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Battle of Gravelines
Part of the Anglo-Spanish War
Loutherbourg-Spanish Armada.jpg
Defeat of the Spanish Armada, by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, painted in 1797, depicts the battle of Gravelines.
Date 8 August, 1588
Location English Channel, near Gravelines, France (then part of the Netherlands)
Result Anglo-Dutch victory
England Kingdom of England
 Dutch Republic
Spain Kingdom of Spain
Charles Howard
Francis Drake
Duke of Medina Sidonia
34 warships,[1]
163 armed merchant vessels,
(30 over 200 tons)[1]
30 flyboats
22 galleons,
108 armed merchant vessels[2]
Casualties and losses
50–100 dead,[3]
400 wounded,
8 fireships burnt[4]
Battle of Gravelines:
Over 600 dead,
800 wounded,[5]
397 captured,
2 ships sunk[6]
Around 65 ships sunk or wrecked
20,000 dead [7]

The Spanish Armada (Spanish: Grande y Felicísima Armada, "Great and Most Fortunate Navy")[8] was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England.

Philip II of Spain had been co-monarch of England until the death of his wife Mary I in 1558. A devout Roman Catholic, he considered his Protestant half sister-in-law Elizabeth a heretic and illegitimate ruler of England. He had previously supported plots to have her overthrown in favour of her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, but was thwarted when Elizabeth had Mary imprisoned, and finally executed in 1587. In addition, Elizabeth, who sought to advance the cause of Protestantism where possible, had supported the Dutch Revolt against Spain. In retaliation, Philip planned an expedition to invade and conquer England, thereby suppressing support for the United Provinces— that part of the Low Countries that had successfully seceded from Spanish rule — and cutting off attacks by the English[9] against Spanish possessions in the New World and against the Atlantic treasure fleets. The king was supported by Pope Sixtus V, who treated the invasion as a crusade, with the promise of a further subsidy should the Armada make land.[10]

The Armada's appointed commander was the highly experienced Álvaro de Bazán, but he died in February 1588 and Medina Sidonia took his place. The fleet set out with 22 warships of the Spanish Royal Navy and 108 converted merchant vessels, with the intention of sailing through the English Channel to anchor off the coast of Flanders, where the Duke of Parma's army of tercios would stand ready for an invasion of the South East of England.

The Armada achieved its first goal and anchored outside Gravelines, at the coastal border area between France and the Spanish Netherlands. While awaiting communications from Parma's army, it was driven from its anchorage by an English fire ship attack, and in the ensuing battle at Gravelines the Spanish were forced to abandon their rendezvous with Parma's army.

The Armada managed to regroup and withdraw north, with the English fleet harrying it for some distance up the east coast of England. A return voyage to Spain was plotted, and the fleet sailed into the Atlantic, past Ireland, but severe storms disrupted the fleet's course. More than 24 vessels were wrecked on the north and western coasts of Ireland, with the survivors having to seek refuge in Scotland. Of the fleet's initial complement, about 50 vessels failed to make it back to Spain. The expedition was the largest engagement of the undeclared Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604).

The expedition of the Spanish Armada led to a similar campaign by England the following year, the failed Drake–Norris Expedition of 1589, also known as the English Armada,[9] sent to occupy Portugal and northwestern Spain, which was also unsuccessful.




Planned invasion of England

Route taken by the Spanish Armada

Prior to the undertaking, Pope Sixtus V allowed Philip II of Spain to collect crusade taxes and granted his men indulgences. The blessing of the Armada's banner on 25 April, 1588 was similar to the ceremony used prior to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. On 28 May, 1588, the Armada set sail from Lisbon (occupied Portugal), headed for the English Channel. The fleet was composed of 151 ships, 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, and bore 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns. The full body of the fleet took two days to leave port. It contained 28 purpose-built warships: twenty galleons, four galleys and four (Neapolitan) galleasses. The remainder of the heavy vessels consisted mostly of armed carracks and hulks; there were also 34 light ships present.

