Learn more about Spanish Armada
- For the Spanish Navy, see Armada Española.
The Spanish Armada or "Great/Grand Armada" (Old Spanish: Grande y Felicísima Armada, "great and most fortunate navy"; but dubbed by the Spanish, with ironic intention, la Armada Invencible, "the Invincible Fleet") refers to the Spanish-controlled fleet which sailed against England in 1588, with the intention of escorting an invading army across the southern North Sea, near the Strait of Dover. It was sent by the Catholic King Philip II of Spain in an attempt to bring an end to a conflict with England and was the largest campaign of the undeclared Anglo–Spanish War (1585-1604).
The Spanish fleet, which consisted of about 130 warships and converted merchant ships, was not crushingly defeated by the English Navy, but in the Battle of Grave lines, in the North Sea off the coast at the border between France and the Spanish Netherlands, was scattered by an English fire-ship attack followed up with the use of artillery. This meant that the Armada had failed in its intent to rendezvous with the land-based component of its invasion plan. The fleet was scattered and blown north up the east coast of England. Very severe weather off the western coasts of Britain and Ireland as the fleet attempted to return to Spain after rounding the northern tip of Scotland meant that fewer than half of the ships ever returned to Spain.
The battle is greatly misunderstood, as many myths have surrounded it.  Although it has been claimed as a big victory for England, the battle was little more than a series of (sometimes intense) skirmishes with only three ships sunk out of 137. It can be considered only one episode in a war which finally ended in 1604, that highlighted Spain's naval supremacy in this period.
On May 28, 1588, the Armada, with 150 ships and 18,000 soldiers, 7,000 sailors, 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns, set sail from Lisbon heading for the English Channel. An army of 30,000 men stood in the Spanish Netherlands, waiting for the fleet to arrive. The plan was to land the original force in Plymouth and transfer the land army to someplace near London (this was never performed), mustering 65,000 men, a huge army for this time. For example, the armies invading Scotland earlier the same century under Henry VIII rarely exceeded 20,000. However, the English fleet was prepared and waiting in Plymouth for news of Spanish movements. It took until May 30 for all of the Armada to leave port and, on the same day, Elizabeth's ambassador Dr Valentine Dale met Parma's representatives to begin peace negotiations. It was not until July 17 that the peace negotiations were wholly abandoned.
 The English Channel
The Armada, having been delayed by bad weather, was not sighted until July 19. This occurred off The Lizard, Cornwall, but a sequence of beacons had been constructed the length of the south coast of England, so that the news was known in London within two days. The Armada followed the coast as far as Plymouth, where the 55 ships of the English fleet had set sail on the night of the 19th. The English were nominally under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham (later Earl of Nottingham), and Sir John Hawkins. However, he acknowledged Sir Francis Drake, technically his subordinate, as the more experienced naval commander and gave him effective control. In order to execute their "line ahead" attack, the English tacked behind the Armada to place them upwind of the Spanish, thus gaining a significant maneuvering advantage.
Over the next week there followed two inconclusive engagements, at Eddystone and Portland, Dorset. However, at the Isle of Wight there was an opportunity for the Armada to create a temporary base in protected waters and wait for word from Parma's army. In a full-on attack, the English fleet broke into four groups with Drake coming in with a large force from the south. At that critical moment Medina-Sidonia sent reinforcements south and forced the Armada back into the open sea in order to avoid sandbanks. This left two Spanish wrecks near the Isle of Wight and, with no safe harbours, forced the Armada to Calais, whether the Spanish army was ready or not.
At the same time, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was assembling a force of 4,000 soldiers at Tilbury Fort, Essex, to defend the estuary of the River Thames in the event of a Spanish landing. (See below.) This force and other coastal defences were rendered unnecessary when the English naval battle plan proved effective in preventing the Armada from protecting Parma's invasion barges. In 1587 the Earl of Leicester had been recalled from the Netherlands, where he had been commanding officer of the English forces. Command of the English force remaining there fell to Lord Christie. Following the defeat of the Armada, he was given credit for having hindered Parma's efforts to get his invasion force together quickly. How far it was really effective is not clear: the unit is said to have numbered 1,500. It is likely that the English presence had made the independent Dutch more sympathetic to the English cause. However, they were already interested, as they had better information about the approaching armada than Parma did and it was not wholly clear that the fleet was not coming to attack them. The difference in effectiveness between the intelligence and communication systems of the Independent Dutch and the Spanish may have lain in the help and hindrance afforded by the English to the respective parties. Walsingham had already shown that he had recognized the importance of intelligence. ==
 Calais and the fire ships
On July 27, the Spanish anchored off Calais, not far from Parma's waiting army of 16,000 in Dunkirk, in a crescent-shaped, tightly-packed defensive formation. They were compelled to do this by the lack of a deep-water port in France or the Low Countries where the Armada could seek shelter—a major oversight on Philip's part, although most European ports were not designed to accommodate a fleet like the Armada in the first place.
