It was political and religious turmoil at its worst on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. The French crown massacred over 30,000 Protestant Huguenots. The Papacy in Rome was influencing and exercising the French and Spanish monarchy’s political will over the regions’ loyal Catholic followers and even the religion itself. It was such a divided and violent religious context that drove people to want liberty for their religious views – and that led to more battles. In 1588 that Philip II of Spain (under pressure from the Pope) would send the renowned Spanish Armada to forcefully bring England under the dominion of Rome and the Papacy. Here Daniel L. Smith explains how many at the time thought that providence was the reason behind the Spanish defeat.

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval Jesters (here), How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here), and Spanish Colonial Influence on Native Americans in Northern California (here), and Christian ideology in history (here).

Defeat of the Spanish Armada  by Philip James de Loutherbourg.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Philip James de Loutherbourg.

The four Spanish problems

It is apparent that there were four problem precursors to the main event that disrupted and dissolved the mighty Spanish Armada from invading England.Problem one: Sir Francis Drake attacked the Spanish controlled Cadiz harbor in 1587. During the siege, his massive fleet damaged or destroyed many partially built ships that were being constructed by the Spanish crown for the Armada.

Problem two: The Spanish crews within the fleet were quickly demoralized by rotten food and water. The new wood barrels acquired for the fleet’s food-stores were still quite damp from being made. When barrels are produced, they need certain drying times for a completely finished product, such as a food or water barrel. These still dampened barrels quickly rotted out the food and water supplied for the entirety of the Spanish fleet. Just a few examples of ration losses: 11 million pounds (in weight) of ship biscuits, 40,000 gallons of olive oil, 14,000 barrels of wine, and 600,000 pounds of salted pork.[1]

On to problem three: The plan required logistical support from the Dutch crown to pick up Spanish soldiers in the Netherlands and invade England’s southern counties. The issue here was that there was no such treaty or support structure to allow for such massive military movements.

Problem four: Spain’s Admiral Santa Cruz, who was a respected and successful admiral, died in 1586. The admiral chosen by King Philip II to lead the massive Armada after Cruz’s death was a very rich and successful general called the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Duke Sidonia had never been to sea before. The question lies in this; why charge a man to lead to largest most powerful squadron in the world, who carried absolutely no working or academic knowledge on seamanship? Duke Sidonia even got violently seasick while underway![2]


The invasion – and the storm

The Armada set out to complete their English invasion on July 19, 1588. The fleet of 130 ships – including 22 fighting galleons – sailed in a crescent shape towards the English Channel. As the Spanish Armada sailed through the channel, they were met in force by a much smaller Royal English Navy. The English felt outmatched and quickly demoralized, with no chance of hope. It was during this time of hopelessness that all of England had been fasting and praying. A huge storm arose without any notice whatsoever and pushed the Spanish ships away from Britain’s coast towards the rocky shoals of Holland. This sank a majority of the Spanish Armada, but oddly enough, the smaller English ships were not affected by the wild storm. The English navy managed to maneuver their vessels through the rough seas and next to the Spanish ships. The hardy seamen were able to successfully set fire to the enemy vessels. The English loss of life was minimal. The Spanish lost both massive amounts of both life and property. The inexperienced and disheveled commanders only good option was to return to Spain in tatters. 

The weather battered down on the Armada, and the English were left to control the Channel. In their slow retreat, only one-way out was available: A 1,500-mile journey back around the entire British Isles. A powerful storm, which came in from the north of Scotland, hit that caused havoc over the whole region. On August 22, this storm hit the remaining 112 ships in the fleet—which left the Spanish fleet completely broken. Twenty-four of the unfortunate ships to survive the storm washed up on the jagged coast of Ireland. Lots of other ships ended up breaking apart near the battered shores. Hundreds of Spanish drowned in the cold waters. Some survivors swam and struggled to land. When they did reach land, they were beaten and stripped of all their belongings by local Irish residents. Only a couple of units were able to repair their ships and return to Spain.

