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Study notes

Reasons for English Victory in the Spanish Armada

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

English victory in the Spanish Armada was not assured, indeed the Spanish force heading for England was large and Spain was a powerful country in Europe. However, there are several factors which help explain English victory against the Armada. These factors can broadly be grouped into two areas: English success and Spanish mistakes.

English Success:

Firstly, was the design of English ships facing down the Spanish. Elizabeth had been persuaded that she should have ships which were faster and easier to move than the Spanish ships, meaning that they could have turned their guns on enemies faster than the enemy could turn on them. Secondly, small modifications in the design of ships meant that cannons could fire faster and fire more cannon balls at enemy ships. It should however, be remembered that England had only 24 ships to Spain’s 130.

Secondly, within English success were English tactics. English ships had chased the Spanish up the English Channel, meaning that the Spanish could not rest and wait for other parts of the plan to come together. There were short battles outside Plymouth and the Isle of Wight which kept the Spanish on the run. This proved a useful as an opportunity to test the cannon fire of the English and showed that a decisive victory can be won.

Another area of English success was the Battle of Gravelines on the 8th August 1588. Before the battle, English sailors sent fireships towards the Armada whilst it was in Calais. This created chaos with the Armada scattering it. Two days later the Armada met with the English at the Battle of Gravelines. This battle ended the Armada and scattered the remaining ships into the North Sea. Many of the remaining ships were damaged by the winds and storms killing thousands of Spanish soldiers.

Spanish Mistakes:

Firstly, the Spanish did not supply their ships well. The barrels holding supplies were made of a poor quality wood which allowed the food supplies to rot quickly. The issue of poor quality supplies was well recorded by the Spanish leaders as well as records kept by the English soldiers who captured a Spanish ship. As as well as food supplies being poor, the quality of weapons being used were also poor.

In addition to this, the Spanish also suffered from poor communication between Spanish commanders and poor planning in the run up to the Armada. The Spanish forces in the Netherlands under the command of the Duke of Parma did not have access to any deep water ports meaning they had to use the smaller ships to sail, which took longer to load. In addition to this, the communication between commanders had to take place by sea, which meant that some messages took around a week to reach the other, resulting in delays in action.

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