Oxford and the Spanish Armada: Historical Accounts

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Early printed accounts which include the name of the earl of Oxford among the English heros of the battle against the Spanish Armada (1588) are the following, given in reverse date order:

The list of individuals said to have taken arms against the Armada from Hackluyt (1598-1600) on derives from three propaganda pamphlets printed in the immediate aftermath of the Armada:

All of the sources cited above depend for their lists of names of participants in the action against the Armada on the earliest (1588) propaganda pamphlet, either directly, or at second hand. The 1588 propaganda pamphlet derives in turn from Lansdowne MS 193, now in the British Library.

It should come as no surprise to Oxfordians to learn that the text of the 1588 propaganda pamphlet was actually composed by Burghley, and that it is to Burghley that we owe the introduction of Oxford's name into the list of Armada heros.

The text in Lansdowne MS 193 went through three distinct stages, all of which survive intact:

  1. First draft, entirely in Burghley's own distinctive hand
  2. Fair copy of 1) in the hand of an amanuensis
  3. Corrections and insertions in 2) in Burghley's own hand

Oxford's name first appears at the third and last stage, where it is inserted as an interlineation in Burghley's own hand:

the Erle of oxford also in this tyme repayared to ye sea cost, for service of ye Qu{een} in ye navy.

On this same page Thomas Cecil's name is similarly added in the margin:

and amongst many others ther wear ye son and heyr of ye L{ord} tresorer called Thomas Cecill

Even more startling is Burghley's insertion of the following passage at the bottom of the page, both qualifying and bolstering his assertion that the participants included "ye substance of all ye Great lordes" of England:

saving ye Erle of Arundell who is in the towre for attemptyng to have fled owt of ye realm, by provocation of hym yat now is Cardinall Allyn who howso ever he may be affected to ye Catholique rellygion, yet I here most certenly, that he offreth his liff, in defence of ye Quene, ageynst all ye worlde.

At this point Burghley is caught in a flat lie, since several months later, in early 1589, the House of Lords, Burghley and Oxford among them, found Arundel (i.e., Philip Howard) guilty of high treason for praying for the success of the Armada while imprisoned in the Tower.

Oxford, of course, was Burghley's son-in-law. In a similar fashion, Burghley gratuitously introduced the names of his two biological sons, Thomas and Robert Cecil. The latter he identifies as "a second sonne of the Lord Treasurer called as I can remember, Robert Cecil." The phrase "as I can remember" is a tidbit of disinformation, to cover the fact that Burghley actually wrote the pamphlet himself.

Robert Cecil was of a patently weak constitution, evidently having suffered from curvature of the spine. He did not fight and could not have fought in person against the Armada, though he did his part in a bureaucratic fashion.

The representation of Oxford as being among those active against the Armada is an integral part of Burghley's post-Armada disinformation campaign meant to persuade Catholics everywhere that the English nobility was unanimous in its opposition to the Armada. Oxford's participation has no basis in any original document other than Burghley's patently false propaganda tract.

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