Drama-documentary series. Dan relives fierce sea battles and looks behind the scenes in the court of Elizabeth I as the Spanish fleet prepares for invasion.
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England was under attack
from the most powerful naval force on earth.
is a sacred one.
Philip II, the Catholic King of Spain,
had sent a mighty Armada
to conquer Protestant England...
..and take the crown of Queen Elizabeth.
This was a war fought in the name of religion -
Catholics versus Protestants - but it was also a war of power
and politics and, for the two great monarchs
who started the whole thing off, it was deeply personal -
the result of 30 years of increasing bitterness.
'Now, to understand this defining moment in history,
'I'm sailing the waters I love...'
There you go. Look at that!
'..following the course of the English Navy,
'as they fought the Spanish Armada in the Channel.'
There's now a howling gale - similar conditions
to the ones that Drake and the fleet faced.
'While access to unique, eye-witness accounts...'
This is one of the most remarkable letters I have ever seen.
'..will take us, for the very first time, inside the minds
'of the commanders themselves...'
Clearly, they're setting a trap here.
'..and offer unprecedented insight into the corridors of power...
This is war, sir. Orders.
'..allowing us to bring to life
'12 days in the summer of 1588...'
'..when England's very survival
'hung in the balance.'
Army and Navy together -
their might would be unstoppable.
On Monday, 1st August, 1588,
the Spanish Armada was here,
heading east, along the coast of Dorset.
Of its original 125 ships,
only two had fallen into English hands.
But the rest remained intact,
sailing towards England's great southern ports
and London itself.
The Armada had left Spain ten days earlier.
..carrying 23,000 men.
More than just an invasion, this was a religious crusade...
..sent to crush a heretic nation.
When it arrived in the Channel,
the English navy was unprepared and tide-bound in Plymouth harbour.
But the Armada missed
the opportunity for a decisive early strike.
The two forces had finally clashed the next day.
And despite losing two ships,
the mighty Spanish force sailed on,
its progress unchecked.
ECHOING: I acknowledge that, without thee, oh, my King,
my throne is unstable, my seat unsafe, my kingdom tottering,
my life uncertain.
Queen Elizabeth's life was in immediate danger.
54 years old, unmarried and without an heir,
she was plagued by nightmares.
I was in a dark cell, imprisoned in my own Tower.
'Elizabeth seems to be in a quite a tremulous state.
'She's having trouble sleeping,'
she's afflicted with night terrors. She has her most trusted lady,
Blanche Parry, sleep in the same bed as her.
I dread the darkness.
Just a dream.
It felt so real,
as if I have a demoness in my soul.
The longer the Armada was in the Channel,
the greater the threat to Elizabeth. And her future was pretty bleak.
If the Spanish could land and overrun England,
then she would either be captured
or she would be killed on the spot.
What shall we do, Blanche?
Elizabeth's fate rested with her naval commanders
the aristocratic Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard...
-Are we ready?
-We're patching up.
..and his second-in-command,
the flamboyant explorer
and pirate, Sir Francis Drake.
My ships will be ready. Won't they, men?
But on Monday, 1st August, Howard knew that his forces
faced an almost impossible task.
Come on, men! Hurry!
The Navy was scattered
and trailing far behind the Spanish fleet.
And it was all because of Howard's maverick deputy,
Are we happy?
It was all Sir Francis Drake's fault.
The night before, Howard had given him instructions
to lead the English fleet, place a light on his stern,
on the back of his ship, and everyone else could follow,
but Drake had snuffed out the light when he saw the opportunity to go
and snap up a damaged, abandoned Spanish ship, called the Rosario.
This was classic Drake behaviour -
piratical, looking to enrich himself,
and he was happy to let the English fleet just sail on blind
through the night but, of course, above all, Drake was lucky.
And what Drake found on that ship was invaluable.
Operating alone, the previous night, Drake had boarded the Spanish
Rosario and began to plunder its treasure.
He'd found 50,000 golden ducats -
about £2.5 million in today's money.
Leave something for England
or Her Majesty's blind eye will regain its sight very quickly.
You, you carry enough to sink like an anchor, fool.
Remember, greed will buy you a short life.
You must play the long game, to become rich.
Drake also knew that, on board the Rosario,
there was something even more valuable...
Come on! Take the dark cargo, too!
..a Spanish hoard of ammunition and gunpowder.
The English fleet was already running low
on powder and shot. There was a simple reason for that -
Elizabeth's government was simply too broke
to afford to properly fit out the navy.
