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The Spanish Armada by Colin Martin
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The Spanish Armada

by Colin Martin

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The book is a straightforward re-examination of the Spanish Armada posing the question; why did it fail? Its coffee table format hosts a number of photographs of paintings, drawings and diagrams as well as information in tabular form, it is attractively presented and carries enough detail to interest the casual browser to look further. Martin's background is in archeology while Parker specialises in military and so they have combined resources for this publication. It was first published in 1988; the Spanish Armada took place in 1588 and so this book celebrates its 400 hundredth birthday. It is by no means the last word on the subject as Robert Hutchinson's book published in 2014 will testify.

The book's first part examines the build up to the Spanish fleet entering the English channel, while part 2 cuts back to put the event in its historical context, some hundred pages later the authors are ready to continue with the battle. This is neatly done and while 40 years of European history in one hundred pages must be sketchy in parts, the book does well to concentrate on the issues that would affect the outcome of the Armada. Part 3 covers the actual fighting and part 4 covers the tattered remains of the Armada seeking to return to Spain via Scotland and Ireland.

Much of the book concentrates on the Spaniards part in the affair and this is because they kept better records which are a mine of information for historians. English records for all sorts of reasons do not carry the same amount of detail; for example there is no list of the English ships that took part. The reader does feel he is travelling in the Armada with the Duke of Medina Sidonia; Philip II's Captain General of the Ocean sea and is introduced to all the various sub commanders. The Spanish were the aggressors and in many ways it was there battle to lose and so concentrating on their tactics and their society gives a fuller picture of the events.

Martin and Parker are intent on exposing the popular myths that it was bad luck and bad weather that caused the Armada to fail, along with the better manoeuvrability of the English ships. According to the two authors a bigger factor at play was the use of artillery and the command structures of the Spanish navy which led to communication difficulties. They tell a convincing story of the battle itself along with potted histories of the ships that struggled to get home in the aftermath. The military historian is in his element here with details of the canons and shot used by each side and a pattern emerges that gave the English sailors an advantage that they used to the full in the final decisive battle just off the shores of Calais. In many respects this is fact based history well researched that is livened up with diagrams, pictures and tables. The actual events are exciting and desperate enough and do not warrant any dressing up.
Despite this being an English book and publication one gets the feeling that the Authors sympathies are with the Spanish. They tell with some admiration of Philip II efforts to ensure the well being of the sailors that managed to get back to Spain which was in stark contrast to Elizabeth and her courtiers who were intent on letting her soldiers and sailors starve in order to save money. The idea of a strictly religious jihad against a pack of privateers and pirates lingers below the surface of this book. I was entertained and informed and so 4 stars.

I suppose the test of a coffee table book is to leave it on your coffee table to see if anyone picks it up - I wonder....................... ( )
3 vote baswood | Jul 3, 2019 |
An interesting and comprehensive account of the causes, events and aftermath of the Armada. The authors have no axe to grind and clearly set out the positive and negative factors on both sides. The conclusion sets out what might have happened had the Armada landed and the outcome in that eventuality looks as if it would have been pretty one-sidedly for the invaders. The reasons why the invasion failed entered into the equation earlier and revolved around strategy, logistics, equipment, personnel and leadership, topped off with the more famous meteorological factors. One of the co-authors has excavated Armada wrecks and this brings an unusual insight into the account, albeit perhaps with slightly more technical detail than I would have wanted about weaponry and ship structure. Very good. ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 26, 2007 |
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At the end of July 1588, Philip II's Armada of 130 ships set sail against England. Within a month they were condemned to defeat. The authors spent 13 years reassessing the profusion of untapped documents, diaries and private papers lying forgotten in Spanish and Dutch archives. This material has been augmented by underwater discoveries from the Armada wrecks. --from publisher description… (more)

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