The Spanish Armada - History

The Spanish Armada - History

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The Spanish fleet sailed on July 12, 1588. It consisted of 128 ships carrying 29,522 sailors. The British fleet consisted of 116 large ships and numerous coastal vessels.

On the morning of the 21st, elements of the British fleet attacked superior Spanish forces to forestall their landing troops. The British fleet succeeded in sowing confusion amongst the Spanish fleet, causing many a Spanish ship to collide . The fight continued on and off for five days. There were no decisive battles, just continued engagements in which the English consistently achieved the upper hand. After five days of battering, the Spanish armada which was running low on provisions decided to withdraw. Their path back to Spain became littered with wrecks of additional ships that never made it home.

Spanish Armada

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Spanish Armada, also called Armada or Invincible Armada, Spanish Armada Española or Armada Invencible, the great fleet sent by King Philip II of Spain in 1588 to invade England in conjunction with a Spanish army from Flanders. England’s attempts to repel this fleet involved the first naval battles to be fought entirely with heavy guns, and the failure of Spain’s enterprise saved England and the Netherlands from possible absorption into the Spanish empire.

The Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada sailed from Spain in July 1588. The Spanish Armada’s task was to overthrow protestant England lead by Queen Elizabeth I. The Spanish Armada proved to be an expensive disaster for the Spanish but for the English it was a celebrated victory making Sir Francis Drake even more of a hero than he already was and even having an impact on Tudor Christmas celebrations!

Why did Spain want to overthrow Elizabeth? There were a number of reasons.

at the time of Elizabeth, Spain controlled what was called the Spanish Netherlands. This consisted of modern day Holland and Belgium. In particular, Holland wanted its independence. They did not like being made to be Catholic in fact, Protestant ideas had taken root in Holland and many of those in Holland were secret Protestants. If they had publicly stated their Protestant beliefs, their lives would have been in danger. Spain used a religious secret police called the Inquisition to hunt out Protestants. However, during Elizabeth’s reign, the English had been helping the Dutch Protestants in Holland. This greatly angered the king of Spain – Philip II – who wanted to stop this. He had for a short time been married to Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary, and when they were married, England was Catholic. With England under his control, Philip could control the English Channel and his ships could have an easy passage from Spain to the Spanish Netherlands. Spanish troops stationed there could be easily supplied.
also English ‘sea-dogs’ had been causing a great deal of damage to Spain’s trade in silver. Men such as Sir Francis Drake attacked Spanish shipping off of the West Indies and Spain lost a vast sum of money when the ships carrying silver sunk or had their cargo captured by Drake. To the English, Drake was a hero but to the Spanish he was nothing more than a pirate who, in their view, was allowed to do what he did with the full knowledge of the queen. This the Spanish could not accept.
In 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed in England on the orders of Elizabeth. Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Catholic and Philip II believed that he had a duty to ensure no more Catholics were arrested in England and that no more should be executed. Mary, Queen of Scots, had also made it clear that if she became queen of England, Philip should inherit the throne after her death.

Hence his decision to attack and invade England.

The story of the Spanish Armada is one of mistakes all the way through. Even before the Armada sailed, serious problems were encountered:

With all that had been going on, it was very difficult for the Spanish to keep the Armada a secret. In fact, they were keen to let the English know about the Armada as it was felt that the English would be terrified at the news of such a large fleet of naval ships attacking them.

The organisation to get the Armada ready was huge. Cannons, guns, gunpowder, swords and many other weapons of war were needed and Spain bought them from whoever would sell to them. A number of merchant ships had to be converted to be naval ships but the Armada (or the “Great Enterprise” as Philip called it) also contained ships that simply carried things rather than fought at sea. These ships carried amongst other items:

11 million pounds (in weight) of ships biscuits 11,000 pairs of sandals
40,000 gallons of olive oil 5,000 pairs of shoes
14,000 barrels of wine 180 priests
600,000 pounds of salted pork 728 servants

The Armada sailed on July 19th 1588. The fleet of 130 ships – including 22 fighting galleons – sailed in a crescent shape. This was not unusual as most fleets sailed in this shape as it offered the ships in that fleet the most protection. The larger but slower galleons were in the middle of the crescent and they were protected by faster but smaller boats surrounding them. Smaller ships known as zabras and pataches supplied the galleons. The Armada faced little opposition as it approached the coast of Cornwall on July 29th, 1588. It is said that Cornish fishermen fishing off the Lizard watched the Armada pass!

However, London was warned that the Armada was nearing England’s coastline. Communications in the C16th were very poor yet the English had developed a way of informing London when the Armada was first seen. Beacons were lit along the coast. As soon as one beacon was seen, the next further along the coast was lit. When the beacons reached Beachy Head in Sussex, they went inland and towards London. In this way, London was quickly made aware that the Armada was approaching England.

As the Armada sailed up the English Channel, it was attacked by an English force lead by Sir Francis Drake. He was stationed in Plymouth. It is said that when Drake was informed of the Armada’s approach, he replied that he had time to finish the game of bowls he was playing on Plymouth Hoe and time to defeat the Armada. It is possible that he knew that the tide of the River Tamar in Plymouth was against him, so that he could not get his ships out of Devonport – therefore, he knew that he could finish his game of bowls because his ships were dependent on the tide to move. If the tide was coming in, his ships had to stay tied up. If the tide was going out, then he had the freedom to move his ships into the Channel. Whatever the truth, what is true is that Drake and his men did very little damage to the Armada as it passed up the English Channel. What the English did do was waste a lot of ammunition firing at the Armada and not having much of an impact as the Spanish ships had well built hulls that proved to be solid.

As the Armada sailed up the English Channel, the attacks by Drake’s Plymouth fleet proved to be very ineffective. With the exception of two galleons, the Armada remained relatively unscathed.

However, Medina Sidonia was facing problems of his own – the Armada was running low on ammunition. The one advantage the Spanish had at this time was the weather. On August 4th, a strong wind caused the Channel to become a lot more rough and the smaller English ships suffered from this whereas the Spanish used the wind to move quickly to the European coastline where they would pick up Spanish troops ready for the invasion of England.

Throughout the whole of its journey from Spain to the east side of the English Channel, the Armada faced few problems from the English Navy. Even though we knew of its approach, we could do little while it kept in its crescent formation.

But it hit real problems when it had to stop to pick up troops in mainland Europe. While the Armada kept its crescent shape it was very difficult for the English Navy to attack it. Once it stopped, it lost its crescent shape and left it open to attack. Medina Sidonia learned to his horror that there was no port deep enough near to where the Spanish troops were for him to stop his fleet. The best he could do was to harbour at Gravelines near modern day Calais on July 27th 1588, and then wait for the troops to arrive.

Sir Francis Drake is given the credit for what happened next but an Italian called Giambelli should also receive credit for building the “Hell Burners” for the English. Eight old ships were loaded up with anything that could burn well. These floating bombs were set to drift during the night into the resting Armada. The Armada was a fully armed fleet. Each ship was carrying gunpowder and the ships were made of wood with canvas sails. If they caught fire, each ship would not have a chance. Knowing about “Hell Burners”, the Spanish put lookouts on each boat. They spotted the on-fire ships coming in, but what could they do?

As the Armada saw the on fire ships approaching, each ship of the Armada attempted to break out of Gravelines to save itself – but in the dark. Only one Spanish ship was lost but the crescent shape disappeared and the Armada was now vulnerable to attack.

The English did attack but they were bravely fought off by the Spanish. Four Spanish galleons stood their ground and fought Drake. The Spanish were outnumbered ten to one. Three of these galleons were sunk and 600 men were killed and 800 wounded. But they had stopped the English from attacking the rest of the Armada and worsening weather also helped the Armada to escape. Medina Sidonia later wrote that the Armada was “saved by the weather, by God’s mercy…”

However, the English fleet blocked off any chance the Armada had of going back down the English Channel. Therefore, when the Armada reassembled into a fleet, it could only go up the east coast of England and then around the north of Scotland. From here the Armada could sail past the western Irish coast and back to Spain.

However, their supplies on board were not enough for such a journey and many of the crews were reduced to eating rope for survival. Fresh water quickly disappeared and the crews could not drink sea water. To add to their troubles, as the Armada sailed around the north of Scotland in mid-September, it hit a one of the worst storms in history which damaged many ships.

Those ships that survived this storm, headed for Ireland. Here they were convinced they would get help and supplies. Why did they think this? Ireland was still Catholic and the Catholic Spanish sailors believed that those with the same religion would help them. They were wrong. The Armada harboured in what is now called Armada Bay, south of Galway. Those sailors who went ashore were attacked and killed. The Irish, Catholic or not, still saw the Spanish as invaders. Those who survived the storms, the Irish, the lack of food etc. still had to fear disease as scurvy, dysentery and fever killed many who were already in a weakened state.

Figures do vary but it is thought that only 67 ships out of 130 returned to Spain – a loss rate of nearly 50%. Over 20,000 Spanish sailors and soldiers were killed. Throughout the whole campaign, the English lost no ships and only 100 men in battle. However, over 7,000 English sailors died from disease (dysentery and typhus mostly) during the time the Armada was in English water. Also those English sailors who survived and fought against the Armada were poorly treated by the English government. Many were given only enough money for the journey to their home and some received only part of their pay. The overall commander of the English Navy, Lord Howard of Effingham, was shocked claiming that “ I would rather have never a penny in the world, than they (his sailors) should lack…. ” With this, he used his own money to pay his sailors.

Who was to blame for this defeat?

Many in Spain blamed Medina Sidonia but King Philip II was not one of these. He blamed its failure on the weather saying “I sent you out to war with men, not with the wind and waves.”

To some extent the English agreed as a medal was struck to honour the victory. On it were the words “God blew and they were scattered.”

1. They were near to their naval ports and did not have to travel far to fight the Armada.

2. The English had many advantages with regards to the ships they used. The Spanish put their hope in the power of the galleons. The English used smaller but faster ships. However, they could do little to penetrate the crescent shape of the Armada even though they had powerful cannons on board.

3. The Spanish had different tactics to the English. The English wanted to sink the Spanish ships whereas the Spanish wanted to board our ships and then capture them. To do this they would have to come up alongside our ships leaving them exposed to a broadside from English cannons on our ships.

4. Our ships, being smaller than the Spanish galleons, were more manoeuvrable which was a valuable advantage.

5. The biggest reason for the victory of the English, was the fatal error in the plan of the Spanish. While it sailed in a crescent shape, the Armada was relatively safe. But part of its plan was to stop, pick up sailors and then sail to England. The simple fact that the plan involved stopping the Armada, meant that it was fatally flawed. Warships on the move and in formation gave the Armada protection. Once the ships were still, they were open to attack.

The victory over the Armada was to make Sir Francis Drake a very famous man. The victory was even remembered at Christmas when Elizabeth ordered that everybody should have goose on Xmas Day as that was the meal she had eaten on the evening that she learned that her navy had beaten the Armada.

10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Spanish Armada

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 – a fleet of Spanish ships led by Spanish commander Medina Sidonia with the purpose of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I – is considered one of England's greatest military achievements, and one that served to boost the monarch's popularity. Here, Robert Hutchinson, the author of The Spanish Armada, shares 10 lesser-known facts…

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Published: November 2, 2018 at 5:20 pm

The Spanish Armada campaign of 1588 changed the course of European history. If Medina Sidonia, the Spanish commander, had managed to escort Philip II’s 26,000-strong invasion army from Flanders, the future of Elizabeth I and her Protestant England would have looked very black indeed.

After landing near Margate in Kent, it is probable the battle-hardened Spanish troops would have been in the streets of London within a week. England would have reverted to the Catholic faith, and there may not have been a British empire to come. We might still be speaking Spanish today.

But Medina Sidonia suffered one of the most signal catastrophes in naval history. Myth, driven by Elizabethan propaganda, has shaped our view of that dramatic running fight up the English Channel.

The Spanish were not defeated by the queen’s plucky sea dogs fighting against overwhelming odds: it was destroyed by appalling weather, poor planning and flawed strategy and tactics.

Here are some surprising facts about the campaign…

Both Elizabeth’s ministers and King Philip of Spain expected that the 50 per cent of England’s population that remained Catholic would rise in support of the Spanish invaders after any landing

Jewel-hilted swords, intended as Philip’s gifts for English Catholic nobles, were found in a box on board the fatally damaged Nuestra Señora del Rosario after the English vice-admiral Sir Francis Drake boarded the ship.

The Spanish king’s spies had reported beforehand that the “greater part of Lancashire is Catholic… and the town of Liverpool”, and the counties of Westmorland and Northumberland remained “really faithful to your majesty”.

In addition, another Spanish assessment in August 1586 estimated that 2,000 men could be recruited in Lincolnshire “which was well effected to the Catholic religion”, plus 3,000 more in Norfolk, while Hampshire was “full of Catholics”.

This last report may have contained some truth. In early June 1586, Henry Radcliffe, 4th Earl of Sussex, suppressed what he described as an intended rebellion “in the country near Portsmouth” and arrested some of its leaders: Elizabeth’s government took stern measures to contain the threat posed from what they saw as potential fifth columnists.

Recusants – those who refused to attend Anglican services because they were Catholic – were disarmed and those regarded as most dangerous were imprisoned without trial in a number of fortresses, such as Wisbech Castle in Cambridgeshire. These were the world’s first internment camps.

In Bedfordshire, Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, inquired how he was to deal with female recusants who were “married to husbands that are conformable in religion”. Godfrey Foljambe arrested his own grandmother and “now have her in custody”.

There were some among Elizabeth I’s faithful subjects who placed profit ahead of patriotism

Sometime in 1587, Elizabeth I’s ministers learnt that 12 English merchants – some based in Bristol – had been selling supplies and equipment to the Armada “to the hurt of her majesty and undoing of the realm, if not redressed”.

Their nine sizeable cargoes of contraband, valued at between £300 and £2,000 each, contained not merely provisions, but also quantities of ammunition, gunpowder and ordnance.

The fate of these reckless traders (perhaps they were Catholic sympathisers?) remains unknown but, in those edgy times, it’s unlikely they’d have enjoyed the queen’s mercy, which at best was rather limited.

Sir John Gilbert [who organised Devon’s defence against the Spanish Armada] also refused permission for his ships to join Drake’s western squadron and allowed them to sail on their planned trading voyage to South America in March 1588 in defiance of naval orders.

English Catholics sailed on board the Armada

At least four of its “gentlemen adventurers” were English, and there were 18 among the salaried officers.