So, the big supply of gunpowder was an absolute godsend,
but the Rosario had yet another gift.
This time, it was one of intelligence.
Drake had a cursory scan around the gun deck of the Rosario
and he immediately twigged there was something very different
about the Spanish cannon.
This is the kind of gun
that Drake found on the Rosario.
When cannon first went to sea, they were really land cannon and so,
if you are moving guns on land, you have spoked wheels,
but the carriage is not really convenient on a cramped gun deck.
You're going to run into the wheels.
It's got a great long trail coming back here.
It's really a monster on the gun deck.
The English had come up with something completely different.
It couldn't look more different and it couldn't behave in a more
different way. You had a much lower carriage.
It's on a massive bed that supports it, that's going right underneath.
It was easy to change the aim, it's easy to reload.
The English gun carriage being more compact helped the English crews
achieve a greater rate of fire
than the Spanish, with their cumbersome carriages.
Drake's discovery on the Rosario offered a glimmer of hope.
In fact, the rate of fire of the English cannons
was up to five times that of the Spaniards'.
But no-one knew if even that would be enough in the battles ahead
against the mightiest fleet on Earth.
The Armada was the plan of King Philip II of Spain...
..the most powerful man on the planet -
an obsessive workaholic
and religious fanatic.
He's fairly simply dressed. Always the same,
always in black, The only ornament he has on
is the Order of the Golden Fleece...
..the golden dead sheep hanging round his neck.
Dignity, through understatement.
He lives a life which you and I would think was pretty boring.
He spends many hours at prayer,
he spends the rest of his time, primarily, working.
A pretty odd life, but then, Philip is a pretty odd man.
Philip was a man of the shadows.
He hardly spoke to anyone and, everything he did,
he noted down. When pieces of paper
came in from the people who worked outside his room, he would scribble
notations in the margins
or he'd write them orders.
He had an empire to run and an empire runs,
as far as he was concerned, on detail.
It was a lonely existence, but he still felt he had the world
at his fingertips.
For Philip, the conquest of England was the will of God,
to preserve a safe, ordered and, most importantly,
The success of Philip's Armada
depended on its inexperienced commander,
the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia...
..and on Spain's most gifted admiral,
Juan Martinez de Recalde.
But there was already simmering tension between the two.
Just three days earlier,
it had been Recalde's plan to attack the English in Plymouth.
There is no time to be wasted.
It is better to destroy the serpent in its egg.
I propose we attack Plymouth.
But Medina Sidonia had overruled him.
We must not be distracted from our true and pious course,
as laid down by the King.
The King is not here and situations change in battle all the time.
Recalde, mind your tongue!
Recalde was beginning to doubt whether Medina Sidonia
was the right man for the job...
..and a new discovery suggests he may have been right.
Professor Geoffrey Parker
has been studying the world of Philip II of Spain
for over 50 years.
At the Hispanic Society of America, in New York, he recently unearthed
a huge archive of papers from the Spanish court.
I spent eight weeks
going through every single document, 100 a day, figuring out
who it was from, who it was to,
what it was about. And some of them were absolutely sensational.
Within them were extraordinary new revelations
about the aristocratic leader of the Spanish fleet,
the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who, it turns out,
never wanted the job in the first place.
This is one of the most remarkable letters I have ever seen.
It's a letter in which Medina Sidonia says to the king,
"Please don't do this to me."
Here, he is giving reasons why he does not want to go on the Armada.
He says, "The sea is not good to me.
"I have no experience of naval warfare."
"I have never been to sea. Don't send me."
Take it away. Take it away!
The 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia is one of the richest men in Spain,
if not in the western world.
And then, he says, "If you send me, remember I'm poor."
Right at the end he says, "Estoy muy pobre."
"I'm very poor," The richest man in Spain.
"And I've got four children who live in great hunger" - "tienen hambre".
"So, if I go, I have some things I want from you, Your Majesty.
"Humildemente. Humildemente supplico."
"I humbly ask that you give them some reward,
"before I sail, please."
So, what we take away here is he really doesn't want to go to sea
and he's prepared to resort to blackmailing the king,
to try and get out of it.
The truth is that the man who'd been given command over the most powerful
naval force on Earth had hardly ever been to sea before.
He had certainly never been in a sea battle and he did not want
to be there. Medina Sidonia had been given explicit instructions
by King Philip of Spain and he was sticking to them, so far,
but he was beginning to realise that there was a fatal flaw in them.
