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England’s courage and bad weather defeat the Spanish Armada

Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Monday, 28 November 2011

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This edited article about the Spanish Armada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 863 published on  29 July 1978.

Sinking Spanish ships, picture, image, illustration

England’s fireships strike at the heart of the Spanish Armada

The moment that all England and most of Europe had been waiting for had arrived. Sailing down the English Channel in a crescent formation ten kilometres wide was the greatest sea-force the world had yet seen – the Spanish Armada.

The Armada (“armed fleet”) was the invasion force sent by the Catholic king of Spain, Phillip II, to conquer a Protestant England and to force her to follow the Church of Rome led by the Pope, rather than the recently-founded Church of England, at the head of which stood Elizabeth I.

However, the reason for the invasion was not just a matter of religious differences. For some time Sir Francis Drake had been attacking Spanish galleons as they returned from South America loaded with the treasures of the Indians who lived there. This was the final straw that led Phillip II to decide to conquer England. He therefore assembled an army in the Netherlands, which at that time belonged to Spain, ready to join forces with the Armada when it arrived and land somewhere on the coast of Kent.

On the 19th July, 1588, the huge crescent of ships was sighted off Cornwall, while, it is said, Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls. In all, there were 130 ships, 19,000 soldiers and 9,000 sailors. The English were unable to match the sheer size of the Spanish ships, but their ships were faster, more manoeuvrable and manned by the hardiest sailors in Europe.

Over the next ten days, the English fleet fought and won one of the most decisive battles in British history. Their lightly-armed craft got behind the Spanish galleys and forced them up the Channel and out into the North Sea.

By the 29th July, the danger was past. In disarray the Spanish fleet limped around the East coast of England, round Scotland and down past Ireland back to Spain. On the way, the fleet took a terrific hammering from Atlantic storms, and even more ships were lost, plus thousands of men from drowning and disease. The English lost no ships and only 100 men. England was saved.

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