|1588 A.D. - God's Weather: The Spanish Armada Attacks England|
|Written by Dan Curry|
|Thursday, 21 February 2008|
1588 A.D. : God's Weather: The Spanish Armada of Phillip II Attacks England
Phillip II of Spain was a religiously devout ruler - of that there is little doubt. And he had a hand to play, as they say. He was the sovereign of a nation that was militarily mighty at that time - the most mighty. Spain had gained a great deal of wealth from the new world, it controlled a vast world empire, and had been victorious in it's recent military endeavors such as incorporating Portugal into their nation, and fighting in the Azores.
It then came to Phillip's heart that Protestant England should be returned to the Catholic faith, that this was God's will, and that he, Phillip, was the sovereign who could accomplish this for God. He was the King consort to Mary, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, and had no liking for the events that had allowed Elizabeth to supercede his Mary. So, determined to act, he made his plans, and soon enough a mighty fleet was ready for the attempt. They left with 8000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers on 130 ships (22 were warships and 108 were converted merchant vessals.)
With Phillip fervently praying for the success of his mighty fleet (and he did pray fervently,) they sailed from Lisbon to launch their attack upon England, moving northward up towards the English Channel. The Duke of Parma was to meet them in Flanders with 30,000 more soldiers who would assist in invading England once the Spanish picked them up and ferried them there.
But from the first, it seemed God was against Phillip's effort. The weather was severely punishing them even as they sailed towards England. Their ships were tossed about so badly in the storm that there was a considerable loss of morale among the crews.
As they reached England they were met by determined resistance from the smaller English war fleet. Being familiar with the North Sea storms, they were practiced rough water sailors. Their English ships were smaller in size than the Spanish ships, and lighter. But they were also more maneuverable.
The English ships carried more iron cannon, which had some advantages over the predominantly brass cannon carried by the Spanish. Iron cannons could be loaded to fire a little more quickly, and they were stronger and less likely to explode, so more range was possible. They could strike their target from further away.
Yet really, the advantage should have lay with the Spanish fleet. There were a lot of Spanish ships to contend with, and they were well armed. It was an age of 'ramming and boarding' in naval warfare, however. So the Spanish had the unfortunate habit of firing their cannons only once, then racing topside to be ready to board the English ships. They left much of their munitions unfired.
The English, on the other hand, were employing a somewhat new tactic of avoiding this grappling together of ships. It was more their tactic in this conflict to try to stay upwind, then shoot the Spanish ships below the waterline as they heled over in the wind, as sailing ships do. And this basically frusterated the Spanish.
As several different battles were enjoined in the English Channel and off France's coast, it was the Spanish who kept getting the worst of it. The seas were rough, as mentioned. And they liked to configure their fleet into a sort of floating crescent shape when they layed over in port. This configuration was actually pretty tough to effectively attack. But when they ported, waiting to pick up allied soldiers, they were forced out of this geometric array that they were familiar with by British tactics such as blazing 'hell burner' fire ships (burning ships steered by the English into the ranks of the anchored Spanish, causing confusion, collision, and damage to sail, ship, and rope.) The fire ships used at Calais, for instance, caused the Spanish to disperse from their crescent shaped defensive posture, and leave their safe little cove. Once out, the winds prevented them from ever regaining that harborage. In short, the British harrying tactics were able to prevent the Spanish from picking up the 30,000 soldiers that were supposed to help them invade England. Also, the soldiers and Spanish had communication problems, and the soldiers weren't ready to board when the Spanish reached harbor.
The Commander of the Spanish fleet (the Duke of Medina Sidonia) decided to flee northward in the English channel, and then turn westward to circle around the coast of Scotland and then past Ireland as well. He had lost many ships already. The English ships gave chase; unbeknownst to the Spanish they were pretty well out of gun powder, and it was largely a bluff. The English had been poorly provisioned for this battle, but had gaurded their secret from Spain's Armada (called Armada Envencible: hint - don't ever name a ship 'unsinkable' or an Armada 'invincible'. God may sometimes see such things as a personal challenge.) The British Commanders were led by Lord Howard of Effingham, and Sir John Hawkins, but included Sir Francis Drake. Drake was actually a subordinate officer, but was so renowned as a Captain and skilled sailor that he was given much deference and latitude to act in these sea battles by his practical minded superiors. This was not the time to press the 'social status' issues. All was at stake!
