The Armada

Sir Francis Drake painted by Marcus Gheeraets the younger. Marcus and his father were Protestants who fled to England to evade persecution in the Netherlands  under the Duke of Alba. He left his Catholic wife and lived for a while with his son before marrying again to another Protestant refugee from Antwerp. The younger Gheeraet also painted the portrait of Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghely shown below.


Having just subdued the Ottoman Empire in the east and with practically the whole known western world and a large part of the Pacific Ocean under his command, King Philip II of Spain turned his attention on the “English Turk.” English sailors who were unfortunate enough to put into a Catholic port were in grave danger of imprisonment and death, with their ships and cargoes confiscated. It was not long before enterprising English captains began to meet out the same justice on any Spanish ship they found on the high seas.

One such captain was Francis Drake, who had bought one of the ships that the English traders with North Africa had been using and changed its name from Pelican to Golden Hind. Between 1577 and 1580 he circumnavigated the world in the Hind, but his adventures were far from over.

With Elizabeth pretending that her English privateers were pirates acting without her consent, Drake sailed across the Atlantic to the port of Nombre de Dios, which is at the narrowest part of the Panama isthmus. Spanish mule trains were unloaded here after carrying gold and silver across the isthmus from the western coasts of the Americas. It was loaded onto Spanish ships to be brought to Cádiz or Seville. Over a period of two years, Drake and his men attacked the port and captured it, taking £40,000 of gold and silver, which he duly brought back to Plymouth.

Queen Elizabeth could only make so many excuses to the Spanish ambassador, and Drake was not the only one taking liberties with Spanish commerce. After a flotilla of English ships was attacked and the crews thrown into jail or burned alive, Elizabeth herself ordered the capture of Spanish ships sailing up the channel carrying gold to pay Philip’s troops in the Netherlands. 

Home grown plots against Elizabeth abounded, and with the blessing of Pope Gregory, Spanish and Italian troops landed in Ireland and started a dangerous insurrection in 1579 which took a year to put down. In 1585 Elizabeth came as close to declaring war on Spain as she dared when she sent six thousand men under Robert Earl of Leicester to support the Protestants in the Low Countries who were being persecuted by Philip. Reluctantly, Philip began to consider the alternatives to diplomacy.

The Marquis of Santa Cruz, Spain’s greatly revered admiral of the fleet, had been pestering Philip for some time to let him draw up plans for an invasion of England, and Philip finally agreed. When Santa Cruz duly came up with the number of ships that he would need and the cost of the operation Philip was astounded.  The admiral would require no less than five hundred and fifty-six ships. A hundred and eighty of these would need to be front line galleons and the whole manned by thirty thousand sailors. An additional army of sixty thousand land troops and eight months provisions would be needed, and all this would cost nearly four million ducats; three and a half year’s income from the New World treasure trove.

Philip could not afford it, and filed the plan away with the many others that he had been supplied with. One of these other plans had been drawn up by his best general, the Duke of Parma, which required a fleet of flat bottomed boats carrying troops to be launched in a single night across the channel whilst escorted by twenty five warships. The Duke’s plan would need thirty thousand men and five hundred cavalry. The whole exercise of getting this small army ashore on English soil was to be accomplished in eight to ten hours. Philip asked Santa Cruz and Parma to draw up a new plan which combined the two, and was cheaper to fund. The outcome was the Empresa, or operation Enterprise England.

Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghely.


Meanwhile in England, Elizabeth was facing the hardest decision of her reign. William Cecil, with Francis Walsingham had thwarted a plot to kill her and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne which was hatched and organised by Sir Anthony Babington, a man who had served in Mary’s court. After Babington’s execution, Mary was brought to Fotheringhay Castle to face trial. She was of course found guilty. Elizabeth could not bring herself to sign the death warrant, and kept putting it off. Finally, it was slipped into a pile of mundane papers to be signed by rote. When she found out that she had been deceived, she was full of grief. She had shifted the responsibility for the execution onto the shoulders of her staff as much to absolve herself of the onerous deed as avoid losing the respect of half of her country. In fact, once the threat of Mary taking the throne had been removed, Elizabeth’s popularity soared in England.

