cardinal thought he had nipped the problem in the bud, he was dead wrong. Wishart's supporters, who included a number of Fife lord, stabbed Cardinal Beaton to death at St. Andrews, and then barricaded themselves within the castle, which they held under siege for a year, with young Knox as their rather reluctant chaplain. Once Wishart's sword-wielding bodyguard, he now emerged as a latent firebrand preacher. When the castle was finally reduced in July 1547, with the help of a French fleet at the request of Marie de Guise, such prisoners as they took, including Knox, were sentenced to serve time as oarsmen aboard French galleys. Knox was released from his oar 18-months later, with the hardship having done nothing to dampen his conviction or diminish his energy. He spent the next few years in England, where he met Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, served as one of six royal chaplains serving young Edward VI, and was even offered a bishopric. Then in 1553, Mary of England came to the throne, and quickly made England an unpleasant place for a Protestant activist. Knox fled to Germany and thence to Geneva, where he came strongly under the influence of John Calvin. In 1555, he returned to Scotland and toured various parts, preaching the reformed doctrines. However, Marie de Guise had shown considerable skill ensuring that support for the Reformation remained limited. Whereas she herself made no move against him, Knox's activities did attract the attention of church authorities, and, though they soon dropped the charges, he stomped huffily back to Geneva where, surrounded by like-minded bigots, he felt safe to write, The First Blast of the Trumpet, his misogynistic rant against female rulers like the regent and her daughter. In his absence, a series of event saw the Protestant movement in Scotland rapidly gained ground. In 1557, a group of Protestant nobles, known as the Lords of the Congregation, signed a bond of mutual support against "all wicked power that does intend tyranny". In April 1558 in Paris, fifteen-year-old Mary and fourteen-year-old Francis were married in the Great Hall of the Louvre Palace, provoking apprehension in Scotland at an eventual union of the crowns; the virtual conversion of Scotland into a French province seemed possible. Then in November 1558 came the news that the Catholic Mary Tudor was dead, leaving the English throne to her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. Encouraged by the renewed triumph of the Reformation in England and by the possibility of English support, Scottish Protestants redoubled their efforts. In January 1559, the anonymous Beggars' Summons was posted on the doors of monasteries, threatening monks with eviction on the grounds that their property belonged to the genuine poor. Fearing disorder, Marie de Guise was now determined by circumstance to show less tolerance to reformed preachers. It was in these circumstances that John Knox returned to Scotland in May 1559, this time for good. His sermons were more inflammatory than ever. Stirred by Knox's rhetoric, mobs fury spilled all over central Scotland, carrying out a "cleansing" of religious houses, and even sacking the tomb of James I Stuart in Perth. Even Edinburgh itself fell to the Protestant lords in July, and Knox was preaching from the pulpit of St. Giles' Cathedral. With Scotland teetering on civil war, Marie could only appeal for more help from France, The arrival of 1,800 professional French soldiers quickly forced the Protestant lords onto the defensive. They abandoned the capital, and even their heartland of Fife was threatened. All seemed lost for the Protestant cause until Queen Elizabeth of England opened negotiations with the Scottish Protestants. She did so reluctantly, for she disapproved of rebels on principle, and religious extremists like Knox in particular, but she had no doubt in her minds that France’s claims to the Scottish throne must be firmly rebutted.

A later edition of the Scottish Confession of Faith. While the parliament approved it in 1560, Mary Queen of Scots, a Roman Catholic, refused to agree, and thus the Scottish Reformation existed in a state of legal uncertainty until after Mary's overthrow.

The year 1560 marked a turning point in Scottish history. In January, an English fleet appeared in Scottish waters. Soon the queen mother’s French forces fell back on Leith, where, besieged by an Anglo-Scottish army four times their size, they bravely held out for months. Then in June, Marie de Guise fell ill and died, removing from the scene a powerful influence on affairs. The next month, the Treaty of Edinburgh (July 1560) provided for the withdrawal from Scotland, not only of all English, but of all French troops; in retrospect the treaty is recognised as the official end of the Auld Alliance, after more than 250 years. This left the Protestant lords in control of Scotland. They recognised Mary Queen of Scots and her husband as monarchs, and were granted permission to hold a parliament, with strict instructions not to touch the issue of religion. In August, parliament met, and, completely ignoring this agreement, approved a series of statutes, abolishing the authority of the pope in Scotland, and forbidding the celebration of Catholic mass. John Knox was, with five others, given the task of formulating the creed and constitution of the new Church. These were embodied in the Confession of Faith, First Book of Discipline, and Book of Common Order, which were to provide the foundation for Protestant worship in Scotland; now known as Presbyterianism. Compared with other countries, the Reformation in Scotland had few martyrs; seven Protestants beforehand and two Catholics afterwards. The majority of the Catholic clergy joined the new church, while their flocks for the most part followed suit. Whereas in England, the Reformation had been a matter of botched-up compromises and equivocal half-measures, in Scotland it was radical under the influence of Knox and indirectly of John Calvin. Henceforth the Church of Scotland was governed not by a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, but by Kirk Sessions of local lay elders, possessing the power to ordain ministers, with a General Assembly of representatives from each local Kirk making decisions affecting the running of the Church as a whole. The early Kirks were austere in character, which, in time, increased still further; singing was unaccompanied; and churches were unadorned. It was to this austerely Protestant Scotland, the Scotland of John Knox, that Mary would return in August 1561.

Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox.

Mary Queen of Scots had grown up in the sophisticated, effortless elegance of the Valois court. She was treated by the French king like one of his own, living in the royal nursery alongside her future husband, and receiving a wonderful Renaissance education in literature, rhetoric, music, dancing, falconry, horse-riding and sport. By the time she reached adulthood she had mastered French, Spanish and Italian, along with classical Latin and Greek, and her own native Scots. It is impossible to imagine how this impacted Mary. If the Renaissance had had its impact on Scotland, then Amboise Châteaux, where she spent many of her French years, had been the last home of no lesser a Renaissance figure than Leonardo da Vinci, invited there by Francis I in 1517. By 1558, the stakes had risen for Mary. In April, she married the French Dauphin. Then in November, Mary Tudor of England died and onto her throne had stepped Elizabeth. Here was an opportunity the French might never reasonably have expected to see. Elizabeth had been conceived before Henry VIII had even put a ring on Anne Boleyn’s finger; in the eyes of Valois France, and much of Catholic Europe, she was illegitimate as a daughter and as a queen. Mary’s French family now stoked her imperial ambitions to boiling point; she was the rightful queen of England, since all Henry VIII's legitimate children were now dead, and she was the senior surviving descendant of Henry VII, through her grandmother, Margaret Tudor. Was not the triple crown of Scotland, France, and England what God had in mind for Mary? Within two years, her glittering future had changed like a fairy tale turned bad. Her sickly husband, who reigned for barely eighteen month, died in December 1560. No longer queen of France, she was still queen of Scotland. And now, beautiful, clever, light-hearted, high-spirited, impulsive, a devout Roman Catholic and a widow at eighteen, she returned to claim her inheritance, landing in Scotland in August 1561. Clearly the situation was fraught with the most explosive possibilities. But Mary was no innocent; she had seen the reality of religious war in France. To the surprise and dismay of the Catholic party, she let it be known from the outset that, while she had no intention of abandoning her own Catholic faith, she equally did not intend to impose it on her subjects. Many nobles accepted this, but not John Knox. From the pulpit of St Giles', he openly preached against her, condemning her for celebrating Catholic mass even in private, not to mention the frivolous nature of her court. As a result, just two weeks after her return, Mary summoned Knox to her presence; the first of several interviews. They were recorded in detail by Knox, which do nothing to conceal his own ferocious rudeness to the young queen. But she faced him down, and made a success of the first few years of her dramatic seven-year reign. Mary retained most of the existing royal council, dominated by Protestants from the Reformation crisis of 1560, including her Protestant half-brother James Stewart of Moray (d. 1570) as chief minister. In fact, only four of her councillors were Catholic. She spent a great deal of her time travelling around Scotland, getting to know a country and a people she had last encountered when just a five-year-old. The powerful regional nobles were easily won over by her beauty and cultivated charm, and she exploited an ancient truth of Scotland; that old loyalties to kin and crown ran deeper than the new religious ties. But Mary had, all of her life, been surrounded by the opulence of the French court, and her focus often strayed from the internal problems of Scotland, to a still greater prize; the English crown. Soon after her return, she had begun asking Elizabeth to acknowledge her as heir to the throne. But Elizabeth only prevaricated and dissembled, promising to answer eventually but never doing so. In the meantime, Mary turned her attention to finding a new husband. More than a mere husband, she was intent on finding a man to match or even enhance her dynastic bloodline. French, Spanish, and Austrian suitors came forward, and even Queen Elizabeth herself offered her own favourite Robert Dudley, but Mary settled on - in fact, fell in love with - an English cousin. His name was Henry Stuart of Darnley (d. 1567). After a whirlwind romance, the pair were wed by Catholic rite in Mary’s private chapel in Holyroodhouse in July 1565. He was tall, handsome, charming, and young (four years her junior). English by birth - a qualification likely to make him acceptable to the English parliament - he was, like Mary, a descendant of Henry VII; their children would inherit an even stronger, combined claim to the English throne. But these turn out to be Darnley's only merits. It was all too quickly becoming clear that Mary's immature and petulant husband was not a fit queen-consort, let alone a fit "king". Despite bestowing the title on Darnley, Mary deliberately excluded him from government, and even denied him the "crown matrimonial" from him (that he would rule should she die before him), to his unbridled fury. Darnley wandered about Edinburgh, drunk and debauched, mouthing-off about being king-in-name-only. Dangerously angry, he was easily duped into joining a group of disaffected nobles plotting to kill Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio. An effete Italian Catholic, he had attracted the ire of Protestant couriers due to his privileged access to all the queen's private correspondence; they convinced themselves that he was a spy for the pope. A plan was duly hatched to take matters back into their hands, and Darnley was stupid enough to go along with them. The deed was done on an evening in March 1566, in front of a heavily pregnant Mary. Several of the plotters burst through the door, dragged the squealing Rizzio into an adjoining room, and messily butchered him with as many swords and knives as it was possible to stick into a body. Fearing that she might be next, Mary fled from Edinburgh for Dunbar Castle, where she was soon joined by a knight in shining armour; James Hepburn of Bothwell (d. 1578), a soldier of proven skill and valour whose troops became her personal bodyguard. Darnley, realising he had been played for a fool, soon switched sides to Mary, but Rizzio's murder inevitably led to the breakdown of their marriage. In June, she gave birth to their son, the future James VI of Scotland, but it was Bothwell, rather than Darnley, who greeted the guests at his baptism in the Chapel Royal of Stirling Castle. There followed by a lavish three-day party, during which baby James was hailed as "Little Arthur"; this was the boy who would be king of a reunited Britain. The visiting English ambassador was suitably offended at the provocative gesture. But it was also realistic. time was running out for Elizabeth, who was well into her thirties and it was becoming less and less likely she would ever have a child of her own. Then in the winter of 1566-67, Darnley fell ill, with, it was said, a sexually transmitted disease, syphilis perhaps. He was sent to convalesce in a house outside Glasgow known as Kirk o’ Field. On the night of 10 February 1567, the building was blown apart by gunpowder packed into the basement by person or persons unknown. Darnley survived the blast, but did not live long. His partly clothed corpse was found in the garden, having been strangled to death. No one was ever convicted of the crime, but it was widely rumoured that someone close to the queen - perhaps her new favourite Bothwell - had carried out the deed with her blessing. A month later, Darnley’s father was allowed to bring a case against Bothwell, but the trial was a farce; Bothwell's armed supporters surrounded the courthouse and he was duly acquitted. Mary was now understandably rattled. If she herself was in fact innocent, then someone close to the court had been the murderer. Rattled or not, it can neither explain nor excuse what Mary did next; she married Bothwell, the man nearly everyone assumed had murdered her previous husband. Maybe by then she honestly believed he was the only noble she could trust. Whatever its motivation, this further error of judgment alienated both Protestants and Catholics alike and finally cost Mary her throne. Within days, a group of Protestant nobles had raised an army on the pretext of "freeing" their queen from Bothwell’s clutches; it was in effect a palace coup. Husband and wife were side by side at the head of an army on Carberry Hill in June 1567 to meet their opponents, but there no battle. Mary lost her nerve and sued for peace on condition that Bothwell was granted safe conduct; they would never see one another again, and, after many more adventures, he would die a prisoner in Denmark in 1578. After being led through the streets of Edinburgh amid derision, Mary, who was still only twenty-four, was taken to the island castle of Lochleven, and imprisoned there. Within a few weeks of her arrival, she suffered a miscarriage, losing twins fathered by Bothwell. A few days later, she was forced, using threats of death, to abdicate the throne in favour of her infant son, who was crowned James VI of Scotland (1566-1625) with indecent haste five days later. The sermon on this occasion was preached by John Knox, freed at last from the woman he despised. Mary had heard the wrath of the mob in Edinburgh, but not been cowed. In May 1568, she escaped her captors, and was quickly able to gather a large army; most nobles preferred to side with the queen, than with the Protestant regency headed by her half-brother, Moray. The two sides met at the Battle of Langside (May 1568), but Mary was again defeated. She now fled, not only the field, but Scotland altogether, crossing the border at Solway Firth, and throwing herself on the mercy of the Queen of England. Mary seems to have expected that her sister-queen would help her recover her throne, but Elizabeth had never forgotten for a moment her cousin’s claim to the English throne, and promptly imprisoned her. It was the start of the second half of Mary's life; nineteen years as a prisoner in England.

