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
CategoriesBlog Post

On April 12, 1555, Joanna of Castile (1479-1555), the last surviving child of Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, died at the age of 75, well past the life expectancy of the time. She had been Queen of Castile for more than 50 years. However, over 45 of those years were spent in isolated imprisonment for her alleged mental insanity. Who was this hidden queen and what led to her demise? Casey Titus (following her article on Good Queen Anne here) explains.

Joanna of Castille, c. 1496

Joanna of Castille, c. 1496


Born in the city of Toledo, the capital of the Kingdom of Castile, on November 6, 1479 Joanna was the third child and second daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon of the royal House of Trastamara. Her parents’ marriage, along with the conquest of Granada in 1492, united and formed Spain as we know it today. Joanna was described as physically beautiful with a fair complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair, like that of her mother, Isabella, and sister, Catherine.

Joanna proved to be a clever and diligent student who received a substantial education for the time. Her academic education consisted of canon and civil law, genealogy and heraldry, grammar, history, languages, mathematics, philosophy, reading, spelling, and writing. In addition to French and Latin, Joanna excelled in the major Iberian Romance languages (Castilian, Catalan, and Galaico-Portuguese).

Despite Joanna reputedly being the brightest of Isabella and Ferdinand’s children, she was a sullen and bashful child whose aloofness was mistaken for royal dignity. Stories also circulate over Joanna’s religious skepticism which was interpreted as an early sign of her creeping insanity. Her parents were exceptionally renowned for their faith, completing the 1492 Reconquista that ordered the conversion or exile of their Muslim and Jewish subjects and establishing the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 to maintain Catholic orthodoxy. According to the letters of the gentleman of Ferdinand’s bedchamber, Joanna was subjected to a torture method called “La cuerda,” in which she was suspended from a rope with weights attached to her feet. Queen Isabella even declared during the Spanish Inquisition that she would rather have her country be depopulated than become rampant with heresy. Isabella ensured that any rumors of her daughter’s hostility to Catholicism would be silenced.



As powerful and formidable monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella would make certain all five of their surviving children would marry well and further Spanish interests. They planned marital alliances with other nations against France, the traditional rival of Aragon.

Juan, Prince of Asturias (1478 – 1497), their only son, would unite Spain by inheriting the crowns of both Aragon and Castile. All four daughters would become Queens with Joanna perhaps even becoming an Empress. The eldest daughter, Isabella, would marry the king of Portugal. Their third daughter, Maria, would marry the James IV of Scotland. Their youngest and possibly most well-known Catalina would marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, and son of King Henry VII of England. Juan would marry Margaret of Habsburg, daughter of the future Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, and Joanna would marry Margaret’s brother and Maximilian’s heir, Philip, Duke of Burgundy. Burgundy, whose capital at Dijon possessed splendid wealth and luxury, during this time had territories consisting of territory in modern Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

It would have been the perfect plan that would wield immense power and influence across Europe had it not been struck with disaster that sealed Joanna’s fate forever. In 1496 at the age of sixteen, Joanna was betrothed to Philip “The Handsome” of Austria and disembarked in August of that year with a fleet of approximately 22,000 people to the Low Countries. After one dangerous month at sea with three ships sunk, Joanna finally docked at her new home having suffered seasickness and a terrible cold. For various reasons, Philip did not meet his bride; his sister Margaret welcomed Joanna. However, when they finally met it was lust at first sight to the point that he insisted the Church give its blessing to the marriage immediately so it could be consummated that night. The cleric was hardly finished before the couple vanished to their bedroom. The next day a church wedding officially completed the union. It was a successful marriage with Joanna giving birth to six children between 1498 and 1507.

Joanna of Castille with her husband Philip.

Joanna of Castille with her husband Philip.


In October of 1497, Joanna’s only brother Juan died suddenly. His pregnant widow Margaret gave birth to a stillborn daughter two months later, shattering all hopes of the male Trastamara lineage being saved through Ferdinand and Isabella’s only son. His death was followed shortly by his sister - and next heiress to the Castilian throne - Isabella, after giving birth to a son in August 1498 who was named Miguel. Baby Miguel was now child heir to the thrones of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon. Miguel died on July 19, 1500, shortly before his second birthday. Had he lived he would have united the three crowns of the Iberian Peninsula. Joanna was now heir to her parents. 

