In 1576, after Edmund Grindal, archbishop of Canterbury, presumed to lecture Queen Elizabeth on the importance of preaching and on her duty to listen to such lectures, his influence diminished precipitously, and leadership of the established English church fell to Bishop Aylmer. Grindal’s friends on the queen’s Privy Council, “forward” Calvinists (or ultra-Protestants), were powerless to save him from the consequences of his indiscretion, which damaged the ultras’ other initiatives’ chances of success. This paper concerns one of those initiatives. From the late 1560s, they urged their queen “actively” to intervene in the Dutch wars. They collaborated with Calvinists on the Continent who befriended Prince William of Orange and who hoped to help him hold together a coalition of religiously reformed and Roman Catholic insurgents in the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries. The English ultra-Protestants would have their government send money, munitions, and men in arms to the Netherlands, to tip the balance against viceroys sent by King Philip II of Spain. Grindal’s setback undermined the English Calvinists’ efforts to form an Anglo-Dutch alliance which, they assumed, would boost the prospects for an international Protestant league. Yet Elizabeth did assist the Dutch as they wrestled with decisions forced on them by developments in the Netherlands during the 1570s, and she did so more consistently and more cleverly than many historians of Tudor diplomacy have thought.
Two competing assessments determine the way questions are formulated in the study of the queen’s and regime’s Dutch diplomacy. The general consensus is that she was indecisive and inconsistent. Paul Hammer characterizes Elizabeth’s responses to the crises in the Low Countries as a “zigzag of different” (“even contradictory”) maneuvers. Wallace McCaffrey and R. B. Wernham agree that England’s “hesitations and gyrations” do not pass as coherent, creditable policy. Charles Wilson scolds Elizabeth for being timid and tepid--incapable of enthusiasm for “a great cause.” But David J.B. Trim’s striking counterthrust depicts the queen’s overtures to Netherlanders as part of her courageous – and “confessionally driven” – foreign policy; Trim replaces “hesitation” and “zigzag” with a coherent “Protestant programme of action prioritized by the Elizabethan government” with the aim of improving prospects for “Calvinist internationalism.”
What follows is an alternative to all these characterizations, one that, as noted, finds evidence for greater consistency and coherence in Elizabeth’s leadership and less confessional “drive.” That she would have been uneasy around religious extremists ought not to astonish us; her father’s, step-brother’s, and step-sister’s reigns as well as the start of her own were disturbed by zealous subjects, who were bent on shoring up or dismantling the realm’s religious settlements.
Copyright © 2013 Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. This book chapter first appeared in Leadership and Elizabethan Culture.
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Kaufman, Peter Iver. "Queen Elizabeth’s Leadership Abroad: The Netherlands in the 1570s." In Leadership and Elizabethan Culture, by Peter Iver Kaufman, 73-87. Jepson Studies in Leadership. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2013.