20 July 1588: The Spanish Are Coming!!

'Of fayre Eliza, be your silver song,

That blessed wight:

The flowere of Virgins, may shee florish long,

In princely plight.'

From 'The Lay to Eliza' by Edmund Spenser (c1552-1599)

On the 20 July 1588 the Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall by Cornish fishermen - a huge crescent shaped formation of tall ships heading for England.

The Spanish Armada had set off with the aim of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth the First. King Philip of Spain believed that if Mary Queen of Scots had still been alive to succeed Elizabeth, he would have succeeded Mary and during his reign he could have ensured Britain reverted to Catholicism. Mary unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, had been executed the year before. Philip was not happy. Nor was he very taken with the fact Elizabeth was supporting Dutch Protestants, given that at the time Holland belonged to Spain.

It had taken Spain months to prepare a huge naval force – about 130 ships including 22 fighting galleons. Secrecy was impossible and in any case Philip believed that there would be panic once the news of his ‘Great Enterprise’ was known in the population. The plan was to sail up to the Netherlands and then take on board a huge army of fighting men and convey them across the channel to invade England.

The English with their genius for organisation had a system of beacons to warn of the coming invasion. I don’t know where the first one was lit but eventually a row of warning fires had been lit all the way to London. On the 21 July Francis Drake fired on the Armada as they sailed up the Channel but initially with little effect - maybe he shouldn’t have finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe.

The English however continued to harry the Spanish over the next couple of weeks, their ships were more manoeuvrable and they had better fire power – the Spanish had more priests on board than gunners. On August the 8th the Queen went down to Tilbury.

‘…..I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king — and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms — I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns, and, we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.’

By September the main invasion threat was over and the Spanish were facing the extreme danger of being driven by heavy westerly gales onto rocks off the Scottish and Irish coasts. Many were wrecked.

But this was not the end. The war with Spain continued, and in July 1595 Spanish troops landed in Cornwall. The soldiers and sailors seized supplies, raided and burned Penzance and and several surrounding villages, killed Squire Keigwin outside his house in Mousehole, held a mass – where? and sailed away before they could be confronted.

Then in 1597 England was spared a Spanish invasion via the port of Falmouth by the intervention of the weather. This time a huge Armada had been assembled, with over 140 ships carrying 9,000 men. The English fleet was absent and the approach of the Armada was unforeseen. Fortunately, a gale caught the Spanish Fleet thirty miles off the Lizard, scattering it and sinking 28 of the ships. The first inkling the English had of their near escape was when one of the Spanish ships was forced into St Ives for repair – I wonder what sort of reception they got?

So July is the month of invasion in Cornwall, and it’s still the case, but these days it’s the more benevolent and welcome sight of German tourists in coaches and visitors from all over the UK and Europe in their cars and camper vans.

So - something summery I think...

Raspberry Orange Shortcakes

These are really delicious. First make some orange flavoured shortbread biscuits

6oz plain flour

2oz caster sugar

4oz butter - if you can get it I prefer the sort of butter specifically sold for baking, it gives a 'shorter' and crisper result, alternatively use a dense low moisture butter like Lurpak or President

pinch salt

graded zest of one orange.

Oven 150c

Soften the butter until it's very soft but not liquid. Mix into the flour and salt add the sugar and orange rind and mix with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth dough. Chill. Now roll out thinly to about 1/8th inch thick and cut into rounds, bake at 150c for 25 minutes. You don't want them too brown. Cool.

Whip some double cream and layer the biscuits with cream and fruit, I used raspberries and some wonderfully juicy black cherries. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Eat soon, before the biscuit goes soft.


I saw Eternity the other night

Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,

All calm as it was bright;

And round beneath it, Time, in hours, days, years,

Driven by the spheres,

Like a vast shadow moved...

From 'The World' by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Just in case you're wondering - and I'm sure you are, I took the photos on Penzance Promenade at the World Record Attempt for the most pirates in one place (8,734) on June 26th 2011. The lovely picture of a tall ship near The Mount was taken earlier this summer.


Marmaduke Scarlet said...


Gerry Snape said...

super history and great poetry with yummy biscuits! what could be better!

A Trifle Rushed said...

Ohh! Delicious, and as always, fascinating.

Grazing Kate said...

Lovely. I make a shortbread version with honey, lemon and ginger - I love the tang of citrus in a biscuit. And smothered in cream and berries - even better!

Choclette said...

Liz, outrageous - what happened to the clotted cream? I'll grant you the addition of orange sounds lovley and I'm sure I'd manage to snaffle one or two of these and hugely enjoy them.

Interestingly (for me anyway) we had a tour of the Plymouth Citadel as part of our away day a couple of weeks ago and were assured that was where Drake was playing bowls. It's the only place you can actually see the beacon fires from both Devon and Cornwall sides and see the mouths of all rivers as well as seeing out to see. We were told, he was already to go, but the tide was wrong when the warning came, hence his decision to finish the game.