Did God really help the English defeat the Spanish Armada?
In 1588, King Philip II of Spain sent an armada (a fleet of ships) to collect his army from the Netherlands, where they were fighting, and take them to invade England. This was done in the name of religion, because England had become Protestant and no longer accepted the Pope as the head of the Church; Spain was Catholic and the Pope had encouraged Philip to try to make England become Catholic again. He also had a political reason to go to war with England because Spain ruled the Netherlands, but the people there were rebelling against Spanish control and England had been helping them.
The English were worried about the threat of invasion and they attacked the Spanish ships as they sailed along the Channel, but the Armada was so strong that most of the ships reached Calais safely.
The Armada was difficult to attack because it sailed in a 'crescent' shape. While the Armada tried to get in touch with the Spanish army, the English ships attacked fiercely. However, an important reason why the English were able to defeat the Armada was that the wind blew the Spanish ships northwards. To many English people this proved that God wanted them to win and there were pictures and medals made to celebrate this fact.
- How useful do you think this information would be to the English government?
- Why were there more soldiers than sailors?
1. This is an extract from a letter to the English government which gives details about the progress of the Armada.
- How do you think the news that the Spanish Armada had been sighted was able to reach Lord Howard so quickly when he was at Plymouth, over a hundred miles away?
- Why do you think Howard complained to Walsingham about the wind?
- Howard says that the Spanish fleet was 'soe strong'. What made it strong?
2. This is a report from Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral of the English fleet.
- According to Hawkins, what was the main problem for the English fleet in the battle near Portland?
- Why was the 'fyring of ships' a turning point in the fighting?
- Does Hawkins think that the English have a chance to beat the Spanish Armada?
- What is causing the biggest problem to the Spanish ships?
- Does Hawkins seem confident that the Spanish have been defeated?
- Why did the English chase the Spanish as they sailed towards Scotland?
3. The dates mentioned in this account are based on an old calendar which is slightly different from the one we use now. These events took place at the end of July and first week of August according to our calendar.
- The Spanish Armada fought the English fleet for two days without losing any ships. What happened next that changed this?
- Why was it a good thing that the Spanish plans were stopped?
- If you could change one thing to give the Spanish a better chance of winning what would it be and why?
- The English celebrated their victory with a medal saying 'God Blew and they were Scattered' - how would the Spanish have explained their defeat?
4. An extract from a Spanish captain's account of the events. He had survived after being shipwrecked on the Irish coast and was then interrogated by the English, but eventually returned home to Spain.
- Santa Cruz, the Spanish admiral who was to lead the Armada, died and the man who took over, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, had very little experience.
- The Armada set sail on 28 May but bad weather forced the ships to go back into port for repairs.
- The Armada kept a very strong crescent shaped formation which protected the smaller ships as they sailed up the Channel and the English were unable to make a proper attack.
- The Armada was supposed to sail up the channel to the Netherlands and collect the Duke of Parma with an army to invade England. However, the Spanish army was attacked and could not get to the ships in time.
- The weather was very bad during the Battle of Gravelines and the storms got worse as the Spanish sailed towards the North Sea.
- The English were constantly complaining that they were short of gunpowder, cannon balls, food etc.
- Bad weather continued as the Spanish ships sailed up around the coast of Scotland and down the coast of Ireland on their way home, so that only half the Armada actually got back to Spain.