Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anglo-Spanish War (1586–1604)

Anglo-Spanish War (1586–1604)


PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): At sea, off the Spanish coast,
and in the English Channel; land action took place in
Normandy, St. Malo, and Rouen, France; and in Cádiz,


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Long-term power struggle
between Protestant England and Catholic Spain; Spain’s
principal objective was to reclaim England for the Church
of Rome.

OUTCOME: England successfully resisted Spanish

Widely variable; the Spanish Armada consisted of 19,000
troops and 8,500 sailors in 20 great galleons, 44 armed
merchantmen, 23 transports, and 43 lesser craft; England
raised an army of approximately 60,000 to repel invasion.

CASUALTIES: Losses in the Spanish Armada were staggering;
at least 63 of 130 ships were sunk; thousands of troops and
sailors died. British losses throughout the years of conflict
were slight.

TREATIES: Treaty of London, August 18, 1604

In 1585 England’s queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) reluctantly
sent troops to aid the Dutch Protestants in an unsuccessful
attempt to overthrow Spanish overlordship of the
Netherlands. This brought deteriorating relations between
Protestant England and Catholic Spain to a crisis, and in
March 1586 Spanish admiral Marquis de Santa Cruz
(1526–88) persuaded King Philip II (1527–98) of Spain to
mount an invasion of England. The plan was for Alessandro
Farnese (1545–92), duke of Parma, to take his Spanish
troops out of the Netherlands and travel by convoy to
invade England. Thus, the Spanish Armada was born.
As Spanish preparations got under way, Elizabeth
commissioned the bold English “sea dog” Francis Drake
(c. 1540–96) to harass Spanish shipping. On April 19,
1587, Drake, in command of a 23-ship flotilla, raided the
Spanish port of Cádiz, where he destroyed 33 Spanish vessels
and looted much Spanish treasure. During May and
June Drake attacked Spanish ships off Cape St. Vincent,
sacked Lisbon harbor, and captured a heavily laden Spanish
treasure galleon in the Azores. This action set back
Spanish preparations for the invasion, and before the
Armada could be readied, Admiral Santa Cruz died on
January 30, 1588. This was a great blow to Spanish sea
power, since Santa Cruz’s replacement, Alonso Pérez de
Guzmán (1550–1619), duke of Medina Sidonia, lacked
Santa Cruz’s skill and experience as a seafarer, nor was he
an experienced army commander.
Intelligence supplied by Drake gave Elizabeth plenty
of advance notice to make preparations to repel the anticipated
invasion. Naming Lord Howard of Effingham
(1536–1624) to head her fleet, with Drake as his second in
command, the queen overrode a recommendation for
renewed sea raids, believing that it was more important at
this point to keep the fleet close to home. With great vigor,
she saw to the raising of a large land army of 60,000 men,
which was assembled by June 1588—in the nick of time,
since the Armada got under way on July 12, 1588, and
was sighted off Lizard Head, Cornwall, on July 19.
Against some 130 Spanish vessels, the English had
Admiral Howard’s 34 ships, another 34 under Drake’s command,
30 more sailing out of London, and a 23-vessel
squadron commanded by Lord Henry Seymour (1564–
1632). Lesser vessels amounted to an additional 50. More
important was the fact that the Spanish vessels mounted
2,431 guns, but including only 1,100 heavy pieces, versus
1,800 heavy, long-range British cannons. The Spanish,
therefore, were outgunned—and in the first engagement
off Plymouth on July 21, 1588, were also outsailed. The
Armada lost one ship in this battle and suffered severe
damage to several others, which were hit by long-range
cannon fire. Two days later, on July 23, off the Devon coast,
the action was exhausting but inconclusive. Although both
sides expended much ammunition, the British could
replenish their magazines, whereas the Spanish could not.
Thus, on July 25, off Dorset, the English fleet enjoyed an
advantage and was able to foil the Spanish plan to land at
the Isle of Wight. Instead, low on ammunition, Medina
Sidonia set off for the friendly port of Calais, where he
hoped he could replenish his supplies. Off Calais, during
July 26–27, the English fleet, which now outnumbered the
Spanish, fired on the Armada from long range.
The next day, July 28, off the coast of Flanders, the
English sent fire ships—blazing hulks—into the Spanish
anchorage. This created great panic among the Spanish,
scattering the Armada. With the Spanish fleet in disarray,
the English closed in, easily outgunning the Spanish. Nevertheless,
although a number of vessels were badly damaged,
no Spanish ships had been sunk by the time an early
evening squall brought an end to the battle.
The squall that gave the Spanish a reprieve now developed
into unfavorable winds that kept the Armada bottled
up on the Flanders coast. Medina Sidonia’s plan had been
to refit and resupply his ships here, but the weather
turned so treacherous that he decided to abort the invasion
and head back to Spain. The winds dictated a route
northward via the North Sea and around the British Isles.
On August 2, as the Armada, now better concentrated,
passed the Firth of Forth, the pursuing English fleet, low
on provisions, was forced to break off the chase.
As this point, however the English fleet was not the
most formidable of Medina Sidonia’s enemies. Storms
pounded the Armada, which was dogged even more
viciously by starvation and thirst. In the long trip around
Britain, 63 Spanish ships were lost to the elements, 15
more were captured or sunk by the English, 19 ran
aground on the Scottish or Irish coasts, and 33 other vessels
remain unaccounted for by history. Some Spanish survivors
were massacred in Ireland. Few managed to find
their way back to Spanish ports. For all practical purposes
the great Spanish Armada had been annihilated.
Action in the years following the Spanish Armada was
mostly slight and inconclusive. During 1589–96 small
English forces were sent to the Continent: 4,000 men under
Lord Peregrine Bertie Willoughby to Normandy in aid of
Henry of Navarre (1553–1610) in 1589; troops landed at St.
Malo and Rouen in 1591; and Cádiz was raided in 1596.
If the fighting was sporadic, the hostility between the
two countries remained constant, even after Philip died in
1598. In 1601 Spain made a major effort to back a revolt
brewing in Ireland (see TYRONE’S REBELLION), sending a
force of 4,000 men to assist the rebels. When the rebellion
was crushed and the Spaniards captured, the Iberian
threat to the Tudor-ruled world was at an end. This was
yet another hallmark of England’s “golden” Elizabethan
Age, which came to a close with the queen’s death in 1603.
On August 18, 1604, James I (1566–1625) and Philip
III (1578–1621) of Spain signed the Treaty of London,
agreeing to peace between their two countries and formally
ending more than a decade and a half of war
between England and Spain.


Further reading: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The
Spanish Armada (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988);
Jan Giete, Warfare at Sea, 1500–1650 (London: Routledge
Press, 2000); John Lynch, Spain 1515–1598: From Nation
State to World Empire (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991);
Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker, The Spanish Armada,
2nd ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002);
Geoffrey Parker, The Grand Strategy of Phillip II (New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998).

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