Is there anything we will fight to defend?
Would we defend our country if government officials tried to turn it into Zimbabwe?
If we had lived in Vienna in 1683, would we have defended our city from the Ottoman Army? At another Austrian city, Perchtoldsdorf, the citizens had decided no. Seeking peace, they had handed over the keys of their city to the Turks. They had all been slaughtered.
Though terribly outnumbered, the Viennese, joined by Poles, Lithuanians, Bavarians and Saxons, defended Vienna and defeated the Turks. Would Mozart have lived or composed if they had not?
Would we defend our neighbour's freedom even if we knew we were going to die? Would we die for possibilities we cannot now see - a Mozart, a bill of rights, the equality of every person under just law, the happiness of great-great-grandchildren?
On May 28th, 1588, the 200-plus ships of the Spanish Armada sailed for the English Channel to pick up the Spanish Army in the Netherlands and invade Britain with 55,000 men. The Spanish intended to force the independent English to return to the Church of Rome.
They also wanted to end English support for the Dutch, who were fighting for their freedom, and to end private raids against Spanish colonies. Like every invading army, the Spanish would have plundered and pillaged, executed and murdered, leaving a country destroyed and trade in ruins.
The Royal Navy had just one aim - to keep the Spanish from landing and invading England. John Hawkins had designed the Navy's small, speedy ships, and had armed them with technologically advanced, long-range cannon. But the situation looked desperate. The Armada far exceeded the Royal Navy in numbers and firepower.
On July 19th, the Armada was sighted off the Lizard in Cornwall, and beacons were lit, blazing into the night sky to carry the news to London. Under Lord Howard, the Lord High Admiral, the 130 ships of the Royal Navy set out in pursuit.
Meanwhile the Dutch, trying to undermine the Spanish, thoughtfully removed the sea-marks that indicated shoals and blockaded the Spanish army at Dunkirk.
The Armada anchored off Calais, not far from their army. They were in a tightly-packed, impregnable crescent formation.
At midnight, July 28th, Sir Francis Drake led fire ships filled with pitch, gunpowder, and tar against the Spanish galleons. Terrified of fire, Spanish captains and sailors cut cable anchors and broke formation to escape the danger. But over the following days, slowly and inexorably the Armada re-formed.
The Royal Navy, which had faced a number of mortal threats in its history against Vikings and the French, prepared to confront another. On August 8th 1588, the small fleet engaged the Spanish Armada at Gravelines, 15 miles southwest of Dunkirk.
The Royal Navy fighting the Spanish Armada at the Battle of Gravelines
August 8th 1588
Painting by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The Spanish loosed their heavy shot, but their guns were unwieldy, and their gunners had been trained to board ships, not reload. The Royal Navy closed, firing repeatedly and sending damaging broadsides into the Spanish ships.
Meanwhile, in England, a small force of 4,000 soldiers gathered at West Tilbury, Essex, to defend the estuary of the River Thames and London. On August 8th, Queen Elizabeth went to Tilbury to encourage them -
I have come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. . .
At sea, the Royal Navy had damaged but not defeated the Armada, and was running out of ammunition. With their shot lockers almost empty, the English courageously pursued, harrying the Spanish fleet in a desperate effort to keep it from reaching and loading the Spanish Army.
Unaware that the English had no ammunition, the Armada fled north. Gales completed the rout. The Armada limped home to Spain via Scotland and Ireland, losing half its ships and men along the way.
The threat of invasion had passed. The use of force to impose religious dogma had been defeated. The history of the world was changed. It is doubtful there would have been a Pennsylvania, a place of religious tolerance, or a bill of rights in either Britain or America without this defeat.
Men who fight for their country are often forgotten afterwards. The Queen did not bother to pay her sailors. But Lord Howard refused to forget them.
He "took an aggressive role in securing victuals for his starving men and arranging more sanitary accommodation onshore. . .paying for fresh wine and beer from his own pocket when he knew that there could be no possibility of reimbursement; and selling his personal plate to buy clothing for the men". He later wrote, -
if I had not had something to give the men, 'I should have wished myself out of the world'. (Oxford DNB)