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View the Armada Maps

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The Astor Armada Drawings - the first visual representations of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

The maps are a set of ten ink and watercolour drawings of the progress and defeat of the Spanish Armada. [c1589].

The English fleet was disposed in two groups by early June 1588 in preparation for battle. A force of about 90 ships under Howard and Drake at Plymouth, and Seymour’s 30 or so ships stationed at the Downs. The vessels at Plymouth were to intercept the Armada, whilst the ships at the Downs were to prevent an invasion by Parma from the Low Countries.

List of the Charts

  1. The sighting of the Spanish Armada off the Lizard, 29th July 1588
  2. The first engagement, near Plymouth, 30th - 31st July 1588
  3. The skirmish off Plymouth and the aftermath, 31st July 1588
  4. Drake’s capture of the Rosario, Armada pursued by Howard east of Plymouth, 31st July - 1st August 1588
  5. The Fleet off Berry Head, Capture of the San Salvador, and the engagement near Portland Bill, 1st - 2nd August 1588
  6. Engagement of the fleets between Portland Bill and the Isle of Wight, 2nd - 3rd August 1588
  7. The Battle off the Isle of Wight, 4th August 1588
  8. The pursuit to Calais, 4th - 6th August 1588
  9. The fireship attack on the Spanish Armada, 7th August
  10. The battle off Gravelines, 8th August 1588

Chart 1 - The sighting of the Armada off the Lizard, Fri 29th July

Armada Map 1

On the 22nd July a fleet of 138 ships, with over 24,000 men, sailed out of La Coruna, commanded by Medina Sidonia. The Lizard was sighted at 4pm on 29th July. The Spanish were spotted, still as shown here in pre-battle formation, by one of Effingham’s scout ships, the Golden Hind captained by Thomas Fleming, which returned to Plymouth to inform Howard. The track of the Hind is marked by a dotted line to Plymouth, where she lets off her warning signal. Another track this time emanating from the Armada depicts the track of a Spanish zabra capturing an English fishing boat off the Dodman point. The scouting zebra would return to Medina Sidonia around midnight, with four captured Falmouth fishermen and the first direct intelligence of the English fleet. He learned that his adversaries were commanded by Howard and Drake.


Chart 2 – The first engagement, near Plymouth, 30th July - 9 am 31st July

Armada Maps -2

Howard and Drake managed to set to sea with fifty-four vessels and, by 3pm on 30th July, the fleet had reached the Eddystone rock and were in sight of the Armada.

The Armada was then put into battle formation: the Levant Squadron and the galleasses of Hugo de Moncada were placed in the vanguard, with Medina Sidonia commanding the main body, the Andalusian Squadron and the Guipuzcoan Squadron being disposed on either wing. The hulks were put in the centre and a rearguard was established under the command of Juan Martinez de Recalde.

On Sunday 31st July the wind changed to west-north-west. This enabled the English fleet to come in astern of the Armada. A further eleven English ships had been late leaving Plymouth Sound, and it was possible that the first shots of the campaign were exchanged when the vessels tacked inshore of the Armada.

The chart shows the English fleet leaving Plymouth, the main body of the fleet heading due south, the track marked by a dotted line, with the 11 ships shown to shore of the Armada with their zigzag track marked. The pinnace Disdain is shown firing the opening shot of the battle.


Chart 3 – The skirmish off Plymouth and the aftermath, Sun 31st July

Armada Maps -3

The skirmish off Plymouth, which is depicted on the left of the map, lasted about four hours. Howard’s Ark Royal attacked the Rata, depicted here on the Armada’s left flank, whilst Drake (Revenge), Hawkins (Victory), and Frobisher (Triumph) attacked the reargaurd. The only ship which stayed to fight them was Recalde’s San Juan de Portugal, which withstood their attacks for over an hour. The English withdrew when the Gran Grin, the galleon San Juan and the San Mateo sailed up to support her. The fighting ended around 1pm.

More English ships can be seen leaving Plymouth, in order to join the fleet, as only half of Effingham’s fleet had put to sea the previous day. Later in the day around 5pm Valde’s flagship, Nuestra Senora del Rosario, collided with the Santa Catalina; due to the damage incurred by the Rosario the decision was taken to leave her behind, shown here at the bottom of the map with four support ships. Two ships are seen leaving the English Fleet, one of them being Drake’s Revenge, Drake wished to claim the Rosario as his prize. This was in direct contravention of Effingham’s orders who had commanded Drake to track the Armada throughout the night with his stern lantern acting as a marker for the rest of the English fleet.

At around the same time as the collision occurred, a barrel of gunpowder exploded on Guipuzcoan's ship San Salvador. Blowing up her decks and stern and wrecking her steering gear; the explosion is shown to the right flank of the Armada with the ship's stern on fire and flotsam in the sea. The fire was later taken under control and the ship taken into the fleet for the night.


