Spanish Armada (ärmä´də), 1588, fleet launched by Philip II of Spain for the invasion of England, to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth I and establish Philip on the English throne; also called the Invincible Armada. Preparations, under the command of the marqués de Santa Cruz, began in 1586 but were seriously delayed by a surprise attack on Cádiz by Sir Francis Drake in 1587. By the time the expedition was ready Santa Cruz had died, and command was given to the duque de Medina Sidonia. The Armada consisted of 130 ships, including transports and merchantmen, and carried about 30,000 men. It was to go to Flanders and from there convoy the army of Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma, to invade England. It set out from Lisbon in May, 1588, but was forced into A Coruña by storms and did not set sail again until July. Medina Sidonia's orders were to proceed straight up the English Channel and refuse battle until he had made junction with Parma. This gave the initiative to the English, whose main fleet, commanded by Charles Howard (later earl of Nottingham), sailed out from Plymouth to achieve the windward side of the Spanish and attacked at long range. Three minor actions followed, in which the Armada was somewhat damaged but its formation unbroken. On Aug. 6, Medina Sidonia anchored off Calais, from which position he hoped to make contact with Parma. The following night the English sent fire ships into the anchorage, causing the Spanish fleet to scatter, and then attacked (Aug. 8) at close range off Gravelines. Unable to re-form, the Armada was severely battered, but a sudden change in the wind enabled most of the ships to escape northward. In attempting to sail home by Scotland and the west coast of Ireland, the Spanish ships were dispersed by storms; their provisions gave out; and many of those who landed in Ireland were killed by English troops. Only about half the fleet reached home.
See G. Mattingly, The Armada (1959); A. McKee, From Merciless Invaders (1964); W. Graham, The Spanish Armadas (1972).