The Elizabethan Era – An A To Z

Peter Cooke – Author

A is for:


The invincible armada sent in 1588 by Philip II of Spain was a defining moment in the Elizabethan era.  His intention was to overthrow Elizabeth I of England, to stop English involvement in the Spanish Netherlands and English privateering in the Atlantic and Pacific.  It wasa also to punish England for the execution of Mary Stuart,

During the initial engagement between the two fleets, the Spanish were in the ascendancy. Their crescent formation and superiority of numbers, made it difficult for the English fleet to engage ship to ship. Ships that tried, came under fire from several ships at once. The Armada sailed serenely on until they made port in Calais. Once the Spanish ships had dropped anchor, under cover of darkness, the English sent eight fire-ships into the anchorage. Panic ensued in the Spanish fleet. Anchor cables were cut and the fleet fled out to sea in disorder. This suited the English fleet and with their superior fire-power, they began to engage ship to ship, causing serious damage to individual ships. Five ships were sunk and many severely damaged. In all some 600 Spanish men were killed and almost 400 captured. The English lost no ships and only 50 – 100 men.

It has been said, by some historians of the Elizabethan era,  that the storms which now intervened and forced the Armada to flee north, saved the English fleet from destruction. It is true that many Spanish ships were lost on inhospitable coasts, as they tried to round Scotland.  Many ships reached Ireland, but as storms drove them towards the coast, the lack of anchors proved decisive. Many ships ran aground, and the loss of life was huge. In all some 20,000 men and more than 50 ships were lost. It was a disaster, but it saved them from an even more humiliating defeat at the hands of the English fleet, which was far superior on a ship-to-ship basis. Of the 130 ships that set out from Spain, only 67 returned and Spain never regained her former position as the leading Catholic nation.

This engagement changed England from a small off-shore island to a major force in the world. The fact that England had such a powerful navy was entirely due to the Secretary of State Sir William Cecil and Admiral John Hawkins. Cecil, later made First Baron of Burghley and Lord Chancellor, was a devout protestant, but a man of business.  He believed the Lord would favour the side with the heaviest artillery.  Hawkins was put in charge of the Navy and set about rebuilding the ships, which were in a parlous state. He cleaned up the corrupt ship-building side of the Navy and his innovative designs transformed lumbering, sea-based castles, with troops, into sleek, highly manoeuvrable gun platforms, manned by sailors. Thus the Elizabethan era set the pattern for the next century, as the Navy strengthened it’s fleet to keep its pre-eminent position. It achieved possibly its finest hour, with the defeat of the French at Trafalgar, in 1805. But that’s another story!

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One Response to “The Elizabethan Era – An A To Z”

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  1. Colette says:

    I love this. I’ve learnt something today. Thank you. :)

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