Books: The Seasick Admiral

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Finally, at Calais, and later off Gravelines to the north, the Spaniards ran out of luck, and more precisely, out of cannon balls. Beaten, although for the most part still seaworthy, Medina Sidonia's fleet had no choice but to make the long run home, around Scotland and Ireland. Many ships broke up in violent squalls or split open on rocks along the Irish coast, and the natives grimly knocked out some Spaniards' brains as the men lay exhausted on the beaches. Few lived, despite legend, says Mattingly, to seed the Celts with dark skins and black eyes. Weeks later Medina Sidonia brought the remaining two-thirds of his fighting strength home. It was an impressive achievement, but history has given him little praise.

Writes Historian Mattingly at the end of his clear and perceptive account: "Historians agree that the defeat of the Spanish Armada was one of the Decisive Battles of the World, but there is much less agreement as to what it decided." Certainly not the war between Spain and England; that dragged on for nearly 14 years and ended in a draw. Nor did it cut down the Spanish colonial empire. What the defeat did accomplish, Mattingly argues, was to halt the spread of the Counter Reformation and provide the English with a handy legend of victory. "It raised men's hearts in dark hours, and led them to say to one another, 'What we have done once, we can do again.' "

* July 19 by the Old Style calendar still used by the English at the time. Mattingly gives all dates according to the Gregorian calendar.

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