The Spanish Admiral might not have been a military man,
but even he was beginning to realise that Philip's orders,
which seemed so brilliant on paper, did not look quite as clever
on the hostile seas of the Channel.
The Armada is just one half of Philip's master plan.
It's an enormous fleet, in a tight crescent formation
that's still over two miles wide.
Up here, in the Spanish-controlled Netherlands,
we have the Duke of Parma, with an army 27,000-strong.
The idea is to get these two to "join hands"
and to land at Margate, in Kent, and, then, to march on London.
Joining hands is easier said than done, of course, isn't it?
Two factors can get in the way.
One - the English. They're not going to stay inactive.
They'll continue to harry the Spanish fleet,
hopefully, push them past the Duke Parma,
but the other problem that the Spanish have got is that no-one -
not the Duke of Parma in Flanders, nor the Duke of Medina Sidonia
in the Armada itself - know exactly how they're going to join hands.
We know from the archives that Medina Sidonia was repeatedly
writing to the Spanish General, the Duke of Parma,
in an attempt to keep him updated about the Armada's progress,
but he heard nothing in return.
The letters just weren't getting through.
In this era of radio and satellite communications,
it's very, very hard for us to understand just how difficult it was
to communicate with, even, ships in the same fleet as you,
let alone with an allied army miles away, on land.
And yet, Philip's plan demanded that the Spanish do exactly that.
The only way that Medina Sidonia could get a message through
to the army of Parma was by sending a small, fast ship
right up the Channel here, but this Channel was controlled
by Dutch and English ships.
It would be very hard for that message to get through.
And if it did get through and Parma wanted to send a message back,
then, where does he send it to?
The 123 ships of the Spanish Armada was a moving address,
out here somewhere in the vastness of the Channel.
Together, the two halves of Philip's mighty invasion plan
would be unstoppable. But right now, both army and navy
were in the dark, as to where, when, or even how,
they were to join forces.
The English, though, were obsessed by a different threat.
They thought that the Armada wanted to make land and capture
one of England's great southern ports.
The Armada was well ahead of the English fleet,
which was a big problem, because in front of the Spanish Armada lay
a couple of really good, deep-water harbours.
There was Weymouth, behind Portland Bill,
and then there was the Solent, tucked in behind the Isle of Wight.
The English knew they had to stop the Spanish from capturing
these harbours, because that would give them the option
of launching an invasion from there. So, the English raced to catch up.
Drake's raid on the Rosario might have cost the English time...
..but during the morning of the 1st of August,
they were able to gain ground...
..because in the late 16th century,
the cutting edge of naval design lay not with Spain...
..but with England.
The main differences between
the Spanish galleon and the English galleon,
as you can see here, is that the Spanish galleon is much higher in
the bow and stern, with the castles. It's wider in the beam...
..whereas the English, race-built galleons are much lower
in the water. It's longer, it's narrower.
And the castles at the bow and the stern are much lower, as well.
This made the English galleon much faster to sail
and more manoeuvrable.
Spanish warships were of a design that really dates back
hundreds of years.
And they were loaded with soldiers. The whole aim was to close
with the enemy,
throw grapples, pull them alongside and then swarm aboard
and wipe them out and win the battle that way.
The English way was entirely different.
Their whole aim was to stand off from the Spanish fleet
and blast it to pieces with their cannons.
In terms of how the Armada was going to be battling up the Channel,
we're talking here about
an elderly heavyweight boxer
being confronted by a nimble, agile opponent darting around him.
With their faster ships, the English navy chased down the Spanish.
As evening fell, the Armada had sailed a full 100 miles
from Plymouth and seemed to the English to be bearing down
If the Spanish made land there, it could spell the end
of Tudor England and the realisation
of Philip's Catholic dream.
Every day, Elizabeth's routine remained the same.
Now that battle had been engaged, she was a helpless observer
of the events unfolding in the Channel.
The waging of war
is essentially a male preserve and we can see this from a letter,
where Elizabeth is giving charge
to her Admiral, Howard. And she's saying that the best thing to do
be to leave decisions to the discretion of Howard, himself.
But appearances had to be maintained.
Every morning, she was painstakingly transformed,
from an ailing and ageing woman,
to a vibrant and powerful queen.
Now that the Armada was in the Channel,
it was more important than ever for Elizabeth
to present a youthful, vital, regal face to the country,
so that meant these endless, laborious make-up sessions
and it meant the power dressing.
Naval strategy might have been left to the men,
but Elizabeth was the living embodiment of England
and God's representative on Earth.
