In the latter decades of the 16th century, Catholic King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) intended to conquer England and remove the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) from the throne.
It is unlikely that he wanted the crown for himself, but intended to place a catholic in Elizabeth’s place; probably Mary Queen of Scots (Born 1542). But, Elizabeth executed Mary, in 1587, which infuriated Philip and made him more determined than ever to attack England: so he laid his plans.
In 1588, the Spanish King assembled, equipped, and heavily armed a fleet of around 130 mighty warships. On board he had around 17,000 equally well-armed soldiers, ready to invade and attack the English. Also on fleet were around 200 Catholic Priests, ready to do spiritual battle and take command of the souls of English soldiers and sailors. In July of that year, and under the command of Alonso Perez du Guzman (1550-1615), the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia, the armada of huge galleons set sail from Spain.
The King planned for his ships to first make their way to the coast of France, at Dunkirk, where his French allies would allow him to take on board a further 16,000 Spanish troops, under the command of Alessandro Farnese, the Duke of Parma (1545-1592).
The English Navy was expecting the attack, but did not know when it would come. Beacons had been erected around the entire coast of the country – waiting to be lit when the alarm was raised – calling the men and women of England to readiness and resistance against the Spanish invasion. There were a number of such beacons in our area, including one on the summit of Bidston Hill, on the Wirral, and another at the top of Everton Ridge, overlooking the small but important port of Liverpool.
The country waited anxiously, unsure if they would be victorious against the coming attack. Everyone knew just how formidable the Spanish Fleet was going to be, and how vital it would be that England should be victorious against their resolute foe. We had faith in our Navy, and in her famous Captains, but when would the Spanish attack? We watched from our coastlines, and we waited, anxiously.
But then, Privateer Captain, Humphrey Brook from Liverpool, on board his ship the ‘Relief’, outward bound from his home and sailing for the Canary Islands, saw the great Spanish fleet in the distance, sailing north just off the coast of Spain.
Realising what was taking place, he put his helm about and, under full sail, headed back to England – to Plymouth harbour, where the English ships were eagerly waiting to get into battle. As he drew near the harbour he called out, “Hark! Hark! The Spaniards are sailing towards our shores, send out the warning!” indeed, he personally delivered the warning to Sir Francis Drake himself.
And the warning did indeed go out; to the English Fleet, at anchor but rigged to sail; to London, to inform the Queen and Parliament; and to the citizens of England. Around the country the alarm was raised and the beacon fires were lit – one after another. A continuous chain of blazing pyres and smoke now began to spread around the highest points of our coastline, reaching skyward and igniting the flames of patriotic fervour in the ‘hearts of oak’ of England.
And England was indeed ready: our fleet took to the seas and sailed into the English Channel to confront a mighty adversary. But, whilst her soldiers and sailors were fighting for English freedoms, Queen Elizabeth made her way to Tilbury, on the Essex coast just south of London. Here were stationed an army of a further 2,000 soldiers, standing ready to repel the expected invasion by Spanish troops.
Clad in bright armour with a silver breastplate, and mounted on a white horse, ‘Good Queen Bess’ positioned herself on high ground so that the men could hear her. Then, in a clear, sharp voice, to her ecstatic soldiers, she declared,
“My loving people ……. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects;
And, therefore, I am come amongst you, as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved,
in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all — to lay down for my God, and for my kingdoms, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust.
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king — and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any Prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm;
to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms — I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field…….”
Under the command of Captains Hawkins and Frobisher; and under Effingham, in the ‘Ark Royal’; and Drake, in the ‘Revenge’, the Spanish were not going to have an easy time. The story goes, of course, that Sir Francis Drake was playing a game of bowls at Plymouth Hoe when the alarm was raised, but insisted on completing his game before taking ship: true English ‘Sang Froid’!
Thanks to the greater manoeuvrability and firepower of the smaller, English vessels; and because of the stout hearts and dauntless courage of the English sailors, the Spanish soon met their match. Thanks too, to English
fireships sent in against Spanish vessels; and to a stormy English Channel that drove the Spanish fleet north, where it dashed itself against the vicious and unforgiving rocks of the Scottish coast - the rest is history!
But especial thanks are certainly due to Captain Humphrey Brook - the Scouser, who first warned his country that the Spanish Armada was on its way and who, quite rightly, was substantially rewarded by Parliament for his speed and honour in defence of his country.