For lack of a Fair Wind
It is often said that history is written by the victors. This, to a large extent, is true in the case of the 1588 Spanish armada. While many people dismiss the invasion of the Spanish Armada as being untenable and inevitable to defeat, the reality is that had Medina Sidonia, the admiral in command of the Armada, followed his instinct and not the orders of Philip II and rode in on the tide into Plymouth harbour, the English fleet could have been destroyed leaving Englandís coast undefended.
In this particular timeline, however, Medina gathered his courage and gave the orders to commence the attack at the Council of Wari. It was thus; on July 20th the Spanish fleet sailed into Plymouth Harbour and crushed the anchored English fleet there. The only consolation that the English had was that the two admirals, Lord Howard and Sir Francis Drake both escaped the following carnage as each English ship was subject to a massive cannonade of fire. More than twenty-four of the English ships were taken as battle prizes.
Englandís worse fears had come true; the coasts of England were completely open to Spanish invasion, and nothing stood between the Armada and Parmaís veteran forces. Despite delays in communication between Parma and the Armada, the fleet arrived at Parmaís position at July 29th, safely harboured in the knowledge that no attack could take place against the fleet. Despite the lack of obstacles between the Armada and Parma, however, communications remained poor and thus by the time the Armada arrived, the majority of Parmaís forces were scattered across Calais in order to save suppliesii. Despite this, within 48 hours the Army of Flanders was gathered and beginning to board the Armada.
Even as this was going on, however, Queen Elizabeth was facing trouble. With the knowledge that the Spanish Armada had free access to England, the army gathered from the surrounding villages of Essex and from the Holland Expeditionary force had begun to desert in huge numbers, leaving only 3,000iii. It was clear to Elizabeth that if there had been any chance of stopping the Spanish, it would have been at sea. It was thus that on the advice of Sir John Norris who commanded the forces of the southeast that she withdrew the small army back to London on August 3rd, with orders going ahead to London to marshal the London militias, many of whom had been drilling twice a week since March. At the same time, the southern militias were ordered to gather at Berkshire under the command of Admirals Howard and Drake, who had escaped the debacle at Plymouth with more than 3,000 armed sailors around which the militias were to gather with any weaponry they could find.
On August 6th, the Armada landed at Calais. More than 36,000 soldiers landed and had within a few hours moved and captured several surrounding villages. Vigorous questioning of several villages led to the information that Elizabeth had fled to London. At the same time of the questioning, many of the Spanish soldiers began to engage in widespread looting and rapeiv. Although the Essex Atrocities are lesser known in comparison to later events, more than two hundred civilians were killed, with particular attention being paid to Protestant Churches, the majority of which were burnt.
Despite this less than ideal start to the Spanish invasion of England, Parma soon restored order amongst the newly named Army of England and leaving behind 6,000 troops, marched with 30,000 towards London. Although the majority of soldiers amongst this army came from Spain and had spent the better part of a month in the Armada, the key centre of his force came directly from fighting in the United Provinces. This veteran centrepiece continued to set the tone for which the remainder of the army had to follow. Over fifty miles lay between the landing point and London itself. On the march, at every town Parma found nearly every one of its male inhabitants to be missing; further questioning led to the knowledge that every man was being conscripted in preparation for the defence of London.
It says something to Parmaís military discipline that the Army of England reached London a mere day after Elizabethís own forces had, despite the English almost having a three day startv. Almost immediately, several problems had been found in the defence of London. The only real defence that London could boast were its medieval walls which could easily breached. Even its defenders were outnumbered; as only 16,000 troops had been mustered from the surrounding regions of London. Despite this advantage, however, Parma didnít make the killer blow, apparently choosing to lay siege to the east of London, its cannons occasionally firing at the walls. Parma even sent part of his army back, apparently to secure Essex. It wasnít until three days later that the reason for Parmaís reluctance to engage became clear.