Elizabeth had a first rate spymaster in Sir William Cecil. It was his evidence that finally convicted Mary of plotting to kill Elizabeth, and he now began to receive reports that dozens of new keels for ships were being laid in the shipyards of Portugal and Spain.  Old galleons were being bought and renovated and hundreds of new cannons were being cast or bought from abroad whilst Spanish armourers were scouring the whole of Europe buying shot and ball.

The Duke of Parma was still negotiating for peace with Elizabeth whilst planning the invasion, but Elizabeth had a bunch of half-renegade privateers prowling the high seas causing their own kind of mischief against Spain, and over whom she could justifiably claim, she had no control. After his exploits at Nombre de Dios, Drake toured the Caribbean capturing Spanish ports and plundering their wealth with impunity. Spanish ships were reluctant to sail with their cargoes of gold, depriving Philip of the money that he needed to fund the Armada. As a propaganda exercise, Drake’s exploits were a huge boon for Elizabeth, but she kept “El Draque” reined in to prevent all-out war before she was ready.  

The defeat of the Spanish Armada, painted by Philip James de Loutherbourg in 1796. This painting, along with some of his other naval works, hangs in the National Maritime Museum in London. One of his less famous paintings is Coalbrookdale by Night and shows the early Industrial Revolution iron foundries.


Philip was using the harbour at Cádiz to assemble his invasion fleet in secrecy, and in April 1587 Elizabeth sent Drake out in a fleet of 23 ships with orders to “prevent or withstand such enterprises as might be attempted against her Highnesses realm or dominion.” Drake heard about the secret fleet in Lisbon and sailed there as fast as he could, leaving the rest of his slower boats to catch him up later. Ignoring all requests for prudence from his vice-admiral William Borough and the other captains, he sailed past the defensive cannons of Matagordo Fort, and with three others of the queen’s ships and some armed merchantmen, began to destroy or capture Spanish ships. When night fell, he told his captains to drop anchor in the bay away from the shore cannons, and the following morning they resumed their destruction and entered the inner harbour where the flagship of the Spanish fleet was anchored.

Drake sank or burned over thirty ships during the day, including the flagship of the fleet. Finally, with six captured ships and as much booty as they could carry, he prepared to leave Cádiz. At this point the wind died, and Drake’s ships were left at the mercy of the Spanish galleys. By crabbing their boats round with anchors, Drake’s gunners could hold the galleys at bay, but the Duke of Medina Sidonia had arrived in Cádiz by road with three thousand infantry and heavy cannons. Fortunately, before the Duke could use the cannons, a breeze sprang up, and with drums beating and trumpets playing, Drake’s fleet sailed out of harbour. He had not lost a single ship. 

Drake bravely boasted that he had singed the King of Spain’s beard, but he wrote to the queen privately urging her to "Prepare in England strongly, and mostly by sea. Stop him now and stop him forever"

Telling a man like Drake to cause as much damage as he could to Philip’s invasion plans was like waving a red rag to a bull. After leaving Cádiz, he sailed to Cape St. Vincent, landed a thousand men, and took the impregnable Sagres Castle followed by Valliera Castle and carried away their cannons and powder before burning them to the ground.  He destroyed over a hundred fishing boats and coastal barques carrying seasoned barrel staves, which crippled the fishing industry for the Algarve. The salted fish stored in barrels was the staple diet for ships at sea, and would be needed to feed the Armada. When it did sail the following year, Philip's fleet was critically short of barrels to store provisions in. Later, Drake captured the San Felipe laden with £114,000 in gold, spices and ivory on its way home from Goa. The resultant confusion and terror amongst the Spanish military and commercial shipping was out of all proportion to the real threat from Drake’s totally unpredictable attacks. For one man to disrupt the huge planning and logistic colossus of the invasion was unprecedented in the history of the world. Nevertheless, Philip continued with the plan.

