World History I
21 May 2013
Failure of Spanish Armada
In May 1588, the Spanish Armada left the Portuguese port of Lisbon, headed for England with more than 130 ships. Since their discovery of the New World almost 100 years before, the Spanish had built one of the wealthiest and most powerful empires on earth. King Philip II of Spain wanted to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England for both political and religious reasons. Elizabeth had assisted the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands to overthrow Spanish rule in the region. She also had been allowing English pirates called privateers to attack Spanish treasure ships returning from the New World. What only added fuel to the fire were the religious disputes between a Catholic Spain and a Protestant England, whose national church had split from the Catholic Church after the excommunication of Henry VIII in 1535. Outnumbered and outgunned, the English defeated the Spanish Armada in a series of unforgettable naval encounters. The serendipitous event of the English victory over the Armada changed the balance of world power. It would have never been possible without happenstance occurrences like, death, weather, and new naval designs and strategies.
Just months before Phillip’s Armada was launched, Don Alvaro de Bazen, Marquise of Santa Cruz, died of typhus in January. Santa Cruz had been a veteran leader and a naval captain unequalled in confidence and skill at the time. He was a narcissistic, avaricious, and cruel man; these qualities made him the ideal naval commander. It was said that only four people attended his burial, “and his death was regretted by no one”. (Martin 146) If he had not passed, Santa Cruz would’ve been the ideal admiral for the mission because he was so widely respected and was willing to die for his country without a second thought. One who knew Santa Cruz said he was “a grizzled veteran of Lepanto, offered to take on the whole English Navy at the word of the King”. The English would never have had a chance at victory over the Spanish Armada led by such a solid and able soldier. The replacement for Santa Cruz was chosen by King Philip II himself. He chose Don Alonso Perez de Guzman, the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Medina Sidonia’s qualifications to lead the Armada were lackluster. While the Duke had a vast knowledge of naval technique, he lacked combat experience. However he was the head of one of Spain’s most ancient and aristocratic families, and King Philip II therefore saw Medina Sidonia as the seemingly perfect leader for his Armada because he was the head of such a respectable family. (Martin 147) Yet no victories bolstered his pedigree. When the Duke received the letter from the King asking him to lead the Armada, it wasn’t a surprise however. Since the very early stages of planning for the Armada, Medina Sidonia had been there and was already well briefed. As if portending his failure, he wrote a series of letters to King Philip II stating that he didn’t want the job. One of his reasons included in the letter was “for I know by the small experience I have had afloat that I soon become seasick…” (Martin 149) Acknowledging that he was not fit for the job and that his qualifications did not add up to those necessary for the Armada to succeed, Medina Sidonia conceded that “furthermore this force is so great and the undertaking so important, that it would not be right for a person like myself, possessing no experience of seafaring or war, to take charge of it. I have no doubt that his Majesty will do the favor which I humbly beg, and will not entrust me to do a task of which certainly, I shall not give a good account; for I do not understand it, know nothing about it, have no health for the sea and have no money to spend upon it”. (Martin 147) The king merely overlooked the Duke’s explanation as improper humility. What the King was oblivious to was that Medina Sidonia had written a second letter two days later, where he...
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