There are 2 things Spanish have a very different view on from the British:- 1. Francis Drake (Draké) and 2. The 'defeat' of the Spanish Armada in 1588. They are related, of course. In Spain, Drake is seen as nothing better than a licensed pirate and his depredations of the Spanish coast - as well as his thieving down in the Caribbean - are well remembered. In Pontevedra, he's famous for destroying a church on an offshore island and chucking a statue of the Virgin into the sea. (Whence it miraculously rose and replaced itself on the altar). But anyway . . . Controversy will inevitably arise again when a new docudrama - called Armada - goes out on BBC TV - even though it'll be more faithful to the Spanish version of events than to the British. Here's a article on this from a British newspaper:
Britain's other finest hour: For the first time, the real story of Francis Drake's victory over the Spanish Armada is told in a gripping new docudrama
Ask most people in the country what the Spanish Armada was, and they would probably be able to tell you just three things.
First, the Armada consisted of a lot of ships from Spain that wanted to invade England. Secondly, we beat them. And thirdly, we only beat them after Sir Francis Drake finished a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe.
Now, thanks to a landmark BBC docudrama series, we’ll no longer have any excuses for such ignorance. And furthermore, neither should we still believe that hoary old story about Drake’s game of bowls.
Armada tells the tale of those 12 fateful days in 1588 when the future of the Britain hung in the balance.
Presented by historian and keen sailor Dan Snow, Armada tells the tale of those 12 fateful days in the summer of 1588 when the future of the British Isles hung in a very precarious balance.
At the end of the 16th century, England was by no means the powerful nation she would become. Instead she was the equivalent of somewhere like Poland today – small, proud, but certainly not mighty. Spain, meanwhile, was truly a global superpower, with an empire that stretched from South America to Asia.
Its ruler was Philip II, a stickler for detail who at the time of the Armada was 61 years old. Philip’s béte noire was undoubtedly the English, and in particular the monarch Queen Elizabeth I.
For Philip, Elizabeth ruled over a kingdom that encouraged the likes of Drake to seize Spanish ships and their cargoes of treasure as they headed back from South America. But Philip’s other gripe was that the English had rejected Roman Catholicism. An intensely devout man, he was concerned for the safety of his fellow Catholics under Elizabeth, and was determined to help them.
As well as providing analysis by historians, the series recreates the events in the courts of the two monarchs. The star of the show is Anita Dobson, who plays an ageing Elizabeth I. She brilliantly captures the vulnerability of the 54-year-old queen, who is worried not only about assassination attempts by Catholic agents, but that her kingdom might be overrun by the mighty fleet Philip had dispatched from Spain.
However, as the show makes clear, the Armada’s aim was not to invade Britain. With 125 ships and 30,000 men, the force was far too small to conquer an entire country. Instead, its purpose was to support an invasion army assembled in northern France by the Duke of Parma.
Philip’s plan was for his Armada to link up with Parma in Calais, help the army cross the Channel and seize landing grounds around Margate, before sailing up the Thames providing cover for Parma as the Spanish army marched on London.
What the series portrays so well are the tensions among the senior figures in the Armada. Until now, much of this Hispanic squabbling has not been fully appreciated, but thanks to the work of Professor Geoffrey Parker, one of the experts interviewed, we are now able to understand what the Spaniards were thinking.
A few years ago in an archive in Madrid, Professor Parker stumbled upon some old documents marked ‘Curious papers’, which contained letters between the leader of the Armada, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, and his deputy, Juan Martinez de Recalde. ‘What we can now show is that Recalde, who was a tough sea dog and a far more experienced sailor than the Duke, wanted to attack England straight away, at Plymouth where the British fleet was berthed,’ says Snow.
However, Medina Sidonia was determined to follow orders and press on up the Channel to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma in France. ‘Had the Duke listened to Recalde, and the Armada had successfully attacked Plymouth, history would have been very different,’ says Snow.
Medina Sidonia’s lack of adaptability proved fateful. As the Armada sailed up the Channel on 21 July, the British commander, Lord Howard of Effingham, and his deputy, Drake, were able to send ships from their fleet in behind the Spanish and ‘pick off’ a few ships at a time with devastating artillery fire from their cannons.
It’s at this point that the myth of the game of bowls can finally be put to rest. There is no evidence to support the notion that Drake was so calm that he would rather play a game than go into battle. If Drake did wait to go into action, then it was for a very good reason – the tide was against him. As the show reveals, the bowls story was invented decades later by historians to add patriotic spin.
For the Spanish, Drake’s unconventional methods were immensely frustrating, as they preferred their enemies to draw near so their soldiers could board their ships and fight hand-to-hand. But Drake decided to keep his distance. For the next week, the British harried the Spanish fleet up the Channel.
On 27 July the battered Armada eventually made it to Calais, but Parma’s army was not ready to embark. The Armada was vulnerable now, so Howard and Drake sent eight blazing fireships into the middle of it, causing it to disperse. Then Drake pounced, and for eight hours the British launched a fierce artillery assault, destroying five galleons.
Medina Sidonia now took the only option open to him – escape. For two months the once-mighty Armada had to circumnavigate the British Isles in order to get back home. As a result of unseasonal violent storms, almost 40 ships were run aground, and as many as 5,000 Spaniards drowned or, if they made it ashore, were butchered by locals.
The English victory cemented Elizabeth’s grip on power, and Spain would not attack Britain again until after the death of Philip in 1598. ‘We’ll be focusing on all these exciting events in tons of detail,’ says Snow. ‘There’s never been a televised account of the Armada as rich and as complete as this.’
'Armada' will be shown later this spring on BBC1.
THE SPANISH ARMADA BY NUMBERS
- 125 Ships made up the Spanish fleet – then the largest ever seen in Europe
- 200 English and Irish exiles were among the Armada’s 30,000 sailors and troops
- 11m lbs of biscuits and 14,000 barrels of wine were just some of the provisions
- 2,431 Guns were aboard, plus 123,790 rounds of ammunition