Nuestra Senora
Maritime Topics On Stamps :

    The Spanish Armada!
The Armada’s approach.

The 16th Century saw a Europe divided into two religious camps, Protestants and Catholics. Religion had assumed supreme importance. England resisted the Pope and became protestant. Spaniards remained catholic. King Philip II intended to return first England and later all of Europe to the old faith. The catholic nations were shocked when England’s Queen Elizabeth I (on stamp at right) signed the death warrant against her catholic competitor and cousin on Scotland’s throne, Mary Stuart, in 1587. Philip II had been challenged. Queen Elizabeth I.
Then there was the quest for supremacy in commerce and on the high seas. Spain had discovered the ‘New World’ and dominated the trade also coveted by England. Englands naval strength was growing. And England was strategically positioned next to Spain’s possessions in the Low Countries, ruled by the Duke of Parma. Philip II intended to pick up those Spanish troops in the Netherlands and to attack England. The Armada’s main objective was not fighting naval battles but to assist and secure the Duke’s invasion and occupation of Elizabeth I’s kingdom.

Nuestra Senora
Spanish galleon
Spain’s Admiral Santa Cruz, hero of Lepanto, was ordered to assemble a huge fleet but he died during the preparations. His successor was the Duke of Medina Sidonia, an organizer rather than a naval commander. Departing from Lisbon in 1588 Spain and Portugal being united under one sovereign at the time the Armada consisted of 130 large and small ships. The most powerful units were twenty galleons, each with up to 50 heavy guns and complements of 500 men. As seen of both stamps, galleons had rather high poop structures. Spain’s tactics in sea warfare were the same of centuries past: After some broadsides one tried to board the enemy and continued the battle hand-to-hand. This accounts for the high numbers of soldiers and relatively few seamen. The Duke of Medina Sidonia’s flagship was the 1000-ton galleon ‘ SAN MARTIN’.

Spanish galley
armada carrier
Four galleys (stamp at left) and six galleasses. Their minimal drafts made them well-suited for shallow waters but unable to fight in stormy seas. Some 150 chained rowers provided speed and maneuverability. The galleasses like the galleons were armed with up to 50 guns each.
There were 44 carracks, former merchantmen provided with high superstructures and heavy artillery. 23 urcas (on right stamp) carried military stores and supplies. In addition there were some two dozen small 70-ton ‘pataches’ serving as guard and dispatch vessels.
The Armada of 130 ships organized into ten squadrons carried some 8,700 sailors, 2,100 galley slaves, 21,800 soldiers, 150 gunners, 85 surgeons, 180 priests, and 50 administrative officials. The Spaniards called it ‘La Armada Felissima y Invencible’ (‘The Most Fortunate and Invincible Fleet’).

Ark Royal
British fleet
The English fleet was divided between some 54 ships (some sources say 47) at Plymouth commanded by Lord Howard, and some 80 vessels at Dover under the command of Lord Seymour and Lord Winter, the latter keeping a watchful eye on the Duke of Parma and his army. The western squadrons were led by Lord Howard in his flagship ‘ARK ROYAL’ (left stamp, with medallion of the Queen) and famous seafarers Sir Francis Drake in the ‘REVENGE’, John Hawkins in the ‘VICTORY’, and Martin Frobisher in the ‘TRIUMPH’.
The English vessels (stamp at right) were smaller but faster and more weatherly than the Spanish with their high superstructures. Their tactics were not aimed at boarding but at delivering broadsides while outmaneuvering the enemy. The principal units consisted of 18 galleons with 40-50 guns each.
The stamp at right shows Drake’s multi-purpose navigational instrument. It enabled azimuth measuring, had tide tables, a sun dial, a compass, a perpetual calendar, and furthermore was a nocturnal (for measuring the time of night by means of Polaris and Ursa Major or Ursa Minor).

coast guard
England had had almost two years time to prepare for the Spanish invasion. The southern coastline was readied with signal towers and pyres, each harbor was newly surveyed, and defenses were strengthened. Spiked palisades were erected to obstruct potential landing sites. There was a standing militia in every county. Spain never tried to keep the planned invasion a secret. A London publisher even printed a translation of the Spanish manual with ‘Instructions for the Spanish Fleet’...
On May 30, 1588, the Armada sailed from Lisbon but encountered such heavy weather that 20 days later it had to put in to La Corunna for repairs and provisions. Mid-July it embarked again on its endeavour against England.

first battle
The stamp at left shows the Armada sailing past the Lizard on July 19. The stamp at right depicts the first fleet engagement off Plynouth. There were a series of attacks by the swift English vessels but no major naval battle ensued. Casualties on both sides remained small.