Elizabeth, of course,
was famous for her gowns, famous for the spectacle and splendour
of the Elizabethan court. That was important, to demonstrate
-England's strength and stability.
-And the whole point was that
the monarch had to look the most magnificent,
so Elizabeth had the finest silks and the widest ruffs
and she had the most embroidery.
And she had the most bling.
She had rubies and sapphires and diamonds and pearls -
a lot of pearls - because they symbolise virginity.
She is the Virgin Queen,
almost the Virgin Mary, here for her people to worship on Earth.
Elizabeth had spent a lifetime using her femininity for the strength
of England, playing off foreign royal suitors,
while remaining firmly independent,
but she knew those days were over, as a woman
and as a queen.
Who gave that to you?
A friend, Your Majesty.
Don't ever keep me in the dark.
You know I don't like secrets.
Go and fetch the brooch with the half moon.
Elizabeth is undoubtedly jealous of her ladies.
They are younger, they're more beautiful and desirable.
She knows that she is no longer the queen bee at court,
the soul focus of her male courtiers' attentions.
They are being drawn elsewhere and Elizabeth hates it.
Is it too much to ask that my ladies-in-waiting remain virgins?
This would have fed Elizabeth's anxiety, because women like
who were younger, were attractive, were vivacious,
were charismatic. This would have unsettled Elizabeth, somewhat.
In this time of crisis,
Elizabeth had to remain strong...
We shall prevail.
I expect only good news.
..or, at the very least,
You're a force to be reckoned with, Your Majesty.
Meanwhile, 150 miles to the south,
the Spanish fleet was approaching the strategic port of Weymouth.
With their faster ships, the English had caught up with them,
believing that Weymouth was a target for invasion.
Now, they prepared for the second battle of the Armada.
On Tuesday, August 2nd, both fleets found themselves here,
off the tip of Portland Bill,
a very prominent landmark on the south coast of England.
It's a headland that stretches down from the coast of Dorset
and behind it is the excellent harbour of Weymouth.
The English were particularly keen to stop the Spanish Armada
going into Weymouth and going ashore.
One of the English commanders made a decision that has puzzled
historians ever since. His name was Martin Frobisher
and he led his six ships, a small flotilla,
in here, right up next to Portland Bill itself.
It was almost as if he was inviting the Spanish to come and attack him.
-Clearly, they're setting a trap here.
-Well, you say it's a trap,
but to us, it looks like you're stuck in the lee
of Portland Bill. Whatever happens, the Spanish unleash their galleasses
which is a squadron of hybrid fighting craft,
perfect for this type of inshore work
and they head towards Frobisher's squadron.
But it seems that Frobisher, one of Howard's most experienced
commanders, did indeed have a plan.
Martin Frobisher knew these waters like nobody else
and he knew that this is one of the most treacherous sections
of coastline anywhere in the British Isles.
And today, you can see why.
We're just off something called the Portland Race,
which he'd have known all about. We're in fairly calm water here,
but just 50 metres off on our starboard side are these white caps,
huge, standing waves. caused by the tidal flows.
They race up and down the Channel. An absolute graveyard for ships.
What it looks like Frobisher was doing was, he was in here,
enticing the Spanish to attack. He knew they'd have to cross this Race,
which could be devastating for them.
The ruse worked.
Four Spanish ships became trapped in the Race.
What we see at this battle off Portland Bill
is the English becoming increasingly confident. They knew these waters
and the Spanish didn't.
So, while, on the one hand, you have Frobisher,
who is, in my opinion, luring the Spanish into the Portland Race,
on the other wing, you've got Drake's squadron,
attacking the seaborne wing of the Spanish.
They're attacking on both sides.
-Be sure that coin is fast!
In the centre, Howard is charging straight for the middle
of the Armada, going directly for the Spanish flagship.
The English have re-armed themselves with all of the ammunition
they've stolen from the Spanish Rosario.
Talk about a self-inflicted wound. And the sheer amount of metal
fired at the Spanish flagship, something like 12 tonnes
of cast iron.
Over the course of the afternoon, the English fired salvo upon salvo
of cannonballs into the Armada.
The Spanish, with their cumbersome land cannons,
just couldn't compete with the intensity of the English onslaught.
For the English, it had the desired effect, because after fire hours
of ferocious and continuous combat,
they had finally achieved their aim,
to drive the Spanish past Weymouth and that allowed them to disengage.
The Spanish watched the English speedily sailing back out to sea.
One Spanish observer said it was as if "the Spanish were anchored,
"while the English appeared to have wings to fly,
"as and where they wished".