In the Spanish Netherlands 30,000 soldiers[11] awaited the arrival of the armada, the plan being to use the cover of the warships to convey the army on barges to a place near London. All told, 55,000 men were to have been mustered, a huge army for that time. On the day the Armada set sail, Elizabeth's ambassador in the Netherlands, Dr Valentine Dale, met Parma's representatives in peace negotiations, and the English made a vain effort to intercept the Armada in the Bay of Biscay.

On 16 July negotiations were abandoned, and the English fleet stood prepared (although ill-supplied) at Plymouth, awaiting news of Spanish movements. The English fleet however did outnumber the Spanish, with 200 to 130 ships [12], however the Spanish outgunned the English fleet: its available firepower was 50% more than that of the English.[13] The English fleet consisted of the 34 ships of the royal fleet (21 of which were galleons of 200 to 400 tons), and 163 other ships, 30 of which were 200 to 400 tons and carried up to 42 guns each; 12 of these were privateers owned by Lord Howard of Effingham, Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake.[1]

The Armada was delayed by bad weather, forcing the four galleys and one of the galleons to leave the fleet, and was not sighted in England until 19 July, when it appeared off St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. The news was conveyed to London by a system of beacons that had been constructed all the way along the south coast. On that evening the English fleet was trapped in Plymouth Harbour by the incoming tide. The Spanish convened a council of war, where it was proposed to ride into the harbour on the tide and incapacitate the defending ships at anchor and from there to attack England; but Medina Sidonia declined to act, because this had been explicitly forbidden by Philip, and chose to sail on to the east and toward the Isle of Wight. Soon afterwards, 55 English ships set out to confront them from Plymouth under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham, with Sir Francis Drake as Vice Admiral. Howard ceded some control to Drake, given his experience in battle, and the Rear Admiral was Sir John Hawkins.

The Armada in battle with the English fleet

The next night, in order to execute their "line ahead" attack, the English tacked upwind of the Armada, thus gaining the weather gage, a significant advantage. Over the next week there followed two inconclusive engagements, at Eddystone and the Isle of Portland. Two Spanish ships, the carrack Rosario and the galleon San Salvador, were abandoned after having been severely damaged by accidents; they were taken by the English who thereby captured a large supply of much-needed gunpowder. At the Isle of Wight the Armada had the opportunity to create a temporary base in protected waters of the Solent and wait for word from Parma's army. In a full-scale attack, the English fleet broke into four groups — Martin Frobisher of the Aid now also being given command over a squadron — with Drake coming in with a large force from the south. At the critical moment Medina Sidonia sent reinforcements south and ordered the Armada back to open sea to avoid sandbanks. There were no secure harbours nearby, so the Armada was compelled to make for Calais, without regard to the readiness of Parma's army.

On 27 July, the Armada anchored off Calais in a tightly packed defensive crescent formation, not far from Dunkirk, where Parma's army, reduced by disease to 16,000, was expected to be waiting, ready to join the fleet in barges sent from ports along the Flemish coast. Communications had proven to be far more difficult than anticipated, and it only now became clear that this army had yet to be equipped with sufficient transport or assembled in port, a process which would take at least six days, while Medina Sidonia waited at anchor; and that Dunkirk was blockaded by a Dutch fleet of thirty flyboats under Lieutenant-Admiral Justin of Nassau. Parma desired that the Armada send its light petaches to drive away the Dutch, but Medina Sidonia could not do this because he feared that he might need these ships for his own protection. There was no deepwater port where the fleet might shelter — always acknowledged as a major difficulty for the expedition — and the Spanish found themselves vulnerable as night drew on. At midnight on 28 July, the English set alight eight fireships, sacrificing regular warships by filling them with pitch, brimstone, some gunpowder and tar, and cast them downwind among the closely anchored vessels of the Armada. The Spanish feared that these uncommonly large fireships were "hellburners",[14] specialised fireships filled with large gunpowder charges, which had been used to deadly effect at the Siege of Antwerp. Two were intercepted and towed away, but the remainder bore down on the fleet. Medina Sidonia's flagship and the principal warships held their positions, but the rest of the fleet cut their anchor cables and scattered in confusion. No Spanish ships were burnt, but the crescent formation had been broken, and the fleet now found itself too far to leeward of Calais in the rising southwesterly wind to recover its position. The English closed in for battle.

