The Spanish Armada Causes and Events (1534-1588)

Spanish Armada

This timeline details the main causes and events of the Spanish Armada

Please note: the dates used in this timeline are those that were in use in England in 1588. In Spain the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar occurred in 1582, in England the change did not take place until 1752. The change in calendar meant that the following day jumped forward by 10 days and explains why some sources date the events of the Armada 10 days later than those used here.


1534 (November)
The Act of Supremacy
This act made Henry VIII Head of the Church in England and broke all links with the Catholic Church.
1547 (28th January)
King Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI who was a committed Protestant.
1553 (19th July)
Henry VIII’s daughter Mary became Queen of England. Mary was a Catholic and reversed the Protestant laws passed by Edward VI.
1554 (25th July)
Mary married Philip of Spain. Philip hoped that his marriage to Mary would result in the succession of their children and the return of England to Catholicism.
1558 (17th November)
Queen Mary I died. She had no children so was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. However, many Catholics believed that Mary Queen of Scots, the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, was the rightful Queen because in the eyes of the Catholic Church Elizabeth was illegitimate.
1559 (during)
Queen Elizabeth I turned down a proposal of marriage from Philip of Spain.
1559 (8th May)
The Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy
The act of Uniformity made Protestantism the official religion of England and the Act of Supremacy passed the same day made Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church in England.
1559 (Summer)
Philip considered an invasion of England to protect English Catholics, but ultimately rejected the plan.
1568 (during)
There was widespread revolt in the Netherlands against the Catholic rule of Philip II. Elizabeth made no secret of the fact that she supported the Protestants.
1568 (May)
Mary Queen of Scots fled Scotland to England after being implicated in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley. She wanted Elizabeth’s help to regain her throne. Elizabeth realised that Mary’s presence in England placed her own position under threat and placed Mary under house arrest.
1570 (27th April)
Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth and decreed that she was a pretender to the throne.
1571 (Summer)
Ridolfi Plot
This plot, led by Roberto Ridolfi, sought to depose Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. The plot was discovered by Elizabeth’s ministers.
1585 (August)
Treaty of Nonsuch
This was a treaty between the Netherlands and England whereby Elizabeth promised military support to the Dutch against the Spanish.
1585 (after August)
Elizabeth sent troops led by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to the continent to help Protestants in the Netherlands fighting Philip II. However, she told Dudley not to engage in active fighting because she hoped to negotiate with Spain.
1586 (July)
Babington Plot
This plot, led by Anthony Babington, sought to depose Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. It was discovered by Francis Walsingham.
1586 (15th October)
Mary Queen of Scots was found guilty of treason for her part in the Babington Plot and was sentenced to death. However, Elizabeth, fearing reprisals from Philip of Spain, did not sign the death warrant.
1586 (late October)
Philip began building an armada of ships which he intended to use to invade England in retaliation for Elizabeth’s treatment of Catholics, working against him in the Netherlands and for the treatment of Mary Queen of Scots.
1587 (8th February)
Elizabeth had finally been persuaded by her ministers to sign the death warrant. They decided to act on it promptly before Elizabeth could change her mind and Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringay Castle. When Elizabeth found out about the execution she was deeply upset and annoyed with her ministers. She claimed that although she had signed the warrant she had told her ministers not to carry it out. Elizabeth knew that it would now be virtually impossible to negotiate a peace with Philip of Spain.
1587 (April)
Sir Francis Drake raided and burnt Spanish ships in the port of Cadiz that were being assembled to attack on England. Drake’s action did delay the sailing of the Armada and bought the English additional time to prepare for the invasion. This attack is often referred to as the singeing of the King of Spain’s beard.
1587 (December)
Robert Dudley resigned as commander of English troops in the Netherlands. He was annoyed with Elizabeth’s policy of duplicity and also her failure to adequately provide for the troops in terms of supplies and food.
1588 (February)
Philip’s chosen commander of his Armada, the Marquis de Santa Cruz, died. Philip appointed the Duke of Medina Sidonia as his replacement.
1588 (25th April)
Pope Pius V blessed the Armada’s banner, giving his backing to Philip’s invasion of England.
1588 (28th May)
Philip of Spain’s Armada of 122 ships, commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, began to sail from Lisbon bound for the Netherlands where they were to pick up around 30,000 soldiers stationed there and then mount an invasion of England.
1588 (28th May)
Valentine Dale, Elizabeth’s ambassador in the Netherlands, met representatives of the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands to try to agree a peace.
1588 (30th May)
The last ships of the Spanish Armada left the port of Lisbon bound for England.
1588 (19th June)
The Armada put into the port of Corunna in northern Spain to take on fresh supplies. During the night storms battered and damaged a number of ships which then required repairs, delaying the Armada for nearly a month.