Certainly, it looked like the English were combining
their new technology and new tactics very effectively.
By this stage, many of the Spanish commanders were rueing
Medina Sidonia's decision not to bottle up and destroy
the English fleet at Plymouth, just a few days before.
But as evening fell,
the Armada was still in its tight formation, virtually intact...
..and heading ever closer to fulfilling
King Philip's master plan...
..to join forces with the Duke of Parma's huge army...
..before conquering England.
CHURCH BELLS TOLL
It was now nearly a week since the Armada had entered English waters.
And 700 miles away in Spain, deep in the bowels of his palace,
Philip spent another day occupied with the administration of his empire...
..and awaiting news of his great enterprise.
He follows his usual regimen - praying and working.
He does have the sense to know that even
he cannot micromanage the Armada now.
He sometimes hears rumours of success,
he sometimes hears rumours of failure,
and he's sensible enough to know, "We know nothing, so pray some more
"and hope for good convincing certified news of the outcome."
Thank you, Mateo.
Keep it coming.
Take your leave.
While Philip could only hope and pray, Elizabeth was receiving
regular reports from Admiral Howard on the English fleet.
The latest dispatches took only 12 hours to reach Richmond,
delivered first to Elizabeth's two most trusted ministers -
spy master Sir Francis Walsingham and her treasurer, Lord Burghley.
Burghley was one of Elizabeth's long-serving advisers.
He was sensible, he was pragmatic, he had an eye on finances,
he would try and be cautious.
That is in sharp contrast to Francis Walsingham...
..who is a charismatic, reckless, rather gung-ho figure.
I mean, he's very much a hawk. He wants confrontation with Spain.
He has been champing at the bit for years, really.
Just past Weymouth.
"Sir, I will not trouble you with any long letter - we are,
"at present, otherwise occupied than writing."
Well, that's good. He's kept his sense of humour.
Do, please, get to the meat...
"At nine of the clock we gave them fight, which continued until one.
"In this fight we made some of them bear room to stop their leaks."
Promising... Thank God they haven't landed.
"Notwithstanding, we dare not adventure to put in among them...
"..their fleet being so strong."
The outlook does not improve, I fear.
"Sir, for the love of God and our country, let us have,
"with some speed, some great shot sent us of all bigness,
"for this service will continue long...
"And some powder with it."
Despite the stocks taken from the Rosario, Howard's reports
continued to plea for more gunpowder and cannonballs.
But Elizabeth was famously mean... and broke.
She and Burghley knew there simply wasn't the money available to
properly defend the nation.
And everyone was aware that the Armada was about to reach
the most vulnerable spot of all...
The Isle of Wight.
Today, the Isle of Wight is famous for its sailing.
It shelters the Solent, a straight of water between the island
and mainland England.
Back in 1588, the English feared that the Spanish would
capture the Isle of Wight and anchor the Armada in the Solent.
They worried the island was a defensive weak spot.
First of all, the Isle of Wight wouldn't be able to put up much resistance.
Secondly, it was adjacent to one of the best harbours on
the south coast of England, the Solent,
just tucked in behind the Isle of Wight.
And lastly, it was the perfect place from which to threaten
the rest of the south of England.
There was a very real sense that if the Isle of Wight fell,
so too might the whole kingdom.
Elizabeth had sent 3,000 men to defend the Isle of Wight,
and basic earthworks had been dug to prevent invasion.
But beyond that, its defences were poor.
There were just four cannon on the Isle of Wight
and enough ammunition to last one day.
The defenders were given bows and arrows
to deflect the might of the Spanish Armada.
And much of the money that was sent here to boost the defence was
actually spent on improving and enlarging the governor's castle.
And it wasn't just the Isle of Wight -
the whole of England was pitifully defended.
Elizabeth had no standing army. It cost too much money.
She has to rely on the rather dubious talents of her militia.
Most of them are untrained. Most of them don't have any weapons.
They make Dad's Army look like a finely honed fighting force.
The commander of the Dorset militia believed that his men would
sooner kill each other than kill the Spaniards.
Facing them was the most formidable army in Europe - ferocious,
battle-hardened troops, who had fought for years
and years in Philip's campaign.
There is no doubt whatsoever that had the Spanish army been
able to land on the English coast, they would simply have
overwhelmed Dad's Army and reached London in record time.
Drake and Howard knew that the naval battle for
the Isle of Wight would be a pivotal moment for the future of England.
