Title: The Invincible Armada
Author: Peter Gray
Recommended Ages: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★
I purchased The Invincible Armada thinking from the size and build of it that it would be a children’s book. And it is written at a level that is readable by children. But it is much more engaging than a simple children’s account would have been.
I will not here attempt to rearticulate the story of the Armada. That would be far too lengthy and, frankly, out of my league. But I will relate a few of the interesting tidbits that I learned.
We all know of King Philip of Spain’s marriage to Bloody Mary, and his subsequent proposal to Elizabeth. Here is a paragraph or two on Philip’s attitude towards Elizabeth.
He was really rather glad Elizabeth had turned him down. Besides, Elizabeth was proving quite reasonable in her attitude to the Catholics. She was not torturing and burning them to the same extent as her sister had tortured and burnt Protestants. The weak English fleet showed no signs of interfering with the flow of merchant ships in the English Channel. Indeed, there were so many Spanish ships that the Channel seemed more Spanish than English. There was no need to fear Elizabeth; he would let her continue as Queen of England.
Besides, better the devil he knew than one who might prove worse. If anything happened to Elizabeth, another Mary would reign in England. This Mary, a grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, was a Catholic and, as such, Philip should prefer her to Elizabeth, but she had married into the French royal family and was also the Queen of Scots. If she came to the English throne, there would be an alliance of Scotland, France, and England – something that Spain had never before had to face.
To keep Mary from becoming Queen of England, it was worth keeping the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne. [pg. 16]
Fascinating stuff, politics. The Invincible Armada presented another view that I had never considered. I had always been under the impression that the smaller boats of the English fleet made them the poor little underdogs. I didn’t realize that the sleeker size of the English ships was specifically chosen so that they could effectively sail circles around the huge Spanish vessels.
It is pleasant to think of the story of the Armada as a struggle between a giant Goliath and a brave but ill-armed David. In fact, thanks to Hawkins, the English David was extremely nimble and very well armed. Admittedly, Armada vessels, with their high castles for and aft, towered above most of the English ships, but this was by design on the part of the English.
Hawkins’ new racebuilt warships could slip through the water at twice the speed of the lumbering Spanish galleons and easily outmanoeuvre them. One of Elizabeth’s subjects wrote of the English navy: ‘The common report that strangers make of our ships amongst themselves is daily confirmed to be true, which is, that for strength, assurance, nimbleness, and swiftness of sailing, there are no vessels in the world to be compared to ours’. [pg. 35]
Interestingly enough, when the Spanish Armada was beaten, Philip of Spain did not blame his commanding admirals. He believed that it was the will of God who was punishing the Spaniards for their sins. This was a surprisingly Biblical view for Philip of Spain to take!
Interesting fact: Sir Francis Drake was one of twelve boys!
The Spanish people viewed Drake with no little superstition… they believed that he possessed a magic mirror given to him by the devil. By looking at the mirror, Drake could know where every single ship in the world was sailing!
In trying to explain the religious setting of the sixteenth century, I felt that Mr. Gray oversimplified things.
“Protestants were those who agreed with Martin Luther, a monk who had protested against some of the ideas of the Catholic Church. Before 1517, when Luther started his great Protest, the people of western Europe had all been Roman Catholics.” [pg. 8]
Protestants do agree in some areas with Martin Luther, but even at that time, there were many disagreements between Luther’s theology and other strains of Protestantism. Also, Luther was not the first to disagree with Rome. He was but the crest of a wave of disagreement that had been swelling for centuries.
Peter Gray comments that a special Armada medal was struck bearing the words “God blew and they were scattered” on it. He notes that none of the sea-dogs complained, but quips “a truer medal would have had the words ‘the sea dogs growled and the Spaniards fled.’” [pg. 58]
On one page it is mentioned that Drake and Hawkins participated in slave deals.
A painting is included on one page that depicts a nude women. Sharpie time!
Conclusion. A very interesting, short account of one of the greatest naval battles in history.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret