Jerome de La Torre
one of the Dominican chaplains on the Spanish Armada in 1588.


The Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588.

The intentions of King Philip II.

King Philip II of Spain had been King consort of England until the death in 1558 of his wife, Queen Mary I of England, and he took exception to the policies pursued by her successor, Elizabeth I. The aim of his expedition was to invade and conquer England, thereby suppressing support for the United Provinces — that part of the Spanish Netherlands in possession of the Dutch rebels — and cutting off attacks by the English against Spanish possessions in the New World and against the Atlantic treasure fleets.

More importantly for the fervently Catholic Philip, he believed that it was his duty to lead Protestant England back to the Catholic faith - by force of necessary. The King was supported by Pope Sixtus V, who treated the invasion as a crusade, with the promise of money to be delivered after the Spanish had landed in England. He allowed Philip to collect crusade taxes and granted his men indulgences.

The planned invasion of England

 25 April 1588: The blessing of the Armada's banner on 25 April 1588 was similar to the ceremony used prior to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

28 May: On 28 May  the Armada set sail from Lisboa in Portugal, headed for the English Channel. The fleet was composed of around 130 ships, 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, and bore 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns; it took two days for the last vessel to leave port.

It contained 28 real warships: twenty galleons, four galleys and four galleasses; the remainder of  the heavy vessels mainly consisted of armed carracks and hulks;
also 34 light ships were present.


The Spanish armada approaching the Lizard.

Great Britain 1988, Mi 1155, Sc 1217.


In the Spanish Netherlands an army of 30,000 men awaited its arrival, the plan being to use the fleet to convey the continental army on barges to a place near London; the Spanish admirals probably intended to first land the ship-bound force in the west of England, though this had been explicitly forbidden by Philip.
All told, it was envisaged to muster 55,000 men, a huge army for that time. On the day of the fleet's departure, Elizabeth's ambassador in the Netherlands, Dr Valentine Dale, met Parma's representatives to begin peace negotiations.

 17 July:  negotiations were abandoned, and the English fleet stood prepared  -  though ill-supplied  - at Plymouth, awaiting news of Spanish movements, after having in vain tried to intercept the Armada in the Bay of Biscay.

19 July: The Armada was delayed by bad weather, forcing the four galleys and one galleon to leave the fleet, and was not sighted in England until July 19, when it appeared off St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.

The news was, be it slowly, conveyed to London by a system of beacons that had been constructed along the length of the south coast of England. During the evening the English fleet was trapped in Plymouth harbour by the incoming tide.




The British Royal Navy vessels sailing from Plymouth
to engage Spaniard in battle.

Great Britain 1988, Mi 1156, Sc 1218.



The Spanish convened a council of war, where it was proposed to ride into the harbour on the tide and incapacitate the English ships at anchor and from there to attack England; but Medina Sidonia declined this advice, and that same night 55 ships of the English fleet set out in pursuit from Plymouth under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham, with as Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake. Howard gave Drake, being the more experienced naval commander, some control during the campaign. Rear Admiral was Sir John Hawkins.


Arc Royal of the British fleet. Armada Medal.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1114, Sc1101.



In order to execute their "line ahead" attack, the English the next night tacked upwind of the Armada, thus gaining the weather gauge, a significant advantage.
26 July: Over the next week there followed two inconclusive engagements, at Eddystone and the Isle of Portland.

Two Spanish ships, the carrack Rosario and the galleon San Salvador, were abandoned after having been severely damaged by accidents; they were taken by the English who thereby captured a large supply of much-needed gunpowder.


The British fleet. 16th cent. navigational instrument.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1115,Sc 1102.


At the Isle of Wight the Armada had the opportunity to create a temporary base in protected waters and wait for word from Parma's army.
In a full-scale attack, the English fleet broke into four groups — Martin Frobisher now also being given command over a squadron — with Drake coming in with a large force from the south. At the critical moment Medina Sidonia sent reinforcements south and ordered the Armada back in to open sea to avoid sandbanks. There were no secure harbours nearby, so the Armada was compelled to make for Calais, without regard to the readiness of Parma's army.


Battle scene off the Isle of Wight.

Great Britain 1988, Mi 1157, Sc 1219.



 The Battle of Gravelines

27 July -  27 July: The Armada anchored off Calais in a tightly-packed defensive crescent formation, not far from Dunkirk, where Parma's army, reduced by diseases to 16,000, was expected to be waiting, ready to join the fleet in barges sent from ports along the Flemish coast.

Communications had proven to be far more difficult than anticipated, and it only now transpired that this army yet had to be assembled in port, which would take at least six days, while Medina Sidonia waited at anchor; and that Dunkirk was blockaded by a Dutch fleet of thirty flyboats under Lieutenant-Admiral Justin of Nassau.

Parma desired that the Armada send its light petaches to drive away the Dutch, but this was not acted upon by Medina Sidonia because he feared to need these ships himself for his protection. There was no deep-water port where the fleet might shelter — always acknowledged as a major difficulty for the expedition — and the Spanish found themselves vulnerable as night drew on.


Battle scene off Calais.

Great Britain 1988, Mi 1158, Sc 1220.



28-29 July: At midnight on July 28 the English set alight eight fireships, sacrificing regular warships by filling them with pitch, brimstone, some gunpowder, and tar, and cast them downwind among the closely-anchored vessels of the Armada.

