The decline in Anglo-Spanish relations

Trade and Commercial Rivalry

During Elizabeth’s reign, relations with Spain were rapidly deteriorating. The relationship between these two countries became so intense, that it eventually ended up in war. Below are the main reasons that explains why there was a sharp and rapid decline in Anglo-Spanish relations.

In the Elizabethan era, both England and Spain were known for having an excellent Navy. Their ships were vitally important in trade and were often viewed in competition with one another.

  • Spain and England were in competition for the trade in the New World.

  • Elizabeth supported some of her men actively stealing supplies from the Spanish - she was practically supporting piracy.

Religious Rivalry

  • The religious rivalry between the two countries was so great that it seemed to make war inevitable after Elizabeth set up a Protestant Church in 1559.

  • Philip II was a devout Catholic, who saw it as his life’s work to return countries to the Catholic Church.

  • Philip viewed England to be a religious enemy of Spain, especially as he was a loyal ally of the Pope.

  • By the end of 1584, Philip signed the Treaty of Joinville with the French Catholic League. In 1585 the French king signed up to the Catholic League to rid France of its heretics. This meant that Spain and France were allies against Protestantism.

Political Rivalry

  • Philip II, apart from being a strong Catholic, was ruler of the most powerful country in the world. In addition to Spain itself, Philip ruled the Netherlands, an important trading country, and owned land in South America, the ‘New World’.

  • In 1580 Philip also became King of Portugal. This significantly increased Philip’s power and wealth. Treasure from the New World made Spain very wealthy and able to support a strong army and fleet.

  • Political rivalry does not seem to have been a major reason for the war.

  • Although Spain was involved in the plots and rebellion to overthrow Elizabeth for Mary, Philip never did anything concrete, such as send an army.

The decline in Anglo-Spanish relations, figure 1

English involvement in the Netherlands

  • The Netherlands was part of Spain’s empire. The English Channel was vitally important to both Elizabeth and Philip, for trade, security, and in Philip’s case, access to his territories in the Netherlands.

  • The Netherlands represented a point of political contention between Spain and England, as it was a largely Protestant country and England sympathised with the plight of the people who were under the suppression of the Spanish military.

  • In the Treaty of Nonsuch, signed in 1585, Elizabeth finally agreed to directly become involved in the Netherlands. She promised to: take over the protection of the Netherlands; send an army of 7,000 men to help and to pay the costs for the army. The army Elizabeth sent was led by the Earl of Leicester. Spanish and English armies were now facing each other and the two countries were at war.

  • Philip II saw Leicester’s arrival in the Netherlands as an act of war against Spain. From 1585, although there had been no formal declaration, both Philip and Elizabeth considered Spain and England at war.

The Netherlands was part of which Empire?
What religion was Philip? Protestant or Catholic?
What were England and Spain well known for having?
Excellent Navy