The Spanish Armada

By the 1580s, Spain was quite powerful with its vast amount of colonies and wealth while England was not so fortunate. Tensions already existed between England and Spain. England had authorized pirates to raid Spanish ships carrying wealth from their colonies which of course angered the Spanish. There was also the issue of religion between the two countries. England was Protestant and Spain was Catholic. The English crown had been persecuting Catholics which did not sit well with King Philip II of Spain who saw himself as a protector of Catholicism and was angered by the English aiding Dutch rebels against Spanish rule in the Netherlands. In retaliation Philip sought to invade England and overthrow the Protestant queen. Philip was given Papal blessings to invade England and believed God would ensure their victory. Philip put the Duke of Medina Sidonia in command of the Spanish Armada. Medina Sidonia lacked military experience but was high born and his social status got him the job. Medina Sidonia managed to get his men to obey his orders since he had the habit of hanging men who disobeyed him. Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Armada itself was not the invasion force. It was carrying supplies for the army that was going to be transported across the English Channel. The plan was to sail to the English Channel and meet up with the Spanish army from the Low Countries under the command of the Duke of Parma and transport them to England. On May 28, 1588, the Armada set sail for the English Channel. It consisted of 130 ships. The English fleet awaited them under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham. The English fleet outnumbered the Spanish fleet but the Spanish outgunned the English. On July 20, the two sides clashed. The English avoided close quarter fighting with the Spanish and relied on cannons. The ships continued to skirmish with each other for days until the Spanish Armada anchored off of Calais on July 27 where the army of the Duke of Parma was supposed to be waiting but they were not there. They waited for the army which made them sitting targets for the English and Dutch ships. The English launched fire ships, ships full of gunpowder, at the Spanish, inflicting heavy losses. The Armada left without the army and continued on north. The two sides met again near the port of Gravelines where they fought a fierce battle that ended in defeat for the Spanish who continued to sail north. Queen Elizabeth I gave her famous Tilbury speech after the battle rather than before it as most people believe. The Spanish Armada sailed around Britain but ran into some bad weather in the North Atlantic and lost ships. By the time the Armada returned to Spain, they had lost three quarters of their fleet and their supplies had been exhausted.  This was seen as a great victory for England and really boosted English morale. The following year Elizabeth sent a Counter Armada to invade Spain but that turned into a disaster as well. The failure of both armadas did not end the conflict between Spain and England but it put direct war on hold for several years.  The victory over the Spanish Armada left a lasting effect on Elizabeth’s legacy that continues to this day.

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