The Climate of the Age
EVERY LONG REIGN, before it reaches its end, is apt to become a little onerous: every century, as it approaches its conclusion, seems to bear a growing weight of trouble. When the sixteenth century entered its last decade, an elderly sovereign still occupied the throne she had held since 1558; and, between the defeat of the Armada and the old Queen's death, there was an interval, if not of decline, at least of anxiety and disenchantment. Yet, a few years earlier, hopes had been running high. Protestant Englishmen, who had believed that the execution of Mary Queen of Scots would introduce an era of universal peace, and who had danced through London's streets to the sound of pipes and tabors, welcomed the news that the Spanish fleet was scattered with a mixture of pious enthusiasm and profane rejoicing. The English, remarked a foreign observer, were now 'lords and masters of the sea and need care for no man'. In 1589, ninety-one rich Spanish vessels were reported to have been captured and brought into English havens; and during the autumn months of 1592 a syndicate of naval adventurers, among whom was the Queen herself, seized the gigantic seven-storeyed carrack named the Madre de Dios, largest and wealthiest of the Spanish ships then trading with the East Indies, and acquired a cargo that, despite much private pilferage, realized more than £140,000. But, while English sailors enjoyed these lucrative triumphs, English forces on land scored no corresponding victories. The Queen's intervention in the affairs of France, whither she had despatched a small contingent to aid the Protestant Henry of Navarre, proved a costly and inglorious business.