What little money Elizabeth had to spare, she'd sunk into her navy.
If they failed, there was no second line of defence...
no land army
that could stand in the way of seasoned Spanish troops.
On the third of August 1588, the Spanish Armada was approaching from there,
from the west, and the defence of the Isle of Wight here, and of the whole
of England was pretty much totally in the hands of the Royal Navy.
Now, pressure was on Drake and Howard because, so far,
though there'd been a huge amount of firing, their guns hadn't done
that much damage to the Spanish fleet.
That would have to change.
So, when Drake saw a Spanish ship in difficulty just here off
the Isle of Wight, he decided to close with it
and get some target practice in.
SHOUTS OF INSTRUCTION
Drake knew that to cause real damage in battle,
the English had to get closer...
Ram it home!
..but if they came too close, there was the danger of being
grappled and boarded.
Drake needed to discover a sweet spot - to be effective, but safe.
Prepare to fire.
Good bang on the cliff, wasn't it?
-That took a piece out of the cliff.
Drake wanted to find out just how effective his cannon would be
at different ranges.
So this is from the period, is it?
It's a replica of an Elizabethan English iron gun.
And it fires about a four- pound ball,
so it's not too difficult a gun to handle but it delivers
a reasonably powerful hit at the target, if you hit the target.
But of course, we've got a stable platform and a stable target.
-Their ships were moving around.
You've hit the nail on the head.
Right, so the gun is loaded.
Right, here we go!
Firing from 200 metres, we're aiming at wood
the same thickness as the hull of a Spanish ship.
Four, three, two, one.
Nowhere near. Well, I'm disappointed about that.
I thought that one was a sure-fire hit.
And I suppose that's what the English felt like in those
first few scuffles with the Armada.
They just weren't doing the damage that they wanted to.
No, no, and with the ships moving it's a very difficult business.
The answer is, of course - get close.
Yes. Let's do it.
Firing at the isolated Spanish ship,
Drake moved in to within 100 metres -
as close as he dared to go without risking being grappled and boarded.
That's it, that's it. That's good.
Now we've halved the distance to that Spanish ship over there.
Now, if that doesn't hit, I'll be very surprised.
Four, three, two, one.
You'd think Tudor weapons are a bit primitive
but there's nothing primitive about that.
-It fired straight and true, didn't it?
-Yes. Perfect aim.
It makes a mess of the hull, doesn't it?
Yes, below the water line that would be very, very difficult to repair.
And this is just with a four-pounder.
Drake was firing balls that were up to 15 times as big.
It does show, if you want to hit, you've got to get close.
-You've got to be able to see the whites of their eyes, haven't you?
-Let's do it again.
Drake had learnt a vital lesson...
Just how close he needed to get to be really effective.
The English had faster ships, with cannon that could fire more quickly.
But if they wanted to have any chance of breaking the impregnable force
of the Armada, they'd have to start taking some risks.
With a third battle looming, both Howard and Drake knew that
unless they started firing from closer range, they risked defeat.
and the closer the Spanish were, the more afraid Elizabeth was becoming.
Not only did she fear the Armada landing,
but its very presence, visible from the cliffs of southern England,
could be enough to incite a Catholic uprising from within.
The Armada is not the only threat at this point.
There's Catholics within England that are understood to be traitors,
a potential fifth column, and there's been over the
course of the reign, and particularly during the 1580s,
various assassination attempts that have sought to kill Elizabeth.
When it pleases me...
Elizabeth would have felt incredibly precarious at this time.
And she feels almost defenceless.
She knows that at least half the country has remained
faithful to the old Catholic religion.
The threat was all too real.
And it even spread to Elizabeth's inner circle...
with a fear that bordered on paranoia.
There's the constant threat of assassination, of being poisoned.
All her ladies-in-waiting are having to taste her food before it
gets to the royal plate.
Let Bess try, she looks in need of a meal.
Your Majesty, please, forgive me, but...
Bess would have unsettled Elizabeth somewhat, because her cousin
had been involved in a plot, five years before, to assassinate her.
You would do England great service to protect me from assassins.
Do. England. Great. Service.
Now swallow it.
The food is unsullied.
If you serve me, you serve God. And he will protect us both.
Almost a whole week since entering the Channel, the Spanish ships still
hadn't established communication with Parma and his army.
And Medina Sidonia was becoming increasingly frustrated.
So far, much to Recalde's irritation,
he'd followed Philip's master plan to the letter.
But now, as his fleet approached the Isle of Wight, Medina Sidonia
was faced with a momentous decision.