Two were intercepted and towed away, but the remainder bore down on the fleet. Medina Sidonia's flagship and the principal warships held their positions, but the rest of the fleet cut their cables and scattered in confusion. No Spanish ships were burnt, but the crescent formation had been broken, and the fleet now found itself too far to leeward of Calais in the rising south-westerly wind to recover its position. The English closed in for battle.
 The small port of Gravelines was then part of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands, close to the border with France and the closest Spanish territory to England. Medina Sidonia tried to re-form his fleet there, and was reluctant to sail further east owing to the danger from the shoals off Flanders, from which his Dutch enemies had removed the sea-marks.

 The English had learned more of the Armada's strengths and weaknesses during the skirmishes in the English Channel, and had concluded it was necessary to close within a hundred metres to penetrate the oak hulls of the Spanish ships.
In the first engagements they had spent most of their gunpowder and had after Wight been forced to conserve their heavy shot and powder for a final decisive attack near Gravelines. on July 29 Old Style, August 8 New Style.



Revenge. Drake’s drum.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1118, Sc 1105.


With its superior manoeuvrability, the English fleet provoked Spanish fire while staying out of range. Once the Spanish had lost their heavy shot, the English then closed, firing repeated and damaging broadsides into the enemy ships. This also enabled them to maintain a position to windward so that the heeling Armada hulls were exposed to damage below the water-line.
Five Spanish ships were lost. The galleass San Lorenzo ran aground at Calais and was taken by Howard after murderous fighting, between the crew, the galley slaves, the English and the French who ultimately took possession of the wreck.         
The galleons San Mateo and San Felipe drifted away in a sinKing condition, ran aground on the isle of Walcheren the next day and were taken by the Dutch. One carrack ran aground near Blankenberge, another foundered. Many other Spanish ships were severely damaged, especially the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic-class galleons who had to bear the brunt of the fighting during the early hours of the battle in desperate individual actions against groups of English ships.   


British fireships among the Armada. A firebomb.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1117, Sc 1104.

The Spanish plan to join with Parma's army had been defeated,
and the English had afforded themselves some breathing space.
But the Armada's presence in northern waters still posed a great
threat to England.

Source: Wikipedia


The Spanish Armada sailed back to Spain, 30 July – 6 September

30 July: Nevertheless, the Duke of Medina Sidonia determined that the Armada must return to Spain. The English blocked the Channel, so the only route open was north around the tip of Scotland, and down the coast of Ireland.


Spanish ships foundering in the North Sea storms.

Great Britain 1988, mi 1159, Sc 1221.

It was then that the unpredictable English weather took a hand in the proceedings. A succession of storms scattered the Spanish ships, resulting in heavy losses. By the time the tattered Armada regained Spain.



Dismasted galleon, cannon balls.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1116, Sc 1103.




It had lost 31 ships and three-quarters of its men: of the 29.000 soldiers, crewmen, - among them the fleet arrived Santander on 6 September.

Reactions in England.

In England the victory was greeted as a sign of divine approval for the Protestant cause. The storms that scattered the Armada were seen as intervention by God. Services of thanks were held throughout the country, and a commemorative medal struck, with the words, "God blew and they were scattered" inscribed on it.
Source: Wikipedia

The Dominican chaplain Jerome (Geronimo) de La Torre

The Spanish Dominican chaplain, Jerome de La Torre, on board of one of the ships of the Armada, informed Alonso Daza, prior of his priory in Toledo:

“On 31 July there were two great accidents. The flagship of the Armada came into collision with our ship and broke its bowsprit. We tried  to take the ship under tow, but because the enemy approached it failed. The ship stayed  behind with 500 men and its commander Pedro de Valdés. Two men and a Dominican father managed to escape.

Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and Spanish Chivalric Cross.

Saint Vincent 1988, Mi 1113, Sc 1100.



The second accident was with the ship Quendo that by lack of caution with gunpowder burned  into flames. 150 people died in this accident.  On 4 August, feast of Saint Dominic, we were convinced  that we should fight and gain victory. There was a fierce battle from 3 till 4 hours in the afternoon. The enemy fled.  Later again an other battle followed with terrible  results.  Killed in action: don Felipe de Cordobá, son of Diego de Cordobá; don Diego Pachecco and don Pedro de Henruquez.

Many people came to confess, because I walked around with a cross on the ship. Every day we said the litany and everybody was there. Many made their will and assigned me to take care of their personal belongings. Therefore I think that my efforts were well-spent.”

Note: The term "Invincible Armada" was not a Spanish one. It was a sarcastic phrase employed by later English commentators.

Note:  Catholic countries such as Italy, Poland, Spain, and Portugal were first to change to the Gregorian calendar. Thursday, 4 October 1582 was followed by Friday, 15 October 1582, with ten days "missing". Countries that did not change until the 1700s observed an additional leap year, necessitating eleven "missing days". Some countries did not change until the 1800s or 1900s, necessitating one or two more "missing days". Wikipedia

Some dates on the stamps are different of the English historical dates. There are dates in Old Style or in New Style with a difference of 10 day’s.

Brouwer, J.B.: De onoverwinnelijke vloot. P. v. Kampen, Amsterdam 1938, p. 188-206.  
Graham, W.: The Spanish Armadas (1972).
McKee, A.: From Merciless Invaders (1964).
Mattingly, G.: The Armada (1959).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2007 Columbia University Press. Wikipedia.

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