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British history

Spanish Armada

A Spanish war galleon of the 16th centuryA Spanish war galleon of the 16th century The Spanish king, Philip II, had been married to Elizabeth I’s half-sister, Mary I, who had died in 1558. He expected good relations to continue between Spain and England after her death. But Elizabeth was a Protestant and Philip was a Catholic: she feared Spanish and Catholic power. Already angered by English privateers attacking Spanish treasure ships, after Elizabeth sent help to Dutch rebels fighting for independence from Spain, and executed her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, Philip decided to act. In 1588, Philip sent a huge armada (navy) to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth.

Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596)Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596)

The Armada sets sail

The preparation of the Armada took more than two years. In 1587, a raid by the English navy under its commander, Sir Francis Drake, on the Spanish ships in harbour at Cadiz delayed things further. Finally, the 130 ships of the Armada set sail in 1588. The English made two attempts to attack them as they emerged from port, but were turned back by storms. Back in harbour in Plymouth, the English fleet was then caught by surprise when the Armada appeared off the Lizard (a headland in Cornwall, southwest England) in late July 1588.

Sir Francis Drake was a hero to the English but a pirate to the Spaniards: Philip II offered a reward of 20,000 ducats (worth £5–6 million today) for his life.

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