SPAIN grew in power as a result of the riches her galleons brought across the Atlantic from Nombre de Dios and Vera Cruz. Other factors contributed to make her at times in the sixteenth century the most powerful nation in Europe. Unswervingly Spain upheld the ancient faith. She sent her missionaries to convert the conquered peoples in America and set her face steadily against the Protestants of Europe. England under the Protestant Elizabeth became the chief of her enemies.
It happened that Spain's day of greatness coincided with England's. The nation north of the Channel was no longer a wholly agricultural and fishing people. Long before Elizabeth's time they had begun to send traders into far distant regions. Englishmen were pooling their capital in joint-stock companies that were trading in Europe and even in central Russia and the Levant. In the Elizabethan era this commercial development came into full flower, and a new wealth poured into London and the lesser cities. The laden Spanish galleons ploughing eastward across the Atlantic from Mexico and Darien were at once a threat and an opportunity.
Elizabethan England was fully alive to the Spanish menace. Never before had the English people produced such a brilliant array of leaders. The mariners who became famous for trading and for their depredations in the Spanish Main found their counterpart in the statesmen and the men of letters. Richard Hakluyt began his collections of narratives of exploration in unknown lands and Walter Raleigh began to dream of an English empire in America.
Of such quality was the England that Philip II of Spain faced. He saw English buccaneers, increasing in numbers with the years, prowl along the sea routes that the galleons traveled, every now and then cutting out a rich ship. Though the two nations were at peace the English carried their attack to the Spanish ports in North America. War was the inevitable result. England had challenged Spain's monopoly of the western hemisphere and the two must fight it out for a place in the New World.
305 An English Galleon; from Vischer's engravings, representing the defeat of the Armada, published In Holland about 1588