To continue to follow his king's orders and trust that word
would come from Parma...
or to follow the advice of Recalde and attack.
Sam, the English have been harrying the Spanish for a week now,
all the while assuming that they are going to try
and take one of these deepwater ports along the south coast of England.
Well, the reality is the Spanish are continuing
with their plan, which is
to link up, of course, link up hands with the Duke of Parma in the Spanish Netherlands.
At this stage, Medina Sidonia decides to try something different.
He actually goes away from his orders and he decides to
anchor his fleet in the Solent, this anchorage behind the Isle of Wight.
It was a major about-face for the Spanish commander.
But Medina Sidonia felt forced to take matters into his own hands -
to capture a safe anchorage from where he could wait for Parma.
It was, though, a massive risk.
I've been sailing in the waters around the Isle of Wight ever
since I was a kid, and I still find them really challenging.
The idea of being here on Medina Sidonia's big,
cumbersome ships without engines, without GPS,
without really proper charts, it's terrifying.
The English, though, they knew this place like the back of their hand.
And they were now going to use their local advantage to maximum effect.
For the very first time,
the English were right about the Spanish Armada's intentions.
Both sides knew what the prize was,
and its importance for the future of England, when, on the morning
of the fourth of August, the battle for the Isle of Wight began.
Armed with Drake's advice to sail closer,
Howard began the attack, driving hard into the heart of the Armada.
It was the first salvo in a desperate attempt to scupper
Medina Sidonia's plan to seize an anchorage.
The way the English combat this new Spanish threat, Sam,
is that Frobisher repeats his Portland Bill trick by putting
himself between the Spaniards and where they want to go,
which, of course, is the Solent, in another difficult tidal seaway.
Medina Sidonia knows this is the crucial moment of the campaign,
so he sends in Recalde to try and fight Frobisher off.
If he can drive Frobisher's squadron clear of the Solent,
the Armada can still get in.
Of course, the English don't just leave it at this one action.
At the same time, they attack from another direction, as well.
You've got Drake closing in, actually closing in a lot
tighter than they have been at some of the previous battles,
for the simple reason that things are now getting desperate.
This could be the key moment of the actual Armada.
The English attacked the Spanish Armada from all sides,
putting enormous pressure on the defensive formation.
They used what they'd learned from Drake about the
optimum distance at which to fire their guns - close enough to do
great damage to the Spanish hulls, but far enough away
to ensure that they didn't get grappled and be forced to fight hand-to-hand.
For the Spanish, it was like being at the centre of a storm.
SHOUTING AND CHEERING
Let's give it to them, boy!
Then, in the heat of battle, the Spanish faced another threat -
the wind and tide started to push them into notoriously
off the eastern end of the Isle of Wight.
The waters around these shallows are so treacherous that I've had
to transfer from the yacht, with its deeper keel, into this RIB,
which can go into much shallower water.
As you can see, in some tidal conditions it's easy for me
to stand out here.
And you can imagine Medina Sidonia's big,
deep-hulled battleships getting up to sandbanks like this.
They'd be wrecked. It would be a catastrophe.
He had no choice but to pull out.
CANNON FIRES THREE TIMES
Medina Sidonia fired his cannon three times, which was
the distinctive signal to disengage.
And so the Spanish ships turned away,
and they started heading off back into the Channel.
The English knew, of course, that this was the crucial moment.
There were cheers on the island, church bells were rung -
the Isle of Wight had been saved.
England's maverick pirate was delivering.
Are we happy?
First, ammunition and intelligence from the Rosario...
Take the dark cargo, too.
..and then a bold tactic to fire at closer range.
Are you loving this, boys?
For his Spanish counterpart, the experienced Recalde,
things were looking grim.
The Spanish had lost their last chance to win a safe haven
on the English coast... and Medina Sidonia's decision to
pull out of the battle left him incensed.
We were gaining the wind. Closing for the kill!
It is for the best.
We will sail forth and fulfil the King's plan.
If only it were that simple.
Of all Professor Geoffrey Parker's remarkable discoveries,
one of the most precious is a cache of Recalde's letters
and journals, found hidden away in an archive in Madrid.
One journal entry about Medina Sidonia is brutally candid.
He's very explicit. Let me read you what he has to say.
"We should not have desisted, as our flagship did, until we'd
"either made them run aground or else followed them into a port."
This is war, sir.
It was unwise not to weigh anchor...
"Nor was it wise to sail with our fleet beyond the Solent,
"until we'd heard from the Prince of Parma,
"because that was the best anchorage in the whole Channel."
