Philip II of Spain, representing Catholic Europe, was determined to overthrow England’s Protestant regime (the Empresa [Enterprise] de Inglaterra), and come to the aid of England’s rebellious Catholics. Elizabeth’s military intervention in the Dutch Revolt against Spain in 1584–85 made invasion inevitable. His Armada of 130 ships finally arrived off Land’s End in July 1588, surprising the unsuspecting English fleet in Plymouth as they were resupplying. The first skirmish, off Plymouth (21 July) produced no casualties, but two Spanish ships collided and were abandoned. On 6 August the Spanish admiral, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, unexpectedly anchored off the coast in Calais and the main engagement began with the scattering of the Spanish fleet by English fireships: five Spanish ships were sunk in the subsequent clash. The English then pursued the Spanish north, before pulling back in Scottish waters. Storms battered the Spanish fleet as they rounded Ireland, reducing it to 67. Despite Elizabeth’s stirring ‘heart and stomach of a king’ speech at Tilbury, it was ‘Admiral Tempest’ that kept England secure. That, and the Dutch, who blockaded the Duke of Parma’s army, land troops essential for any successful invasion, in Flanders.
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