Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Results of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada
By James Anthony Froude (18181894)
ALWAYS and everywhere, even among the bravest people, the majority are spiritual cowards, and had England in the sixteenth century been governed by universal suffrage, the Roman Catholic system, considered as a rule of opinion, could not have been overthrown without violence. The allegiance to the Papacy might have been renounced, the Church courts might have been forced to conform themselves to the ordinary rules of justice, but transubstantiation and its kindred doctrines would have undoubtedly remained in the creed, with rope and faggot for its sanctions. Government by suffrage, however, is possible only in periods when the convictions of men have ceased to be vital to them. As long as there is a minority which would rather die than continue in a lie, there is a further court of appeal from which there is no reference. When ten men are so earnest on one side that they will sooner be killed than give way, and twenty are earnest enough on the other to cast their votes for it, but will not risk their skins, the ten will give the law to the twenty in virtue of a robuster faith and of the strength which goes along with it. Left alone, therefore, and without interference from abroad, the English nation, had there been no Elizabeth, would probably sooner or later have taken the Reforming side. Had the Spanish invasion succeeded, however, had it succeeded even partially in crushing Holland and giving France to the League and the Duke of Guise, England might not have recovered from the blow, and it might have fared with Teutonic Europe as it fared with France on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Either Protestantism would have been trampled out altogether, or expelled from Europe to find a home in a new continent; and the Church, insolent with another century or two of power, would have been left to encounter the inevitable ultimate revolution which is now its terror, with no reformed Christianity surviving to hold the balance between atheism and superstition.
The starved and ragged English seamen, so ill furnished by their sovereign that they were obliged to take from their enemies the means of fighting them, decided otherwise; they and the winds and the waves, which are said ever to be on the side of the brave. In their victory they conquered not the Spaniards only, but the weakness of their Queen. Either she had been incredulous before that Philip would indeed invade her; or she had underrated the power of her people; or she discerned that the destruction of the Spanish fleet had created at last an irreparable breach with the Catholic governments. At any rate there was no more unwholesome hankering after compromise, no more unqueenly avarice or reluctance to spend her treasure in the cause of freedom. The strength and resources of England were flung heartily into the war, and all the men and all the money it could spare was given freely to the United Provinces and the King of Navarre. The struggle lasted into the coming century. Elizabeth never saw peace with Spain again. But the nation throve with its gathering glory. The war on the part of England was aggressive thenceforward. One more great attempt was made by Philip in Ireland, but only to fail miserably, and the shores of England were never seriously threatened again. Portugal was invaded, and Cadiz burnt, Spanish commerce was made the prey of privateers, and the proud galleons chased from off the ocean. In the Low Countries the tide of reconquest had reached its flood, and thenceforward ebbed slowly back, while in France the English and the Huguenots fought side by side against the League and Philip.