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The Spanish Armada was the brainchild of King Philip II of Spain.
He was one of the most powerful monarchs of his time and had the desire to become the master of western Europe. His chief rival was England under Queen Elizabeth I.
An armada is a Spanish term used to denote a large fleet of ships. We translate it to a 'great and fortunate navy'. They built the Spanish armada under the direct orders of Philip II. It comprised 130 Spanish ships that carried a troop as big as approximately 8,000 sailors and over 18,000 soldiers to take part in the invasion of England. At the time of its completion, the Spanish fleet was deemed to be the strongest navy ever to be built.
Let's look at the events that led to its emergence in the first place. The 15th and 16th centuries together form what we know as the Age of Discovery. It was a time when European explorers were sailing around the world to find unknown places to trade with or colonize or both. This phenomenon began after famous navigators such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan embarked on perilous journeys and found novel routes and lands for their respective overlords. Spain was the champion of the seas in the latter half of the 16th century, when King Philip was on the throne. It had colonized large parts of the Americas. They had a huge empire on mainland Europe that included Spanish Netherlands.
When England realized Spain was becoming more powerful and rich day after day, chiefly due to its naval prowess, it interfered in both its business and political interests. However, the root cause behind the animosity between Spain and England lay somewhere else. For this, we have to wind the clock back to the time when Queen Elizabeth I's father, King Henry VIII, was ruling England. He was married to Catherine of Aragon. But during his marriage, he fell in love with another woman named Anne Boleyn. To marry her, Henry needed to divorce his wife. But as per the rules laid down by the Roman Catholic Church of the time, no man could marry another woman while his wife was still alive. This infuriated the king, and he broke ties with the Catholic Church of Rome headed by the Pope. This led to the creation of the Church of England, of which Henry became the figurehead.
Henry VIII was succeeded by his Catholic daughter Mary I, who took Philip II as her consort. After her short reign, Mary's Protestant half-sister Elizabeth ascended the throne. The widower King of Spain was initially in favor of the new queen, asking for her hand in marriage. The hostilities began when Elizabeth changed her pro-Spanish foreign policies and started supporting a Dutch rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands. To make matters worse, English ships and privateers such as Francis Drake were looting and harassing Spanish ships and merchant vessels not just off the English coast but all across the North Atlantic Ocean.
The final blow that made them enemies was dealt in the year 1587, when the English Queen passed the death sentence on Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary Stuart was known as Mary, Queen of Scots before being removed from power by Protestant nobles in her court with the active involvement of the English crown. She was then imprisoned in England for 19 years. Being a Catholic and a cousin of Elizabeth, English Catholics saw her as the rightful ruler of England. Her death caused a furor in Catholic circles around Europe and forced Philip II to act against Protestant England.
If you are finding this article interesting, click on Spain food facts and Spain Flag facts!
Under these circumstances, Spain invaded England to place a Catholic monarch on the throne. Philip planned to send the Spanish fleet first to Flanders, Belgium, via the English Channel to meet up with the Spanish troops under the command of the Duke of Parma and then use the combined Spanish Army and navy to stage an invasion of England. Parma's army was supposed to be the chief instrument used to bring England under Spanish rule. He made the Duke of Medina Sidonia the commander of the Spanish Armada.
The fateful day arrived in May 1588 when the gigantic fleet of Spanish ships left Lisbon. It must have been quite a sight watching so many armed ships leave the port. The buoyant mood of the Spanish was short-lived, however, as the armada failed to fulfill its aim and made its way back to Spain. What was the greatest naval invading force until that point was reduced to a fleet of 65 ragtag ships boarded with starving sailors and soldiers by the cunning of the English Royal Navy.
Following the sink of plans at Gravelines, the remaining armada set sail north up towards the east coast of England, all the way to the North Sea. From there, they took a U-turn and sailed home after rounding up Ireland.
How do you think the English troops defeated the mighty Spanish Armada? Was it solely because of a better strategy? Or something else?
The defeat of the armada came as a major shock to many. The fleet that was supposed to be invincible fell inflicting no noticeable damage to its opponents. This was mainly because Spanish shipping was focused solely on the size of their navy, whereas the English took more interest in the technological advancement of their naval machinery. Out of the 130 ships of the armada, many were not fit for naval warfare. They were built to ferry soldiers across the sea. Again, the Spanish cannons that were fitted alongside the hulls were heavier and harder for the Spanish gunners to reload. The galleons in the armada were more suited to the then-contemporary styles of warfare, which was to ram against enemy ships and then enable soldiers to cross over and engage in direct one-on-one fights. The English had better foresight. They knew they wouldn't be able to withstand close encounters with Spanish warships. So they devised a new strategy to neutralize the threat.
Hence, the advancement in military planning and technology played a key role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The English were soon to become the new naval superpower.
In all the modern era, England came under the threat of invasion three times. First was the episode with the Spanish Armada. The other instances were during the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Even after the disaster that the armada met with, Spain remained a major power in Europe for the next 100-odd years.
During the Battle of Gravelines, the English ships under Francis Drake attacked their Spanish counterparts from a position of advantage. They made sure that they were facing the windward side of the Spanish ships. This prevented the Spanish soldiers from closing in on the English ships. And from a distance, the English sailors could bombard their hull and rudder with artillery relentlessly. This new technique was used brilliantly when the English launched their surprise attack on the ill-prepared Spanish. Once the armada was caught off-guard at Gravelines, the English inflicted a lot of damage and destruction on the Spanish fleet.
The legend of Queen Elizabeth, who rallied her troops at Tilbury while portraying herself as a feeble woman, grew even stronger after this success. It surely gave the English a major boost in self-confidence and made colonizing the new world easier. They even sent a counter armada the following year to take on the Spanish in northern Spain. England became one of the strongest naval powers and dominated world politics for the ensuing three centuries. It surpassed Spain in the race for colonizing North America. They left Spain with the area around present-day Florida and parts of Central and South America.
Early modern naval warfare changed once and for all after the Spanish rout. No longer was strength in numbers vital to winning a sea battle. Clear battle plans, superior arms and ammunition, and the help of stormy weather became more important than mere numbers.
The decisive battle between the English fleet and the Spanish Armada took place on the morning of Aug 8, 1588. The Spanish Admiral Medina Sidonia had given orders to his officers to anchor the fleet off the coast of Gravelines. It is a French town near modern-day Calais. The English fleet under the command of Sir Francis Drake had already derailed the plans of the Spanish the previous night when they had sent eight fire ships toward the latter's ships anchored at Calais.
The characteristic feature of the armada was the way it moved. It always maintained a crescent shape while on the water to better defend itself against enemy attacks. What the English fire ships did was break this crescent formation on the night of Aug 7. This was catastrophic for the armada, with the entire contingent of ships breaking formation to get away from the English fire ships.
Once they had settled near the coast of Gravelines and anchored, the English fleet charged at them mercilessly. The casualties on the Spanish side were huge. They lost over 35 ships, and thousands of their soldiers died, were heavily wounded, or were captured. The English imprisoned 400 Spanish soldiers in a barn of an abbey in Torquay, Devon in England. This area has subsequently become known as the Spanish barn.
In the end, Elizabeth I proved her doubters wrong by quashing Philip II's dream of capturing England.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Spanish armada facts, then why not take a look at Spain Christmas symbols or Spain soccer facts?
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