The Spanish Armada was a large fleet of ships sent to England from Spain in 1588, with the intention of conquering England. The fleet failed miserably, however; in one of the more remarkable military feats in history, the English routed the Spanish despite appearing to be less than ideally prepared. The defeat of the Spanish Armada is an important event in British history, and it is closely associated with Queen Elizabeth I, who was the Queen of England when the fleet was vanquished.
Hostilities between England and Spain began long before Elizabeth took the throne. When England began to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, Spain was still a committed Catholic nation, and there was a great deal of anger over England's Protestant faith. When Henry VIII annulled his marriage with his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother, many people in Spain felt that the marriage was invalid, since Henry VIII lacked the right to remarry.
Relations between the two countries were briefly cordial when Elizabeth's sister Mary took the throne, but after Mary's death, these relations began to unravel. Despite the fact that a treaty was signed between England, Spain, and France, pirates from England looted Spanish ships, and Elizabeth encouraged an anti-Spanish revolt in the Netherlands. Philip II, then King of Spain, was not pleased by these events, and he decided to put a stop to these activities while potentially bringing England back to the Roman Catholic fold.
In 1585, Philip began to build an immense armada of ships, while also converting existing ships to serve a military purpose. When Elizabeth became aware of these plans, she also committed funds to shoring up the British military so that it could meet the Spanish threat. When the armada set sail in 1588, England was ready. The ships initially approached the English Channel, where several heated battles were fought, and the British ultimately ending up chasing the Spanish up the English Channel and into the North Atlantic.
Off the coast of Ireland, the once great fleet of ships experienced numerous troubles. They had not been properly provisioned for such a long trip, and hunger began to be a major issue, along with a decline in seaworthiness among the battle-scarred ships. A large storm appeared, driving the Spanish against the rocks; many English believed that the storm was sent by God, confirming Elizabeth's right to rule.
The defeat of the Spanish Armada marked a turning point in British history, as the country began to be accepted as a major power. Elizabeth's actions were also cause for note, as the queen appeared publicly to make many speeches confirming her faith in the English people. Some historians regard the defeat of the Spanish fleet as one of Elizabeth's finest moments.