In 1588 during the Anglo-Spanish War, the royal navy pursued the retreating Spanish Armada and the “Battle of Gravelines” began.
Queen Elizabeth I of England was the head of the newly formed Protestant church which gave her many enemies during her reign. Her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, became involved in various plots by Spanish and English Catholics to overthrow Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth also supported the Dutch rebels in the Spanish Netherlands which angered King Philip of Spain even more. This support of the Dutch rebels in 1585 is considered the start of the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War that continued until 1604 with various military conflicts.
One of those conflicts was King Philip’s planned invasion of England with his Armada. But as the Armada grew and prepared to invade England became aware of the plan and on the 12th of April 1587 Sir Francis Drake set sail from Plymouth and headed with a small fleet to the Spanish port of Cadiz. He arrived on the afternoon of the 29th of April and started his two day bombardment of Spanish Naval and land forces. The bombardment continued until late the next day by which time he had destroyed thirty-seven Spanish ships and sustained minimal casualties. He continued his assault on Spanish by capturing their ships along the coast and plundering supplies. Sir Drake’s mission became known as the "singeing of the beard" of King Philip II of Spain. His success delayed Spain from building its fleet but not for long, later that year King Phillip had amassed a naval fleet called the ‘Spanish Armada’.
This fleet of 130 ships, 2,500 guns and 30,000 men was believed to be invincible and was tasked with controlling the English Channel and invading England. But because of the success of Drake’s mission the fleet didn’t set sail until this day in 1588.
On the 21st of July 1588 the mighty Spanish fleet was within range of the smaller English Naval fleet which was under the command of Drake. The Spanish Armada made a seven mile long line of ships and was a sight not before seen in Naval warfare but the English guns had superior rang. Under Drakes command they began bombarding the ships and over the next few days the advancing Armada was being pounded by the English Navy. One week after the first shots were fired, on the 28th of July, the Spanish Armada retreated to France and the safety of Calais. But the Royal Navy pursued the fleet and on the 29th of July the Battle of Gravelines took place. When English fire-ships headed towards the Spanish line they scattered. The wind was on the side of the English fleet providing strong acceleration towards the Spanish fleet that was being forced towards the shore. The Spanish fleet had also used much of their heavy firepower in the previous engagement and so their strength would lie in their superior man-power. When the English ships got close enough the Spaniards would board them and take control or use their abundant smaller arms to shoot all on board. However the English knew that their best chance was their remaining heavy cannon and with the wind on their backs the English ships opened fire as soon as they were in range with deadly force. The Spanish lost five ships and several others were severely damaged. Although the English won the battle they were in a position to destroy the Armada but instead they ended their attack. This allowed the remaining armada to head north which still posed a threat to England.
But a small Dutch fleet met with the Armada near the Netherlands and drove the fleet back towards the pursuing English. The English continued the assault and the Spanish fleet fled for Scotland. The great Armada returned to Spain by October 1588, via Ireland, but with only half the ships.