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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated.
The Spanish Armada was a substantial invasion fleet, sent to conquer England, which was repelled and partly destroyed by a combination of Francis Drake's seamanship and 'The Wind of God".
In 1586, English government spies discovered that Spain was about to invade England. The dastardly Spaniards were jealous of England’s prosperity, its growing merchant shipping fleet and its grip on the wool trade. They disliked the fact that England was Protestant, and showed little respect for the Spanish king Philip II, who styled himself ‘Most Catholic Majesty’ and thought of himself as a monarch superior to all other European rulers. The Spaniards thought that England was an easy target, with no proper defensive army, no fighting fleet and ruled by a woman, Elizabeth I.
The Spaniards planned a fleet of over 100 warships, an Armada, which would escort an army to land on the east coast and take England by force. Queen Elizabeth put Francis Drake in charge of English defences. His first action was to invade the Spanish port of Cadiz, with a small fleet to attack the Spanish shipping in the dockyard. Drake stormed into the harbour and burnt and looted thousands of tons of shipping and provisions. This action became known as ‘singeing the king of Spain's beard’. It was a great embarrassment for Spain but only delayed the building of the Armada for two years.
In 1588, the Armada was ready and in July it was launched from Lisbon. It consisted of 131 vessels and 25,000 fighting men, with another 30,000 men waiting in Holland to be picked up after the first group had been landed on the English coast. The Spaniards had enough men to conquer half of Europe, so if they had landed near London, England would have been done for. When the Armada was spotted off Cornwall, word was passed at once to Drake, who was playing bowls when the news arrived. He nonchalantly decided to finish his game before sailing off to face the Spaniards in the Channel.
Drake’s tactics were to stop the Spaniards landing on the shoreline. He attacked the Armada with ‘fire ships’, old hulks doused with tar and set ablaze, and launched them into the enemy fleet. Some enemy ships were set ablaze, some tried to sail through the line of ‘fire ships’ and were captured, but most enemy ships were forced back, out away from land. As the Armada was driven out to sea, a sudden storm arose and the fleet was scattered. The ships were out of control. They were blown west along the Channel and north along the east coast of England. About a quarter of the fleet was destroyed, either at sea or wrecked on the coastline. After the storm had subsided, the captains of the various ships tried to find their way home. Drake and his fleet had control of the Channel, so the Armada were obliged to return to Spain by sailing around Scotland and out into the Atlantic, past Ireland. The Armada suffered further storms and hurricanes on its ignominious journey home. Some ships landed in Scotland, but most were wrecked trying to navigate the west coast of Ireland. Only half the initial complement of vessels arrived safely home.
Spain had failed to deliver the intended knockout blow. Drake and Queen Elizabeth’s court attributed the victory to divine intervention, believing the God had sent the storm to frustrate the Armada. The storm became known as 'The Wind of God’, and was commemorated in an issue of medallions showing a wrecked Spanish ship, with the words ‘God blew, and they were scattered’.
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