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DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS--THE ARMADA

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 08:41 am
It has been many years, literally decades, since i made a thorough reading on this subject. Therefore, instead of hunting up links, and going into too long a discursus, i thought i'd just open a topic for discussion which people might find interesting.

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The Spanish Armada was not so significant an incident in general European history as the fascination with by the English, and to a lesser extent, the Americans, would suggest. Nevertheless, it was important to Spain, England, and what would later become Belgium and Holland.

I'm not that interested in the lead up to the Armada, although that is a subject worthy of study, and of course wouldn't (and couldn't) object to someone detailing it here. Carlos, King of Spain, had been elected Holy Roman Emperor, as Charles V, by judicious bribery of the German Electors. Martin Luther started his rumpous at about the same time, and the ensuing Wars of the Reformation did nothing to endear Charles to the Germans. In 1555, Charles abdicated in favor of his son, Philip, who became King Philip II--but who was promptly not elected Holy Roman Emperor--the Germans weren't going to make that mistake twice.

Philip was betrothed to Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII. In the Spanish view, his divorce was invalid, and Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was his legitimate heir. Philip was married to her by proxy (i.e., the English minister said "I do" on her behalf) to Mary, who died before they ever met. With the succession of Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Bolyn (and therefore a bastard in Spanish eyes), plans to amalgamate England into the Spanish empire had met a small hitch. Over time, it became clear that Elizabeth was less than impressed with Philip, and had no plans to marry him. To keep one of my long stories short, Philip eventually decided to invade England. His first choice having died, he put Medina Sedonia, an experienced commander on land in command of a fleet and an army. In those days, people thought nothing of putting naval commanders in charge of armies, and fleets in charge of land commanders. I don't think much of the idea myself.

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When Charles abicated, and Philip mounted the throne, in 1555, they decided to celebrate with a little war with France. The "Spaniards" (we would call them Belgians and Dutch) invaded Picardy, and drove on to St. Quentin, which they besieged. There were many heroic feats of arms, in which William of Nassau and Holland excelled, as did the hamdsome young fool the Baron Egmont. The "Spanish" lost, the French won, and with no hard feelings, Henri II invited everyone on both sides to Paris for a big party. While there, William of Nassau, whose mother was descended from the now defunct line of the Princes of Orange (a small principality in south central France), was made Prince of Orange. He didn't enjoy the income for very long, though. While out hunting with Henri II, the King rather injudiciously let slip some details of plan he had hatched with Philip. Henri was married to Catherine de Medici, which did not bode well for Protestants, or his likely honesty. He and Philip were as thick as theives, and Catholic to their toes. They planned a big party for the Protestants in France and the Netherlands (then a Spanish possession comprising what is today Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and a good chunk of western Germany), in which as many as possible would be slaughtered without warning. William was a man always well aware of upon which side his bread was buttered, and he kept his mouth shut. When he got back to Holland, he tipped the Protestants wise to the plot, for which the French named him Guillaume le Taciturne, or William the Silent--because he knew when to keep his mouth shut. The Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre opened to rave reviews in France, but fell on its face in the Netherlands, thanks to William.

Charles V had appointed his bastard daughter, the Duchess of Parma, to govern the Netherlands. She was surrounded by Spanish grandees who let no opportunity slip to let the locals know what rubes they thought them to be, and who were all primed to import the Spanish Inquisition and make things hot for the Protestants. The Protestants in turn went around defacing churches, making sure the pot stayed on the boil. Soon it became clear that things were going from bad to worse, and the Belgian ringleaders got out of Dodge. Except for the handsome young fool Baron Egmont. A local aristocrat, Count van Hoorn, who was dying of "consumption" (probably cancer) invited him to hang out, which the idiot Egmont did, and they were arrested and executed in the city square at Brussels--thereby giving the Germans an excuse for a silly play about Egmont, and Beethoven a reason to compose beautiful music about a jackass who lost his head because he lacked the brains to keep it.

