Historians regularly weigh in on the 1588 sea battle with Spain that assured the survival of a Protestant England, and contemporary readers will certainly enjoy this outstanding contribution.
In Europe during the Reformation, religion remained a matter of life and death, especially as it concerned the clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Elizabeth I (1533-1603) ruled the only large Protestant nation in Europe, the focus of fierce opposition led by the devout Philip II of Spain, a superpower that included Portugal, the Low Countries and much of central Europe. Although bankrupted by the ongoing Dutch rebellion, Philip determined to invade England by sending an immense fleet to the Low Countries to transport an army across the Channel. This was no secret, and Tudor historian Hutchinson (Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII, 2012, etc.) excels in his descriptions of the flow of information, emphasizing England’s pioneering intelligence service, which he recounted in Elizabeth's Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England (2006). “Reading the letters and dispatches written during those days of national peril,” writes the author, “something approaching a barely controlled panic gripped Elizabeth’s government.” Protestants remained a minority. Catholic noblemen had already led several rebellions; Elizabeth and her ministers feared another in support of the invasion. Readers know how the battle turned out, but they will relish Hutchinson’s intensely detailed account, which belies the usual myths—e.g., Britain’s fleet was not outnumbered; Spain’s naval leadership was competent; Sir Francis Drake did not turn the tide; weather, starvation and disease, not battle, produced almost all the casualties. Following victory, England tried to retaliate, sending a fleet to invade Spain in 1589, a move that proved to be a disaster.
Those with fond memories of Garrett Mattingly’s classic The Armada (1959) will discover an equally enthralling successor.