Tag Archives: Solent

On this day in 1588 – the Battle of Gravelines began during the Spanish Armada

July 1588 saw England under threat from the Spanish Armada. King Philip of Spain attempted to invade England by sending 130 ships to join with a large army that were waiting in Flanders led by the Duke of Parma. The Spanish had already made their way past the English navy who were docked in Plymouth and were heading towards London before the English caught up with them and battle commenced. See http://wp.me/p5LWKn-as for more on the first part of the Spanish Armada.

On 27th July the Armada were in Calais waiting for the Duke of Parma whose army had been reduced to 16000 men through disease, Medina Sidonia was expecting the army to be ready and their barges stocked for them to depart instantly. However, because there was no communication between the two armies Parma was not ready and it would take at least six days for the barges to be loaded. Meanwhile, in England a council of war was taking place to decide how to deal with the latest developments and Lord Howard was joined by Lord Seymour and Sir Winter. Without knowing about it England had the upper hand.

In an attempt to panic the Spanish on the 28th July at midnight the English took eight of their ships, stripped them of any fireships2valuables, painted the masts and rigging with tar and packed them with combustible material. A skeleton crew sailed them close to the Spanish who were still docked in Calais before abandoning the ship and boarded small boats that would take them away from what was about to happen. A double shot to the material would set the boats alight and they would travel straight into the waiting Armada. Medina Sidonia had expected the English to make some sort of move and so protected the Armada with smaller ships. Six of the eight ships sailed straight into the heart of the Armada and panic took a hold of the Spanish. In order to move away quickly the Spanish ships cut their anchors, which meant that they would be unable to dock anywhere else.

Although no Spanish ships were burnt they had become scattered and the English closed in further. On 29th July in a small port near Flanders called Gravelines the English were joined by an extra 35 ships that had set sail from Kent with fresh supplies for the navy. Sir Francis Drake was determined to take advantage of the fireships and so began moving the navy to attack the Spanish at 6am with all the intelligence Drake had gathered during the smaller battles England had learnt a lot about the Armada. The canons that the English were using were far superior to the Spanish, they could fire faster and cause more damage at a longer range. After eight hours of fighting the English began to run out of ammunition and were forced to retreat.

However, the English had destroyed five Spanish ships but the Spanish were not able to fight back any more. With no anchors and low ammunition and the English in pursuit the Spanish could only head north and travel around England. Lord Howard eventually called off the English navy as they were approaching the Firth of Forth, Scotland. By this point the Spanish were exhausted and Medina Sidonia decided that the only option left to the Armada was to return back to Spain defeated.

battle of gravelinesThe Battle of Gravelines

The Spanish continued around Scotland and travelled back to Spain via Ireland. Food and water were running short and the men aboard the Armada were tired and becoming ill. Off the coast of Ireland the Armada encountered gales and many ships were wrecked on the coast of Ireland. Less than half the ships that originally set out from Spain made it back.

On this day in 1588 – English forces gathered at Tilbury during the Spanish Armada

King Philip II of Spain, once King of England through his marriage to Queen Mary I, authorised a fleet of 130 Spanish ships to set sail for England in the hope of invading and capturing the country, now ruled by Queen Elizabeth I and returning it back to the Catholic ways.


On 28th May 1588 the Spanish Armada set said from Lisbon and began its journey towards the English Channel, aboard its 130 shops were 8000 sailors, 18000 soldiers and they also carried 1500 brass guns and 1000 iron guns. The sheer size of the Armada meant that it took nearly two days for everyone to leave Lisbon port. The Armada was led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, a courtier who had little experience at sea. As they headed towards England they would be   delayed by bad weather and would lose five ships.

As the Spanish headed towards England the English navy were docked in Plymouth awaiting further news of the Spanish and their movement. The English navy consisted of 200 ships and therefore slightly outnumbered the Spanish. The English also had advanced weaponry aboard their ships. Lord Howard of Effingham led the English but like the Duke of Medina Sidonia had little experience, this fell to his second in command, Sir Francis Drake.

On 19th July the Spanish were spotted for the first time off the coast of Cornwall near to The Lizard, the news was quickly conveyed back to London through the use of beacons that were lit up across the south coast. The tide was against the English and so they were trapped in port unable to leave and intercept the oncoming Armada. The Spanish contemplated whether to sail into Plymouth Harbour and attack England but Medina Sidonia was adamant to stick to the plan Philip had prepared and they sailed past heading towards the Isle of Wight.

The tide eventually turned and the English set off in pursuit of the Spanish. On the 20th July the English had reached Eddystone Rocks with the Armada slightly further ahead of them but the English had caught up by the 21st using knowledge of the waters and weather to their advantage and the two fleets engaged in their first battle. As night fell and hours of fighting passed neither side had lost any ships however, as the light failed two Spanish ships, the Rosario and the San Salvador collided and were abandoned. Sir Francis Drake in his ship, the Revenge was given the order to guide the fleet by carrying a lantern through the night. However, for Drake the opportunity to turn back and loot the two abandoned ships were too great and Drake ordered his ship was turned around. Upon boarding the Rosario Drake was able to take much needed ammunition and treasure but he was also able to gain intelligence that the English could then use against the Spanish. Drake’s abandonment of his duty meant that with no light to guide them the English navy became scattered and took a full day to regroup and once again catch up to the Spanish.

The Spanish continued heading towards the Isle of Wight in order to make a base in the Solent whilst they awaited news from the Duke of Parma, who had been waiting in the Low Countries until his army could cross the Channel and join the Spanish in an invasion of London. The Spanish waited here for a few days and in that time lost two more ships.

On the 26th July 1588 4000 men assembled at Tilbury Fort on the Thames estuary in an attempt to prepare in case the Spanish made it to land. They would guard the eastern approach towards London and the Queen. Whilst troops were gathering at Tilbury Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Lieutenant and Captain General of the Queen’s Armies and Companies also created a blockade of boats across the Thames therefore blocking the way for the Spanish to travel up the Thames to reach London.

Meanwhile, the Spanish on the 26th July had managed to leave the Solent and reached Calais and anchored whilst a messenger was sent to the Duke of Parma who was further up the coast line calling him into action.

Both countries were preparing for the next stage of the battle.

Spanish ArmadaThe English surrounding the Spanish during the Spanish Armada