The Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada

The Spanish armada was sent by the King of Spain, Philip II, to invade England and restore Catholicism. Queen Elizabeth I had renounced her Roman Catholic faith, and many of her subjects were Protestant. The Protestant Church of England had broken away from the Catholic Church years earlier under her father Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 until his death in 1547.

King Philip's Ambitions

As a result of the dissolution of Henry's Catholic church, many English Catholics were alienated from their homeland and became hostile to King Philip. He was a resolute and autocratic monarch who had the resources to assemble one of Europe's largest naval forces ever seen against his island foe. His ambitions were to take England and replace it with his own kingdom. This, of course, was not what most of the people in England wanted. However, despite this, the King's plans were pushed forward by the Catholic sympathizers in his kingdom. His desire to rid England of the Protestant Queen was partly inspired by the death of his wife Mary Tudor in 1587 and by the Pope's excommunication of Elizabeth.

The Armada's Composition

In his attempts to oust Elizabeth, Philip sent a large fleet of ships out to sea in July 1588. These ships were designed and built in Spain. The Armada comprised a mixture of line-of-battle and transport vessels. The majority of them were galleons, which had high fore and after castles from which hand guns could be fired, and crews that grappled the enemy ship so that armed soldiers could board it. The ship also acted as a base from which soldiers could fire their arrows or handguns at the enemy. These ships were tall and broad and a bit awkward to sail. This may have contributed to the Armada's defeat at the hands of the English in three encounters off Plymouth, Portland Bill and the Isle of Wight.

The English Response

As the tide turned, 55 English ships set out to confront the Armada from Plymouth under Lord Howard of Effingham with Sir Francis Drake as vice admiral. They were assisted by Sir John Hawkins as rear admiral. In the weeks and months before their arrival, the English were able to build up a large force of ships, including many light craft that had not been used in wars for decades. The Royal Navy had also reformed its gunnery to improve the accuracy of its cannons. The English ships were very well armed and had a wide range of guns with many different calibers of bullets. These included 9, 6, and 4 lb. shot and also some lighter weight cartridges, such as musket balls and flints.

The Battle Tactics

While a lot of the ammunition was being wasted in volleys at close quarters, some of it was still being used to defend against the Spanish guns. This was due to the fact that the guns of the Spanish ships were not properly designed and suited for countering the volleys of English gunfire. The English were able to counter this by firing volleys of their own cannon and then firing a series of shorter volleys at the same target. This was not enough to damage the Spanish ships. The crescent-shaped sailing formation that the English ships adopted was very effective, and it allowed them to avoid bringing their ships to close quarters, where they would have been hit by the heavier Spanish cannons.

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