Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Spanish Armada

Fig.1: Yellow sky during battle, better find a paddle!
Among all the unpredictable things in the world, like the ending of an M. Night Shyamalan movie or whether or not a doughnut is jelly-filled, all are trumped by the unreliability of naval battles. It doesn't matter whether you have the most experienced sailors, best equipped ships, or highest SPF sunscreen; when two navies go at it, you might as well put all of your faith in Poseidon, or maybe even the Snorks. A good example of this is the famous Spanish Armada of 1588, which despite their superior numbers, commanders, and Catholicism, floundered away in the English Channel due to poor tactics and a simple low-pressure system. To this day, the Spanish Armada serves as a metaphor for an over-hyped project which, despite all of the faith put to it, is doomed to fail (a comparison that has been challenged by the Dallas Cowboys since 1996).

Tensions between the kingdoms of Spain and England had been mounting throughout the 16th century. First, I'm-King-Henry-the-VIII-I-Am wished to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, due to the lack of males emerging from that womb of hers, and instead marry Anne "You Can Find Me Behind the Bleachers at the Football Game" Boleyn. Normally this was nbd, but Catherine was the aunt of Spanish king (and Holy Roman Emperor, for good measure) Charles V, who didn't appreciate the woman that always brought awesome peanut butter brownies to their family reunions being kicked to the curb like that. To make matters worse, when the Pope rejected Henry's petition for divorce, he decided to create his own clubhouse called Anglicanism, with him as head honcho, and their super-secret-rulebook in English instead of Latin. That made those staunch Catholics in Spain muy loco!

Fig.2: Mary and Phillip's matching scowls alone made 
them 100% compatible on all dating websites.
Things seemed to settle down when Henry-the-VIII-I-Am-I-Am died of fatness in 1547, and eventually his daughter through Catherine, Mary (fig.2, left), came to the throne. She attempted to restore Catholicism in England, and persecuted her daddy's Protestant poker buddies while drinking the tomato juice concoction she invented in bartending school. Her actions caught the attention of Phillip II (fig.2, right), son of Charles V and heir to the Spanish throne, who listed "burning of heretics" and "vodka-based cocktails" among his turn-ons for his OkCupid profile. They were married in 1554, and both became consorts of the other's realm upon his ascension as King of Spain later that year. England and Spain might have lived happily ever after in perfect Catholic harmony, but Mary just had to catch the flu and die in 1558. How selfish!

Next in line was Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughter with that hussy Anne Boleyn, which would have been cool except she was all Protestant and stuff. Phillip tried to look past that, and extended a marriage proposal her way on the JumboTron at the Real Madrid-Chelsea matchup, to which Elizabeth covered her mouth and shook her head no in front of the whole crowd. Phillip was super embarrassed, and vowed never to speak to her or take her out for late-night Chinese food ever again. He proceeded to spread vicious rumors about her, like how she was the product of an illegitimate marriage, and worse, how her left earlobe hung slightly lower than her right. He openly supported her overthrow in favor of Elizabeth's cousin, Mary, Queen of Butterscotch; Elizabeth responded by imprisoning her in a Smucker's jar for nearly twenty years. She also made efforts to aid the Dutch Protestants who were rebelling against Spanish rule in the Nether-regions. The last straw came when Mary was accused of plotting an assassination attempt on Elizabeth's life (as well as a plaque attempt on her bicuspids), and her and the rest of the Cavity Creeps were executed by fluoride squad in 1587.