The River Thames had always been seen as a potential way in which London itself could be breached by foreign invaders. Yet, it had always been supposed that Tilbury Fort and other such defences would prove suitable to stop any riverborne invasion in its tracks. It is surprising, therefore, that Elizabeth and her ministers took little precaution in creating any defences. The one attempt to build a boom across the river to stop enemy shipping simply broke as soon as it reached high tide, and no further attempt was made to repair itvi. It was easy enough for a messenger riding by horse to simply make his way from London to where the fleet had docked at Haywich. From there, it was easy to separate more than 30 ships from the fleet and send them up the Thames, picking up the separated soldiers along the way and land them right in London itself.
Even as the Spanish ships sailed without any effective resistance down the Thames, dozens of civilians began to gather on the river sideís to watch the spectacle. To this day, it is unknown which ship began the terrible event, but regardless, an overzealous gun crew opened fire, quickly joined by countless other crews. As the screaming masses fled from the waterway, one of the cannonballs bounced over the heads and directly into a wooden shack where it caught fire. The fire rapidly spread through the city. At the worse possible moment, Parma, alerted to the start of his plan by a messenger, began his attack and diverted any possible fire response. The attack quickly broke through the pitiful defences, many defenders having fled near the start of the fighting either through cowardice or to preserve what they could of their homes. Before long, the attack floundered and in general good order, the Spanish formations fell back to the camp where they watched in astonishment as they saw the work of God done before them
On the river, countless numbers of small boats fled to its surface, many of them meeting their fates by drowning or through asphyxiation from the smoke. None of the Spanish ships sent into London that day ever returned, the burnt husks merely joining thousands of other remains. In a poem made by the famous Spanish priest, Juan de Yepes Alvarez, he wrote of the brave Catholic ships fighting the very bastion of hell alongside the angels and saints, who came down from heaven and fought alongside the sailors and soldiers. Amongst them, he added, died the demonness of the Protestant heresy herself; Queen Elizabeth.
The consequences of the Great Fire of London were clear; both the spiritual and secular heart of the nation had been ripped out. Not only had Englandís capital been destroyed, but the government itself had fallen. Without a designated heir, England had been crippled. Parma had accomplished more with one battle than he could have any anywhere else. As news began to spread, eyes began to turn to the only real major area of resistance left in England; Howard and Drake.
Almost immediately after the Fire of London, Parma moved rapidly to establish control over England. Fully expecting reinforcements from Spain as soon as word arrived to Philip II, Parma had two choices. The first was to march north where he could reasonably expect the mainly Catholic north to tolerate, if not support him and his army. The second choice was to take control of the rich Protestant south with its abundance of ports and wealth. The decision made by Parma remains one of the great "what ifs" of the 16th century. In the North, more than 6,000 soldiers stood on the Scottish border having awaited a possible Scottish invasion in the event that James IV of Scotland chose to invade England. At the same time, one of the most powerful men at the time remained in the Council of the North; Henry Hastings, one of the few remaining descendants of the previous dynasty of the Plantagenet family and a viable heir to the English throne. Not only that, but he was well known amongst the rapidly growing Protestant population.
The decision for Parma, at the time, seemed obvious at the time. Instead of marching north, Parma chose the southern march, believing that reinforcements would soon arrive. In later years, he wrote to correspondents lamenting his decision, but remained stubborn that he made the best decision with the information available to him at the time. Leaving behind over 3,000 troops to take command of the burnt husk of London and its remaining population, Parma split his remaining troops into two; taking the larger force of 22,000 men west towards where Howard and Drake were still desperately marshalling the southern militias while the remaining 8,000 marched south into Surrey and Sussex. Once again, resistance was modest. Upon hearing of Londonís destruction and Elizabethís death, Howard and Drake fled with a mere 8,000 militiavii, many of them armed with only what they could grab. Along with this force came the remnants of the Privy Council, not least William Cecil, the chief advisor and the Lord High Treasurer. It was to York that the troops gathered.
However, even as Parma began his march to conquer the largely undefended south, events were spiralling out of control in the north. When news reached James IV, almost immediately war was declared between Scotland and England using the Treaty of Berwickviii as his excuse for the declaration of war. Although the Treaty of Berwick by itself was a legitimate excuse for the declaration of war, it is generally believed by modern historians that James IV saw the death of Elizabeth as the perfect time to push forward his Stuart claim to the throne of England. A more cynical claim is that Scotlandís wealth simply wasnít enough to support Jamesí extravagance.
