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Elizabeth I: Queen of a Golden Age


Part 3: Power and Prestige

That didn't happen, through a series of fortuitous and just plain lucky events. One of the main events were the English ships' ability to sail faster than their Spanish counterparts, avoiding pitched battles in favor of guerrilla tactics. The English also made good use of "fireships," which were old ships that were loaded with explosives, set ablaze, and then set adrift into the path of oncoming Spanish ships. The slower Spanish ships had difficulty getting out of the way; and when the fireships made contact, they exploded, creating a much larger fireball and filling the water for miles around with smoke, haze, and (usually) death. The thing that probably saved the English the most, though, was a well-timed storm, a massive one at that, that blew the Spanish ships right on by their intended landing point in southern England, onto rocks and other hazards, and to the bottom of the ocean. A huge number of Spanish ships were lost in this storm (which also claimed a fair number of English ships).

The English would have been ready to fight on land as well. Elizabeth herself traveled to Tilbury, to where a large number of soldiers were gathered, awaiting the anticipated invasion. In an impassioned speech, the queen, wearing a metal breastplate and riding a horse, implored her people to fight hard and defend their homeland, come what may. (Click here to read the queen's famous speech.)

After the remainder of the Armada limped home, Philip gave up his aspirations to the English throne. Elizabeth continued to keep her fellow heads of state guessing as to who her eventual husband would be. She also made it a practice to consult with her advisers more than her father had. Chief among these advisers were Sir William Cecil, Sir Edward Cecil, and Sir Francis Walsingham. Each of these men was wise and experienced in politics and in the ways of the world. William Cecil, especially, was good at improving the country's economic fortunes. Walsingham, especially, was good at keeping other nations from going to war with England and keeping other Englishmen and -women from killing the queen.

England experienced tremendous economic and cultural growth while Elizabeth was queen. The country became an economic powerhouse, with round-the-world voyages like that led by Sir Francis Drake bringing new goods and prestige to the tiny island nation. This was also the age of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, and other famous writers. Without the threat of invasion from abroad or division from within, the English queen and her people were free to expand their horizons on multiple fronts. The reign of Elizabeth I, or "Gloriana," as many people called her, has been called a Golden Age.

First page > Bloodlines and Battle Lines > Page 1, 2, 3

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