Spanish Armada sets sail from Lisbon
King Philip II regarded the invasion of England above all as a crusade, a belief shared by Pope Sixtus V, who granted papal indulgences to those participating in the venture, and permitted Philip to levy so-called 'crusade taxes' to help finance it.
Of course stamping on the heretical English was not the only motive: those same English had been plundering Spanish possessions in the Americas, and robbing Spanish ships in their voyages to and from those possessions. And Philip, who as Mary I 's husband felt he had a claim to the throne of England though this had not been part of the wedding contract, would have liked to add another kingdom to his empire.
The force that set out from Lisbon in May 1588 was a mighty one: 28 warships and 112 converted merchant vessels, though some were mere hulks used for carrying the 18,000 troops borne by the Armada . But there were deficiencies: though the fleet had more than 2,000 cannon, the English had many more, and were more adept in their use; in his attack on Cadiz the previous year Francis Drake had destroyed 1,600 tons of barrel wood, which was in part replaced with inferior material, with consequences for the stores carried; and above all, at the very top its leadership was flawed.
Alvaro de Bazan, an experienced admiral, had died in February 1588. The Duke of Medina Sidonia was chosen to replace him, but this soldier had minimal seagoing experience - and he knew this, trying to convince Philip he was the wrong man. Philip, however, was emotionally blinded to problems in the preparations, and would brook no objections from his new admiral. There was even a certain logic in his view: the fleet was not meant for battle at sea, but to carry a great army to invade England.
The design of some of the Spanish ships was also questionable: of the 28 warships 4 were galleys, more suited to Mediterranean conditions; and the carracks that made up the bulk of the merchant vessels were less manoeuvrable than the English ships. But they did hold a formidable army of some 18,000 men. And another 30,000 were to rendezvous with Medina Sidonia just over the Channel from England. The Spanish were the best soldiers in Europe at this time; in hand-to-hand battles at sea they would be expected to win; and a combined army of nearing 50,000 would be able to sweep all before it once landed on English soil. It was thus for the English to stop the army making landfall, otherwise defeat for Elizabeth was almost inevitable.
More famous dates here
7696 views since 12th May 2008
On this day: