PHILIP would not make war on Elizabeth as long as Mary Queen of Scots was alive, with her French affinities and her claim to the throne. He encouraged rebellion in Ireland and plots in England, and, when the last plot cost Mary her head, the Armada sailed. Most of its hundred-and-thirty ships were transports only very lightly gunned, and packed with soldiers to reinforce Parma's army in the Netherlands. England had nearly two hundred ships, smaller but seaworthy, heavily gunned, and manned only by combatants. They had the windward position and raked the Spaniards from long ranges, driving them up the Channel, and with fire ships out of Calais harbour, to be wrecked by the Atlantic gales as they made their way homewards by the northern route. Spain lost more ships than England lost men.

Spain profited by her defeat and the war lasted till 1604, but England had asserted her insularity. She soon sent fleets eastwards and later founded the East India Company (1600). Her chief attempt at a colony (Raleigh's Virginia) had failed.

The black feature of the reign is that it began the Irish blunder. The Irish chiefs and the obstinately Catholic peasantry provided grounds for massacres and confiscation of tribal lands, followed by rebellion, murder, and further confiscation. Massacres might have been forgotten, but confiscation of lands is invariably a source of future trouble, and the Protestant settlers who were planted in Ireland in this reign and the next half-century failed to maintain the Protestant cause there.