At midnight of July 28, the English set eight pitch- and gunpowder-filled ships alight and sent them downwind among the closely-anchored Spanish vessels. Two were intercepted and towed away but many of the Spanish ships cut their cables in order to escape. Medina Sidonia's and a few other "core" ships were exceptions to this. No ship in the Spanish fleet was actually burnt by the fireships but the deadly factor of confusion entered the equation. Spanish morale was damaged and, more importantly, the scattered Spanish ships were now too far to leeward of Calais in the rising south-westerly wind to recover their position. The lighter English vessels could now engage the scattered ships individually.
 Battle of Gravelines
|Battle of Gravelines|
|Part of the Anglo-Spanish War|
| Image:Loutherbourg-Spanish Armada.jpg|
Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588-08-08 by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, painted 1796, depicts the battle of Gravelines.
| Charles Howard|
|Duke of Medina Sidonia|
| 34 warships|
163 merchant vessels
| 22 galleons|
108 merchant vessels
|500 dead or wounded|| 600 dead,|
3 merchant ships sunk
1 merchant ship captured
Gravelines is now in France but in 1588 it was in Flanders, part of the Spanish Netherlands, close to the border with France. It was the nearest Spanish territory to England. Medina-Sidonia tried to re-form his fleet off Gravelines, but was reluctant to sail further east owing to the danger from the shoals off Flanders from which the Dutch allies of England had removed the sea-marks. He had expected Parma to arrive promptly with troops in small vessels from ports along the Flemish coast. However, communications had been much more difficult than anticipated so that Parma had had no notice of his arrival. He needed another six days to bring his troops up with the Spanish fleet. Meanwhile Medina-Sidonia was left waiting off Calais and Gravelines.
The English had learned much of the Armada's strengths and weaknesses during the skirmishes in the English Channel. That done, they had carefully conserved their heavy shot and powder. The English attacked on July 29. Eleven Spanish ships were lost or damaged (though the most seaworthy Atlantic-class vessels escaped largely unscathed), and the Spaniards suffered nearly 2,000 casualties from the battle as well as illness and exposure, before the English fleet ran out of ammunition. The Spaniards' heavy guns were unwieldy and their crews were not trained to re-load during a battle as were the English crews, but after firing once, left the decks for their main job as marines in the rigging. Consequently, given the greater maneuverability of the English fleet, it was possible to provoke the Spanish to fire but to stay out of effective range until the heavy shot was loosed before closing and firing repeated and damaging broadsides into the Spanish ships. The English maneuverability, too, enabled them to maintain a position to windward so that the heeling Spaniards' hulls were exposed to damage below the water-line. Wrecks of the Spanish ships discovered in Ireland still contain most of their ammunition.
English casualties were much lighter, initially in the low hundreds from the battle itself, but a raging typhus epidemic soon swept throughout the defensive fleet, killing thousands of English sailors. Although the Gravelines engagement itself was largely an indecisive stalemate, it afforded the English defenders some breathing space as Medina-Sidonia, unaware of the scarcity of English ammunition, soon directed the Armada northward, away from the Flemish coast, pursued by the bluffing English fleet with its empty shot lockers. The Armada was unable to re-form to return and was soon too far away to beat back even had it been possible to communicate the order to do so.
In 2002 Dr Colin Martin of the University of St Andrews claimed that many Spanish ships carried cannon shot that was the wrong size for their cannon. The equipment had been gathered from a wide variety of sources in the Spanish Habsburg lands which were world-wide and, in Europe, scattered between the Heel of Italy, southern Portugal and the Ems estuary. The notion of standardization had barely been explored at this stage. However, the Spaniards' main difficulty was that their thinking had been directed towards boarding and hand-to-hand fighting. The English knew this and avoided compliance with such tactics. By the Gravelines stage, they also knew the gunnery implications.
