England wins against the Spanish Armanda (1588)
by Rit Nosotro
and beats the French at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
Compare the Spanish Armada with the Battle of Trafalgar.
The naval battle, referred to as the Spanish Armada, between Britain and Spain in 1588 and the naval battle between Britain and the French Fleet at Cape Trafalgar in 1805 were both very important events in English history. Although the outcome of both battles was the same with Britain emerging as the victor, a comparison of the causes, actual battles and short and long term results reveals distinct similarities and differences between the two.
The reasons given for the Spanish invasion of England in 1588 were primarily religious. When Elizabeth I became Queen of England in 1558 she broke ties with the Catholic Church and restored the Protestant Church as the Church of England. This act angered many Catholics of the time, including King Philip of Spain. King Philip was also angered by the fact that the British were providing aid to the Protestant uprising in the Netherlands. King Philip realized he would not be able to put an end to the uprising until he had control of England. Therefore, he devised a plan to dethrone Elizabeth and return England to Catholicism. Like Philip, Napoleon Bonaparte also wanted control of England though religion was not his motivation. Napoleon sent his French Fleet to invade England strictly for personal and political reasons. By 1805 the French dominated the majority of the European continent. However, the British were still in control of the seas. In order to prevent attacks from the French, the English set up a blockade across the English Channel. This blockade was the only thing standing in the way of Napoleon and his complete domination of Europe.
By July of 1588 the Spanish Armada, a fleet of over 130 ships, had set sail for England. The plan was to sail up the English Channel and pick up troops in the Netherlands before invading England. However, the English were aware of this plan and prevented the Armada from reaching the Netherlands. England was inexperienced in naval warfare compared to the Spaniards who had a long history of naval successes. England’s inexperience turned out to be beneficial because they were more willing to try new tactics where the Spanish were stuck in their old ways. Although it took several attempts, and the clever use of fire ships, the English were able to break through the formation and defeat the Spanish Armada in August of 1588. In an attempt to escape, the surviving Spanish ships were forced to limp back around the northern coasts of Scotland and Ireland. It was there that they were caught in a severe storm. Only 67 of the original 130 ships survived the battle and devastating storm. When Philip was told of the outcome of the battle he replied, “I sent my ships to fight against men and not against the winds and waves of God”.."1
The same three factors: experience, tactics, and weather also played major roles in the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar. Napoleon’s plan was separated into stages. First, his French navy was to break through the British blockade acting as a decoy in an effort to draw the English away from Europe. Next, they were to join forces with the Spanish navy from Cadiz. Finally, they were to take control of the English Channel long enough for the French invasion army to cross the waters to the east coast of England. By April of 1805 the first two stages of the plan were complete. It was not until October that the third and final stage was under way. Unfortunately for the combined French and Spanish fleet, they were unable to leave port as planned due to winds and poor weather conditions, thus allowing the British to advance on them by a full day. England was now a more experienced naval force and still willing to try new tactics. Instead of following traditional naval strategy, Admiral Nelson ordered the British fleet to sail in two lines toward the French-Spanish fleet. By doing this the British intersected the French-Spanish fleet and were close enough in range to use their superior gunnery and sailing skills. Although extremely risky, it was this tactic that secured the British victory.
Both battles had short and long term effects on England and her adversaries Spain and France. The British victory over the Spanish Armada was largely attributed to God by both England and Spain. King Philip believed that ‘his sins, and those of the nation, had led God to disown the Armada’.."2 The British on the other hand, believed that it proved God favored the Protestant cause. Elizabeth’s position in the Protestant and political world was clearly advanced and the leaders of Europe were forced to recognize England as a worthy military power. Also, maintaining control of the English Channel allowed the British to continue sending troops to support King Philips enemies in the Netherlands. However, possibly the most significant result was the way the battle revolutionized naval warfare tactics and ship building. Although England’s victory over the Spanish Armada had many positive results, it did not manage to end the war between the two countries. In fact, ‘the nation united behind the King of Spain in its refusal to accept defeat’.."3 Since many of Spain’s ships returned intact they were able to repair and improve the ships quickly and launch another attack. This ongoing war with Spain prevented England from exploring and settling in the New World as they had hoped. However, ‘although it did not in itself confer control over the waves to the English, it served as inspiration to many future generations of English mariners, shipbuilders, and naval commanders.’."4
Unlike the British victory over the Spanish Armada which was attributed to God, the British victory over the combined French and Spanish fleet was wholly attributed to Admiral Nelson and his superior naval tactics. Unfortunately, Nelson was unable to experience the glory of victory because he died by a sniper’s bullet during the battle. A direct outcome of the victory by Nelson and the British fleet at Trafalgar was that it ended any possible threat of France invading England. ‘Napoleon was without ships and without sailors or the spirit to ever control the English Channel’.."5 It was a crippling loss for Napoleon and marked the decline of the French navy. The loss also affected France’s ability to conduct international trade resulting in economic disaster. For England, however, the victory secured their place as leader of the sea, a position they would maintain for over a century to come.
1. Which of the following was not a result of the Battle of Trafalgar?
(a) Ended any possible threat of France invading England
(b) France’s ability to conduct international trade was affected
(c) Nelson returned to England as a hero
(d) England became leader of the sea
2. Which of the following were reasons given for the Spanish invasion in 1588?
(a) To restore the Catholic Church in England
(b) To avenge the beheading of King Philip’s brother
(c) England was providing aid to King Philip’s enemies in the Netherlands
(d) Both a and c
3. Which of the following factors was not a major effect on outcome of the
4. Which of the following statements is not true?
(a) The victory of the Spanish Armada was primarily attributed to Nelson and his superior naval tactics.
(b) Napoleon’s reasons for invasion were strictly political
(c) The British saw the victory over the Spanish Armada as God favoring the Protestant cause
(d) Both battles were very important events in English history
Answers: c, d, b, a
up1Lowman, Michael R., George Thompson and Kurt Grussendorf, United States History: Heritage of Freedom, Second Edition, pg. 17
up2Whiting, Roger. The Enterprise of England, The Spanish Armada, pg. 207
up3Whiting, Roger. The Enterprise of England, The Spanish Armada, pg. 209
up4http://www.historybuff.com/library/refarmada4.html, paragraph 6
up5Watson, Steven J. The Reign of George III 1760-1815, pg. 433
Watson, Steven J. The Reign of George III 1760-1815. London: Oxford University Press, 1960
Keegan, John. Battle at Sea. London: Pimlico, 2004
Loman, Michael R., George Thompson, Kurt Grussendorf. United States History: Heritage of Freedom (2nd Edn). USA: Pensacola Christian College, 2002
Whiting, Roger. Enterprise of England: Spanish Armada. UK: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1988
Konstam, Angus. The Armada Campaign 1588: The Great Enterprise Against England. UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001
Unknown, “Battle of Trafalgar” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Trafalgar>, Unknown, Unknown, September 12, 2004
Unknown, “Spanish Armada” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada>, Unknown, Unknown, September 12, 2004
History Buff, “Spanish Armada Conclusions” <http://www.historybuff.com/library/refarmada4.html> Unknown, Unknown, September 12, 2004
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