When Drake returned to England, Elizabeth shunned him. Cecil, who hated Drake, was still trying to appease Philip, and his raids had caused a breakdown in negotiations. Drake had seen first-hand the preparations to invade, and knew that he had only slowed its pace by a few months. His disgrace lasted just a year before England was put on full invasion alert and he was promoted to vice-admiral and given command of a fleet to be based in Plymouth. Early in 1588 Spain’s admiral of the fleet, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, died followed shortly after by the vice-admiral, the Duke of Paliano. Undaunted by this loss, Philip put the Duke of Medina Sidonia in charge of his fleets. Thinking that a negotiated peace might now be possible, Cecil and the queen told Drake not to leave port, but Philip was now more adamant than ever that he was going to invade England. 

The Duke of Medina Sidonia was Alonso Péres de Guzmán, the seventh Duke with this title, and a direct descendant of his ancestor who had defended Rate Castle against the Moors in 1296.


One of the theories behind Philip’s choice of the Duke of Medina Sidonia was that he was popular in an unsettled and rebellious Portugal, where Santa Cruz was disliked. Also, the Duke had many friends amongst the Protestants in England, making him suitable to rule as proxy king should the invasion succeed. Then there was the money. The Duke was very rich, and would be expected to put in £650,000 towards the Armada out of his own pocket. Philip also knew that Alonso Péres de Guzmán was a brilliant organizer, whereas Santa Cruz had failed miserably to form the assembled ships into a cohesive fighting group. Guzmán took four months to increase recruitment and training, settle the petty jealousies amongst the commanders, organise the woefully bad logistics of supply, and create a chain of command that finally brought the Spanish Armada to readiness.

Philip moved his ships to Lisbon, where the strength of the Armada grew daily, and all Europe waited with varying degrees of anxiety for the invasion. Knowing that Elizabeth did not have the Scots on her side, Pope Sextus wryly wondered how a man who was emperor of half the world could be defied by a woman who was queen of half an island. In England the male populace was organised and trained to fight with pitchforks and rusty swords, much as they were some 350 years later, faced with the threat of another invasion in 1939. Barrages were put across the rivers to prevent Spanish ships bringing troops inland and beacon braziers erected to spread the warning along the coast. Old forts were repaired and trenches dug in readiness, but the advantage lay with the Spanish, who could suddenly appear in strength anywhere along hundreds of miles of coast.

This bronze plaque sculptured by Sir Joseph Edgar Bohem was placed on the base of the statue of Drake in Tavistock in 1883. Bohem was famous for his likeness of Queen  Victoria on the coinage of the time as well as the statue of  The Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner. 


Drake wrote letter after letter to the queen pleading with her to let him take the fight to the Spanish and disrupt whatever they were planning before they took to sea en-masse. Elizabeth hesitated because she was trying to buy off the Duke of Parma in command of Philip’s army by offering him control of the Netherlands in a deal which would betray her Dutch allies, but save England. She was also worried that if Drake took his ships to sea looking for the Spanish fleet and missed it, the English coast would be undefended.

She appointed Admiral Howard as commander of her fleet and Drake as his second-in- command. Drake swallowed his pride and worked with Howard, who knew how hard that must have been for the fiery genius captain. They were dogged by supply problems, bad weather and a near total lack of intelligence on the whereabouts of the Spanish fleet. The Armada had in fact sailed, but had encountered bad weather and returned to port in Coruña to replenish stores and wait for more favourable winds.

When news of this setback reached England, Elizabeth let her dogs loose, and Howard and Drake sailed south, even though they had insufficient rations aboard to stay at sea for long. The gamble failed when the wind backed around to the south, and they were forced to tack into wind. This was a very dangerous situation for the English, but a highly advantageous one for the Spanish. Short on supplies, Drake and Howard did the only thing they could and returned to Plymouth.

On Friday the 19 July the lead ships of the Spanish fleet sighted the English coast and were sighted in turn by Captain Thomas Fleming sailing the Golden Hind (A different Golden Hind to Drake’s ship.) who sailed as fast as he could to Plymouth to report to Howard. There are witness substantiated records that he found Howard and Drake playing bowls together, and when told about the invasion fleet, Drake did indeed answer that there was plenty of time to finish the game and beat the Spanish. In fact, the Spanish had arrived with a neap tide flowing in their favour and a good onshore wind behind them. It was the worst possible combination for the English fleet, which was trapped in port and still desperately short on provisions.