Then two mishaps befell the Armada. First, the 900-ton galleon ‘SAN SALVADOR’ was lost due to an explosion, its cause never established. Second, the ‘NUESTRA SENORA DE ROSARIO’ collided with a convoy ship and lost its bowsprit. The next night, a storm broke out and the foremast broke, causing the vessel to be unmaneuverable (see stamp). Sir Francis Drake encountered her in this condition and engaged. The Spanish captain struck the colors. dismasted ..

armada Isle of Wight
The following days saw two more engagements off Portland Hill and the Isle of Wight (shown on stamp). The actions demonstrated the superior skills of the English gunners. No vessels were boarded. Yet, the fights ended in a draw, and both fleets started to run low on ammunitions. The above stamp depicts some types of cannonballs and other nasty shot.

dismasted ..
Revenge, Drake
Medina Sidonia continued up the Channel closely followed by the English fleet. On July 27 the Armada anchored off Calais to await the Duke of Parma’s troops for the planned invasion in vain. Two nights later Lord Howard sent eight fireships down onto the enemy (shown on the stamps), causing much confusion and panic among the Spaniards. All they could do was cut their cables and make sail before the wind to escape the fiery scene. The Armada was now completely scattered and disorganized.

The following day the English fleet, now 140 ships strong, went after the Spaniards. A major engagement developed off Gravelines, in which three of the best Spanish ships were lost. The ‘SAN MARTIN’ was attacked first by Drake’s squadron, then by Frobisher’s. Despite some 200 hits on her starboard side alone, and her rigging in tatters, she did not sink. Two divers worked damage control day and night stopping the leaks with lead plates and oakum. — The stamp shows Drake’s ‘REVENGE’ and his famous drum. (An English legend has it that if England ever should be endangered again, the drum will roar calling for Drake’s assistance.)
Revenge, Drake
Once again the Armada assumed a defensive crescent shaped formation. Still, again and again, the Spaniards continued to be tormented by constant broadsides from the English gunners. Shot full of holes, with splintered masts, torn sails and rigging, a sudden rain squall allowed the Armada to escape northwards into the North Sea. English casualties were about 100 dead and some holed vessels, yet none of them sunk. The Spaniards mourned some 600 dead and had lost three galleons. Many surviving ships were heavily damaged and had to be hastily repaired with jury rigs.

North Sea
On the day following the battle, the Spanish commanders once again vowed to continue in the endeavor to unite with the Duke of Parma’s troops. Yet it wasn’t to happen. A hurricane-force storm lasting five days drove the Spaniards northwards along the Scottish coast, as seen on these stamps. After the storm it was evident that the leaky crippled ships were unable to sustain further combat and the decision was made to round Scotland and Ireland and to return to Spain. But their predicament became even worse. An interminable series of contrary winds, fog, autumn storms, and tricky currents caused some fifty of their vessels to be sunk after taking on too much water, or to be wrecked on reefs, cliffs, or shoals where they were pillaged and their crews mercilessly slaughtered. The few ships still afloat were lacking drinking water and provisions and then suffered from outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, and typhus.

The stamp at right shows the Spanish ‘DUQUESA SANTA ANA’ off the Irish coast. Filled to overcapacity with shipwrecked survivors from a number of ships, her Master tried to reach a neutral port in Scotland. Yet, another violent storm intervened. Blown towards the shore, while trying to anchor the chain broke and the ‘DUQUESA’ became another wreck.
Duquesa Santa Ana
Of the Armada’s 130 ships that had left Lisbon, only 67 returned. Of some 33,000 sailors, soldiers, and galley slaves aproximately 20,000 had lost their lives due to combat, fire, shipwreck, drowning, disease, and hunger. The official English version counted just some100 dead countrymen, with not one ship sunk. Yet, this ought to taken with a grain of salt as many of their vessels had suffered heavy damage and untold men died of their wounds ashore later on.

[The above mentioned numbers of ships and complements were taken from the latest British publications. Another source mentions an Armada strength of 515 ships with 64 galleons and 30,000 men, and losses of 64 vessels with 15,000 men. English numbers have sometimes been given as 200, 197, or 140 ships with 15,000 armed men aboard, and some 80,000 stationed at points along the English coast.]

© 1998 - 2003 Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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