Page 4, 4th December 1959

4th December 1959
Page 4
Page 4, 4th December 1959 — The European background to the war

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The European background to the war


R. G. D.


THE DEFEAT OF THE SPANISH ARMADA, by Garrett Mattingly (Jonathan Cape, 25s.).

THIS is really a superb book. It should prove a widely distributed Christmas present.

It is not just one more account of the ding-dong fight up the Channel, the English use of fire-ships at Calais, and the destruction of the Armada in the storms of the North Sea and the Atlantic. The European background to the naval campaign is not merely sketched, but filled in with masterly clarity and abundance of fascinating detail.

Indeed, we are two thirds of the way through the book before the Armada leaves the Spanish shore. And Professor Mattingly, of Columbia University, is complete master of his material. From the archives of Rome and Venice and Florence, London and Simancas and Paris, and the works of other historians, he has assembled his dramatic story. And lightly he wears his learning.

His style is beautiful; though there are occasional words — do you know what "sib"(p.51) means? —and phrases that are strange to English eyes. And, a triumph in these days of indifferent printing. I only detected one misprint.

Quiet wit

ENDEARING qualities of the author are his frequently bubbling humour and quiet wit. To select two passages from many, it is difficult to read of Henry of Navarre's visits to la belle Corisande and to Montaigne (p. 147), or the paragraph on the Emperor Rudolf (p. 163), without chuckling.

Again, the neatness of his summaries, such as that of Elizabeth's policy after 1588: "She had at times waged peace so that it was almost indistinguishable from war. For the future it would have to be her care to wage war so that it would be as much as possible like peace."

And again, his understanding sympathy for all and sundry; for Drake, with his private war against the King of Spain and "Anti. Christ'; for Dr. Allen, eating the bitter bread of exile in his bare chambers beside the English College at Rome and ever hoping and planning for the return of his beloved country to the faith; for Parma, the supreme military COMmander, patient, scientific. genesoils in victory. but eternally struggling with the canals and bogs of Flanders; for Stanley surrendering Deventer to the Spaniards because religion must come before patriotism, but commending a subordinate who refused. out of loyalty to queen and country, to enter the Spanish service; for Henry HI, struggling against all odds to salvage the hereditary monarchy of France; and, above all. for Medina Sidonia, who emerges as a consider able hero, courageous and humane, knowing himself to be no naval expert, but discharging his impossible task with virtually no mistakes.


'Fr HE account of the naval cam paign itself does not depart far from accepted views. But some legends are dismissed. Englishmen have been educated in the belief that the superior range of their guns and the greater speed of their ships enabled the English to keep out of range of the Spaniards, while they spread havoc in the Armada before it reached Calais.

It is here shown that, firing from a safe distance, the English guns did no great damage (p.267). The Armada dropped anchor off Calais in good heart and having suffered

little loss.

Another legend is that the English Catholics rushed to arms with the rest to defend the country. But Mattingly says that no known English Catholic had arms in his hands that summer" (p.305).


THE crux of the whole matter ot the Armada's failure was the impossibility of contact between the Spanish ships and Farina's army at Dunkirk. Three months before the Armada sailed, Parma sent an envoy to Philip to urge that it should be postponed to give him a chance lo capture the deep-water port of Flushing.

What the envoy claims to have told the King is: "The Spanish galleons draw twenty-five or thirty feet, and around Du nk rk they won't find that much water for several leagues. The enemy's ships draw so much less that they CRP safely place themselves to prevent anything coming out of Dunkirk

"So, since the junction of the barges from Flanders with the Armada is the whole point of the enterprise, and it is impossible, why not give it up now and save much time and money?" (p.273).

How marvellous was an almost equal "impossibility", when a British army crossed from Dunkirk despite the enemy's control of the airl If you want a story as absorbing as any of the memoirs of 1939-1945 serialised in the Sunday press, read this book,

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