On 8 August 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated at the Battle of the Gravelines by the British fleet.
|English ships and the Spanish Armada, 1588|
This was one of the greatest military battles in England’s history, and it was the single most important event in the Anglo-Spanish War, which had begun in 1585.
William Shakespeare had gone from Stratford-upon-Avon to London by this time to break into the theatre world and become the famous actor and playwright he was.
Queen Elizabeth herself gave arguably her most famous speech to mark the occasion, when she visited her troops at Tilbury.
|Queen Elizabeth's Armada Portrait|
The speech is probably most famous for the line: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.”
For Shakespeare, and any Englishman at the time, the news that King James was negotiating a peace treaty with Spain, would have been very confusing, and maddening.
There were many reasons to make peace with Spain, and it was good for Spain and for England. But at the time, during the actual treaty process, it was controversial. Many in the English delegation were suspected of taking bribes from the Spanish.
Also, Spain and England would resume their hostilities in 1625.
|The Treaty of London delegations,|
the Spanish on the left,
and the English on the right
It is very likely that while he was entertaining King James and the Spanish during the summer of 1604, he was writing Othello and Measure For Measure. These were the first two plays that Shakespeare wrote for King James.
If these plays are any indication, Shakespeare was not pleased at the direction the country was going in.
Corrupt and evil men, like Angelo in Measure for Measure, and Iago in Othello, could very well have represented the kind of men he was meeting, as the peace negotiations were dragging on.
Shakespeare lived during some of the most consequential moments in England's history. In the case of the Treaty of London, he had a front row seat.
He had known a Queen who had the heart and stomach of a King, and he knew her successor, a King who seemed to have no heart nor stomach.
David B. Schajer
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