JamesVI of Scotland and England .jpg

The years that followed Mary’s flight were troublous ones for Scotland. In accordance with the religious beliefs of the Scottish ruling faction, little James was brought up by members of the Presbyterian Church, most notably his learned but austere tutor George Buchanan (d. 1582). The queen’s supporters, meanwhile, who were working for her return, seized Edinburgh Castle, and held it against all comers for five years. The first two regents, Moray and Lennox, were murdered one after the other. The third, Mar, died in office within a year. It was not until 1573 that the next regent, Morton, was able to bring a degree of stability to the realm. During the first of his six years in the post, he finally recovered Edinburgh Castle, whose garrison succumbed, as much to lack of hope, as to the heavy cannons borrowed from England. Then in 1578 Morton himself was overthrown, when the king's French cousin, Esmé Stewart, arrived in Scotland and quickly established himself as James' favourite. Esmé used his position to convince James, then fifteen-years-old, to proclaim himself an adult ruler, and have Morton swiftly tried, convicted, and executed. However, Esmé was a foreigner and Protestant convert, distrusted by Presbyterian lords. In 1582, in what became known as the Ruthven Raid, William Ruthven of Gowrie lured James to the "safety" of Ruthven Castle, forced Esmé to leave Scotland, and ruled in the king's name. The king remained to-all-intents-and-purposes a prisoner for almost a year. Is it any wonder that James VI grew up to be a man who trusted himself above all others? Abused by his tutor Buchanan, who had been determined to turn James into a God-fearing king, subject to the will of the Presbyterian Church, as outlined in his treatise, De Jure Regni apud Scotos. Then used as a pawn by those who sought power for themselves. And, finally, given a taste of his mother’s endless captivity. Buchanan, Ruthven, and their ilk took a helpless baby boy and made of him an absolutist king. In 1583, James, who was now seventeen, managed to escaped from Ruthven and his captors, and, accompanied by a single servant, made his way to St Andrews where he proclaimed himself king in fact as well as in name. Having gained a hold on the reins of power, James VI never let them drop. Ruthven submitted himself to the king's mercy, and, though it granted at first, further plotting prompted his executed a year later; one of the insults against the king's sovereignty had been avenged. In setting-out on his personal rule, he turned to the self-help books of the age; a translation of Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous treaty on the getting, exercising, and keeping power, The Prince. If his childhood education hadn't worked, then his self-education did. For all his faults and foibles (which included a peculiar obsession with witch-hunting), James proved to be a shrewd ruler who effectively controlled the various religious and political factions in Scotland. The powerful new element was the Presbyterian Church. After the death of John Knox in 1572, the Reformers found another strong leader in Andrew Melville (d. 1622); if he was not his predecessor's equal as a firebrand preacher, then his theological views went a good deal further. Melville sought a system similar to that of Calvinist Geneva, where an entirely independent church was separate from government, but expected to exert a strong moral influence over those who govern. His political doctrine resembled that of Hildebrand; secular authorities should be no interference in church affairs, but not vice versa. Although a convinced Protestant, Melville's theory proved less than welcome to the James, who was determined to be a king subordinate to no one, not even the church. He himself was attracted to the Anglican system, in which the monarch influenced the church through bishops appointed by the crown. In consequence, the pendulum swung back and forth between the Kirks and crown. In 1584, the Scottish parliament, heavily influenced by the crown, passed a series of so-called Black Acts, which declared that the king was head of the church, that no General Assembly of the Kirks should meet without the king's leave, loudly confirmed the authority of bishops, and issued dire warnings against preachers criticising the king's person. In 1592, James had to yield to the strength of the church, restoring many of the former privileges of the Kirks, such as church courts. But the king kept his power to call the General Assembly when and where he wished, manipulating its business to limit the ability of more radical clergy to attend; by 1600, he had appointed three bishops who took seats in parliament; by the end of his reign there were 11 bishops. So the outcome was messy ambiguity. The struggle between these two opposing Protestant views in Scotland was to drag on for more than a hundred years. In the next reigns, it was to inspire rebellion. Meanwhile, James' had every reason to hope that he would succeed to the English throne, so long as he stayed on reasonably good terms with his cousin, Queen Elizabeth. And so, in 1586, he concluded an alliance of mutual defence with England, in anticipation of the Spanish Armada. The test of that friendship came in came in 1587, when his mother was implicated, however peripheral, in the Babington Plot, an ill-considered scheme to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with Mary. It sealed her fate; Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in February. Mary's death placed James in a dilemma. Should he take up the cudgels in defence of the mother he had never known, and risk annoying Elizabeth enough to cut him out of the succession? But did not personal honour and decency - and public opinion in Scotland - require him to make some response? The solution he came up with was not so much that of a grieving son as of a master diplomat; a cleverly veiled reproach balanced by an equally veiled expectation of future favour. Determined not to lose control of Scotland, as his mother had, he turned his attentions to matters closer to home. In 1589, he travelled to Oslo to marry Anne of Denmark (d. 1619), a suitably Protestant princess (good for Scottish politics), a Scandinavian (good for Scottish trade prospects) and came with a large dowry (good for the royal treasury). The queen turned out to be suitably fruitful, and bore her husband seven children, of which only three survived the perils of childhood; Henry, Elizabeth, and Charles. Their eldest son, Henry, died of typhoid at the age of eighteen. Their daughter, Elizabeth, married the German Prince Frederick IV of the Palatine, who briefly became king of Bohemia, until defeated and driven into exile in 1620; she was the mother of dashing but reckless Prince Rupert, who would lead the royalist cavalry in the English Civil Wars, and the grandmother of George I Hanover. Although Queen Elizabeth refused to recognise James as her successor until the end, this became increasingly irrelevant; all he had to do was to outlive her, Frustratingly, Good Queen Bess lived longer than any English monarch before her, finally dying in the early hours of 24 March 1603 at the age of sixty-nine. Later that same day, the royal council had James proclaimed in the city of London, James I of England (1603-25).

Children of Henry VIII in England[]

Edward VI Tudor was king for only a few years, and died at 15, but his short reign saw the full-scale introduction of Protestantism. This was the time when English cathedrals and churches first had their sculptures and stained-glass windows smashed, their murals defaced, and their doctrine changed.

Such are the vagaries of hereditary monarchy that Henry VIII, symbol of kingly potency, left his crown to a feeble nine-year-old. Archbishop Cranmer had been meticulous in preparing Edward VI Tudor (1547-53) for Protestant monarchy. He educated him in the reformed religion under a devoted tutors, Richard Cox and John Cheke. The boy was precocious, though much too interested in theology, and not nearly enough in good government; he had a child's indifference to signing death warrants. The power of Edward’s office was great, but who would wield it? The regency was inevitably an occasion for factional struggle. His father had put in place a regency council, but this soon collapsed as the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour of Somerset (d. 1552), declared himself as Lord Protector with the support of Catherine Parr’s family. He was openly opposed by his younger brother, Thomas Seymour of Sudeley (d. 1549), who curried favour with the boy-king by the tried-and-tested method of slipping him extra pocket money. One night in 1549, Sudeley went too far and tried to kidnap Edward, a crime prevented only by a furiously barking dog at the king’s door. Sudeley was captured and executed. Princess Elizabeth, whom he had once courted, remarked that he was "a man of much wit and little judgment"; she would become an expert in the genre. Somerset proved an incompetent regent. He built himself the lavish Somerset House on the Thames. He aggressively pursued the "Rough Wooing" with Scotland, debasing the coinage to pay for it, and responding to the resulting inflation with futile price-fixing. Somerset meanwhile pressed ahead with a full-blooded Protestant Reformation, far beyond anything Henry VIII would have countenanced. In London and the south-east, radical reformers were now numerous and active. Cranmer, whose beliefs had become steadily more reformist, now abandoned his priestly tonsure, grew a patriarchal beard, and brought his wife out of hiding. There was a further wave of iconoclasm in the Calvinist tradition. This is the time when cathedrals and churches - first stripped of their pilgrim shrines - had their statues and stained glass smashed, their murals whitewashed, their vestments and precious vessels removed, and their altars replaced by communion tables. The empty niches in thousands of English churches bear painful witness to the destruction. Only the young king, an uncompromisingly Protestant, appeared eager to restrain the spreading vandalism of centuries of artistic piety in stone, wood, paint, metal, and glass. In the second year of Edward's reign, a Book of Common Prayer, largely the work of Archbishop Cranmer, was made the compulsory liturgy of the Church, and in 1552 a less ambiguous reformist version appeared; for example, abolishing any notion of transubstantiation in the communion bread and the wine. Today, the Book of Common Prayer is recognised as a literary masterpiece, coining such familiar phrases as "speak now or forever hold your peace", "ashes to ashes, dust to dust". or "till death us do part". At the time, it was a political flop, antagonizing Protestants and Catholics alike. Enforcement of the new liturgy provoked a series of uprisings through the summer of 1549 in south-west England, with smaller upheavals in the midlands and north. The rebels were mostly Catholic sympathisers, but also motivated by economic concerns, such as the enclosure of common grazing lands and rampant inflation which has seen wheat prices quadruple in a few decades; the so-called Price Revolution. In the south-east, however, Kett's Rebellion blended Protestant piety with the same demands for social justice. Somerset's inept handling of these rebellions led in October 1549 to him being ousted by the royal council led by John Dudley of Northumberland (d. 1553). He was taken to the Tower of London, and later executed. Northumberland now took his place as de facto ruler of England; the change led to no improvement in the quality of government. If these political methods recalled bad memories of the Wars of the Roses, this time the conflict was contained within the court. The time when great nobles could raise armies of retainers had ended; the crown was acquiring a monopoly on military force. By 1553, everyone, including Edward himself, realized that a lung disease was killing him. The succession of his half-sister Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and a staunch Catholic, would jeopardise the English Reformation, and Edward's council had many reasons to fear it. On his deathbed, Edward, determined to have a Protestant heir, pass over both his half-sisters, and left the crown to his impeccably Protestant cousin, Jane Grey (d. 1554); the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter. Jane had been in May married Northumberland’s son. However, Edward died unexpectedly on 6 July before parliament had enacted these changes. Northumberland pressed ahead, proclaiming Jane as queen of England, but soon realised that he had drastically misjudged the public mood. All across the country, people rallied to Mary. By the time, Northumberland marched out of London with 3,000 troops, intent on apprehending Mary on her Surrey estate, she had already gathered an army of nearly 20,000. It now dawned on the royal council that it had made a terrible mistake. On 19 July, the council publicly proclaimed Mary as queen; Jane's nine-day reign came to an end. The proclamation triggered wild rejoicing throughout London. Jane's father-in-law, her new husband, her father, and finally Jane herself went to the block.

Mary Tudor has long been reviled by Protestant historians as "Bloody Mary", emphasizing that in just five years she burned some three-hundred Protestant martyrs. Modern scholars tend to view this assessments with increasing reservations. Detailed records of execution were not kept for other Tudor monarchs, only Mary. Her religious policies failed not because they were unpopular, but because her reign was too short to establish them. Mary was the first woman to successfully claim the English throne, determined opposition, and many policies such as fiscal reform, naval expansion, and colonial exploration that were later lauded as Elizabethan accomplishments, were actually initiated by Mary.

