While England became "a nest of singing birds " at home, the last years of Elizabeth's reign were years of splendour and triumph abroad.

The defeat of the Armada was the first of a series of defeats which broke the power of Spain, and changed the political aspect of the world. The next year fifty vessels and fifteen thousand men were sent under Drake and Norris against Lisbon. The expedition returned baffled to England, but it had besieged Corunna, pillaged the coast, and repulsed a Spanish army on Spanish ground. The exhaustion of the treasury indeed soon forced Elizabeth to content herself with issuing commissions to volunteers; but the war was a national one, and the nation waged it for itself. Merchants, gentlemen, nobles, fitted out privateers. The sea-dogs in ever growing numbers scoured the Spanish Main; Spanish galleons, Spanish merchant-ships, were brought month after month to English harbours. Philip meanwhile was held back from attack on England by the need of action in France. The Armada had hardly been dispersed when the assassination of Henry the Third, the last of the line of Valois, raised Henry of Navarre to the throne; and the accession of a Protestant sovereign at once ranged the Catholics of France to a man on the side of the League and its leaders, the Guises. The League rejected Henry's claims as those of a heretic, proclaimed the Cardinal of Bourbon King as Charles the Tenth, and recognized Philip as Protector of France. It received the support of Spanish soldiery and Spanish treasure: and this new effort of Spain, an effort whose triumph must have ended in her ruin, forced Elizabeth to aid Henry with men and money in his five years' struggle against the overwhelming odds which seemed arrayed against him.

[Authorities. - The materials for the early history of Ireland are described by Professor O'Curry in his "Lectures on the Materials of Ancient Irish History." They may be studied by the general reader in the compilation known as " The Annals of the Four Masters," edited by Dr. O'Donovan. Its ecclesiastical history is dryly but accurately told by Dr. Lanigan ("Ecclesiastical History of Ireland "). The chief authorities for the earlier conquest under Henry the Second are the "Expugnatio et Topographia Hibernica" of Gerald de Barri, edited for the Rolls series by Mr. Dimock, and the Anglo-Norman Poem edited by M. Francisque Michel (London, Pickering, 1857). Mr. Froude has devoted especial attention to the relations of Ireland with the Tudors; but both in accuracy and soundness of judgement his work is far inferior to Mr. Brewer's examination of them in his prefaces to the State Papers of Henry VIII., or to Mr. Gardiner's careful and temperate account of the final conquest and settlement under Mountjoy and Chichester (" History of England "). The two series of "Lectures on the History of Ireland" by Mr. A. G. Richey are remarkable for their information and fairness. ]

Torn by civil strife, it seemed as though France might be turned into a Spanish dependency; and it was from its coast that Philip hoped to reach England. But the day at last went against the Leaguers. On the death of their puppet king, their scheme of conferring the crown on Philip's daughter awoke jealousies in the house of Guise itself, while it gave strength to the national party who shrank from laying France at the feet of Spain. Henry's submission to the faith held by the bulk of his subjects at last destroyed all chance of Philip's success. " Paris is well worth a mass "was the famous phrase in which Henry explained his abandonment of the Protestant cause, but the step did more than secure Paris. It dashed to the ground all hopes of further resistance, it dissolved the League, and enabled the King at the head of a reunited people to force Philip to acknowledge his title and consent to peace in the Treaty of Vervins. The overthrow of Philip's hopes in France had been made more bitter by the final overthrow of his hopes at sea. In 1596 his threat of a fresh Armada was met by the daring descent of an English force upon Cadiz. The town was plundered and burned to the ground; thirteen vessels of war were fired in its harbour, and the stores accumulated for the expedition utterly destroyed.

In spite of this crushing blow a Spanish fleet gathered in the following year and set sail for the English coast; but as in the case of its predecessor storms proved more fatal than the English guns, and the ships were wrecked and almost destroyed in the Bay of Biscay.

With the ruin of Philip's projects in France and the assertion of English supremacy at sea, all danger from Spain passed quietly away, and Elizabeth was able to direct her undivided energies to the last work which illustrates her reign.

To understand however the final conquest of Ireland, we must retrace our steps to the reign of Henry the Second. The civilization of the island had at that time fallen far below the height which it had reached when its missionaries brought religion and learning to the shores of Northumbria. Learning had almost disappeared. The Christianity which had been a vital force in the eighth century had died into asceticism and superstition by the twelfth, and had ceased to influence the morality of the people at large. The Church, destitute of any effective organization, was powerless to do the work which it had done elsewhere in Western Europe, or to introduce order into the anarchy of warring tribes. On the contrary, it shared the anarchy around it. Its head, the Coarb or Archbishop of Armagh, sank into the hereditary chieftain of a clan; its bishops were without dioceses, and often mere dependants of the greater monasteries. Hardly a trace of any central authority remained to knit the tribes into a single nation, though the King of Ulster claimed supremacy over his fellow-kings of Minister, Leinster, and Connaught; and even within these minor kingships the regal authority was little more than a name.