Battle of Gravelines

The small port of Gravelines was then part of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands, close to the border with France and the closest Spanish territory to England. Medina Sidonia tried to re-form his fleet there and was reluctant to sail further east knowing the danger from the shoals off Flanders, from which his Dutch enemies had removed the sea-marks.

The English had learned more of the Armada's strengths and weaknesses during the skirmishes in the English Channel and had concluded it was necessary to close within 100 yards to penetrate the oak hulls of the Spanish ships. They had spent most of their gunpowder in the first engagements and had after the Isle of Wight been forced to conserve their heavy shot and powder for a final attack near Gravelines. During all the engagements, the Spanish heavy guns could not easily be run in for reloading because of their close spacing and the quantities of supplies stowed between decks, as Francis Drake had discovered on capturing the damaged Rosario in the Channel.[15] Instead the cannoneers fired once and then jumped to the rigging to attend to their main task as marines ready to board enemy ships. In fact, evidence from Armada wrecks in Ireland shows that much of the fleet's ammunition was never spent.[16] Their determination to thrash out a victory in hand-to-hand fighting proved a weakness for the Spanish; it had been effective on occasions such as the Battle of Lepanto and the Battle of Ponta Delgada (1582), but the English were aware of this strength and sought to avoid it by keeping their distance.

With its superior maneuverability, the English fleet provoked Spanish fire while staying out of range. The English then closed, firing repeated and damaging broadsides into the enemy ships. This also enabled them to maintain a position to windward so that the heeling Armada hulls were exposed to damage below the water line.

Five Spanish ships were lost. The galleass San Lorenzo ran aground at Calais and was taken by Howard after murderous fighting between the crew, the galley slaves, the English and the French who ultimately took possession of the wreck. The galleons San Mateo and San Felipe drifted away in a sinking condition, ran aground on the island of Walcheren the next day, and were taken by the Dutch. One carrack ran aground near Blankenberge; another foundered. Many other Spanish ships were severely damaged, especially the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic-class galleons which had to bear the brunt of the fighting during the early hours of the battle in desperate individual actions against groups of English ships. The Spanish plan to join with Parma's army had been defeated and the English had afforded themselves some breathing space. But the Armada's presence in northern waters still posed a great threat to England.

Tilbury speech

Elizabeth I, the Armada portrait.

On the day after the battle of Gravelines, the wind had backed southerly, enabling Medina Sidonia to move his fleet northward away from the French coast. Although their shot lockers were almost empty, the English pursued in an attempt to prevent the enemy from returning to escort Parma. On 2 August Old Style (12 August New Style) Howard called a halt to the pursuit in the latitude of the Firth of Forth off Scotland. By that point, the Spanish were suffering from thirst and exhaustion, and the only option left to Medina Sidonia was to chart a course home to Spain, by a very hazardous route.

The threat of invasion from the Netherlands had not yet been discounted by the English, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester maintained a force of 4,000 soldiers at West Tilbury, Essex, to defend the Thames Estuary against any incursion up river towards London.