Edward was thus succeeded by his eldest half-sister, Mary Tudor (1553-58 AD). At the start of her reign, Mary enjoyed tremendous popular support, far wider than mere adherents to the Catholic faith, with even convinced Protestants recognising her as queen; she was a Tudor, and England's rightful heir. How strange, then, that she now remembered as "Bloody Mary", simultaneously reviled as vindictive and bigoted, and spineless and weak. Mary hoped for a rapid and easy return to the papal fold. This was not an impossible aim. Religious changes over the past generation had stemmed more from royal policy than grass-roots fervour. It's certainly true that the Protestant movement had developed its own dynamism, especially in London and south-eastern England. But religious conservatism was also strong, and deeply rooted in popular culture. A determined period of royal counter-revolution might well have succeeded. One of Mary's first actions as queen was to pass an act stating categorically her own long held view; that she was the child of a legitimate marriage between Henry and Catherine, and the lawful successor to the throne. With the past now put right, Mary could turn to the future, and her marriage. Already 37, she needed to produce an heir to prevent her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, still next-in-line of succession, from succeeding to the throne. Her cousin, Charles V Habsburg, urged her to marry his own son and heir, Philip of Spain. Mary needed little encouragement, claiming to be "already half in love" with Philip from his portrait. Even her closest allies, such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner, unsuccessfully petitioned her to reconsider, fearing that England would be relegated to a mere dependency of a foreign power, of a very powerful foreign power intimately linked with the Catholic Counter-Reformation. When Mary insisted on the marriage, ardent Protestants led by minor nobleman, Thomas Wyatt, rose in revolt. But Mary was able to rally the capital to her cause, saying "I never intended, nor never shall, marry without the consent of my council, my parliament, and you my people". The uprising, which numbered less than 3,000 men, barely got off the ground and soon collapsed; Wyatt suffered a traitor's death, hanged-drawn-and-quartered. Elizabeth, whose name had been used by the rebels as a rallying cry, was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two months, then put under house arrest at Woodstock Palace. In July 1554, Philip arrived in England to claim his bride; he spoke no English and Mary no Spanish. His only public English words were "Good night, my lords all" as he led her to the bedchamber and did his duty by her on their wedding night. For Philip, the marriage, which made him king of England in name only, was essentially diplomatic, to have England as an ally, or at least neutral, in the Habsburg rivalry with France. Mary, on the other hand, seemed genuinely smitten, and, to her great annoyance, he soon departed England to deal with other crises in the Habsburg empire, leaving the desperate Mary childless. Mary and Philip's marriage was presented to the world as a new start for England, a Catholic England. Henry and Edwards religious reforms could not simply be ignored. Parliamentary consent was required to change back vast amount of legislation, which involved bitter struggle; ironically, Mary used the powers of the royal supremacy to purge the House of Lords of hostile bishops. Just over a year into Mary's reign, the arrival of Cardinal Reginald Pole as the pope's legate, signalled England's return to the mother church in Rome. Mary's Catholicism was nevertheless laced with pragmatism: the confiscated monastery lands were not returned to the Church but remained in the hands of their influential new owners; married clergymen were given a straight choice to surrender their wives or their ministry; and diehard Protestants were encouraged to go into exile. Mary's religious policy was hampered as much by the intransigence of Pope Paul IV, as by the strength of Protestant opposition in England. In what came close to black comedy, Cardinal Pole's commission as legate was revoked by the pope, who was accused of being too compromising and summoned back to Rome to face the Inquisition. Mary refused to let him go, and found herself using her royal power to defy the papacy, and in return the pope refused to appoint bishops in England. The turning point in Mary's reign came with her phantom pregnancy, possibly caused by the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her. In the spring of 1555, following the ancient tradition of queens of England, she withdrew from public life to await the birth of her first child. Through June and July, the apparent delay in delivery fed gossip and ridicule that the queen was not pregnant. Mary re-emerged in August, heartbroken and humiliated, while Protestants were jubilant and emboldened. So Mary turned to force and gave the Protestant cause some 283 martyrs; as many as Henry VIII had executed during the Catholic Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536. Many of those burned were small folk; those better-off having escaped into exile. The most famous victims, however, were senior churchmen; Bishop Latimer, Bishop Ridley, and Archbishop Cranmer. Cranmer had played an important political and religious role since he had been recruited from Cambridge to advise on Henry’s divorce. With him, the queen wanted a moral victory. He was forced to watch Latimer and Ridley being burned, and pressured into recanting Protestant "heresy" and rejoining the Catholic faith. Under normal circumstances, he should now have been absolved as a repentant, but Mary refused to reprieve him. He was led to the stake in Oxford in March 1556. As the flames engulfed him, he disowned his recantations, thrusting his right hand, which had signed it, into the flames with the cry, "This hand hath offended. Oh this unworthy hand". This dramatic account comes from John Foxe’s bestselling Book of Martyrs. It was later made publicly available by law in every cathedral and many churches, creating not just a religious tradition but a national one. Worse news came in 1558, with the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the French Dauphin, Scotland was rocked by Protestant iconoclast riots, and the loss of England's last remaining continental possession, Calais. Although the territory was financially burdensome, its loss was a bitter humiliation to English pride; ironically the war with France was provoked by an English Protestant, Thomas Stafford, who invaded England and seized Scarborough Castle with French help, in a failed attempt to depose Mary in favour of Elizabeth. Mary in London was devastated, swearing, "When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais engraved on my heart". Mary’s counter-reformation ended when she took ill and followed her brother to the grave in November 1558. On her deathbed, she had reluctantly conceding the succession to Elizabeth. At her funeral service, Bishop John White of Winchester, a devout Catholic, warned his congregation that, "Soon the wolves will be coming out of Geneva … with their books before them, full of pestilent doctrines, blasphemy and heresy to infect the people". He was right.

Elizabeth I of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. One of England's most celebrated monarchs, her 25-year-reign became known as the Elizabethan era, famous for the triumph of Protestantism, the flourishing of the English Renaissance led by playwright William Shakespeare, for the seafaring exploits of Francis Drake, for the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and for a growing sense of national identity.

The reign of Elizabeth I Tudor (1558-1603 AD) is often regarded as England’s golden age. She was Good Queen Bess, Gloriana, presiding over an age of toleration, victory, and romance, the cradle of Shakespeare and the English Renaissance. Elizabeth was twenty-five when she took the throne, at a time of religious polarization across Europe. England found itself in the middle of this maelstrom, cast as the leader and defender of the Protestant cause, in a state of anxiety over the perceived Catholic threat at home and overseas. Fortunately, the country’s fate would lie primarily in the hands of a clever, vain, and cautious woman - her immensely loyal but often exasperated counsellors might have said a procrastinating one. She controlled policy more than any other Tudor. Her virtues, and vices, did much to keep the country safe throughout her long reign, and give her some claim to be considered England’s greatest monarch. Elizabeth's appearance was certainly striking, with large and expressive eyes set in a pale face beneath brilliant red hair. She used copious make-up and dressed with an extravagance that delighted portraitists and impressed visitors to court. Elizabeth’s coronation was performed with Protestant rites that she had herself had edited, but it left carefully open what sort of Reformation she intended. Was it to be that of Henry VIII’s last message of compromise, or of the Protestant radicals who had fled Mary for Calvinist Europe and were now returning to resume the Puritanism of Edward VI? The queen’s instinct was that English people would rather have no answer than one they disliked. Her own religious opinions are difficult to discern; she called herself a Protestant, but had a liking for elaborate choral music in the Catholic tradition, and kept a crucifix in her private chapel which the more radical Protestants deemed to be idolatry. Put simply, she had no sympathy with hardliners in either camp, and considered what they disputed as "but trifles". On one matter Elizabeth was clear; there would be no return to Rome’s authority. In the early months of her reign, parliament reintroduced her father’s Act of Supremacy, though Elizabeth was content to style herself "supreme governor" rather than "supreme head" of the Church in England; the latter might be viewed as inappropriate for a woman. The Edwardian prayer book was once more deemed to be the key to public worship, though it was subtly altered to avoid offending Catholic sensibilities; a reference to the "detestable enormities" of the pope was removed, for example. Images and statues were to be removed from walls and windows, but no more wholesale iconoclasm was permitted. Tolerance was permitted with regard to vestments, ornament, and ceremonies. The Elizabethan religious settlement, as it later became known, has been described as “a monstrosity that nobody would deliberately have invented”; it looked Catholic and sounded Protestant. But Elizabeth insisted on it, and forced it through a defiantly hostile parliament; she was obliged to imprison two Catholic bishops, and even then it was a close-run thing. Over the course of her long reign, Elizabeth’s religious middle way gradually took root in the minds and hearts of most English people, as a generation grew up which thought of the pope as the Antichrist and their mass as a mummery. Apart from a brief interregnum during the English Civil War, the unique character of Anglicanism has remained largely unchanged ever since. The Elizabethan age thus marks the decisive turning point in English religious history; Henry VIII had led a revolution, she consolidated one. The next question to dominate political debate was whom should Elizabeth marry to bear an heir to the throne? She was bombarded with offers for her hand - an Austrian Habsburg was considered in the 1560s when France was the enemy, while two French princes were allowed to hope in the 1570s when Spain was the shared threat. But Elizabeth of course never married. There has been endless speculation about her reasons. One suggestion, for which there is some evidence, is that she was sexually assaulted as a girl by her guardian, Sir Thomas Seymour, and that this left her with an aversion to sex. On the other hand, her intense emotional relationships with men - William Cecil, Walter Raleigh, Robert Devereux, and most famously Robert Dudley - suggest no lack of desire. But aversion or desire, especially for women, was rarely an issue in royal marriages. Politics and diplomacy gave Elizabeth weightier reasons for remaining the Virgin Queen. A husband (or even a son) might try to supplant her; always the danger for a female sovereign. Marriage to a subject risked jealousy and factional conflict at home. Marriage to a foreign prince, even though his formal powers would be legally restricted, would pull England into continental conflicts, and risked dangerous religious complications. These were not merely theoretical considerations: the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, of her half-sister, Mary, and of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, provided the starkest of warnings. When pressed by her council and parliament to find a husband, as she frequently was, she asserted that England would have "but one mistress and no master". She was, however, heard to remark that were she to change her mind then Robert Dudley of Leicester (d. 1588) would be her choice. He was handsome, intelligent, charming, and from a great, if tainted, family; his father, the Duke of Northumberland, had tried to place the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey on the throne. The pair had first met as teenagers in Edward VI's court, and subsequently in the Tower, where both were briefly incarcerated under Mary; "I only show him favour", she said, "because of his goodness to me when I was in trouble". Such was the gossip at court that when in 1560, Dudley’s wife was found dead at the foot of the stairs in their country house, foul play was suspected. He did not remarry for eighteen years and, when he did, the queen was furious and banned her from court. He himself retained an affectionate relationship with Elizabeth until his death in 1588. The love affair that Elizabeth really encouraged was to have the nation adore her. In poetry, paintings, and theatre, she cultivated her ever growing cult of personality as a queen married to her people, an enigmatic icons to whom loyalty and love were equally due, and who had no husband or lover to distract her gaze. She became a sort of Protestant substitute for the Virgin Mary; filling a post-Reformation gap in the psyche of the masses, who craved a symbolic "virgin mother" figure.

Elizabeth depended heavily on a group of trusted and talented advisers, led by Sir William Cecil, who guided her wisely for 40 years. He had first served Edward VI and had even managed to retain the favour of Mary as the most able and industrious administrator of the day. He favoured caution above all else – caution in religious policy and caution in foreign affairs - and in this respect he was closely attuned to the wishes of his mistress. Also important was Sir Francis Walsingham who rose from relative obscurity to become Elizabeth's spymaster, uncovering several plots against her life.

Queen Elizabeth governed, as her father and grandfather had, through a small royal council of trusted ministers, headed for almost all her reign by Sir William Cecil (d. 1598), later ennobled as Lord Burghley. She learned how to dominate her largely masculine court. Her intelligence and her quick wit were invaluable; she was by nature a pacifier. Fiercely obstinate and resentful of attempts to dictate her actions, ministers and favourites had to almost literally "woo" her into coming around to their ideas; if she ever did. A Spanish ambassador remarked that she was infinitely more feared than her sister, and gave her orders with as much authority as her father. Elizabeth also followed Herny VIII's example in making use of parliament to ensure support for her actions. The nature of her father's reign had guaranteed a compliant parliament, but she could not rely on the same cooperation. Protestant radicals had gone along with Elizabeth's religious settlement in the expectation that, when the political dust settled, Elizabeth would rid her church of the “livery of Antichrist”. In this, they were sadly mistaken, and made their voices increasingly heard in the parliament as her reign progressed. As a result, she summoned parliament relatively infrequently; only seven times in the first thirty years of her reign, whereas her immediate predecessor had called five parliaments in four years. In general, Elizabeth managed her parliament well, curbing them with gracious speeches, politic negotiations, and selective imprisonment of recalcitrant members. She was very wary of asking parliament for taxes, which in her view used them as a blackmail opportunity to give itself powers of government. So she tried very hard not to ask for taxes, and, towards the end of her reign, relied heavily on granting trade monopolies to courtiers in order to raise funds. These questions of the relative power of the monarch and parliament were raised but never resolved, and were to be resurrected in the next reigns. Elizabeth ruled in part like an medieval monarch, using patronage very lavishly to rewarding favourites with titles and offices. Patronage seekers - nobles, wealthy merchants, and urban professionals - flocked to court in the same way French aristocrats later would to Versailles. Every summer, Elizabeth would set out on a months’ long royal progress, displaying her person and the power of her office. For this elaborate summer vacation, no regular inn would suit the Virgin Queen. Instead she stayed at her monied and titled subjects’ country estates; a great honour for them, as well as a great expense. Tudor monarchs did not just travel alone; they brought the entire court with them. The queen’s ladies-in-waiting, doctors, musicians, and entertainers were all considered essential, as were the royal councillors, their servants, and their servant’s servants; over 300 people all needed a place to stay. Her rich subjects lavished hospitality of her with hope of preferment. At Kenilworth in July 1575 her favourite, Robert Dudley, laid on a full nineteen-days of poems, plays, fireworks, bear-baiting, hunting and even a sea battle on the lake. Less wealthy grandees would protest any excuse - a bereavement, a local plague outbreak - to avert the financial disaster of a royal visit. According to one contemporary, Elizabeth’s three-day stay with Sir Thomas Egerton in 1602 nearly bankrupted him; it cost a colossal £2,013, around £7 million in today’s money. Despite all the inconvenience, the political and social benefits of having a royal spend the night could be incalculable. Sir Thomas Gresham, an City merchant, so admired the recently built stock exchange in Antwerp that he hoped to persuade Elizabeth to build an exchange patterned after it in London. When the queen visited his estate in Middlesex, she casually suggested over dinner that his courtyard would "look more handsome" with a wall across it; when she awoke in the morning, it had been built. And the Royal Exchange was indeed built in 1567, which became the centre of London’s commercial and banking activities.

Mary Queen of Scots being led to her execution after after almost 19-years imprisonment in England.

In 1559, the year after Queen Elizabeth’s succession, Scotland displayed to the full its capacity for causing trouble. A religious civil war had broken-out between Protestant rebels led by John Knox, newly returned from Geneva, and Catholic Mary of Guise, mother and regent to the seventeen-year-old Mary Queen of Scots. Mary was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII with a strong claim to the English throne, and her presence in the French court, as queen to Francis II of France, emphasized the larger diplomatic problem facing Elizabeth and her council. Elizabth disapproved of rebels on principle, and cordially loathed the misogynistic Knox in particular, but was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestants. Although the military campaign was inept, failing to dislodge the regent's French garrison from the fortress of Leith (the scaling ladders were too short), the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh (1560) removed the French threat in the north. No sooner had Protestantism triumphed in Scotland, than Mary Queen of Scots was widowed after just two years of marriage, and returned to take up her own realm in 1561. A beautiful eighteen-year-old, she devoted herself to romance and wilful conspiracy, to the alarm of her court and the delight of her biographers. Elizabeth was furious when Mary married her English cousin, Henry Stuart of Darnley, another descendent of Henry VII; it seemed their union was a plain hint of their right of succession to the English throne. She bridled that, since Darnley was English-born, he was her subject, and had neither sought nor been granted permission to be married to the Queen of Scotland. Yet by the end of the year it was apparent that all was not well with the marriage. Darnley was a total liability for Mary; dim-witted and resentful of his lack of power. He was also fiercely jealous, and, when he was duped into believing her advisor David Rizzio was having an affair with Mary, he joined a plot that had Rizzio murdered in front of her. A year after the birth of their son, the future James I of Great Britain, Mary was implicated in a plot that murdered Darnley in an explosion. Within three months, some great nobles of the realm had staged a coup d'etat, imprisoning Mary, and forcing her to abdicate in favour of her infant son. In 1568. Elizabeth's cousin escaped her Protestant enemies, and, after another defeat, fled across the border into England. In England, Mary was received with cautious courtesy at first. She was escorted to Carlisle Castle while Queen Elizabeth pondered what to do with her unexpected guest. Her presence was both an unwelcome problem and an opportunity: the problem of having a Catholic heir-presumptive to the English throne on English soil; and the opportunity to have a Protestant Scotland as a docile neighbour, heavily dependent on English support. Cecil was reduced to despair by Elizabeth’s indecision. She was half the time convinced that Mary should be executed to deprive Catholic plotters of a candidate for the throne, and half the time convinced she should do no such thing; queens were rare, for one to kill another was surely folly. On one matter the queen was clear; there could be no question of allowing the Scottish queen to go to France to seek armed support to reclaim her throne. She was thus moved to the greater security of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire - far from the Scottish border, from London, and from the sea - and kept in what might be described as genteel imprisonment; her incarceration would last another eighteen years. Elizabeth worried – quite rightly – that she would become a magnet for Catholic plots to overthrow her. In 1569, there occurred the most serious armed uprising of Elizabeth's reign, the Rising of the North, whose goal was to free Mary by force, marry her to the powerful Duke of Norfolk, and place her on the English throne. But one of Norfolk's conspirators lost his nerve and told Elizabeth all he knew. Although Norfolk was sent to the Tower, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland proceeded to rise the standard of rebellion, occupying Durham, celebrating Catholic mass in Durham Cathedral, and publicly burning the Book of Common Prayer. They then proceeded south, but found little popular support and the rebellion disintegrated before battle was joined. In the aftermath, over 750 of the rebels were hanged on Elizabeth's orders, including Norfolk and Northumberland; Westmorland escaped to the continent where he died in poverty. The English parliament demanded Mary's head as well, but Elizabeth felt magnanimous enough to deflect their demands; but there was now no realistic prospect of her ever being released. In 1570, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth, in the belief that it would help the Catholic cause in England. Instead, a blanket of suspicion now descended on English Catholics, as their wilder elements played cat-and-mouse with Elizabeth’s subtle spy-master, Sir Francis Walsingham (1590). This was a time of encrypted cyphers and secret societies, of the "five symbols at your door", of false walls and priests’ holes. Harvington Hall in Worcestershire is a particularly notable example of a recluse house, with seven priest holes and a secret passage behind a false fireplace, all cunningly designed by Nicholas Owen; he was eventually caught only by burning to the ground the house in which he was hiding. As a result, the relatively mild measures against Catholicism in Elizabeth's first decade were drastically revised. In 1581, the fine for not attending Anglican service on Sunday were up from four shillings a month to a massive £20, nearly a hundred-fold increase. And now once again, as in Mary's reign, there was a steady stream of religious martyrs; estimates vary, but at least 200 Catholics were executed by the end of her reign. Elizabeth did not regard her anti-Catholic policies as religious persecution. Their offence was said to be not heresy but treason, of which a minority were actually guilty. For the rest, the irrelevance of the charge for which they died made the injustice even greater. The effect was to reinforce in the minds of many English the association of Catholicism with treason. In the 1580s, Mary's position worsened abruptly, as war loomed with Catholic Spain. After Washington's agents uncovered the half-baked Throckmorton Plot of 1583, her incarceration became much stricter, with a new jailer, a harsh Puritan named Sir Amyas Paulet, and communication with the outside world all but cut-off. Mary's fate was sealed by the Babington Plot of 1586. Her connivance with the would-be assassins of Elizabeth is entirely plausible, but we now know that the clandestine letter from Mary, supposedly intercepted and deciphered by Washington, was a concocted forgery. The conspirators were duly arrested and executed in the usual manner of traitors; hanged-drawn-and-quartered. Mary was escorted, heavily guarded, to Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, which was frequently used as a state prison; it was to be her last journey on earth. On 15 October 1586, its Great Hall was crowded with English peers,and court officials for Mary's trial. She was allowed neither lawyers nor defence witnesses. For two days, she strenuously pleaded her innocence, and, when inevitably found guilty, disdained to appeal for mercy. Both houses of parliament now presented a petition to Queen Elizabeth calling for Mary's head. Even so, Elizabeth once more prevaricated for three months before signing the death warrant; to execute a fellow-monarch would set a drastic and dangerous precedent. She resolved her dilemma with characteristic sleight of hand: on 1 February 1587 her secretary handed her a pile of papers to sign, among which was buried the execution warrant. Pretending not to notice, Elizabeth casually signed it. On the morning of 8 February 1587, Mary was led to the scaffold, theatrically wearing a long black dress over a blood-red petticoat; the guise of a Catholic martyr. She calmly knelt, placed her head on the block, and commended her soul to God, loudly and often. It took three strokes of the axe to separate her head from her body. In London, Queen Elizabeth displayed every sign of sincere remorse, and blamed everyone except herself for the execution. Her unfortunate secretary was made the scapegoat, thrown into the Tower for 18-moths and then dismissed from service, with Cecil's connivance; he coveted his former post for his son, Robert Cecil (d. 1612). In Scotland, Mary's son, James VI Stuart, sent a diplomatic response, a cleverly veiled reproach balanced by an equally veiled expectation of future favour. Edward "Longshanks" Plantagenet had tried to eliminate all memory of William Wallace, by tearing the his body apart and scattering it across England and Scotland. But in so doing, he created the very patriotic myth he had hoped to avoid. The same was true of Mary. Every scrap of Mary's clothing was burned, every spot of blood was scoured away, the executioner's block was burned, every memento was destroyed. Fascinating, beguiling and frustrating in life, she became in death unforgettable and unforgotten. The body of Mary Queen of Scots was interred in Peterborough Cathedral at dead of night and by Protestant rite. It would remain there for twenty-five years, until her son, James I of Great Britain and Ireland, had her re-interred in a magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Francis Drake, the English explorer, privateer, and illicit slave trader of the Elizabethan era. Perhaps Drake's greatest achievement was his circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580, a feat that had only been achieved once in a single expedition by Ferdinand Magellan. Drake began his career as a slave-trader, and ended it as a member of the House

Unlike so many of her predecessors, Queen Elizabeth had no desire to cut a dash on European battlefields. She was fundamentally averse to war; she had no skill in it. Elizabeth was dealt a harsh lesson in meddling in wars not of her own choosing early in her reign. In 1562, the Huguenot cause persuaded her to intervene in the French Wars of Religion, promising her Le Havre as security for the eventual restoration of Calais, lost to France in 1558. However, no sooner had English forces taken possession of Le Havre, than their supposed Protestant allies came to terms with the Catholic regency against the ancient enemy. Elizabeth was defiant, insisting that Calais was given over to her before she would think of leaving Le Havre, and sending more and more men across the channel. But they were wasted. The French besiegers cut-off water and supplies to the port, and plague soon broke-out among the English garrison. The garrison commander capitulated in June 1563, and, in a subsequent treaty, Elizabeth gave up all claim to Calais. This disaster then turned to calamity, with the returning soldiers brining the plague with them to England. By August, at least 700 a week were dying in London, though the epidemic gradually eventually stilled with the heavy winter rains. For the next decade the queen and the ever-cautious Cecil kept England aloof from the dynastic and religious wars spreading across Europe. This reluctance to take military measures did not apply to Ireland, which her forces conquered end-to-end for the first time; their brutal tactics stain her record. Only through the activities of her fleets did Elizabeth pursue an aggressive foreign policy, turning a blind-eye to the antics of the English pirates; often dignified by the term privateers. At best the so-called Sea Dogs infringed on Spain's trading monopoly with the New World (buying African slaves and selling them to Spanish colonists), and at worst robbed any Spanish vessel they could overpower; all with the consent and sometimes financial support of the crown, despite the two countries not officially being at war with one another. John Hawkins (d. 1595), Francis Drake (d. 1596), Walter Raleigh (d. 1618) and other privateers brought little profit to the English crown in truth, but were a cheap way to bridge the gap between the Spanish and English navies. Unsurprisingly, the Spanish did not see things the same way. Their activities cause great alarm to Philip II of Spain, who was forced to spend substantial sums protecting the Treasure Fleet, upon which his finances relied. The issue became topical in September 1568 when Hawkins' fleet of six ships were surprised by Spanish galleons off the coast Veracruz in Mexico; only two English vessels escaped. The English cried foul treachery, whilst Philip dismissed it as a sensible response to lawless pirates. Elizabeth retaliated with a little piracy of her own. In December of that same year, she detained five Spanish ships, laden with gold to pay soldiers dealing with the Dutch Revolt, that had taken shelter in an English port from a storm; she kept the gold. The queen, however, underestimated the fury of the Spanish reaction. Philip severe diplomatic relation with England for five years, and confiscated English property in Spain and the Netherlands; Elizabeth retaliated in kind. Drake meanwhile intensified his privateering, culminating in his epic circumnavigation of the globe; the first captain to repeat the feat of Magellan, and the first in history to lead the entire expedition. At the end of 1577, he set sail with a fleet of five ships led by the Golden Hind, sailing down the coast of Africa, and then across the Atlantic to pass through the Strait of Magellan. His purpose was to surprise fat, defenceless Spanish vessels in the previously safe Pacific Ocean, and raid completely unfortified towns on the west coast of South America. When Elizabeth awarded Drake a knighthood soon after his triumphant return in 1580, her repeated attempts to distance herself from his piratic activities seemed even more insincere. Such formal recognition was a clear message to Philip that Drake was a representative of the English crown. Drake's adventures had so far had the quality of piracy. But when he next departure from Plymouth for the Caribbean in 1585, his force numbered twenty-nine ships and 2,300 men; it looked more like an expedition of war.

By the 1560s it was becoming plain that England's foreign policy was undergoing a major shift. For centuries, France had been England's ancient enemy. With the early-16th-century dominated by the rivalry between France and Spain, this traditional alignment gave Spain the role of England's natural ally - a state of affairs reflected in the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, and of Mary I to Philip II. Gradually relations deteriorated. The obvious religious tension between Catholic Spain and Protestant England was complicated by Elizabeth's tacit support for the activities of English privateers in the New World, even though the Spanish complained it constituted smuggling and piracy. By the 1580s, the one had emerged as champion of the Catholic cause, and the other the Protestant in international politics, supporting opposing sides in conflicts in France, Ireland, and most consequentially the Netherlands.