Chart 4 - Drake’s capture of the Rosario, Armada pursued by Howard east of Plymouth, Night of Sun 31st July – Mon 1st August

Armada Maps -4

As Drake captured the Rosario during the night of the 31st, depicted lower left, the rest of the English fleet pursued the Armada. The Ark Royal took over the role of the Revenge, with the Bear and Mary Rose astern. The chart erroneously depicting four pursuing vessels. The rest of the English fleet, either uncertain which ship to follow during the night, or on orders to wait for the rest of the English fleet, shown leaving Plymouth, hang back. Flotsam and jetsam from the Armada and the Rosario are depicted to the bottom of the chart. The Armada itself had been reorganised by Medina Sidonia in the morning of the 1st August into the iconic defensive crescent shape.


Chart 5 – The Fleet off Berry Head, Capture of the San Salvador, and the engagement near Portland Bill, Mon 1st August – Tue 2nd August

Armada Maps -5

The San Salvador, which had been set adrift during the night, can be seen on fire to the bottom left of the chart, between the two fleets. Both it and the Rosario would remain the only ships captured by the English throughout the battle. The ships were later taken into port, the Rosario to Dartmouth, and the San Salvador to Weymouth.

The English fleet astern of the Armada can be seen gradually regrouping, with more vessels leaving Dartmouth, Tor Bay, Exmouth, and Lyme Regis.

The engagement off Portland Bill is depicted to the right of the chart. The battle took place in the morning Tuesday 2nd August, when Bertendona, in the Regazona, engaged the Ark Royal. The battle would be joined by the Nonpariel, Elizabeth Jonas, and Victory, on the English side, against the San Mateo, Rata Encoronada and San Juan de Sicilia.

In the meantime, another battle had developed to the north of the two fleets. The Triumph, with the Merchant Royal, Centurion, Margaret and John, Mary Rose, and Golden Lion, which had become separated from the main fleet where engaged by the Spanish galleasses, their large bank of oars clearly shown on the chart. Later on, both the Ark Royal and Medina Sidonia’s San Martin would join the fight, with the San Martin coming under heavy fire for about an hour and, although heavy fire was exchanged, the English caused little real damage to the Spanish ships.


Chart 6 - Engagement of the fleets between Portland Bill and the Isle of Wight, Tue 2nd August – Wed 3rd August

Armada Maps -6

The chart shows the continuation of the engagement off Portland Bill, with two English ships going to the aid of the ships led by the Triumph, battling the galleasses to the west of the main fleet. A small group of vessels attack the Armada’s right flank, whilst the main battle rages. On 3rd August the fleets were off the south coast of the Isle of Wight. In the morning the English attacked the hulk Gran Grifon, which was left exposed, causing considerable damage. However, English sources do not mention the action and it is not depicted on the chart. What is depicted is Howard’s decision to divide the English fleet into four squadrons under the command of himself, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher, in order to make the fleet more manageable and quicker to react to enemy movements.


Chart 7 - The Battle off the Isle of Wight, Thur 4th August

Armada Maps -7

The skirmishes continue with the stragglers from the Armada tempting the English to engage. The calm seas hampered Howards efforts, and he had to engage rowing boats, as shown on the plan, to drag his ships towards the Armada. Both the Ark Royal and the Golden Lion were dragged by row boats to do battle with the Spanish galleasses, an engagement that can be seen at the bottom of the chart. As the day progressed the wind rose slightly and Frobisher’s squadron went into action against the San Martin, which had become isolated, and although the San Martin sustained significant damage, several Spanish ships managed to come to her rescue. To the bottom, or seaward, side of the Armada, Drake was attempting to force the Spanish fleet northwards on to the perilous Owers, east of the Isle of Wight.

Yet again Medina Sidonia was unable to bring the English to close quarters, and decided to disengage and reform. The engagement had once again been indecisive with the only major result that both sides had used up a great deal of ammunition. Medina Sidonia sent to Parma for fresh supplies while Howard decided not to engage the enemy until he had joined forces with Seymour near Sandwich.


Chart 8 - The Pursuit to Calais, Fri 5th August – Sat 6th August

Armada Maps -8

The following two days were relatively uneventful. On the Friday, Medina Sidonia sent more messages to Parma, for pilots and ammunition, and fifty or so small vessels with which he hoped to engage the reluctant English for long enough so that he could bring his larger vessels into close quarters. Howard spent the day knighting a number of men, among them Hawkins and Frobisher. The map shows several ships leaving English ports, in order to join in the action; the participation of these ‘voluntary ships’ in the campaign was clearly worthy of note.

