The Spanish Armada: England’s lucky escape

Robert Hutchinson, author of The Spanish Armada, reveals how poorly Tudor England was prepared for foreign invaders in 1588

The Spanish Armada: Tudor spin portrayed the events of August 1588 as a glorious English victory but, argues Robert Hutchinson, bad weather and bad tactics had more to do with the Spanish fleet's failure than Elizabethan derring-do. (Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine 

The failure of the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588 changed the course of European history. If the Duke of Parma’s 27,000-strong invasion force had safely crossed the narrow seas from Flanders, the survival of Elizabeth I’s government and Protestant England would have looked doubtful indeed.

If those battle-hardened Spanish troops had landed, as planned, near Margate on the Kent coast, it is likely that they would have been in the poorly defended streets of London within a week, and that the queen and her ministers would have been captured or killed. England would have reverted to the Catholic faith and there may have been no British empire.

It was bad luck, bad tactics and bad weather that defeated the Spanish Armada – not the derring-do displayed on the high seas by Elizabeth’s intrepid sea dogs. But it was a near-run thing.

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