The Spanish Armada Facts for Kids

  • In 1588, Spain sent a large fleet to invade England with 130 ships.
  • The Spanish Armada set sail for England, but the English outwitted them.
  • Some ships sunk, and storms damaged some while they tried to go back home.

The Spanish Armada attack was one of the most important events during Elizabeth I’s rule. 

Elizabeth was beginning to establish herself as a force on the international stage after Spain’s defeat. Elizabeth began her reign with an English victory and secured Protestant control of England.


When Mary I died, England and Spain were on the same team in a war against France.

Her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth came to the throne when Mary died without kids. Philip had a bad hold on England until he came up with proposing to Elizabeth. Philip II of Spain wanted to stay friends with the new English queen. He suggested that he and Elizabeth I marry, but she said no.

Yet Elizabeth wanted to stay friends with Spain. Scotland and France had an alliance. That was bad for Queen Elizabeth. Until she got married and had children, the next in line for the throne was her cousin, Mary Stuart of Scotland.

Many Catholics believed Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was not lawful. Elizabeth should not be queen if that were true, and Mary Queen of Scots should have taken over the throne immediately.

Unfortunately, Mary planned to marry a French prince. If she did that, maybe French and Scottish armies would invade England.

Elizabeth was happy that Philip didn’t want France to become more powerful. He protected her, even though she made England Protestant again.

Philip was worried when he had a rebellion in the Netherlands. He needed to sail through the English Channel.

However, England felt some sympathy for the people in the Netherlands because some of them wanted to be Protestant.

Furthermore, the English sailors and traders were angry because Philip would not let other countries share in the Spanish’s wealth in the areas they controlled in Central and South America.

Then England was less threatened because Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband, died. This ended the link with France, and she went back to Scotland.

The English noble Walter Raleigh had twice tried to establish an English colony in what is the United States today. He didn’t succeed at it.

Spain was supporting England going back to being Catholic. This made the relationship between Spain and England bad.

Spain had many problems with pirates. English pirates and privateers would attack Spanish vessels.

English pirates and sailors would attack Spanish shipping around Europe and the Atlantic. To the English, Drake and his friends were heroes. They helped their country. But to the Spanish, they were just people who took things that didn’t belong to them with permission from their queen.

The plans for an invasion began but had to be delayed when Sir Francis Drake, the pirate protected by Queen Elizabeth I, burned more than 20 ships and destroyed lots of water barrels in the port of Cadiz.

The turning point came when Elizabeth killed Mary Queen of Scots, Spain’s Catholic ally. The two countries had been fighting because they were of different religions. This was the last straw for Philip II, and he decided to attack England.

England and Spain at War

England became a powerful Protestant country on the continent. Philip made a mistake in turning against England. He did not let England’s ships go.

Although the King of Spain canceled his order, he started trouble by ordering people to be attacked. This made the Queen’s government send many privateers to attack Spanish ships.

The Earl of Leicester and Sir Francis Walsingham, who wanted to go to war with Spain, did not wish Elizabeth’s compromise. Many people in England thought that Spain would not negotiate seriously.

Queen Elizabeth sent the Earl of Leicester and 5,000 men to the Low Countries. Queen Elizabeth also ordered Drake to attack Philip’s Spanish and Caribbean territories in America.

England and Spain were fighting a war now.

The Campaign Begins

In 1588, Philip II planned to sail his navy and army up the English Channel to link up with the forces led by Parma in the Spanish Netherlands.

The Spanish would then invade England. They would bring the country under Catholic rule and make Spain the strongest country in Western Europe.

Beacons were lit as soon as the Spanish Armada came near England. They told London and Queen Elizabeth that the invasion was coming.

Francis Drake was told of the Spanish Armada while he was playing bowls. Drake mentioned that there was plenty of time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards. But this is probably only legend.

The Queen’s Speech

The English troops gathered near the coast in Tilbury, Essex, to fight against the Spanish Armada. The Spaniards were threatening invasion and the English forces were afraid they would attack by land.

Queen Elizabeth II was at the event. She gave a speech to her troops. It is one of the most famous speeches for a leader.

I know I have the body of a weak, 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 shall 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.


The Duke of Medina Sidonia was the commander of the Armada. The Duke was reluctant about going on this mission because he was worried that their ships would not be as good at fighting as the English.

The Duke wanted to join the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands. Before invading England, he wanted to find a safe deep anchorage for his fleet. But this did not happen.

The English learned that the Spanish were very hard to break with their ships in a line.

Despite this, two ships from Spain were put out of action and captured and blew up. The Rosario collided with another ship and was disabled, while the San Salvador blew up.

The two fleets tried to get in front of each other up the channel. Neither fleet was able to win.

Spanish and English Ships

The Spanish Armada had 130 ships, 2,431 guns, and 30,000 men. It might have been the greatest and strongest armada of all time.

The Spanish army, when it was at sea, put castles on the front and back of the ship. They also put them on top of the mast. Then they fought each other like they were fighting on land. The Spanish used arrows and guns to attack their enemies. They boarded the ships and fought hand-to-hand with the soldiers.

Galleons were the main Spanish ships. They were tall and heavy, made for many people who could shoot guns from the castles. They were hard to sail because they were so high in the water, and they had wide beams.

English captains, such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake, inspired a new ship for the Queen’s Navy. This type of ship was called the “race ship.” About 25 were built.

These ships were sleek. The ship’s prow was lower in the water, and they had much more space on the front and back of the ship. They carried different kinds of sail that made them go faster than Spanish ships.

The English ships were longer, lower, and faster than the Spanish ships. The decks had been lowered to make them more stable, which meant carrying more guns. And because they are lower to the ground, it made them more manoeuvrable than other heavy Spanish boats.

England used to have no army, so they depended on their navy to fight. The English navy relied more on guns than other countries did.

There were 34 ships in the English fleet, 21 of which were big galleons with 200 to 400 tons. There were also 163 other ships. 30 English ships were 200-400 tons and each carried up to 42 guns each. Twelve ships belonged to Lord Howard, Sir John Hawkins, and Sir Francis Drake.

The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

The English people decided to send in eight ships. These were boats with flammables, and they left them on fire. They set them on fire and then sent them out to the enemy ships.

At midnight, the fireships came close to the Spanish armada. The Spanish ship cut their anchor cables and made them ready to sail. But in the dark, many boats crashed into each other, and they couldn’t sail away.

The Spanish ships were not set on fire. Yet the Armada was left scattered and disorganized.

The following day, there was the toughest fighting of the whole Armada campaign during the Battle of Gravelines. The wind was strong that night, and the Spanish expected an attack at daybreak. But because both sides were out of ammunition, there was no attack.

The wind shifted, pushing the Spanish ships off the sandbars towards the North Sea.

Medina Sidonia’s primary objective was to transport the remnants of the Armada back to Spain when it became clear that the Duke of Parma and his anchorage were gone.

The Spanish Armada is now remembered as one of history’s biggest military mistakes. It did not end the rivalry between England and Spain. In 1589, Queen Elizabeth launched an unsuccessful “English Armada” against Spain.

King Philip II rebuilt his ships. He sent two more Armadas to England, but storms scattered both. It was not until after 16 years that a peace treaty was signed with Spain.


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