Inevitably, some paid the heavy price of disloyalty to the crown: five Catholics slipped away by boat from the stricken Rosario before Drake’s arrival, but two Englishmen were captured on board and taken to the Tower of London as “rebels and traitors to their country”.

One, identified as the Cornishman Tristram Winslade, was handed to officers employed by Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, who were ordered to interrogate him “using torture… at their pleasure”. (Miraculously, Winslade survived the rack and Elizabeth’s justice, and died in the Catholic seminary at Douai in France in November 1605).

On board the battle-damaged San Mateo, beached between Ostend and Sluis after the battle of Gravelines, two Englishmen were killed by Dutch sailors – one named as William Browne, a brother of Viscount Montague. The local commissioner for the Protestant States of Zeeland reported that the second man killed was “very rich, who left William as his heir”.

Other Englishmen were reported to having been aboard this ship, eating with her captain, Don Diego Pimentel. “One was called Robert, another Raphael, once servant to the… mayor of London. We do not know their surnames.” They may have been among those forcibly drowned or hanged by the Dutch who were rebelling against Spanish rule.

Before the campaign began there were reports of disaffection below decks in Elizabeth’s warships. After a scare on board Lord Edmund Sheffield’s Bear, the “barber and three of four others took the oath [of allegiance to the crown] and renounced the pope’s authority”.

Pope Sixtus V, who supported the Armada, was infatuated with Elizabeth, telling an astonished Venetian ambassador: “Were she a Catholic, she would be our most beloved, for she is of great worth”

Philip was forced to ask the pope for a loan to help meet the rocketing costs of preparing the Armada. However, this pope was notorious for his miserliness – the Spanish ambassador to the Vatican complained: “When it comes to getting money out of him, it is like squeezing his life blood.”

Sixtus meanwhile had a pet project to buy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks and rebuild it in Rome – or recover it by force of arms. He was piqued that, although the Spanish army “would be sufficient for this purpose”, it was fighting England, instead of achieving his ambitions in the Holy Land.

In the end Sixtus promised to pay 1m gold ducats (£662m in 2015 spending power), but cannily stipulated that half would be paid only after Spanish forces set foot in England. The remainder would be in equal instalments every two months thereafter.

Philip could bestow the English crown on whomever he wished, providing that the realm was immediately returned to the Catholic faith. Sixtus also demanded that the church’s property and rights, alienated since the time of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, should now be restored.

Not one penny was ever paid out.

After the Armada’s defeat, Sixtus told one of his cardinals to write to Philip to console him and to encourage him to launch a new expedition against England. He refrained from writing himself, as he feared the king “might make it a pretext for asking him for money”.

Medina Sidonia did not want to command the Armada

He was an administrator, and had never been to sea. He told the Spanish king: “I know by the small experience I have had afloat that I soon become sea-sick.”

He had been the first to reinforce Cadiz during Drake’s raid on that city in 1587, and had been appointed captain-general of Andalusia as “conspicuous proof of the king’s favour”.

After considering his appointment for two days, Medina Sidonia made clear his absolute conviction that the Armada expedition was a grave mistake and had little chance of success. Only a miracle, he added in a frank and outspoken letter, could save it.

Philip’s counsellors, horror-struck at its electrifying contents, dared not show it to the king. “Do not depress us with fears for the fate of the Armada because in such a cause, God will make sure it succeeds” they begged the new admiral.

As for his suitability for command, “nobody knows more about naval affairs than you”.

Then their tone became menacing: “Remember that the reputation and esteem you currently enjoy for courage and wisdom would entirely be forfeited if what you wrote to us became generally known (although we shall keep it secret).”

When storms scattered and damaged the Armada after it left Lisbon, Medina Sidonia’s grave doubts about his mission returned

He wrote to Philip: “I am bound to confess that I see very few, or hardly any of those in the Armada with any knowledge or ability to perform the duties entrusted to them.

“Your majesty may believe me when I assure you that we are very weak. Do not be deceived by anyone who may wish to persuade you otherwise.” The admiral added: “Well, sire, how do you think we can attack so great a country as England with such a force as ours is now.” Better, he advised, to agree “some honourable terms with the enemy” while the Armada was being repaired in Corunna.

Not surprisingly, this gloomy letter alarmed and depressed Philip, who spent all “day and night in prayer, although suffering from the gout in his hand”. His mood was not improved by a letter from Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, commander of his land forces in the Spanish Netherlands and the general in charge of the invasion army. Parma warned Philip that the flat river barges that would carry his troops across to England could not meet the Armada at sea: “If we came across any armed English or [Dutch] rebel ships they could destroy us with the greatest ease.”

Philip noted in the margin alongside this passage: “God grant that no embarrassment may come from this.” But he could not accept any more arguments from his naval commander. He wrote to Medina Sidonia: “I have dedicated this enterprise to God. Pull yourself together then and do your part!”

Sir Francis Drake was more interested in booty than fighting

After the first fight south of Cornwall, Drake was ordered to shadow the Spanish fleet with a light burning at his stern as a guide to the following English fleet.

But sometime that night, the light disappeared. Drake had left his station to loot the stricken Rosario.

At dawn, the English admiral Lord Howard of Effingham, in Ark Royal, and two other English ships found themselves hard up against the Armada’s rearguard. They hastily retreated.

Drake claimed afterwards that he had sighted strange sails to starboard at midnight and, believing them to be Spanish, doused his lantern and set off in hot pursuit. They turned out to be innocent German merchant ships.

Doubtless Howard deemed it impolitic to court-martial one of England’s naval heroes at a time of national emergency – even though through his actions, the English fleet had lost both time and distance in chasing the Spaniards.

Martin Frobisher, commanding Triumph, seethed: “Drake’s light we looked for but there was no light to be seen… Like a coward he kept by her [the Rosario] all night because he would have the spoil… We will have our shares or I will make him spend the best blood in his belly.”

Elizabeth’s speech at Tilbury – “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman” – which pledged that “shortly we shall have a famous victory over the enemies of my God and of my kingdom”, was made after the Armada had entered Scottish waters on its way home

That same morning, Howard had arrived with his ships and starving crews at Harwich in Essex. In the evening, while Elizabeth was still at the English army camp at Tilbury, there were rumours that Parma and his invasion force had embarked and “would be here with as much speed as possibly he could”.

The queen refused to return, for her own safety, to London, declaring that she “would not think of deserting her army at a time of danger”. The next day her troops kept a public fast for victory.

The rumours about Parma were just Elizabethan propaganda. With the cost of her forces in the likely invasion areas of Kent and Essex amounting to £783 14s 8d per day, the queen ordered an immediate demobilisation of the army.

A long propaganda tract written at the behest of Elizabeth’s secretary of state Lord Burghley was allegedly found “in the chamber of one Richard Leigh, a seminary priest who was lately executed for high treason”. In fact, it was a forgery Leigh’s identity had been conveniently stolen

The tract claimed that the truths of English naval supremacy or the power of the Protestant God were undeniable: “The Spaniards did never take or sink any English ship or boat or break any mast or took any one prisoner.” This amazed the Spanish prisoners in London who exclaimed that “in all these fights, Christ showed himself a Lutheran”.

Medina Sidonia attracted special vilification. He had spent much of his time during the Armada campaign “lodged in the bottom of his ship for safety”. The tract concluded with this scornful and contemptuous phrase: “So ends this account of the misfortunes of the Spanish Armada which they used to call INVINCIBLE.”

