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Why The Armada Failed

The Armada – and in English history there is only one – set sail from Lisbon against England on May 28th, 1588. It probably was (as Sir John Hawkins somewhat nervously described it) 'the greatest and strongest combination that was ever gathered in all Christendom', for it consisted of 130 ships, 2431 guns, and 30,000 men.

And yet, despite the title of Felicssima (most fortunate), bestowed by its creator Philip II, ruler of Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and much of America, the Armada's story was one of almost constant misfortune. The fleet had only got level with Cape Finisterre by late June, when storms and tempests compelled it to seek shelter in Corunna. Eventually, in late July, the Armada set off again and entered the English Channel, only to be attacked off Calais by fireships and forced to run for home via the perilous coasts of Scotland and Ireland. In the six weeks which followed (thanks in part to the onset of a tropical typhoon), fully one-third of its ships were wrecked off the coast of Ireland; and (thanks to hunger, thirst and the massacre of almost all prisoners by the English) fully one-half of its men died. It remains the greatest naval disaster in Spanish history. How, precisely, had it happened?

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