On 8 August (Old Style) (18 August New Style) Queen Elizabeth went to Tilbury to encourage her forces, and the next day gave to them what is probably her most famous speech:

"My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that we are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but, I do assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects; and, therefore, I am come amongst you as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all — to lay down for my God, and for my kingdoms, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king — and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms — I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns, and, we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you."[17]

Return to Spain

In September 1588 the Armada sailed around Scotland and Ireland into the North Atlantic. The ships were beginning to show wear from the long voyage, and some were kept together by having their hulls bundled up with cables. Supplies of food and water ran short, and the cavalry horses were cast overboard into the sea. The intention would have been to keep well to the west of the coast of Scotland and Ireland, in the relative safety of the open sea. However, there being at that time no way of accurately measuring longitude, the Spanish were not aware that the Gulf Stream was carrying them north and east as they tried to move west, and they eventually turned south much further to the east than planned, a devastating navigational error. Off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland the fleet ran into a series of powerful westerly gales, which drove many of the damaged ships further towards the lee shore. Because so many anchors had been abandoned during the escape from the English fireships off Calais, many of the ships were incapable of securing shelter as they reached the coast of Ireland and were driven onto the rocks. The late 1500s, and especially 1588, were marked by unusually strong North Atlantic storms, perhaps associated with a high accumulation of polar ice off the coast of Greenland, a characteristic phenomenon of the "Little Ice Age."[18] As a result many more ships and sailors were lost to cold and stormy weather than in combat.

Following the gales it is reckoned that 5,000 men died, whether by drowning and starvation or by slaughter at the hands of English forces after they were driven ashore in Ireland; only half of the Spanish Armada fleet returned back home to Spain.[19] Reports of the passage around Ireland abound with strange accounts of brutality and survival and attest to the qualities of the Spanish seamanship.[20] Some survivors were concealed by Irish people, but few shipwrecked Spanish survived to be taken into Irish service, fewer still to return home.

In the end, 67 ships and around 10,000 men survived. Many of the men were near death from disease, as the conditions were very cramped and most of the ships ran out of food and water. Many more died in Spain, or on hospital ships in Spanish harbours, from diseases contracted during the voyage. It was reported that, when Philip II learned of the result of the expedition, he declared, "I sent the Armada against men, not God's winds and waves".[21] Greatly disappointed, he still forgave the Duke of Medina Sidonia.


The Spanish Barn in Torquay held 397 Spanish prisoners of war.
A plaque in the Spanish Barn.

English losses were comparatively few, and none of their ships was sunk. But after the victory, typhus, dysentery and hunger killed many sailors and troops (estimated at 6,000–8,000) as they were discharged without pay: a demoralising dispute occasioned by the government's fiscal shortfalls left many of the English defenders unpaid for months, which was in contrast to the assistance given by the Spanish government to its surviving men.

Although the English fleet was unable to prevent the regrouping of the Armada at the Battle of Graveline, requiring it to remain on duty even as thousands of its sailors died, the outcome vindicated the strategy adopted, resulting in a revolution in naval warfare with the promotion of gunnery, which until then had played a supporting role to the tasks of ramming and boarding. The battle of Gravelines is regarded by specialists in military history as reflecting a lasting shift in the naval balance in favour of the English, in part because of the gap in naval technology and armament it confirmed between the two nations,[22] which continued into the next century. In the words of Geoffrey Parker, by 1588 'the capital ships of the Elizabethan navy constituted the most powerful battlefleet afloat anywhere in the world.'[23] However after its defeat in the Armada campaign the Spanish Navy also underwent a major organisational reform that helped it to maintain control over its own home waters and ocean routes well into the next century.

In England, the boost to national pride lasted for years, and Elizabeth's legend persisted and grew long after her death. The repulse of Spanish naval might gave heart to the Protestant cause across Europe, and the belief that God was behind the Protestant cause was shown by the striking of commemorative medals that bore the inscription, He blew with His winds, and they were scattered. There were also more lighthearted medals struck, such as the one with the play on Julius Caesar's words: Venit, Vidit, Fugit (he came, he saw, he fled). The victory was acclaimed by the English as their greatest since Agincourt.[citation needed]

However, an attempt to press home the English advantage failed the following year, when a comparable English fleet sailed for Portugal and the Azores in 1589. The Norris–Drake Expedition or English Armada limped home after failing to co-ordinate its strategy effectively with the Portuguese.

