The Spanish Armada

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A nimble English ship blasting away at two clumsy Spanish galleons
A nimble English ship blasting away at two clumsy Spanish galleons

I’m really enjoying The Armada (1959) by Garrett Mattingly. It’s a great story, of course, an epic, and Mattingly really does a superb job with it, giving telling portraits of the characters and adding lots of interesting details. I guess that’s why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

One of that most amazing things about the story is how incredibly stupid Philip II of Spain was. In his belief that he was carrying out the will of God, he refused any and all practical advice from people who knew what they were talking about and apppointed a commander with no naval or military experience because of his noble birth.

Of the 30,000 soldiers and sailors who set out with the Armada, only 10,000 survived. They say every single family in Spain lost a son. Many died in battle, of course, but most of them died from disease.

And what an inspiring figure is Good Queen Bess rallying the troops at Tillbury — and the crafty English sea dogs, Drake and Hawkins, getting the weather gauge on the Spanish fleet, harrying them along the Channel and blasting lots¬† of them to smithereens.

Then the famous “Protestant Wind” finished off the supposedly invincible Armada, smashing them on the northern coasts of Scotland and Ireland. A few Spaniards landed in Ireland, took over small castles, regrouped, and got back aboard the few remaining ships,¬† only to be shipwrecked again with total loss of life.

Did you know that Scotland’s West Highland terrier and the Isle of Man’s Manx cat both swam ashore from the Spanish Armada? That’s not in the book; I just found it googling around.