Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)
The Somerset House Conference between English and Spanish diplomats
|Spanish Empire|| Kingdom of England
Kingdom of France
Portuguese loyal to Prior of Crato
|Commanders and leaders|
The Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604) was an intermittent conflict between the kingdoms of Spain and England that was never formally declared. The war was punctuated by widely separated battles, and began with England's military expedition in 1585 to the Netherlands under the command of the Earl of Leicester in support of the resistance of the States General to Habsburg rule.
The English enjoyed major victories at Cádiz in 1587, and over the Spanish Armada in 1588, but lost the initiative upon failure of the English Armada in 1589. Two further Spanish armadas were sent but were frustrated in their objectives owing to adverse weather. The Spanish, however, usually prevailed against the English in the majority of the military campaigns and battles in the Caribbean, the Low Countries, France, and European waters. They also managed to besiege and sack parts of Cornwall in return for the first raid on Cádiz.
In the decade following the defeat of the Armada, Spain strengthened its navy and was able to safeguard its trade routes of precious metals from the Americas. However, the Spanish private merchant marine was damaged by English privateering. The war became deadlocked around the turn of the 17th century during campaigns in Brittany and Ireland. The war was brought to an end with the Treaty of London, negotiated in 1604 between representatives of the new king of Spain, Philip III, and the new king of England, James I. England and Spain agreed to cease their military interventions in the Spanish Netherlands and Ireland, respectively, and the English ended high seas privateering. Both parties had achieved some of their aims and both had in turn depleted their treasuries in ways that challenged their respective countries in the early decades of the new century, which would witness several resumptions of conflict between them.
In the 1560s, Philip II of Spain, a champion of the Catholic cause, sought to frustrate English crown policy for both religious and commercial reasons. The Protestant Elizabeth I of England, whom the Catholic Church did not recognise as the rightful English monarch, had antagonised Catholic states by restoring royal supremacy over the Church of England, rejecting papal control through the 1559 Act of Supremacy, and reissuing the Book of Common Prayer with Protestant doctrine through an act of Uniformity. These developments renewed the impression among Catholics in Europe that England was a Catholic country oppressed by Protestant rulers. The English historically had also supported the Protestant cause in the Netherlands partly to maintain the power balance in Europe and prevent the Spanish from using the Netherlands as a staging point for invasion. Tensions were further heightened in 1581 as Elizabeth supported Portuguese claimant Don Antonio in an attack on the Azores, which were as yet unclaimed by Spain, despite the Spanish annexation of mainland Portugal in 1580.
The activities of English privateers (considered pirates by the Spanish) on the Spanish Main and in the Atlantic seriously affected Spain's royal revenues. The English trans-Atlantic slave trade – started by Sir John Hawkins in 1562 – gained the support of Elizabeth, even though the Spanish government complained that Hawkins's trade with their colonies in the West Indies constituted smuggling.
In September 1568, a slaving expedition led by Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake was surprised by the Spanish, and several ships were captured or sunk, at San Juan de Ulúa, near Veracruz, Mexico. This engagement soured Anglo-Spanish relations, and in the following year the English detained several treasure ships sent by the Spanish to supply their army in the Netherlands. Drake and Hawkins, amongst others, intensified their privateering as a way to break the Spanish monopoly on Atlantic trade.
Seeing the Protestant cause as interconnected with her security, Elizabeth provided assistance to the Protestant forces in the French Wars of Religion and in the Dutch Revolt against Spain. Philip, meanwhile, was fiercely opposed to the spread of Protestantism, and in addition to financing the Catholic League in the French wars, supported the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland, in which Irish Catholics revolted against Elizabeth, from 1579 to 1583.
In 1584 the Spanish king signed the Treaty of Joinville with the Catholic League in France presenting Elizabeth with the choice of intervention or allowing an alliance between Spain and France against Protestant forces, the most notable of which was England. In 1585 Elizabeth signed the Treaty of Nonsuch with the Dutch, agreeing to provide them with men, horses, and a subsidy. Philip II took this to be a declaration of war against his government.
The Anglo-Spanish War broke out in 1585. In August, England joined the Eighty Years' War on the side of the Dutch Protestant United Provinces, who had declared their independence from Spain. Drake sailed for the West Indies and sacked Santo Domingo, captured Cartagena de Indias, and St. Augustine in Florida. Early in October the English landed in Galicia and sacked Vigo and Bayona.
Philip II planned an invasion of England, but in April 1587 his preparations suffered a setback when Drake burned 37 Spanish ships in harbour at Cádiz. In the same year, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots on 8 February outraged Catholics in Europe, and her claim on the English throne passed (by her own deed of will) to Philip. On 29 July, he obtained Papal authority to overthrow Elizabeth, who had been excommunicated by Pope Pius V, and place whomever he chose on the throne of England.
