The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

Not many history books offer the brilliant blend of accurate record and compelling narrative as does The Defeat of the Spanish Armada. The reader is entertainingly informed about a raft of fascinating detail – the execution of Mary, the attack on Cadiz (the famous “singeing of the beard”), the capture of Sluys, the battle of Coutras, the astrological prognostications for 1588, the day of the barricades, the preparations of the fleets, the running battles up the Channel, the fireships at Calais, the change in the wind which saved the Armada off Zeeland, Elizabeth at Tilbury, the battered ships limping home, and the assassination of Henry Guise. The individuals who take centre stage include Elizabeth I, Philip II, Henry III, Sixtus V, Henry of Navarre, Parma, Drake, Mendoza, William Allen, Henry Guise, and Medina Sidonia. Mattingly prefers to stress the positive traits of the players and makes excuses for actions other historians have condemned — whether Henry of Navarre’s failure to follow up Coutras, Drake’s eye for a bit of loot, Elizabeth’s insistence on keeping the English fleet in port during the winter of 1587/88, or Medina Sidonia’s reluctance to take command of the Armada.


This is history told with empathy, verve, and style. If it is considered too old fashioned, and populist now, that opinion is itself only a fashion. So get hold of The Defeat of the Spanish Armada and throw yourself into late 1500s Europe. You’ll enjoy the ride.


Enquire at your local library. Check if this classic work of history is in stock by consulting the online catalogue at




384 pages in Pimlico (3rd revised edition)

First published 1959

ISBN  978-0712666275


Garrett Mattingly

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