Monday, 1 February 2016

Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada

Extract from her 'Tilbury speech'
...and it had to be good, as the Spanish had a vastly superior army and navy. There seemed little real hope that Elizabeth and the Protestant Church of England that helped fuel Phillip's rage, would survive...

Elizabeth pledged to be right there in the midst of battle (didn't work out so well for Harold Godwinson back in 1066...), and made strong, clear religious references to help boost her army's resolve and determination to fight to the death if need be (and it seemed like it would be!)

She also tackled head on any fears that a woman wouldn't match Phillip as a leader.

The famous Tilbury speech was given after the major, decisive Battle of Gravelines - there was still more to be done, and further invasion attempts were anticipated, so this was no lets all chill out, job done speech, but a further call to arms.

You can read the speech at the Wiki, or a shorter version here.

This battle is STILL seen as a key event in the history of Britain, and remains a source of national pride and self-identity for some, placing Britain as a powerful, independent island nation.

Just as with the Battle of Hastings, luck and the weather would play a major role!

Below, I use two video sources to list some key points on the background to the war, and why Spain lost. Here are some useful resources for your own wider reading, and to look deeper into this major moment in European and global history - setting the scene for an English/British empire that would cover more than half the globe, often replacing Spanish rule!

A great entry in the series, this shows how just how determined Phillip was ... and how he was doomed to utter failure...

Horrible Histories The Spanish Armada - YouTube1 from Welcome to Our Videos on Vimeo.

Its actually quite informative - a Lego animation telling the tale in 2 minutes!

Many of the points below come from an extract of a BBC documentary and another Discovery Channel documentary.
The Wiki - useful so long as it isn't the only source you use!
HistoryLearningSite - not so well presented, but to the point and sharp analysis. - it is more detailed than most other sources, but is very logically organised, and is a great resource.
HistoryEXTRA - this is great! '10 things you (probably) didn't know about the Spanish Armada' ... including the startling revelation that the Pope (Sixtus V) rather had the hots for Lizzie! Also ... the Spanish sent two more armadas in 1596 and 1597!
A game - a quiz with some animation and sound.
A UK history teacher (Mr Belshaw) - some great resources! I got a map from here.
The BBC - always worth checking! This uses some complex language; here's an extract, looking at what fuelled Phillip's very personal rage at Elizabeth:
Philip II was born six years before Elizabeth I in 1527 and died five years before her in 1598. Between them 'el rey prudente' (the prudent king) and the virgin queen dominated the second half of the sixteenth century. Quite unusually for reigning monarchs of that period, they actually met. This occurred in May 1555 while Philip was king consort of England and when Elizabeth was brought to Hampton Court after her imprisonment at Woodstock. Neither has left any personal recollections of the meeting, but from the wariness with which they treated each other thereafter no great rapport seems to have been established.
But Philip did harbour a grievance. He claimed the credit for bringing Elizabeth back to court and arranging a reconciliation with her half-sister (according to one account he observed the meeting between them from hiding). It was at this point that his doubts about Mary's ability to conceive were confirmed by her hysterical pregnancy, and in the absence of an heir of their bodies he gave his support to Elizabeth's ultimately uncontested accession in 1558. This assistance she refused to acknowledge. Backing Elizabeth was not a comfortable decision, for he harboured few illusions about her religious allegiances and he appreciated that he was probably abandoning English Catholics to their fate. A sense of responsibility inspired his offer of marriage to her in 1559 - a gesture strongly opposed in Spain - and lasted for the rest of his life.

The image comes from a UK teacher, Mr Belshaw - visit his site here for more.

This 10-minute clip (its embedded at the top of the article) from a UK TV documentary series (you can buy the DVD!) and this 23-minute (spread over 3 videos, embedding disabled) Discovery Channel documentary examines the key themes.

First, though, here are some points from the HistorylearningSite on the challenges and scale of the armada...

why Phillip declared war:
  • religious crusade: "I have dedicated this crusade to God" - had the Pope's blessing,
  • English ships attacking Spanish treasure ships and trying to seize American colonies rich in resources,
  • sending troops to help Protestant Dutch rebels fight the Spanish in Flanders,
  • the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, a firm Catholic,
  • Phillip's belief that he had a valid claim to the throne - he'd been married to Mary Tudor; when she died he sent Elizabeth gifts of diamonds and pearls, assuming she'd want  ... she responded by sending cannonballs and a firm NO!
  • if he could control England, and specifically the English Channel, he would be able to swiftly deal with the very troublesome Dutch rebels! (see HistoryLearningSite)

why Spain was seen as a certain victor:
  • the armada was the largest naval force the world had ever seen - it stretched for TWO MILES and was known as la armada invincible;
  • they had more trained troops than England,
  • the soldiers were dedicated to their religion, seeing England and its Protestant religion as heresy
  • Spain's greatest military commander, Duke of Medina Sidonia [Wiki] led the armada

what Spain's plan was:
  • to sail through the English Channel to its narrowest point near Flanders, and there link up with the Spanish army and protect their passage across to invade England
  • once they landed in England, victory was fairly certain
  • 700 priests of the Spanish Inquisition sailed with the fleet - the English would be forced to repent their heretical ways one way or another...

why they failed:
  • every attempt to invade England over the previous 500 years had failed: William the Conqueror was the last to succeed in 1066!
  • simple bad luck with weather - they got hit with the worst storms in a century, and this split the fleet; many had to sail back for repairs, making it difficult to meet up with the army at the planned time
  • food and water, thought to be fine, was spoiled. The army also made bad time - the armada made it ... but the Spanish army hadn't arrived! They were stuck with little food and not enough men to launch an invasion!!!
  • a questionable choice of leader for the armada (a powerful Duke who was fantastic at organising and at military strategy ... but tried to get out of this job by claiming he got seasick and lacked NAVAL experience),
  • it turned out that they'd loaded the wrong kind of replacement shells for the guns! Oops!
  • a revolutionary design that made English boats much quicker and more maneuverable than Spanish boat,
  • Elizabeth's spies sent word of the attack and the battering they had received from storms - she was able to organise her fleet to gather at Plymouth
  • she appointed an inspired military leader, Sir Francis Drake (the dreaded scourge of the Spanish) who came up with the idea of setting off empty boats on fire! "Fire ships, we'll send in fire ships!" So big and densely packed was the armada that flames were able to spread quickly. The Spanish called them hellburners! Captains spotting these infernos lost discipline and the mighty armada split up, making it easier for the English to pick off targets.
  • He also made sea captains the undisputed commander on each boat - hanging a Mr Doughty on the Golden Hinde when he argued! The Spanish kept the traditional, really quite muddled, traditional structure - it was never fully clear who was in control on each Spanish boat. (see
  • Sidonia set sail with just 5 ships. The English would lose 60 men, the Spanish 4,000 and another 4,000 wounded. Drake's flagship The Revenge and 140 more English warships targeted the San Martine, blasting it with over 500 rounds (a survivor said "it was riddled with gunshot like a sieve"). Sidonia finally ordered the remaining ships to flee. Most wouldn't return - some crashlanded in Ireland where orders were sent to kill those who landed.
  • Of the 130 ships in the armada more than 2/3 were lost.
  • Of its 30,000 men 2/3 died.
  • England would build an empire even greater than Phillip's, spanning more than a third of the globe ... an empire built on ships.

The clip is embedded in this article: It also provides detailed notes to reflect what is said in the video.

Here's another list of reasons why the Spanish failed:


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