Digital Library

Spanish Armadas in the late 16th Century

Miguel San Claudio and Filipe Castro


After the death of queen Mary I of England Spain sent a number of naval fleets to support the invasion of England.  Bad weather destroyed the three major fleets, in 1588, 1596 and 1597, and played an important role in the defeat of the Counter Armada of 1589, launched by England against Spain and ending in both a major military defeat for John Norris and a major maritime disaster for Francis Drake.

Representation of the 1558 fleet sailing along the English coast in perfect formation. Unknown English artist.

This page is a work in progress and we welcome comments, corrections and inputs.This section is an inventory of the ships that composed the Armadas of 1588, 1596, and 1597, and aims at sharing the available data in an organized manner, following a descriptive template to facilitate comparisons and highlight the missing information.

The Armadas


The Spanish Armada was sent from Portugal and Spain to escort an invading army from Flanders to England, and was composed of 130 vessels, under the command of D. Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Zúñiga-Sotomayor, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia (1550–1615).

Bad weather prevented the invasion and the ships sailed home after a small number of engagements, in which the Spanish fleet lost five ships.  About 30 vessels were lost to bad weather, mostly on the northern coasts  of Great Britain and Ireland.


The second Armada was also sent from Portugal and Spain by king Felipe II of Spain and Portugal as a retaliation against the sack of Cadiz and an attempt to help the Irish cause in their war against England. It was commanded by D. Martín de Padilla y Manrique, 1st Count of Santa Gadea, Adelantado de Castilla (1540–1602).

About 155 vessels were sent to England and again dispersed by bad weather. Around 43 vessels were scuttled or sunk as a result of the storm, and one small vessel was captured.


King Felipe II send a third Armada to attack Cornwall in 1597, again under the command of D. Martín de Padilla y Manrique.

The force is estimated at 140 vessels. Once again, a storm disbanded the fleet. Perhaps as many as 22 vessels were lost, six captured, and a small bark was sunk by the enemy.