It happened today – May 19, 2015

English ships and the Spanish Armada
On May 19 back in 1588 the dreaded Spanish Armada, bombastically the “Invincible Armada,” set out from Lisbon to crush the upstart English, bring Albion back to Rome and subject it to the glorious King of Spain.

It didn’t work. Delayed by a daring raid on Cadiz by that sea dog of all sea dogs, Francis Drake, it finally set out with 130 ships, 2,500 guns and 20,000 soldiers. But Elizabeth I gave an inspiring speech, Drake allegedly finished his game of bowls and sauntered coolly into action, and better English guns and gunners drove the Spanish into Calais where fireships continued the destruction. Finally the Armada fled north around the British Isles where storms sank more ships.

It was the beginning of free England’s rise to naval supremacy, as frustrating as it was baffling to glorious continental despots with unbeatable this and invincible that, on through the Sun King to Napoleon and Hitler. But as John Quincy Adams would later say, “liberty is power.” And it’s the first major illustration of my rule about not attacking the Anglosphere.

Oh, and here’s a vexing footnote to the whole business. You know those emails you get from people in West Africa with a big heap of diamonds or access to a dormant bank account, or in Iraq with a pile of Saddam’s loot etc.? A century ago they used to come from businessmen stranded in Mexico. But way way back, the originals were from Spanish noblemen marooned in Ireland when their Armada ship sank, but with a huge heap of gold back in old Madrid, and if you could just furnish them a few pounds to get them home blah blah blah. That’s why the original name of this scam is “the Spanish prisoner”. The victory was still worth it, though.

It happened today – May 18, 2015

The Coming of the Loyalists, painting by Henry Sandham showing a romanticised view of the Loyalists' arrival in New Brunswick
On May 18, back in 1783, the first United Empire Loyalists arrived in what is now New Brunswick, mostly evacuated from New York by the British at the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Their arrival here had consequences far beyond the hiving off of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia. They shifted the demographic balance of the former New France decisively in the direction of English language and political thoughts and habits.

What it did not do, speaking of political thoughts and habits, was bring north those more civilized persons who favoured paternalistic big government over liberty. This story is often told as though, if true, it would be an important triumph of dignified Canadian statism over vulgar American freedom. But it’s not.

The American Revolution was an Anglosphere quarrel about how to preserve individual liberty, not whether. As Daniel Hannan observes in his brilliant book Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, Daniel Bliss, a refugee from Massachusetts who later became chief justice of New Brunswick, explained his Loyalism by saying “Better to live under one tyrant a thousand miles away than a thousand tyrants one mile away.”

It was fear that American democracy would become mob rule under which liberty was no longer safe, not a “Red Tory” desire to see liberty give way to the popular will, that led genuine Tories to reject the Revolution. They were largely wrong in their fear, but entirely right in their devotion to that liberty on which, it bears repeating, the True North Strong and Free was built.