Book Review: Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs and their War Against Spain by Brian Best

Genre: History, nonfiction
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Pub date: 7 January 2021
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Sea Dogs were seafaring merchantmen who originally traded mainly with Holland and France. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, however, they began to spread their reach, sailing further and further afield exploring and plundering. The main source of wealth quickly became the Caribbean, which, until then, had been predominantly the domain of wealthy Catholic Spain.

The first man to trade with the Spanish Main was John Hawkins, who travelled to West Africa, captured the natives and transported them to the Caribbean. There he sold them to plantation owners in exchange for goods such as pearls, hides and spices. He made three voyages and on the disastrous last he took his cousin, Francis Drake.

The backers, including the Queen, were satisfied with the bounty but encouraged the Sea Dogs to seek greater riches. England at that time was a relatively impoverished country compared with Spain. Elizabeth had inherited a high cost of inflation, poor harvests and a legacy of poverty from Edward VI and Mary Tudor. This was a time of religious tension with King Philip of Spain, whose marriage to Mary Tudor gave him the right to rule England. The rift between the Catholics and Protestants was cooled somewhat by Elizabeth’s keeping the peace between the two countries, despite the continuing campaigns of the privateers crewed by the Sea Dogs.

The main thorn in the Spanish side was Francis Drake. Despite efforts to kill or capture him, he continued to plunder the high seas, bringing back Spanish riches to England. This allowed the Queen to flourish. It was thanks in main to the privateering exploits of the Sea Dogs that England became so wealthy, paving the way for the Renaissance that followed.

I have previously enjoyed reading about Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh so I was very interested in this book to learn more about them and others.

Best gives a detailed account of those who were known as Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs and their adventures including Drake’s circumvention and Hawkin’s many journeys such as the disastrous San Juan Uno where he almost lost his and his crews lives.

A number of seafarers are detailed including many I was previously unaware of and their expeditions across the seas, battles, discoveries or in one instance, the first man to use blueprints of ships.

Drake was a favourite of Elizabeth and although she denied knowing of his plans she would secretly support and provide finance for his attacks against Spanish ships.

The Armada is explained in great detail from the differences between the English and Spanish ships such as the reason the English ships were faster down to the clothing worn by those involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed diving into the depths of the adventures of these men, their successes and failures and learning why some of them are still well known names today. I have learnt alot, not just about the men involved but also the development of ships, the Royal Navy and why Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs were feared by their enemies.

For anyone with an interest in the Armada, this is fascinating but I would also recommend to anyone with an interest in the Elizabethan era. This book is clearly the result of much research.

The bibliography has provided me with more reading I’ll be adding to my list.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pen and Sword for an advanced copy of this book.

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