[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Canning on Gorrochategui Santos, 'The English Armada: The Greatest Naval Disaster in English History'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Thu Aug 22 12:51:24 MDT 2019

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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Thu, Aug 22, 2019 at 8:26 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Canning on Gorrochategui Santos, 'The
English Armada: The Greatest Naval Disaster in English History'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Luis Gorrochategui Santos.  The English Armada: The Greatest Naval
Disaster in English History.  Translated by Peter J. Gold. London
Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.  viii + 323 pp.  $36.95 (paper), ISBN
978-1-350-01941-6; $108.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-350-01697-2.

Reviewed by Ruth A. Canning (Liverpool Hope University)
Published on H-War (August, 2019)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The year 1588 looms large in English memory. It is regarded as a
moment of national self-definition when a ragtag bunch of English
sailors aboard ill-equipped ships faced the greatest naval power of
the age: Spain. But this was not the momentous victory of popular
imagination; it was an accident, and, as Luis Gorrochategui Santos
points out, the English were not nearly as weak, unprepared, or
unskilled as they are often portrayed. Interpretations of how the
English managed to outmaneuver the Spanish in 1588 warrant revision,
but so too does the English naval response of 1589. Santos's book,
_The English Armada: The Greatest Naval Disaster in English History_,
helps fill a historical void by offering a deep investigation of the
ill-fated and oft-forgotten English Armada of 1589. As the remnants
of the Spanish Armada limped back to Spain, the English decided to
hammer home their victory by sending a fleet to attack what was left
of the Spanish navy. This would firmly establish England's reputation
as a great naval and imperial power, and it would also give England
greater control over the lucrative trade between the Americas and
Europe. The English Armada of 1589 was a massive enterprise, yet
little is known about it, probably because it did not come close to
achieving its aims.

Santos's _The English Armada_ has been translated from its original
Spanish by Peter J. Gold. It is an impressive 323 pages divided into
three parts containing thirty-six chapters and an epilogue. Part 1
begins by placing the Spanish Armada and the Anglo-Spanish rivalry in
the wider European context, giving particular attention to naval
activities during this period. It then provides a synopsis of
military operations before, during, and after the defeat of the
Spanish Armada, detailing the size of ships and crew, navigational
routes, and problems with food and weapon provisions. The day-to-day
operations of these ships are carefully pieced together through
archival records, offering the reader a glimpse into the personal
experiences of captains and crew members. Through his analysis of the
Spanish Armada, Santos challenges the historiographical myth that the
armada was actually defeated. Instead, he argues that "it never shied
away from fighting the English. It continued to rule the waves after
each of the four battles that were fought in the channel. But the
English strategy of avoiding proper confrontation ended up by
exhausting the capacity of the Spanish fleet to remain in the theatre
of operations" (p. 27). Notwithstanding Spanish resolve and English
luck, there is no escaping the fact that the Spanish expedition was
an immense failure.

Part 2 is the longest section in this book, comprising twenty-seven
chapters. It contends that Queen Elizabeth was determined to make the
defeat of the Spanish Armada a reality by launching an offensive on
the surviving ships. She had an additional goal of setting up Dom
António as the puppet king of Portugal, thereby removing it from
Spanish control and making it little better than a vassal state of
England. Santos offers a day-by-day analysis of the English Armada,
from preparations at Plymouth to the tactical decisions made at La
Coruña and Lisbon. The attack and capture of Pescaderia is described
in detail, as is the scramble to make effective defensive
arrangements by Spanish commanders. After two weeks and more than
1,500 casualties, the English were forced to withdraw from La
Coruña, from whence they made their way toward Lisbon.

While the English fleet had been preoccupied in La Coruña, the
Spanish had established strong defenses in Lisbon. The decision to
land English forces at Peniche and march toward Lisbon proved
disastrous as they were harassed by Spanish forces and worn down by
the heat. Upon arriving at Lisbon these English forces were easily
overrun and forced to retreat. Santos continues to trace the
movements of the English fleet, engagements with Spanish forces, and
poor decision-making by English commanders over the following two
months. The evidence presented leads to the impression that the
private economic ambitions of English captains compromised their
military zeal and led to poor decision-making. Sir Francis Drake, in
particular, is shown to be more interested in protecting pilfered
treasure than in leading a major expedition force. In the end, the
English Armada did not achieve any of its goals: it did not destroy
the Spanish navy or seize the West Indies fleet, it did not establish
Portugal as an English protectorate, and it did not take control of
the seas and secure English colonial interests. The English adventure
was nothing short of a disaster; in fact, the English Armada lost
double the number of ships and men that the Spanish had the year

Santos should be commended for writing a history that offers not only
a different interpretation of events but also a different narrative.
This is a well-written and well-researched account of an all too
often overlooked event. Santos makes great use of a wide variety of
primary and secondary materials. The impressive detail on the size
and strength of individual ships along with official decision-making,
military strategy, tactics, and engagements will appeal to scholars
and public audiences interested in early modern military history and
Anglo-Spanish relations. It thoroughly challenges English naval
historiography by demonstrating the biased nature of sources
traditionally used by English historians. In doing so, Santos
suggests that certain events do not attract the attention of English
historians because they undermine a popular narrative. This study
also makes it clear that greater exploration of Spanish archives will
provide a more balanced interpretation of these events.

Nevertheless, while Santos's aim is to provide a reinterpretation of
misunderstood events, his assessment too is prone to bias. By relying
largely on Spanish sources, the book recounts a Spanish version of
events that  was no less partial than that of the English. There are
a number of factual errors in part 3 that weaken the analysis of the
following fourteen years of war. For instance, Sir John Norreys did
not lead the siege of Craon in 1592, as he was safely back in England
at the time. Such errors may be due to the nature of some of the
source materials used for this book. That being so, _The English
Armada_ is an important addition to current historiography on the
Spanish and English Armadas because it offers an alternative to the
typically English version of events.

Citation: Ruth A. Canning. Review of Gorrochategui Santos, Luis, _The
English Armada: The Greatest Naval Disaster in English History_.
H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53211

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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