THE SPANISH ARMADA. 245
He was held up to ridicule in their stage-plays and masks, and these scoffs at the man had (as is not unusual in such cases) excited the anger of the absolute king even more vehemently than the injuries inflicted on his power.* Personal as well as political revenge urged him to attack England. Were she once subdued, the Dutch must submit; France could not cope with him, the empire would not oppose him; and universal dominion seemed sure to he the result of the conquest of that malignant island.
There was yet another and a stronger feeling which armed King Philip against England. He was one of the sincerest and one of the sternest bigots of his age. He looked on himself, and was looked on by others, as the appointed champion to extirpate heresy and re-establish the papal power throughout Europe. A powerful reaction against Protestantism had taken place since the commencement of the second half of the sixteenth century, and he looked on himself as destined to complete it. The Reformed doctrines had been thoroughly rooted out from Italy and Spain. Belgium, which had previously been half Protestant, had been reconquered both in allegiance and creed by Philip, and had becom one of the most Catholic countries in the world. Half Germany had been won back to the old faith. In Savoy, in Switzerland, and many other countries, the progress of the counter-reformation had been rapid and decisive. The Catholic league seemed victorious in France. The papal court itself had shaken off the supineness of recent centuries, and, at the head of the Jesuits and the other new ecclesiastical orders, was displaying a vigor and a boldness worthy of the days of Hildebrand, or Innocent III.
Throughout Continental Europe, the Protestants, discomfited and dismayed, looked to England as their protector and refuge. England was the acknowledged central point of Protestant power and policy; and to conquer England was to stab Protestantism to the very heart. Sixtus V., the then reigning pope, earnestly exhorted Philip to this enterprise. And when the tidings reached Italy and Spain that the Protestant Queen of England had put to death her Catholic prisoner, Mary Queen of Scots, the fury of the Vatican and Escurial knew no bounds. Elizabeth was denounced as the murderous heretic whose destruction was an instant duty. A formal treaty was concluded (in June,
- See Ranke's "Hist. Popes," vol. ii., p. 170.