Almost by accident, England and Spain found themselves drawn into a war that both had tried to avoid. Queen Elizabeth, though sympathetic to continental Protestants, was very reluctant to aid them and antagonise Catholic powers with whom England had no quarrel. She disapproved of rebels against a lawful sovereign on principle, as she herself was vulnerable to revolts from English Catholics. However, during the 1570s, domestic pressure from English Protestants grew steadily, as thousands of religious refugees, from the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 in France and from the Spanish Fury of 1576 in the Dutch Netherlands, fled to a London awash in tales of Catholic atrocities. For his part, Philip II of Spain had long resisted the urging of the pope and English exiles for war with England, and even defended Elizabeth from the pope's threat of excommunication. These measures were taken to preserve naval access through the English Channel to the Spanish Netherlands; France was traditionally hostile, so English neutrality was essential. Although English privateers were a considerable irritation, Spanish losses were not excessive and Philip did not regard it as a justification of war. This changed in the mid-1580s. In 1584, Philip signed the Treaty of Joinville with France, agreeing to aid the Catholic cause in the French Wars of Religion. In England, this treaty was widely believed, though falsely, to be the nightmare scenario of a Catholic alliance against Protestant England. Amid invasion hysteria, thousands of Englishmen formed themselves into a Bond of Association, to defend the queen and Protestantism against all Catholics. Also in 1584, the leader of the Dutch Protestants, William "the Silent" of Orange, was assassinated, leaving a sense of alarm and a political vacuum; if the Dutch were defeated, England would be far more vulnerable to invasion. When the Dutch sought English help, Elizabeth for the first time agreed, signing the Treaty of Nonsuch (1585) which endorsed direct military intervention in the Spanish Netherlands. The agreement had originally been intended to lift the Siege of Antwerp, but came too late; the city had fallen to the Spanish three days earlier. In December 1585, her ever ambitious favourite, Robert Dudley of Leicester, was allowed to take an army to the Netherlands. But Elizabeth from the start did not really back the campaign. Her strategy of supporting the Dutch rebels while avoiding at all cost outright war with Spain, was odds with Leicester's, who wanted, and was expected by the Dutch, to fight an active campaign. He enraged the queen by accepted the post of governor-general from the Dutch parliament (States General). It now looked to the world that she was claiming sovereignty over the Spanish Netherlands, with Leicester as her viceroy. When her fury had subsided, she left Leicester in command, but his campaign degenerated into farce. Under-manned and under financed, he faced perhaps the most powerful army in Europe, led by the foremost general of his day, the Duke of Parma. Leicester's poor diplomacy with the Dutch made matters worse. The loss of the strategically important town of Grave to the Spanish, and the impotence of Leicester in its relief, was a severe blow for the Dutch cause; Leicester blamed everyone except himself, and had the garrison commander executed, which shocked the Dutch. His political position rapidly weakened, and so too did the military situation. The final straw came in June 1587, when the town of Sluis, largely garrisoned by the English, fell to the Duke of Parma, after the Dutch had refused to help in its relief. Amidst mutual recriminations, Leicester realised his position was untenable, and asked to be recalled; he had personally financed much of the war and was left irredeemably in debt. After his departure, the Dutch found in Maurice of Orange, a leader to match his illustrious father. Meanwhile, Philip of Spain took this procrastination to be an open declaration of war; the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604). He immediately seized all English merchant ships in Spanish ports, and, in October 1586, ordered his ministers to investigate the feasibility of a joint invasion of England, by a great fleet from Spain and his main army in the Netherlands. His determination was strengthened by three things; Drake's activities in the Caribbean in 1586, where he burned the ports of Cartagena in Colombia and Santo Domingo on Hispaniola; Elizabeth's diplomatic isolation, with France dominated by the Catholic faction, imperial Germany under his cousin, and Portugal and much of Italy part of his own realm; and the belief that suppressing the rebellious Dutch could not be completed until the English were forced to withdraw their support. Preparations for the attack on England proceeded with great haste, probably too much haste. Both Parma, the army commander, and Álvaro de Bazán, the naval commander, express doubts about the difficult enterprise, which required bringing large forces together at the right place and time, and ferrying troops across the dangerous English Channel. But Philip pressed on, alarmingly reliant on “God, who will surely arrange matters". Even so, he had to suffer one setback after another. In February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was executed, thwarting the plan to have Elizabeth overthrown in favour of her Catholic cousin. Then in April 1587, Francis Drake sailed boldly into Cadiz harbour, where Philip was assembling his fleet, and burned or sank some thirty ship, laden with provisions; then compounded the insult by publicly boasting that he had "singed the King of Spain's beard". As a result, the invasion of England had to be postponed for over a year. during which time, the veteran admiral, Álvaro de Bazán, unexpectedly died. His replacement, Alonso of Medina Sidonia, was a trusted administrator and a practical strong-willed general, but had little naval experience.

Spanish Armada.jpg

When the Spanish Armada (1588) actually came, it was an anti-climax. On 12 July, the fleet finally set sail from Lisbon, after being delayed for two months by bad weather. It consisted of approximately 130 ships, carrying 19,000 soldiers (mostly rare recruits), and 8,000 sailors; only 28 ships were purpose-built warships, with the remainder mostly armed long-distance cargo-carriers. The plan was to sail to the Netherlands to collect the more experienced 30,000-strong army of the Duke of Parma, and then cross to England. For England, a permanent navy was a novelty, dating only from the 1540s, when it had absorbed a good part of proceeds from the monasteries. Yet their admiral, Charles Howard of Nottingham, was confident, "if the King of Spain’s forces be not hundreds, we will make good sport with them". And rightly so. England, unlike Spain, had no trans-Atlantic merchant trade, and its fleet was designed solely for war; faster, more manoeuvrable vessels, and heavier cannons with greater range. They were commanded by the likes of Francis Drake, John Hawkins and Martin Frobisher, hard-bitten privateers to whom fighting the Spanish brought gold and glory. From 19 July 1588, the Armada made its was slowly up the Channel, where the English fleet got the better of strung-out scrappy engagements, but did no serious damage. On the 27th, Sidonia anchored off Calais, where Parma's army was expected to be waiting, ready to join them on barges. But poor communication between Spain and the Netherlands made effective coordination difficult. Parma would not be ready for six days, so the Armada would have to wait, dangerously exposed to weather and the enemy. As with many threatened invasions in English history, it might well have proved impracticable. The English did not wait to see. During the night of 28 July, they sent eight fireships into the Spanish lines. Sidonia's principal warships held their positions, but the rest of the fleet cut their anchor cables and scattered in confusion. No Spanish ships were actually burnt, but their defensive formation had been broken, and could not be recovered due to adverse winds. The next morning, the English engaged them at the Battle of Gravelines (29 July 1588). Having learned the Armada's weakness during the skirmishes in the Channel, the nimbler English ships provoked the Spanish into firing while staying just out-of-range. When the Spanish ran-out of shot, the English closed and their broadsides did some serious damage. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, wearing ceremonial armour, took part in a formal review of her land army, assembled at Tilbury to defend London against any incursion up the Thames. There she delivered her most famous speech, "I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too". In the event, the army was not needed. The battered Spanish fleet was even then making its way back to Spain, by sailing up the North Sea, round the north of Scotland, and home via the Atlantic. The intention would have been to keep to the relative safety of the open sea, but unfamiliarity with the Gulf Stream carried them much closer to the coast than they hoped. Off Scotland and Ireland, the fleet ran into a series of powerful storms. So many anchors had been abandoned off Calais that many of the ships were incapable of securing shelter, and were driven onto the rocks. A meagre 67 ships and less than half of the men limped back to Spain. England had lost not one ship, but did quite get off scot-free. The victory celebrations had a sombre mood. In the Channel ports, thousands of sailors were dying from a typhus epidemic. The lord admiral wrote to Cecil asking for the fund for food and hospitals, but, after the expense of warfare, Elizabeth’s purse was closed. One unfortunate group of sailors made their way to London in protest; the queen had them hanged for sedition. Nevertheless in England, the boost to national pride from repulsing the Spanish invasion lasted for years, and Elizabeth was raised to new heights of glory and prestige. Beyond England, it gave heart to the Protestant cause across Europe, for it seemed to both sides to be a divine judgement; "God blew and they were scattered", proclaimed an English celebratory medal. The failure of the Armada, however did not end the war with Spain, which dragged on until 1604, after Elizabeth's death. In 1589, the English tried to go on the offensive with the so-called English Armada, but it was no more successful than the Spanish one; 40 ships were sunk or captured, over 10,000 men lost, and the English treasury severely dented. All the advantage the English had won against the Spanish Armada was lost, and Spanish naval power revived through the next decade. The pride of their new fleet were named The Twelve Apostles - twelve massive galleons - that proved far more effective than before 1588. Although the crucial Spanish Treasure Fleet was kept safe throughout the war, English privateers enjoyed more qualified success against Spanish merchant ships; nearly 1,000 were captured and probably the same number burned or scuttled. This later resulted in Spanish and Portuguese commerce being carried on Dutch and English ships. On land, the Anglo-Spanish conflict was fought-out in France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland and even England; Spanish raiders burned Penzance in 1595.

William Shakespeare is often simply described as “the greatest playwright who ever lived”. He dominates English literature in a way that no single writer dominates any other European country.

The later years of Queen Elizabeth's reign bought new difficulties for England. As the conflict with Spain dragged on, the tax burden grew heavier, and the economy was hit by four year of poor harvests and commercial disruption of war. To maintain the illusion of peace and prosperity, Elizabeth increasingly relied on propaganda. Repression of religious dissidents intensified, with Elizabeth authorising Acts for "better obedience", designed to curb the activities of both Catholic "recusants" and the more fervent Protestants alike. Anyone over the age of sixteen who refused to attend public worship over the space of a month should be imprisoned; a second offence would result in exile; a refusal, or a return from exile, would be punished by death. It further prohibited all papists from going more than five miles from their place of abode; England had become a kind of open prison for Catholics. Factional strife within the royal council, which had not been noteworthy before the 1590s, now became its hallmark; one observer remarked that "there was never in court such emulation, such envy, such back-biting as is now at this time". A bitter rivalry developed between Robert Cecil, son of William, and Elizabeth's new favourite Robert Devereux of Essex (d. 1601). The stepson of her early favourite, Robert Dudley, he stepped into his shoes; less as a platonic romance than a surrogate over-indulged son, eventually to the point of mounting in 1601 a petulant and half-baked rebellion for which he was beheaded. The darkening of Elizabeth's reign was illuminated by the rising star of William Shakespeare (d. 1616). As the Verenable Bede had opened a window on the Dark Ages and Geoffrey Chaucer on medieval England, so "the bard of Avon" used the politics of the recent past as a metaphor to glorify Elizabeth’s reign, notably the plays of Henry V and Richard III. Fictional creations such as Hamlet, Shylock, Malvolio, and Falstaff seem so immediate that they can be re-enacted with ease in modern dress. Through them, the world to this day has become familiar with the voices, the emotions, the imagination, and the turmoil of the human condition in Elizabethan England. By the turn of the 17th-century, Elizabeth cut a lonely figure. Her trusted servants were gone to death; Robert Dudley in 1588; Francis Walsingham in 1590; William Cecil in 1598. Her foreign ventures had emptied the treasury, and her sea captains, for all their bravado, had made little impact on the Spanish Empires. To most of Europe, England was a great nuisance rather than a great power. When Elizabeth summoned her last parliament in 1601, it was notable for bad tempered fractiousness over the issues of taxation and monopolies. In the end, however, the sixty-seven-year-old queen won the members over with her famous "golden speech", "I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, nor a strait fast-holding prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was never set on worldly goods, but only for my subjects’ good". She ended the last oration of her reign, "Though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes in this seat, yet ye never had, nor ever shall have, any that will love you better". In 1603, Queen Elizabeth died in her grandfather’s palace at Richmond, saying that none but her Protestant cousin, James VI Stuart of Scotland, thirty-six-year-old son of Mary Queen of Scots, should succeed her. Tired though her reign had become, she passed away loved and mourned. She had established the supremacy of the crown in her father’s image, and brought her nation glory. Loyalty to her person had bonded the English nation. And now, it was as if the critics of the Tudor style of government had been waiting patiently for the new Stuart Era.