In late September, what was left of the Armada's battered-up ships crawled into Spanish ports.Philip II would later state publicly, "I sent my fleet against men, not against the wind and the waves."[3]Philip was in terrible personal torment over the terrible loss of life in private. In fact, some 20,000 Spanish soldiers, sailors, merchants, and officials had died during or soon after the grand Armada’s capitulation.Only a handful of ships were able to limp back to Spain - without ever getting a chance to touch English soil. It seems as though God had providentially intervened to ensure that England would fulfill its purpose as a nation for the rest of the world.


The reckoning

In the end, King Philip II of Spain accepted (like Elizabeth of England) that, “…God's winds had blown against his fleet.”[4]A joyful Queen Elizabeth ordered a medallion struck to honor the victory she believed God had provided. Its inscription read, "He breathed and they were scattered." Further, even the nation of Holland acknowledged the hand of God in all of this. In commemoration of the historical and seemingly divine event, they minted a memorable coin. On one side was the Armada sinking; on the other, men on their knees in prayer with the inscription: “Man Proposeth, God Disposeth,” and the date, “1588”.[5]A famous historian of the era, Richard Hakluyt, would end up writing about this event:

It is most apparent, that God miraculously preserved the English nation. For the L. Admiral wrote unto her Majestie that in all humane reason, and according to the judgement of all men (every circumstance being duly considered) the English men were not of any such force. whereby they might, without a miracle dare once to approach within sight of the Spanish Fleet: insomuch that they freely ascribed all the honour of their victory unto God, who had confounded the enemy, and had brought his counsels to none effect… While this wonderful and puissant navy was styling along the English coastes,… all people throut England prostrated themselves with humble prayers and supplications unto God: but especially the outlandish churches (who had greatest cause to feare, and against whom by name the Spaniards had threatened most grievous torments) enjoyned to their people continual fastings and supplications… knowing right well, that prayer was the onely refuge against all enemies, calamities, and  necessities, and that it was the onely solace and reliefe for mankind, being visited with afflictions and misery.[6]


All parties involved—from France, to England, to Spain, to the Papacy, Protestants, Catholics, and the Armada—all agreed in unison that it was the “guiding Providence of God” who stepped into intervene in men’s affairs. It was evidential that political and military oriented circumstances spiraled out of the immediate control of the Spanish crown; including its governing officers, military officials, and even the Pope himself. In mathematical sequence, dilemma after dilemma plagued the Spanish. While the Armada was in full view of the southern coastal towns of England, English families and individuals were noted as solemnly praying for their immediate safety from the impending conquest on their livelihoods. 

The rest of the story is history.


Why do you think the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588 – was it divine providence, the English being lucky, or something not explored in the article? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at

[1]Trueman, C. N. "The Spanish Armada." History Learning Site. Last modified March 17, 2015. 2ndBoxed Item)

[2]Ibid, Trueman, C.N., (3rdPara. 1stBoxed Item)

[3]Andrews, Evan. "Was This the Most Ambitious'and Disastrous Campaign in Military History?" HISTORY. Last modified November 4, 2015.

[4]Williams, Patrick. “The ‘Chief Business’: The Spanish Armada, 1588.” In History Review, 09629610, Dec. 2009, Issue 65.

[5]Beliles, Mark A., and Stephen K. McDowell. "The Chain of Liberty: Preparation for America." In America's Providential History, 3rd ed., Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 2010. p. 58.

[6]W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America(Washington D.C., 1985), p. 32.


C. N. Trueman, "The Spanish Armada." History Learning Site. Last modified March 17, 2015. (5thPara. 2ndBoxed Item)

-- Ibid, (3rdPara. 1stBoxed Item)

Evan Andrews, "Was This the Most Ambitious' and Disastrous' Campaign in Military History?" HISTORY. Last modified November 4, 2015.

Mark A Beliles, and Stephen K. McDowell. "The Chain of Liberty: Preparation for America." In America's Providential History, 3rd ed., Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 2010. 

Patrick Williams, “The ‘Chief Business’: The Spanish Armada, 1588.” In History Review,09629610, Dec. 2009, Issue 65.

W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America(Washington D.C., 1985)

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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