The Massive Spanish Armada Departs From Lisbon

Today on May 28, 1588, the massive Spanish Armada departs from Lisbon on a mission to conquer England.

The Spanish Armada is one of the most famous planned naval invasions in history. The enormous 130-ship fleet left Lisbon as part of a coordinated assault against England. Hostilities between the two countries steadily increased in the years leading up to the invasion. For context, Spain was one of the most powerful and devout Catholic states at the time. On the other hand, England had been adopting Protestantism under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. For a brief time, King Philip II of Spain had been married to Queen Mary of England (Elizabeth’s Catholic half-sister). Religious tensions certainly played an integral role in sparking the war.

Deep political strifes also existed between the two monarchs. It was well-known that Elizabeth hired privateers, like Sir Francis Drake, to attack Spanish shipping and trading routes. A pseudo ‘cold war’ was brewing. In 1585, England signed a treaty with Dutch rebels to support their uprising against Spain. King Philip was outraged and ordered the construction of a massive flotilla to invade England. The Spanish Armada consisted of 130 ships manned by 8,000 sailors. Roughly 40 of the vessels were warships. Along with thousands of guns, the flotilla carried nearly 18,000 soldiers. Under the command of Medina-Sidonia, the Spanish Armada planned to rendezvous with additional Spanish forces in Flanders. The Duke of Parma (Governor of Spanish-Netherlands) awaited the Spanish Armada with another 30,000 soldiers.

England was simply no match for the impressive Spanish Armada. By 1587, spies had informed Elizabeth of Spain’s massive preparations for invasion. In response, the Queen recruited her most faithful naval commander, Francis Drake, to lead the English navy. Elizabeth ordered a preemptive strike against the enemy. Drake immediately sailed to the Port of Cadiz, surprise attacking the Spanish shipping yards. Dozens of vessels and supplies were destroyed, delaying the invasion by several months. This provided Elizabeth with much needed time to continue her preparations. The English built defensive earthworks around likely beach landings. A massive chain was also raised to block the entryway into the Thames. Lord Charles Howard and Drake took command of the Royal Navy with 40 warships at their disposal. Dozens of merchant ships were outfitted with guns to support the main fleet.

On May 28, 1588, the Spanish Armada was finally ready to depart. After only a few weeks of sailing, they were spotted by the English. Howard and Drake raced to confront their enemy. The Royal Navy harassed the Armada on several occasions, but no decisive battles occurred. On August 8, the English destroyed many ships at the Battle of Gravelines. The Spanish Armada subsequently faced severe storms that blew their ships into the North Sea. Unable to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma, the fleet began to sustain heavy losses. Weather and disease killed some 15,000 men as the Spanish Armada attempted to return home.

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