These encounters lasted for more than a week. Queen Elizabeth went to the sea side to stand ready among her soldiers, saying they would pray for God's favor, and that she would meet her fate with them. This greatly cheered and invigorated them all. As America would one day face the 'invincible British Army', England was now facing the renowned 'Spanish Armada', and the English must have been praying throughout the land.
When the battered Spanish fleet broke out of the north end of the Channel their luck got even worse. They encountered a particularly savage series of the storms and gales prevalent in the vicinity of the Hebrides Islands. It was such fierce weather that they found sailing in it to be nearly impossible, yet they had to try. The British were pressuring them. Around 23 of the remaining Spanish ships met their fate here, crashing into the rocky coasts or sinking.
Weather did about as much damage in total as the fighting. Many ships had gotten rid of their anchors to save the weight, and could not successfully moore their ships when they needed to. Some of the Spanish sailors made it to shore on Ireland, but fierce threats were made to the Catholic Irish against helping them, and most of these ship wrecked sailors were apprehended and killed as invaders by the Irish, shared religious denomination not withstanding. Apparently it was a combination: England's threats against the Irish if they helped, but also the way they saw it, an invader is an invader.
The remaining Spanish ships made it back with great hardship. They suffered from hunger and sickness. Disease broke out. Around half the ships were lost altogether, and the rest made it home in a wretched state. Many were lashed together by ropes around the hull because the weather had beat them so badly. Phillip's great Armada had failed, though it should have succeeded. And it's failing was such that it seriously hurt the maritime power of Spain for a time. Spain reacted quickly over the next years by beefing up it's Navy, so it remained dominate in the short term, and would actually be dealt it's most serious blow by the Dutch in the middle of the next century, 60 some years later.
But in England, these encountesr with Spain's Armada left them confident, even a little cocky! England was now viewed in some circles as an up and coming power upon the seas. And any Spanish plans to fight them at sea contained a new element of respect for their adversary.
The far-flung British Empire was subsequently formed (in the mid 1600's) using this new found maritime muscle, and those forced to become part of that Empire became an English speaking and Protestant leaning group of nations as the years went by. The subjugated and incorporated peoples of the British Empire were allowed and ultimately even encouraged to own and read the Bible. The Bible became available in their local languages in many instances. Churches and missions sprang up.
While there is no reason to ascribe entirely noble motives to Britain's Imperialism of that day - it was based on profit and power, like all imperialist expansions - there were none the less many great benefits for the Kingdom of God which sprang from Britain's growth. Many souls came to know of Jesus.
While weather can always be explained away by the non-believers, the Bible's narratives, New Testament and Old, make it plain that the weather is in the hand of God, and obeys his commands. The people of the Protestant Reformation were given the nod of approval very clearly during this sequence of events, it seemed to those at the time, for the Catholic Monarch Phillip II was praying with great fervency that God would give Spain victory in this battle and bring Britain back into the Catholic fold. But given a chance to favor either (as Britain prayed to him no less fervently for victory), God's weather favored England.
What has not yet been mentioned is that England was finding it useful to ally with the Dutch at this point in time, and this gave the Dutch needed protection from the Spanish, who already ruled a portion of the Netherlands. Attacking the Dutch now meant contending with the English as well, and this was a consideration suggesting restraint. A little group that would one day become America's Pilgrims were thus protected from Spanish rule by this battle. In 1620 they would take the Mayflower across the ocean and land at Plymouth Harbor. It couldn't have happened the same way if Spain had won this battle. God allowed the ascendency to go for the time being to anti-Catholic Britain. A Protestant wind had been sent.
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