High seas buccaneering and the supply of troops to Philip II's enemies in the Netherlands and France continued, but brought few tangible rewards for England.[24] The Anglo-Spanish War dragged on to a stalemate that left Spanish power in Europe and the Americas undeniably dominant.

In popular culture

The preparations of the Armada and the Battle of Gravelines form the backdrop of two graphic novels in Bob de Moors "Cori le Moussaillon" (Les Espions de la Reine and Le Dragon des Mers'). In them, Cori the cabin boy works as a spy in the Armada for the English.

The Armada and intrigues surrounding its threat to England form the backdrop of the films Fire Over England (1937), with Laurence Olivier and Flora Robson, and The Sea Hawk (1940 film) with Errol Flynn.

The Battle of Gravelines and the subsequent chase around the northern coast of Scotland form the climax of Charles Kingsley's 1855 novel Westward Ho!, which in 1925 became the first novel to be adapted into a radio drama by BBC.[25]

The Battle of Gravelines is the climax of the 2007 film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age Starring Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen.

In the twentieth season of The Simpsons, an episode depicts the reason for the Armada's attack as Queen Elizabeth's rebuff of the King of Spain. Homer accidentally sets the only English ship on fire; this ship then collides will the Armada, setting all their ships on fire, creating victory for England.

The Final Jeopardy! response on May 20, 2009 on Jeopardy! was "The Spanish Armada". The clue was "It was the "they" in the medal issued by Elizabeth I reading, "God breathed and they were scattered"

See also

Other meanings

  1. In Tennis slang, Spanish Armada is used to refer to the group of highly ranked Spanish players, such as Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Almagro, Felix Mantilla, Albert Portas, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moyá, and others. It is also the nickname for their Davis Cup team.



  1. ^ a b c Colin Martin, Geoffrey Parker,The Spanish Armada, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 1 901341 14 3, p. 40.
  2. ^ Colin Martin, Geoffrey Parker,The Spanish Armada, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 1 901341 14 3, pp.10, 13, 19, 26.
  3. ^ Lewis, The Spanish Armada, p. 184.
  4. ^ John Knox Laughton,State Papers Relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Anno 1588, printed for the Navy Records Society, MDCCCXCV, Vol. II, pp. 8–9, Wynter to Walsyngham: indicates that the ships used as fire-ships were drawn from those at hand in the fleet and not hulks from Dover.
  5. ^ Lewis, p. 182.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Also called Armada Invencible, "Invincible Navy," by the English, with ironic intent.
  9. ^ a b Hart, Francis Rußel, Admirals of the Caribbean, Hougton Mifflin Co., 1922, pp. 28–32, describes a large privateer fleet of 25 ships commanded by Drake in 1585 that raided about the Spanish Caribbean Colonies.
  10. ^ "The Spanish Armada". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  "…the widespread suffering and irritation caused by the religious wars Elizabeth fomented, and the indignation caused by her religious persecution, and the execution of Mary Stuart, caused Catholics everywhere to sympathise with Spain and to regard the Armada as a crusade against the most dangerous enemy of the Faith." and "Pope Sixtus V agreed to renew the excommunication of the queen, and to grant a large subsidy to the Armada, but, knowing the slowness of Spain, would give nothing till the expedition should actually land in England. In this way he was saved his million crowns, and spared the reproach of having taken futile proceedings against the heretic queen."
  11. ^ The English Mercurie published by Authoritie Whitehall July 23, 1588, Imprinted at London by Chriss Barker, Her Highnesse's Printer, 1588, p. 3, "…all the Spanish troops in the Netherlands, and consists of thirty thousand Foot and eighteen hundred Horse."
  12. ^
  13. ^ Colin Martin, Geoffrey Parker,The Spanish Armada, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 1 901341 14 3 , p. 185.
  14. ^ HellburnersPDF (143 KiB).
  15. ^ Coote, Stephen (2003). Drake. London: Simon & Schuster UK. p. 259. ISBN 0-7432-2007-2. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  16. ^ Colin Martin, Geoffrey Parker,The Spanish Armada, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 1 901341 14 3 , pp.189–190
  17. ^ Damrosh, David, et al. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume 1B: The Early Modern Period. Third ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006
  18. ^ Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850,. New York: Basic Books, 2000
  19. ^ Garrett Mattingly, The Armada, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1959, p.369, the English Lord Deputy's orders were for the English soldiers in Ireland to kill Spanish prisoners which was done on several occasions.
  20. ^ Winston S. Churchill, The New World, vol. 3 of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, (1956) Dodd, Mead & Co., NY, p. 130.
  21. ^ SparkNotes: Queen Elisabeth – Against the Spanish Armada
  22. ^ Aubrey N. Newman, David T. Johnson, P.M. Jones (1985) The Eighteenth Century Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature 69 (1), 93–109 doi:10.1111/j.1467-8314.1985.tb00698.
  23. ^ Geoffrey Parker, 'The Dreadnought Revolution of Tudor England', Mariner's Mirror, 82 (1996): 273.
  24. ^ Richard Holmes 2001, p. 858: "The 1588 campaign was a major English propaganda victory, but in strategic terms it was essentially indecisive"
  25. ^ Briggs, Asa. The BBC: The First Fifty Years. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985. 63.