The propaganda onslaught did not end there. A 10-page doggerel verse promised English readers that it was safe to eat fish, even though they had fed on corpses of Spanish sailors, infected with venereal diseases. Was this the first government health warning?

The Spanish Armada was not the last Armada sent against England

Two more were despatched in 1596 and 1597, but these fleets were also dispersed by storms.

On 23 July 1595, four Spanish galleys sailed on a reconnaissance mission from southern Brittany and landed at Mousehole in Cornwall. The fishing village was burned and three men killed.

A small force of Cornish militia fled in blind panic at their first sight of the Spanish troops and Penzance was then bombarded, destroying houses and sinking three ships in its harbour. Newlyn was also burned.

Fear of the imminent arrival of an English fleet forced the Spaniards to depart on 4 August – but not before a Catholic Mass was celebrated openly on English soil.
A larger force of 3,000 Spanish troops landed in Kinsale in south-west Ireland in 1601 to assist Irish rebels but were forced to surrender.

The 19-year Anglo-Spanish war ended in 1604 as Elizabeth’s successor, James VI and I, wanted to end the cripplingly expensive hostilities. The Treaty of London granted much of what Philip II demanded if England had been forced to sue for peace in 1588.

England ended its support of the Dutch rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands and renounced her privateers’ attacks on Spanish shipping. On Spain’s part, the treaty acknowledged that official hopes of restoring Catholicism to England were over for ever.

Robert Hutchinson is the author of The Spanish Armada (W&N, 2013).

This article was first published by HistoryExtra in April 2015.

The Spanish Armada - History

It was on 19 May that the Spanish Armada set sail to invade Protestant England.

Phillip Launches the Armada

Phillip II of Spain called the Catholic world to a Crusade against Protestant England. It was English gold and support that bolstered the Protestant cause in Scotland and Netherlands. With Phillip having conquered Portugal and expanded Spain’s Atlantic power, he ordered his admirals to assemble an Armada which could crush the Protestants in England once and for all.

“The Invincible Armada”

By May 1588 Phillip had prepared a fleet consisting of 130 ships, 2,400 cannon and over 30,000 men. This was the greatest naval force the world had yet seen. It was called “The Invincible Armada.” The plan was for the Armada to sail up the English Channel, pick up troops from the Spanish Netherlands under the Duke of Parma and escorting his invasion barges across the Channel to conquer England. Queen Elizabeth ordered the entire nation to pray for God’s intervention and protection against the invading Spanish Armada.

What was at Stake

Had the Spanish Armada succeeded, today’s world would be unrecognizable. Spain was the Catholic superpower. England led the Protestant cause. All Europe feared Spain. It had overwhelmed all of its adversaries – even the Turk. Had the Armada succeeded the whole subsequent history of England and Scotland would have been dramatically changed. There would have been no Protestant North America and no Anglo-Saxon civilization. It would have made Spain the unrivalled world superpower and Spanish the world’s language.

One of the Greatest Speeches Ever Made

An English army of almost 20,000 men were assembled at Tilbury to oppose the anticipated 30,000 men in the Spanish Armada. In addition to this a further 15,000 Spanish troops under the brutal Duke of Parma were to be ferried across the Channel in barges from the Netherlands.

Queen Elizabeth addressed her soldiers at Tilbury with these words: “I am come amongst you, as you see, resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my Kingdom 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.”

The English Navy

The Royal Navy had been under the control of Sir John Hawkins since 1573. He had rebuilt and reorganized the Navy that had survived from the days of Henry VIII. The castles which had towered above the galleon decks had been cut down. The keels were deepened. Designs concentrated on sea-worthiness and speed. Most significantly of all, Hawkins had installed heavier long-range guns. Knowing that he could not out-produce the Spanish in terms of the size and number of galleons, Hawkins was determined to batter the enemy from a distance with the superior range of his cannon. The Spanish Armada carried many cannon (2,400) but these were really only suitable for close-range salvos before grappling and boarding enemy vessels for hand-to-hand combat.

Against All Odds

To oppose the Armada’s 130 ships, Hawkins had 34 vessels, carrying 6,000 men. His commanders were Lord Howard and Sir Francis Drake. (It was Sir Francis Drake’s famous raid on the Spanish Armada in port at Cardiz in 1587 which had delayed the sailing of the Armada by destroying a large quantity of ships and stores. This was described as “the singeing of the King of Spain’s beard!”)

The Armada Sets Sail

The Armada finally left Tagus on 20 May. It was afflicted by severe storms. Two of their 1,000 ton ships lost their masts. They had to put in to refit at Carunna and could not sail again until 12 July.

Fires Over England

An Intelligence Report of 21 July from Howard to Walsingham reported sighting 120 sail vessels including galleys “and many ships of great burden.” Beacons were lit all across England to alert the population to the danger. Church bells rang. Special services were held to pray for God’s protection.

Engaging the Enemy

The English engaged the Armada in a four-hour battle, pounding away with their long range guns, but staying out of range of the Armada’s cannon. There was a further engagement on 23 July and then off the Isle of Wight on 25 July. The guns of the English ships raked the decks of the galleons killing many of the crew and soldiers.

Fire Ships Cause Panic

On 28 July the Spanish Armada anchored in the English Channel near Calais. As the English Navy lay upwind from the Spanish, they determined to set adrift 8 fire-ships, filled with explosives, to drift into the crowded Spanish fleet at anchor. As the Spanish crews awoke to see these flaming ships drifting towards their anchored Armada, they panicked. Spanish captains cut their cables and made for the open sea. Many collisions followed. The surviving ships of the Armada headed eastwards to Gravelines expecting to link up with Parma’s troops and barges, ready to be escorted for the invasion of England. But the tides and winds were against them and they found no sign of Parma’s troops in Dunkirk harbour.

Decisive Engagement

At this point the Royal Navy caught up with the Spaniards and a long and desperate fight raged for eight hours. Howard’s men sank or damaged many of the Spanish ships and drove others onto the banks. The English reported that at this point they had completely exhausted their ammunition, otherwise scarcely a Spanish ship would have escaped.

The Devastated Armada

The remnants of the defeated Armada now fled northwards seeking to sail around the north of Scotland in order to reach Spain. They faced mountainous seas and racing tides. Westerly winds drove two of the galleons to wreck upon the coast of Norway. Ships that had been shattered by the English cannonades were now struck by storms. Another 17 ships were wrecked on the coast of Britain. Most of the once mighty Armada were lost before the battered survivors finally reached Spanish ports in October.

God Blew and They Were Scattered

Incredibly, the English had not lost a single ship and scarcely 100 men in the ferocious engagements against the Spanish Armada. Though limited in supplies and ships, the tactics of Hawkins and his admirals Howard and Drake, had been crowned with success. A medal struck to commemorate the victory bears the inscription: “Afflavit Deus et dissipantur” (God blew and they were scattered!)

Answers to Prayer

While churches throughout England were holding extraordinary prayer meetings, devastating storms had wrecked the Spanish plans. The Duke of Parma’s invasion barges from Holland were prevented from linking up with the Armada by Dutch action. The English tactic of setting fire ships amongst the huge Spanish galleons created confusion. Courageous action by the English seamen and continuing storms decimated and broke up the Spanish Armada. Most of what was left of Phillip’s fleet was devastated by more storms off the coast of Scotland and Ireland. Only a miserable remnant of the once proud Armada limped back into the Ports of Spain. 51 Spanish ships and 20,000 men had been lost. The greatest superpower at the time had suffered a crippling blow. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 marked a great watershed in history. It signalled the decline of Catholic Spain and Portugal and the rise of Protestant England and Holland.

