The invasion fleet sent against England by Philip II of Spain in July 1588 comprised some 138 vessels, perhaps 7,000 seamen, and 17,000 soldiers. The number of soldiers would be doubled once the forces of the duke of Parma in Flanders were embarked. English naval forces comprised 34 royal warships and some 170 privately owned ships under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham. The quality of English guns and their handling were of an order with which the Spaniards could not compete, yet the English, in turn, could not compete with Spanish soldiery if it came to hand‐to‐hand fighting at sea, or on land. Philip II's purposes behind the Armada were to end English attacks on Spain's commerce with her American dominions, to assert his sovereignty in Flanders, and, above all, to bring heretic England back into the fold of Rome.
Under the command of the duke of Medina‐Sidonia, the Armada took three weeks to make Corunna from Lisbon. From the Lizard Point in Cornwall on 29 July its disciplined crescent formation was only twice broken by English forces before it reached Calais on 6 August. Here Parma had failed to prepare his troops. The Armada's congestion made it vulnerable to Howard's fireship attack on the night of 7 August, and the following day there was heavy Spanish loss of life in a sustained battle off Gravelines. Deteriorating weather drove a dispersed Armada up the North Sea, pursued by Howard. Driven round Scotland and Ireland, in unseasonably severe weather, two‐thirds of the Armada were brilliantly navigated back home, but upwards of 30 ships were lost in the Hebrides and western Ireland. Some 11,000 Spaniards may have died. Although the elements had principally saved England, the campaign brought her high international repute, while Spain had proved she could place a huge naval force in northern latitudes.