1. Considering the great upsurge in patriotism and national confidence created by the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which seemed to demonstrate beyond cavil that God indeed was an Englishman, it is perhaps surprising how little this great event was celebrated and monumentalized for posterity in the arts. In the graphic arts one thinks chiefly of the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth, perhaps the work of George Gower, and in literature of the account provided by Richard Hakluyt in The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (an account further enhanced by being translated into Latin and reproduced by William Camden in his Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabeth for the year 1588). But Hakluyt’s Armada description was not printed until the end of the sixteenth century and Camden’s history did not appear until 1615, and more contemporary literary reactions to the Armada defeat are conspicuously thin on the ground.
2. Probably the most conspicuous exception to this generalization is the Elizabetheis, written by the Cheltenham schoolmaster Christopher Ocland. Ocland already had a history of writing patriotic and sometimes downright patriotic verse in Latin for the edification of schoolboys, having already published Anglorum Proelia in 1580 and Εἰρηναρχία two years later. The former, a history of English military successes from the reign of Edward III down to modern times written in two Books, was a concatenation of exciting battle-descriptions calculated to appeal to the tastes of schoolboys, and probably also an attempt to glorify war at a time when conflict with Spain was impending. Perhaps for this reason, as well as because of Ocland’s political loyalism and religious orthodoxy, the Privy Council ordained that this work should be put on the curriculum of every school in the land. Εἰρηναρχία was written in frank glorification of Elizabeth, hailing her as an apostle of peace and prosperity, at a time when it was still possible to do so.
3. The Elizabetheis completes the trilogy: it is a continuation of Anglorum Proelia in that its major portion is a battle description very much in the tradition of Ocland’s earlier ones, and likewise it supplements Εἰρηναρχία by presenting an updated portrait of Elizabeth as a reluctant warrior-queen with special ties to the Almighty (at the beginning of the poem, at 21ff, she is explicitly compared to King David, and her repeated prayers are so psalm-like that it is fair to say Ocland is programmatically representing her as a modern David—indeed, this theme is so important that one such prayer substitutes for her famous speech at the Tilbury army camp). Glorification of Elizabeth loomed so large on Ocland’s agenda that he was willing to falsify historical truth. At 372ff. he inserts a lengthy section describing the English fleet taking to the sea during the winter and spring of 1588, on the lookout for the Spanish. This is exactly what should have happened, as Elizabeth was urgently advised by Admiral Charles and his captains, who very much wanted to adopt a forward defensive policy of aggressive patrolling, or even to forestall the sailing of the Armada by a repeat of the previous year’s raid on Cadiz. But what did happen was very different: they could make no impression on Elizabeth, who dithered and did not allow the fleet to commence operations until May 31. In retrospect, the foolishness and danger of her delay was fully evident, and so it was necessary to rewrite history as a means of improving her image. Also, Ocland shapes his work to make it conform to the basic theme of most late Tudor anti-Catholic propaganda. Although the grasping and expansive nature of Spanish imperialism is fully acknowledged, the essential responsibility for the Armada enterprise is blamed on the Pope: it is made to seem a continuation by other means of previous Catholic attempts on Elizabeth’s life, and the Pope is represented as the author of all three episodes. This (whether Ocland fully realized it nor not) too has the effect of rewriting history by making Philip II essentially seem like nothing more than another Papal catspaw, just like Dr. William Parry and Anthony Babington.
4. The Elizabetheis was printed at London by Thomas Orwin, in 1589. The volume is padded out at its end with two epigrams, by Theodore Beza (beginning Straverat innumeris Hispanus navibus aequor) and Thomas Newton (who also contributed a dedicatory epigram at the front of the book). Neither was composed with an eye towards publication together with Ocland’s work, and so they are not included here. Unlike his previous works, the Elizabetheis was not the subject of a contemporary translation, so I am perforce obliged to contribute my own.