Spanish Armada, the great naval armament sent by King Philip II. of Spain, in 1588, for the conquest of England. The fullest account of this armament is given in a book published about the time it set sail by order of Philip, under the title La felicisima Armada que el rey Don Felipe nuestro Senor mando juntar en el puerto de Lisbon, 1588, hecha por Pedro de Pax Salas. A copy of this work was procured for Lord Burleigh, so that the English government was beforehand acquainted with every detail of the expedition. (This copy, containing notes up to March, 1588, is now in the British museum.) The fleet is therein stated to have consisted of 05 galleons and large ships, 25 ureas of 300 to 700 tons, 19 tenders of 70 to 100 tons, 13 small frigates, 4 galeasses, and 4 galleys; in all, 130 vessels, with a total tonnage of 75,868 tons. They were armed with 2,431 guns, of which 1,497 were of bronze, mostly full cannon (48 pdrs.), culverines (long 30 and 20 pdrs.), etc.; the ammunition consisted of 123,790 round shot and 5,175 cwt. of powder, giving about 50 rounds per gun, at an average charge of 4 1/2 lbs. The ships were manned with 8,456 sailors, and carried 19,295 soldiers and 180 priests and monks. Mules, carts, etc., were on board to move the field artillery when landed.
The whole was provisioned, according to the above authority, for six months. This fleet, unequalled in its time, was to proceed to the Flemish coast, where another army of 30,000 foot and 4,000 horse, under the duke of Parma, was to embark, under its protection, in flat-bottomed vessels constructed for the purpose, and manned by sailors brought from the Baltic. The whole were then to proceed to England. In that country Queen Elizabeth had, by vigorous exertions, increased her fleet of originally 30 ships to about 180 vessels of various sizes, but generally inferior in that respect to those of the Spaniards. They included a large number of privateers, armed merchantmen, and vessels furnished by the nobility, and were manned by 17,500 sailors. They were wretchedly provisioned, and so ill supplied with ammunition that they could hardly have made a serious tight but for the powder which they captured from the enemy. The English military force was divided into two armies: one, of 18,500 men, under the earl of Leicester, for immediately opposing the enemy; the other, of 45,000, for the defence of the queen's person.
According to a MS. in the British museum, entitled "Details of the English Force assembled to Oppose the Spanish Armada" (MS. Reg. 18th, c. xxi.), 2,000infantry were also expected from the Low Countries. The armada was to leave Lisbon in the beginning of May, but, owing to the death of the admiral Santa Cruz and his vice admiral, the departure was delayed. The duke of Medina Sidonia, a man totally unacquainted with naval matters, was now made captain general of the fleet; his vice admiral, Martinez de Ricalde, however, was an expert seaman. Having left Lisbon for Corunna for stores, May 29, 1588, the fleet was dispersed by a violent storm, and, though all the ships joined at Corunna with the exception of four, they were considerably shattered, and had to be repaired. Reports having reached England that the armament was completely disabled, the government ordered its own ships to be laid up; but Lord Howard, the admiral, opposed this order, set sail for Corunna, learned the truth, and on his return continued warlike preparations. Soon after, being informed that the armada had hove in sight, he weighed anchor, and as it passed Plymouth, July 31, stood out in its rear and opened a destructive fire.
Having the windward position, and being greatly superior in speed, he was able to inflict serious damage without loss to himself. All the way along the channel the English followed the armada with the same tactics, taking skilful advantage of the changing winds, harassing the Spaniards, capturing two or three of their best vessels, and yet keeping all the while virtually out of reach. The Spaniards proceeded toward the coast of Flanders, keeping as close together as possible. In the various minor engagements which took place, the English always won the victory over the clumsy and undermanned Spanish galleons, crowded with soldiers. The Spanish artillery, too, was very badly served, and almost always planted too high. Off Calais the armada cast anchcr, waiting for the duke of Parma's fleet to come out of the Flemish harbors; but Parma had nothing but unarmed barges, and could not come out until the armada had beaten off the Anglo-Dutch blockading squadron. Driving the Spaniards out of Calais roads by means of fire ships, Aug. 8, Howard and Drake now forced them toward the Flemish coast, with the purpose of getting them into the North sea and cutting off their communications with Dunkirk. The battle began at daybreak off Gravelines, and lasted till dark.
The Spaniards were completely defeated. Several of their largest ships were lost, and 4,000 men were killed, and probably at least as many more wounded. It was impossible either to return to Calais or to reach the duke of Parma. The provisions were nearly exhausted, and the English fleet, apparently little injured, still hovered on their weather beam. It was imperative that they should return to Spain for fresh stores. The passage through the channel being closed by the English fleet, the Spaniards, now counting 120 vessels, undertook to round Scotland and Ireland. But in the neighborhood of the Orkneys they were dispersed by a storm. Some of them foundered. About 30 were afterward wrecked on the W. coast of Ireland. Those of the crews who escaped to shore were killed generally, and it was calculated that about 14,000 thus perished. The remnant which reached Spain in September and October, with Sidonia and Recalde, numbered only 54 vessels and 9,000 or 10,000 starving men,