Tudor Conquest of Ireland[]


The consequences of Henry VIII’s religious revolution were even more dangerous in Ireland. Even since the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland of the 12th century, English kings had claimed authority over the whole of Ireland, with Lord of Ireland among their many titles. The reality on the ground was rather more complicated. By the 16th-century, Ireland was unofficially divided into three area: the region immediately around Dublin of direct English rule under a royal governor (Lord Deputy), often dubbed The Pale for the defensive paling (ditch and rampart) along much of its length; while the rest of Ireland controlled by either Anglo-Norman and native Gaelic-Irish lords. During previous three centuries, Ireland’s political development had in some ways similar to England’s, with the establishment of a parliament in 1297 for the approval of law and taxes. However, only Anglo-Normans were actually represented, and the Gaelic Irish were almost entirely outside its jurisdiction, felt no allegiance to the crown, and maintain their own laws, language, and customs. In the 14th-century, the Anglo-Normans, once the cutting-edge of English power in Ireland, suffered a series of calamities - Gaelic-Irish rebellions, Edward Bruce's Scottish invasion, and the Black Death - and the territories they had once held were taken by the resurgent Gaelic Irish, especially in the north, west, and midlands. At the same time, indifference on the part of the London government had allowed the Anglo-Norman to carved-out effectively autonomous fiefdoms for themselves. They may have pledged allegiance to the English crown, but in truth they were loyal only to themselves. The recovery of so much land by Gaelic lords was paralleled by a resurgence of the old Gaelic way of life. Although Ireland was politically fractured, it maintained a remarkable cultural unity. The descendants of the first Norman conquerors might still regarding themselves as "English", but they gradually assimilated, adopting the customs, dress, law, culture, and language of the Irish enemies, as well as inter-marrying and forming alliances with them. In the oft-quoted phrase, they became, "more Irish than the Irish themselves". The Irish parliament promulgated a series of statues, beginning with the Statutes of Kilkenny (1367), in response to such blurring of the cultural lines in Ireland; but they were duly ignored. The Dublin government increasingly referred to Anglo-Norman lords as the "Old English" to distinguish them from the more anglicised Pale, where the English language, culture, and law still predominated. Richard II Plantagenet had been the last English monarch to visit medieval Ireland, leading expeditions in 1394 and '99, but achieved little; and lost his crown (and his life) due to his absence from England. As long as England was distracted - first by the Hundred Years' War and then the Wars of the Roses - both the Gaelic-Irish and Old English were secure in their virtual independence; they only had one another to worry about. English kings had no money to spare on Ireland. Their solution was to appoint one of the Old English lord as royal governor (Lord Deputy), to keep the costs of governing Ireland down. The three most powerful were the earls of Desmond (south-west), Ormond (midlands) and Kildare (central-north). However, the FitzGeralds of Desmond had become too Gaelicised and prone to rebellion, while the Butlers of Ormond often struggled to retain their lands against the native Gaelic Irish, so the most suitable candidate was invariably the FitzGeralds of Kildare, with the added benefit of possessing great estates adjoining the Pale. The office of royal governor gradually came to be seen as a hereditary possession, rather than an appointment. But English kings could only be ignored for so long…

Thomas FitzGerald was so well known for his love of finery that he was called "Silken" Thomas. In 1534, he led the first major rebellion against English rule in Ireland.

In 1485, a new era began with the victory of the Lancastrian, Henry VII Tudor, at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry was inclined to keep the Earl of Kildare, Garret Mór FitzGerald (d. 1513), in his post as Lord Deputy of Ireland. However, the king's trust was severely tested when Kildare, among others, recognised and supported the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel; Ireland had play no role in the Wars of the Roses, but tended to favour the Yorkists, who owned estates in Ireland. After Simnel's defeat, Henry was secure on his throne, and could afford to be magnanimous, pardoning Kildare, but replacing him as Lord Deputy by the trusted English administrator, Edward Poynings. Kildare's enemies in Ireland pounced upon this opportunity, and persuaded Poynings to charge him with treason. Sent to London in 1495, Kildare was able to use his trial to convince Henry VII that the lords of Ireland were "false knaves". The king clearly enjoyed his swagger, saying, "If all Ireland cannot govern this Earl; then let this Earl govern all Ireland". Kildare returned to Ireland in triumph, restored as Lord Deputy. Poynings’ administration, with its need for English troops, had already proven too expensive. For the next 20-years, Kildare presided over a period of virtual independence from English rule. He covered all his own expenses, and ruled with a iron-fist, suppressing rebels even in Connacht and Ulster where the royal writ had not run for over a century. Henry VII died in 1509, and the throne passed to his namesake son. Henry VIII Tudor was a formidable character with a very distinct idea of his right to rule. His feelings about Ireland were - at least to begin with - essentially ambivalent. When Garret Mór died in 1513, he had no hesitation in appointing his son, Garret Óg (d. 1534), as governor. In 1520, Henry did toy with the idea of attempting to govern his Irish lordship without Kildare, summoning him to London, where he was kept as a virtual prisoner, while a trusted man, Thomas of Surrey, was sent over as his Lord Deputy. Surrey did his best, but after two years his expensive administration had very little to show for it. Henry briefly gave the job to the Earl of Ormond, but then set Garret Óg free and reappointed him as royal governor. The great attraction of Garret Óg was that, by fair means and foul, he ensured that Ireland was not a burden on the London exchequer. But he was not the man his father had been, and a chain of momentous events was set in motion. King Henry received increasingly worrying reports about his overmighty subject: he quarrelled violently with the Earl of Ormond; led expeditions without seeking royal permission; and unending complaints from lesser lords. In 1533, Garret Óg was once again summoned to London. Before leaving Ireland, he appointed his impetuous son Thomas FitzGerald (d. 1537) - nicknamed "Silken Thomas' on account of his fondness for fine clothes and trappings - deputy governor in his absence, and removed the royal cannon from Dublin Castle, storing them in his own castle. By the time he reached London, Garret Óg was already dying of an infected wound, and died of natural causes in September 1534. However, believing a false report that his father had been tried and executed, Silken Thomas convened a council meeting at St. Mary’s Abbey, where he melodramatically vowed to avenge his father, surrendered his sword of office, and renounced allegiance to the king before the terrified assembly; this was in June when his father was still alive, but there was no turning back now. If Silken Thomas was to succeed, he had to take the capital. He laid siege to Dublin Castle, but the fortress well equipped to withstand a long siege, while his father's old enemy, the Earl of Ormond, remained loyal to the crown and ravaged the Kildare lands. Silken Thomas soon made the fatal mistake of agreeing to a six-week truce. This allowed William Skeffington to land in Dublin in October with the largest English army Ireland had seen in over a century. It took six bloody months for Skeffington to fight his way to Maynooth Castle, home base of the earls of Kildare; it was taken by not by siege but bribery and treachery in March 1535. Silken Thomas escaped but one by one his allies made their separate peace with the crown. Finally in August, Thomas surrendered himself to the king’s mercy, with the new governor's assurance of leniency. Henry VIII was a suspicious and ruthless king who would brook no opposition; without hesitation Silken Thomas, along with five of his uncles, was condemned to a traitor’s death.

Sir Henry Sidney, the tenth Tudor Lord Deputy of Ireland, setting out from Dublin Castle.

Henry VIII was now determined to pacify and Anglicise Ireland, a decision fraught with profound religious, as well as political implications; the Tudor Conquest of Ireland (1529-1603). There is no doubt that Irish lords, including those most loyal to the crown, were aghast when, in 1534, Henry broken from Rome and declared himself to be the head of the Protestant Church of England. Whether or not clergymen abused their position and privileges, they enjoyed strong and warm support throughout Ireland, acting as stabilising force in a politically fragmented society. Local lords, particularly in the Gaelic areas, went out of their way to fund the building of monasteries. The Franciscans were especially popular with their dedication to a simple communal life, pastoral work, open-air preaching, and fulfilling important economic, educational and social functions among the people. In 1536, a parliament in Dublin nevertheless meekly agreed to accept the king as the supreme head of the Irish Church; too many of them feared for their lives, having been involved so recently in Silken Thomas' rebellion, however indirectly. Henry VIII's next Lord Deputy, Leonard Grey, undertook a series of punitive expeditions, boasting "Irishmen were never in such fear as they be at this instant time", but his aggressive campaigns proved far too great a burden on his treasury. Could the Irish not be cajoled into loyalty rather than battered into submission? The keystone to this new policy lay in statutes passed by the Dublin parliament in 1541: the lordship of Ireland was upgraded to a kingdom, and a scheme, known as "surrender and regrant", to erase the partition between The Pale and the rest of Ireland. Henceforth, lords, Gaelic and Old English alike, were to drop their traditional titles, give-up their lands to the king, and immediately receive them back with new English titles held by feudal law. It enjoyed a remarkable amount of initial success: one by one nearly all the lords submitted formally to the English king, including the O’Donnells and O’Neills of far-flung and hitherto obdurately Gaelic Ulster. This conciliatory approach continued until the death of Henry VIII, who was succeeded by his 10-year-old son, Edward VI Tudor. The drive to introduce Protestantism stepped up in pace during his reign. The Gaelic areas were safe for now, so it was the The Pale and the Old English within easy reach that felt the immediate impact of the crown’s new policies. They were genuinely loyal to the crown, but horrified when rich monastic lands in eastern Ireland were seized. In England, the dissolution of the monasteries had enjoyed widespread support because the local nobility and middle-class reeked the benefit. In Ireland, the vast majority of confiscated lands were granted to recently arrived royal officials, men known as the New English. When Edward VI died in 1553, his successor, Mary Tudor, immediately restored the Catholic religion, but gave her full support to those at court who thought that punitive military action was the only lesson the Gaelic Irish would understand. In an attempt to extend The Pale westwards, two midland counties were confiscated by the crown and renamed - Laois became "Queen’s County" and Offaly was titled "King’s County" - to be "planted" (colonised) with loyal English subjects. The hope had been that this could turn a profit: in practice, the required large garrisons to repel the surviving dispossessed proved ruinously expensive. In 1558, Mary died and was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth Tudor. It would be in the course of her long reign that the defining events played out, seeing Ireland conquered from end to end for the first time.

Hugh O'Neill, the most powerful Gaelic-Irish lord in Ireland, and leader of the major crisis point of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland; Nine Years' War.

Queen Elizabeth was at heart a pragmatist. She had the Act of Supremacy was reinstated, but leniently enforced in Ireland for fear of driving the Old English into alliance with the Gaelic Irish. Beyond Ireland’s shores, however, the religious fissure between Protestantism and Catholicism was hardening: in 1569, Queen Elizabeth faced the most dangerous pro-Catholic rebellion of her reign in northern England; in 1570, the pope formally excommunicated the English queen; in 1572, some 20,000 Protestants across France were killed by Catholic mobs in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; while Protestant England and Catholic Spain steadily drifted into war, culminating in the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588. Most Irish people of all ranks remained Catholic, which provided a useful rallying point for resistance to English rule; at the same time, the English government's attitude began to regard Catholicism as treasonous. The seriousness of the situation was shown by the first three rebellions of the reign: Shane O’Neill's Tyrone Rebellion (1559-67), the Desmond's First Munster Rebellion (1569–73), and Second Munster Rebellion (1579–83). Elizabeth's policy of granting land to loyal English subjects attracted the worst kind of Elizabethan adventurers; ambitious younger sons, inheriting nothing at home, sought land in Ireland confiscated from former rebels. Humphrey Gilbert was one such. Terror became his weapon of policy, directed specifically against the civilian population with a savagery unusual even for that time. As every defeated rebel made their surrender, he had to walk along a grisly path decorated with their late relations’ heads. By the late-16th century the Tudor monarchs had recovered control in three provinces of Ireland, but that did not include the one that would in time became synonymous with the conflict between the Irish and English; Ulster. Except for the fortress at Carrickfergus on the southeastern coast, it is no exaggeration to say that Dublin had little idea of what was going on in Ulster, let alone control. The origins of the fourth and greatest rebellion, the Nine Years’ War (1594-1603) are complex. In one telling of the Irish story, Hugh O'Neill (d. 1616), the Earl of Tyrone, is mythologized by later generations as a great Irish freedom fighter. In reality, O'Neill was a great survivor in a rapidly changing world. Though Gaelic and Catholic, he had been given a good English education in Dublin, and became a long-standing ally of the crown; taking the English side in suppressing the Second Munster Rebellion. He embodies the ambiguities and dilemmas of his time; prepared to be loyal if this did not extend to relinquishing his political independence. But a Gaelic lord such as O’Neill could ultimately never be sufficiently loyal. His transformation into a rebel leader began with the extension of the royal administration into his own power base of Ulster. In 1587, Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Donegal was basically kidnapped, imprisoned in Dublin Castle, and replaced by his more compliant brother; Hugh's only "crime" was having a Scottish mother, and hiring Scottish mercenaries. In 1591, Hugh Roe MacMahon of Monaghan was executed over a petty matter, and his extensive lands were partitioned among several prominent families in the area, followed by the introduction of a local governor (sheriff) and garrison. Not surprisingly, Hugh O’Neill, viewed these developments with mounting alarm. The earl gradually fell into a barely concealed opposition to the crown, by orchestrating Hugh Roe O'Donnell's escape from Dublin Castle, and supported him in regaining the leadership of Donegal; binding together two of the greatest Gaelic lordships in friendship. The outbreak of hostilities in 1594 was at first confined to Ulster and along its borders, when the Maguire family of Fermanagh openly revolted against the introduction of a sheriff accompanied by troops. The intervention of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh Roe O'Donnell proved decisive, overwhelming Blackwater Fort in February 1595 and Monaghan Fort in June; Elizabeth’s forces had lost control of nearly all of Ulster. This was a more intimidating threat than any previous Irish rebellion. The province enjoyed excellent natural defences, with only two easily defended points of entry for troops - at Newry in the east and Sligo in the west – and the terrain in between heavily forested, mountainous, or marshes. On the eastern edge of the O'Neill territory, the river Bann and Lough Neagh formed an effective barrier for troops from Carrickfergus. Moreover, English commanders ruefully observed that the Earl of Tyrone commanded a highly professional force. In 1597, Dublin Castle launched a two-pronged attack on Ulster. From the west, the governor's troops were driven back at Ballyshannon, and saved from annihilation only by a heavy downpour, which extinguished the slow-burning fuses used in firearms of the day. From the east, they blundered into Monaghan and rebuilt a new Blackwater Fort. The commander was delighted with his work, "an eyesore in the heart of O’Neill’s country", but resupplying the fort in the middle of hostile territory soon became a serious headache. Queen Elizabeth was urged to withdraw the garrison, but she refused and instead sent 4,000 fresh troops the next year. The resulting Battle of the Yellow Ford (August 1598) was perhaps the most disastrous defeat the English ever suffered at the hands of the Irish; some 1,500 crown forces perished alongside their commander, while according to English sources, O'Neill lost 200 men which is probably an exaggeration to lighten the scale of the disaster. In Ireland, the effect of the battle was dramatic, with the uprising spreading like wildfire to many parts of Ireland. In Munster, the plantation established in the wake of the first two rebellions collapsed within days, and the colonists were forced to flee for their lives. Even Dublin was threatened by the O’Byrnes of the mountains overlooking the city. In England, meanwhile, the heavy defeat caused consternation at court and Queen Elizabeth was finally obliged to commit to the struggle, pouring vast amounts of money into it that she could ill afford; by 1599 there were at least 17,000 English troops in Ireland.

