How The Sinking Of The Spanish Armada Changed World Power

Date of EventJuly 21st-August 1588
Reason for EventCatholic Spanish Empire sending fleet to control Protestant England
Importance LevelHigh/World Changing
Further ReadingQueen Elizabeth I: 3 Ways She Changed The World

Few events in world history have had as much impact as the sinking of the Spanish Armada by England in the summer of 1588. It is estimated that over 20,000 Spanish sailors and 35 ships were lost. The sinking of the Spanish Armada forever marked a change in world power.

The sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588 presented England with an opportunity to expand its empire into the new world. This created the British colonies which would later become the modern United States. This would have never happened without the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

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Without further ado; here is how the sinking of the Spanish armada changed world power.

The Spanish Empire Before The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada

Before the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588 Spain was the most powerful empire in the known world. In the late 15th century Spain began to colonize the new world, extracting valuable wealth from its colonies back to Spain.

This allowed the Spanish Empire under the House of Hapsburg to dominate politics in mainland Europe. Because of this Spain was given the sole right to expand and colonize the new world by the Catholic church.

If other countries dared to attempt to settle in the new world the Catholic church would begin the process of excommunicating them. This process would remove the government of the country and open it up to invasion and control.

As such few countries would challenge Spain’s sovereignty in the Atlantic ocean.

Because of this Habsburg Spain would drastically increase in power and wealth. From 1521 up through 1558 Charles I became the most powerful king in Europe. As a result of this power Charles I would be crowned the new Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1558 Spanish power would begin to decline after the death of Charles I. The next king on the Spanish throne was Charles’s son Philip II. From 1558 up through the early 1580s Spain would be engaged in multiple conflicts as a result of the protestant reformation.

This would culminate with the rise of Queen Elizabeth I in England in 1559. Over the next several decades Queen Elizabeth would provide support to protestant armies engaged in a war on the mainland of Europe.

This upset Spanish King Phillip II. Here Queen Elizabeth I of England was funding armies that were subverting his rule as The Holy Roman Emperor.

In 1588 Philip II of Spain had enough of Elizabeth I interfering in the ongoing war in the Netherlands and sent his entire Naval fleet, the Spanish Armada, to invade England.

The Sinking of The Spanish Armada In 1588

In 1588 the Spanish Armada would sail from Lisbon, Portugal to invade England and force Queen Elizabeth I to abdicate the English throne.

The goal of Phillip was to cut the power of the protestants across Europe by removing the queen of England who was actively providing support to them. Queen Elizabeth I was in turn funding several proxy wars across Europe to help lessen the power grip of King Phillip on the economy and power of Europe.

England had nearly no naval fleet and mass panic began to spread that Spain was going to invade England. Queen Elizabeth I had to come up with a plan. Seeking help from the Dutch and her subordinates Queen Elizabeth I decided the best defense was in this case an offensive attack. This was a bold move for the Queen of England and took the King of Spain by surprise.

Over the next couple of weeks Queen Elizebeth I would begin to build up a small navy of private English and Dutch vessels. This navy was in no way capable of standing up to the Spanish navy in the open ocean but if the English could surprise the Spanish they might stand a chance. Here timing was everything and in June of 1588 Elizabeth I got her chance.

Outside of modern Calais in France, the waters that the Spanish Armada had anchored in were not favorable for large-scale naval maneuvers. Further, in order to prevent sabotage and ease communication the Spanish Armada took a defense formation of tightly packed ships. Normally this type of naval maneuver would be nearly impossible to break but the English had a plan.

On midnight of July 28th Queen Elizabeth I instructed her military leaders to light 8 English fireships and send them into the tightly packed Spanish Armada. The Spanish feared that these ships would be filled with gunpowder and set to detonate in the tightly packed defense formation. As such the Spanish Armada broke up into two different smaller groups which lacked cohesion. Here the English and Dutch launched their attack and drove the Spanish Armada back.

Over the next 3 months the Spanish Armada would be chased around the North Sea and the north coast of France. The English had managed to drive a wedge between the ships and separate them. This was a fatal blow to the Spanish. Without communications and in harsh weather the Spanish Armada would finally break up in August of 1588.

How The Sinking Of The Spanish Armada Changed World Power

After the sinking of the Spanish Armada Queen Elizabeth I was seen as a national hero. She had successfully done what no other monarch in Europe had done, successfully defeated Spanish power.

This forever changed the balance of world power. Before the sinking of the Spanish Armada, Spain held complete control over North and South America. The Sinking of the Spanish Armada gave other nations in the world the chance to explore and colonize the new world. This was because now other European nations such as England could safely navigate the Atlantic Ocean without the fear of Spanish intervention.

The British Empire would emerge out of this new world power. From the defeat of the Spanish Armada Britain would be able to send colonists to the new world to found the British colonies. These British colonies are now the modern United States. On top of this France was able to send colonists to North America to make New France, which today is known as Canada. It was not just the British and French that started to colonize the new world. Within a century after the sinking of the Spanish Armada European countries such as the Netherlands and German would start to colonize other parts of the world.

Further, the defeat of the Spanish Armada marked a shift in world perception of Spain. 16th century Spain was the high point for the Spanish Empire. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada this changed and Spanish-held colonies would begin on the path to declaring their own independence. Today many of the nations of North and South America exist because of the sinking of the Spanish Armada.

As such the sinking of the Spanish Armada forever changed world power.


There you have it; an entire article on how the sinking of the Spanish Armada forever changed World Power.

History seldom has events that historians can universally agree were important to the development of world history. The sinking of the Spanish Armada was one of those events that forever changed history, which is why it is taught across the world.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

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