5 Things You Didn't Know About The Spanish Armada

In August 1588, Spain launched a fleet of ships with the intention of dethroning Elizabeth I. The mission proved disastrous, however, and Spain suffered a dramatic, devastating defeat. Here are five fascinating facts that might have sailed by you.

5 Things You Didn't Know About The Spanish Armada

1. THE LEADER OF THE ARMADA DIDN'T WANT THE JOB

The best man to helm the Spanish Armada would've been the Marquis of Santa Cruz, an 'undefeated' admiral of fifty years. The only problem was, this maritime legend had died just a few months prior to the planned invasion. His replacement was to be the Duke of Medina Sidonia, a brave man held in high regard by the Spanish king, but one who held no real naval experience.

The Duke himself wanted no part in the invasion, saying "I know by the small experience I have had afloat that I soon become sea-sick". Despite this, the king wouldn't change his mind, and dismissed his claims of inexperience as modesty. The reluctant Duke even expressed his belief the invasion was doomed to fail in a scandalous letter - a letter the king's counsellors found, and quickly brushed under the carpet.

2. ENGLAND'S NAVAL FLEET WAS ACTUALLY BIGGER

While the Spanish Armada's enormous scale is legendary, England actually had the bigger fleet, with 200 vessels compared to Spain's 130. They included dozens of ships from Elizabeth I's Royal Fleet, as well as a number of privateers belonging to Sir Francis Drake, Lord Howard of Effingham, and Sir John Hawkins.

But Spain's real strength lay in its sheer firepower - estimated to be around 50% greater than the English fleet's capability. When the Spanish Armada set off from Lisbon with 30,000 men, the ships boasted an arsenal of 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns - while 28 of the ships that were carrying them were purpose-built for war.

3. THE SPANISH HAD A PRICE ON DRAKE'S HEAD

Sir Francis Drake's epic circumnavigation of the world from 1577 to 1580 earned him a knighthood, but his pursuits during that time weren't entirely noble. He had a shady arrangement with Queen Elizabeth I that he would raid and plunder Spanish ships along the way, which quickly earned him the nickname "El Draque" - the Dragon - among disgruntled Spaniards.

The Spanish king was said to have placed a huge bounty on his head, which in today's money would have been several million pounds. Drake's pirating instincts weren't put aside during the Spanish Armada either. During one night during the Armada campaign, Drake doused his ship's lantern, putting his own fleet in disarray while he sneakily went off to plunder the gold-filled Rosario - a Spanish galleon abandoned by the rest of the Armada after it had suffered a collision.

4. THE POWS WERE SENT TO A BARN

Sir Francis Drake captured hundreds of Spaniards during the failed invasion, and he promptly transported them to Torre Abbey in Torquay, where they were held as prisoners of war. The abbey was home to a large barn which was usually used to store grain, hay, and other produce given as tax payments, but for two weeks after the Spanish Armada it served as a make-shift prison for 397 prisoners.

Today the centuries-old building still stands and is known as the "The Spanish Barn" - and further proving its versatility - it's now a very popular wedding venue.

5. IT WASN'T TO BE THE LAST FAILED ARMADA

The Spanish Armada failed for many reasons: bad timing, poor planning, unfortunate weather, and the skill of the English naval military. But that didn't deter Spain from trying again. Less than a decade later the country sent two further fleets - one in 1596 and one in 1597 - both of which would meet similarly catastrophic conclusions.

The result of these efforts cost thousands of lives, numerous ships, and a huge financial loss to Spain. Eventually, in 1604, the almost two-decade Anglo-Spanish War came to an end with the new Spanish king, Philip III, and the new English monarch, James I, signing the Treaty of London.