Spanish Armada 
In retaliation for the execution of Mary, Philip vowed to invade England to place a Catholic monarch on its throne. He assembled a fleet of about 130 ships, containing 8,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors. To finance this endeavour, Pope Sixtus V had permitted Philip to collect crusade taxes. Sixtus had promised a further subsidy to the Spanish should they reach English soil.
On 28 May 1588, the Armada set sail for the Netherlands, where it was to pick up additional troops for the invasion of England. However, the English navy inflicted a defeat on the Armada in the Battle of Gravelines before this could be accomplished, and forced the Armada to sail northward. It sailed around Scotland, where it suffered severe damage and loss of life from stormy weather.
The defeat of the Armada revolutionised naval warfare and provided valuable seafaring experience for English oceanic mariners. Furthermore, the English were able to persist in their privateering against the Spanish and continue sending troops to assist Philip II's enemies in the Netherlands and France but these efforts brought few tangible rewards for England. One of the most important effects of the event was that the Armada's failure was seen as a "sign" that God supported the Protestant Reformation in England. One of the medals struck to celebrate the English victory bore the Latin inscription Flavit Jehovah et Dissipati Sunt (He blew with His winds, and they were scattered.)
English Armada 
An "English Armada" under the command of Drake and Sir John Norreys was dispatched in 1589 to torch the Spanish Atlantic navy, which had largely survived the Armada adventure, and was refitting in Santander, Corunna and San Sebastián in northern Spain. It was also intended to capture the incoming Spanish treasure fleet and expel the Spanish from Portugal – ruled by Philip since 1580 – in favour of the Prior of Crato. The English Armada was arguably misconceived from the start and ended in failure. Had the expedition succeeded in its objectives, Spain might have been compelled to sue for peace, but owing to poor organisation and lack of co-ordination with the Portuguese, the invading force failed to take Lisbon. Sickness then struck the expedition, and finally a portion of the fleet led by Drake towards the Azores was scattered in a storm. In the end, Elizabeth sustained a severe loss to her treasury, for she had been compelled into a joint venture in order to finance the expedition, and was first among the stockholders.
Later War 
In this period of respite, the Spanish were able to refit and retool their navy, partly along English lines. The pride of the fleet were named The Twelve Apostles – twelve massive new galleons – and the navy proved itself to be far more effective than it had been before 1588. A sophisticated convoy system and improved intelligence networks frustrated and broke up the English privateering on the Spanish treasure fleet during the 1590s. This was best demonstrated in the failures of expeditions by Sir Martin Frobisher, John Hawkins and the Earl of Cumberland in the early part of the decade, as well as in the repulse of the squadron that was led by Effingham in 1591 near the Azores, who had intended to ambush the treasure fleet. It was in this battle that the Spanish captured the English flagship, the Revenge, after a stubborn resistance by its captain, Sir Richard Grenville. Throughout the 1590s, enormous convoy escorts enabled the Spanish to ship three times as much silver as in the previous decade.
In 1590, the Spanish landed a considerable force of tercios in Brittany to assist the French Catholic League, expelling the English and French Protestant forces from the area. However, Anglo-French forces retained Brest.
Both Drake and Hawkins died of disease during the disastrous 1595-1596 expedition against Puerto Rico, Panama, and other targets in the Spanish Main, a severe setback in which the English suffered heavy losses in soldiers and ships. In 1595, a Spanish force, under Don Carlos de Amesquita, raided Penzance and several surrounding villages.
In 1596, an Anglo-Dutch expedition managed to sack Cádiz, causing significant loss to the Spanish fleet, and leaving the city in ruins. But the Spanish commander had been allowed the opportunity to torch the treasure ships in port, sending the treasure to the bottom from where it was recovered later.
Normandy added a new front in the war and the threat of another invasion attempt across the channel. With the signing of the Triple Alliance in 1596 between France, England and the Dutch, Elizabeth sent a further 2,000 troops to France after the Spanish took Calais. Further battles continued until 1598, when Henri IV's conversion to Catholicism won him widespread French support for his claim to the throne; the French civil war had turned against the hardliners of the Catholic League and finally France and Spain signed the Peace of Vervins, ending the last of the Wars of Religion and Spanish intervention with it.
In 1594, the Nine Years War in Ireland had begun, when Ulster lords Hugh O'Neill and Red Hugh O'Donnell rose up against English rule with fitful Spanish support, mirroring the English support of the Dutch rebellion. While England were containing the rebels in Ireland, the Spanish attempted two further Armadas, in 1596 and 1597: the first was destroyed in a storm off northern Spain, and the second was frustrated by adverse weather as it approached the English coast. King Philip II died in 1598, and his successor, Philip III, continued the war, but in a less determined manner.
