Three-part drama documentary series. Anita Dobson stars as Elizabeth I, and Dan Snow tells the story of how England came within a whisker of disaster in summer 1588.
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We remember Elizabeth I as one of our greatest monarchs.
Queen of Shakespearean England...
..patron of great voyages of discovery...
..and protector of the Protestant Church of England.
But things could have been very different.
In the summer of 1588,
Elizabeth and the people of England faced an overwhelming threat.
The country was on the verge of invasion
by the most powerful military fleet
ever assembled - the Spanish Armada.
SHOUTS AND GUNSHOT
Defeat would have led to the imprisonment
and execution of Elizabeth...
My throne is unstable...
..and a future for England under the control of Catholic Spain...
..my kingdom tottering.
..with dramatic consequences for the whole of Europe.
Now, to understand this defining moment in history, I'm going
to take to the waters I love...
Right, let's get out into the rough stuff.
..following the course of the English navy as it battled
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, eyewitness 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...
Your problem is that your fleet is divided.
..and offer unprecedented insight into the corridors of power
..allowing us to bring to life 12 days in the summer of 1588...
..when England's very survival...
..hung in the balance.
This is a tale of astonishing twists and turns, which saw England
and its Queen come within a whisker of disaster.
This is the real story of the Spanish Armada.
When Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England,
woke on Friday the 29th of July 1588,
she knew that her life and her realm were in grave danger.
A good night?
My mind was tossing on the ocean.
The cause of Elizabeth's nightmares was 700 miles away.
King Philip II of Spain...
..the most powerful man on earth,
hellbent on the Queen of England's destruction.
His weapon, a mighty Armada.
..packed with men...
..bristling with cannon...
..sent to crush a rogue state...
that stole from Spanish treasure ships...
and lived by the terrible heresies of Protestantism.
This was a crusade for the safety of Spain and the glory of God.
-Good morning, Your Majesty.
England was a small country on the very edge of Europe...
a Protestant outpost surrounded by Catholic powers.
Good morning, ladies.
Elizabeth had been in a cold-war standoff with Spain for years...
..but now she knew that the Armada had sailed...
..and she was under immense strain.
On the eve of the Armada,
Elizabeth is looking every single one of her 54 years.
Her skin is pockmarked, she had smallpox
when she was some 25 years younger,
her hair has largely fallen out.
So she really is looking like an old woman, even though
she's only in her mid-50s.
She was God's anointed. She was the head of the body politic.
She was England. Her face was the landscape of her country.
She couldn't afford for it to look
withered or decayed.
It was a mammoth operation getting Elizabeth ready in the morning,
and we're talking about make-up that one critic at the time described
as being half an inch thick.
Elizabeth is having to slap it on.
She would've certainly been startling in appearance,
almost frightening, I think.
And I think that was part of it for Elizabeth.
She didn't want to look like an ordinary human being.
She was appointed by God and therefore
she was going to appear at court as some kind of semi-godlike figure.
This was England's virgin queen...
Thank you, Blanche.
..and under threat.
There we are, then.
200 miles from Elizabeth, on the coast of Devon,
the men of the English navy
were preparing for the battle of their lives.
I've been fascinated by the momentous battles of the Armada
since I was a child...
..and I've been sailing in the English Channel for just as long.
There you go, look at that!
Now, I'm going to be following every manoeuvre of the navy
and the Armada as they fought in these very waters 400 years ago.
But on the morning of Friday the 29th of July,
the English were still in harbour...
..and they had no idea just how close the Spanish were.
Elizabeth had a big international network of spies and they'd spent
months learning all they could about Spain's preparations for the Armada.
But unfortunately, what none of them could tell the English government
was exactly where or when the Armada might arrive.
And that meant, through the early summer of 1588,
England was on high alert.
Over 100 ships had been assembled at Plymouth,
under the command of England's Lord High Admiral -
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham.
Good afternoon, men.
Howard was a leading aristocrat, a former ambassador to France
and Elizabeth's own cousin.
The problem was that Howard had never commanded
a fleet in battle before.
He was an administrator, he was used to giving orders from behind a desk.
Oh, easy, boy! We don't want to do the Spaniards' job for them!
To be honest, he got the job mainly because of his aristocratic pedigree
rather than his naval fighting skills, which was a bit alarming.
Come on, men, this is your home, keep it tidy.
Thankfully, Howard had a crack team of experienced commanders...
-Are we ready?
-We're patching up.
..most famously, his deputy, Sir Francis Drake.
Good, good. Excellent work, Drake.
That's why I'm here.
Drake was just a few years younger than Howard
but he was from very different stock.
He was the son of a Devon farmer
and he'd spent nearly his entire adult life at sea.
He was one of a new breed of self-made men who
lived by their wits.