The defeat at the Battle of Kinsale put an end to Spanish help in Ireland, and to much of the Irish resistance.

The queen's next Lord Deputy, the Earl of Essex, was ruined by his experiences in Ireland, and later executed, but she eventually found a man capable of turning the tide, Charles Blount of Mountjoy. In Mountjoy, O’Neill had an opponent who understood what was needed to confront the revolt, and had the will to execute a coherent plan in its entirety. In 1600, a substantial English naval force of 4,000 men sailed into Lough Foyle, landing successfully, and establishing a fortified garrison at Derry in the heart of O’Neill’s own territory; thus keeping the strongest Irish forces pinned-down. At the same time, Mountjoy adopted scorched earth tactics in the rest of Ireland. His tactics worked: large areas of countryside were reduced to destitution, and rebel lords began to waver. O’Neill knew that victory over the English now depended upon Spain. In the midst of the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), he appealed to Philip II of Spain (d. 1598) for military aid against their common enemy, citing their shared Catholicism. But Philip proved a cautious ally, sending just 4,500 Spanish troop after much delay. From the beginning the expedition was plagued by bad luck. Some ships got lost in storms, and the rest landed at Kinsale near Cork, far away from the Ulster army with which the Spaniards were supposed to join forces. Lord Mountjoy responded immediately, flood the neighbourhood of Kinsale with his own soldiers, and laying siege to the town. For O’Neill and his allies, fearful though they were of leaving their Ulster stronghold, it was all or nothing. The Irish had to cover over three hundred miles, wading river after river, as a bitterly cold winter closed-in, but drew-up to Kinsale in good order, camping to the north of the English entrenchments. Although "change the course of history" seems to swirl promiscuously through the telling of the Irish story, it is clear that what happened at the Battle of Kinsale (December 1602) altered the political balance in Ireland forever. The planned full-scale attack on the English lines at dawn on Christmas Eve turned into farce; O'Donnell’s division lost its way in the night delaying the attack; O’Neill's division, in unfamiliar territory, halted behind boggy ground; the night was unusually clear with lightning, warning the English of the impending attack; and messengers to coordinate a Spanish sally-out from Kinsale were intercepted. O’Neill saw his great army scattered and slaughtered. The concluding months of this great rebellion of the northern Gaelic lords were among the most terrible. Marching through an unguarded Ulster, the English both slaughtered men, women and children, and induced famine. In a moment of symbolic destruction, the ancient crowning stone of the O’Neill clan at Dungannon was smashed to pieces. O'Donnell sailed for Spain, and was twice given an audience with Philip III (d. 1621), but the king was unwilling to provide further aid to the Irish; he died in 1602.

The so-called Flight of the Earls departed from Rathmullan, on the shore of Lough Swilly in December 1607.

Considering the cost of the rebellion, James I Stewart treated O'Neill with remarkable generously; he was allowed to keep his title and some of his lands in Tyrone, to the disbelief of many. In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, however, it became much harder for Catholics to appear loyal to the crown. With his lands being subjected to steady encroachment by the English, and fearful of arrest for treason, on 14 September 1607, O'Neill and a host of Ulster nobles took ship at Rathmullan in County Donegal bound for the continent. This was the Flight of the Earls, one of the great landmark events in Irish history. In its wake, Gaelic Ireland was left scattered, divided, and leaderless; "We are a flock without a shepherd", an Ulster poet wrote. O’Neill would die in Rome nine years later, still dreaming of leading an invasion of his homeland. Ireland might have been ostensibly pacified and its old order unravelled, but it was still not regarded, in the eyes of administrators at Dublin Castle, as loyal. On the contrary, it was plainly evident that the Protestant Reformation had failed in Ireland, and its overwhelmingly Catholic population were seen as fundamentally disloyal; by now, religious loyalty and political loyalty were seen as almost one-and-the-same. One late-16th-century chronicler estimated that Dublin had only twenty Irish-born householders attending Protestant services; if the crown couldn’t enforce its will in The Pale, then the rest of the country was entirely lost. One explanation is language. The idea of preaching in the people's own language was fundamental to the success of Protestantism. Yet, the Protestant Church of Ireland was culturally English, and clerics made almost no effort to learn the native Gaelic language, which, though in decline, remained the majority language until well into the 1800s. Another explanation is that by the time English rule was not firmly established in Ireland, the Catholic Counter-Reformations was already well underway. Irish Catholic priests returned from their education on the continent with a firm intellectual grounding in arguing against Protestantism. This was a problem that required a radical solution. The Plantation of Ulster, begun in 1606, proved far more successful than those under the Tudors. Certain principles underpinned the state-sponsored endeavour: the first was the scale of dispossession of the original landowners, eased by the departure of O'Neill and his allies; the second was concentration, with the English government having learned the lessons of thinly dispersed settlers unable to defend themselves; and the third was a deliberate policy of granting medium-sized plots of land to former army junior-officers, both as a reward for service and to ensure the future security. But English settlers did not arrive in the expected numbers, in part due to the well-earned reputation of Ulster as the hotbed of Irish resistance to English rule. This led to the government offering the county of Coleraine to the London guilds at a discount, The main city of Derry became Londonderry, with a new social structure; Protestant planters dwelt within the city walls, while the Catholic population lived below the new fortifications in a low-lying, marshy area, later called the Bogside. Ulster thus acquired a mixed population very different from the rest of Ireland. Even so there were enough Catholics for two further rebellions: the Eleven Years' War (1641-53) as part of the English Civil War; and Jacobite War in Ireland (1689–91) in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.

Iberian Union[]

Sebastian of Portugal, whose death ultimately sparked the War of the Portuguese Succession, resulting in the union of the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms and empires.

Relations between Spain and Portugal were for most part peaceful in the 16th-century. Each had its own half of the world to exploit, with the dividing line of Tordesillas accepted on both sides. It therefore suited neighbours on the Iberian Peninsula to cement friendly relations through a series of marriage alliances. Manuel I Aviz of Portugal (1495-1521) married three successive wives from the Spanish royal family. His son, John III Aviz (1521-37), was doubly the brother-in-law of Charles V Habsburg; John married Charles' sister, while Charles married John's sister. The situation changed dramatically in 1578 when John III's successor, Sebastian of Portugal (1557-78), was killed fighting in Morocco at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir (August 1578). Sebastian was succeeded as king by his elderly great-uncle, Henry, who death two years later, prompting a Portuguese succession crisis. The claim of Philip II of Spain was as strong as anyone's; a grandson of Manuel I, through his mother. It was a claim he was determined to pursue; mustering his forces, estimated at 20,000 men, and crossing the Spanish-Portuguese border in June 1560. After decisively defeating his rival at the Battle of Alcântara (August 1580), the Spaniards captured Lisbon two days later, and most Portuguese territory by the end of the year. Philip II was recognised as king by the Cortes (Portuguese parliament), and crowned in March 1581. He showed considerable skill in making himself acceptable to the Portuguese, promising to preserve Portuguese autonomy by merging the crowns rather than the kingdoms; as had previously happened with Castile and Aragon. He kept his word on this issue, appointing only Portuguese advisors, administrators, and governors, but his son and grandson were less tactful, thus it only remained in Spanish hands for sixty years. The Portuguese Restoration War (1640-68) eventually restored a Portuguese royal family as the House of Braganza. The Iberian Union in 1580 was ultimately to the detrement of the Portuguese Empire, with the enemies of Spain becoming the enemies of Portugal. After the Spaniards gained control of the Portuguese Empire, they declared an embargo on all trade with the rebellious Dutch Netherlands. The Dutch had until then been the main middle-man distributing their spice to northern Europe, making it necessary for them to send their own expeditions to the sources of these commodities. In 1595-97, the first Dutch fleet sailed around Africa to the Spice Islands of Maluku, and returned with a cargo of pepper, which more than covered the costs of the voyage. The second voyage in 1598–99) almost quadrupled its investors profits. Commercial rivalry soon led to the several decade-long Dutch-Portuguese War (1602–1663), that would take over much of the Portuguese East.

Autocratic Rule in Russia[]

Ivan the Terrible by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897

The development of the Tsar's autocratic powers reached a peak during the reign of Ivan IV Rurikovich (1533–1584), better known in the West as Ivan the Terrible; though his sobriquet Grozny translated more accurately as "the fearsome". Ivan the Great's son had been a worthy successor, annexing the principality of Pskov, and taking Smolensk from Poland-Lithuania. His worst failing, for which he can hardly be blamed, was that he died suddenly in 1533 when his eldest son, Ivan, was only three-years-old. A decade of unstable regency followed, during which the aristocratic landowning class, the boyars, took advantage, especially after the death of Ivan’s mother, possibly by poisoning. Aside from reasserting their privileges and looting the state treasury, the boyars viciously attacked each other. Although Ivan was never personally threatened, some of the worst violence took place in his presence, so with good reason he feared for his life. By the time, the teenage Ivan grasped the levers of power in 1547, he fiercely hated the boyars. That year, he took a wife, Anastasia Romanov, a happy marriage with a sad ending. Her death in 1560 devastated him, and is often used by historians to mark the end of the so-called good part of his reign. During these years Ivan’s reforms were designed to provide more efficient government, and to clip the wings of the boyars once and for all. He governed through a small privy council of trusted ministers, usually members of the lesser nobility, often referred to as the Dvoryane (“service nobility”) and thus similar to the French noblesse de robe (Robe Nobility). A public assemblies was re-established called the Zemsky Sobor (Russia's first parliament), which included members from all social classes (except the peasantry), including the clergy, boyars, other large landowners, and urban bourgeoisie. Officially its purpose was to help Ivan’s officials run the country, but its actual job seems to have been propaganda to win public support. The law code was revised in 1550, regulating the rights and obligations of the landed nobility, as well as restricting the right of peasants. Serfdom had barely existed in Russia prior the 16th-century; peasants might have been economically tied to their lords, but no legally. The code of 1550 legally restricted peasants' right to move to one two-week period each year, upon payment of a fee; this right would be abolished completely in 1603. By 1650, peasants had no rights at all, could be bought and sold, and were listed as private property in estate surveys. Serfdom was not abolished in Russia until 1861. Meanwhile, Ivan created Russia's first standing army, the streltsy, usually recruited from members of the lesser nobility once again. In foreign affairs, Ivan’s early efforts generally went well. In 1552, his army marched eastwards and, after hard fighting, annexed the khanate of Kazan, on the upper reaches of the Volga. Ivan celebrated this victory by building the extraordinary St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square. With an onion dome topping each of ten separate chapels, it has been one of the most identifiable and beautiful symbols of Russia since its completion in 1560. Kazan was followed by the conquest of Astrakhan to the south-east, opening up the whole length of the Volga River to Russian settlement for the first time. It also brought a large non-Russian population under Moscow’s control, thereby marking the start of a process that within a century would lead to Russian expansion to the Pacific. Ivan’s attempt to expand westward was less successful, despite early gains in the opening phase of what is called the Livonian War (1558–1583). The war began against German Teutonic Knights of Livonia (present-day Latvia), in an attempt to gain access to the Baltic Sea, but eventually Poland-Lithuania and Sweden became involved against Russia. A quarter-century of war and hardship resulted no territorial gain; the opening round of a century-long struggle for a "warm water port" finally achieved by Peter the Great. More successful was the establishment of trade relations with England, which occurred when a little English fleet led by Hugh Willoughby (d. 1556), seeking a north-eastern passage to the Far East, got into trouble in the frigid White Sea, and made landfall in Russia in 1553.

It is said that when St. Basil's Cathedral was finished in 1560, Ivan had its architect blinded so that he could never again build anything so beautiful. The story is untrue, the architect designed several more churches and died four years after Ivan. But the fact that so many people then and now believe it to be true says something about the second part of his reign.

