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The Spanish Armada threatened the existence of a free England at the end of the 16th century. Under the leadership of Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake the English navy prevailed and secured England's independence and future global influence.






  • Date: 10 Aug 1585 – 28 Aug 1604
  • Location: Earth
  • Start: Treaty of Nonsuch between England & The Netherlands (casus belli for Spain)
  • End: Treaty of London


Parties & Persons Involved

  • Philip II of Spain (1527 – 1598)
  • Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603)
  • Sir John Hawkins (1532 – 1595)
  • Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1596)



  • Tensions between the maritime superpower Spain & the emerging naval power England:
    • Strong growth of English sea trade
    • Increase of English raids against Spanish ships & colonies, esp. Sir John Hawkins (1562-63) & Sir Francis Drake (1577-80)
    • Religious tensions between the Catholic Spain & the Protestant England
  • Opposing positions in international politics:
    • England supports the Protestant Netherlands with troops & money during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) – Treaty of Nonsuch
    • England supports Antonio, the Prior of Crato, against Philip II of Spain during the Portuguese succession crisis (1580-1583)
    • Spain supports the Catholic Irish during the 2nd Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583)
    • Spain financially supports the Catholic side in France (Treaty of Joinville)



The First Acts of War

  • 10 Aug 1585: Treaty of Nonsuch (casus belli for Spain)
  • Sep 1585 – Jul 1586: Drake’s Great Expedition with raids on Vigo, Cape Verde, Santo Domingo, Cartagena de Indias & St. Augustine
  • Feb 1587: The Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed
  • Philip II is outraged & plans the invasion of England
  • Apr 1587: Drake sinks 37 warships in the port of Cadiz


The Spanish Armada

  • May 1588: The Spanish Armada puts out to sea with 130 ships & sails from Lisbon to the Netherlands
  • Aug 1588: After several minor battles in the English Channel the Royal Navy wins the Battle of Gravelines
  • Aug – Sep 1588: The Armada sails around Scotland & Ireland back to Spain – only 67 ships return
  • The Protestant Wind: “He blew with His winds, and they were scattered“


The English Armada & Spanish Successes

  • 1589: The English Armada fails with attacks on La Coruna, Lisbon & the Spanish gold fleet
  • 1590: Successful English-Dutch campaign against Cadiz
  • From 1590: Spain modernises her fleet, introduces a convoy system in the Atlantic & can sustain her naval supremacy
  • 1590: The Spanish take Brittany with the exception of Brest
  • 1595 – 1596: Drake & Hawkins die during an expedition to Middle America
  • 1596: The Spanish take Calais


The End of the War

  • 1598: Henri IV ascents to the French throne, issues the Edict of Nantes, which ends the religious wars in France, & signs the Treaty of Vervins, which ends the Spanish engagement in France
  • 1601: Spanish forces land in Ireland to support Irish rebels in the Nine Years War
  • 1601 - 1602: The decisive English victory in the Battle of Kinsale drives the Spanish out of Ireland
  • 1603: James I is crowned king & starts negotiations with the Spanish king
  • 1604: The Treaty of London restores the status quo ante bellum


Consequences & Impact

  • Spain sustains her colonies & supremacy at sea in the medium-term
  • England stops her support for the Netherlands
  • The English Reformation is secured against foreign (Spanish) threats
  • The English colonialisation of North America is delayed (see also: The Colonialisation of North America)
  • English & Dutch merchants can increase their market share because the Spanish merchant navy is weakened
  • The victory over the Armada lets the English national pride grow & sets the basis for the English / British proud naval tradition