A Victory for the Protestant Reformation

Before 1588 the world powers were Spain and Portugal. These Roman Catholic empires dominated the seas and the overseas possessions of Europe. Only after the English defeated the Spanish Armada did the possibility arise of Protestant missionaries crossing the seas. As the Dutch and British grew in military and naval strength, they were able to challenge the Catholic dominance of the seas and the new continents. Foreign missions now became a distinct possibility. Had the Spanish Armada not been defeated, Protestantism could have been extinguished in England and Holland. And then the whole future of North America would have been far different with Catholicism dominating instead of the Protestant Pilgrims.

A Watershed Event

By the grace of God, the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 saved the Protestant Reformation in England from Spanish invasion, oppression and the Inquisition. The victory of Protestant England and Protestant Holland against Catholic Spain was absolutely essential for the founding of the United States of America and of the Republic of South Africa.

A History of the English Speaking People by Sir Winston Churchill, Cassel and Co., 1956.

The Great Christian Revolution by Otto Scott, 1995.

Elizabeth I by Jacob Abbott, 1876.

The Spanish Armadas by Winston Graham, Collins, 1972.

Queen Elizabeth I (to hear the audio, click here and to see a video


The Spanish Armada was a fleet of 130 ships that sailed from A Coruña in August 1588 under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. It met with armed resistance in the English Channel, when a fireship attack off Calais broke its formation, and was driven into the North Sea after the Battle of Gravelines.

When the fleet entered the North Sea, 110 ships remained under Medina Sidonia's command. Many were damaged by gunfire or were running low on supplies, making them unfit for service in the Atlantic Ocean. Some had cut their anchors in the flight from the fireships, which severely diminished their ability to navigate close to shore. Also, the Armada commanders made a large navigational error that brought the fleet too close to the dangerous Atlantic coasts of Scotland and Ireland.

The plotted course Edit

After Gravelines the commanders of the Armada held a conference on Sidonia's flagship. Some proposed a course for Norway, others for Ireland. The admiral made his choice, and orders were issued to the fleet:

The course that is first to be held is to the north/north-east until you be found under 61 degrees and a half and then to take great heed lest you fall upon the Island of Ireland for fear of the harm that may happen unto you upon that coast. Then, parting from those islands and doubling the Cape in 61 degrees and a half, you shall run west/south-west until you be found under 58 degrees and from thence to the south-west to the height of 53 degrees and then to the south/south-west, making to the Cape Finisterre, and so to procure your entrance into The Groyne A Coruña or to Ferrol, or to any other port of coast of Galicia. [1]

The fleet was to approach the coast of Norway, before steering to the meridian of the Shetland Islands and on to Rockall. This allowed passage outside the northern tip of Shetland, clearing the coast of Scotland at a distance of 160 km. Once out in the broad Atlantic, the ships were to steer to a point 645 km beyond the Shannon estuary on the west coast of Ireland, giving themselves a clear run to northern Spain. [2]

The course taken Edit

The Armada's sailing orders were almost impossible to follow. The weather was difficult. Many of the ships and their crew members were in great distress. The navigators' charts were primitive, [3] and their best training and experience in the techniques of dead reckoning and latitude sailing fell far short of what was needed to bring the fleet safely home. [4]

The sailing orders were rendered useless by the weather, but the miscalculation of the Armada's position contributed greatly to its destruction. The navigators were unaware of the effect of the eastward flowing Gulf Stream, which must have hindered the fleet's progress – perhaps by as much as 30 km a day. The paymaster of the San Juan Bautista, Marcos de Aramburu, recorded a log of his progress from late August onwards, when the rest of the fleet was within sight. The inference from his observations is that his ship's estimated position as it turned for home was entirely wrong, some 480 km to the west: its real position lay in the east, perilously close to the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. This single deficiency "made the difference between safety and disaster". [6]

After seven weeks at sea the opportunity to make landfall and take on supplies and effect repairs must have been welcome, but navigation in these waters demanded intimate knowledge. The experience of Spanish mariners in the intricacies of north Atlantic conditions was largely confined to trading voyages to the south and south-west of Ireland, and it is likely that the fleet's pilots preferred to maintain Sidonia's course, despite the hardships on board their ships.

Most of the fleet – 84 ships – avoided land, and most of those made it home, although in varying degrees of distress. The remainder were forced toward the coast of Ireland – perhaps 28 – and included several galleons and many merchantmen. The latter had been converted for battle and were leaking heavily, making sail with severely damaged masts and rigging, and with most of their anchors missing. The ships seem to have maintained contact until the beginning of September, when they were scattered by a south-west gale (described in the contemporary account of an Irish government official as one "the like whereof hath not been seen or heard for a long time"). Within days, this lost fleet had made landfall in Ireland.

Government preparations Edit

The head of the English Crown administration at Dublin was Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam. In August 1588 he was presented with credible intelligence that the battle in the English Channel had been won by the Spanish and that the invasion of England was set to be completed. Then it was understood that the Spanish were in the Atlantic and the entire fleet was about to fall on the coast of Ireland. The degree of alarm among the English at Dublin was extreme, and Fitzwilliam put out false reports that reinforcements from England were due to arrive with 10,000 troops.

The English feared the Spanish would land in disciplined formations, with the Irish rising out to join them from territories that were almost beyond the control of the government. But reliable intelligence was soon received at Waterford and Dublin that the ships were fetching up in a chaotic manner at disparate locations in the provinces of Ulster, Connacht and Munster, along a coastline spanning 300 miles (480 km). Fitzwilliam ordered that all Spaniards be captured and hanged summarily and that anyone aiding them be tortured and charged as a traitor to the Crown.

Munster Edit

The Armada first made landfall in the southern province of Munster, which had been colonised by the English in 1583 following the suppression of the last of the Desmond Rebellions. Fitzwilliam received orders from London to lead an expedition there, and intelligence from the governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, soon confirmed that further landfalls were being made throughout the west and north of the country.

Thomond: Many ships were sighted off the coast of County Clare: four at Loop Head, two of which were wrecked, including San Esteban (700 tons, 264 men) at Doonbeg, and probably the heavily damaged San Marcos (790 tons, squadron of Portugal, 409 men, 33 guns) at Lurga Point (modern day Seafield, Quilty, County Clare) inside Mutton Island. All survivors were put to death by the sheriff of Clare, Boetius MacClancy (some, according to tradition, at Gallows Hill, but more likely at Cnoc na Crocaire, Spanish Point).

Seven ships anchored at Scattery Roads, probably with a pilot who knew the coast. Their landing party was fought off, but they did secure some supplies and managed to repair their ships. One galleon, Anunciada (703 tons, 24 guns, 275 men), was fired and scuttled off Kilrush on 12 September, [7] and the crew transferred to Barco de Danzig, which made it safely to Spain after the squadron departed the Shannon estuary on 11 September.

Blasket Islands: One Armada commander, Juan Martínez de Recalde, did have experience of the Irish coast: in 1580 he had landed a Papal invasion force in the Dingle peninsula, in the run up to the Siege of Smerwick, and had managed to evade an English squadron of warships. In the Armada he had command of the galleon San Juan de Portugal (1,150 tons, 500 men, 50 guns) of the Biscayan squadron, which engaged with the English fleet in the Channel and held off Francis Drake in Revenge, John Hawkins in Victory, and Martin Frobisher in Triumph.

After the defeat at Gravelines Recalde's galleon led San Juan de Bautista (750 tons, 243 men) and another small vessel (almost certainly a Scottish fishing smack seized to assist with navigation and inshore work). As these ships approached the coast of Kerry, Recalde's lookouts sighted Mount Brandon on the Dingle peninsula and, to the west, the lofty Blasket Islands, a complex archipelago studded with reefs.

Recalde steered to the islands in search of shelter, riding on a swell through a tight gap at the eastern tip of the Great Blasket Island. His galleon made it through to calm water and dropped anchor over a sandy bottom beneath sheer cliffs. San Juan de Bautista and the smack soon followed. The anchorage ensured that the only wind that might drive the ships off would bring them clear to the open sea. It was a difficult manoeuvre, demanding prior knowledge of the coastline.

Recalde's ships remained within their shelter for several days, and a crown force led by Thomas Norris (brother of the soldier, John Norris) and Edward Denny (husband of Lady Denny) arrived in Dingle to guard against a landing. Recalde sent a reconnaissance party ashore, but all eight members were captured. At one stage a westerly gale caused Portugal to collide with San Juan de Bautista, and when the wind died down another ship, Santa Maria de la Rosa (900 tons, 297 men: Guipuzcoa squadron), entered the sound from the north and fired off a gun by way of distress signal.

As the tide ebbed, Recalde's ships held their anchorage in the more sheltered part of the sound, while Santa Maria de la Rosa drifted and then simply sank — perhaps on striking Stromboli Rock — leaving one survivor for the English to interrogate. The survivor's information was that the captain of Santa Maria de la Rosa had called the pilot a traitor and run him through with a sword just as the ship began to sink he also asserted that the Prince of Ascoli, son of the king of Spain, had gone down with the ship — this information was false, but proved useful propaganda for the English.

Two more ships entered the sound — San Juan de Ragusa (650 tons, 285 men), the other unidentified. San Juan de Ragusa was in distress and sank — perhaps on striking Dunbinna reef. San Juan de Bautista attempted to take advantage of an ebb tide and sail south out of the sound, but ended up tacking about on the flood tide to avoid the numerous reefs, before sailing through the north-west passage. After a difficult night, the crew were dismayed to find themselves at the mouth of the sound once more. But the wind blew from the south-east, and San Juan de Bautista finally escaped on 25 September and made it home to Spain through a terrible storm.

Three days later Recalde led the remaining ships out of the sound and brought them to Spain, where he instantly died. [ citation needed ] Those survivors who had fallen into Denny's custody were put to death at Dingle.

Fenit: The sloop Nuestra Senora del Socorro (75 tons) anchored at Fenit, in Tralee Bay on the coast of Kerry, where she was surrendered to crown officers. The 24 men on board were taken into custody and marched to Tralee Castle. On the orders of Lady Margaret Denny, they were all hanged from a gibbet.

Valentia Island: Trinidad (800 tons, 302 men) was wrecked on the coast of Desmond — probably at Valentia Island, off the coast of south Kerry — although there are no details of this event.

At Liscannor the oar-powered galleass Zuñiga (290, Naples) anchored off-shore with a broken rudder, having found a gap in the Cliffs of Moher, which rise sheer from the sea over 220 metres. The ship came under surveillance by the sheriff of Clare and, when a cock-boat was sent ashore in search of supplies, the Spanish were attacked by crown forces and had to withdraw to their ship. One captive was taken and sent for interrogation. Zuñiga escaped the coast with favourable winds, put in at Le Havre, and finally made it back to Naples the following year.

Ulster Edit

Donegal: La Trinidad Valencera (1,000 tons, Levant squadron, 360 men, 42 guns) had taken on more water than could be pumped out. Yet as she approached the coast she managed to rescue 264 men from the Barca de Amburgo, another ship swamped in the heavy seas. Trinidad anchored in Glenagivney Bay, where she listed to such a degree that the order was given to abandon ship. Some locals were paid for the use of a small boat, and over the course of two days all 560 men were ferried to shore. [8]

During a seven-day march inland, the column of survivors met a force of cavalry under the command of Richard Hovenden and Henry Hovenden [9] foster-brothers of Hugh O'Neill, 3rd Earl of Tyrone. [ citation needed ] Upon pledges of safe conduct for their delivery into the custody of Fitzwilliam — given in the presence of the Earl of Tyrconnell — the Spanish laid down their arms. [ citation needed ] The noblemen and officers were separated out, and 300 of the ordinary men were massacred. The surviving 150 fled through the bog, ending up either with Sorley Boy MacDonnell at Dunluce or at the house of Redmond O'Gallagher, the bishop of Derry, and were sent to Scotland. The 45 noblemen and officers were marched to Dublin, but only 30 survived to reach the capital, where they were dispatched to London for ransom.

Three further ships — unidentified — were wrecked on the Donegal coast, one at Mullaghderg, one at Rinn a' Chaislean.The third was found in 2010 at Burtonport. [10]

Antrim: The greatest loss of life was on the sinking of the galleass La Girona. She had docked for repairs to her rudder at Killybegs, where 800 survivors from two other Armada shipwrecks were taken aboard - from La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada and Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal. La Girona set sail for Scotland, but on 26 October her rudder broke and she was wrecked off Lacada Point, County Antrim. Of the estimated 1300 people on board, only nine survived. [11]

Connacht Edit

The Governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, sought reinforcements from Dublin but his request was denied by Fitzwilliam, who had few resources at his disposal. A proclamation made it treason on pain of death for any man to help Spaniards. Many survivors were delivered to Galway from all over the province. In the first wave of seizures, 40 noblemen were reserved for ransom, and 300 men were put to death. Later, on the orders of Fitzwilliam, all the unarmed noblemen except two were also executed, along with six Dutch boys who had fallen into custody afterward. In all, 12 ships were wrecked on the coast of Connacht, and 1,100 survivors were put to death. [12] [13]

Galway: Falcon Blanco (300 tons, 103 men, 16 guns) and Concepción de Juanes del Cano of Biscay (225 men, 18 guns) and another unknown ship entered Galway Bay. Falcon Blanco grounded at Barna, five km west of Galway City, and most of those on board made it to shore. Concepción de Juanes del Cano grounded at Carna 30 km further west, having been lured to shore by the bonfires of a party of wreckers from the Clan O'Flaherty

Sligo: Three ships grounded near Streedagh Strand, ten miles North of Sligo town, with 1,800 men drowned and perhaps 100 coming ashore. The wreck-site was discovered in 1985. Among the survivors was Captain Francisco de Cuellar, who gave a remarkable account of his experiences in the fleet and on the run in Ireland.

  • La Lavia (25 guns), was a Venetian merchantman and the Vice-flagship
  • La Juliana (32 guns) was a Catalan merchantman and
  • Santa Maria de Vison (de Biscione) (18 guns) was a Ragusan merchantman.

Mayo: In September a galleon was wrecked at Tyrawley (modern County Mayo). Tradition [ example needed ] has it that another ship was wrecked in the vicinity, near Kid Island, but no record remains of this event. Also, Gran Grin was wrecked at the mouth of Clew Bay.

