Conflict for Soveignty in North America Continued

Tensions between the English and Spanish thrones continued, finally leading Elizabeth to sanction an expedition under Raleigh against the Spanish fleet anchored at Cadiz in southeastern Spain. Raleigh joined forces with England's temporary ally, the Dutch, and their combined forces destroyed the Spanish fleet before its ships could reach open waters. Destruction of their naval protection left the Cadiz open to a landing by English and Dutch soldiers, and Robert Devereux (the Earl of Essex) plundered the town. In retaliation, a second Armada was sent by Philip the following year. This time, with her navy away from home, Elizabeth I knew that England was extremely vulnerable; once again, however, terrible storms in the north Atlantic devastated the Armada. Elizabeth, plagued by meager finances and domestic intrigues, turned cautious. Ireland was once again in rebellion against English authority. Devereux, dispatched to Ireland with a large force, failed to restore order and returned to England, with vague and certainly ill-planned intentions of taking power from Elizabeth; he failed in this enterprise as well and was executed. Command of Elizabeth's army in Ireland was given to Lord Mountjoy, an extremely able strategist, who crushed the rebellion and restored English control. Elizabeth's continued reign was assured, but in one of the great ironies of history, Shakespeare's Richard II (a metaphor for Essex's intrigue against Elizabeth) included the passage quoted in the previous chapter, words that captured the rising sense of nationalism and unity within the English population. Shakespeare expressed a universal sentiment the people of England were feeling toward their country, an attachment that grew independent of (or in spite of) commitment to monarchy or any authority. Elizabeth might preserve her throne and even die in her sleep, but the socio-political structure of English society was moving away from her form of leadership and control.

As the third decade of the seventeenth century began, the Dutch actually emerged first among the challenges to Spanish and Portuguese hegemony in the Americas. Dutch privateers raided Spanish and Portuguese settlements with increasing frequency and in 1628 captured a Spanish treasure fleet leaving the West Indies. In the meantime, the Anglo-Dutch alliance had also fallen apart as a result of the growing rivalry between these two powerful states. France was also entering the quest for new markets and territories in the Americas; and, a Franco-Spanish alliance aroused a strong Protestant reaction in England, so that by 1627 tensions erupted into war.

An English fleet under the command of David Kirke defeated and captured a French force in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, then went on to seize several French fortifications. As a reward for their efforts, Kirke and his brothers received a charter from Charles I, who had ascended to the throne in 1625 after the death of James I, to establish a colony on Cape Breton Island at the entrance to the St. Lawrence seaway. With this charter, of course, came a monopoly over trade with the indigenous tribes and any Europeans who might settle within the jurisdiction of Kirke's grant. Peace between France and England returned in 1632, however; and, with the signing of the treaty Kirke was forced to relinquish his landholdings to the French.

In the meantime, the Franco-Spanish alliance broke down in a dispute over control of continental territory in the northern part of the Italian peninsula. France also soon became embroiled in war with the Hapsburg empire. In 1630, Spain and the Hapsburgs reached an accord, then formed an alliance against the Dutch. The balance of power among these European states changed once again in 1640, when the Portuguese withdrew from the Spanish empire and entered an alliance with France and England against Spain. The Portuguese also successfully drove the Dutch from Brazil and other Portuguese colonial outposts. Despite this setback for Dutch territorial desires, the formal granting of independence by Spain in 1648 stimulated the new United Provinces (i.e., the Netherlands) to renew their colonial adventures in the Americas.

Another dynamic was added, favoring Dutch desires, when England's attentions were diverted by internal strive between Charles I and Parliament. Charles I was determined to restore the powers of absolute monarchy to the English throne, and in the process dislodge the Common Law with royal prerogatives. Almost immediately, the Scots revolted against Charles and this perceived oppression. Charles, in desperate need of finances and without a standing army, summoned a Parliament in 1640 in an effort to resolve these problems. Under the leadership of Edward Coke, however, this Parliament set about to dismantle the royal prerogatives claimed by Charles I. Civil war finally broke out in 1642 and continued for four years. During this period, the Dutch took maximum advantage of the English absence from the high seas.

By 1650 civil war in England had ended and Charles I had been executed. New leadership had also emerged in the Netherlands. Factions in both countries now hoped for reconciliation, alliance and even the possibility of unification under one government. More powerful, however, were the vested interests in each country that sought protection from competition. Under the newly-formed Commonwealth of England the House of Commons was made supreme, and both the monarchy and House of Lords were abolished. The administration of government was vested in the hands of a new Council of State. In 1650-51 Parliament passed two Acts that virtually prohibited direct trade between the Dutch and England's colonies in North America. Moreover, England claimed as its own all of North America from the southern boundary of Virginia up to Newfoundland. A brief war broke out over these trade and territorial disputes, ending in 1654 after negotiations by England's new Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, and a Dutch agreement to honor English claims to North America. After Cromwell's death and England's return to monarchy under Charles II, the Anglo-Dutch disputes accelerated.

The English basis for claiming sovereignty over North America rested on the settlements established in Virginia, Maryland and New England between 1606 and 1640 by two private joint-stock ventures -- the Northern Company and the London Company. The first northern colony (in Maine) failed to last one winter, and only repeated rescue missions sustained the first southern colony of Jamestown. Soon, however, the promise of free land brought immigrants in ever larger numbers. Poorly conceived plans to diversify the Virginia colony's economy brought financial disaster to the London Company, which was dissolved in 1624. Granted a royal charter, the colony continued to expand in an atmosphere of salutary neglect. Farms and plantations stretched out along the banks of the inland rivers of the Virginia tidewater region. The first Africans were brought to Jamestown in 1619, their numbers increasing after immigration of indentured workers was restricted by the English Parliament.

A haven for English and Irish catholics had been created when Charles I split off the northern portion of the Virginia colony and gave this land to Sir George Calvert (the first Lord Baltimore). Although few catholics actually migrated to Maryland, the colony's assembly was the first to pass a law guaranteeing toleration in the practice of one's religion. The Puritans, after establishing their own English Congregational Church, left for North America in 1620 to create a new society in which they could practice their own religious beliefs without interference. They were followed in 1681 by William Penn's noble experiment in toleration that became Pennsylvania.