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Turning Points in History : The Gran Armada 1588

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Jiwan
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Spain and England in the 16th Century
II.1 Philip II. and Elizabeth I.
II.2 Main Issues of Conflict
II.3 The Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604)
III. The Purpose of the Gran Armada
IV. Battles of the Gran Armada
IV.1 The Spanish Strategy Using the Armada
IV.2 Hurdles
IV.3 The Battle of Gravelines
IV.4 The Defeat of the Spanish Armada
IV.5 Reasons for the Spanish Defeat
IV.5.1 Lack of Preparation
IV.5.2 Lack of Leadership
IV.5.3 The Protestant Wind
IV.5.4 The Leadership of Sobieski
V. Effect of the War
VI. The Defeat of the Gran Armada as a Turning Point
VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            The Great Armada, or Armada Invincible, was a Spanish Armada built in 1586 to 1588 under the instruction of Philip II. It was constructed especially against England. During the late 16th century, Spain and England formed a competitive and hostile relationship due to political, religious, and territorial causes. The Great Armada was beyond a congregation of military ships. It was a crucial tool revealing the policy of Spain against England and the historical atmosphere during the period. Not only the causes but also the effects of the war fought with the Great Armada merit careful attention. The traces remain within Spain and England throughout various aspects.

II. Spain and England in the 16th Century

II.1 Philip II. and Elizabeth I
            The rivalry between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England had been formed not long before the construction of the Great Armada. Indeed, Philip II was a husband of Mary I (Bloody Mary) of England, who was the queen of England before Elizabeth I. In the form of marriage, Spain and England formed a relationship of allies. After the death of Mary I in 1558, Elizabeth I became the successor. Although Philip II and his wife, Mary I, shared reciprocal policies, the situation didn't work between Philip II and Elizabeth I. Although Philip II proposed engagement to Elizabeth I and tried to prolong the allies between Spain and England, she refused it. The policies of Elizabeth didn¡¯t match with those of what Mary I and Philip II used to maintain, and Philip II no longer wished to cooperate with England.

II.2 Main Issues of Conflict
            Spain and England crashed on various fields. Among all, commercial aspects and religious aspects were two main areas in which their interests and ideals contrasted. (1)
            The commercial conflict between Spain and England began with the attack on Spanish colonies by and the thefts of English pirates who gained permission from the queen of England, Elizabeth I. She employed a pirate named Francis Drake to attack Spanish ships and to take over the properties from Spanish colonies. Considering Latin America as the territory of Spain, the Spaniards attacked Hawkins while their ships were in harbor in Mexico. In response, Hawkins and Drake attacked Spanish ships carrying treasure across the Atlantic Ocean more vigorously and stole the loads using more violent method. During 1577-1580, Drake sailed around the ocean and continued stealing: mainly silver and gold. However, Elizabeth I remained firm at the request of Spain to compensate for the loss from the English pirates. This attitude led Spain to turn around from the thought of conciliating with England. (2)
            Religious conflict was unavoidable since the matter of religion was the main issue in the field of politics around Europe during the period. Although Mary I, who is famous for using brutal methods to promote Catholics, tried her best to establish England as a Catholic country, her effort was ignored by Elizabeth I. Unlike her sister-in-law, Elizabeth supported Anglican Church and the Protestants. Although she had tolerance over Protestants, she detested Catholics and made it mandatory for people in England to participate in Anglican Church. Informed about the difficulties the English Catholics faced, Spain became reluctant in forming positive relationship with England. The difference of religion between Spain and England also led to other consequences such as the war on Dutch. The king of Spain ruled the territory of the Spanish Netherlands. In 1568, the Dutch which turned Protestant went against Spain, a Catholic country. During the war, England supported the Dutch.

II.3 The Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604)
            Anglo-Spanish War, which was held during 1585 to 1604, is a series of battles including the Great Armada in 1588. The war began without any formal declaration. It first started in 1585 as English sent navies to the Dutch to support the resistance. Anglo-Spanish War, which has been lasted for nearly 20 years, had ended with the contract between Philip III of Spain and James I of England. Spain agreed to draw out their attention on Ireland, and England agreed to step back from the events in the Spanish Netherlands and to stop the piracy.

