THE VOYAGE OF THE ARMADA: The Spanish Story by David Howarth


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The author of 1066 and other historical reconstructions now undertakes to show, from the Spanish point of view, ""what people thought was happening"" during the ill-starred voyage of the Armada, ""and what they felt about it""--with disappointing results on that score, and others. Howarth's primary sources are high-level Spanish narratives, and his protagonists are the Spanish principals, none of them slighted by history: bigoted, ""appallingly sincere"" King Philip; the disaffected Duke of Parma; and the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Armada's commander and Howarth's hero. (His extended effort to retrieve Midonia Sidona's reputation is particularly unnecessary.) These are still, then, events that turn on Great Men and on Howarth's second focus, technology--from ship design to ordnance specification. He contends that the Spanish lost the Battle of Gravelines, off the English coast, and consequently half their fleet because of faulty ordnance (badly cast shot, fast powder, oversized guns), a situation aggravated by the Armada's loss of its anchors in the flight from Drake's famed fireships. Unfortunately, the token illustrations--portraits, a battle scene or two--don't help the reader understand these matters, where schematic drawings would have. Another, perhaps more regrettable lapse is the lack of adequate maps: the two major ones, which appear as endpapers, do give some flavor of the charts used by sailors during the voyage; but they ignore the all-important retreat to the north--about which Howarth has new information, based on recent retrieval of wrecks--and only address the battles in the Channel in the most hard-to-read terms. Howarth writes with conviction of nautical matters, and with passion where his interest is most engaged; but the untutored reader will want to stick with Garrett Mattingly for the full multi-focus story. Even on its own dubious terms, Howarth's effort falls short.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking