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Study notes

Battle of Gravelines (1588)

  • Levels: GCSE
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

The Battle of Gravelines was an important event in the English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Moored in Calais awaiting the arrival of Spanish troops led by the Duke of Palma, the Spanish Armada was first attacked on 6 August 1588 by unmanned English fire-ships which were set alight and sailed towards the Spanish fleet. Drake had used this tactic successfully in his raid on Cadiz and the effect at Calais was similar - creating panic and fear amongst the Spanish.

Whilst the fire-ships didn't significantly damage the Spanish ships, the effect was to break-up the Armada's battle formation as ships took avoiding action and cut their anchors to move out of the way.

The following day saw a prolonged battle with the English fleet, which had the advantage of lighter, better-armed ships, able to fire on the Spanish Armada without having to get too close. An eight-hour battle raged in poor weather conditions until ammunition was exhausted.

Wind was another problem for the Spanish fleet. The wind was driving them towards shallow water, increasing the risk that the entire fleet could have been grounded. Then the wind changed, and the Spanish were able to escape to the north-east. However, this trapped them in the North Sea, and forced them to return to Spain by sailing around the north coast of Scotland and then down the west coast of Ireland - a perilous journey in which the fleet suffered the loss of many ships and men.

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