At the end of 1601, a final armada was sent north, this time a limited expedition intended to land troops in southern Ireland to assist the rebels. The Spanish entered the town of Kinsale with 3,000 troops and were immediately besieged by the English. In time, their Irish allies arrived to surround the besieging force, but poor coordination with the rebels led to an English victory at the Battle of Kinsale. Rather than attempt to hold Kinsale as a base to harry English shipping, the Spanish accepted terms of surrender and returned home, while the Irish rebels hung on, only to surrender in 1603, just after Queen Elizabeth I died.
The new king of England, James I, was the Protestant son and successor to the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, whose execution had been a proximate cause of the war. James regarded himself as the peacemaker of Europe, and the ultimate aim of his idealistic foreign policy was the reunion of Christendom. Therefore, when James came to the English throne, his first order of business was to negotiate a peace with Philip III of Spain.
The Treaty of London (1604) restored the status quo ante bellum. From the English perspective, some success had been had. The Protestant Reformation had been protected, and James and his ministers refused outright the principal Spanish demand for Catholic toleration. To gain control of Paris and the French Crown, Henry of Navarre converted back to Catholicism but he also ended the religious persecution of Protestants. Thus the rule of France by a monarch friendly with Spain had been avoided but the Spanish-backed French Catholic League, while defeated in its attempt to prevent Navarre's accession, had been successful in preventing France from becoming Protestant dominated, one of the Habsburgs' greatest fears. France remained safely Catholic but the traditional Franco-Spanish rivalry was maintained, preventing Spanish warships from using French ports to control the Channel. The war had also played a part in helping the Netherlands by diverting Spanish resources. As part of the treaty, English trade with Antwerp was restored. In Ireland, the rebelling Earl of Tyrone, despite some Spanish support, was defeated by 1603 through a brutal and costly war of attrition.
For its part, Spain's upgrading of the convoy system had allowed it to better defend and increase its trans-Atlantic trade, to ease its own financial crisis and retain its New World colonies until the 19th century. The war had also diverted and frustrated Tudor colonial efforts and effective English settlement in North America was delayed until after the signing of the peace treaty by the Stuart monarchy. The war against Spain and in Ireland left the English exchequer deep in debt, laying the basis for increasingly bitter disputes between the Crown and the Parliament that finally led to the English Civil War. England, France, Spain and other countries were afflicted by disease, hunger and economic disruption. English, Dutch and French privateering had devastated the Spanish merchant marine and the Spanish responded in kind with the Dunkirkers and ultimately the privateering brought few tangible rewards for England. According to historian Kenneth R. Andrews, while the outcome of the war secured the maritime lanes for the Spanish treasure fleet, Spanish commerce would be increasingly carried on Dutch and English ships in the following century. On the other hand, Spain successfully defended its possessions in the Americas against its foes for centuries through an efficient military network. The war was also a factor in the later Franco-Spanish confrontation of the Thirty Years' War.
See also 
- Hiram Morgan, ‘Teaching the Armada: An Introduction to the Anglo-Spanish War, 1585-1604’, History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2006), p. 43.
- "The Spanish Armada". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913."Pope Sixtus V agreed to renew the excommunication of the Queen, and to grant a large subsidy to the Armada, but, knowing the slowness of Spain, would give nothing till the expedition should actually land in England. In this way he was saved his million crowns, and spared the reproach of having taken futile proceedings against the heretic queen."
- Richard Holmes 2001, p. 858: "The 1588 campaign was a major English propaganda victory, but in strategic terms it was essentially indecisive."
- W. B. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
- Paul Allen, Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 1598-1621 (New Haven, 2000).
- Wernham, R.B. (1980). The Making of Tudor Foreign Policy 1558-1603. Chapter 4: University of California press. pp. 80–83. ISBN 0-520-03974-2.
- Ulm, Wes: The Defeat of the English Armada and the 16th-Century Spanish Naval Resurgence. Harvard University, 2004
- Parker, Europe in Crisis, 1598–1648 (London, 1984).
Further reading 
- Charles Beem, The Foreign Relations of Elizabeth I (2011) excerpt and text search
- Peter Earle The Last Fight of the Revenge (London, 2004) ISBN 0-413-77484-8
- Winston Graham The Spanish Armadas (reprint 2001) ISBN 0-14-139020-4
- Jonathan I. Israel. Conflicts of Empires: Spain, the Low Countries, and the Struggle for World Supremacy, 1585-1713 (1997) 420pp