III. The purpose of the Gran Armada
            Great Armada was specially constructed for the war against England. The three conflicts between Spain and England clearly shows the purposes of the Great Armada. (3)
            First, the attacks by the English pirates, who were acknowledged by the queen of England, provoked anger among the Spanish. The pirates were called English Sea Dogs.(4) By the time of the construction of the Great Armada, Spanish colonies in America and its convoys and ships loaded with treasures had been attacked by the England for nearly 20 years. Sir Francis Drake (5) was a major concern. Drake was especially successful in pillaging the Spanish ships and its colonies. Spain ordered a compensation for the loss from the English pirates. However, Queen Elizabeth I of England refused to punish the pirates or to return the wealth stolen from Spain.
            Second, England's action against English Catholics led Spanish Empire to decide war against England. Elizabeth I didn't approve of Catholics in England. People were fined when they violated the religious laws hostile to Catholics and were often imprisoned if they defamed Catholic Church in the public. From 1581, England turned stricter on the religious restrictions and English Catholic was considered as a serious crime. Hence, by removing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth from the England throne, Philip II hoped to convert England to the Roman Catholic as it had been when his wife ruled.
            Third, England helping the enemies of Spain alarmed Spain¡¯s need of war against England. The English navy supported the Dutch, converted to be a Protestant country. In 1585, Elizabeth I signed a contract to support the Dutch against Philip II of Spain in the The Treaty of Nonsuch.
            Nevertheless, Philip II had another purpose of the Great Armada in mind inexplicitly. He wanted to increase his power and prestige by obtaining the English crown. (6) After the death of Mary I, the alliance between Spain and England broke out, because there was no kinship between the two countries. In the perspective of Spain, England not only gave up forming a harmony with Spain but also turned its back against Spain. Two empires were heading for two distinct designations. Hence, a war between those two countries was inevitable.

IV. Battles of the Great Armada

IV.1 The Spanish Strategy Using the Armada
            Philip II planned a war against England from 1586. Philip II received an acknowledgement from Pope Sixtus V who considered the war as a crusade for the protection of the Catholic Church. (7) However, the Great Armada faced with many difficulties. In 1587, Drake attacked C?diz, the home port of Spanish treasure fleet. The shock delayed the Armada for a year. Due to the death of former experienced commander, Marquess de Santa Cruz(February 1588), Alonso Perez de Guzman, a Duke of Medina-Sidonia, was chosen as a final commander of the Great Armada. The Spanish fleet was comprised of nearly 130 ships with about 8,000 sailors and 19,000 soldiers. After several tests on the sea, the navies finally left toward England in May 1588 from Lisbon. The whole fleet consumed two days to leave the port. It was planned by Philip II that 30,000 soldiers led by Parma were pushed up by the fleet in the Spanish Netherlands.

IV.2 Hurdles
            There were several hurdles ahead of the Spanish Armada heading toward England. Not long from their departure, they had to put in to La Coru?a due to the weather condition. The wind was blown in disadvantage to Spain and the navy seldom had to stop their way for the condition
            However, the weather was not the only hardship waiting for Spain. The English fleet attacked the Spanish Armada even before their arrival. The English ships headed by Lord Howard of Effingham set out from Plymouth. Sir Francis Drake was second in command. There were engagements between Spanish and English fleet at Eddystone and the Isle of Portland, respectively. Due to the battles, two Spanish ships, Rosario the carrack and San Salvador the galleon was destroyed. This not only meant the loss of Spain, but also to gain of England since the remnants of the destruction provided England with a significant amount of gunpowder.
            The Armada planned to base temporary at the Isle of Wight which provided protection. However, the English fleet blocked the Armada from resting. To avoid sandbanks, the Armada had no choice but to come out to the open ocean; hence, they went to Calais. On July 27, the Armada tried to take off Calais and had to head for Dunkirk to join Parma¡¯s army. Nevertheless, Medina-Sidonia was afraid of Dutch ships, which blocked the way, for he might get attack. Rather than trying to fight against the Dutch, he decided not to go. Regardless of his decision, the Armada was attacked by the English fireships.