A hundred and nine Spanish combat vessels were ten miles from Portsmouth when they stopped to discuss their plans. Two of his captains were for going in and destroying the English fleet whilst it was trapped. Others argued that the harbour entrance would only allow three ships to pass at a time, and the advantageous tide would become their enemy once inside within range of the English guns. Guzmán told them of his orders from the King. His prime objective was to stop the English interfering with the invasion fleet now assembled in the Channel and waiting to sail. As night fell, the Armada set course to the east to do as the king had ordered. Along the cliff tops as they passed, the Spanish saw the warning braziers light up to warn everybody in England that the Spanish were coming. 

 The Armada off Dodman point Cornwall on  Saturday 20 July


In July 1588 Drake and Howard laboriously tacked their ships out of Portsmouth on the now favourable tide, and took up station following the Spanish ships. One by one they were joined with other fighting ships of the line as they struggled against the wind to leave ports along the south coast. By falling in behind the Spanish fleet they gained the advantage of being to windward of them when the fight began. The Spanish fleet adopted the famous crescent formation about six miles across, whilst the English ships fell into a straggling line about nine miles long. This was the first time in the history of the world that two such huge fleets had met to fight. There were no precedents to follow, no tactics to copy from other similar exchanges. Communication was by flag or bugle, and because of the size of the fleets, messages could take the best part of an hour to arrive, and under battle conditions may never arrive at all.

They pursued the Spanish fleet along the south coast with frequent attacks on the wings of the crescent. One probing attack on Sunday the 21th by Drake caused a collision amongst the tightly grouped Spanish ships that led to a powder magazine explosion in one and the loss of mainmast on the other. Guzmán had to reluctantly leave them behind for Drake to capture in the night. On Monday, the wind dropped, slowing the progress of the Armada from the snail’s pace of three knots, to zero. The calm lasted all night, but in the dawn light, a north-easterly breeze sprang up, giving the Spanish the advantage of being up-wind of the English fleet.

Guzmán seized the advantage as Howard swung his flotilla towards the coast in a tack, but some of them misjudged and found themselves trapped against the coast. Guzmán’s ships fell on the isolated group and a tremendous battle began with the rest of Howard’s fleet as it was forced back into Lyme Bay by the heavier cannons of the Spanish men-of-war. Drake, on the other end of the crescent, had positioned his ships for the anticipated change of wind. As the morning breeze swung to the south-south-west, Drake appeared out of the smoke of battle with the wind behind him and tore into the seaward wing of the Spanish line. Guzmán was fighting on three fronts now, and trying to control the placement of his ships. His vice-admiral, Recalde, whose impetuous action had caused the earlier collision, and who had been threatened with hanging if he broke line again, promptly broke line to attack Drake.

The duke ordered some of the ships in his flotilla to disengage and go to Recalde’s aid, leaving his own ship, the San Martin, exposed. Howard seized the opportunity, and invented an attack formula that would be copied for centuries to come. He sent his ships in line astern past the San Martin firing broadsides into her. They then turned and performed the same manoeuvre again, forming a loop of continuous barrage that had never been seen before in a naval battle. For an hour, Guzmán on the San Martin stood toe-to-toe with the English ships, turning and firing all forty-eight of her cannons as the English shot destroyed her rigging and caused hundreds of casualties.

During this exchange, Frobisher, one of Howard’s four commanders, was attacked by several Galleasses (A galleon with oars.) as he tried to lure them into the treacherous waters of the Portland Race. The murderous shot of the English ships decimated the oarsmen, leaving them dangerously underpowered and effectively out of the battle. His action made him the hero of the day.

By Thursday the 25th the Spanish fleet had passed the Isle of Wight. One of the English fears was the Spanish would capture the island and use it as a staging post for invasion, but with that threat behind them, Howard met with his captains and took stock. The English fleet had all but exhausted its powder and shot, yet the Spanish fleet was more or less intact and unhindered by everything they had done. They had to change their tactics

The two fleets on Sunday 28th grouped around the neutral port of Calais.


