The Battle of the Spanish Armada


The great naval battle between Spain and England in 1588- one of the
most important battles in the history of the world- is known as the Battle of
the Invincible Armada. But in a sense, this is a misnomer. An invincible armada
is one that cannot be defeated, yet the mighty fleet of warships that Spain sent
to invade England, was defeated so badly that Spain could never again rule the
oceans. How was it possible that this armada, which had awed all of Europe with
its size and strength, was unable to stand up against the forces of a much
smaller and less powerful enemy? The answer lies in the differences between
these two countries and their rulers, Elizabeth I of England and Philip II of
Spain.
During the 16th century, Spain was at the height of her power. Newly
discovered worlds and conquests of different peoples had yielded Spain an
abundance of precious metals and gems, which made Spain the envy of all the
other European nations. By 1580, King Philip II was ruling over an empire that
covered three-fourths of the known world. Even the ancient Romans would have
been envious of its size. (Walker 15-19)
Religion was one of the compelling motives behind the actions and
ambitions of Spain. Philip\'s father, Emperor Charles V, had established himself
as the guardian of Christendom. He also had the dream of uniting all of the
Christian European nations against the Turks and the Moors, who had been
terrorizing Catholicism from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. However,
his dreams were hindered with the coming of the Protestant Reformation, which
split Christendom into two parts.(Marx 22-25)
Philip II continued in his father\'s footsteps as the defender of
Catholicism. After the Turks were defeated in a decisive sea battle in 1571,
Philip turned his attention to another serious threat to Christendom: his
Protestant neighbors. Devoutly religious and good friends with Pope Sixtus V,
he was willing to use all of his resources, including his treasures from the New
World, his large army, and his huge fleet of warships, just to unite Europe
under a common Catholic faith. (Marx 28-33)
He probably would have accomplished his goal too, if it weren\'t for the
Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England. England at this time, however, was not
nearly as powerful or as wealthy as Spain. Her tax revenues were so small that
monarchs were forced to sell their jewels and lands just to keep food on the
table. As for a military power, England had a few men and arms, and a fleet of
ships better equipped for trading goods than fighting. (McKee 45)
England was also experiencing other problems during this time. The
other parts of her kingdom- Scotland, Wales, and Ireland- were often in an open
revolt against England over the matter of religion. Even the people of England
herself were divided between Catholicism and Protestantism. Furthermore, a
woman, who was thought to be a weak ruler, occupied the throne.
There were a few major reasons why Philip II needed to conquer England,
or at least befriend her. First, he was a leader in the Catholic movement to
wipe out the heresy of Protestantism. The longer Elizabeth stayed on the throne,
the more difficult this task became. She not only was the most important
Protestant ruler but also provided the Protestants in northern Europe with
support for their resistance against the Church of Rome. In addition, English
Catholics were being persecuted more and more severely, mainly because Elizabeth
feared that they were not loyal to her. For a long time, Philip was forced to
endure this because Spain and the other main Catholic country, France, were
fighting each other, and Philip needed to keep England neutral. But alliances
were never permanent in Europe; countries that were bitter enemies one day
became close allies the next. In 1572, the French decided to join Spain in a
Cath-olic alliance against the Protestants. (Howarth 17-22)
The second reason was more personal to Philip. He greatly wanted to
seek retribution on Elizabeth for all of the anguish she had caused him and his
kingdom. For over twenty years, her privateers had been sacking Spanish
settlements in America and laying claims to these cities. Her Sea Dogs, like
Sir Francis Drake, had stolen on the high seas many Spanish treasures taken from
the New World. This took away from the wealth of Philip\'s kingdom directly.
Furthermore, she had cleverly refused his marriage invitations for years, and
had put down a rebellion, which he had tried to start among the people