IV.3 The Battle of Gravelines
            Medina-Sidonia planned to rearrange his fleet in the small port of Gravelines. Gravelines, a port of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands, was the closet Spanish territory to England. He was reluctant to proceed ahead further east due to Dutch enemies. Since the Spanish Armada had spent most of their gunpowder in the former engagements, later they had no choice but to conserve their heavy shot and powder.
            Using its maneuverability, the English fleet exasperated the Spanish fleet. The English fired and destroyed the Spanish ships. As a result, five Spanish ships were lost. San Lorenzo the galleass, and San Mateo and San Felipe the galleons were among them. Many others were damaged severely. Due to the attacks, Spain's attempt to join with Parma¡¯s army had failed. However, England still feared the presence of the Armada in the North Sea.

IV.4 The Defeat of the Spanish Armada
            The Spanish ships wore out from the long voyage. Supplies of food and water ran out. Although the Spanish Armada finally made into the vicinity of Britain and Ireland, it was clear that the Spanish had lost over the English. It was reckoned that 5,000 Spanish died from drowning, starvation, and the fight with English soldiers. Some survivors were captured by the Irish. Even the soldiers who returned to Spain suffered from diseases. In the end, only 67 ships and 10,000 men was left. Philip II was deeply disappointed by the fact, but he had no choice but to forgive Medina-Sidonia.

IV.5 Reasons for the Spanish Defeat

IV.5.1 Lack of Preparation
            Medina-Sidonia was an experienced administrator who proved to be resolute and capable in action, but he had relatively little sea experience. (8) Rather than searching for more apt commander, Spain quickly appointed Medina-Sidonia and departed only 3 months after the death of the former commander. During the engagements, it was clear that the Spanish heavy guns were proved unwieldy, and the gunners were not trained sufficiently. (9) Even the best Spanish ships were slower than those of the English, and they were insufficiently armed with heavy guns. Spain didn¡¯t pay attention to its weaknesses. Rather, it hurried the departure of the ships and the war against England.

IV.5.2 Lack of Leadership
            Charles Howard, a commander of English fleet, was inexperienced as Medina-Sidonia, but he was more influential leader. Since he had experimental problem, he cooperated with Drake, who spent most of his life at sea, successfully. However, Medina-Sidonia was ineffective leader who lacked decisive movement as seen in the choice of whether to anchor off Calais. Medina-Sidonia didn¡¯t have an insight on the strength of his own army and the weakness of the enemies. Although Spain was strong in hand-to-hand battle, he continued to let England fight in distance. However, knowing the strength, the England avoided close engagements and used its gun that went far. In addition, it was found that the main technique that the Spanish employed, seize-and-grapple tactics, was found to be more effective to the English having lighter ships and long-range guns.

IV.5.3 Protestant Wind
            Although the full name of the Great Armada was "Grande y Felic?sima Armada", Great and Most Fortunate Navy, the Armada failed to bring fortune and victory to the Spanish Empire.The late 1500s, and especially 1588, were marked by unusually strong North Atlantic storms, likely associated with a high accumulation of polar ice off the coast of Greenland. (10) As the phrase, "He blew with His winds, and they were scattered," shows, the wind blew against Spain. In help of the favorable wind, England was able to continue on its battles in a pleasant condition. Being a protestant country, England called the lucky wind, "Protestant Wind."

V Effect of the War
            Although the hatred between Spain and England were getting fiercer even before the war, the relationship between Spain and England became worse than before. It was difficult for England to continue its naval business for the blockade of Spain until they signed a treaty due to the trial of James I of England. Since both Spain and England had damages from and consumed their national budgets on the war, there was an effect on the economy. However, the impact was more severe in case of Spain, for it had lost most of its ships. The national pride among the English increased due to their victory. It is also true that the defeat of Spain provoked the protestant movement. Encouraged by the victory of England, protestants continued their movements. The military status of Spain had decreased to an extent. However, the war provided a chance for both the Spanish and English to rearrange their defects and to establish stronger navy.