By the day after Gravelines, the wind had backed, southerly, enabling Medina Sidonia to move the Armada northward (away from the French coast). The English pursued and harried the Spanish fleet, preventing its properly reforming and returning to escort Parma, but again ammunition proved the limiting factor and the English were compelled to disengage. The Spaniards gave up against the deadly harrying of the still coherent English fleet. On 12 August, Howard called a halt to the chase in the latitude of the Firth of Forth off Scotland.
 Tilbury speech
Meanwhile, the threat of invasion from the Netherlands had been discounted. On August 8, Elizabeth went to Tilbury to encourage her forces, and the next day gave to them what is probably her most famous speech:
- I have come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being 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.... (Billy Thom 1)
Tilbury was a poor location at which to muster the army, as a difficult river-crossing would have been necessary to prevent the Spanish from capturing London, had they landed in Kent. In the event, Parma did not cross the English Channel, and the troops at Tilbury were disbanded later that month.
 The Return to Spain
- Main article: Spanish Armada in Ireland
The Spanish fleet 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 driven overboard into the sea. Shortly after reaching the latitude of Ireland, the Armada ran straight into a hurricane - to this day, it remains one of the northernmost on record. The hurricane scattered the fleet and drove some two dozen vessels onto the coast of Ireland. (see Protestant Wind)
A new theory suggests that the Spanish fleet failed to account for the effect of the gulf stream. Therefore they were much closer to Ireland than planned, a devastating navigational error. This was during the "Little Ice Age" and the Spanish were not aware that conditions were far colder and more difficult than they had expected for their trip around the north of England and Ireland. As a result many more ships and sailors were lost to cold and stormy weather than in combat actions.
Following the storm, it is reckoned that 5,000 men died, whether by drowning and starvation or by execution at the hands of English forces in Ireland. The reports from Ireland abound with strange accounts of brutality and survival, and attest on occasion to the brilliance of Spanish seamanship. Survivors did receive help from the Gaelic Irish, with many escaping to Scotland and beyond.
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 my ships to fight against the English, not against the elements".
English losses were minimal and none of their ships were sunk. But after the victory, typhus and dysentery killed many sailors and troops (estimated at 6,000–8,000) as they languished for weeks in readiness for the Armada's return out of the North Sea. Then a demoralising dispute occasioned by the government's fiscal shortfalls left many of the Armada defenders unpaid for months, which was in contrast to the assistance given by the Spanish government to its surviving men.
Although the victory was acclaimed by the English as their greatest since Agincourt, an attempt in the following year to press home their advantage failed, when the English Armada returned to port with little to show for its efforts. But the boost to national pride lasted for years, and Elizabeth's legend persisted and grew well after her death. The repulse of Spanish naval might gave heart to the Protestant cause across Europe. High seas buccaneering against the Spanish persisted, and the supply of troops and munitions from England to Philip II's enemies in the Netherlands and France continued, albeit fitfully and with decreasing success.
Two more fleets sent by the Spanish in 1596 and 1597 were dispersed and forced back by fierce Atlantic storms. Indeed, the 1597 armada was in sight of the English coast and was unopposed. The difficulties encountered in the Normandy landings of France in 1944 show that, with much larger modern ships and across a relatively narrow stretch of water, the weather was always of utmost concern. This highlights the difficulties facing the Armada expeditions with their small, vulnerable ships (about the size of large modern trawlers) launched from a distant base. Nonetheless the Spanish had learned from the expedition, constantly rebuilding their fleet with innovations in mind, and managed to secure dominance of the Atlantic while England's navy went into decline.
Fifty years after the Armada expedition, the Dutch, who had been steadily increasing their naval power, broke the back of Spanish dominance at sea (Battle of the Downs), and it was only during the Napoleonic Wars that the British navy finally established its overwhelming mastery, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
England's treasure was used in a brutal war in Ireland (the Nine Years' War, 1595-1603), which was fitfully supported by Spain and proved the most expensive military campaign waged by the English for over a hundred years; such was the expense, that Elizabeth's government was drawn to the brink of bankruptcy.
In 1595, a Spanish infantry force of about 400 men landed in Cornwall. They collected supplies, burned a number of towns and even conducted a mass, before setting sail for home, when they evaded a fleet under the command of Sir Walter Raleigh.
England would be on the losing side of most of the remaining battles with Spain, and was plunged into debt with its colonial ambitions frustrated. Spain reached the pinnacle of its military power, both at sea and on land, in the years after the Armada defeat. Its long dominance at sea was only broken by the Dutch at the Battle of the Downs (1639); and the strength of its tercios, the dominant fighting unit in European land campaigns for over a century, was broken by the French at the Battle of Rocroi (1643).
By the end of the long war with England in the Treaty of London of 1604 Spain had achieved some of its aims that had originally been intended by the failed "knockout" blow of the Armada, but England remained true to its Protestant revolution and was now free to pursue its commercial interests in North America. The failure of the Armada to win a quick victory against England meant that Philip would not be able to concentrate his forces on recovering the Netherlands, a situation worsened by the war with France a few years later.
Two further wars between England and Spain were waged in the 17th Century.
 Ships involved
 England and the Netherlands
Ark (flag, Lord High Admiral Charles Howard)
Rainbow (Lord Henry Seymour)
Golden Lion (Thomas Howard)
White Bear (Alexander Gibson)
Vanguard (William Winter)
Revenge (Francis Drake)
Elizabeth (Robert Southwell)
Victory (Rear Admiral Sir John Hawkins)
Antelope (Henry Palmer)
Triumph (Martin Frobisher)
Dreadnought (George Beeston)
Mary Rose (Edward Fenton)
Nonpareil (Thomas Fenner)
Hope (Robert Crosse)
Swiftsure (Edward Fenner)
Swallow (Richard Hawkins)
34 merchant ships
30 ships and barks
33 ships and barks
Disdain (included in above)
Margaret and John (included in above)
30 Dutch cromsters blockading the Flemish coast
Fireships expended 7 August: (included in above)
 Spain and Portugal
São Martinho 48 (section flag, Duke of Medina Sidonia)
São João 50 (section vice-flag)
São Marcos 33 (Don Diogo Pimental or Penafiel) — Aground c. 8 August near Ostend
São Felipe 40 (Don Francisco de Toledo) — Aground 8 August between Nieupoort and Ostend, captured by Dutch 9 August
San Luis 38
San Mateo 34 — Aground 8 August between Nieupoort and Ostend, captured by Dutch 9 August
Galeon de Florencia 52 (or San Francesco ex-Levantine, Niccolo Bartoli)
San Crístobal 20
San Bernardo 21
Santa Ana 30 (section flag, Juan Martínez de Recalde)
El Gran Grin 28 (section vice-flag) — Aground c. 24 September, Clare Island
La Concepcion de Zubelzu 16
La Concepcion de Juan del Cano 18
La Magdalena 18
San Juan 21
La María Juan 24 — Sunk 8 August north of Gravelines
La Manuela 12
Santa María de Montemayor 18
María de Aguirre 6
Patache de Miguel de Suso 6
San Esteban 6
San Crístobal 36 (section flag, Diego Flores de Valdés)
San Juan Bautista 24 (section vice-flag)
San Pedro 24
San Juan 24
Santiago el Mayor 24
San Felipe y Santiago 24
La Asuncion 24
Nuestra Señora del Barrio 24
San Linda y Celedon 24
Santa Ana 24
Nuestra Señora de Begoña 24
La Trinidad 24
Santa Catalina 24
San Juan Bautista 24
Nuestra Señora del Rosario 24
San Antonio de Padua 12
Nuestra Señora del Rosario 46 (section flag, Don Pedro de Valdés) — Collided with Santa Catalina c. 31 July, captured by Revenge 1 August
San Francisco 21 (section vice-flag)
San Juan Bautista 31
San Juan de Gargarin 16
La Concepcion 20
Duquesa Santa Ana 23 (hulk) — Wrecked 29 September, Ireland
Santa Catalina 23 — Collided with Nuestra Señora del Rosario c. 31 July
La Trinidad 13
Santa María de Juncal 20
San Bartolome 27
Santa Ana 47 (section flag, Miguel de Oquendo)
Santa María de la Rosa 26 (section vice-flag) — Damaged 8 August, wrecked 16 September, Blaskett Sound, Ireland
San Salvador 25 — Damaged by explosion and captured c. 31 July
San Esteban 26 — Wrecked 20 September, Ireland
Santa Marta 20
Santa Bárbara 12
San Buenaventura 21
La María San Juan 12
Santa Cruz 18
Doncella 16 — Sank at Santander after returning to Spain
San Bernabe 9
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe 1
La Madalena 1
La Regazona 30 (section flag, Martín de Bertandona)
