Wars of Tudor England Part II: Edward, Mary and Elizabeth’s Wars, 1547-1603

After the reign of Henry VIII uncertainty clouded the English succession, just as the King had feared throughout his lifetime and many marriages. The lack of a strong and old enough male heir was a major problem dating back to the Wars of Roses and many feared for the safety and security of England and her realms if a Queen succeeded Henry.

Like his brother Arthur, the untimely death of the pre-eminent royal heir, Henry’s only legitimate son Edward VI (b.1537-1553) in the year 1553, worried those royal lords and retainers who had served the Tudor hegemony for many years faithfully. Would they lose everything in another play for the kingdom like the Wars of the Roses from 1455-1487. The only other male heir with a claim, Henry Fitzroy (b.1519-1536), the King’s legitimized bastard had already long since died, a crisis was brewing.

King Edward VI of England & Ireland 1547-July 6, 1553

Had the young King Edward lived longer perhaps Tudor succession would have continued on into the 1700’s, as history stands however rule passed to Edward’s half-sister, Mary I. King Edward VI’s reign had been relatively short with Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset serving as Lord Protector 1547-1549. This did not stop the young King and his chief advisor from continuing the costly war and occupation of Scotland & France which nearly bankrupted the realm. His half-sister Mary ascended the throne as a Catholic monarch rapidly and brutally reversing the decisions of her father in favor of her mother’s religion and her own pious beliefs. “Bloody Mary’s” reign was perhaps the low point of Tudor history coupled with her father’s many marriages and the execution of two of his wives.

Her reign of vengeance & tyranny some might call it, was soaked in the blood of hundreds of martyred Protestants in a prelude to the revival of religious fervor which appeared before and during the English Civil Wars. When you compare Mary’s reign with the celebrated reign of Elizabeth I 1558-1603, the contrast is most obvious. Mary was the tyrant, like Richard III is remembered as today (if ultimately unjust), Elizabeth the symbol of what an English monarch should be, like Henry V (perhaps also unjustly). The war’s of the Elizabethan Age not only ended the Renaissance Age but brought England into a new age of Stewart- Scottish monarchy rule which brings about indirectly the long standing socio-cultural grievances which gave rise to the English Civil Wars. Elizabeth’s reign militarily speaking was defined by the Eighty Years’ War, and the major English victory over Spanish Fleet at Gravelines, modern-day France, August 8, 1588. Expansion into & across the Atlantic brought England into major land and naval conflicts with its European enemies during this greater era as well.

Spanish Armada campaign map

It was during this time-span that England challenged the rest of the Empires of the world as the growing naval power that would eventually come to dominate the oceans in the late 17th through the 20th century. Privateering, the English gentleman’s term for piracy, became just one critical facet in the growing application of naval war practices. Her majesty’s military would in this age fight from Iberia, to the Caribbean and North America.

After the decisive victory over the Spanish Navy in which 20,000 French sailors & soldiers died, England’s Navy regrouped under Admiral Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris to launch their own armada against King Philip II of Spain and Portugal, one time King of England and Ireland whilst married to Mary I. In 1589 the Drake-Norris expedition set sail against the Spanish Navy off the coast Portugal.

Spanish Armada in South England

Unable to press their advantage in ships and material England’s navy was defeated and Spain was yet again a threat but never able to invade England as had been planned. The Armada was a complete failure as the Spanish effort had been, with about 10,000 English/Dutch allied casualties. Not until 1604, a year after the death of Elizabeth would England and Spain make peace during the Somerset House Conference (Treaty of London) 1604. However after years of peace war was renewed during the reign of the Stewart kings beginning in 1625.

The largest conflict of Elizabeth’s reign and indeed one of the largest since The Hundred Years War and the War of Roses was fought just across the Irish Sea from 1594-1603 during Irish Rebellion of Tyrone, also called the Nine Years’ War. A hard fought and bloody conflict, the Irish Rebellion cost the crown a fortune.

Ireland during the Tyrone Rebellion

Revolt in Ireland came about once again with the rise of the O’Neill’s of Tyrone in Ulster, led by Hugh O’Neill (b.1550-1616) one of the most popular Irish lords amongst Elizabeth and her courtiers as well as in Ulster.

Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone (b.1550-1616)

The Irish Clans fought a successful guerrilla campaign despite large numbers of English soldiers in the field and the use of heavy-handed occupation tactics. Disease and the poor command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and his debauched officer corps decimated English forces costing millions in coin to the throne.

Captain Thomas Lee, officer-general of the Queen's Royal Kern, 
who served in Ireland from 1575-1599

Illegally taking the O’Neill surname, the Earl of Tyrone led the Irish chiefs of Ulster against the Tudor claims to rule over all of Ireland beginning a bloody war in 1594. This conflict would finally end only after the downfall of the Tudor dynasty with perhaps as many 100,000-125,000 total casualties on both sides due to combat, famine, and disease.

An Irish kern (light infantry) and Galloglass (armored knight-mercernary) 
against an English horseman in 1576. Osprey, The Border Reivers

England under Charles Blount, Baron Mountjoy eventually defeated the Irish rebels. The Tyrone rebellion collapsed after the siege & battle of Kinsale with the newly proclaimed English and Scottish King James offering peace terms and amnesty to the rebels shortly after their capitullation. A series of events which were influenced by the 1604 Treaty of London, which ended the conflict with Spain and for England the two costly Wars in Ireland & Scotland.

Wars of Tudor England Mary and Elizabeth’s reign 1553-1604

Prayer Book Rebellion 1549- Revolts of Catholics in Cornwall & Devon South-West England. Siege of Exeter, Battle of Fenny Bridges July 2, Battle of Sampford Courtenay.

Scottish Border Wars 1500-1605- Flodden Field 1513, Solway Moss 1542. Apart of the War of Rough Wooing.

Loss of Calais, France 1558

Desmond Rebellions 1569-1573, 1579-1583-Rebellions led by the FitzGerald clan against Tudor rule in Munster, Ireland.

War with Spain 1585-1604- Drake's Raid on St. Augustine, Florida. Spanish Armada 1588, English (Counter) Armada 1589, Battle of San Juan, Puerto Rico 1595. Spanish intervention and support of Gaelic- Irish clans in Tyrone's Rebellion.

Nine Years’ War or Tyrone’s Rebellion 1594-1603- Clan uprising against the Tudors with support of several notable Irish chieftains with the aid of the Scots & eventually Spain. Battle of Yellow Ford, August 14, 1598, Battle of Mowry Pass 1600, Siege of Kinsale 1601.

Sir Drake's Raid on St. Augustine, Spanish Florida in 1586


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  2. This has been a big help and a good read, thanks for posting this! I'm writing a book and need to research wars and battles of history so this was perfect as a starting point (: