Daily Archives: April 20, 2012

Unanticipated Consequences – An Accidental Great Read

English Seamen In The 16th Century, Lectures Delivered at Oxford, Easter Term, 1893-94, James Anthony Froude.

Saturday evenings after they finish an auction a couple of blocks from her home in Olathe, Kansas, Jeanne often goes to the parking lot to nose through what didn’t sell and is being readied to haul to the dump.  When she comes across books she thinks might be to my tastes, she calls me and asks if I’d like her to snag them and send them to me.  This tattered old tome was one such.

I’d never heard of Froude and she said the book was beat up badly, but I made a snap decision and had her take it.  Thanks, Coincidence Coordinators, and twice-thanks, Jeanne.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century, by James Anthony Froude, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18209/18209-h/18209-h.htm.

I considered myself modestly well-versed on the times from Henry VIII through Elizabeth, the English Reformation, the Huguenots in Holland, the Inquisition, the Spanish super-power status, and the troubles with Mary, Queen of Scots.  But somehow I’d never put it all together.  I’d never paused to ask myself how England, a country virtually without military power, no navy to speak of, came to become an empire, a sea power without equal during a relatively short time-span.

I’d also never asked myself the careful questions about the defeat of the Spanish Armada by what amounted to a scattering of privately owned ships, almost without any help from the crown.  In fact, a tiny, fragmented private navy having to find ways around the obstructions, mind-changings, mood shifts and flighty fancies and wishful thinkings of Elizabeth.

Froude makes a strong case for the premise that the two greatest western powers of the time, the Catholic Church and the king of Spain, forced them into the future kicking and screaming in protest.  By arrogance, pride, cruelty, certainty in the belief they could do anything and get by with it, they blind-sided themselves.  They forced a population of merchants and fisherman-sailors to learn to build ships and fight at sea as an alternative to being tortured by the Inquisition, forced into slavery in Spanish galleys, or burned at the stake.

Even after Citizens Hawkins and Drake began ravaging the Spanish shipping, intercepting Spanish treasure, burning Spanish towns in revenge for Spanish and Inquisition atrocities, the Inquisition and Philip refused to see what loomed on the horizon.  They continued plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in hopes of bringing Mary to the throne and Catholicism back to the realm.  They continued capturing English crewmen and punishing them for doctrinal heresy.

And eventually, assembled the greatest war fleet in the history of mankind to invade the island and restore doctrinal purity.  The outcome seemed obvious to them and there appeared to be no other, gazing into their own futures.

But Froude, gazing into the past, has an advantage, looking through the centuries since, past the Napoleonic times, the generations of British imperialism and conquest, to the day the power of the Catholic Church began the first lesson in humility.  And to the day the power of Spain imploded.

A recommended read.

Old Jules

Today on Ask Old Jules:  Your Life’s Work?

Old Jules, what do you regard as your life’s work?
What will be your major contribution to the world?