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What Was the Spanish Armada?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon334910 — On May 16, 2013

I'm a Spaniard, and I have studied a lot about this battle.

First of all, the two navies:

Spanish armada: 22 galleons (actual equivalent of destroyers); 103 light warship (corvettes).

Royal Navy: 34 warships; 163 light warships; 30 dutch flyboats (equivalent of actual frigates).

Second, the commanders.

Spanish navy: Alvaro de Bazan (One of the best admirals of the Spanish navy); Duke of Medina Sidonia (A young man with no experience, captain of the navy).

Royal Navy: Charles Howard (The Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy); Francis Drake (A vice-admiral of the Royal Navy, with experience in naval battles with the Spanish navy).

Third, the incidents before the mission:

Alvaro de Bazan, the leader of the naval mission, died five months before the start of the mission, so Medina Sidonia became the leader and had to prepare the invasion fleet.

Fourth, the mission of the Spanish fleet: Spanish navy: Go to Flanders and join with the Spanish army. When the Spanish army joins the naval fleet, land in Dover.

Royal navy: Naval fight at sea and avoid any incursion of the Spanish navy.

Fifth, incidents before the battle: The Royal Navy fleet saw the Spanish fleet and they went to attack.

In spite of advice from captains of the Spanish armada to the Spanish commander to fight the Royal Navy, the Spanish commander said no and they continued the trip. So the royal navy chased all the Spanish fleet along the English channel.

Sixth, they arrived at the Belgium coast. In spite of the chase by the royal navy and the desperate English attacks at the port. the Spanish fleet lost only eight warships. The Spanish fleet never lost the formation.

The final surprise: One of the biggest storms arrived in the English channel and with that storm, the Spanish army could not join the fleet.

This big storm disbanded the Spanish fleet formation and gave the possibility to the English fleet to destroy the Spanish fleet.

By anon129458 — On Nov 23, 2010

Very helpful for my work, but I could have done with more reasons on why they had failed. Thanks anyway.

By heyheyhey123 — On Apr 29, 2010

i found this to be a very good site. it got to the main points and even though it did not have what i was looking for it was good!

By anon75828 — On Apr 07, 2010

very helpful in getting ideas for writing an essay. thank you!

By anon68613 — On Mar 03, 2010

really helpful.

By anon66342 — On Feb 19, 2010

i think it needs to say why the Spanish Armada is important in history! otherwise it is really helpful.

By anon50852 — On Nov 01, 2009

really helpful!

By anon23784 — On Jan 02, 2009

I think that these few paragraphs are very helpful with the understanding of the Spanish Armada !!!!!

By anon20770 — On Nov 06, 2008

Nice and interesting article!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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