VI. The Defeat of the Great Armada as a Turning Point
            Although the English had defeated the Spanish, this did not mean the immediate ascent of the status of England as it is widely known. (11) The English navy had failed in their invasion to Spain and Portugal in 1589. Since Spain was still the dominating force in the Atlantic Ocean, England was unable to commence New World colonization before the Treaty of London in 1604. On the other hand, Spain consolidated and extended its territory in Latin America today during the late 16th and early 17th century.
            It took many years for Spain to step down from its naval dominance. Spain eventually suffered a crucial military defeat against the French (Battle of Rocroi in 1643, Thirty Years' War) and England (loss of Jamaica in 1655). Also, due to some mistakes of Philip II's decision in 1600s shook financial status of Spain. Nevertheless, the decline of Spain didn¡¯t mean the rise of the England. It was from the late-1700s that England had gained its supremacy over the Atlantic Ocean, and this was possible after its victory over several Anglo-Dutch Wars.
            Nonetheless, the Great Armada and the defeat of Spain had some immediate consequences. The triumph of England endowed Protestant soldiers on the Continent the hope and enthusiasm in fighting against Phillip II and his allies. Especially, Dutch rebels and French Huguenots were able to get support from England. Otherwise, Dutch and Huguenots might have gone under the control of Philip II and the Duke of Parma.
            The Armada battles provided English sailors their first martial experience and navigational skills. Hence, those wartime experiments - oceanic navigation and flows of the weather and ocean currents - made it possible for England to dominate the Atlantic Ocean afterwards. Especially, their skill against the Spanish fleet was valuable since the Spanish were the leading naval force.

VII. Conclusion
            Although the defeat of the Armada and the triumph of the England hadn't shown a lot of expedite significance, this led to gradual impact on them in later battles. The war played its role as an inspiration to future English mariners, shipbuilders, and naval commanders. However, this wasn't a mere luck. The Spanish lacked preparation and skill, while the English put huge effort to win over the Spanish Armada. Great Armada was no longer great before the continual hard workings of the English. Perseverance made it possible for England to defeat Spain and to gain the dominance over the Atlantic Ocean at last. As seen from the example of the Great Armada, the history does not end at the spot; rather, it lives on to influence later consequences. The history lives within the minds of people.

IX. Notes

(1)      This way of categorizing was presented in Wikipedia article: Anglo-Spanish War (1585)
(2)      The historical facts from this paragraph and the following one are mainly relied on Lambert
(3)      The reasons for the crash between Spain and England are similar to the purposes of the construction of the Great Armada since the differences had led two countries into war
(4)      English Sea Dogs, also known as Elizabethan Sea Dogs, were pirates who were acknowledged by Queen Elizabeth I to plunder the ships of other countries, especially that of Spain
(5)      Sir Francis Drake was a pirate; however, due to his accomplishments, he later gets the title "Sir" from the English queen. He was known as ¡°el Draque (the Dragon).¡± Although he was a hero in England, he was a mere pirate in Spain.
(6)      The interpretation is from Travel & History.
(7)      Although the conflict between Spain and England is of political one seen superficially, religion played a significant role in the undertaking of the Great Armada. The Netherlands, a protestant country, was supported by England when Spain, a catholic country, tried to defeat the Netherlands. As a result, Spain went on a war against England, which disagreed with catholic belief. Hence, it was natural that the pope had supported the war in favor of Spain.
(8)      Directly from Armada: Encyclopaedia Britannica p.562
(9)      Article: Spanish Armada. Wikipedia
(10)      ibid.
(11)      Spanish Armada Conclusions

X. Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2008.
1.      Invincible Armada of Spain ) . from naver (Korean Language Site)
2.      Tim Lambert, Tudor England, Elizabeth's Foreign Policy
3      Article: Anglo-Spanish War (1585). from Wikipedia
4.      List of pirates. from Wikipedia
5.      Article: Cadiz. from Wikipedia
6.      Article: Spanish Armada. from Wikipedia
7.      Article: Armada Invencible. from Wikipedia (Spanish ed.)
8.      Article : Armada, Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropaedia. 1998. 15th edition, Volume 13, pp562-563.
9.      World Affairs Spanish Armada 1588. from Travel & History 134.html
10.      Patrick Williams. Our Armada pp196-208, Naval War with England and the Burden on Castile pp209-215 Philip II, 2001
11.      Sir Francis Drake, Elizabeth Sea Dog, from Cornwall Calling,
12.      Wes Ulm, Spanish Armada Conclusions
13.      Dr Simon Adams. Launch of the Armada, The Spanish Armada.
14.      Alexander Ganse. Era of European Discovery, KMLA Handbook Modern European History 7th edition, pp22-31, 2008

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