  • Corbett, Julian S. Drake and the Tudor Navy: With a History of the Rise of England as a Maritime Power (1898) online edition vol 1; also online edition vol 2
  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The Spanish Armada: The Experience of War in 1588. (1988). 336 pp.
  • Froude, James Anthony. The Spanish Story of the Armada, and Other Essays (1899), by a leading historian of the 1890s full text online
  • Knerr, Douglas. "Through the "Golden Mist": a Brief Overview of Armada Historiography." American Neptune 1989 49(1): 5-13. Issn: 0003-0155
  • Konstam, Angus. The Spanish Armada: The Great Enterprise against England 1588 (2009)
  • McDermott, James. England and the Spanish Armada: The Necessary Quarrel (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Martin, Colin, and Geoffrey Parker. The Spanish Armada (2nd ed. 2002), 320pp by leading scholars; uses archaeological studies of some of its wrecked ships excerpt and text search
  • Mattingly, Garrett. The Armada (1959). the classic narrative excerpt and text search
  • Parker, Geoffrey. "Why the Armada Failed." History Today 1988 38(may): 26-33. Issn: 0018-2753. Sumary by leadfing historian.
  • Pierson, Peter. Commander of the Armada: The Seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia. (1989). 304 pp.
  • Rasor, Eugene L. The Spanish Armada of 1588: Historiography and Annotated Bibliography. (1992). 277 pp.
  • Rodger, N. A. M. The Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History of Britain 660-1649 vol 1 (1999) 691pp; excerpt and text search
  • Rodriguez-Salgado, M. J. and Adams, Simon, eds. England, Spain, and the Gran Armada, 1585-1604 (1991) 308 pp.
  • Thompson, I. A. A. "The Appointment of the Duke of Medina Sidonia to the Command of the Spanish Armada," The Historical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2. (1969), pp. 197-216. in JSTOR

