Review: The Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada by Robert Hutchinson

Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.  Hardcover, 432 pages.Cover: The Spanish Armada

Hutchinson attacks head on (pun intended) the topic of the Spanish Armada.  Launched after several years of preparation in 1588, this venture of Philip II of Spain endeavored to end the reign of Elizabeth I of England and the nation’s Protestant faith.  Using his role as a protector of the Catholic faith and his claim to England’s throne though his late wife, Mary I of England, Philip ordered the armada into existence and funded it trough a plethora of means.

The book opens to a summary of the events leading up to the Armada, including a brisk overview of the rise of Protestantism via the Tudors and their reigns of both Mary I and Elizabeth I and Philip II thus far.  Then it goes into all the work done to prepare the Armada as funding was raised.  This included recruitment of officers and men; establishing to roles for the main commanders; procuring ships and supplies.  As the reader discovers, English Catholics abroad joined Philip’s cause.  Meanwhile in England, Elizabeth’s spy network, led by Walsingham, learns of the plans and she ordered a fleet prepared while also building up land defenses in the likely places for the Spanish landing force the Armada (led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia)  and its separate barge fleet (led by the Duke of Parma).  It concludes with the actual embarkation and actions of the Armada and its opposing English fleet (led by Lord High Admiral Howard and Sir Francis Drake).  Readers learn that the outcome was determined more by an inclement climate than actual battle and full accounts of both are provided.

The book had two great features.  First, Hutchinson utilized many excerpt from documents pertaining to the Armada and defense against it.  And he managed this seamlessly within the text.  Second, with the many dozens of names and ships mentioned, he included several great appendices, which I recommend reading first.  These include a list of all ships involved and their stats and fates; a list of key players and their mini-bios; and a glossary that included all non-English words and descriptions for each type of ship and firearm mentioned.  To note, the appendices and end notes encompass half of the text in the book.

I opted to enter the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway for this book because I always heard about the Armada, but never knew much beyond the basic world history textbook outline.  While this definitely filled in the gap and fixed some misconceptions made by those textbooks leaving out material, I found the whole things was not as interesting as expected.  I think that was because of the focus on preparation and the outcome and the fact their was little real battle to the ordeal.  And I like reading about battles to understand their strategies.  From an academic standpoint, I find no fault with the book.

Do you have a different book to suggest on the topic of t he Spanish Armada?  As this is a review I waited too long to post to my blog (2014 was a great year for publishing in my opinion), if you have read this book, what did you think?

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