The 1588 Defeat of the Spanish Armada

Every once in a while you have a teacher and subject that makes school interesting. History is one of my favorite subjects, and this battle played a crucial role in the shaping of the American colonies.

In the year 1588 A.D. a battle between two world powers (England and Spain) ensued that would determine the fate of Protestantism in the western world. The Spanish Armada was one of the greatest naval forces the world had ever seen, it “consisted of 130 warships carrying 2,431 cannon and 22,000 sailors and soldiers,” (Taylor, 65). The Armada vastly outnumbered the weaker, smaller English Navy. “The English warships were fewer and smaller but also faster, more mobile, and mounted with longer-range cannon,” (Taylor, 65). Philip II, King of Spain from 1556-1598, believed that he was doing God’s will of cleansing England of Protestantism. He mentions to one of his commanders, “ You are engaged in God’s service and in mine – which is the same thing,” (Taylor, 64). In England, the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I held the throne, and with a much inferior navy compared to the Spanish, overseas colonization was far too costly, therefore not deemed a priority. “Instead… the crown subcontracted colonization by issuing licenses and monopolies to private adventurers…” (Taylor, 118). One such adventurer was Sir Francis Drake, who would play a vital role in “the fight for Protestantism.”

Sir Francis Drake, who was essentially a pirate, had convinced the crown and other investors that “hee that commaunds the sea, commaunds the trade, and hee that is Lord of the Trade of the world is lord of the wealth of the worlde,” (Taylor, 119). Having an approval to pirate the seas and raid the Spanish, Drake “ravaged the Caribbean coast…” (Taylor, 65) With his colonies being terrorized, his religion being undermined and Protestants rebelling in northern continental Europe, Philip II was furious. To show his dominance and the power he received from God himself, the Spanish King sent his Armada to conquer the English and finally put a stop to the Protestant heresy once and for all.

The great battle was the deciding factor in whether England and her colonies would have the freedom to choose their religion, or if there would be (as had been the case in the Netherlands) a mass slaughtering of the Protestants. Because the English ships were more maneuverable, and they had the home advantage the English prevailed. “They broke up the Armada, which in retreat homeward was battered by storms in the North Sea and Irish Sea that destroyed or crippled most of the Spanish vessels,” (Taylor, 65).

“The rival nations (the French, Dutch, and English) gradually recognized that raiding was only a hit-or-miss means to capture the benefits of overseas empire… the European rivals needed their own colonies,” (Taylor, 66). In 1620, just thirty-two years after the sinking of the Armada, the Puritans in England leave for Massachusetts Bay; founding cities such as Boston, Salem, Plymouth, and others. Had they not left to start theses cities, had King James I not taken over Elizabeth I’s throne, had the “Virgin Queen” not defeated the Armada, America today would not be the free state and would have been shaped very differently.


Source and Recommendations:

Alan Taylor’s American Colonies: The Settling of North America Vol. 1

An interesting strategical documentary on how the battle was won.

Or, for a fantastic dramatization of the battle, Elizabeth – The Golden Age is a great movie.