The Spanish Armada was a fleet of 130 ships on a mission to invade England in 1588. But the fleet was disrupted by storms, and a large number of the ships were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. More than 5,000 soldiers lost their life. In 1985, nearly 400 years after the accident, local divers discovered the wreckage of three vessels of the fleet.
Today, the wreckage serves as a reminder of one of the biggest naval armies in the middle ages. What happened to the Armada? Why Spain wanted to invade England? Let’s take a look at this historic event.
Starting with the conspiracy theories of course, some historians believe God help the English defeat the Spanish armada.
In 1588, King Philip II of Spain sent his fleet to collect the army from the Netherlands, where they were fighting. The Armada was supposed to take the army to invade England. He did this in the name of religion, as England had become Protestant. They no longer accepted the Pope as the head of the Church.
Spain, a Catholic country, had the blessing of the Pope to try and make England catholic again. As an invasion in the name of religion, at the time, people believed that unexpected event was a sign from God.
Even more, the English celebrated their victory with a commemorative medal saying “He blew His winds, and they were scattered”. The phrase remains popular today as a reminder of the aftermath of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
The storm that broke the armada was called the Protestant Wind.
The naval force consisted of more than 130 ships, 8,000 seamen, and an estimated 18,000 soldiers manning thousands of guns. More than 40 ships were warships.
The Spanish plan called for this “Great and Most Fortunate Navy” to sail from Lisbon, Portugal. They would proceed to Flanders, where they took more troops led by the Duke of Parma, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands.
The fleet had a task of guarding the army as it was ferried across the English Channel to the Kent coast and start an offensive against London.
While the invasion of England was the height of the battle between Philip II and Elizabeth, things started escalating much sooner.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn actually started the conflict. Henry wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.
His desire for divorce was the spark for the Reformation, which saw the country moving from Catholicism to Protestantism.
Philip II was the widower of Catherine’s daughter and Elizabeth’s half-sister and predecessor, Mary I of England.
Philip, a Catholic leader, saw Elizabeth as an illegitimate ruler. Henry and Catherine had never officially divorced under Roman law. Philip wanted to overthrow Elizabeth and install her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, in her place.
Elizabeth retailed by supporting a Dutch revolt against Spain. And before the conflict started, Philip had grown angry with the spread of Protestantism in England. He had long toyed with the idea of conquering England and bring it back to the Catholic Fold.
In the 1580s, tensions rose, as Elizabeth started allowing privateers such as Sir Francis Drake to conduct pirate raids on Spanish fleets.
By 1585, England signed a treaty with Dutch rebels in the Netherlands, a Spanish-controlled state. The same year, Philip started preparing for his war against England.
It took him two years to plan the attack. At the time, in 1586, Spain was a global superpower. Philip knew an invasion would be difficult. After all, he helped build up the English naval fleet while his deceased wife, Mary, had been on the English throne.
Combine that with the English raids that destroyed more than 30 ships at the port of Cadiz in April 1587, and Philip had to make sure he had a great army.
At the time of the conflict, England actually had a bigger fleet than Spain. The Spanish Armada consisted of 130 ships, while England had almost 200 ships.
The English fleet consisted of 34 ships of the Royal Fleet, 21 of which were between 200 to 400 tons. They also had 163 other ships, only 30 of which carried up to 42 guns. Lord Howard of Effingham, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir John Hawkins operated 12 privateer ships.
But while England had bigger fleet, they were seriously outgunned. The real threat came from Spain’s firepower, which had a 50% edge over England.
Spanish admiral, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, made an unexpected and fatal decision. He left the armada open to an attack by English ships.
He made a decision to anchor in open seas off Calais, leaving the Armada open to an attack. The attack happened at the Battle of Gravelines, with the Spanish fleet dispersed. The Spanish Armada regrouped in the North Sea, but strong winds prevented it from returning to the Channel.
They had to journey home via the top of Scotland and down past the west coast of Ireland. It was a risky route, and it proved fatal for the armada.
The Duke of Medina Sidonia was an administrator, and he 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 also believed the Armada expedition would be a big mistake and had little chance of success. In the letter to the king, he wrote, “only a miracle could save the Armada”.
Sadly, Philip’s counsellors, did not show the letter to the king. They wrote to Medina “Do not depress us with fears for the fate of the Armada, because in such a case, God will make sure it succeeds”.
And as we know today, God did not help the Spanish to invade England.
Despite the failure of the first Spanish Armada, Philip sent two more, one in 1596 and one in 1597. These two fleets were also dispersed by storms.
The war between England and Spain ended in 1604. Elizabeth’s successor, James VI and I, wanted to end the war and expenses that come with it. The two sides signed the Treaty of London, ending England’s support of the Dutch rebellion in the Netherlands. Spain acknowledged that they will no longer try to restore Catholicism in England.
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