On the 8th of August 1588, violent winds and tidal waves delivered the dying blow to the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth I did not know of it the day after when she delivered her famous speech at the shores of west Tilbury in Thurrock borough in Essex, England. Upon learning it, the English celebrated. The Elizabethan regime advertised this as the greatest victory since the naval victories of Edward III during the One-Hundred-Years War against France. By many of her subjects as proof of God’s divine favor on England. Behind all that glorious mystique however, the war was still raging on. And for every victory that Gloriana’s regime boasted about, there were also several disastrous fiascos and defeats that were a heavy burden on the country’s finances.
“…when we hear the word “Armada” we think of an English victory, in which the threatening Spanish ships were scattered and defeated in the Battle of Gravelines, and after which Sir Francis Drake was feted as a hero. Yet at the moment of attack everything was up in the air. As Drake boarded his ship at Plymouth, he would have known that there was a real possibility of the Armada landing successfully and his own ship being sunk. He would have known that a chance in the direction of wind could alter everything –leaving his strategy in jeopardy and his fleet in danger. We can no longer imagine the possibility of the Armada disgorging its troops on English beaches …” (Mortimer)
Garrett Mattingly had also brought this up in his book “Armada”. He reminded his readers that while the Armada’s defeat was a heavy blow to the Holy League, namely Spain; the repercussions of it wouldn’t be felt until a century and a half. The same went for English naval superiority. Victory over Spain’s colossal navy was owed more to bad weather, the agility of English smaller vessels as opposed to the bigger and slower Spanish ones. Rather than it as a product of chance and good luck, the Elizabethan regime rationalized it as proof of divine intervention.
When the fighting began in mid July, the winds of change stroke the heart of the “Grande y Felicisima Armada” (“Great and Most Fortunate Navy”). This devasting loss was not just demoralizing for the fighting men, it was also showed that the lack of good communication between its leaders was threatening to turn the tide in England’s favor.
“The Armada made for a formidable sight. The Spanish ships ranged two miles in breadth, and with their huge fore and after castles towered over the English. In the six battles that followed, the history of naval combat evolved into the modern era. Gone forever were the days of oarpowered ships over sail. Grappling and boarding, too, was replaced by superior firepower and long-range weaponry. The death knell was also tolled for the English crossbow archers as the country’s most lethal fighting force aboard ship.
Yet despite superior maneuverability and firepower, the English made little, if any headway, on the first day of the battle (July 20). The next day though, the English got lucky. One of the Spanish warships, the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, was lost. The Rosario, a colossal 1,150 ton nao, a multipurpose ship armed for war with fifty-two guns and a crew of over four hundred men, lost its bowsporit, foreyeard, halyards, and forecourse after a series of collisions in the fleet due to their tight formation. Her commander, Don Pedro de Valdes fired off his guns to let Medina Sidonia know his plight, but all efforts to save her failed. Valdes watched helplessly as the Armada slowly pulled away to the east, leaving him to his destiny. This was a huge blow to the Spaniards, since she was one of the largest ships in the Armada, and carried a third of the treasure taken along to pay mariners and soldiers …” (Hutchinson)
Who else but God whose Providence had been bestowed on the English when those violent winds and tidal waves had been sent to weaken the Spanish navy against the English navy’s attacks
Without a doubt, the defeat of the Spanish Armada was a turning point in history. It was the birth of a new empire and the slow death of another one.
The Anglo-Spanish war would last for another sixteen years but the seeds of English discovery and entrepeneurship had been sowed. But like with Spain, the fruits of this victory would not be felt until decades later when, as Spain’s might was lost, England’s empire rose making her the queen of the seas. At the present time however, England was more preoccupied with fostering patriotism and reap the immediate benefits of Spain’s naval defeat. Unfortunately for the Elizabethan regime, they’d soon find out that divine favor was a lot like lightning. It never strikes the same place twice. The English built their own version of the “Grande and Felicisima Armada”. But this “Counter Armada” also met a violent end at sea.
- Mattingly, Garrett. Armada. Mariner Books. 1959
- Hutchinson, Robert. The Spanish Armada. Thomas Dune Books. 2013.
- Ronald, Susan. The Pirate Queen. Harper. 2007
- Mortimer, Ian. Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England. Viking. 2010.