The Spanish ArmadaPlymouth
1588

 

 

Events leading up to the Armada
King Phillip II of Spain had been consort to the English Queen Mary I, thinking that he would be made King of England and able to return England to the Roman Catholic faith.
 
When Mary died childless, Phillip was packed off home to Spain and England returned to the Protestant faith. Phillip saw it as his mission to bring the ‘true faith’ back to England and asked the Pope to finance an invasion of England. The Pope agreed but told Phillip there would be no funds until he had set foot on English soil.
 
Phillip decided that the best way to invade England was to assemble a huge fleet including warships and load it with troops and horses for a landing on the east coast of England in Essex.
 
England’s spies got wind of the plan and prepared their fleet to intercept the Spanish invasion fleet. A system of bonfires on headlands was set to be lit when the Spanish Armada was sighted and thus spread the news.
 
19 July 1588
The invasion fleet (Spanish Armada) was ready to sail in 1588 and was sighted off The Lizard in Cornwall on 19 July. Along the English coast the sequence of beacons were lit spreading the news of the impending invasion.
 
The Spanish fleet sailed in a crescent formation expecting the English fleet to do the same. Normally the ships would sail towards each other, collide and hold on with grappling hooks. The fighting would be done by the soldiers on board the ships.
 
The English fleet employed a different tactic of sailing in line one behind the other giving them great manoeuvrability and full use of their cannon. The commanders of the English fleet acknowledged Sir Francis Drake’s battle experience and gave him part command of the enterprise.
 
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Tactics
Fifty-five ships slipped out of Plymouth Harbour under the cover of darkness and positioned themselves upwind of the Spanish fleet. For a week the two fleets battled each other in inconclusive engagements off the Dorset coast.
 
The Spanish moored in deep water off the Isle of Wight and Drake attacked. The Armada found itself driven into shallow waters and made a dash up the Channel to Calais to await reinforcements. They adopted the crescent shaped tight defensive formation. At midnight on 28 July Drake sent in his fire ships. As the burning boats drifted down into the Spanish fleet most of the captains panicked and fled out to sea.
 
Battle of Gravelands
On 8 August the decisive battle of Gravelins was fought. The Spanish fleet was unwieldy and the marines had not learnt to reload their cannon after firing. The English fleet on the other hand would reload and keep firing their heavy armaments broadside into the enemy. The Spanish kept trying to come close enough to board the English ships who just kept out of range. Eventually after the Spanish had suffered very heavy casualties and the English had run out of ammunition, the battle came to an end.
 
Spanish Fleet flees
The wind changed to the south and the Spanish fleet headed north away from the shallow French coast with the English fleet in pursuit. Somewhere near the Firth of Forth off Scotland, Admiral Howard called off the chase and the Spanish Armada had to try and get home via the hazardous route around the tip of Scotland and down the west coast of Ireland.
 
Many of the ships were wrecked in a hurricane. The Spanish lost most of their ships and thousands of men died from cold, thirst and starvation. England lost no ships and had only a few hundred casualties. The English navy had saved England.
 
Aftermath
There are a number of citizens of Scotland and Ireland of Spanish and Portuguese descent, a direct result of the loss of the Armada. 
 
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