The King's orders are the King's orders.
I have done my best for the King and for God.
-I can sleep well in my bed.
-You are here to lead.
I am here to hand you a victory.
'There's two criticisms, here, of the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
'The first is - we should have fought on when we had a chance,
'and we should never have left the Solent.'
So, Medina Sidonia disregards this advice,
what is going to happen next?
The Armada's now got a bit of problem, it looks to me, Sam.
Because if it continues with its original plan to go to
Margate in Kent, over here, they'd, of course, be sitting ducks
for the English navy, which is still intact.
So the only other option is the Armada goes across to Dunkirk to
join hands, but Dunkirk's harbour is not big enough.
The sea around Dunkirk's not capable of taking this huge fleet,
so what do you do next?
Well, we've certainly got problems but we still have options.
One of the key things to bear in mind after
the Battle of the Solent is that the Armada is also still intact.
They're also in really good formation
and effectively the English haven't really done anything to them at all.
And what we can do now is we can head across the narrow sea
and go to Calais.
Now, Calais is only 21 miles from Parma.
It's still some distance, but it's close enough.
The battle for the Isle of Wight had been a huge turning point.
Medina Sidonia's attempt to secure a safe anchorage had failed.
So he issued a new order...
change direction and sail for Calais.
The Spanish were in difficulty.
But news that the Armada was heading towards Calais seemed,
to Elizabeth, to be devastating.
Elizabeth was very conscious of the fact that if the Armada reached the
forces of the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands,
then her reign was over.
A Spanish invasion was inevitable.
She had to do whatever she could to stop the Armada reaching Parma.
Elizabeth must have felt like a gambler who is seeing that the
game of dice is running against them.
She can do very little to influence events.
So far, Elizabeth had allowed her naval commanders to conduct
the war as they saw fit.
Show me what you're working on, Bess.
It is...a dolphin, Your Majesty.
It will bring our great cause the blessing of the seas.
But on Friday the fifth of August, Elizabeth could stand by no longer.
Instead of leaving military decisions entirely to Howard,
she decided to intervene for the first time.
There was an instruction, and here's a copy of it.
An instruction to send musketeers into the English fleet,
to reinforce it.
And this demonstrates her lack of understanding of military affairs.
Because what Howard and Drake
and the other commanders wanted was gunpowder and ammunition.
Not musketeers with their popguns.
That's not the way to land a killer blow on the Armada.
Elizabeth didn't understand naval warfare.
Her order was a sign of simple desperation.
The decree from Elizabeth must have hit Howard like a kick in the guts.
He didn't need more musketeers.
He needed powder and shot for his big guns, as he'd been writing
to London nearly every day.
Now, particularly after the battle at the Isle of Wight,
he was running dangerously low.
But Elizabeth was still too mean
and too broke to give the Navy what it needed.
After two days of sailing across the Channel from the Isle of Wight,
the 123 ships of the Armada anchored off Calais in France.
The English fleet had tracked behind, watching every move,
and was now gathering in the seas to the west.
Despite the English fleet hovering out there, Medina Sidonia
must have been relieved to be here in friendlier waters.
Calais was a solidly Catholic town.
The governor even sent a message of welcome to the Spanish
and offered to sell them much-needed supplies of food and water.
Above all, the vast army of the Duke of Parma was just 21 miles
that way, just up the coast, almost within touching distance.
Just like their queen, Drake and Howard thought that the
Spanish Armada was at last about to "join hands" with Parma's vast army.
And if that happened, it would all be over for the defence of England.
They've been revictualling - bloody French.
It's time for the fox to enter the henhouse...
No more plucking of feathers.
Howard and their men had done everything they could to drive
the Spanish fleet up the Channel,
but now they knew they had to act fast.
There could be no more sitting off from a safe distance
and harrying the Spanish ships.
Instead, they knew they had to press home those attacks
and destroy the Spanish Armada.
The fate of England and Elizabeth was about to be decided once
and for all.
England sends in the fire ships...
HE CURSES IN SPANISH
The final battle...
Keep perfect line.
And Elizabeth is transformed...
In the second part of a major three-part drama-documentary series, Anita Dobson stars as Elizabeth I, and Dan Snow takes to the sea to tell the story of how England came within a whisker of disaster in summer 1588. Using newly discovered documents, Dan relives the fierce battles at sea and we go behind the scenes in the royal court of Elizabeth as the Spanish fleet prepares for full-on invasion.