, Research Paper
Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada February 18, 1999
Andrew Stein Term Paper February 15, 1999 The cold, stormy night was all too familiar to the English. A devious plan by Spain’s king, Philip II, was being formed to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England and rid the world of the English “heretics.”1 It was a story of deception, false judgments, and poor planning. What was one king’s dream turned into his country’s nightmare. While the Spanish had bad leaders, the English had good ones. The Spanish had bigger, but slower ships, while the English had smaller and faster ships. The English knew the weather conditions and how to prepare for them, while the Spanish thought it would not be a problem. The English entered the battle in a calm manner, while the Spanish were overconfident. All of these factors led to Spain’s undoing. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I, of England, defeated the Armada and the Spanish hubris with good luck, favorable weather and excellent leadership. Elizabeth I was born on September 7th, 1533 to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. When Elizabeth was just three years of age, her mother had lost favor with the king for not producing a male heir. Anne Bolyen was soon executed and Elizabeth was deprived of any rights to succession. Elizabeth also had two half-siblings from two of her father’s many other marriages. Edward VI, son of Jane Seymour, became King of England and Ireland in 1547. Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, became Queen of England in 1553 and soon grew suspicious of her Protestant step-sister. Due to this fact, Elizabeth was placed in the Tower of London for some time, only to be pardoned when it was discovered that Queen Mary had fallen ill. Mary died unhappy with the fact that her throne was to be succeeded by a Protestant, and not by a Roman Catholic, as she had been. When her half-sister died in 1558, Elizabeth was left with an England torn and bankrupt by war, and a people divided by religion. At the beginning of her reign, she made the Church of England the official religion of England and she fashioned her court after that of her fathers. For a woman during that era, Elizabeth was a very daring and smart ruler. For example, she secretly encouraged sailors such as Francis Drake to make raids on Spanish shipping and challenge their naval superiority. When she was a little girl, she was well educated and was able to speak several languages, including French, Spanish, and Latin. In addition, throughout Elizabeth’s reign, there was always the threat of hostilities in some form or another. Elizabeth kept the peace between rival leaders of different religions by dominating her court so she could keep the balance of power.2 She was smart enough to come up with a plan which kept the church at bay with their questions of marriage.3 She also calmed the Spanish and the French by entertaining suitors of each respective country; Philip II of Spain and Duke of Anjou of France, but she never married either of them and was therefore known as ” the Virgin queen”.4 Elizabeth was a Protestant queen who was not always on good terms with most Catholic rulers of Europe. Because of that, there were several assassination plots against her so the Catholics could put Mary, Queen of Scots, in her place. During the 1580’s, Elizabeth began to bring her full weight onto the catholic rebels. Hundreds of Catholics died at the stake just as the Protestants had several years before under the rule of Mary I. As a final blow, Elizabeth had Mary, her closest relative, ex-wife of Philip II, and next in line to the throne, beheaded in February of 1586.5 The execution was the final blow to Philip’s patience, it was time to attack the English “heretics”.6 As a extra sucker-punch, Elizabeth ordered Francis Drake to conduct a raid on the Spanish port of Cadiz. It resulted in the destruction of several ships bound for the Armada and several thousand pounds worth of treasure. Philip II had enough of Elizabeth and from that point on he put together one of the world’s most devious and ambitious plans. What was soon to be decided would be a immense achievement for a big empire, or a David and Goliath type-story for a recovering nation. The English were lucky because, in Philip’s twisted mind, the plan was simple enough. His entire strategy was one Spanish blunder after another. The Armada would assemble in Lisbon, Portugal-then a part of the Spanish Empire-and set sail for the strait of Dover, where the fleet would secure the passage for the Duke of Parma’s forces stationed in Flanders. The English fleet was thought to be only a minor problem during the voyage.7 Philip and his leaders also believed that upon arrival in England, James VI, a Catholic leader would lead an anti-Protestant rebellion that would aid Parma’s army.8 The Spanish Armada, or the Invincible Armada as it has become to be called, was originally designed by the Marquis of Santa Cruz, but he died during the planning stages of the fleet and King Philip II appointed the Duke of Medina Sidonia to head up the invasion.9 Medina Sidonia was a man with no prior experience at sea and was, in fact, a general in the army who, during the invasion, went through constant bouts of sea-sickness. The Armada was planned to have consisted of 360 Spanish ships, 80 gallias from the leaders of Venice and Genoa, and 1 gallias from the Duke of Florence. When it was time to