Queen Bess and the Pirate Village

We all know Elizabeth hated Philip and Philip hated Elizabeth.

But they had not got off on the right foot at all. Marrying Elizabeth I’s extremist elder sister Mary, martyr-burner, was not – in the light of what happened next – a great move for Philip of Spain. He considered Elizabeth a heretic, and to her he was a dangerous extremist.

When the Spaniards invaded Protestant Holland, Elizabeth sent ships, troops and money to help the Dutch rebels.And after she dispatched Frances Drake to attack Spanish ports in the Carribean, Philip decided enough was enough.

And The English Enterprise was born.

Today, we know it as The Armada: a seemingly invincible crescent of 130 ships which would sail to Holland, pick up the Spanish army and ferry them across the sea to England.

And it may have happened, and Elizabeth might have been just a flash-in-the-pan monarch, had it not been for the Spanish army getting a bit delayed. The Spanish Armada pulled in at Calais, and assumed the sitting duck position.

Meanwhile, the British had not been idle. They were building ships as fast as they could.Ports were given their orders to produce ships in defence of the realm.

And here we move from the whole picture to one little port on the North Norfolk coast: Blakeney Haven.

Blakeney had been a port for a very long time. It thrived in the Middle Ages, with a busy trade between it and the Netherlands. the villagers knew their ships at Blakeney; some said, a little too well.

For they had a reputation as a lawless lot. Piracy was rife there, and there are tales of Blakeney men sailing out, overpowering laden merchants ‘ ships, and bringing them back to Blakeney for stripping.

So how did the Blakeney villagers respond to the request for ships to battle Philip’s Armada?

There are two conflicting sets of information about that.

The local journal, Glaven Historian, and history books, say the villagers refused, flatly, to create a ship for the occasion.

Yet out walking yesterday I met a man who has a static caravan on a National Trust site in Blakeney.

And he says that the site overlooks three huge man-made rifts in the earth.

Each, local lore says, was used to build a ship in; a ship created to battle the Armada.

Up there in Norfolk they don’t change things unless they have to, and the three great holes are grassed over and not even labelled. They just lie there, remembering.

So which was it? Did the village refuse to build a ship for Queen Bess, or did they build three to hare out to Calais and thrash the opposition?

I wonder if time will tell.

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11 thoughts on “Queen Bess and the Pirate Village

  1. Life flows slowly in Norfolk and the recording of the past has often been left to stories handed down from generation to generation. Reputedly, Queen Elizabeth I made Blakeney a Free Port in gratitude for their help in defeating the Spanish Armada, which suggests that they did indeed supply those ships. I use the word reputedly because it’s only mentioned in a couple of places that I’ve read. I assume that the three ‘ship building’ trenches are now significantly inland compared to Elizabethan times. Perhaps we need a Timeteam dig to at least establish whether they were used to build ships? After all, they could also have been created for drainage purposes or military training. Interesting mystery Kate 🙂

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