Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada


The Spanish Armada, also called the Invincible Armada, was a fleet which was supposed to invade England in 1588. King Philip II of Spain had it all figured out.

The Spanish plan was to avoid battle until they had joined forces with the land army of Alessandro Farnese, the duke of Parma, in Flanders, which is in today's Belgium. The Armada would shield these 30,000 troops from the English fleet, so that they could safely cross the Channel from Flanders to England.

But with bad weather conditions and the English constantly so close on their heels, the Spaniards just couldn't pull it off. Instead, they had to retreat north and sail back home via Scotland and Ireland.

Vicious storms, diseases, and foot shortages made the trip home the utter disaster.


Why Did Spain Want to Invade England?

Spain was ready for war because Philip II was fed up with

a) the religion in England not being Roman Catholic ever since  Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1533,

b) Protestant  Elizabeth I in general. Philip intended to put himself on the English throne instead.

c) England instigating Dutch rebels against Spain, and

d) English pirates threatening Spanish trades and commerce. And  Sir Francis Drake, vice-admiral of the English fleet, in particular being a severe pain in the rear while he was plundering his way through the waters off the homeland coast and overseas alike.

 And thus, war between England and Spain developed.


Preparation and Launch

Ever since 1586, the Spanish started working night and day to get their England invasion on its way. Preparations were seriously delayed when Sir Francis Drake popped up with a surprise attack on Cádiz in 1587.

In May 1588, Spain was ready and launched its great Armada from Lisbon.

Elizabeth I went to Tilbury, gave her  Spanish Armada Speech and sent her troops on their way.

Storms forced the fleet to stay put at La Coruña until July. Finally, they reached Lizard Point on July 29 (July 19, 1588, Old Style.)

The English fleet was at Plymouth and followed the Armada up the Channel.

The first encounter was off Plymouth, July 31 (July 21), the second off Portland Bill, August 2 (July 23), the third off the Isle of Wight, August 4 (July 25). The Armada was not seriously damaged and its formation remained intact.

On August 6 (July 27), the Armada had reached the Strait of Dover and anchored off Calais. The same day, the duke of Parma got his troops ready to leave Flanders and join the Armada in Calais, a six day trip.

In the meantime, the Armada did the sitting duck thing. All exposed, the English sneaked up on them in the middle of the night on August 7/8 (July 28/29). The Spanish ships scattered.

Taking advantage of the confusion, the English finished the Armada off the next morning when they attacked again off Gravelines. This was the naval Battle of Gravelines, fought on August 8, 1588.

The Spanish escaped northward and attempted to sail home around Scotland and down the west coast of Ireland.

Vicious storms got the better of the Armada. Spanish sailors who still had a boat ran out of provisions, however. Those who landed in Ireland were killed by the English.

In late September the sad remnants of the once Invincible Armada reached Spain. Only 60 ships of the Spanish fleet made it home.

Spain lost about 15,000 men, England several thousand men due to battle action and disease. Here are the maps.


Click map to enlarge


The Leaders

Commander in chief of the Spanish Armada was Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, duque de Medina Sidonia. Alonso was assigned to the job following the death of the Marquess de Santa Cruz, who was Spain's top admiral. In comparison, Alonso had little previous naval experience. But the good man was loyal and courageous. So he didn't flinch and off he went.

The English fleet was commanded by Charles Howard, the Second Baron Howard of Effingham, who later became the earl of Nottingham. His vice-admiral was Spanish nightmare Sir Francis Drake.

Map of the Routes of the Spanish Armada 1588
1588 Routes of the Spanish Armada (USMA)


The Fleets in Comparison

The Spanish Armada consisted of about 130 ships with about 8,000 seaman and 19,000 soldiers. About 40 of these ships were battle ships.

The English fleet, consisting of about 130 ships, 40 of which being warships, followed the Armada up the Channel. In comparison, the fleets were about the same size, however, the English fleet was generally in better condition, faster, and better armed.


Europe about 1560
1560 Europe


And here is a fine  PDF Timeline of the Spanish Armada.




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