In any case, as soon as war was declared, an army of over 14,000 was gathered and sent into England under the command of James Steward. Steward, a royal favourite of James IV had risen to power under Jamesí patronage. Despite this, his rise to power had coincided with a political alliance from the hated Esmť Stewart, who many Scottish noblemen had seen as a threat to themselves and so forcibly removed him from Scotland. For once, the army of Scots was not met with hostility, but with letters of friendship.
It had been William Cecil, one of the closest advisors to Elizabeth, who managed to convince men such as Henry Hastings to acknowledge James IV as the rightful heir to Elizabeth. He pointed out Jamesí many desirable traits, such as his well known Protestant faith and the fact he could bring Scotlandís armies to assist in reclaiming southern England from the horrors of Catholicism. Despite what James offered, however, many in the ranks of Northern England felt a great distaste for James IV. It had not been long ago that Mary Queen of Scots, James mother, had been executed by Englandís own hand. In particular, Henry Hastings feared the coming of the new King for he had been instrument in the murder of Jamesí mother. Needless to say, he felt that he was a much more preferable Monarch to any Scot. In this, he was joined by Lord Howard who also played a role in the death of Jamesí motherix. Although both men grudgingly accepted James IV as their protector for now, it was clear that the two powerful men would not accept him as their Monarch in the long term.
Problems began to emerge between the Scottish and English armies as soon as they drew close to each other. Many northern soldiers, particularly those near the Scottish border, were extremely hostile to the Scottish, who in their turn despised the English as soft. Even in the higher chain of command was there disagreement over who would command the army. Although James Steward was clearly more experienced, both Howard and Drake were unwilling to allow their portion of the army into the hands of a Scot, despite the fact they themselves had never fought a land battle. Even the marching orders of the two armies were argued over, Drake and Howard insisting the English go first into their own country, while Steward simply wanted the greater glory from being the one to face the enemy first.
Even as the two armies quarrelled between themselves, Parma had succeeded in taking most of the southeast by the middle of September. Many cities and towns, when faced with the Spanish forces, simply opened their gates. In nearly every case, every Protestant Church was either looted or burnt to the ground, the army commanders unwilling to prevent their troops. In an ironic turn of events, it was many Protestant preachers who found themselves hiding in the cellars of rich Protestant families.
It was around this time that the first Catholic missionaries arrived from Europe to begin re-educating England in the ways of Catholicism. Amongst these priests came Cardinal William Allen, an English exile and who had been instrument in the excommunication of Elizabeth and the subsequent planning of the Spanish Armada. His agreed role in the aftermath of the successful invasion was to take the position of Lord Chancellor and become Bishop of Canterbury. Upon arrival at Canterbury Cathedral, his first act was to re-establish its status as an abbey and to begin restoring it to its former glory. Alongside Cardinal Allen followed many Jesuits and many of his English students from the University of Douay in order to commence spreading Catholicism back through England. Some even moved into Northern England where they found themselves more popular. However, despite the best efforts of these missionaries, many found themselves ignored at best, and at worse often murdered. It was in the rural areas that their efforts truly began to flower Catholicism. However, what Allen ultimately failed to realise was that many of Englandís Catholics no longer believed the secular was less important than the spiritual. Many had been loyal to Elizabeth, and saw the invasion of Spanish soldiers as treasonous. In the long run, although Allen would strive to keep England Catholic, the roots of Protestantism were fully sown, and would never truly be dug out.
Meanwhile, as soon as word had reached Philip II of the successful invasion of England, after extensive consultation with his council, it was finally agreed to Spain would use the Armada to once again take a further 20,000 soldiers to reinforce Parma in England. With the defeat of England, it was reasoned that the Dutch rebels would soon fall without English supportx. Foolishly, to the eyes of many foreign observers at the time, the Dutch had further weakened their position by introducing a Republic instead of a Monarch to rule the state, further weakening them. In France, the civil war was continuing with Henry III facing dissent from his people over continued bad relations between Henry and the Guise family. Spain was triumphant in most areas of the Empire. All that remained now was to crush the remaining Protestants in England and finish off the Dutch before a new Monarch could be placed on the English throne who was suitably pro-Spanish.
