Spanish Armada defeats English fleet: Would England Be Invaded?

Suppose in 1588, that the Spanish “Armada” had defeated the English at sea. With no ships to protect it, Medina-Sidonia (the Spanish Admiral commanding the fleet) is free to put in in the Netherlands, and transport the Spanish Army to England. Would the English have been able to offer any effective resistance?
My understanding is that the Spanish army was much feared, and that it was a substantial fighting force…would the Duke of Parma have been able to march on London, and capture Elizabeth?
What would have resulted from this…would history be radically different (seems to me that England would never had become a world power, had it been invaded in 1588)!

You as the unanswerable, and demand the unattainable, while offering the inconceivable, for a goal indescribable.

The simple answer is, had the Spansih wanted a dust up, no sane defending commander is going to commit all his forces to that single battle. But they didn’t want a dust up.

Drake would have continued to harry with the remains of the fleet, what he hadn’t committed, presumably the Privateers and any reserves.

And that’s before the Spanish step ashore, where Blackadder would be waiting for them with a plan so cunning . . . .

Maybe. On the other hand, just as likely not ( i.e. different, but not radically so ). Holding England would probably be an order of magnitude harder than holding the Low Countries and those would have been priority #1 because of their greater commercial importance at the time. I doubt any Spanish occupation would have been long-lasting. They certainly wouldn’t have had a great deal of in-country support in England - Not by that point.

I’ll grant the possibility exists that an occupation of more than a year or two might have retarded English overseas expansion a bit. But again, I doubt it would have prevented it, period. And the latter half of 17th and 18th centuries were quite a bit more important than 16th.

  • Tamerlane

Read Harry Turtledove’s new alternate-history-SF novel, Ruled Britannia, which is set in a Spanish-ruled England with Elizabeth mewed up in the Tower. In an afterword, Turtledove asserts the Spanish army, the best infantry in Europe at that time, could indeed have conquered England if they had managed to land. Whether you believe this or not, the book is worth reading for its depiction of the main characters, Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, and its vivid descriptions of daily life in the period. (In fact, as usual, Turtledove puts in way too much detail about daily life and it kind of drags the story.)

My recollection is poor, but I recall from David Howarth’s excellent book Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story that the Armada itself already had more professional infantry aboard than the English could muster at home. The addition of the Duke of Parma’s army may have given the Spanish an overwhelming force which would not be able to be directly confronted.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that Emperor Philip II’s objective was not the addition of Britain to his empire; rather, it was the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth and the restoration of Catholicism in England. On the surface that limited objective looks to be fairly easy to accomplish in the short term. Without England’s assistance, the Low Countries may also have failed in their revolt against Spanish rule.

There is, however, another wrinkle. Howarth makes a well-supported but nevertheless unusual assertion about the Armada: the gunpowder supplied to the Armada was too good for the fleet’s guns. Apparently the most important damage sustained by the Armada was self-inflicted structural damage from the recoil of the guns and burst barrels, while at the same time the projectiles were shattering before they could reach the English ships.

Even had the Armada defeated Lord Howard’s fleet, it may have found itself too damaged to serve in the critical supply and ferrying role intended for it. Furthermore, if the Spanish army relied on the same powder supply for its terrestrial guns, a similar disaster may have rendered Spanish land artillery ineffective. I doubt it would have saved Queen Elizabeth’s ass, but it’s possible that the lack of useful Spanish artillery might have evened the odds somewhat in favor of the English if they had enough good fortifications to hide behind.

“The years that followed the defeat of the Armada were rich in events of profound national importance. They were years of splendour and triumph. The flag of England became supreme on the seas; English commerce penetrated to the farthest corners of the Old World, and English colonies rooted themselves on the shores of the New. The national intellect, strung by the excitement of sixty years, took shape in a literature which is the eternal possession of mankind while the incipient struggles of the two parties in the Anglican Church prepared the way for the conflicts of the coming century, and the second act of Reformation.” - James Anthony Froude, “The ‘New’ Elizabeth”

Froude, it should be noted, is a biased 19th century historian who is invoking Elizabeth as part of the mythology of English ‘manifest destiny,’ if you want to call it that. The point is that the defeat of the Armada, the reign of Elizabeth, and the changes of the years immediately following that, were the basis of a powerful national mythology that shaped the events to come. I don’t see how it could be argued that a defeat (even a “temporary” one as suggested above) wouldn’t have changed that drastically.

Yes, but a defeat, imposition of a catholic monarch, subsequent revolt and reimposition of a protestant monarch would have been just as powerful a mythology. It could have unified the country, maybe avoided the English Civil war (or more accurately have the Civil War early). Chase the Spanish bastards out, and follow them home.

Of course, a weakened divided England is a possibility too…I’m just pointing out that acheiving independence from Spanish domination could be just as unifying as avoiding Spanish domination in the first place.