The Spanish and the Armada

The war with Spain resulted from issues which were basically religious in nature. England had intervened in the Netherlands to secure the Protestant states there. This being a former territory of the Spanish angered them, they perceived this interference in Imperial matters as an act of war. It was during English campaigning in the Netherlands that Sir Philip Sydney died. The popular myth passed down to us through Fulke Greville that Sidney died sharing his last drops of water with a wounded soldier are almost certainly false. Sidney is almost certain to have died in Arnhem several weeks previously. Shortly after this the leader of the Dutch campaigns, Leicester, died from ill health, a broken man after his many defeats. Edmund Spenser wrote of him:

"He now is dead, and all his glory gone,
and all his greatness vapoured to nought,
that a glass upon the water shone,
which vanished quite, as soon as it was sought." (The Ruins of Time)

In reaction to English interference in the Netherlands Philip II of Spain started to gather together an Armada. This took place late in 1585. Philip's intelligence told him that England was ripe for invasion. His sources incorrectly told him that the disaffected Catholics would rise up to help him and that, one in power, Mary Stuart would be friendly to his cause. By conquering England Philip saw that the Netherlands would once again fall into his hands. From 1586 ships were being brought together in preparation. The raid by Sir Francis Drake on Cadiz in 1587 delayed the Armada by another year, but by 1588 it was ready. England only started getting ready for the Armada in 1587. The training of the 1560's and 1573 as well as their use in ending the Northern rebellion made the English militia a much more prepared unit than ever previously. Facing this, however, was the only fully professional army in Europe as well as some of the best mercenaries. The English navy consisted of twenty-three men-of-war but they could rely on an estimated 791 merchant vessels.

It was on the 19th July 1588 that the Spanish Armada was seen off the coast of the Scilly Islands. The Spanish encountered far more ships than they had expected to so that by the time Drake joined the forces moored off Dover the Armada was outgunned. Many of the Spanish cannon were faulty and exploded on use and the English forces had far more long-range cannon. The sheer force of the English defensive shattered the ease with which the Spanish had expected to take the English Channel. Stunned, the Armada anchored off Calais. A detachment of English war- ships sacred the head of the Spanish forces - Medina Sidonia - into cutting loose anchors and beating a hasty retreat. When the main fighting began on the 29th the Spanish fleet was greatly weakened. The English won a comprehensive victory (it is thought that more died from under-rationing than from the force of Spanish fire) leaving the Armada with an estimated 5,500 dead. This was only the first engagement in a war that was to last until 1604 and outlast the reign of Elizabeth.

During the period 1589-95 most of the fighting took place in northern France and the Netherlands. Philip II's main aim was to destroy the regime of the Protestant Henry of Navarre in France so that when the time came to destroy Dutch resistance (and along with it English aid) there would be no ally close to hand. With the threat of Philip II claiming the French throne if he overthrew Navarre, and the ramifications that would have on the area the English fleets would have to cover, Elizabeth was drawn further into aiding Navarre and the Dutch. Elizabeth sent both troops and money to help defeat the Catholic League (the body set up to destroy Protestantism in northern Europe). The troubles escalated in 1589 when Philip II promised to completely aid the Catholic League in response to the coronation of Navarre. So, at great expense, the Queen pledged more aid and troops in the midst of escalating war. In July 1593 Navarre converted to Catholicism for politically expedient reasons. This did not alter the Queen's position; she still needed to support Navarre to create a counter-weight to Spanish power. In 1595 Henry Navarre declared war on Spain. Elizabeth, although to a lesser degree continued to support France especially in the defence of Boulogne, she also agreed to join a triple alliance between France, England and the Netherlands. This was rendered obsolete when Henry reached a peace with Spain.

Meanwhile the war continued in the Netherlands worsened by a harvest failure that led in many cases to starvation (and had the fortunate effect of decimating a Spanish army poised for an invasion of England). The operations in the Netherlands saw English forces facing famine, plague and other hardships. Shakespeare

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