CHAPTER IV. THE PROGRESS OF NATIONALISM
There was no feeling of caste to obstruct the efficiency of English administration. The nobility were separated from the nation by no fixed line; there never was in England a nobility of blood, for all the sons of a noble except the eldest were commoners. And while they were constantly sinking into the mass of the nation, commoners frequently rose to the rank of nobility. Before the end of the fourteenth century wealth derived from trade had become an avenue to the House of Lords. The justices of the peace, on whom the Tudors relied for local administration, were largely descended from successful city men who had, like the Walsinghams, planted themselves out in the country; and Elizabeth herself was great-great-granddaughter of a London mayor. This social elasticity enabled the government to avail itself of able men of all classes, and the efficiency of Tudor administration was mainly due to these recruits, whose genius would have been elsewhere neglected. Further, it provided the government with agents peculiarly fitted by training and knowledge to deal with the commercial problems which were beginning to fill so large a sphere in politics; and finally, it rendered the government singularly responsive to the public opinion of the classes upon whose welfare depended the expansion of England.
Englishmen likewise took to the sea, when the sea became all-important, as readily as they took to trade. English command of the Narrow Seas had laid France open to the invasions of Edward III and Henry V, and had checked the tide of French reconquest before the walls of Calais. English piracy in the Channel was notorious in the fifteenth century, and in the sixteenth it attained patriotic proportions. Henry VII had encouraged Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland, but the papal partition of new-found lands between Spain and Portugal barred to England the door of legitimate, peaceful expansion; and there can be little doubt that this prohibition made many converts to Protestantism among English seafaring folk. Even Mary could not prevent her subjects from preying on Spanish and Portuguese commerce and colonies; and with Elizabeth's accession preying grew into a national pastime. Hawkins broke into Spanish monopoly in the West Indies, Drake burst into their Pacific preserves, and circumvented their defences; and a host of followers plundered nearly every Spanish and Portuguese colony.
At last Philip was provoked into a naval war for which the English were and he was not prepared. Spanish rigidity embraced the Spanish marine as well as Spanish theology. Clinging to Mediterranean and medieval traditions, Spain had failed to realize the conditions of sea-power or naval tactics. England, on the other hand, had, largely under the inspiration of Henry VIII, adapted its navy to oceanic purposes. A type of vessel had been evolved capable of crossing the ocean, of manoeuvring and of fighting under sail; to Drake the ship had become the fighting unit, to the Duke of Medina Sidonia a ship was simply a vehicle for soldiers, and a sea-fight was simply a land-fight on sea. The crowning illustration of Spain's incapacity to adapt itself to new conditions is perhaps the fact that only a marquis or duke could be made a Spanish admiral.
England had disposed of similar claims to political and military authority in 1569, when medieval feudalism made its last bid for the control of English policy. For ten years Elizabeth had been guided by Sir William Cecil, a typical "new man" of Tudor making, who hoped to wean the common people from dependence upon their lords, and to complete the destruction of feudal privileges which still impeded the action of national sovereignty. The flight of Mary Queen of Scots into England in 1568 provided a focus for noble discontent with Cecil's rule, and the northern earls rebelled in 1569. The rebellion was easily suppressed, but its failure did not deter the Duke of Norfolk, the earls' accomplice, from joining Ridolfi's plot with similar ends. He was brought to the block in 1572, and in him perished the last surviving English duke. For more than half a century England had to do its best - defeat the Spanish Armada, conquer Ireland, circumnavigate the globe, lay the foundations of empire, produce the literature of the Elizabethan age - without any ducal assistance. It was left for James I, who also created the rank of baronet in order to sell the title (1611), to revive the glories of ducal dignity in the persons of Ludovic Stuart, Duke of Richmond, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1623).