The Battle Between the Spanish Armada and the British Fleet

In the later part of the 16th century, Spain was the major international
power and either ruled, colonized, or exercised influence over much of
the known world. Spanish power was at it's height and Spain's leader,
King Philip II, pledged to conquer the Protestant heretics in England
that began as a result of the Reformation.

Philip held personal hostility towards England's Queen Elizabeth I and
was desirous of eliminating a major sea-going rival for economic reasons.
Elizabeth encouraged Sir Francis Drake and other English seamen to raid
Spanish ships and towns to invest in some of their wealth. The English
also began to aid the Dutch Protestants who were rebelling against
Spanish rule. The Treaty of Nonsuch (1585) along with damaging raids by
Drake against the Spanish commerce finally convinced Philip that a direct
invasion of England was necessary. Philip wanted to restore England to
Catholicism, keep his wealth he discovered, and prove that his country is
still looked upon as all-powerful.

King Philip disliked Elizabeth with a passion. He tried to plot against
her ages ago with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in 1568. She was beheaded
in 1587 for she pose a threat to the queen and England's safety. Finally
Philip decided he had to do something about it himself. He drew up a
flawless plan that wouldn't underrating England's ability to defend
herself, Philip organized a brilliant fleet, which he called his Spanish
Armada. It was called 'Invincible', the fleet of unprecedented size and
strength. His Armada consisted of about 130 ships from his Mediterranean
and Atlantic fleets, from the Portuguese navy and his allies, with as
many as 8,000 seamen and possibly 19,000 soldiers. These ships were to
join 30,000 troops who had been fighting in the Spanish Netherlands under
Philip's commander, the Duke of Parma. Don ?lvaro de Baz?n, Marquis of
Santa Cruz, who had initially organized the Armada, did not live to
command it. His successor, Alonso P?rez de Guzm?n, Duke of Medina
Sidonia, was no less intelligent and courageous. The men were
inexperienced and their knowledge of ships and battles was poor. Their
ships were mainly line-of-battle ships, and the rest being mostly
transports and light craft. They were conscious that even their best
craft were slower and less reliable than those of the English and less
well armed with weapons, but they counted on being able to force boarding
actions if the English offered battle. The Armada set sail from Lisbon
on May 9, 1588, but gales forced it back soon after. The voyage was not
resumed until July 22.

Since November 1587 the English and the Dutch had been aware of Philip's
intentions. To prevent a juncture of Parma's army with the Armada, they
had several troops patrolling the Netherlands coast. The English fleet
was under command of Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham Ships
were anchored at Plymouth on the English Channel to blockade and destroy
the Armada before it left the Spanish coast. On July 29, 1588, the wind
direction made this impossible and the Armada was already first sighted
off the Scilly Isles, near the coast of Cornwall in southwestern England.

The Armada reached the Strait of Dover on August 61 (Having already
entered the English Channel on July 30) and anchored at Calais, France.
This is where Medina Sidonia had planned to meet Parma in Flanders. The
Dutch gunboats prevented the barges from meeting the Armada and this
defect in their strategy was to prove disastrous.

In the early hours of August 7-8, the English launched eight fire ships2
into the Spanish fleet, forcing the Spanish ships to cut or slip their
cables, thus losing their anchors, and stand out to sea to escape the
flames. The 'Invincible' Armada's formation was thus completely broken.
At dawn on the
8th about 60 English ships attacked the disorganized Spanish ships off
the French port of Gravelines. Three Spanish ships were sunk or driven
ashore, and the others were badly battered. During all the battles, the
wind direction and speed and waves and currents had a great effect on the
movement of the ships. Both the west wind and the English fleet now
prevented the Armada from rejoining Parma, and it was forced to make the
passage back to Spain around the northern tip of Scotland. The English
fleet turned back in search of supplies when the