La Lavia 25 (section vice-flag)
La Rata Santa María Encoronada 35 (Leiva)
San Juan de Sicilia 26 (formerly Brod Martolosi) — Blew up (possibly sabotage from English agent) 5 November Tobermory Bay, Scotland
La Trinidad Valencera 42 — aground 8 August
La Anunciada 24 (formerly Presveta Anuncijata) — Scuttled 19 September at Shannon River mouth
San Nicolas Prodaneli 26 (formerly Sveti Nikola)
La Juliana 32
Santa María de Vison 18
La Trinidad de Scala 22
El Gran Grifón 38 (section flag, Juan Gómez de Medina) — Aground 8 August
San Salvador 24 (section vice-flag)
Nicholas Cundy 12
Falcon Blanco Mayor 16
Castillo Negro 27
Barca de Amburg 23 — sank
Casa de Paz Grande 26
San Pedro Mayor 29
El Sanson 18
San Pedro Menor 18
Barca de Danzig 26
Falcon Blanco Mediano 16 (Don Luis de Cordoba?) — Wrecked c. 25 September
San Andres 14
Casa de Paz Chica 15
Ciervo Volante 18
Paloma Blanca 12
La Ventura 4
Santa Bárbara 10
El Gato 9
San Gabriel 4
 Neapolitan galleasses
San Lorenzo 50 (Don Hugo de Moncado) — Aground, captured 8 August, distracting the English fleet
Girona 50 — Wrecked in Ulster
22 pataches and zabras (Don Antonio Hurtado de Medoza)
4 galleys of 5 guns each (Diego de Medrano)
vessels under Parma
 The Spanish Armada in art
The Grainuaile Suite (1985), by Irish composer Shaun Davey, contains an exquisite lament on the Spanish landings in Ireland following the retreat from the English channel.
 Other meanings
- Spanish Armada (Armada Española) can also describe the modern navy of Spain, part of the Spanish armed forces. The Spanish navy has participated in a number of military engagements, including the dispute over the Isla Perejil. This is not a reference to the Armada above — "armada" simply means "navy" in Spanish.
- In Tennis slang, Spanish Armada is used to refer to the group of highly ranked Spanish players, such as Felix Mantilla, Albert Portas, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moyá, Rafael Nadal, Tommy Robredo, and others.
 See also
- Black Legend
- Spanish Armada in Ireland
- Francisco de Cuellar
- Speech to the Troops at Tilbury
- Spanish Navy
- Armada (1988) ISBN 0-575-03729-6
- A History of England, from the Defeat of the Armada to the Death of Elizabeth by Edward Cheyney ISBN 000333496
- The Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Garrett Mattingly ISBN 0-395-08366-4
- England and the Spanish Armada (1990) ISBN 0-7317-0127-5
- The Expedition of Sir John Norris and Sir Francis Drake to Spain and Portugal, 1589, edited by RB Wernham ISBN 0-566-05578-3
- 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 by RB Wernham ISBN 0-19-820443-4
- Sir Francis Drake: the Queen's Pirate by Harry Kelsey ISBN 0-300-07182-5
- The Spanish Armada by Michael Lewis. (1960). First published by Batsford, 1960 - republished by Pan, 1966.
- The Spanish Armada by C. Martin & G. Parker. (1988) ISBN 0-241-12125-6
- The Spanish Armada: the Experience of the War in 1588 by Felipe Fernández-Armesto ISBN 0-19-822926-7
- The voyage of the Armada (1981) ISBN 0-00-211575-1
- Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors vols. 2 & 3 (London, 1885–1890)
- John O'Donovan (ed.) Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters (1851).
- Cyril Falls Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996) ISBN 0-09-477220-7.
- 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
- The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli - numerous editions, including ISBN 1-85326-306-0
- Historic Bourne etc. by J.J.Davies (1909)
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary by J.O.Thorne. (1969) SBN [sic] 550-16001-9
- Dutch Republic and the links from it give an insight into the politics in the Netherlands which ran parallel with political developments in England.
- BBC-ZDF etc TV coproduction Natural History of Europe
- Discovery Civilization Battlefield Detectives - What Sank The Armada?
 Further reading
- Top 10 myths and muddles about the Spanish Armada, history's most confused and misunderstood battle, by Wes Ulm, Harvard University.
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