Among those ships wrecked in Connacht was the merchant carrack La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada (419 men, 35 guns), which had run for the Irish coast in desperate need of repair, along with four other ships of the Levant squadron and four galleons. La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada carried an unusually large number of noblemen from the most ancient families of Spain — chief among them Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva — as well as the son of the Irish rebel, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald.

La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada was skillfully handled along the northern coast of Mayo, but could not clear the Mullet Peninsula, and so anchored in Blacksod Bay on 7 September. The wind got up and the anchors dragged, until the ship was driven on to Ballycroy strand. All the crew got to shore under the leadership of de Leyva, and two castles were seized and fortified with munitions and stores from the beached ship, which was then torched. The rebel's son, Maurice Fitzmaurice, had died on board, and was cast into the sea in a cypress chest.

The Spanish soon moved on to another castle, where they were met by a host of fellow survivors, approaching from the wreck in Broadhaven of another ship, which had entered that bay without masts. De Leyva's host now numbered 600, and the governor of Connacht, Richard Bingham, chose not to confront them. After some days two ships of the Armada entered Blacksod Bay — the merchantman Nuestra Señora de Begoña (750 tons, 297 men) and the transport Duquesa Santa Ana (900 tons, 23 guns, 357 men). De Leyva and his 600 men boarded Duquesa Santa Ana. Nuestra Señora de Begoña sailed straight for Santander, Spain, arriving some time later. Duquesa Santa Ana, however, was somewhat damaged and it was decided to sail north for Scotland. Stormy weather soon hit Duquesa Santa Ana and she was grounded in Loughros Bay in Donegal, with all aboard reaching shore in what was friendly territory.

De Leyva, who had been seriously injured by a capstan, pitched camp on the shore of the bay for nine days, until news came of another ship of the fleet, the galleass Girona, which had anchored in Killybegs harbour while two other ships had been lost on attempting to enter the harbour. With the assistance of an Irish chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, Girona was repaired and set sail in mid-October with 1,300 men on board, including de Leyva. Lough Foyle was cleared, but then a gale struck and Girona was driven ashore at Dunluce in modern County Antrim. There were nine survivors, who were sent on to Scotland by Sorley Boy MacDonnell 260 bodies were washed ashore.

Aran Islands: Two ships were sighted off the Aran Islands: one failed to land a party in hard weather, and it is not known what became of them.

Antrim: The single greatest loss of life occurred upon the wreck of the galleass Girona on the coast of Antrim after she had taken on board many survivors from other ships wrecked on the coast of Connacht (see Ulster, above).

Between 17 and 24 ships of the Grand Armada were lost on the Irish coast, accounting for about one-third of the fleet's total loss of 63, with the loss of about 6,000 men. [14]

By the end of September 1588 Fitzwilliam was able to report to the Queen's secretary, Lord Burghley, that the Armada alarm was over. Soon after, he reckoned that only about 100 survivors remained in the country. In 1596, an envoy of Philip II arrived in Ireland to make inquiries of survivors and was successful in only eight cases.

Following the defeat of the Armada the English sent their own fleet against the Iberian peninsula, but failed to press home their advantage and returned with similar losses. At the height of the Anglo-Spanish War the Spanish landed 3,500 troops in the south of Ireland to assist the Ulster rebel leader Hugh O'Neill, during the Nine Years' War (1594–1603). This expedition also failed, and Spain and England concluded a peace in 1604.

By the time of the peace the Spanish had restored their dominance at sea, and treasure from the New World was flowing in to their Royal Treasury at an increased rate. Elizabeth's successor James I neglected his fleet and chose to secure crown influence in Ireland: in 1607 the lords of Gaelic Ulster fled to the continent, and the English conquest of Ireland was largely completed on the seizure and colonisation of their territories in the Plantation of Ulster in 1610.

There is a myth that the Spanish Armada left descendents in Ireland, however research has discredited such claims. [15] [ better source needed ]

The first salvage attempts were made within months, on the coast of County Clare by George Carew, who complained [ citation needed ] at the expense "of sustaining the divers with copious draughts of usequebaugh" [Uisce Beatha - Irish for whiskey].

Sorley Boy MacDonnell recovered three brass cannon and two chests of treasure from the wreck of Girona.

In 1797 a quantity of lead and some brass guns were raised from the wreck of an unknown Armada ship at Mullaghderg in County Donegal. Two miles further south, in 1853, an anchor was recovered from another unknown Armada wreck. [16]

The Grainuaile Suite (1985), an orchestral treatment of the life of the Irish sea-queen Gráinne O'Malley by Irish composer Shaun Davey, contains a lament on the Spanish landings in Ireland, sung by Rita Connolly.

The wrecking of La Girona was commemorated in illustrations of the Armada and the Antrim coast which appear on the reverse side of sterling banknotes issued by the First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland.

The final published novel of Anthony Burgess, Byrne: A Novel, features a protagonist who is specifically stated to be descended from Spanish survivors who remained in Ireland.

The Luck of the Irish and Darby O'Gill and the Little People are American films that make reference to the wrecking of the Spanish armada as an explanation for leprechauns having pots of gold.

ISBN 13: 9781250047120

After the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, Protestant England was beset by the hostile Catholic powers of Europe, including Spain. In October 1585, King Philip II of Spain declared his intention to destroy Protestant England and began preparing invasion plans, leading to an intense intelligence war between the two countries and culminating in the dramatic sea battles of 1588.

Popular history dictates that the defeat of the Spanish Armada was a David versus Goliath victory, snatched by plucky and outnumbered English forces. In this tightly written and fascinating new history, Robert Hutchinson explodes this myth, revealing the true destroyers of the Spanish Armada―inclement weather and bad luck. Of the 125 Spanish ships that set sail against England, only 60 limped home, the rest wrecked or sank with barely a shot fired from their main armament.

In this dramatic hour-by-hour, blow-by-blow account of the Spanish Armada's attempt to destroy Elizabeth's England, Hutchinson spins a compelling and unbelievable narrative. Using everything from contemporary eyewitness accounts to papers held by the national archives in Spain and the United Kingdom, Robert Hutchinson re-creates one of history's most famous episodes in an entirely new way.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

With a doctorate in archaeology, ROBERT HUTCHINSON has spent his career as a journalist and publishing director before becoming a critically-acclaimed Tudor historian whose books have been translated into nine languages. He lives in England.

𠇌ontemporary readers will certainly enjoy this outstanding contribution. Tudor historian Hutchinson (Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII, 2012, etc.) excels in his descriptions of the flow of information. Readers know how the battle turned out, but they will relish Hutchinson's intensely detailed account. Those with fond memories of Garrett Mattingly's classic The Armada (1959) will discover an equally enthralling successor.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this engaging volume, archeologist and historian Hutchinson (Young Henry) sets out to overturn one of the cherished legends taught in British primary schools. Hutchinson lays out ample evidence that the Spanish ships sank more from happenstance than heroism. ” ―Publishers Weekly

“[Hutchinson's] attention to battle at sea, sixteenth-century style, induces wonder at how Phillip and his high command thought they could succeed. Culminating with the Armada's ghastly shipwrecks in Ireland, Hutchinson's day-by-day story of the Armada is a fine production for maritime history buffs.” ―Booklist

“The author does a magnificent job of describing the military campaign. . . . He also argues convincingly that, in terms of intelligence . . . this was a truly modern war.” ―Good Book Guide (UK)

