This empire was welded together through marriage-not conquest. After his defeat of the Castilian rebels in the Castilian War of the Communities, Charles became the most powerful man in Europe unrivalled until the Napoleonic era. It was often said during this time that it was "the empire on which the sun never set." This vast empire of the Spanish Golden Age (Spanish: Siglo de Oro) was ruled, not from distant inland Madrid, but from Seville. So times were very good for Spain when preparations were being made to sail against England. Philip was also supported by Pope Sixtus V, who treated the invasion as a crusade, with the promise of further subsidies should the Armada make land. The Armada appointed commander was also highly experienced, but Alvaro de Bazan died in February 1588, and Medina Sidonia took his place. The fleet set out with 22 warships of the Spanish Royal Navy and 108 converted merchant vessels, with the intention of sailing through the English Channel to anchor off the coast of Flanders, where the Duke of Parma's army of tercios would stand ready for an invasion of the southeast of England. The Duke of Parma was the son of Duke Ottavio Farnese of Parma and Margaret, the illegitimate daughter of the previously mentioned Habsburg Emperor Charles V. His mother was the half-sister of Philip II and Don John of Austria. He led a significant military and diplomatic career in the service of Spain under the service of Philip II, his uncle the King. He had fought in the Battle of Lepanto and then in the Netherlands against the English supported rebels.
The Armada achieved its first goal and anchored outside Gravelines, at the coastal border area between France and the Spanish Netherlands. While awaiting communications from Parma's army, it was driven from its anchorage by an English fire ship attack, and in the ensuing battle at Gravelines the Spanish were forced to abandon their rendezvous with Parma's army. The Armada managed to regroup and withdraw north, with the English flleet harrying it up the east coast of England. A return voyage to Spain was plotted, and the fleet sailed into the Atlantic, past Ireland. But severe storms disrupted the fleets course, and more than 24 vessels were wrecked on the north and western coasts of Ireland, with the survivors having to seek refuge in Scotland. Of the fleet's initial complement, about 50 vessels failed to make it back to Spain. The expedition was the largest engagement of the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604). The defeat of the Spanish Armada led to the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589, also known as the English Armada against Spanish Possessions in the New World and against the Atlantic treasure fleets. The treasure fleets brought various agricultural goods, precious metals and gems, spices, silk and lumber to Spain from its New World conquests. The Crown of Spain taxed the wares and precious metals of private merchants at a rate of 20%, a tax known as the quinto real (royal fifth.) On the day after the battle of Gravelines, the wind had backed southerly, enabling Medina Sidonia to move his fleet northward away from the French coast.
Although their shot lockers were almost empty, the English pursued in an attempt to prevent the enemy from returning to escort Parma. On 2 August (Old Style), 12 August (New Style) Howard called a halt to the pursuit of the Spanish in the latitude of the Firth of Forth off Scotland. By that time, the Spanish were suffering from thirst and exhaustion, and the only option left to Medina Sidonia was to chart a course home to Spain by a very hazardous route. The threat of invasion from the Netherlands had not yet been discounted by the English, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester maintained a force of 4,000 soldiers at West Tilbury, Essex, to defend the estuary of the River Thames against any incursion up river towards London. On 8 August (Old Style) 18 August (New Style) Queen Elizabeth I went to Tilbury to encourage her forces, and the next day gave to them what is probably her most famous speech. The Spanish, in trying to get back to Spain in damaged ships (some of the ships' hulls were bundled together with cables), supplies of food and water running out (even the cavalry horses had been thrown into the sea) added to their misfortune by making a devastating navigation error. Then off the coast of Scotland and Ireland the fleet ran into a series of powerful westerly gales, which drove many ships towards the lee shore.
Because so many anchors had been abandoned during the escape from the English fire ships off Calais, many of the ships were incapable of securing shelter as the reached the coast of Ireland and were driven onto the rocks. The late 1500s, and especially 1588 were marked by unusually powerful North Atlantic storms, perhaps associated with a high accumulation of polar ice off the coast of Greenland, a characteristic phenomenon of the "Little Ice Age" which some scientists date as lasting as long from the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. As a result many more ships and sailors were lost to cold and stormy weather than in combat. Following the gales it is estimated that 5,000 men died, whether by drowning and starvation or by the hands of the English after they were driven ashore in Ireland, only hald of the "Invincible" Spanish Armada fleet returned home to Spain. By contrast English losses were comparatively few, and none of their ships were sunk. The Battle of Gravelines is regarded by specialists in military history as reflecting a lasting shift in the balance of naval power in favor of the English, in part because of the gap in naval technology and armament it confirmed between the two nations, which continued into the next century.
In the words of Geoffrey Parker, by 1588 'the capital ships of the Elizabethan navy constituted the most powerful battlefleet afloat anywhere in the world. However after its defeat in the Armada campaign the Spanish Navy also underwent a major organizational reform that helped it maintain control over its home waters and ocean routes well into the next century. The boost to English national pride lasted for years, and Elizabeth's legend persisted and grew long after her death. The repulse of the Spanish naval fleet also gave heart to the Protestant cause across Europe, and their belief that God was behind the Protestant cause was shown by the striking of commemorative medals that bore the inscription, He blew wiht His winds, and they were scattered. Some more light-hearted medals were struck, such as the one with the play on Julius Caesar's words: Venit, Vidit, Fugit (he came, he saw, he fled). The victory was acclaimed by the English as their greatest since the Battle of Agincourt. Agincourt was an English victory over a much larger French army in the Hundred Years War. The battle occurred on 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day) in northern France.
Here is a rather long quote from Paul Kennedy's 1987 book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers that I had forgotten to include: "The post 1585 conflict with Spain placed both strategical and financial demands upon Elizabeth's government. In considering the strategy which England should best employ, naval leaders like Hawkins, Raleigh, Drake, and others urged upon the queen a policy of intercepting the Spanish silver trade, raiding the enemy's coasts and colonies, and in general exploiting the advantages of a sea power to wage war on the cheap-an attractive proposition in theory, although often difficult to implement in practice. But there was also the need to send troops to the Netherlands and northern France to assist those fighting the Spanish army-a strategy adopted not out of any great love of Dutch rebels or the French Protestants but simply because, as Elizabeth argued, "whenever the last day of France came it would also be the eve of the destruction of England." It was therefore vital to preserve the European balance, if need be by active intervention; and this "continental commitment" continued until the early seventeenth century, at least in a personal form, for many English troops stayed on when the expeditionary force was merged into the army of the United Provinces in 1594."
" In performing the twin function of checking Philip II's designs on land and harrassing his empire at sea, the English made their own contribution to the maintenance of Europe's political plurality. But the strain of supporting 8,000 men abroad was immense. In 1586 monies sent to the Netherlands totaled over 100,000 pounds, in 1587 175,000 pounds, each being about half of the entire outgoings for the year; in the Armada year, allocations to the fleet exceeded 150,000 pounds. Consequently, Elizabeth's annual expenditures in the late 1580s were between two and three times those of the early 1580s." The quotes from the Paul Kennedy book were on pages 61 and 62. Previous to the Kennedy information-most of the Armada information was from various links to wikipedia.