Intelligence of Spain and Portugal arranged in tabular fashion by Wyliam Lytlestone, 1582
NMM library ref: REC/40
In 1580, Sir Francis Drake arrived at Southampton in the Golden Hind. He had been away for three years, had circumnavigated the globe and seized £800,000 of Spanish treasure, which he presented to his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I. Even though Elizabeth eventually kept only £160,000 of this, it still represented a sizeable addition to her average annual income of under £400,000. Understandably, the King of Spain, Philip II, demanded that the treasure be returned and Drake be punished, but Elizabeth did neither.
Spain was England’s most powerful European neighbour. The Spanish Empire at this time was extensive. William Lytlestone’s book lists all the king’s titles: he ruled Spain, the Netherlands and colonies in the New World. The vast extent of the empire produced both benefits and disadvantages. The American colonies provided enormous wealth, which was shipped back to Europe on a regular basis. However, the routes and times were well known and the transport convoys were targets for privateers such as Drake. Philip also had to cope with religious divisions within the empire: the people of Netherlands were Protestant and Philip had to put down a series of revolts against his Catholic rule.
In 1582, when this book was produced, Elizabeth I had been on the English throne for 24 years. Elizabeth had supported the establishment of the Church of England, which had made diplomatic relations with France and Spain difficult. Both countries were viewed as potential enemies. Although Philip of Spain had offered to marry Elizabeth at the beginning of her reign, any hope of a marriage alliance was long past. Continued English attacks on Spanish treasure ships and possessions overseas made Anglo-Spanish relations uneasy.
Religious tensions also caused unrest at home. Although Elizabeth had reached a compromise religious settlement early in her reign, many were unhappy with the outcome, which deliberately avoided religious extremes.
In 1570, the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and in 1580, he stated that anyone who assassinated her ‘with the pious intention of doing God service, not only does not sin but gains merit.’ This pronouncement cleared the way for any Catholic monarch to invade England with the Pope’s blessing.
In this situation, Elizabeth remained neutral and relied on various forms of diplomacy to keep her neighbours at arm’s length. It was true then, as now, that information is power. All the European powers knew this and all had their networks of spies. Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ was Francis Walsingham. He had had an extensive network of spies across Europe. It is known that Dr John Dee, the astrologer, sometimes acted for Walsingham and his emblem is in the front of this volume, providing a connection with one of the most colourful characters of Elizabethan England.
The dedication at the front of this volume says that the information was gathered by the author whilst he was at the Spanish court and came from secret documents found there. What is contained in the volume would have been of great use to those in charge of the defence of the realm. Included is a ‘who’s who’ of all the most important Spanish nobles, and more importantly perhaps, how many men each could put in the field in time of war and how quickly. The ports and rivers of Spain are described in detail, along with a memorandum of the numbers of ships each harbour could hold and how many and what type of ships were actually in port at the time of writing.