The fiasco that was the Spanish Armada featured many things which seemed impressive. A massive flotilla of warships, Sir Francis Drake, fireships, a “Reverse Normandy” invasion plan, an intra-varsity Christian crusade. Unfortunately for Spain, only some of these things lived up to their hype, and most of them weren’t Spanish. In 1588 the English defeated the “invincible” Spanish Armada, striking a blow against the Spanish empire from which it never fully recovered.
If God allowed the Pope to be a betting man, he would have bet on the Spanish in the 16th century. Prevented from betting by workplace regulations, Pope Sixtus V (‘The Big Six-Five’) simply endorsed them. The Spanish were a rich and powerful Catholic empire not fond of the uppity English Protestants across the Channel. The Pope endorsed Spanish King Philip II’s plan to invade England, viewing it as a crusade and promising “Crusade money” should the invasion succeed. Philip lined up the Marquis of Santa Cruz as admiral, the Duke of Parma as general, and Pedro “Ten-Minute Paella” of Sevilla as fleet cook. Certainly an impressive lineup.
The English, under flaming Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, were not exactly innocent victims of Spanish aggression. In the 1570s, Elizabeth gave Sir Francis Drake and other roguish sailors licenses to “wreck Spanish shoppe.” Drake and the other privateers raided Spanish port cities, attacked Spanish ships carrying New World silver and African slaves, all the while shamelessly hitting on Spanish women. The proceeds of these raids funded Protestant uprisings in Europe. The last straw was Elizabeth’s execution of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in 1587.
Spanish King Philip hatched a plan: assemble 130 ships under the Marquis’s command, secure the English channel, then rendezvous with the Duke of Parma’s army in the Netherlands. The armada would ferry the troops across the Channel to England in a classic “Reverse Normandy” invasion, and the Protestants, not being in His Sight, would be conquered. Impressive, no?
Ah, the best-laid plans of Popes and Kings. Philip argued with the Marquis over the size of the armada. The Marquis wanted 510 ships, Philip gave him 130, so the Marquis unexpectedly died. Meanwhile, Drake preemptively attacked the Spanish and Portuguese coast, destroying supplies for the Armada and gaining intelligence (including +3 to initiative rolls). Yet finally, commanded by the less-able Duke of Medina-Sidonia (a 2nd-tier Dukedom relegated from the Premier League), the Armada set sail for the Channel.
Drake and the English ships gained strategic position within the Channel while harrying the larger Spanish fleet. The evening of July 28th, 1588 found the Spanish fleet anchored tightly together off the coast of Northern France. At midnight the English, perhaps playing to their enemies’ religious proclivities, sent eight fireships downwind toward the Spanish fleet. Fireships (as if we all didn’t already know) are empty hulls filled with tar, brimstone and gunpowder, lit spectacularly on fire and cast toward the enemy. Impressive certainly, but the Spanish thought they were “hellburners,” demonic floating bombs their Catholic grandmothers warned them about as children. The Spanish ships cut their anchors and scattered. No ships were lost, but the Spanish formation was disrupted and the English moved in for battle.
In the ensuing Battle of Gravelines, the English sank five Spanish ships and damaged many more. The Spanish sailors were trained to fire their cannons once, then close range and prepare to board yee scurvy perros! The English ships were more maneuverable, in better position in the water, had a longer range of cannon, and could fire repeatedly. The English drove the Spanish north, away from the Spaniards’ planned meeting point with Parma’s army, and pursued them until it was clear they would not return south.
The mighty Spanish Armada, running low on food and water (thanks to Drake’s earlier supply attacks), was forced to return to Spain via the hazardous trip north around the British Isles. Many ships had been damaged in the battle, and were missing anchors they had cut to escape the fireships. Cold weather and storms in the north Atlantic (that ol’ Protestant Wind) drove dozens of ships against the rocky shore. The Spanish tossed the cavalry horses overboard, causing cook Pedro of Sevilla to rend his clothes and expletive in their mothers’ milk. Only 67 ships returned to Spain.
The loss of the “Invincible Armada” was a momentous occasion for Europe. The English navy’s superior maneuverability and gunnery skills proved superior to the Spanish fire-and-board naval tactics, leading to a permanent change in naval strategy. Protestant forces were energized by the victory and the English were downright giddy. Finally, it marked the beginning of the decline in the Spanish Empire, opening the door for English and French ascendancy.
The moral of the story? Never call your armada invincible.
Drink: Protestant Wind
- 151 Rum
- Assemble a pint of sangria with ample “rocks.”
- Cast a flaming shot of 151 upon the sangria!
- Drink the sangria with a straw until it is finished amidst the rocks.
- Finish the rum.