The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

Garrett Mattingly

Lucent Books 1997 [1959]
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
The Defeat of the Spanish Armada is a popular account of the political and military drama that unfolded in Western Europe in 1587 and 1588. It covers not just the events in Spain and England and at sea, but also those on the continent, most notably in France. Mattingly knows how to make the most of an exciting subject and builds his narrative around key episodes and individuals: many chapters are almost self-contained, making the volume an ideal one for piecemeal reading.

There is certainly plenty in The Defeat of the Spanish Armada to hold one's attention — 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. It is here that Mattingly displays what is perhaps his most distinctive trait — his refusal to think ill of anyone and his sympathy for their failings. He always stresses their positive traits 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.

Mattingly does highlight Drake's destruction of Spanish barrel staves in 1587 and its contribution to the supply problems of the Spanish fleet in 1558, but otherwise his focus is political and biographical. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada is a work of old-fashioned narrative history. It is aimed at a popular audience, but Mattingly never strays into dramatisation and does provides some references to sources in his endnotes: this is popular history at its best.

June 1996

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- books about Britain + British history
- books about Spain + Spanish history
- more naval history + fiction
- books about war + military history
%T The Defeat of the Spanish Armada
%A Mattingly, Garrett
%I Lucent Books
%D 1997 [1959]
%O hardcover, references, index
%G ISBN 1560064587
%P 382pp