Popular studies

  • The Confident Hope of a Miracle. The True History of the Spanish Armada, by Neil Hanson, Knopf (2003), ISBN 1-4000-4294-1.
  • Holmes, Richard. The Oxford Campanion to Military History. Oxford University Press. 2001. ISBN 978-0198606963
  • From Merciless Invaders: The Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Alexander McKee, Souvenir Press, London, 1963. Second edition, Grafton Books, London, 1988.
  • The Spanish Armadas, Winston Graham, Dorset Press, New York, 1972.
  • Mariner's Mirror, Geoffrey Parker, 'The Dreadnought Revolution of Tudor England', , 82 (1996): pp. 269–300.
  • The Spanish Armada, Michael Lewis (1960). First published Batsford, 1960 – republished Pan, 1966
  • Armada: A Celebration of the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588-1988 (1988) ISBN 0-575-03729-6
  • England and the Spanish Armada (1990) ISBN 0-7317-0127-5
  • The Enterprise of England (1988) ISBN 0-86299-476-4
  • The Return of the Armadas: the Later Years of the Elizabethan War against Spain, 1595–1603, RB Wernham ISBN 0-19-820443-4
  • The Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story, David Howarth (1981) ISBN 0-00-211575-1
  • T.P.Kilfeather Ireland: Graveyard of the Spanish Armada (Anvil Books, 1967)
  • Winston Graham The Spanish Armadas (1972; reprint 2001) ISBN 0-14-139020-4
  • Historic Bourne etc., J.J. Davies (1909)

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

THE. ARMADA The Spanish or Invincible Armada was the great fleet (in Spanish, armada) sent against England by Philip II. in 1588. The marquis of Santa Cruz, to whom the command had first been given, died on the 9th of February 1588 (according to the Gregorian calendar then used by Spain; on the 31st of January by the Julian calendar used in England; the other dates given in this article will be in Old Style, or Julian calendar). Santa Cruz was succeeded by Don Alonso Perez de Guzman, duke of Medina Sidonia, a noble of large estate, but of no experience or capacity, who took the command unwillingly, and only on the reiterated order of the king. The fleet was collected at Lisbon, after many delays, and sailed on the 20th of May 1588. Its nominal strength was 132 vessels, of 59,190 tons, carrying 21,621 soldiers and 8066 sailors. But from a third to a half of the vessels were transports, galleys or very small boats, and some of them never reached the Channel. The effective force was far below the paper strength. On the 10th of June, when the Armada had rounded Cape Finisterre, it was scattered by squalls. Some of the vessels went on to the appointed rendezvous at the Scilly Isles, but the majority anchored on the north coast of Spain. Medina Sidonia, who found many defects in his fleet, did not finally sail till the 12th of July. On the English side all the royal navy, and such armed merchant ships as could be obtained from the ports, had been collected under the command of the lord high admiral Howard of Effingham, who had with him Hawkins, Drake and Frobisher as subordinate admirals. The number of vessels is put at 197, but the majority were very small. It is impossible to state with confidence what were the relative numbers of guns carried by the two fleets. The Spaniards had more pieces, but their gunnery was inferior. The English fleet carried 16,000 or 17,000 men, of whom the large majority were sailors. About loo of their ships were at Plymouth with the lord high admiral. The others were in the Downs with Lord Henry Seymour and Sir William Winter, to co-operate with a Dutch squadron under Justinus of Nassau in blockading the Flemish ports, then occupied by the Spanish army of the duke of Parma. The object was to prevent the proposed junction of the forces of Medina Sidonia and Parma. On the 10th of July the Armada was seen off the Lizard. It sailed past Plymouth, and was followed by the English fleet. The Spaniards, who were heavy sailers, and were hampered by the transports, were much harassed by the more active English, and were defeated in all their attempts to board, which it was their wish to do in order to make use of their superior numbers of men. The flagship of the squadron of Andalucia, "Nuestra Senora del Rosario," commanded by Don Pedro de Valdes, was crippled, fell behind and had to surrender. On the 25th of July, when the fleets were near the Isle of Wight, a shift of the wind offered the Spaniards a chance of bringing on a close action, but it soon changed again. The English fleet, of which part had been in some danger, escaped uninjured, and the Spaniards stood on. They anchored on the 26th of July at Calais. The duke of Medina Sidonia now sent an officer to Parma, calling on him to come to sea and join in a landing on the shore of England. But Parma could not leave port in face of Justinus of Nassau's squadron. While these messages were going and coming, Lord Howard had been joined by Lord Henry Seymour and Sir William Winter from the Downs. A council of war was held, to decide on the measures to be taken to assail the Spaniards at Calais. The course taken was to send fireships among them. On the night of the 28th of July the fireships were sent in, and produced an utter panic in the Armada. Most of the Spanish vessels slipped their cables and ran to sea. Others weighed anchor, and escaped in a more orderly style. One great vessel ran ashore and was taken possession of by the English, who were however compelled to give her up by the French governor of Calais. On the 29th of July the scattered Spaniards, who were quite unable to restore order, were attacked by the English off Gravelines. The engagement was hot, and, though the English did not succeed in taking any of the Spaniards, they destroyed some of them, and their superiority in sailing force and gunnery was now so obvious that the duke of Medina Sidonia lost heart. His large vessels were indeed so helpless that only a timely shift of the wind saved many of them from drifting on to the banks of Flanders. Officers and men alike were completely discouraged. It was now recognized that an invasion of England could not be carried out in face of the more active English fleet and the proved impossibility of bringing about the proposed union with Parma's army. Suggestions were made that the Armada should sail to Hamburg, refit there, and renew the attack. But by this time the Spanish force was incapable of energetic action. Medina Sidonia and his council could think of nothing but of a return to Spain. As the wind was westerly, and the English fleet barred the way, it was impossible to sail down the Channel. The only alternative was to take the route between the north of Scotland and Norway. So the Armada sailed to the north. Lord Howard followed, after detaching Lord Henry Seymour to remain in the Downs. He watched the Spaniards to the Firth of Forth. The English had at that time little knowledge of the seas beyond the Firth, and they were beginning to run short of food and ammunition. On the 2nd of August, therefore, they gave up the pursuit. Medina Sidonia continued to the north, till his pilots told him that it was safe to turn to the west. Up to this time the loss of the Spaniards in ships had not been considerable. If the weather had been that of a normal summer, they would probably have reached home with no greater loss of men than was usually inflicted on all fleets of the age by scurvy and fever. But the summer of 1588 was marked by a succession of gales of unprecedented violence. The damaged and weakened Spanish ships, which were from the first greatly undermanned in sailors, were unable to contend with the storms. It is not possible to give the details of the disasters which overtook them. Nineteen of them are known to have been wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. The crews who fell into the hands of the English officers in Ireland were put to the sword. Many more of them disappeared at sea. Of the total number of the vessels originally collected for the invasion of England one-half, if not more, perished, and the crews of those which escaped were terribly diminished by scurvy and starvation.

