September 23, 2003

But I Get Seasick!

Don Alonso de Guzman el Bueno, Duque de Medina Sidonia, writing to his King Felipe II "the Prudent" Habsburg upon learning that King Felipe has appointed him to command the Invincible Spanish Armada:

My health is not equal to such a voyage, for I know by experience of the little I have been at sea that I am always seasick and always catch cold. My family is burdened with a debt of nine hundred thousand ducats, and I could not spend a real in the king's service. Since I have had no experience either of the sea, or of war, I cannot feel that I ought to command so important an enterprise. I know nothing of what the [former commander the late] marquis of Santa Cruz has been doing, or of what intelligence he has of England, so that I feel I should give but a bad account of myself, commanding thus blindly, and being obliged to rely on the advice of others, without knowing good from bad, or which of my advisers might want to deceive or displace me. The Adelantado Mayor of Castile is much finer for this post than I. He is a man of much experience in military and naval matters, and a good Christian, too.

Posted by DeLong at September 23, 2003 06:55 AM | TrackBack


Well, he died. Unless he washed up in Ireland.

Posted by: John Isbell on September 23, 2003 11:05 AM


Posted by: Chris Marcil on September 23, 2003 11:16 AM

He didn't die. From what I've read of the Spanish Armada, he was actually a good commander who made the best out of an impossible situation. It is better to have someone in command who is aware of how little he knows than someone who has delusions of expertise.

Posted by: andres on September 23, 2003 12:23 PM

Medina Sidonia did a damn good job with what he had available to him.

The Spanish fleet had a very flat command structure - he was superior to every captain, but most captains would refuse the orders of anyone but the Admiral, as they were socially or militarily superior to whoever it was that was trying to boss them around, and you know how Spanish gentlemen get on points of honour.

Medina Sidona solved this by specifically ordering most ships to maintain their course No Matter What, and giving a few of his best ships specific orders to engage English whenever possible - and a reminder that hanging out of a fight another ship is engaged in is incompatible with the honour of a Spanish gentleman.

This got him a busy reaction force, while his main force succeeded in it's main goal of getting itself to the far end of the Channel intact and in good order, ready to escort the invasion flotilla to England, capturing a port they could winter in.

The failure of the Enterprise of England was due primarily to the lazy, incompetent, inept, corrupt and cowardly Alexander Farnese, also called Duke of Parma, who had completely and absolutely failed to prepare the invasion fleet (of course, some fault should also be fairly attached to Phillip II, whose orders was insufficiently clear, and who did not give the Admiral the authority to have Farnese taken out and shot if he refused to cooperate).

After the Fleet got to it's rendezvous with the non-existant invasion flotilla, everything went to pot, of course, because the Spanish had no repeat no friendly ports on the North Sea.

But Medina Sidonia was blameless in this, and if anyone wants to discuss the matter, although I am not at my best first thing in the morning, I'm sure we could find some quiet place with a doctor in attendance to discuss the matter in person.

Ian Whitchurch

Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on September 23, 2003 03:10 PM

Thanks Ian for setting the historical record straight. Even today is difficult to find people that understand what really happen with the Invencible instead of the old time leyenda negra despite the fact that serious historians figured it out everything quite a long time ago.
And yes, the guilty part was Alejandro Farnesio

Posted by: JFV on September 23, 2003 04:50 PM
Post a comment