1588 (25th June)
English scout ships were sent into the Atlantic Ocean to try to find the location of the Armada.
1588 (late June)
The Spanish commander sent word to Philip of Spain saying that he believed that the Armada ships were not fit for purpose. Philip did not reply and Medina Sidonia had no choice but to continue with the voyage. His instructions were to enter the English Channel then sail along the English shore to Margate point where he would be met by ships carrying Parma’s army.
1588 (6th July)
Peace negotiations with the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands broke down and were abandoned. The English fleet was assembled at Plymouth.
1588 (12th July)
Philip of Spain’s Armada set sail again from the port of Corunna.
1588 (19th July)
The Armada was sighted off the south-west coast of England by Thomas Fleming, Captain of the Golden Hinde. Fleming set sail for Plymouth where he raised the alarm and fire beacons were lit. Legend states that when Drake was told of the approaching Armada he insisted on finishing a game of bowls.
1588 (19th July)
With the turn of the tide in the evening, the English navy under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham sailed to meet the Spanish Armada. There were exchanges of gunfire between the two sides.
1588 (20th July)
English ships commanded by Howard Effingham and Francis Drake reached Eddystone Rock and caught sight of the Armada for the first time. The English shadowed the Armada as it sailed into the English Channel hoping to engage the Spanish in battle.
1588 (after 20th July)
The Spanish commander Medina Sidonia, sent messenger ships to the Duke of Parma to find out whether his army was assembled and ready to be collected. He received no reply. The Duke of Parma understood Philip’s orders to mean that the Armada would destroy all enemy ships in the Channel before escorting his men from Dunkirk to England.
1588 (21st July)
The English ships had continued to shadow the Armada which was arranged in a crescent formation with the larger and slower ships in the middle. The arrangement of the Armada made it difficult for the English to engage the Spanish and so they had used their speed and long range guns to try to damage the Spanish ships. However, the English had only succeeded in destroying two ships, the Nuestra del Rosario which collided with another ship and the San Salvador whose gunpowder store exploded.
1588 (23rd July)
The Armada had reached Portland Bill when the wind direction changed. The Spanish ships were able to turn and attack the English ships. The English bombarded the Spanish with gunfire while the Spanish returned fire but were frustrated because the English never came close enough for them to grapple the ships together.
1588 (24th July)
Medina Sidonia contemplated heading for the Solent and making an attack on Southampton. However, the wind was not favourable and he was unable to put this plan into action. Nevertheless there were exchanges near the Isle of Wight.
1588 (27th July)
Having received no message from the Duke of Parma as to where they would meet, the Spanish commander, Medina Sidonia, made the decision to anchor off Gravelines and wait for the Spanish troops to arrive from the Netherlands.
1588 (28th July)
The Duke of Parma finally responded to Medina Sidonia. He sent word that his troops were not ready.
1588 (29th July)
The English sent eight fireships (ships loaded with gunpowder and wood that would explode when fired at) to attack the Spanish ships anchored off Gravelines. Medina Sidonia gave order for the ships to cut their anchor cables and sail east, away from the English. However, the English continued to attack firing on the ships at close range. By late afternoon the English were running out of ammunition.
1588 (30th July)
The wind changed direction and those Spanish ships that had survived the Battle of Gravelines sailed into the North Sea. The English followed to ensure that the Spanish fleet did not double back and try to meet with the Duke of Parma. This meant that the Spanish had to return to Spain by travelling around the north of Scotland and to the west of Ireland.
1588 (31st July)
English ships pursuing the Armada in the North Sea returned to the English Channel.
1588 (early August)
The Spanish Armada ships were met with storms and gale force winds in the North Sea. Most of the ships had cut their anchors to escape Gravelines and, unable to drop anchor, around half of the ships were battered and destroyed.
1588 (8th August)
Elizabeth, unaware that the Armada had been defeated, inspected troops at Tilbury. She wore a silver armoured breastplate over her dress. Her famous speech includes the words “I now I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”
1588 (11th August)
The remaining ships of the Armada rounded the northern coast of Scotland.
1588 (late August)
More bad storms resulted in a number of the Armada ships being blown onto the coast of Ireland. Survivors of the wrecks were killed by the Irish.
1588 (12th September)
The remnants of the Armada finally returned to Corunna. Most of the ships had run out of food and water and many sailors had died of starvation.
1588 (late)
The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth was painted by George Gower or an unknown artist to commemorate the English victory over the Armada. The picture depicts an elaborately dressed Elizabeth sitting on a throne with her hand on a globe. In the background two windows show the English ships in sunshine and the Spanish ships in a storm.


Published Jun 27, 2018 @ 3:15 pm – Updated – [last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2018 – 2020). The Spanish Armada Causes and Events 1534 – 1588 Last accessed [date]

Leave a comment