The failure of the Armada was mainly due to its own interior weakness, and as a military operation the English victory was less glorious than some other less renowned achievements of the British fleet. But the repulse of the great Spanish armament was an event of the first historical importance. It marked the final failure of King Philip II. of Spain to establish the supremacy of the Habsburg dynasty and of the Church of Rome, which he considered as being in a peculiar sense his charge, in Europe. From that time forward no serious attempt to invade England was, or could be, made. It became therefore the unconquerable supporter of that part of Europe which had thrown off the authority of the pope. The Armada had much of the character of a crusade. Though Philip II. had political reasons for hostility to Queen Elizabeth, they were so intimately bound up with the struggle between the Reformation and the Counter Reformation that the secular and the religious elements of the conflict cannot be separated from one another. The struggle was therefore not one between armed forces in national rivalry alone. It was a trial of strength between two widely different conceptions of life and of the state - between the medieval and the modern worlds. The volunteers of all ranks who came forward in large numbers on both sides were fighting for a religious cause as well as for the interests of their respective peoples.


The English side of the story of the Armada can best be studied in the State Papers relating to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, edited by Sir J. K. Laughton, and printed for the Navy Records Society (London, 1894). The Spanish side will be found in La Armada Invencible, by Captain Cesareo Fernandez Duro (Madrid, 1884). Froude summarized the work of Captain Fernandez Duro in his brilliant Spanish Story of the Armada (London, 1892). (D. H.)

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