Trying to Win Wars by Half-Doing
Asked to give his verdict on the foreign policy of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh replied that: “Her Majesty did all by halves.” It was a fair criticism, but it was one which could be levelled against every European ruler at the time: against the kings of France and Spain, the German Protestant princes, even against the [Dutch] States General. None of them would or could put all their eggs in one basket. All of them tried to win their wars by “half-doing”. The casual character, the insouciance, of the Eighty Years’ War in particular stands out as one of its most important and most persistent traits.
Yet what alternative was there? Certainly the fate of the Netherlands was important to Spain, England, France and Germany, but was it more important than their commitments or ambitions elsewhere? Should England abandon her position in Ireland in order to support the Dutch; should Spain neglect the defence of the Mediterranean in order to suppress the revolt in the Low Countries? These were real choices, for no European state in the early modern period possessed sufficient resources to fight effectively in the Netherlands and also attain its political objectives elsewhere. The policies of the various major combatants in the Low Countries’ Wars must therefore be considered within the context of their overall foreign ambitions and overseas commitments; changes in one were normally linked with changes in the other; the course of the war was often affected by events far outside the Netherlands. From the very first, as we shall see, the Dutch Revolt was a problem which no government could tackle in isolation.
— The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, p. 231