set sail for England, the fleet fell short of prior expectations. Due to various mishaps, there were only 130 out of 421 because of various mishaps. The king also appointed Don Juan Martinez de Recalde, Don Pedro, Don Diego de Valdes, and Don Miguel de Leyve to be squadron leaders. Contained in the hull of the Armada’s ships was the invading army that was supposed to be later supplemented with Parma’s army waiting in France. The Armada’s army was expected to include 30,600 soldiers when it left harbor. Consisting of 600 soldiers from Florence, 12,000 from the Pope and Italy, 6,000 from Spanish clergy, and 12,000 from Spanish nobles. In fact, there was only a force of 19,000 men when they set sail. To get an idea of how large the fleet was, it was said that the Armada was so enormous that when they would put a couple of ships at a time in dry-dock to scrape the bottoms of barnacles, that by the time they finished with the last ones, the first ones scraped needed to be scraped again.10 By July 11, 1588, there was barely enough food for the men and still a battle was yet to be fought. Finally, Parma sent word to Philip II that the majority of the Spanish ships were too large and displaced too much water and would be unable to get close enough to the coast of Flanders to escort Parma’s forces across the English Channel. Philip’s plan had hit its first major obstacle. The English plan was made successful by good planning, excellent leaders, and Spanish mistakes. In 1588, the English heard word of a Spanish invasion headed their way. Henry III of France believed the real invasion was aimed at France, but by February 22nd, Sir Christopher Hatton spoke to England’s House of Commons explaining to them that Philip II of Spain was planning an invasion of England. Due to the urgency of the task ahead of them, Elizabeth did not have time to convene Parliament and ask for funds. Instead, she forced English nobles contribute to a defense fund which helped pay for ships and ammunitions. In the end, the English fleet was made up of 250 ships of varying size. To command these ships, Elizabeth I appointed Charles Howard of Effingham as Admiral of the Navy. She also designated Francis Drake, John Hawkins, and Martin Frobusher as squadron leaders under Admiral Howard. Elizabeth also set up a series of defenses for the harbors, coastlines, and rivers. These defenses included a series of beacons set up to warn other towns of an impending invasion. In addition to the raising of a fleet, an army of 10,00 men converged on the port town of Plymouth, strengthening the already strong garrisons in all of the Southern English harbors. While all of this was going on, the Spanish fleet was already doing battle with an even stronger enemy, the elements. As the Armada sailed past Lisbon, they were hit by a terrible thunderstorm that knocked the Real Capitana and a large part of the vanguard into the port city of Coruna. The ships, knocked off course, were delayed for several days while they performed repairs. When the fleet finally reorganized, they once again set sail for the English channel and England. On their way, they made a unfortunate mistake; the Spanish did not travel up the French side of the channel. If they had stayed out of sight, the English would not have known the Armada was there until it was too late. In the first skirmish the English were able to damage the royal flagship which held a large sum of the kings treasure. Even though as a whole, the English fleet was unable to get close enough to cause any serious cannon damage, they found other ways to inflict damage on the Spanish. They sent in fire ships, vessels covered in tar and loaded with explosives, which were set on fire and sent towards the enemy fleet. This tactic was successful in driving the Spanish away. The fire ships had done their job, causing confusion among the commanders of the Spanish fleet. As they were retreating, the Armada traveled past Holland to the North Sea then, west to the British Isles, around Northern Scotland, and down the coast of Ireland. The defeat of the mighty Spanish Armada by the supposed “weak” English forces was a turning point in European history. The roles of domination switched hands from the Spanish to the English. The English control of power paved the way for the Elizabethan Age, a time of great works of literature from Shakespeare, colonization by Sir Walter Raleigh, and naval exploration from Sir Francis Drake. It was one of the greatest periods of English history. Sadly enough, the line of Tudor monarchs ended with Elizabeth’s death in 1603. She did have many great achievements in her life but one in particular was that in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I ,of England, defeated the Armada and the Spanish hubris with good luck, favorable weather, and excellent leadership. 1. Howarth David, The Voyage of The Armada: The Spanish Story (New York: The Viking Press, 1981) back cover 2. Neville Williams, The Life and Times of Elizabeth 1 ( New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972) 136. 3. Vernon F. Snow, The World Book Encyclopedia A (Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, 1982) 187. 4. Robin Chew, Elizabeth 1- Queen of England 1533-1603 ([Online] http://www2.lucidcafe.com/lucidcafe/lucidcafe/library/95sep/elizabeth.html 1995-98) 1. 5. Howarth, back cover 6. Howarth, back cover 7. William Thomas Walsh, Philip II (New York: Mcmullen Books, Inc.) 653. 8. Walsh, 653. 9. Williams, 182. 10. Howarth, 15.