That same year Joanna gave birth to her second child and first son named after Charles the Bold, Philip’s maternal grandfather. With the death of Miguel, not only did Joanna and Philip become Isabella’s and Ferdinand’s heirs but meant that Charles would inherit the thrones of Castile, Aragon, and the duchy of Burgundy as well as the Habsburg realms in central Europe. The marital tactics of the Catholic monarchs backfired as it was never their intention that the Habsburgs should acquire Spain into their realm nor make their daughter the new heiress in which she would traditionally be a co-ruler.

The pressure on Joanna was now multiplied as she was made heiress in 1502 and given the title of Princess of Asturias. That same year, Joanna suffered a mental breakdown and Philip would repeatedly desert her as punishment for heated arguments. After one explosive quarrel, Philip rode off to his homeland of Flanders. Joanna wanted desperately to accompany him but her mother forbade it and had her locked up in the Castle La Mota at Medina del Campo. She spent days wandering and babbling, refusing sleep or food. As a married woman of her era, she would be expected to put her husband’s interests and realm first before that of her parents, even as their heir. She was already having difficulties adjusting to the cultural environment of Burgundy and the Low Countries. The Burgundians resented the Spaniards and neglected Joanna to the best of their ability. Her husband was on friendly terms with the King of France and did not involve himself with the anti-French policies of his in-laws. 

Perhaps the most severe and heartbreaking stress she suffered was her husband’s rampant infidelity. He indulged in feasting, drinking, and taking mistresses. In an era where women were expected to turn a blind eye to their husband’s philandering ways, Joanna instead flew into jealous rages, shocking both her husband and the court. Not being one for confrontation, Philip would punish his wife after quarrelling by avoiding her chambers for days. Joanna would then wander and sob the whole night, bumping against her bedroom walls. After discovering one of Philip’s mistresses who was “an exceedingly handsome noblewoman, with whom he was passionately in love…” Joanna confronted the woman and cut her hair short. Despite her attempts to win her husband back, which included changing her hair and clothing styles as well as utilizing love potions, their relationship grew destructive to the point where the impatient Philip ordered Joanna’s treasurer to keep a detailed diary of her actions. This was then sent to her parents which further humiliated Joanna and distressed her mother, Isabella.



However, Isabella severely disliked and distrusted Phillip and the influence he wielded over her vulnerable daughter, so she ensured that her will would allow Joanna to rule Castile with her husband, Ferdinand, as regent until her heir reached twenty years of age. Ferdinand refused to accept this, and when Isabella died in November 1504, a power struggle ensued between Philip and Ferdinand with Joanna as an in-between pawn. Both men minted coins in the name of themselves alongside Joanna as well as attempting to persuade the delicate twenty-five year old woman to hand the government to them. Her father even asked his officials to read to the Cortes notes of the Spanish treasurer in Flanders that put her instability on public display. After a brief visit to the English Court and Joanna’s sister, Catherine of Aragon, Philip and Ferdinand used a mediator to negotiate an arrangement for the government of Castile without consulting Joanna. After her furious reactions, the men schemed to have Joanna declared incompetent to rule, passing control to Philip.  

In September 1506, Philip fell seriously ill. A pregnant Joanna hardly left her husband’s side. Within six days, Philip the Handsome died at the age of 28. Despite the unkind treatment he gave Joanna throughout their ten-year marriage, Joanna refused to depart from her husband’s corpse for a disturbingly long time. On the way to Granada where Philip was to be buried, Joanna was rumored to have opened her husband’s casket to kiss and embrace him. She insisted they travel at night so that women would not be tempted by him. During the day they would rest in monasteries, deliberately avoiding nunneries. 

In January 1507, Joanna went into labor, refusing the help of midwives, and gave birth alone to a daughter, Catalina, the last remnant of her beloved Philip. With his rival for power now deceased, King Ferdinand II dismissed his daughter’s loyal supporters and ordered Joanna to be confined within the Royal Convent of Santa Clara in Tordesillas. After Ferdinand’s death, Joanna’s eldest son Charles became Charles V of Spain. After 11 years of imprisonment, with no knowledge of her father’s death or her son’s accession, Joanna was released briefly and visited by Charles after twenty years of separation. It is unknown what they discussed, but Charles refused to release her from her imprisonment and forbade her any visitors. 