For the next few days they harried the Spanish fleet as it ponderously moved eastwards and the duke sent fast ships with messages to warn Parma, who should have been waiting in Dunkirk with the army. When there was no reply, he sent his relative Rodrigo Tello de Guzmán, to see what was happening. The Duke of Parma was not in Dunkirk, but Bruges, and neither the army nor its ships was ready to sail. Rodrigo estimated it would be another two weeks before they could invade. The Spanish fleet restocked their provisions at Calais where the obliging French happily sold them everything they needed at around five times the normal price. The heavier cannons on the duke’s ships, which had kept the English at bay, were desperately short of shot, but the French would not sell him any.  Later historians have criticized him for not simply taking the neutral port of Calais. His ships carried around eighteen thousand soldiers, and he could have bombarded the town into submission. He would then have been in a secure port and able to defend himself until the army was ready to invade. 

The English, now desperate to stop the duke’s fleet, launched fire boats on Sunday night. King Philip had warned Guzmán about the use of fire boats, and the Duke knew how dangerous they were from Drake’s attack on Cádiz. The tide and wind was perfect for their use, and Guzmán put out picket boats with grapnels commanded by one of his best officers. Then he warned his captains that if the fire ships broke through, they were to stand off until they had passed and then return to station.

Despite the picket line, some of the fire ships drifted through the Spanish fleet and their double-loaded cannons fired, sending shot through the closely-grouped galleons causing panic and confusion. Many ships collided, and some cut their anchors and dropped sail heading for the open channel. The fire ships had done what six days hard fighting had failed to do; the Spanish fleet broke up in panic and fled into the night.         

On Monday 29 July, the English fleet caught the scattered Spanish fleet as they tried to regroup and attacked in what is now known as the battle of Gravelines. This painting of the battle is by William  Lional Wyllie, (1851 - 1931) and hangs in the  National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth.


At first light, the English realized what they had done, and immediately attacked the scattered Spanish ships. Drake singled out the duke in the San Martin and the two ships fired volley after volley at each other at close range causing extensive damage to each other’s ships. Drake was joined by others using the line-astern attack, but other Spanish capitol ships came to Guzmán’s aid and fought them to a standstill. All the ships were now low on powder and ball and were suffering from heavy damage, with several of them little more than drifting hulks.

Pockets of fierce fighting still continued, but the first hours of the battle saw the heavy Spanish cannons silenced by lack of shot. By four o’clock, the cannons were silent on both sides, with all ammunition expended, and only the small guns and hand weapons still firing.

In the early evening it was clear that the English had the upper hand with the Spanish fleet scattered and many of them grounded on sandbanks. Then at six o’clock, a rain squall blinded both fleets and the strong wind allowed the Spanish to put some distance between them and the English and regroup. Guzmán was for turning to fight again, but the rest of his fleet was in a sorry condition with many taking on water. He had to hurry to the aid of the Maria Juan which was sinking, but he arrived too late, and the ship sank with the loss of two hundred and fifty-five men. The tide and wind were driving the crippled Spanish fleet ashore where the Dutch would have no mercy on any Spanish sailors who survived.

Just when all seemed lost, the wind backed from north-west to south-west and the Spanish fleet dropped their tattered sails and sailed into the deep waters of the North Sea to safety.   

The Spanish lost many ships and gallant sailors in the torturous journey back home but this was only the first attempt at invasion. Elizabeth and England were bankrupt, and Philip vowed that he would spend his entire fortune, including the candles from his churches to bring down Elizabeth and subjugate her country.

There followed years of constant warfare against Spain by the English captains and Spain’s ports were attacked again and again, ruining her trade and economy. There were three more Armadas during Elizabeth’s reign, but when she died in 1603 England was still hers. She outlived Philip by five years, but  the population of Spain had been burdened with taxes to pay for a war with England which had lasted forty three years, and twice bankrupt the country. The Spanish countryside was overgrown with weeds because two generations of men had gone to war, many never to return, and the population fell from ten million to eight million. Philip had ordered the planting of twenty thousand trees, but they were to build galleons with.  Finally, the war dissolved, with both sides having mutual respect for the other and sick of constant warfare.