“The victory of the English navy over the Spanish Armada in 1588 is one of those defining moments . . . of British pluck and determination. . . . Well no, not really, says historian Robert Hutchinson in his revelatory new book.” ―Choice (UK)

“In a book which successfully weaves together the different elements of the dramatic story, Robert Hutchinson, making use of fresh research (not least his own), sets out to consider the background and the events themselves.” ―The Tablet (UK)

𠇊nyone who sees history as boring should be given Robert Hutchinson's book posthaste. Without sacrificing facts and research, he has the ability to construct an absolutely compelling narrative. . . . He is one of the few authors who keep you up till 3 a.m.” ―The Bookseller on Young Henry

“Pulling quotations from the archives that convey Henry's pious yet imperious personality, Hutchinson ably meets history fans' unflagging fascination with Henry VIII.” ―Booklist on Young Henry

“Hutchinson is admirable at pulling out amusing tidbits from the primary sources he obviously plumbed to write this breezy account. . . . often enlivened by Hutchinson's irreverent commentary.” ―Publishers Weekly on Young Henry

𠇊nyone with a passing interest in Tudor history will catch up quickly and delight in a detailed profile of one of England's most famous--and infamous--monarchs.” ―Shelf Awareness on Young Henry

8th August 1588

At midnight, Howard sent eight fire ships into the congested Spanish ranks. Many Spanish Captains cut their cables in their haste to escape the flames. They blundered away from the blaze straight into the gunfire of the waiting English. Unfortunately for the Spanish, their fire power was vastly inferior to that of the English.

A change of wind blew the Armada North out of the range of English fire. However, the wind became a gale and the Spanish were driven further North and many were dashed on the Northern rocks. The survivors were forced to make their way round the Orkneys and down the Irish coast. The remains of the proud Armada limped home to Spain.

The Defeated Spanish Armada

English provocation

At the commencement of Elizabeth's reign (1558) Philip had been her best friend. His intercession helped to save her life after Wycliffe's rebellion (1554). He facilitated her accession, supported her against the claims of Mary Stuart, and intervened powerfully in her favor to prevent French aid from being sent to Scotland. When England had emerged triumphant at the treaty of Edinburgh (1560), Elizabeth sent him a special mission of thanks, with the Catholic Lord Montague at its head, to whom she gave a dispensation from the laws of England in order that he might practice Catholicism during the embassy.

The victory of Protestantism now being complete, greater coolness was shown. As time went on the Spanish ambassador was treated with disrespect, his house beset, visitors to his chapel imprisoned Spanish ships were robbed with impunity in the Channel. In 1562, Hawkins forced his way by violence into the forbidden markets of the West Indies, his trade being chiefly in slaves, whom he had captured in West Africa. In 1564 and 1567 the same violent measures were repeated, but the last ended in disaster for him. Meanwhile the Protestant party in the Netherlands began to rebel in 1566, and was subsidized by England.

In 1568, a Spanish ship having put into Plymouth with pay for the whole of the Spanish army in Flanders, the money was seized by the English government. Here ensued reprisals on both sides, trade was paralyzed, and war was on the point of breaking out, both on the occasion of the Northern rising (1569) and at the time of the Ridolfi conspiracy in 1571. The imprudent Spanish ambassador, Don Gerau Despes, was then expelled from England, Philip having previously dismissed from Spain the Spanish ambassador, Dr. Mann, an apostate priest, whose selection was naturally considered an insult. Whilst the Spanish fleet was fighting the cause of Christianity against the Turks at Lepanto (1572), Drake thrice sacked the almost defenseless colonies on the Spanish Main, from which he returned with enormous booty (1570, 1571, 1572-73).

Slightly better relations between the two countries ensued toward the close of this decade, when Elizabeth feared that, with the decay of Spanish power in the Netherlands, France might conquer the country for herself. So in 1578 a Spanish ambassador was received in London, though at the same time Drake was allowed to sail on his great buccaneering voyage around the world. On his return public opinion began to condemn aloud the "master-robber of the New World", but Elizabeth exerted herself warmly in his favor, gave him the honor of knighthood, and three years later, immediately before sending her army to fight the Spaniards in the Netherlands, she dispatched him once more to spoil the West Indies. It was then that Drake "convinced Spain that in self-defense she must crush England" (J.R. Seeley, Growth of British Policy).

Mr. Froude and the older panegyrists of Queen Elizabeth frequently justify the English piracies as acts of retaliation against the cruelties of the Inquisition, and maintain that Philip had given cause for war by encouraging plots against Elizabeth's throne and life. The prime motive of the Armada, they say, was to overthrow Protestantism. But these statements cannot be substantiated and are misleading (see Laughton, p. xxii Pollen, The Month, February, March, April, 1902). It is true that the ineffective attempts of Spain to shut out the rest of Europe from traffic with her colonies were unwise, perhaps unjust, and acted as an incentive to secret and unwarranted traffic. But it must also be remembered that trade monopolies flourished in England to such an extent that her pirates may have taken to that profession because honorable trading was so much impeded (Dascent, Acts of Privy Council, VII, p. xviii). On the other hand, one must unreservedly blame the cruelties of Alva and of the Spanish Inquisitors, which much embittered the struggle when it had once begun.


The defeat of the Armada, as much by bad weather, poor planning and bad luck as by battle, seemed a providential escape to English Protestants – literally gift sent by God. Nevertheless, war between England and Spain continued indecisively until 1604 – an ‘English Armada’, sent to destroy the port at Corruna 1589 was itself defeated with 40 ships sunk and 10,000 men lost.

In Ireland itself the immediate effects of the Armada are hard to gauge. The frantic military activity all over the west destabilized the always fragile political situation there. North Connacht rose in rebellion again in 1589, though again, mainly over local grievances. Brian O’Rourke who had harboured many Spaniards fled to Scotland but was handed over the English and hanged.

Certainly however, those areas, principally in the north, who had helped the wrecked Spaniards in 1588, helped to forge an enduring connection between Catholic Ireland and Catholic Spain.

During Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell’s Nine Years War (1595-1603) against the English Crown, both lords were in constant communication with Phillip II, who aided them with weapons, money and finally a landing of Spanish troops at Kinsale in 1601-2.

Despite the fate of the Armada in Ireland, the late 16th century saw a strong bond created between Irish Catholics and the Spanish monarchy, through mutual hostility to Protestant England.

None of this should obscure the reality however that in the year of the Armada, the Irish weather and probably the majority of the Irish concerned helped to seal the fate of Spanish Armada.

This article is a version of a talk given at Kilrush, County Clare, on August 14, 2015 for the Office of Public Works (OPW). By My thanks to Padraig Og O Ruairc for inviting me.


[1] John O’Brien, The Other Clare, Vol 3, 1979,

[2] See the Bull here

[3] Colm Lennon, Sixteenth Century Ireland, The Incomplete Conquest, Gill & MacMillan, Dublin 1994, p226

[4] Geoffrey Parker ,Empire War and Faith in Early Modern Europe, p50

[5] William Marmion, Irish regiments in the Spanish Army of Flanders

[6] Lennon, Sixteenth century Ireland, p240-248

[7] Lennon, p249-255, Gallowglass refers to Gall Oglaigh, ‘foreign warriors’ traditional Scottish Gaelic soldiers for hire.

[8] Parker, Empire War and Faith p23-24

[9] Parker, Empire, War and Faith, p50

[12] Alessando Farnese Duke of Parma, an Italian who commanded the Spanish Army

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