The Spanish Armada

Causes of the Spanish Armada

  • King Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth I of England had many conflicting interests resulting in deteriorating relations.
  • The religious tension between Catholic Spain and Protestant England played a significant role. Elizabeth’s support to Protestant rebels in the Spanish Netherlands enraged Philip II.
  • Economic rivalry made the relationship worse, especially regarding English piracy against Spanish ships carrying wealth from the New World.
  • The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic rival to the English throne, in 1587 was a significant trigger, strengthening Philip II’s resolve to invade England.

The Spanish’s Plan and the Armada’s Composition

  • The Spanish Armada consisted of 130 ships, manned by about 8000 sailors and carrying approximately 18000 soldiers. The fleet was led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
  • King Philip’s plan was for the Armada to sail up the English Channel, rendezvous with the Duke of Parma’s army in the Netherlands and then escort them to England.
  • The goal was to overthrow Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with a Catholic ruler, re-establishing Catholicism in England.

Course of Events

  • In July 1588, the Armada set sail from Spain but faced a series of setbacks.
  • English ships, faster and more manoeuvrable, harassed the Spanish fleet, and an important battle took place off the coast of Gravelines.
  • The “Fire Ships” tactic used by the English caused panic and disarray within the Spanish fleet.
  • The Armada was forced to sail around the north of Scotland and Ireland due to the prevailing winds, leading to more losses due to severe storms.

Aftermath and Impact

  • The failure of the Spanish Armada resulted in significant casualties for Spain, financial ruin and a blow to Spain’s naval dominance.
  • England, in contrast, increased in confidence as a sea power. It was a turning point in the Anglo-Spanish war, eventually favouring the English and their Dutch allies.
  • The defeat reaffirmed and strengthened Protestant rule in England, with Elizabeth’s position secured.
  • The Spanish Armada’s defeat is still seen as one of the greatest victories in English history, contributing immensely to the legend of Elizabeth I.