Rent paints a picture of this volatile decade.
THE 1580s were years of disharmony. Struggles
between Catholics and Protestants continued throughout Europe.
Catholic Spain continued as the dominant power during this period.
The Spanish military fought Protestant rebels in Spanish-controlled
Netherlands and Spanish King Philip II wanted a return to Catholicism
in England. Philip sent the Spanish Armada, the largest fleet
of its kind at the time, to invade England. The defeat of the
Spanish Armada caused Spanish power in Europe and around the
world to suffer a serious blow from which it never fully recovered.
a Catholic himself, French King Henry III opposed the
association of French Catholics known as the Holy League.
In England, many Catholics were executed for their beliefs.
Several plots failed to rescue the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots
from her English captivity. Francis Throckmorton, who conspired
with Spain's Phillip II, was executed after a failed attempt
to rescue the queen. Anthony Babington, after whom one plot
was named, was executed after he exchanged letters with the
imprisoned queen. These letters were intercepted by spies of
Queen Elizabeth I, who forged a postscript to one of Mary's
letters that gave Babington permission to assassinate Elizabeth.
These letters were enough proof to have Mary executed.
In France, the struggles between the Catholic Church and the
Protestant Church flared when Catholic Henry III declared the
Huguenot Henry of Navarre the heir presumptive to the French
throne. The Holy League, a French association of Roman Catholics
led by Henri, Duke of Guise, protested the proclamation. This
resulted in The War of the Three Henries. Henry III had the
Duke of Guise assassinated in an attempt to reduce the power
of the League. Henry III was himself assassinated in 1589, making
Henry of Navarre king. The League only accepted his kingship
after he converted to Catholicism.
Christian missionaries continued to pour into Asia during this
period. Matteo Ricci became well known for spreading Christianity
in China, for his skills in mathematics and art and for his
love of Chinese culture. Japanese leader Toyotmi Hideyoshi expelled
Christians from Japan but missionaries continued to enter.
Also at this time, some of the first English settlements were
established in North America. Sir Humphrey Gilbert established
the first English settlement in North America on the island
of Newfoundland, and shortly afterward Roanoke Island became
the site of the first English colony in what is now the US.
Roanoke was not a success at first. After one year, the first
inhabitants left after they ran out of supplies and were attacked
by Indians. The settlers of a second colony, including the first
child born to English parents in the present-day US, disappeared
within three years. This did not prevent Walter Raleigh from
establishing Virginia, named after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth
Sir Francis Drake was one of the decade's most vicious and most
successful adventurers. He circumnavigated the globe and plundered
numerous Spanish ships returning with treasures from the New
World. Drake was also the second-in-command for the English
fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Events of this decade would continue to resound for years to
This article originally appeared in our October/November