History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1588

    July 20, 1588 - First battle of the English fight against the Spanish Armada begins, leading to their defeat nine days later and the lessening of Spain's influence in the New World and the rise of English influence in the Americas.

    English defeat Spanish Armada

    It didn't happen in the United States or even in the America's, but the battles between the Spanish Armada, who were trying to attack and take control of Great Britain, were none the less important to the outcome and control of the New World. The outcome of this battle, and the subsequent nine days of engagements around the coast of England would cement the rise of influence over the next centuries of the American colonial development, while in the same breadth, decrease that influence of Spain and its allies from Puerto Rico to Florida to the west.

    It was May of 1588 when one hundred and thirty ships of the Spanish crown left Lisbon. Their mission, to defeat the English navy, depose Queen Elizabeth I and her Protestant church, and transport an Army to invade England. The commander, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, was thirty-seven years old, of little experience for command, chosen, some note, because he was a good Roman Catholic Christian and high social rank when the former commander died two months before. The attack had been planned for over a year, a response to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Queen Elizabeth, and the subsequent support by Elizabeth for the Dutch revolt against Spain and the funding for privateers to attack Spanish ships in the Atlantic.

    The attack, in many ways, was just a complicated family affair. King Philip II of Spain had been co-monarch of England due to his marriage to Queen Mary I, but she had passed thirty years prior, elevating Elizabeth, her half-sister, to the throne and Philip out of English influence. He was still the lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands, and now Elizabeth, the Protestant, was attempting to take away some of what was left in Philip's arsenal. But the King of Spain had other allies; Pope Sixtus V had blessed the Armada's flag, and thus essentially the invasion on April 25, 1588; he wanted to restore the Papal authority over what had been diminished by Elizabeth.

    With eight thousand sailors and eighteen thousand soldiers, the Armada left the Tagus in Lisbon, Portugal (recently defeated and now part of Spain) on May 28-30, 1588 for the English Channel. Thirty thousand additional troops waited in the Spanish Netherlands to be transported to London. It was impossible not to sight the ships as they sailed toward invasion, but peace negotations during the voyage failed. The preparations of the Armada were known throughout Europe and the English awaited the Spanish Armada with two hundred ships, but fifty percent less firepower.

    The First Battle, July 20, 1588

    Fifty-five English ships left Plymouth under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham with Sir Francis Drake as Vice Admiral. By July 20, they approached Eddystone Rocks with the Armada to their west, tacking upwind. By daybreak one day later, they were engaged with neither England or Spain losing one ship during the initial first day of conflict. English ships were faster and more maneuverable, but the Spanish, with their defensive positions and heightened firepower, difficult to defeat. However, after nine days of fighting, that's just what the English fleet did. By the time the Spanish fleet sailed around Scotland and Ireland into the North Atlantic, they were defeated. However, the remnants of the defeat would continue during the escape, as the Spanish commanders fatefully would not calculate the strength of the Gulf Stream. It pushed them too close to shore. Many ships were stranded on the rocks, with locals looting their remaining bounty, while other ships were simply lost in the strong storms.

    Upon arrival of the Spanish Armada back in Spain in September, only sixty-seven ships and ten thousand men had survived the ill-fated invasion.

    Impact of British Victory in the Americas

    With the naval victory, the legend of her monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, grew, and the power of the English navy laid the foundation for the British Empire that was expanding throughout the Americas and the world. It boosted the confidence of Great Britain that the nation and crown were embarking on destiny. For Spain, they began to change strategy in the New World, building larger fortifications to defend their interests against English and privateer attack. For England, this boost in naval power and confidence would lead to their attempts at colonial settlement, and subsequent success. The founding of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock early in the 17th century by English colonists can be correlated to the boost that stemmed from the success against the Spanish Armada, as well as the rise of English trading companies, such as the East India Company.

    Image above: Spanish Armada defeat by the British, 1588, Author unknown. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Lithograph, Story of the Spanish Armada, George Varian, 1895, The Century Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: Wikipedia; Dailyhistory.org; Story of the Spanish Armada; Spanish Story of the Armada, 1892, James Anthony Froude.

    Spanish Armada

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