During this period, Spain was the most powerful country in the known world. It had grown extremely wealthy due to its conquests in the New World (Central America), an area that was known as the Spanish Main.
It was also strongly Catholic, and although England and Wales enjoyed good relations with Spain at the start of Elizabeth’s reign, there were many reasons why they worsened, eventually resulting in war.
|Religious differences||Spain was a Catholic country and England a Protestant country – meaning that the two rulers had conflicting spiritual outlooks and allegiances.|
|Marriage rejection||King Philip II of Spain had been married to Elizabeth’s sister, Mary I. When Mary died he offered to marry Elizabeth but she rejected him.|
|Piracy||English sailors like Hawkins and Drake attacked and stole treasure from Spanish ships in the New World. King Philip was furious but Elizabeth encouraged and rewarded adventurers.|
|The civil war in France||France was the traditional enemy of both England and Spain, meaning that they united together against the country. Now France was in civil war it was preoccupied with its own issues and no longer posed a threat – so the alliance between Spain and England was not necessary anymore.|
|Spain supported Catholic plots||There was evidence of Spanish support for plots to restore Catholicism to England, particularly involving getting Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne and Elizabeth off.|
|The Dutch Revolt||Protestants in the Netherlands began a revolt against Spanish rule in 1572. Elizabeth secretly supported the Dutch rebels because she knew the Dutch revolt would keep the Spanish too busy to threaten England.|
|Elizabeth’s army joined the Dutch rebels||In 1585, Elizabeth sent an army to help the Dutch rebels fight Spain. For the first time English and Spanish armies were fighting each other. England and Spain were now at war.|
At this time, the Netherlands were ruled by Spain, but it was also an area that was geographically close and vital for English trade, especially wool and cloth.
By 1572, Protestant ideas had spread in the Netherlands and Protestant Dutch rebels began a campaign for independence from Catholic Spain, leading to the Dutch Revolt.
King Philip II of Spain was determined to crush the rebellion. He sent an army under the Duke of Alva to defeat the rebels, who were led by William, Prince of Orange.
However, after the assassination of William in 1584, Elizabeth was persuaded to help the Protestant rebels and sent an army of 7,600 men to the country. This amounted to a declaration of war with Spain.
This, combined with the other factors such as English piracy, led to Philip finally deciding to invade England, by means of the Spanish Armada.
Philip’s plans for the invasion of England were quickly prepared, but when they were leaked to the English, Sir Francis Drake sailed for Cadiz, Spain in May 1587.
He destroyed all of the ships in the harbour and this helped to delay the departure of the Armada. He also destroyed the wood supplies leaving the Spanish with little to rebuild their fleet with. The Spanish fleet finally sailed in July 1588.