Fig.3: Elizabeth I of England, the 
greatest ginger of them all.
Phillip decided that something had to be done with this heretic queen. The Spanish possessed the strongest navy in the world at that time, and he planned to use it for an invasion of England that would result in Elizabeth's overthrow. After a planning session in the bathtub with his rubber duck collection, he envisioned his massive navy sailing into the English Channel, rendezvousing with his army fighting against the Dutch, and leading a two-pronged attack on the island. He received the blessing of the Pope who allowed the attack to be considered as a "crusade," which can only be a good thing since those had never failed ever. And so on May 28, 1588, the Spanish Armada left the Portuguese port of Lisbon with over 150 ships, 8,000 sailors, 18,000 soldiers, and (as an oversight) only like 30-some lifejackets, ready to scare the britches off those Englishmen. Arriving in the Channel on July 19, the Armada proceeded towards their Dutch base, despite some skirmishing, bad weather, and having to pull over so Pedro de la Tinybladder could pee every ten miles. By August 8, both fleets were in position between the English town of Margate and Dutch port of Gravelines and, upon Michael Buffer's command, were quite ready to rumble.

Here is where the Spanish should have taken advantage of their superior firepower, manpower, and flowerpower. While the English used up most of their ammunition during the previous skirmishing, the Spanish had enough gunpowder to take down an entire Mesoamerican civilization, which they had actually done once or twice before. Unfortunately, naval tactics of the day focused on an ship's ability to maneuver close enough to land an attachment of marines onto an enemy vessel, and commence with the drawing of swords, ye scallywags! So instead of blowing the English out of the water, the Spanish only fired to keep their cover as their fleet moved in. The English, knowing this, used their faster, not-weighed-down-by-forty-tons-of-cannonball ships to shoot quickly and then scurry away, successfully keeping the Spanish as the monkey in the middle for several hours. At the end of the day, the English used up all of their ammo but didn't lose a single ship, while the Spanish lost five and had several others damaged in ways that were going to raise their insurance rates tenfold. Most importantly, the plan to link up with the army on the Dutch coast failed, leaving them all stranded on the dock with their bathing suits and flippers on. Worst vacation ever!

Fig.4: Pool's closed.
Despite the victory, the English remained on their toes in case the Armada attempted a second attack, which is a rather silly stance to be in, but who am I to question the ancient customs of naval warfare? Queen Elizabeth even showed up in person to rally the troops, and gave what is unquestionably the most famous speech of her reign:
I am come amongst you as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of battle, to live or die amongst you all – to lay down for my God, and for my kingdoms, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms – I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
Unfortunately, this moving soliloquy has been edited by conspiracy theorists in order to prove that Elizabeth enjoyed performing odd science experiments with her father's body parts:
[F]or my recreation ... I have the heart and stomach of ... a King of England ... grow[ing] by me ... arms....
Fig.5: Last time I ever trust 
Gross! Nonetheless, the speech (or admission of in vitro royal organ harvesting) may have been unnecessary, as the Spanish were pursued away from the Channel, and forced to return to Spain due to lack of provisions and regulation-sized footballs to play with. Unfortunately they were forced to take the long way home around the British Isles (fig.5), which turned out to be quite the bad time. Particularly high winds drove the fleet too close to the Irish coast, and many ships were battered against the sharp rocks and broken bottles of Guinness prevalent there. Upwards of 24 ships were wrecked and 5,000 sailors died, making the journey back more deadly than the actual battle (which is usually the case when the family and I go out for Taco Bell). This officially ended the threat to England, and they celebrated the so-called "Protestant Winds" that destroyed the Armada with parades and medals, and made sure that 1589's hurricane season was given a Protestant tint with names like Hurricane Calvin and Tropical Storm Luther. Phillip II of Spain, however, had his faith shaken just a tad, and only said nine Hail Mary's on each decade bead of his rosary before going to bed that week.

So the Spanish Armada ended in a big bellyflop, and Elizabeth lived out the rest of her reign to be old and chubby and Protestant just like her father. Philip couldn't help feeling that if the two forces met on land, his superior army would have easily wiped the floor with the English, and then there would be paella for everybody! Alas, Britain just had to be an island, forcing him to take his chances on the uncertainty of a naval battle. It mostly certainly backfired, giving England the confidence it needed to explore the New World and become the maritime powerhouse that would pretty much colonize the world. That sound you just heard was all the peoples exploited by the British simultaneously cursing Philip II's name, all four billion of them. Darn you, Phil. Darn you.

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