So my dearly beloved; life itself may be filled with pain, and all men flawed and ill made, and happiness an impossibility borne upon the wings of a fever dream; and hearts, promises and pie crusts all things that were made to be broken, but books, books are eternal.
I recently decided (translation: I turned up at a party and no-one wanted to admit they’d invited me, which means I no longer have anyone to borrow money off) that it’s about time I got back into using the internet for its primary purpose;
as a pathetic apparatus for staving off loneliness and isolation as a means of sharing my love of what I do for (what I shall now rather laughably refer to as…) a living.
This is a wonderful, interesting thing:
Certaine Advertisements out of Ireland, concerning the losses and distresses happened to the Spanish Navie, upon the West coasts of Ireland in their voyage intended from the Northern Isles beyond Scotland , towards Spaine.
London: I. Vautrollier for Richard Field, 1588.
First Edition. Small Quarto. 18cm x 13cm. 19pp. First edition (in setting that collates A-B). Beautifully bound in quarter pigskin over marbled boards to style, pink leather title label. new endpapers. Internally clean and bright. Woodcut printer’s device to title page. Blind stamp of North Library to title page; from the Tony Sweeney collection. Woodcut headpiece to Aii.
A scarce contemporary account issued anonymously by the Royal Treasurer (or Spymaster if we’re being blunt) of Elizabeth I, regarding the destruction of the Spanish Armada and the subsequent annihilation of many of its survivors who were despatched on the beaches of Galway by the local populace. The final two leaves detail the ships lost and their crews in 1588 with an additional list of men and ships lost in the two months preceding. Apart from the fascinating period detail and providing an understanding of the professional and detailed nature of the Elizabethan propaganda machine under Cecil, this ephemeral pamphlet rarely seen at all (only a handful of copies in auction since 1961), sometimes seen bound with “A Copie of A Letter Sent Out of England…”, although possessed of its own separate imprint and title page; provides a harrowing account of what the enemies of the crown could expect when washing up on the shores of the scepter’d isle:
“He inviteth also that there was at the same time another great ship cast away in Tereawley…and all the residue of that ship are slain and drowned…Meleghlen Mac Cab, A Galloglasse, killed 80 of them with his Galloglasse axe…”
When it comes to the defending the shores of Britain from invaders, apparently there is no such thing as bad publicity. A scarce and fascinating survival.
So, this basically dates from the birth of the dirty, gritty and searingly unpleasant modern world. The birth of Intelligence services and the myriad tiny, grubby wars they fight, the birth of terrorist training camps, double and triple agents, suicidal religious zealots, torture, rendition, cryptography and the gentleman spy.
It’s 1588, for those of you that have never been in a Tardis before. Most of the world is Catholic, gleefully, enthusiastically, pointy-hattedly, Inquisitively, Catholic. Pretty much half the planet was Papally divided between Spain and Portugal, Britain and William of Orange’s Holland were small, irritating Protestant strongholds and just last year Elizabeth I of England (body of a weak and feeble woman, brain of a steel trap, capacity for fear and weakness of a Megalodon shark) executed the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, thus putting paid to any plan to get a Catholic on the throne of England without invading. For the previous decade or more England has been a hotbed of plot after plot after plot seeking the removal or assassination of Elizabeth. The Ridolfi Plot in 1571 was a straight up armed invasion, the Throckmorton Plot in ’83 intended to put Mary on the throne and the Babington Plot of ’86 was aimed at killing Elizabeth and then putting Mary on the throne. There were three assassination plots in 1586 alone, they were presumably put down so swiftly and brutally they didn’t have time to catch any names.
The happy go lucky swashbuckling, thigh slapping chaps of the informal British Navy; Drake, Raleigh et al. are generally harassing the living daylights out of Spanish shipping both in Europe and the New World. Philip placed an embargo on all English goods in 1585 and Francis “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” Drake took Galicia for ten days in the teeth of the Spanish, went on to sack ports in the Canaries and the Caribbean and then eventually raided Cadiz; which went down like a Bathory concert in the Vatican.
William Allen, formerly of St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford and the kind of Catholic who made Torquemada feel like he wasn’t trying hard enough, has started seminaries in Douai and Rome recruiting young, zealous and disenfranchised English Catholics dedicated to returning England to the true faith. Allen was a true believer; the Papacy held the ultimate power, he was committed to nothing short of a military invasion of England and, as one of his adherents said to Philip “if the entire destruction of England was for the greater good of God” then he would be happy to see it done. All of his young men knew that if caught on English soil preaching Catholicism they would be guilty of treason, the punishment for which was being half hanged, taken down, castrated, disembowelled and then dismembered. In reality, under Francis Walsingham’s sanction and William Cecil’s direction they were often captured, tortured, drained of all useful information and then turned in double agents, sent back to the Catholic mainland to spy on, subvert and report on the anti-Protestant plotting. Cecil’s espionage tactics, and the ruthlessness with which they were carried out, actually succeeded in foiling a number of Catholic plots.
Elizabeth and her advisers were obviously aware of Philip’s plans for invasion. The building and deployment of 130 ships, 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns isn’t the kind of thing that someone of Cecil’s acumen and networking skills would have missed.
In the event despite the small yet dedicated and tactically agile English navy, with Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins and the other sea cowboys of the Elizabethan age doing their best to destroy it in Calais harbour with the famous fire ships, it was in fact dreadful weather that swept the colossal Spanish Armada north and into the circumstances that Cecil’s propaganda pamphlet speaks of.
The towering Spanish ships were blown far off course and up onto the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Cecil’s pamphlet charts the losses in a pair of tables in the rear:
The Tireawley entry is the one mentioned above in the catalogue description, where a single Gallowglass killed 80 washed up Spaniards on his own, by strolling along the beach and hacking them up with his axe.
There would have undoubtedly been a wealth of celebration if the navy alone had carried the day, despite the relative impossibility of this in the face of an armada that enormous; the fact that nature itself conspired against the Spaniards, and thus God (the Protestant one, naturally), and that so many of the people responsible for straight up murdering, holding and ransoming the surviving Spanish were not your standard beef eating, bowls playing Englishmen made it, in the eyes of England’s burgeoning intelligence and propaganda community, especially worthy of effort.
Cecil was never a man to miss the chance at some attribution of divine intervention, and a brief look at the title page shows that it features Psalm 118: “This was The Lord’s Doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes…” which, by a stunning coincidence is what Elizabeth herself said to Cecil, seated beneath a tree at Hatfield, when he informed her of the death of Mary I and Elizabeth’s subsequent elevation to Queen. Anyone who thinks of the concept of spin as a modern invention, clearly needs to read more about the Elizabethan period.
As a bibliophilic sidenote, Cecil is the man who gave his name to Cecil Court in London’s West End, famous for having more rare bookshops that any other part of London.