The following day, the Spanish sighted the French coast near Boulogne around 10am. They arrived at Calais at 7pm, and a decision was made to anchor there for the night, even though the anchorage was dangerous and exposed. The pilots feared that if they continued on their course it would prove almost impossible to rendezvous with Parma who should, by that time, have been ready to sail from Dunkirk. The English decided to anchor off the Calais cliffs and wait for Seymour, who’s squadron can be seen making its way from the Downs, where it had been stationed in case Parma set sail from the Low Countries. Howard sent for Sir William Winter, commander of the Vanguard in Seymour’s squadron, to discuss the best way to deal with the Armada. Winter, according to Howard, suggested the use of fireships. Howard approved of the idea and decided to put it to a council of war the following day.


Chart 9 - The fireship attack, Sun 7th August

Armada Maps -9

On the morning of Sunday 7th Medina Sidonia received the news that Parma was still at Bruges, and would not be able to sail for another fortnight. Medina Sidonia decided to stay put and sent men to Calais to procure provisions.

Meanwhile a council of war had taken place aboard the Ark Royal, where the decision to use fireships had been agreed. Initially the plan was to procure ships from Dover, however, they soon realised that the ships would not be readied for the night time attack, and so eight privately owned ships from the fleet were chosen. The ships were sent out during the night with the wind and tide with them.

It has often been presumed that these ships caused panic within the closely anchored Spanish fleet, however, Spanish records depict a relatively orderly dispersal, with boats being sent out to deflect the fireships, and with enough time for Medina Sidonia to send orders to the entire fleet to sail out of danger and then resume battle position in the same area. This is also borne out by the fact that there was only one collision during these difficult night time manoeuvres.

Although the fireships may not have inflicted a great deal of damage to the Armada, it drove the fleet from their anchorage, led to the loss of numerous anchors and cables, and due to the prevailing winds and currents meant that the Spanish would never be able to rendezvous with Parma’s forces. It would remain the greatest tactical move of the entire campaign.

The chart shows the eight fireships between the two fleets, with several ships leaving Dover on route to meet up with the English fleet.


Chart 10 – The Battle of Gravelines, Mon 8th August

Armada Maps -10

At dawn the following day Medina Sidonia found himself quite exposed with only four other ships nearby to provide cover. It was at this point that the English decided to attack the flagship. Meanwhile the galleass San Lorenzo had become grounded on the Calais sandbanks having lost its rudder in a collision the previous night, and Howard decided to lead the attack on her personally, sending the other squadrons to engage the main fleet. The engagement can be seen on the chart, with the San Lorenzo being attacked by small craft and several English row boats, as the waters were too shallow for Howard’s larger ships. To the shore, Calais' cannons can be seen firing on the English. Although the action was successful in capturing the San Lorenzo, with the Spanish crew being forced to flee, the covering fire from the Calais cannons drove the English off and they were not able to gain the ship's valuable ordinance. To the right of the engagement a further three ships can be seen ablaze beached on the sandbanks near Dunkirk.

To the north of the engagement, the main battle rages with a great deal of firing in progress. The chart shows at least one Spanish ship sinking and another three heading towards the dangerous Flemish sandbanks. The main attack was led by Drake who decided to engage the flagship the San Martin. The San Martin received heavy fire with reports that it was hit over 200 times by cannon fire. Although the San Martin was heavily damaged in the engagement, it did allow time for the Armada to recover its defensive crescent shape as can be seen on the chart. The fighting continued until the early evening, when both fleets had almost exhausted their munition supplies. Although no decisive blow was made by either side, the loss of life, especially on the Spanish side, must have been considerable. The ships to the right of the main battle are probably those: of the Maria Juan, which sunk in heavy seas with the loss of the entire crew; and two galleons the San Felipe and San Mateo, and pinnace San Antonio, which were so badly damaged in the fight that they failed to keep pace with the fleet and were driven ashore and later taken by the Dutch.

Medina Sidonia still wished to meet up with Parma, however, a strong north westerly wind was forcing them on to the perilous Flemish sandbanks, depicted to the right of the battle.

The strong winds had continued to the next day with Medina Sidonia still wishing to stand and fight, rather than heed his pilots’ suggestions and head north to avoid the banks. His decision almost proved fatal, until a fortuitous change in the wind direction to west-south-west, pushed the Armada away from the shore and out towards the North Sea. Thus ending any chance of the Spanish fleet rendezvousing with the Parma, and so invading England.

The Armada was now faced with a perilous journey of some 750 leagues around the dangerous and little known waters of Scotland and Ireland, in order to return to La Coruna. The English left Seymour’s squadron in the Narrow Sea between Dover and Calais, just in case Parma decided to launch an attack. The remaining squadrons, although low on supplies, munitions, and with exhausted crews, harried the Spanish for the next four days up the English coast, breaking off at the Firth of Forth.



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