1588 Spanish Armada Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1875 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

Spanish Armada

It is reported that Pope Sixtus remarked, "It is curious that the emperor of half of the world should be defied by a woman who is queen of half an island" (Conan). He was referring to Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of England, and the "stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588" (Conan).

During the latter half of the sixteenth century, Philip II was the most powerful man in Europe, and although he appeared to also be the most wealthy, due to Spanish territories in the New World he was in debt heavily to foreign bankers (Ross). Compared to Spain, England was a small nation, and was neither particularly wealthy nor powerful, thus on the surface anyway, it might seem illogical for Philip to have launched the largest and most expensive naval force against this inferior monarchy (Ross). And by all accounts, it was a rather illogical mission, however as history has shown repeatedly, logic does not always guide those in power.

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According to author Neil Hanson, Philip II was a brilliant man at diplomacy, yet when it came to actually dispatching his Armada, he had no decisive plan. Moreover notes Hanson, it is a myth that the Spanish fleet outnumbered the English. Not only did the English have just as many ships as the Spanish, they were better ships and better armed (Conan). In fact, the British ships, guns, crew, and captains were probably somewhere between 20-30 years ahead of the Spanish, a fact not unbeknown to the Spanish (Conan). When asked by a Vatican representative about the chances of victory, one Spanish admiral remarked, "Well, the English have got better guns, better crews, better captain, better everything. So we're sailing in the confidant hope of a miracle," meaning the Spanish believed God would help them achieve victory (Conan).

Term Paper on 1588 Spanish Armada Assignment

Philip II was a devout Catholic whose defense and promotion of the Church's interests crucially shaped foreign and imperial policy (McKinnon-Bell). In 1566, he told Pope Pius V that "rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and a hundred lives if I had them, for I do not propose or desire to be the ruler of heretics" (McKinnon-Bell). Undoubtedly, one motivation for launching the Armada against England was religion. Medina Sidonia, the Armada's commander, told the feet before they set sail for England, "The principal reason which has moved his Majesty to undertake this enterprise is his desire to serve God, and to convert to His Church many peoples and souls who are now oppressed by the heretical enemies of our holy Catholic faith" (McKinnon-Bell).

In 1554, the then Prince Philip had married Mary, Queen of England, also a Catholic. His intention was to father a Catholic heir, thus ensuring England's future within the Church. The marriage was approached as a duty, so much so that Philip remarked, "I am going to a crusade, not a marriage feast" (Ross). However, his plans were quickly crushed. Mary, already middle-aged, never became pregnant, and died in 1558, leaving the throne to her half-sister Elizabeth, a Protestant, to whom he proposed marriage (Ross). Elizabeth was cunning, and never completely rejected his proposal nor cut off communications with Philip. Yet, while she kept the "friendship" door open, she also encouraged piracy against the Spanish ships and goods in the West Indies, and further angered Spain by supporting the Protestants rebellion against the Spanish in the Netherlands (Ross).

Philip believed it was his Catholic duty to lead Protestant England back to the Church, even if he had to use force. His earliest scheme dates to 1559, when it was proposed to him that his return voyage down the Channel was a good opportunity to initiate an armed landing, however, he viewed this plan as too rash (Adams). In 1574, there was another attempt, yet the plan never really materialized. Although eager for England's conversion, Philip was cautious for he was well aware of the English naval power (Adams).

Having received papal approval and the money needed, Philip finally began making plans in 1584, and although precautions were taken, England was alert to the invasion preparations (Ross). In fact, Sir Francis Drake led a small fleet to Cadiz, where he burned and sunk several Spanish ships and escaped before the Spanish could counter-attack. While the attack did little to deter the Spanish, it did help rally the English (Ross).

In May 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail with over 130 ships and 30,493 men. At the time it was the largest naval fleet ever assembled. Although referred to as the "Invincible Armada," in actuality, the vast majority of the men were soldiers, not sailors, and many of the vessels were merchant ships that had been converted, thus were broad and heavy and not suited to engaging in warfare at sea because they were unable to maneuver quickly under sail (Ross). However, the Spanish did not see this as a problem because their aim was to transport troops to a landing, not engage in sea battles (Ross). They knew they were no match for the English navy with their superior artillery and commanders, yet the Spanish were considered the best soldiers in the world, and so felt confident to challenge the English on ground (Ross).

Philip's governor in the Netherlands, the duke of Parma, raised concerns about launching an attack on the English before a large port on the Dutch coast had been regained, however Philip dismissed these concerns and decided that a Spanish fleet could secure an area off the Kentish coast for landing and then ferry the army across (Adams). Philip was so concerned that England might divert his fleet, that he "refused to permit a stage by stage advance up the Channel and made no preparations for a battle if the English fleet should be encountered en route" (Adams).

Thus, plans were set for the fleet to sail up the English Channel and meet Parma off the Dover coast, however communications were slow and the rendezvous presented huge logistical problems (Ross). Moreover, Parma resented Philip's choice of commander, Medina Sedonia, and so did little in the way of cooperating with the entire operation (Ross).

Added to the long list of problems for the enterprise was the fact that Philip, who had little military training and no true grasp of naval endeavors, insisted on controlling every detail of the mission by issuing commands from his palace, seldom meeting with the commanders and ignoring advice from his experienced military leaders regarding strategic tactics (Ross). Philip believed that he had the Church and God on his side and therefore the mission could not fail.

While the Armada prepared to sail, the English set up a series of signal beacons on hilltops along the Welsh and English coasts, thus when the Spanish ships were spotted on July 19, 1588, the lighted beacons quickly spread the news throughout the country, alerting the English ships which set sail during the night from Plymouth harbor and maneuvered behind the Spanish fleet (Ross).

As the Armada sailed up the Channel "in a crescent formation, with the troop transports in the center," they were met by English ships by the time they reached Calais (Ross). David Ross writes, "each fleet numbered about 60 warships, but the advantage of artillery and maneuverability was with the English" (Ross). The English set fire-ships adrift, letting the tide carry them into the Spanish fleet, and while the Spanish were somewhat prepared for this tactic, it nevertheless created confusion and resulted in losses (Ross). In a battle off Gravelines on July 29, the English were victorious. And while the Spanish only lost less than ten ships, Sedonia decided that the Armada should turn back towards Spain, however the Channel was blocked by the English, thus the only escape route was to travel around the northern tip of Scotland and down the Ireland coast (Ross). Then something completely unpredictable happened that resulted in the final blow. A series of storms "scattered the Spanish ships, resulting in heavy losses," and by the time the Armada made it home to Spain, "it had lost half its ships and three-quarters of its men" (Ross).

The English viewed the storms as an intervention by God and a sign of divine approval for the Protestant cause. Throughout the country, services of thanks were held and a commemorative medal was issued upon which were inscribed the words, "God blew and they were scattered" (Ross).

The failure of the Spanish Armada destroyed the image of the "invincibility" of the Spanish forces, and Philip's reputation suffered greatly, since it was public knowledge that he had refused military counsel and had put the mission in God's hands rather than his expert military leaders (Adams). And although there was rejoicing in England, there was also some disappointment in the fact that so few Spanish ships had been sunk or captured, however Elizabeth was quick to respond with public appearances congratulating her troops,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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