England, Spain And The Gran Armada; & Ships, Money And Politics

  • England, Spain And The Gran Armada, 1585-1604 (Essays from the Anglo-Spanish Conferences London and Madrid, 1988)
    Edited by M J. Rodriguez-Salgado and Simon Adams - John Donald, 1991 - 308pp. - £22
  • Ships, Money And Politics: Seafaring And Naval Enterprise In The Reign Of Charles I
    Kenneth R. Andrews - Cambridge University Press, 1991 - 240pp. - £25

The sub-title of the Armada book suggests that it is a very late entry in the 400th anniversary stakes. However the editors in their preface indicate that the contributors have updated their essays, where necessary, in the light of research published between 1988 and 1990. So the volume is more a series of after thoughts than an integral part of the ceIebrations.

The four non-Armada essays are rather a mixed bag. M.J. Rodriguez-Salgado's piece shows Phillip II's claim to the English crown was simply window dressing to be used in the event of a Spanish seizure of power. Simon Adams offers useful information about the changing objectives of Drake's 1585 voyage. Pauline Croft clearly knows a lot about Anglo-Spanish trade between 1558 and 1585. Unfortunately she can only offer generalities about the war period itself. Carlos Gomez-Centurion Jimenez demonstrates unsurprisingly, that Spanish Roman Catholics, like Elizabethan Puritans, tended to resort to crusading rhetoric, when more rational political and economic arguments failed to convince their allies.

Of the six contributions on the Armada itself, those of Hugh O'Donnell, M.J. Rodriguez-Salgado and Manuel Gracia Rivas, who write on Parma, Armada pilotage and navigation and Armada medical services respectively, provide documentation supporting conclusions which are now common ground. Simon Adams speculates, rather inconclusively, about the battle in the Downs, which never happened.

I.A.A. Thompson and Jose Luis Casado Soto clash over the Armada's effectiveness. Both admit that it was a heterogenous collection of ships. For Thompson this was a weakness and demonstrated that Spain was not ready for such an adventure. Soto on the other hand emphasises the effectiveness of the Iberian-built ships and believes their manoeuvrability and gunnery provided an effective cover for the remainder. His view has its attractions. No one has explained why, if the armament and sailing qualities of the English ships were so superior, not a single Spanish ship was sunk by gunfire. Could the inventories of ships reaching Spain be used to show how far their gunners' stores were depleted? If so it might be possible to test Soto's view, that the wrecks found off Ireland with their numerous unfired cannonballs, were not representative.

So much has been written on the Armada that the soil is becoming exhausted. Not so the reign of Charles I which naval historians have left fallow for many a long year. So when one of the calibre of Professor Andrews turns his attention to it we can expect a good harvest and we get it. The book is well written and lighter descriptive chapters dealing with sample voyages leaven the analytical lump. The material he produces amply supports his two central contentions, that the problems of the Navy and the mercantile marine must be studied together and that without the inclusion of naval affairs, the full extent of what he calls 'the Stuart sickness' cannot be understood.

The interaction emerges with great clarity in his first chapter, when he shows that the failure of the English builders to match the capacity of the Dutch flutes was because the government offered a bounty for the construction of 'defensible' merchant-men, more resistant to attack but with less cargo space. He traces in fascinating detail the careers of a whole host of Caroline sea captains, ship owners and merchants as they shifted between commerce, colonial enterprise, privateering and royal service with a facility unknown either before or since. He then shows the disillusion of the Crown with the performance of armed merchant-men in the war of 1625-29 and the pursuit of divergent policies during the Personal Rule, which led the overwhelming majority of merchants and seamen to take Parliament's side in 1642. There is a particularly valuable study of the economic, social and political roots of the many mutinies of the period. The book ends with an assessment of the way the merchants ran the fleet by means of parliamentary committees in the period 1642-49.

There are times when his single-mined pursuit of his themes leads Professor Andrews to oversimplify, particularly in the last chapter. He too easily assumes, for example, a complete unity of interest between the Parliamentary Admiral, the Earl of Warwick and the merchants on the various committees and he artificially separates Burrell's criticisms of the performance of the naval administration from his views on ship design. Indeed his failure to comment on the arguments wracking naval circles on the subject is the one major omission of the book. Despite the exclusion of this topic Ships, Money and Politics in the reign of Charles I fills an important gap and will he consulted by students of the period, whether their interests are naval, political or economic for a long time to come.

  • Michael Baumber is the author of General-at-Sea: Robert Blake and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution in Naval Warfare (John Murray, 1989).
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