Elizabeth was succeeded by James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who had been crowned King of Scotland in 1567. When he took the English throne as well, he became James I of England, Ireland, and of course, Scotland. This unified England into the United Kingdom. But in reality it was far from united. Three years after he was crowned, his Parliament was nearly destroyed by the Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes in 1605. The man who supposedly uncovered the plot was Robert, the son of William Cecil. When his father died, he became the spymaster for Elizabeth I and later James I. It was under the reign of James I that the colonisation of Northern Ireland took place. The warring Gaelic kings had fled after losing the Nine Years' War against England. Rich English landowners took their kingdoms and expanded by forcing out native Gaelic farmers and importing thousands of Protestant farmers to work the land. This settlement eventually led to the establishment of the Ulster Protestant community, which was socially and culturally different from the original Catholic, Gaelic Ireland.

Another colonisation took place in 1607, when English traders set up a colony called Jamestown in North America. These two events would have far-reaching consequences for England. 

The rule of James I is also famous for the emergence of some of England's greatest writers and thinkers. The latter end of Elizabeth's reign saw the first plays of William Shakespeare and the works of  Francis Bacon, whose writing pointed the way towards scientific thinking. James I himself  will be forever remembered for his sponsorship of the King James Bible published in English in 1611. He was called "the wisest fool in Christendom" by Anthony Weldon, a courtier of the time, but he avoided further wars with Spain, despite the constant baying of his hawkish parliament.       


Winston Graham with his book The Spanish Armadas, and Jeremy Brotton with This Orient Isle give a wonderfully detailed picture of Elizabethan history, not only from the economic and the military viewpoint, but showing a remarkable insight into the very human interplay of wills during these world changing times. 

The Spanish Armadas is more the military historian's book, with details of the battles and tactics used, but the story is much bigger than wind and wave, and gives a gripping account of life at sea as well as the personal intrigues and pressures surrounding the virgin Queen. It also shows the courage of  the Spanish captains and their troops, often overlooked in English history, which of course was written by the victors. There are a number of times during the Empressa when if a decision or event had been different, then the outcome would have been a Spanish victory.   

In 1596 Mildred Cooke, the second wife of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, gave birth to a son who was deformed. Christened Robert, the child showed great precociousness though he was a hunchback who only grew to 5ft. 4 in. tall. (163 cm)  The scoliosis that curved his spine did not affect the intelligence that he inherited from his father, who quickly recognised his son’s abilities. 

His elder half-brother, Thomas, became the 1st Earl of Exeter, and his first cousin was the philosopher Francis Bacon. In time, Robert succeeded his father as Elizabeth’s Lord Privy Seal and stayed after her death to serve King James I for the first 9 years of his reign.

He suffered constant ridicule because of his deformity. Queen Elizabeth called him her “pygmy” whilst her successor King James called him his “little beagle.” He was as prolific a spy master as his father and perhaps more ruthless. He arrested his own brothers-in-law in 1603, and one of them was executed for high treason. He was instrumental in uncovering the gunpowder plot of Guido Fawks in 1605, though some historians say he may have been involved himself.

The plotting was elevated to a new level in 1607 when the son of the king, Prince Henry, supported the establishment of Jamestown, a colony on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, North America. His father disapproved, and so did King Philip III of Spain. Cecil, working for the king, formed an alliance with the Spanish ambassador, Don Pedro de Zúñiga to destroy the colony.

James Jackson tells the gripping tale of two agents who are sent with the settlers from England, one to protect the colony and one to destroy it. John Smith is President of the colony for a while, and his relationship with the natives, especially the chief’s daughter Pocahontas, is a help for the settlers, but the battle for survival becomes a personal vendetta between the two agents as they wrestle for supremacy. Cradle is a gripping story set in the horrific conditions endured by the first English settlers in America. The outcome, though known, is never taken for granted, and the intrigue is set as much in the corridors of Westminster as in the pine forests of Virginia. The ploys and counter-ploys of the two spies to bring about their masters' wishes make the birth-pains of a new nation come to life in an exciting story.    