By December, 1588, the majority of Southern England was under occupation. Only the furthest counties to the west and a few resilient towns continued to hold out. Meanwhile, the north remained as resistant and as incompetent as ever. Under the combined commands of Lord Howard and James Steward, the army of some 26,000 had done little in the time after having mustered their forces. To a large extent, the fault lies with Steward and from Steward, James IV himself. James IV knew that the longer Spain moved unopposed and longer the army remained in place, the stronger Scotland and thus Jamesí position would be. The English basically needed James IV, for with the majority of Englandís forces in the United Provinces and with the south and its larger population out of recruitment range, it effectively left Scotland providing the muscle. Even the Irish, long used by the English for her wars, could not be used or trusted for fear of them turning at a critical moment in a battle. The more that James IV was needed, the stronger his position would be when it came to the question of succession.
This simple and effective policy of stalemate was seen and recognised as such by the only other real contender to the English throne; Henry Hastings. With the loss of Elizabeth and the loss of southern England, it was the northern Lords that increased in stature and influence in the remains of the English government. It was to the Council of the North that they looked to for backing, and Henry Hastings, the Chairman of the Council, took advantage of this. Using the natural loathing of the Scots and the fears of those few remaining ministers who had served under Elizabeth, Hastings made sure that he was seen by many as being the true heir to Elizabeth, his Plantagenet linage only helping to push forward that motion. However, near the end of December, the Council of the North was rocked to its foundations when three Catholic Jesuitsxi were discovered in the homes of a councilman on the Council of the North. Immediately, suspicions ran wild as to how deep this Catholic influence ran. Although Hastings largely escaped this suspicion, for he was undoubtedly a Protestant and a Puritanxii, he did not escape the suspicion that he led a group of closet Catholics. To a certain extent, however, this arguably succeeded in raising Hastingsí popularity in the north, for a great many of its population were indeed private Catholics.
For the Spanish, however, everything up to December had gone with hardly a hitch. Despite the Fire of London, the conquest of England had gone exactly as Parma had hoped. Nearly all of southern England with its valuable ports had been taken. However, it was at this point that disaster struck. A month previous, the Spanish Armada had been called back to Spain to transport more troops into England to support Parma. However, while on the way back to England with its valuable cargo, it was hit by one of Englandís famous storms, sending more than two dozen into the ocean. The surviving fleet limped into a English port at Dartmouth and deposited only 12,000 soldiers. The next disaster was significantly worse for the Spanish. London had always been known for its tight streets and its diseases. The Black Death in particular was still presentxiii. When London began to burn, much of its population and wildlife, including thousands of rats, began to move out into the nearby countryside. The Black Death was officially documented at the village of Pinner, where more than 3,000 refugees had descended on the unprepared Parish. From there, it spread rapidly across the whole of England. By the time the disease burnt itself out, more than 140,000 were believed to have died. One of its most important casualties was Parma himself and 6,000 Spanish soldiers. Nor did the English army get off lightly with more than 7,000 left deadxiv, including Sir Francis Drake. One consequence of this was the separation of Scottish and English troops into different camps, the official reason being to avert the chance of disease striking again.
The death of Parma meant that a new leader was necessary for the Spanish troops. After a meeting by the Spanish nobles, it was decided that Antonio Ńlvarez de Toledo, 5th Duke of Albaxv would take over unless Philip II decided otherwise. The Duke of Alba, the grandson of Fernando Ńlvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba had been present with Parma during the invasion of England and was determined to expunge the failings of his grandfather in the Netherlands. His appointment was controversial to say the least, for the stories of his grandfatherís cruelty and malice in the Netherlands were still talked about in both the Netherlands and England. Luckily, Antonio showed none of his grandfatherís failings, and proved to be a capable military administrator, if not yet proven to be a military commander.