Upon the death of his beloved wife in 1560, Ivan went into extravagant mourning and his behaviour became, if not quite insane, then severely unbalanced. A suspicion that she had been murdered by the boyars only deepened his hatred and paranoia; modern forensics evidence suggests he may have indeed been poisoned. Hundreds of arrests and executions followed, which, in 1564, provoked Andrei Kurbsky, one of his most trusted advisers, to flee Russia for Poland-Lithuania, where he was joined by other boyars. Ivan responded by claiming vast autocratic powers, known as Oprichnina. The term had two meanings. First, a special black-clad corp of soldiers tasked with arresting anyone who opposed the Tsar, together with their families and servants, and killing them in horribly sadistic ways; the first political police in the history of Russia. In Novgorod alone, an estimated 40,000 people lost their lives; 9,000 in Tver, and thousands more elsewhere. The second meaning of Oprichnina referred to the estates confiscated from the victims; about half the land was given to the “service nobility” who had shown him loyalty, and the rest became the Tsar's personal domain to rule. These "new men", and Ivan himself, increased the demands on the serfs bound to their estates. Some serfs fled to the thinly populated border areas Russia, especially Ukraine, where they became the Cossacks, cavalry warriors who lived in independent self-governing communities. Understandably, this great upheaval disrupted life at every level in Russia, including the army’s ability to defend the country. In 1571, nomads from Crimea invaded Russia, burned the outskirts of Moscow, and carried-off thousands of people to slavery. When the Russian army later defeated the Crimeans, Ivan executed the commander whose popularity he considered a threat. Ivan finally abolished the Oprichnina in 1572 - characteristically, he began by executing many of it leaders. Ivan was, thus, even more effective than French or English monarchs in curbing the independent power of the high nobility, In his old age, Ivan, a devout Orthodox Christian, would sent money to several monasteries with a list of more than 3,000 names for whom the monks were to pray; the name of his prominent victims. But the killing did not entirely stop. In 1581, an enraged Ivan beat his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing immodest clothing, which may have caused a miscarriage. His son, namesake, and heir then had a heated argument with his father, which ended in Ivan striking him in the head with his pointed staff, fracturing his skull. Ivan himself lived for three more years. He left behind a sickly, feeble-minded second son, Feodor Rurikovich (1584-98); an exhausted and demoralized realm; surviving boyars determined to recover their old privileges; and foreign enemies ready to take advantage of Russian weakness.

Last minutes of False Dmitry by Carl Wenig (1879). The first of three pretenders to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, fractured his leg jumping out a window to escape a mob.

Ivan’s death was followed by a period of social unrest the Russians called the “Time of Troubles”. A decade or so of relative calm prevailed under Feodor, who lacked the intellect or interest in governing Russia, so power fell into the hands of a council headed led by his very capable brother-in-law, Boris Godunov (d. 1605). The storm finally broke when Feodor's younger brother, Dmitry, died in 1591; the heir to the throne and last male member of the Rurikovich dynasty. Some people suspected foul play and pointed to Godunov, though most historians find that an unlikely scenario. When the childless Fyodor died, the Russian parliament (zemsky sobor) chose Boris Godunov (1598-1605) as the new Tzar. Godunov knew how to govern, but lacked legitimacy and had no shortage of enemies. He was also unlucky; a drought in 1602 led to a severe two-year famine, and increasing lawlessness with armed bands desperate for food looting the countryside. Various factions fought and murdered to gain the throne, and a series of pretenders claiming to be Fyodor’s dead brother Dmitryl known as the "False Dmitry". The first, and most successful, entered history around 1600, after making a positive impression on the patriarch of Moscow. Boris Godunov ordered the young man to be arrested and examined, but he fled to Poland-Lithuania. Various Polish nobles and Russian boyars agreed to fully back the man, and a Polish-Russian army began the long advance on Moscow. It wast badly mauled in battle by a reluctant Russian army, but the young man's cause was saved by the sudden death of Boris Godunov. With the unpopular Tsar dead, the victorious Russian troops defected to Dmitry's side and he made his triumphal entry into Moscow two months later. The reign of the first False Dmitry was brief. His reliance on Polish support alienated most Russians, and he was murdered by a mob in 1606. A group of boyars then proclaimed one of their own as Tzar Vasili IV (1606-10), who clung onto the throne for four chaotic year, amidst uprisings by various boyar rivals, peasant revolts seeking to overthrow the entire social order, and a second Polish backed False Dmitry. Russia hit rock bottom in 1610. With Moscow under siege by Polish-Russia supporters of the second False Dmitry, a hastily convened parliament deposed Vasili, and offered the throne to the Polish king, Vladislav Zhigimontovich (1610-12). But a Catholic Polish Tzar was anathema to most Russians. A popular patriotic revolt broke out almost immediately, under the able leadership of former butcher Kuzma Minin and boyar Dmitry Pozharsky. Despite the brief appearance of yet another False Dmitry, the Poles were driven from Russia by 1612. Finally in 1613, boyars and service nobility met together in a national assembly and elected a grandnephew of Ivan the Terrible, Michael Romanov (1613–45), as Tsar, establishing the Romanov Dynasty (1613-1917) that would rule Russia all the way until the Russian Revolution in the 20th-century.

Rivals in the Age of Discovery[]


By the mid-16th-century, Spanish expeditions had travelled north from New Spain (present-day Mexico) into the interior of North America, north from the Caribbean, around and across Florida, up the Rio de la Plata in South America to present-day Paraguay, and directly across the Pacific to the Spice Islands (now the Maluku Islands in the Philippines). In the later 16th-century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers pushed up the Orinoco and Amazon river systems, with the discovery of gold and precious stones in Brazil attracting more adventurers into the South American interior. With the Tordesillas Line (1494), the pope may have divided the world in a way that satisfied Spain and Portugal, but nations outside Iberia were not included and it soon became obsolete. The Reformation ended the authority of the papacy in half of Europe, and Protestant nations such as England and the Dutch Netherlands refused to acknowledge it. Even Catholic France simply ignored it, with Francis I of France's famous quip, "I would very much like to see the clause of Adam’s will by which I should be denied my share of the world". The French, Dutch, and English all tried to find a Northwest Passage through North America to Asia, which could allow them to compete with the Portuguese and the Spanish. England made a tentative first step towards establishing a presence beyond the ocean in 1490s. Another young man from Columbus’ home town of Genoa, Giovanni Caboto (d. 1498), followed a similar career path: learning his craft on merchant ships in the Mediterranean, and then moving westwards looking for sponsorship for longer voyages. He ended up in England, where he changed his name into English, John Cabot, and got the backing of Henry VII of England to search for a Northwest Passage. In 1497, Cabot made the first English voyage to North America, landing on the bleak and rocky coast of Newfoundland, somewhere near where the Viking colony of Leif Erikson had been five hundred years earlier. He found no gold or treasure, but he did discover one of the world's richest fishing grounds, what was later called the Grand Banks. It would remain an important source of European fish until its closure due to overfishing in 1993. Cabot himself disappeared on a second voyage, but his achievement gave England a claim to the mainland of North America; not successfully exploited until the founding of Jamestown in 1607. In the 1520s, Francis I of France sponsored the Italian Giovanni de Verrazzano (d. 1528) on a voyage up the east coast of North America, from South Carolina to Newfoundland. He found rivers and bays, but nothing that led very far inland. In the 1530s, the three voyages of Jacques Cartier (d. 1557) were a bit more promising. Cartier discovered and explored the great inlet of the St Lawrence River, which he hoped would prove to be the mouth of a channel through the continent. On his second voyage, he rowed his longboats as far as an island occupied by Iroquoian Indians. They made him welcome and took him to the highest point on their island, so he named it, Montreal ("Mount Royal"). On his third visit, an attempt to found a colony came to nothing, but his discoveries prompted the interest of French fur traders to the regions. It would be seventy years before other explorers would found the first permanent French settlement, and venture further up the St. Lawrence into the Great Lakes area. Nevertheless, Cartier's search for a way through to the east, unwittingly, laid the foundation for New France (1534–1763); now Canada from the Iroquois word Kanata meaning "village". Only in 1906 did a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen (d. 1928), successfully sailed the whole length of northern America. Meanwhile,

Hugh Willoughby, the English explorer who died while in search of a passage north of Russia to the Far East.

English expeditions also sought a Northeast Passage along the Arctic coasts of Norway and Russia to the Pacific Ocean. In 1553, the explorer, Hugh Willoughby (d. 1554), was sent out with three vessels in search of a route. He set-out from Thames with great fanfare, pausing at Greenwich Palace for an artillery salute to young Edward VI of England. But the pomp put a gloss on great incompetence and lack of preparation. Six months later, Willoughby, with only two of his ships, was stranded on a bleak shore of the Barents Sea in an Arctic winter, without suitable clothing or provisions, where they all starved and froze to death. Their gruesome fate is known because the ships with the corpses of the crews and Willoughby's journal were found by Russian fishermen the following spring. The third ship under Richard Chancellor (d. 1556), was by accident as successful as Willoughby's was disastrous. Separated from the others in a storm, he continued his journey alone, and reached the Russian port-town of Arkhangelsk. He was warmly welcomed and invited to travel overland to Moscow. While Willoughby was perishing, Chancellor spent the winter at Ivan the Terrible's lavish court. In the spring, Chancellor rejoined his ship and returned to England, bringing with him a favourable trade agreement between England and Russia. A flourishing trade with Russia, mainly through Arkhangelsk, was the result of England's quest for a Northeast Passage; it continued until 1649, when all English merchants were expelled from Russia in outrage at the execution of Charles I Stuart. Meanwhile, the way of obtaining naval power on the cheap was high seas piracy, often dignified by the term privateering. In time of war, governments authorized individual private captains to prey upon enemy shipping, who were expected to provide a cut of the prizes they made to the treasury; effectively a programme of national piracy. Dutch, French, and most famously English captains were drawn to the Spanish Main, where the Treasure Fleet docked, like wasps to a honey pot. To protect their wealth, the Spanish organised the fleet into large convoys of heavily armed galleons, which proved highly successful, with only a few major privateering successes, such as the capture of Cartagena in Columbia by the Englishman Francis Drake in 1586, or the capture of a treasure fleet in Cuba by the Piet Hein (d. 1629) in 1628.

Nations came to view overseas possessions as essential adjuncts to their military and economic power, which helped foster nationalism by encouraging a race for trade, treasure, and colonies. In the early-17th-century, the English, Dutch, and French pushed further into the Americas. With the Iberian Union (1580–1640), the Portuguese became fair game too, and it took only a few decades to deprived them of the spice trade. The creation of the European colonial empires would also have political effects, for it meant that arenas of conflict were no longer confined to Europe itself.

Columbian Exchange[]

The Columbian Exchange completely remade the world. Before 1492, no European had ever seen a tomatoes or chocolate, no native Americans had ever seen a horse, and no Indian had ever seen a chilli pepper.

The European voyages were not just a matter of trade and conquest, but also the intentional and unintentional sharing of many things, for they linked parts of the world that had been cut-off from one another for thousands of years. These links were sometimes disastrous, as in the spread of diseases like influenza and smallpox to people in the Americas who had no immunity. The New World had something deadly to offer in return; syphilis. Columbus’ ships brought syphilis home to Spain in 1493, and it was already rife in Spanish Naples by the time the French army of Charles VIII arrived in 1495; it was initially called the "French disease". Europeans also suffered from tropical diseases such as malaria, though the New World kindly provided an effective remedy for that in quinine. Meanwhile other links were very beneficial. Food crops and animals travelled both ways across the Atlantic and later the Pacific in what the historian Alfred Crosby termed the “Columbian Exchange”. Europeans brought horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens to the Americas, where they often escaped into the wild and thrived; a herd of 100 cattle that the Spanish abandoned in the Rio de la Plata area of Argentina grew within several decades to over 100,000. They also brought wheat, which grew well on the plains of both North and South America. From Africa they brought bananas, coffee, and coconuts. Tomatoes, chilli peppers, peanuts, pineapples and avocados went in the other direction, as did potatoes and corn (maize). The potato was to change the lives of many countries by sustaining much larger populations; a half acre of potato cultivation could easily feed the average family for a year. Corn may not feature prominently in European diets, but it has been the chief foodstuff for animals for centuries. This exchange of plants and animals improved nutrition all around the world, and allowed a slow increase in the total global population, even with the tremendous loss of life in the Americas. The Columbian exchange involved products that brought pleasure as well as nutrition. Both the Aztec and Maya cultivated the cacao beans from which chocolate is made, which they believed had been brought from paradise. Unlike the Maya, the Spanish developed the habit of drinking cups of chocolate sweetened with sugar; the word "chocolate" comes from the Mayan for “sour water”, because they drank it unsweetened. By 1600 or so, people were drinking chocolate in France and England, as well as coffee from Arabia and Africa; they were drinking tea from India and China by 1650. The caffeine found in chocolate, tea, and coffee is mildly addictive compared to the nicotine in tobacco, another New World agricultural product. Columbus took some tobacco seeds back with him to Spain, where farmers began to grow tobacco for use as a medicine that helped people relax. The French ambassador to Lisbon, Jean Nicot (d. 1600) - whose name is the origin of nicotine - introduced its use in France, originally as a form of snuff. The Columbian Exchange has slowed but not ended, with shipping and air travel continuing to redistribute species among the continents. The North American grey squirrel was introduced into the British Isles in the late-19th-century, prompting a major decline in the native red squirrel population. But the consequences of modern exchanges thus far pale next to those of the 16th and 17th century.