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Old 12-12-2011, 18:13
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Default Re: The Spanish Armada of 1588

The Spanish Armada of 1588 - The weather myth

It has already been shown that the ‘Enterprise of England’ failed because of the presence of the Dutch fleet at Flushing, and that the Armada was defeated at Gravelines. But one of the many enduring myths surrounding the Armada is that it failed, not because it was beaten by the English, but beaten by the weather. Curiously, this was claimed by both sides at the time for different reasons.

It suited the English politically because it supported their cause that God favoured the Protestants over the Catholics. They and the Dutch struck various commemorative medals with Latin inscriptions along the lines of "God blew with His wind and they were scattered".

It was easier for King Philip to go along with this than loose military prestige in Europe by admitting defeat at the hands of the English, saying something to the effect of "I sent my ships to fight against the English, not against the elements".

In both countries this belief has persisted, against the evidence, to the present day.

The weather

From the day the Armada entered the Channel on 29 July, until it was north of Ireland on 21 August, the weather had been nothing unusual. The prevailing wind normally blows from the SW, and for most of this period that is what it generally did, and that is what Medina Sidonia would have expected. It blew the Armada eastwards, in the direction he would have wanted, along the Channel to its destination.

The Armada was actually saved by the weather on 9 August. When it was about to run aground on the Zealand sands, the wind changed to WSW allowing it to edge away into the North Sea. The wind that saved the Armada is the same wind that blew it northwards for the next few days. That it continued from the same quarter, albeit a little fresher, was only to be expected.

The first adverse weather bid not occur until after 21 August; 13 days after Gravelines, and 24 days from its entry into the Channel. For 24 days the Armada had winds which generally suited it; which is more than they could haves realistically expected.

Until 21 August, the wind is only mentioned in the letters, diaries and reports from Medina Sidonia to report its direction or lack of it. The only reference to its strength is that is 'freshened'. Neither the word 'gale' nor 'storm' is used by him. Thus the weather cannot be offered as an excuse for the defeat of the Armada, and Medina Sidonia never did so.

Damage sustained by the Armada

Letter from Medina Sidonia to Philip 21 August
" . . . This Armada was so completely crippled and scattered that my first duty to your Majesty seemed to save it, . . . the Queen's fleet being so superior to ours in this sort of fighting, in consequence of the strength of their artillery, and the fast sailing of their ships. . . ."

Extracts from the Diary of the Expedition
Monday 8 August - " . . . Don Alonso de Leyva, Juan Martinez de Recalde, Oquendo's flagship, the whole of the ships of the Castilian and Portuguese Maestres de Campo, Diego Flores' flagship, Bertondona's flagship, the galleon "San Juan" of Diego Flores, with Don Diego Enriquez on board, and the "San Juan de Sicilia" with Don Diego Tellez Enriquez on board, withstood the enemy's attack as well as they could, and all of these ships were so much damaged as to be almost unable to offer further resistance, most of them not having a round of shot more to fire. . ."

" . . . The Duke's ship was so much damaged with cannon-shot between wind and water that the inflow could not be stopped, . . . "

" . . . nearly all of our trustworthy ships being so damaged as to be unfit to resist attack, both on account of the cannon fire to which they had been exposed, and their own lack of projectiles . . ."

Statement made by the purser Pedro Coco Caldron aboard the Vice Hulk San Salvador
"On Wednesday, 21st, St. Matthew's Day . . . There was not one drop of (fresh) water in the hulk, and though both pumps had to be kept going, day and night, they were unable to gain upon the leaks. . . ."

"completely crippled", "so superior", "strength of artillery", "so much damaged" are the candid words of a commander explaining the reasons for the condition of his fleet after having been severely beaten.

Loss of ships

When the Armada left Corunna on 22 July, it comprised of 131 ships, excluding the pinnaces. Five ships, including the four galleys, departed after suffering storm damage. Another three were lost to accidents in the Channel, making 123 ships of the Armada present at the start of the battle off Gravelines.

Two were sunk in the fighting and two more were run aground to prevent them sinking. After the battle, a total of 119 ships departed the Zeeland coast on 9 August. But by the time the Armada turned to the SW near Rockall on 21 August, there were only 112 present. (In his letter of 3 September to Philip, Medina Sidonia states that he had 95 ships with him on that date. Having lost 17 more means 112 ships were present on 21 August.)

Therefore seven ships must have been lost between 9 and 21 August. As the weather had not been particularly adverse, the only explanation for the loss of seven ships is that they had belatedly succumbed to their battle damage and sunk; damage they could only have sustained at Gravelines.

Between 21 August and 3 September, a further 17 had fallen by the wayside, indicating progressive unseaworthiness, leaving 95 ships to negotiate the final leg to Carunna.

As only 67 ships survived, a further 28 had been lost. As the 67 survivors arrived in poor condition, the 28 missing must have been in an even worse condition if they couldn’t keep up with the main body. Their condition due to battle damage being exacerbated by storm damage.


Seaworthy ships should have been able to withstand gales, even storms. They may have become scattered, but they should have survived. Had the Armada not suffered such severe battle damage at Gravelines, rendering many unseaworthy, they probably would have done so.

In conclusion, the Armada was defeated by the English at Gravelines, not by inclement weather. The weather just finished them off. Blaming its defeat on the weather was a political decision made by both sides. Medina Sidonia never did.

Regards, Bill

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?" - Cicero.

Last edited by emason : 12-12-2011 at 19:44.
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