Joanna’s youngest child Catalina remained at Tordesillas with her mother for sixteen years. Sadly, in 1525, Catalina was stolen way in the night and married off to King Juan III of Portugal. Joanna sank further into despair over the loss of her last child. Joanna survived her husband by 49 years, dying on April 12th, 1555, Good Friday, at the age of 75. Joanna was laid to rest beside her husband and across from her parents in Granada’s La Capilla Real.


Was Joanna truly mad or a political pawn to the men in her family? 

Joanna’s maternal grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, allegedly suffered from mental illness as well and was sent to a convent. Joanna’s grandson Carlos and great-granddaughter Maria of Austria, Duchess of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, also reportedly went mad. Historians have speculated that Joanna may have suffered from a wide range of mental illness, from depression to schizophrenia to even postpartum depression. However, her increasingly erratic behavior was reported following the deaths of her siblings, nephew, mother, and her husband. Both Philip the Handsome and Charles V had a lot to gain from Joanna being declared incompetent to rule.


Do you think Joanna of Castile was truly ‘mad’ - or was she a political pawn?


“Biography of Juana the Mad of Castile (1479-1555).” Biography of Philip V of Spain (1683-1746),

Bos, Joan. “Biography of Juana the Mad of Castile (1479-1555).” Biography of Philip V of Spain (1683-1746),

Chua, Paolo. “The Tragic Story of the Mad Queen of Castile Who Slept Next to Her Husband's Corpse.”, Town&Country Philippines, 28 Apr. 2018,

Forcen, Fernando Espi. “The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad.”, 8 Dec. 2015,

Moniek. “Queens Regnant: Joanna of Castile - The Mad Queen.” History of Royal Women, 16 Aug. 2018,

Morris, Tracy S. “I Am Not Making This Up: Joan the Mad of Castile's Epic Farewell Tour « Tracy S. Morris.” Tracy S Morris, 19 Dec. 2016,

Ridgway, Claire. “The Madness of Juana of Castile.” The Tudor Society, 2 Mar. 2017,

We created a number of maps to go with our Spanish Civil War book. Rather than keep them hidden away, we thought we'd share them with you on the blog...

The maps show the situation at four key stages of the Spanish Civil War between General Franco's Nationalists and the Republicans. They are a very useful complement to the book.

Return to our Spanish Civil War page by clicking here.

And remember, you can obtain a copy of our book on the Spanish Civil War instantly here.

Images produced for by Yazuo Baca of Luna Media Lab.

Spanish Civil War - History of a Battle for Europe’s Soul – Spain’s Great War (Required History)

Our new book is FREE INSTANTLY until May 29th. Grab your copy now while you still can!

About the book

So, you think that World War 2 began in 1939?

Then you’re evidently not familiar with the Spanish Civil War.

The war was Spain’s Great War. The country suffered death, destruction, and repression on an unprecedented scale. There were large-scale military battles that left tens of thousands dead. The world witnessed some of the largest air battles that it had ever seen. People from all parts of society, from labor unionists to priests, were heartlessly murdered. Extremists and radical groups saw an exponential rise in their size and influence.

But, it was not just Spain that experienced its Civil War. The Spanish Civil War was also Europe’s and the world’s war. There was significant international involvement and interest in the war from the start, and it was a microcosm of the far greater war that was to follow it. It involved battles between democracy and dictatorship, Fascism and Communism, Germany and the USSR. The Great Powers of Europe tested out military strategies and new technologies, while tens of thousands of idealistic foreigners joined the war to battle against Fascism.  At the same time, the great democracies of Britain and France played a more muddled role.

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This introduction to the Spanish Civil War is the second book from George Levrier-Jones. The book considers the brutal war that arose between the political left and right in Spain over the years 1936-1939.

The topics in the book include:

• 19th Century Spain and the path that led to the Spanish Second Republic
• The chronic instability and changes of the Spanish Second Republic
• The major differences between the two sides
• How the 1936 election led to the Spanish Civil War breaking out
• International involvement and the instability of 1930s Europe
• Why the Great Powers of Europe intervened in the war
• The early Nationalist advances in the war
• How General Francisco Franco consolidated the Nationalist side
• The civil war within the Spanish Civil War
• The great Republican counter-attacks and General Franco’s responses
• Events across Spain from Madrid to the Basque Country, and Barcelona to Valencia
• The closing stages of the war
• What the victors did in the years and decades after winning the war

The approximately 100-page book is the perfect complement to the Spanish Civil War History audio series that is available as part of the ‘History in 28-minutes’ podcasts.

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George Levrier-Jones