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- Anglo-Spanish relations
- Philip II’s attempt to invade England
- Events of the Spanish Armada
- Aftermath of the Spanish defeat
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about the Spanish Armada!
- Relations between England and Spain declined by the end of the 16th century due to a combination of events such as the English piracy against Spanish ships, Elizabeth I of England's support to the Dutch rebellions, and the execution of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.
- Philip II of Spain, who initially favoured the Protestant queen, made it his objective to conquer England and restore it to Catholicism. He launched the 1588 Spanish Armada which was fought by the Royal Navy of Elizabeth I in the English Channel. A combination of England's superior seamanship, better firepower, and bad weather led to the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
- Although England and Spain had previously entertained pacific and diplomatic relations, by the end of the 16th century their relations had deteriorated. Philip II of Spain, who for a period of time had been married to Mary I of England, inherited the control of the Spanish Empire, whereas the English throne was occupied by Elizabeth I.
- Spain was the strongest country in Europe since its domain extended overseas: it possessed territories in America and also had control over the Netherlands.
- For Spain's strength and Catholicism, Philip II was not well regarded in England and had numerous opponents including the Protestants, the French and the Ottoman Turks.
- The king, who initially supported the succession of Elizabeth I, drastically changed his opinion about the queen.
- He came to believe that Elizabeth I was a tyrant in England, whereas the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, was the true and legitimate successor of the English throne.
- On the contrary, Elizabeth I had increasingly become a figurehead for the Protestant struggle in France and the Netherlands.
- The queen was initially not inclined to take part or encourage the Dutch rebellions against the Spanish rule.
- This changed in 1584 with Elizabeth granting financial support to the Dutch rebels by offering them what the English pirates had stolen from the Spanish.
- Moreover, the queen provided Sir Francis Drake with a fleet and assigned him the task of destroying Spain’s northwest coastal region of Galicia.
- The English aggressions towards Spain significantly contributed to the worsening Anglo-Spanish relations. Philip II’s anger and desire for revenge over the queen he once wished to marry was roused. Furthermore, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587 became one more reason for the Spanish king to attack England.
Philip II’s attempt to invade England
- Already having vast territorial control, Philip II’s new ambition was the conquest of England. Philip II had first thought up to send an invasion force to England in 1585. It was not until 1588 that the Spanish Armada pushed through due to several factors that ultimately led to the war between Spain and England.
- What were the reasons for the Spanish Armada?
- Philip II wanted to restore Catholicism to England. He had the backing of the pope who excommunicated Elizabeth I in 1570.
- As a Catholic power whose Spanish Empire had been expanding, Philip II wanted to conquer England and lead its monarchy since the figurehead of Catholicism in England, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been executed.
- Philip II wanted to halt the attacks of English privateers against Spanish galleys returning from the New World.
- Philip II wanted to stop the English aid to Dutch rebels and French Protestants.
- In 1588, Spain set the stage for the great invasion whilst England readied its coasts and troops.
- Philip II put together 130 ships and thirty thousand men departing from Iberia (Spain), and another thirty thousand men departing from the Netherlands. According to his plan, the two troops would meet in England and fiercely attack and conquer England. This would prove to be too ambitious. Whilst he made a long list of rules that intended to control the manners and forbidden activities in his fleet, he overlooked planning the coordination between his two massive forces.
Events of the Spanish Armada
- The Spanish Armada attempted to leave Lisbon, Spain, on 28 May 1588. Storms and the need for repairs caused delays, and it finally set sail two months later, on 12 July.
- With knowledge that a siege was coming, beacons along the south and southeastern coast of England were manned by watchmen around the clock. The Armada was sighted by the English from Lizard Point in Cornwall. The warning beacons were lit and quickly spread the word that the Spanish were coming.
- The Armada entered the English Channel and took a fleet of 66 English ships by surprise, but they were not attacked.
- English ships prepared for battle and began chasing the Armada but little damage was suffered.
- The Armada anchored near Calais. More troops from the Netherlands were meant to join but did not as they failed to anchor to pick them up.
- The English deployed fire ships, which scattered the fleet, and they broke formation. Upon scattering, the Spanish ships were blown by strong storms/wind towards dangerous sandbanks.
- The English attacked again in the Battle of Gravelines. The battle was at close range, and despite Spain’s preference for close battle, they experienced significant damage.
- The Armada was forced north around the east coast of England and the English fleet turned back after food and ammunition supplies ran low.
- English fire ships broke the Spanish formation on the night of 7 August. Sidonia’s ships famously ‘scattered in a thousand directions’.
- The English were wary of engaging but with wind and strong currents in their favour and the Spanish in danger of being driven onto the shore, England held the advantage.
- The Spanish anticipated English troops boarding their ships, but without this happening, they were unable to make use of their larger manpower.
- The Armada had used a lot of its ammunition with front-line ships before the English closed in. In the Battle of Gravelines, the Spanish incurred significant damage compared to the English fleet.
- With the Spanish drifting towards the shoals, England broke off the fight in the evening. The following day, the winds shifted, and the Spanish were able to move away from their dangerous situation and escape northwards.
- The Armada sailed north to go around Scotland and, though not followed by England who had turned back to resupply, that was where their troubles really began.
- To return to Spain, the Armada needed to go around the top of Scotland and along the Irish coast. Severe weather caused significant losses for the fleet. Many ships sank or were wrecked on the coast, and thousands of Spanish sailors drowned. Almost half their fleet was destroyed by the time they arrived back in Spain. The English celebrated the events as a major victory over the strongest nation in Europe.
Aftermath of the Spanish defeat
- The defeat of the Spanish Armada was perceived by England as an act of God: Spain was punished, and it was proof that God was on England’s side. Even so, there were several factors that led to English victory such as better ships, seamanship, guns and the unfavourable weather.
- Why was the Spanish Armada defeated?
- Leaders Spain had inexperienced leaders, leading to fatal errors in planning and tactics.
- Planning The Armada’s strength lay in its crescent formation. When this broke up, they were exposed to attack.
- Weather Spain lacked somewhere to shelter in bad weather, meaning they were buffeted by the wind. Thought God was siding with Elizabeth.
- Weapons England’s cannons could fire faster and over longer distances. Spain had more, but they lacked range and were slow.
- Tactics Spain planned on close up battles where their numbers would work in their favour. England never got close.
- No backup Spain relied on picking up the Duke of Parma’s army to boost numbers, but failed to anchor.
- The English fleet remained on alert for some six weeks, fearing that the Armada would return from the North Sea.
- In commemoration of the victory of England, a special medal was struck with the words “Flavit Jehovah et Dissipati Sunt”, which translates to “Jehovah blew with His winds, and they were scattered”.
- This victory boosted English pride and was succeeded by a period of peace and prosperity.
- In 1589, England responded to Spain’s attack with a Counter Armada which proved to be a disaster.
- This military expedition became known as the English Armada or as the Drake-Norris Expedition.
- Spain almost went bankrupt following its defeat, but Philip II vowed that he would continue his attempts to remove the Protestant queen from the English throne.
- Two more expeditions were organised in 1596 and 1597. However, they too ended disastrously.
- Hostilities between Spain and England that lasted more than fifteen years concluded with the signing of the Treaty of London in 1604 during the early reign of James VI of Scotland and I of England.