By 1564, the Dutch declared their intent to break off and form their won nation and the war was on. William the Silent was assassinated by a mentally ill young Catholic boy, and Maurice of Nassau took over running the rebellion, which was over by 1648, a mere 84 years. The Duke of Parma, born in 1545, succeeded his mother as Governor of the Netherlands. He was a good deal sharper than anyone else on the scene, but he was constantly frustrated by "micro-managing" by Philip. Earlier in the rebellion, when the Spanish tercios couldn't be paid, they had been allowed to plunder Antwerp, in an event which was billed as the Rape of Antwerp. Alessandro Farnese, the Duke of Parma, was smart enough to figure out that such things were not doing the cause any good, and in the 1570's he insisted that he be sent money to pay his troops, and to try to keep a good name with the locals (fat chance).

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So by 1587, the stage was set. That really is the short version, and now on to the exquisite military idiocy which characterized the attempt known to history as "The Spanish Armada."
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Lord Ellpus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 08:45 am
OOH! "God blew, and they were scattered".


bm
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 08:47 am
Oh thanks, E, i was trying to edit that--there's a lesson to me to use the "Preview" function more carefully.
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Lord Ellpus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 08:49 am
Sorry Set. Me and my big submit button, eh?
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Lord Ellpus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 08:50 am
Still, you got to see the fart button then.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 09:17 am
The Armada was just about one of the silliest operational plans ever put afoot by a European power, at least on that scale (there have been stupider moves, but we're not here to discuss the English Army).

The plan, such as it was, was to breeze through the channel, land in Belgium and give Parma his war chest so that he could pay the army without any more embarrasing incidents like Antwerp, pick up ships, sailors and soldiers from Parma, invade England, then run back up the the North Sea, take out the Dutch Navy (good luck), reland the troops and overrun Holland--war won, everybody Catholic again, and all parties happy and ready for another big shindig.

The Armada's plan was an operational nightmare. Medina Sedonia had experience in this type of expedition on a smaller scale. He had taken the Canary Islands--he was good, as a land commander. One of the reasons the Spanish, the Italians and a good many others thought putting land commanders in charge of a fleet was a good idea was based upon the style of warfare. Since the ancient times of the Greeks and Romans, people in the Mediterranean had fought at sea using their ships as platforms for infantry to duke it out. Galleys were routinely used to put a boarding party on the enemy. Even when using galleons, the Spaniard tended to close in, put a broadside of cannon fire into the enemy, and then board. Not a bad plan, assuming your opponent is no brighter than you are yourself.

The Dutch had turned themselves into the greatest sailors in the world over centuries, and had long been designing beautiful and seaworthy craft which the Spanish simply could not match. The "Sea Beggars" (i won't go into why they proudly called themselves beggars) had embarrassed the Spanish repeatedly in their rebellion, and had more than once hauled the Dutch ashes out of the fire, as it were. The English, who long resented the Dutch, were still canny enough to adopt their ship designs, and two in particular were to prove decisive. These were the snow and the frigate. Snows were general purpose ships, more often used as merchant ships than warships, although they beat anything the Spanish had in the latter category. The frigate was to become one of the greatest warships ever designed. Even though snows and frigates in those days were not rigged with the jibs and staysails which would make them one day the finest ships at sea, they nevertheless sailed much better than anything the Spanish were using. The English were to rely heavily on snows and frigates.

The Spanish had decided to economize (never a good idea in war) by having dual-purpose guns on their ships. These were long-barrelled monstrosities on huge carriages, which they planned to unship in Belgium for Parma to mount on gun carriages and use on land. On shipboard, they were to prove a nightmare. Several years ago, in a documentary on the Armada by the BBC, members of the Royal Navy showed just how idiotic the concept was. After being fired, the guns had to be run back, turned sideways, reloaded, turned again, and run up to fire again. The English and the Dutch used dedicated naval artillery--short-barrelled guns (relatively speaking) on compact gun carriages which could be fired, run back on their limber chains, reloaded, run up and fired again. The Dutch and the English had a rate of fire two or three times faster than the Spaniard. Additionally, the size of the Spanish guns meant that only guns on one side of the ship could be fired and reloaded at a time. The English would rush into the rear of the Armada, fire guns from both broadsides at once, then get the hell out and run for shelter.

Which later circumstance leads to another debility which the Armada suffered, and which the Royal Navy also demonstrated in the documentary. The snows and frigates could turn across the wind, not well, but being able to do it all gave them a huge advantage. The Spanish used a lot of merchant ships which were fat targets for the English and later the Dutch, and they thought to protect them with galleons. But a galleon has to be running pretty damned fast to turn across the wind, and they rarely were able to run very damned fast. They would turn into the wind, fail to cross it, and "fall off the wind" again, turning back in the direction from which they attempted the turn.

The English ships lurked about Cowes on the north coast of the Isle of Wight, and then would run out into the Solent, the passage of water to the west of the island, attack the Spanish, and then, turing across the prevailing wind, would head for safety. The Spanish could not follow them.

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To review, the Armada's operational plan was a nightmare--it was too "busy" and intended to accomplish far too much. It was an unrealistic plan.

Spanish naval architecture was woefully inferior to the Dutch designs which the Dutch and English were using, and due to a proud pigheadedness, this would be true for more than a century to come.

The lack of decidated naval artillery meant that Spanish gunfire was slow, sporadic, sparse and largely ineffective. The Dutch and English shot the livin' bejesus out of the Spaniard with their nifty, dedicated naval artillery.

That of course, just reviews some of the more prominent stupidity which the Spaniard dilligently applied to the operational problems. I know from experience that other members here have more good information on the Armada.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Apr, 2006 09:22 am
No problem, E, just a little vagrant whining on my part--pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
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syntinen
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Apr, 2006 06:51 am
Quote:
The Armada was just about one of the silliest operational plans ever put afoot by a European power, at least on that scale (there have been stupider moves, but we're not here to discuss the English Army).


- though the return match, the raid led by Drake and Black Jack Norris on La Coruna and Lisbon in 1589, runs it pretty close for stupidity, if not for scale.
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Paaskynen
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 06:21 am
Setanta wrote:
The "Sea Beggars" (i won't go into why they proudly called themselves beggars)...


But I can oblige... Very Happy

In 1566 a delegation of some 300 nobles from the low countries (specifically from Flanders and the Netherlands) were received by the regent Margaret of Parma. They presented a petition for a toning down of the inquisition (the burning of protestants as heretics and that kind of thing). Margaret was allegedly taken aback by the number of petitioners and to reassure her the financial councillor Charles of Berlaymont leant over to her and told her not to worry "Ce ne sont que des gueux" (they are nothing but beggars).

The nobles were understandably insulted, but with typical Dutch humour created an order of beggars (members wore a "beggar medal") that became the foundation of the later rebel organisation known as "Sea Beggars" (refugees from the inquisition, privateers, pirates and anti-Catholic freedom fighters; they were a mixed bunch, some were no better than the Spanish inquisition themselves). The Sea Beggars originally had the support of Elisabeth I of England, but under pressure from Philip of Spain (and when their piracy extended itself to English ships) she banned them from English ports after which they returned to the Netherlands and captured the port of Den Briel by surprise (1573), turning the tide in the Dutch War of Independence. The Sea Beggars scored a number of naval victories over the Spanish and eventually evolved into the Dutch Navy.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 06:36 am
bookmark
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 11:42 am
Thanks, Paasky--the "Beggars" adopted a gold ensignia, hung about their necks with a rich gold chain, which had the peaked felt hat of the beggar, the crutch and the begging bowl, and which mimiced the gold ensignia worn by the members of the Order of the Gold Fleece, of which Philip was, by descent, the titular head. It was an especially offensive act in an age which valued such baubles.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 01:55 pm
Setanta,

Have you seen this link ?

http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~ulm/history/sp_armada.htm
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 09:04 pm
Great link, Fresco. Thnx.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 9 Apr, 2006 05:18 pm
Yeah, that is a good page, thank you Fresco.
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 06:57 am
just strolling and caught this thread. Gotta come back later and read more. The art of the Armada was always an interest to me because marine art , even from the 16th to the 19th centuries, had evolved a great deal in the continent.
Heindrick Vroom was one marine artist who commemorated the Victory by doing paintings and a major tapestry
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Tico
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 07:47 am
Re: DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS--THE ARMADA
I know that you said that you were not that interested in the events that led to the Armada, but one bit of error here can call the validity of your whole post into question.

Setanta wrote:

Philip was betrothed to Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII. In the Spanish view, his divorce was invalid, and Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was his legitimate heir. Philip was married to her by proxy (i.e., the English minister said "I do" on her behalf) to Mary, who died before they ever met.


