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Elizabeth and the Netherlands Issue - 1576-1584 (GCSE Example Answer)


Last updated 11 Apr 2020

Here is an example answer to the following 16-mark question on Elizabeth and the Netherlands Issue - 1576-1584.

Increasing involvement in the Netherlands issue between 1576 and 1584 was entirely the responsibility of Elizabeth’. How far do you agree?

Marks: 16 marks + 4 marks SPAG

Stimulus = John Casimir / Spanish fury and the pacification of Ghent

[Examiner commentary following each paragraph and at the end is provided in italics]


Tensions in the Netherlands increased greatly between 1576 and 1584. Elizabeth increased her financial commitment to the cause of the Dutch rebels and hired mercenary soldiers to intervene in the conflict under the leadership of John Casimir. However, to say therefore increasing involvement was the responsibility of Elizabeth alone would be wrong. Under pressure from her privy council as well, as the Dutch, against a formidable Spanish power that wanted - with the backing of the Pope - England under the umbrella of Catholicism (and had been involved in plots to encourage this as early as 1571), Elizabeth arguably had no choice but to do what she did. It was certainly not the ‘entire responsibility’ of Elizabeth to further involve herself in Dutch affairs.

[Clear judgement, weighing up the relative merits of many factors, with specific reference to the wording of the question in forming criteria for the overall argument.]

In many ways, Elizabeth got herself further embroiled in the Netherlands to try to exploit the Spanish when at their weakest, and to undermine their authority when they returned to the Netherlands stronger. For example, by 1576 Spain were in debt and no longer able to finance their campaign against the Dutch rebels. The resultant Spanish Fury (where unpaid troops went on the rampage and sacked Antwerp) led to the Pacification of Ghent, where the Dutch demanded an end to religious persecution and the removal of all Spanish troops. Elizabeth sent a loan of £100,000 to the Dutch rebels and promised to send them soldiers at a later date to help them achieve their aims. Here, arguably Elizabeth was at her most committed when Spain appeared to be at their weakest, which meant she needlessly became embroiled in the conflict and could not find a way out once Spain’s fortunes improved.

[Often, with questions that include timeframes, students focus on general factors and don’t fit their answer around the specific requirements of the dates. Level 4 responses will embrace the dates as it reflects versatility in applying the wide-ranging knowledge they have. Here, the candidate shows the examiner they understand why the question has focused on 1576 as a start date.]

This can be seen by further involvement through the employment of mercenary John Casimir (who in turn raised 6000 English and Scottish soldier volunteers) to support the Dutch rebels in 1577. Importantly, hiring mercenaries meant that the issue could not technically be seen as a direct act of war between England and Spain, revealing how Elizabeth’s obvious interference was still cautious. Moreover, funds given to the Duke of Alencon in 1581 with £70,000 to fight, as well as additional financial support in 1582, highlights how Elizabeth was determined not to lose her closest Protestant ally and allow Catholic domination. Certainly, this interference can partly be seen as the reason for the eventual attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

[Accurate, relevant and convincing detail which captures the full extent of Elizabeth’s involvement – the adept use of statistics reinforces this.]

However, Elizabeth’s actions were not made in isolation and for this reason the increased involvement in the Netherlands could not be seen as the fault of Elizabeth alone. For example, Elizabeth was under pressure from members of her Privy Council to get further involved in the conflict, especially by the Earl of Leicester. She was under pressure from the Dutch too, who were desperate for more help and in fact were disappointed with Elizabeth’s lack of commitment to the Dutch cause, especially as the situation had deteriorated for them by 1578. Additionally, the expectation that Elizabeth would interfere further was increased by the ill-discipline of Casimir’s forces against Dutch Catholics as they destroyed Catholic churches, which in turn drove them back into the arms of the Spanish. There was therefore an expectation that Elizabeth would have to remedy this at some point.

[Counter-argument embraced with the argument being signposted towards why Elizabeth was reacting to developments as opposed to leading them.]

Lastly, it must be remembered that Elizabeth’s financial sponsorship of Casimir and Alencon between 1577 and 1582 was the product of Spain’s own betrayal of the terms agreed at the Pacification of Ghent. Philip II’s subsequent appointment of the Duke of Alba by 1579 to harshly punish the Dutch demonstrated how Spain could not be trusted. Their desire for power as well as a fully Catholic Europe meant that Elizabeth’s and England’s interests lay in vicariously interfering in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was essentially the first line of defence against Spanish aggression. Such an assessment can further be supported by the signing of the 1584 Treaty of Joinville, an important move in demonstrating Catholic aggression as it brought Spain and France into alliance against the common enemy of Protestantism. It was especially important considering both Alencon and the leader of the Dutch rebels, William of Orange, had died in the same year, leaving the Dutch cause helpless. Therefore, increasing involvement from 1576 could be seen as pre-emptive action against inevitable Spanish warmongering.

[The command of historical terminology and specific terms helps illustrate highly secure understanding of the intricacies of the topic, demonstrating detailed awareness to the requirements of the question.]

Overall, I disagree with the statement. Elizabeth was partly responsible for increased involvement but she should not be charged with the entire responsibility of becoming embroiled in Dutch affairs. Failure of the Dutch rebels would mean England was an isolated Protestant country, and Spain’s betrayal of the Pacification of Ghent left Elizabeth with no choice but to involve herself, especially as Spain gradually became stronger and recovered from debt in 1580. The question might instead be why did Elizabeth not become further involved, as the Dutch and her Privy Council had urged.

Overall Examiner Comments:

Level 4, 13-16 (+3-4 marks SPAG)

This is a very strong response demonstrating extensive understanding of the requirements of the question. The candidate extends beyond the stimulus, offering both a considered judgement and frequent, precisely-selected examples, that convey their deep knowledge. The answer is coherent, sustained and logically structured. The offering at the end further demonstrates and supports the judgement that what appears at first as aggression by Elizabeth, was in fact a reaction to developments.

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