Document: Queen Elizabeth’s Instruction to Admiral Howard, 20 December 1587

By courtesy of Geoffrey Parker, published May 2008


An introduction to this transcript of the original instruction written by Queen Elizabeth I, provides a brief review of interpretations of the document and raises concerns how it has been misinterpreted, as the whole document was not read and reviewed. The document shows Elizabeth’s understanding of the need to have flexibility of approach to maritime warfare due to a number of unknown variants, such as weather. The introduction highlights Philip II’s strict instruction forbidding the experienced Naval Officers to use their professional judgment.  Analysis of orders issued to naval commanders by Elizabeth I and Philip II relating to the defeat of the Spanish Armada show a marked difference in the approach of the two rulers. Elizabeth’s orders were issued following direct discussions with her commanders. The orders included a great degree of flexibility, so that the English commanders were able to use their discretion, whereas Philip refused to speak directly to his commanders. Instead all strategy was determined by the Spanish king and his civilian advisers. His written orders left no room for discretion if unforeseen situations developed.

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Filed under: English Channel | The Armada | North Sea
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Navies

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