They certainly did meet. The betrothal ceremony was by proxy, but they were married by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, in Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 -- in person. Philip (or Felipe II de Habsburgo) stayed in England for some time, awaiting the conclusion of Mary's pregnancy and trying to cement bonds to the English nobility. He returned to the continent from August 1555 until March 1557, to attend to the issues arising from his father's abdication and to lead an inept attack on France which resulted in the loss of Calais for the English. After his return to England, Mary announced her second pregnancy, went into seclusion in February 1558 and died in November 1558. Whereupon Philip tried to woo her successor, Elizabeth, and her ministers.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 07:52 am
Thanks for that correction, Tico--i definitely had that wrong. I don't object to a discussion of the origins of the expedition immortalized as "the Armada," i simply did not wish to tackle it myself. Obviously, i made the right decision. I welcome your contributions.
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 11:59 am
Hendrick Vroom made his patron, Lord Howard of Effingham, seem to be a major naval genius in his commemorative tapestry. The tapestry, commemorating the Armadas defeat, hung in the House of Lords until a fire consumed it in the 1800s. Fortunately a woodcut series was commisioned in the early 17th century for John Pine , the engraver, to copy Vrooms 10 tapestries , and these woodcuts still live.

Lord Howard, it was said, demanded an accurate representation of the ships on both sides and its surprising that the cuts show galleys, galleasses, Patache and zabias most of these were sail with main bireme oar sets. So the boats , better suited to the Med, were totally out of place in the rough water of the North.
Now Id seen this woodcut series and I dont recall seeing any frigates, which by definition, had flat decks. All the boats in the woodcut, as I recall, were just loaded to the sky with fore and stern castles. The Spanish being the most ridiculous. Some of the Spanish galleasses were l built like two highrises at each end of the deck.

The Spanish galera , a lateen rigger driven with bireme and even trireme oar sets and fitted with a hugefrontal "punch' with some of the first "swiveling guns" ( they actually could be swung around and be held fast by chains and metal pintels, were , fortunately few in number because they could have caused real problems with a shoot and scoot plan. Fortunately for the British, the Spanish had no clue to use these early swivel guns and rapid stationing to its advantage.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 12:12 pm
When you think of a frigate, i suspect you have a late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century image in mind, such as Constitution. The earliest frigates were not necessarily like that, however.

When i did my frigate thread, i played hell finding an image of an early frigate. This . . .

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/La_Rieuse.jpg

. . . is the best i was able to do, from Wikipedia, and i unfortunately found it well after i had done the thread. This is from almost a century after the Armada--however, it does show that it was initially a small ship, as were its cousins, the snows, which never got any bigger.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 11 Apr, 2006 01:03 pm
It is difficult for me to find information on the origin of the frigate, mostly because i can't read Dutch. Wikipedia has this on the two most famous shipbuilders responsible for the naval vessels in use in Elizabethan times:

Quote:
Peter Pett and Mathew Baker were both at Deptford when a new design of oceanic type of warship was launched in 1575. Revenge represented a departure from anything designed before. This was the origin of the 'Sailing Ship of the Line', the design that heralded the future British mastery of the seas. Revenge, while not a giant at 500 tons, was fast and dangerous. Heavily armed, its chief advantage was that it could remain at sea for long periods and was easily manoeuvrable against an aggressor.


I believe i am correct to state that Revenge was the first English built frigate, well before the arrival of the Armada. Another difficulty in tracing the origin of the frigate is that the term comes from French (and perhaps originally Latin), and was at one time applied to almost any sailing vessel that also used oars--something which characterized sailing vessels of war in the Mediterranean, but definitely did not apply to the common Dutch or English frigate.

Captain Kidd's Adventure Galley was an early type of mediterranean frigate, which relied both upon sails and oars.

http://www.usskidd.com/adv-gal.jpg

Classic frigate lines can be seen in this image, which happens to be very accurate--but she also shipped more than forty sweeps, making her effectively a hybrid galley. Although one thinks of Kidd as a pirate, he began his career as a privateer out of New York, and Adventure Galley was built by a syndicate in London, and offered to him with a commission to raid in the Indian Ocean.

http://www.bio.umass.edu/biology/conn.river/misc_images/shippic.jpg

This rather poor and less accurate image shows her with her sweeps deployed.

The Spaniard had a tactical doctrine based upon Mediterranean warfare, and hence, the reliance upon galleys. It was always their intent to board and fight what was basically an infantry skirmish on ship board. That would also account for their indifferent attitude to gunnery.
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