In her 2017 book, Elizabeth Stilwell tells the story of the Portuguese queen of England.

James I was succeeded by his second son, Charles, whose belief in the divine right to rule brought him into conflict with Parliament and led to the English Civil War. The defeat of the Royalists by Cromwell, and Charles’ refusal to accept the Constitutional Monarchy led to his trial and execution in 1649.

His son, also called Charles, was nineteen when his father was executed, and he was forced to seek exile in France and Holland for the next nine years until the death of Cromwell. After a short period of political turmoil in England, he was invited back as king. On 29th of May 1660, Charles was crowned King Charles II of England.

During this time, Portugal had suffered 60 years of domination by a succession of Spanish monarchs, culminating in the rule of Philip IV. In 1640, the Portuguese overthrew their unwelcome masters and elected John, the 8th duke of Braganza as their king. John would later come to be known as John the Restorer after he gradually reclaimed the former assets of Portugal from Spain.

John’s wife, Luisa de Guzmán, was from Andalucia, the daughter of the 8th Duke of Medina Sidonia and great-granddaughter of the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia, who led the Spanish Armada against England. Portugal needed help to fight the Spanish, who were constantly contesting the border between the two countries, and a marriage was proposed between Charles II and Catherine, John and Luisa’s fourth child. In return, the English were to help to fight Spain. As dowry for the marriage, Portugal gave England the port of Tangier and the Seven Islands of Bombay, which Charles promptly rented to the East India Company, whilst England supplied the Portuguese with The British Brigade in Portugal, many of which were veterans of the English Civil War.  Meanwhile, Royal Navy ships would help guard Portuguese trade routes. This military aid was decisive in gaining Portuguese freedom from Spain.

Yacub Huysmans, a Catholic Flemish portrait painter who emigrated to England from Antwerp before the restoration, painted Queen Catherine as Saint Catherine in 1664 starting a fashion amongst the nobility. Huysmans moved to Chichester after the Great Fire of London, which  the Catholics were blamed for starting


When Charles was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1661 he already had the marriage offer from Portugal along with a present of several chests of sweets and oranges, but that did not dissuade him from putting his mistress in the front row of pews along with his bastard children to sit amongst the dignitaries and ambassadors from other countries. Catherine arrived at Portsmouth in 1662 on the HMS Royal Charles, but she had to wait another six days before Charles arrived. They were married in a secret Catholic ceremony in Portsmouth before travelling to London at the head of a large procession to be publicly married in an Anglican service. The Londoners, having heard of the present of fruits, sugars and spices made up a little rhyme about Catherine. “What are little girls made of: sugar and spice and all things nice.”

Whilst Catherine was queen of England she suffered the humiliation of Charles’ constant adultery and the appointing of his mistress as one of her ladies of the bedchamber. The mistress, Barbara Palmer, had been married to Roger Palmer 1st Earl of Castlemaine, but the two split up after the birth of their first child. She immediately began enticing the king to her bed. In gratitude for her “services” the king made Robert Palmer Baron Limerick, elevating his wife to the title of Lady Castlemaine. The queen had to endure this injustice, as well as numerous slights against her faith and an attempt to bring her trial by Titus Oats, who concocted several plots against members of the royal family and was responsible for the Exclusion Crisis, which sought to exclude the king’s brother, James, Duke of York from being eligible for the crown because he was Catholic. Catherine was implicated in the Popish Plot, but the House of Lords, many of whom knew her well, refused to impeach her.

After the death of Charles, Catherine remained in England, but became more and more isolated. She finally returned to Portugal in 1692 after the death of her mother to tutor her nephew, Prince John. Elizabeth Stilwell has written a moving story of the trials and strength of Catherine during her reign as Queen of England and her constant humiliation by Charles, who never mistreated her maliciously, but simply could not resist other women.

If Philip’s Armada had overcome the Royal Navy and the invasion of England had succeeded in 1588, Alonso Pérez de Guzmán would have been overseer of England. As it turned out, his great granddaughter became Queen of England 74 years later. If she had been able to produce children, the Guzmán family would have been a part of the British royal family.