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The Defeat of the Armada and the Gunpowder Plot, by Anonymous


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About the artwork

This canvas-work picture, made of linen worked with silk, is a very rare example of embroidery with a political theme. Its design is based upon an engraving published in Amsterdam in 1621, The Double Deliverance, by the Puritan preacher Samuel Ward of Ipswich.

It depicts scenes from two historical events, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Both events involved attacks upon Protestant England by Catholics; the first by the forces of the Catholic King of Spain, Philip II, against Queen Elizabeth I, and the second by a group of English Catholics, led by Guy Fawkes, opposing the government of King James I. These attempts to overthrow the Protestant authorities in England, together with long-held memories of the oppressive rein of the Catholic Queen Mary in the mid-16th century, led to a prolonged fear and suspicion of Catholics generally. This would explain the popularity of prints such as Ward’s even some 20 years after the Gunpowder Plot took place. In fact, it was still being sold in print-shops as late as the 1660s.

The scenes in the picture are laid out from left to right, almost like a cartoon serial. On the far left we can see the ships of the Armada drawn up in a circle. Above them, a mermaid sports in the waves beneath the words I blow and scatter and next to the number 88. This refers to the Latin inscription on the commemorative medal struck in 1588 to celebrate the defeat of the Armada, God blew and they were scattered. Above and to the right of the Armada is a wooded hill, labelled Tilbry Campe. This represents Tilbury in Essex, where Queen Elizabeth made her famous speech to rally her troops on the eve of the Armada’s arrival off the coast.

In the centre of the picture, the whole anti-Catholic tone of the piece is made clear by the words In Perpetual Infamie of Papists. Beneath this is a scene of the Papal Council gathered together, with a devil looking on from each corner. The Latin words beneath the Council, In Foveam Quam Foderint mean How they dug themselves into a pit, obviously referring to the pit of Hell.

On the right side, we can see the tall Houses of Parliament, marked November 5, a reference to the date of the Gunpowder Plot, beneath the words A Deed of Darkness. We see Guy Fawkes, labelled Faux, secreting the barrels of gunpowder beneath the building. A beam of light emerges from the clouds above, with the words I See and Smile, focused upon the act of treachery about to take place. This is the all-seeing eye of God, although the embroiderer has left out the image of the eye itself, which appears in the original print by Ward.

The text around the top and right hand edges of the picture reads To God in Memory of His Double Deliveraunce from the Invincible Navie and the Unmatcheable Powder Treason. The text around the left edge and bottom is taken from the opening verses of Psalm 103, My Soule Praise Thou the Lord and all that is in me praise His Holy Name, My soul praise thou the Lord and forget not all His Benefits. 

Lighter touch

Despite the serious subject matter of the picture, the embroideress has not been able to resist adding a lighter touch at the bottom in the form of a lion, a hare and a lamb, all of them found repeatedly in canvas-work of the time.

Samuel Ward’s reward for publishing the print was imprisonment, following complaints to the English authorities by the Spanish Ambassador. Despite this, his work - and England’s distrust of Catholics – lived on for many years afterwards.