Digital Library

Shipwrecks of the Spanish Armadas

Miguel San Claudio and Filipe Castro


After the death of queen Mary I of England a series of conflicts between Spain and England resulted in a fair amount of violence, including many naval battles. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the British imperial and economic success generated a wave of chauvinist literature that often represented 16th century Spain as weak, corrupt, or disorganized – la leyenda negra. During that period, however, Spain ruled the western world unchallenged and its navy was the best of its time, as was its merchant fleet.  The study of Spain’s shipwrecks from the golden age is fundamental for any sort of understanding of the history of science in the western world.

Representation of the 1558 fleet in combat with the English fleet. Unknown English painter.

Spanish shipwrecks were savaged by treasure hunters during the second half of the 20th century and we still don’t have a good idea about how these ships were conceived, built, and sailed.

This section is an inventory of the shipwrecks tentatively identified as part of 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.

This page is a work in progress and we welcome comments, corrections and inputs.

The Shipwrecks


The Spanish armada sent from Portugal and Spain to escort an invading army from Flanders to England was composed of 130 vessels. Bad weather prevented the invasion and the ships sailed home. A number of vessels were lost, mostly to bad weather, and mostly on the northern coasts  of Great Britain and Ireland. Around 30 vessels were sunk or scuttled in the storm, and five vessels were sunk or captured by the enemy.

Castillo Negro
Church Rocks Shipwreck, 1588, UK
Duquesa de Santa Ana
El Gran Grifon
Falcon Blanco
Gran Grin
La Girona
La Ragazzona, 1588, Spain
La Rata Encoronada, 1588, Ireland
Trinidad Valencera, 1588, Ireland
San Juan de Sicilia
Santa Maria de la Rosa
Streedagh Strand 1
Streedagh Strand 2
Streedagh Strand 3


The second armada was 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. About 155 vessels were sent to England and again dispersed by bad weather. Around 43 vessels were scuttled or sunk in the storm, one small vessel was captured.

Punta Carballeira, Spain
Punta Restelos, Spain
Santiago de Galicia, 1597, Spain


King Felipe II send a third armada to attack Cornwall in 1597. 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 sunk by the enemy.