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“Anglo-Spanish Relations Deteriorated in the Years 1568 – 1588 Largely as a Result of the Actions of the English”. Assess the Validity of This View.

In: Historical Events

Submitted By francescagrey
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Between the years 1558 and 1568 the decline in Anglo-Spanish relations was slow and gradual as they became less than open and cordial. This was hardly surprising given the religious differences between a Protestant England and Catholic Spain, although joint suspicion of the Guises was sufficient to keep the two powers reasonably friendly. Despite this, relations dropped markedly in 1568 as a result of the issue of sovereignty and crises that ravaged the Netherlands. It is true that Elizabeth did much to antagonise the Spanish during these years of conflict, although there are many instances where her policy towards Spain was nothing more than a reaction to circumstance. It can, therefore, be argued that Spanish actions, as well as other influencing factors such as religion, contributed significantly to the deterioration of Anglo-Spanish relations between the years 1558 and 1568.

The cracks in Anglo-Spanish relations first began to appear after the 1568 trading activity of English naval commander John Hawkins. This trading activity was perceived by the Spanish as an English attempt to break the extensive Spanish trading monopoly and therefore a direct threat to their authority and prosperity. As a result, the Spanish launched a blockade of Hawkins’ fleet. What followed was a ‘tit-for-tat’ approach to foreign policy by both Elizabeth and Philip. It may be argued that this chain of events is proof of Elizabeth’s reactionary foreign policy as a result of Spanish actions that lead to the decline in Anglo-Spanish relations. Despite this, however, it can be argued that, had Hawkins never embarked on his voyage in the first place, then the subsequent attempts at retaliation by both powers, for example the English imposition of a trade embargo with the Netherland, may have not ensued.

The effect of the embargo, however, has been subjected to a great deal of debate. Susan Doran states that, because the 1568 trade embargo did not stretch to commerce with Spain, no damage was done to Anglo-Spanish relations, only to Anglo-Dutch relations. Although Doran may be right in saying that the trade embargo briefly damaged Anglo-Dutch relations, the Netherlands were part of Philip’s Spanish Hapsburg inheritance. Surely, therefore, if there was any damage to Anglo-Dutch relations, Anglo-Spanish relations would have also been damaged too. This, therefore, provides evidence for the English contributions to the deterioration in the state of the relationship between England and Spain.

In addition to this, the 1583 attempts by Elizabeth at securing an alliance with France further contributed to the deterioration in Anglo-Spanish relations. Elizabeth, fearing diplomatic isolation, sent Walsingham to France with the proposal of an Anglo-French league. Despite being rejected by Henry III of France, this attempt at a union prompted many concerns within Philip II, who feared that Elizabeth was attempting to achieve a defensive, anti-Spanish agreement with the French. As a result, this would have undoubtedly increased Philip’s awareness of Elizabeth’s actions, of which he was now considerably more fearful, and lead to a further decline in Anglo-Spanish relations.

Moreover, Elizabeth I chose to consciously support the Portuguese pretender, Don Antonio, knowing that this would exacerbate the ill feelings of Philip II. In conjunction with her subsequent knighting of Sir Francis Drake, who plundered Spanish vessels during his circumnavigation, and the countenancing of the ill treatment of Spanish ambassadors at the English courts, Elizabeth contributed significantly to the already deteriorating relationship. These actions would have assuredly been viewed by Spain as a display of direct English animosity towards the Spanish.

Despite this, however, many other factors besides the actions of the English contributed to the decline in foreign relations, such as religion. Religion played an important role in Anglo-Spanish relations and is an issue that becomes more apparent between the years 1570 and 1580. The Papal Bull of 1570 that excommunicated Elizabeth I was an act that, despite not being initially supported by Philip II, had a great effect upon Elizabethan foreign relations. In terms of foreign policy, it isolated England from her main trading partners and meant that Elizabeth had to ally herself and England to the Protestant Princes of Germany to help combat the growing Catholic threat. This, therefore, damaged Anglo-Spanish relations even more as Philip II, being a devout Catholic, would have taken this excommunication seriously as he would not have wanted to defy the Pope nor would he want the German Princes being given support, as it threatened the stability of his Catholic lands. This, therefore, undermined Anglo-Spanish relations. The German Princes helped support the revolt in the Netherlands, ultimately helping the English to undermine Philip’s authority. This is evidence that the decline in Anglo-Spanish relations was caused by other, external factors.

In addition to this, it is often stated that religion was the cause for Spanish intervention in the Netherlands and therefore the subsequent decline in Anglo-Spanish relations. Philip II, the sovereign of the Netherlands, claimed that intervention in the Netherlands was necessary in order to put down the outbreak of heresy. Whether this was Philip’s true aim or not, with the decline of Anglo-Spanish relations, the Netherlands could be used by Philip as a springboard for the invasion of England owing to its close proximity. It was a constant aim of Elizabeth’s to maintain Netherlands autonomy and so, with a Spanish invasion, Dutch independence was threatened. This, too, directly threatened Elizabeth, resulting in a further deterioration in relations with Philip II and his country.

Furthermore, Elizabeth also funded the Protestants rebels in the Netherlands to help form an alliance to combat the growing Catholic threat. In the years of 1575 and 1576, Elizabeth lent £100,000 to the Dutch rebels to help them raise and supply armies in order to continue the fight with Spain. This highlights a decline in Anglo-Spanish relations because, not only was Elizabeth funding rebels in someone else’s territory, she was supporting the Protestants’ cause in Europe. These two elements together no doubt would have angered Philip and hindered Anglo-Spanish relations as Elizabeth appeared to some degree to be involving herself in someone else’s country, in this case the Netherlands, by proxy. The religious factors are ones that must be taken into account, however the Spanish had become militarily involved in the Netherlands knowing that the English might see this as potentially threatening. This would support the argument that the worsening of Anglo-Spanish relations by the English was simply reactionary.

Anglo-Spanish relations deteriorated in the years 1568 and 1588 largely as a result of the actions of the English, who had done much to antagonise the Spanish. Despite this, however, it was not only the actions of the English that contributed to the demise of the once cordial relationship. The Spanish, too, carried out many actions knowing the implications that it would have upon their foreign policy with England, such as supporting the 1569 Northern Rebellion as well as 1571 Ridolfi plot. It can, therefore, be argued that much of the English intervention was simply reactionary and a response to Spanish actions. It is clear, also, that both sides may have been motivated by religious principle. This suggests that there were other contributing elements to the demise in the relationship between the two. Therefore the statement can be attributed only some validity.…...

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