Life in Elizabethan England Next

Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and other despicable places

The English are professionally paranoid of anything foreign. The word insular might have been coined to describe us.

On the other hand, we are habitually jealous of all things foreign: Italian manners, French fashions, Spanish gold, etc.

We have always been enemies with the French, except when necessary to unite against Spain.

On the other hand, we have often been allied with Spain, until that unfortunate episode of the Armada in 1588.


In her will, Mary Queen of Scots left her claim to England to King Philip of Spain, which provided him with the impetus to finally launch the Enterprise of England.

Philip's primary motive was both religious (really wanting to bring England back to the Roman Catholic church) and political (wanting to be able to keep France surrounded.)


At the time of Richard the Lionheart (1188-1199) the Plantagenet empire included England, Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine, and vast tracts of France. (Also the lordship of Ireland.)

By the time of Bloody Mary (1553-1558), the only English possession on the Continent was the town of Calais (pronounced CAL-iss by the English) opposite Dover, on the French coast. Map Showing Calais

We lost Calais in a war with the French about 1556-57. The English were severely depressed over this loss. Queen Mary said that when she died, they would open her up and find the word Calais written over her heart.

Like Spain, France is a Roman Catholic country. French Protestants are Calvinists called Huguenots (pronounced HEW-ga-nots by Englishmen).

In the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 1572, the king allowed thousands of Huguenots to be massacred in religious riots. Even English Catholics were shocked and appalled.

The French Calvinists have asked the English, as co-religionists, for money and military aid. They will not get it till 1625.


Germany is not a country but a collection of little "countries", whose people all speak some dialect more or less recognizable as German. We English refer to it as "the Germanies".

The Empire refers to the Holy Roman Empire: in the middle of the century, it includes most of the German states, Spain, Flanders, and even parts of Italy. Border disputes with France are common. There has also been a good deal of fighting in Italy.

The Empire, particularly Spain, claims the Netherlands and keeps trying to establish sovereignty there.

The Dutch have asked for English men, money, arms, and officers. When we say we are fighting in the Low Countries, this is where we mean.

The Landsknechts are crack mercenary troops from all over the Empire, primarily from the German states.

Their life is so nasty, brutish, and short that the Emperor Maximilian granted them dispensation from all sumptuary laws, which explains their flamboyant attire. ("Max said we could!" is a period expression.)

Germans come in both Catholic and Protestant varieties. It is safe to say that most German Protestants are Lutherans.

Both the Catholics and the Lutherans despise the Calvinists as well as each other, and the Calvinists return the sentiment (one of the benefits of revealed Truth). There is no conformity among Protestant sects.


Like Germany, Italy is not a country but a language group.

The Italian peninsula is made up of a number of city-states such as Florence, Genoa, Venice, Milan and so on, ruled by powerful families such as the Medici, Gonzaga, Borgia, Sforza, and so on, respectively.

As well as being the center of the Catholic Church, Rome is the center of the secular political territory called the Papal States, ruled by the Pope.

Since the Pope is a temporal ruler as well as a spiritual one, it is possible to declare war on him, which Catholic rulers (such as King Philip) have done.

Italians and Spaniards are most likely to be Catholic, although there are feeble Protestant movements in both places, effectively countered by the Inquisition.

Map of Western Europe c. 1550

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27 March 2008 mps