Although Spainís military force had suffered heavily in England with the loss of Parma and been robbed the momentum promised by fresh reinforcements, Spain was still in a powerful position. Meanwhile on the continent, France once again erupted into outright warfare after Henry III murdered Henry of Guise. Henry of Guise was one of the prominent political leaders during the French Wars of Religion. Having both created and leading the Catholic League, he and his followers were supported by figures such as Philip II of Spain and the Popes of this era. When Henri III came to the throne, his actions involving the Edict of Beaulieu which granted concessions to the Huguenots completely angered the Catholic League who quickly forced Henry to cancel these concessions. For the time, it seemed as though Henry of Guise was the true master of France. The impressions rapidly grew to reality with the death of Henry IIIís youngest brother and presumed heir, Francis, Duke of Anjoy in 1584. The new heir was presumed to be Henry of Navarre whose blood was descended from Saint Louis IX. He was also a Protestant. Henry of Guise rapidly forced Henry III to annul Henry of Navarre from the throne. The situation grew out of control when Henry III was forced out of Paris by the mob, sponsored by the Catholic League. It wasnít until December that Henry III returned to Paris after being forced to make Henry of Guise the Lieutenant-General of France. It was here that he took decisive action. Henry of Guise and his brother, Louis II, Cardinal of Guise were both assassinated. It was hoped that this way he could cull the activities of the Catholic League. However, he severely misjudged the popularity of Henry of Guise with the common people, who rapidly took up arms and threw Henry III out of Paris once again. Almost immediately afterwards, civil war once again broke out between the Catholic League and the two Henryís. Philip II almost immediately began to funnel money to the Catholic Leaguexvi. Perhaps Philip II expected that the Catholic League, riding on a wave of popularity in France would almost immediately crush Henry III upon which he could use his own influence in France to place a pro-Spanish Monarch. Yet, without realising it, Philip II had only further pushed his own country into more warfare.
Even as events in France began to take up Philip IIís attention, enough time was spared to send representatives to the Pope to finally decide who the new Monarch of England would be. At the same time, the Pope had promised a large subsidy of over 1 million crowns for the successful invasion of England, which was to be duly collected by the Spanish ambassadors. After much consultation, it was finally decided that the only true proper and Catholic candidate could only be Arbella Stuart, a direct descendent of Henry VIIxvii. Her religious views were private, with few knowing what, if any, she possessed. She would take the throne and be married to a suitable candidate; the son of the Duke of Parma, Ranuccio Farnesexviii. Events would soon conspire to show just how terrible a decision this was.
[i] In OTL, the Duke of Medina chose to continue to sail east towards the Isle of Wight rather than take the chance of attacking the English fleet
[ii] Communication is as bad as described. In OTL, Parmaís forces were indeed scattered and unprepared for the arrival of the Armada
[iii] In OTL, desertions were already taking place by the time the Armada had arrived at Calais, in ITTL, the destruction of the English fleet means that more are deserting
[iv] The Army of Flanders was well known for its discipline on the battlefield, but when off the battlefield were notorious for atrocities such as the Sack of Antwerp and its various mutinies when not paid regularly
[v] In 1592, Parmaís 22,000 strong army marched 65 miles in six days during the invasion of London; it isnít hard to assume that Parma could have achieved the same when facing little resistance
[vi] This actually occurred in OTL
[vii] With it being close to harvest time, I doubt that many farmers would have stayed to fight in what would appear to be a prolonged campaign
[viii] In 1586, an mutual defensive pact was signed between England and Scotland promising military aid in the event that the other was invaded by a foreign power
[ix]Both Henry Hastings and Lord Howard were commissioners in the trial of Mary Queen of Scots
[x] Which was partly the main reason for invading England in the first place
[xi] As happened in OTL
[xii] Hastings was a Calvinist, despite having served Queen Mary faithfully and had a great respect for his great uncle, Cardinal Reginald Pole, and was a patron of many English puritans
[xiii] The Black Death was reported to strike London in the years 1563, 1589 and 1603. With the Burning of London the disease was forced out of its natural habitat and into England where it spread rapidly a year earlier than it would in OTL
[xiv] More English soldiers died than Spanish soldiers because here, the English and Scottish are more tightly packed together
[xv] In all honesty, its very hard to find many records or specific details about the Army of Flanders at this time. So Iím afraid I butterflied a noble from wherever he might have been previously to England
[xvi] As happened in OTL
[xvii] In fact, Arbella was a very strong candidate for the throne after Elizabeth
[xviii] This had been considered in OTL.