He'd managed to complete, quite recently,
the second ever circumnavigation of the globe and he'd been knighted
for services to his country, which basically meant that he'd managed
to fill Queen Elizabeth's coffers with stolen Spanish gold and silver.
In short, Drake was England's most brazen pirate.
Elizabeth had knighted him
and made him second-in-command of her navy...
..and it needed all the help it could get.
The ague - how bad?
'The fleet wasn't just in harbour,
'it was recovering from a failed mission.'
Loading what we can but could always do with more.
As ever, mend and make do.
My ships will be ready. They will be ready.
An impetuous plan of Drake's to attack first...
Keep our promises.
..had seriously backfired.
Drake had just returned from a disastrous attempt
to intercept the Spanish out at sea.
Terrible weather had battered his fleet
and no-one had even spotted one single Spanish vessel.
So this quayside would have been a scene of chaos and confusion,
men were lying sick, vessels were being hastily repaired
and provisions being piled on board.
This was hardly the battle-ready fleet that Drake had promised.
Time was running out.
Philip's great Armada was just 40 miles west of Plymouth...
..and inching ever closer to London...
The Armada had left port a week before
and was now approaching English waters.
It was a massive fleet.
125 ships crammed
with 16,000 soldiers
and 7,000 of Spain's finest sailors.
They were in a variety of ships
but they kept perfect formation as they approached the Channel
and their sails darkened the southern sky.
Now, the English know they're coming, they haven't seen them
yet but that's why they're positioned here at Plymouth
so they can get them before they get into the main body of the Channel.
We've got about 105 ships here, bit of a mixed bag
but a lot of powerful galleons among them.
Not so many soldiers, of course,
but add to this force another 30 ships over here,
just off the Kent coast, about 135 in total - pretty similar numbers.
But your problem is that your fleet is divided which means these
ships alone have to be able to try and stop our Armada.
Well, that's what they're worried about, of course, in Plymouth.
They know the Armada is coming, they haven't seen it yet
but they must have feared it's going to be unstoppable.
The destruction of Tudor England
had been plotted here in Spain's capital.
In the 16th century, Madrid was the hub of a vast empire...
..stretching from Peru to the Philippines.
Spain was THE superpower. Immensely powerful.
It controlled not only the Iberian Peninsula
but also the New World and all that bullion.
Spain had a foothold in North America, South America,
the West Indies, the East Indies, Africa,
great swathes of Europe.
It was famously the empire upon which the sun never set.
The nerve centre was this royal palace and monastery,
30 miles to the north of the capital.
From a small cell at its heart, King Philip orchestrated his empire.
His motto matched his ambitions -
"The world is not enough."
Philip was an obsessive.
Not the sort of person you'd like to sit next to at a dinner party.
Only two things concerned him - his empire and his religion.
In 1588, Philip was 61 years old and in failing health
but he remained driven by a singular zeal.
Philip was a dour, rather dull character, to be honest.
More papers for you to sign.
He was known as the Bureaucrat King
and what he liked was nothing better than to sit in a very plain,
simple apartment doing his paperwork.
He didn't like personal contact with his minions, they had to submit
their reports on paper, even if they were sitting in the next room.
Professor Geoffrey Parker is the world's leading expert
on Philip and his empire.
He's spent an entire career - over half a century -
unearthing ancient documents in archives from California to Madrid.
You would think, since the King died in 1598, we've had time to
discover everything but this just isn't so.
I would say there's thousands of documents still out there
which have not been identified.
This is what comes of spending most of your days reading papers
and annotating them - you leave a very long and wide paper trail.
Highness, if I may...
..your cough is getting worse.
There's one document where he says, "It's the documents that
"give me cough, every time I pick up a document I start coughing."
What do you expect...
..with all these papers?
'They all say he stares at you and the other thing
'they all say is he speaks very, very quietly
'and he says very, very little.'
I meant no...
One startling new discovery has revealed over 3,000
hand-written papers, shedding light on a man who was intent
on keeping his world in order by micromanaging every detail himself.
This is absolutely typical.
It's a letter from his private secretary,
Mateo Vazquez, saying, you know, "I need a decision on something."
The King launches into a four page tirade about how much
work he has to do, "I don't know how I put up with it, I don't
"have time to do everything", on and on and on. This is just
pages two and three of a four-page response, and the brunt of it is,
"I don't have time to take the decisions."
Well, this took him 15 minutes.
But in the summer of 1588,
Philip was preoccupied with the problem of England.
The Armada was his solution...
..to finally deal with a heretic Queen...
..a woman who, surprisingly...
..he had once asked to be his wife.
Philip and Elizabeth had first met here at Hampton Court,
near London, more than 30 years earlier.
Elizabeth was then a 20-year-old princess...
..Philip, a Spanish prince, sent to forge an alliance with England
by marrying Elizabeth's older, Catholic half-sister, Queen Mary.
So we've got a really interesting coin here.
It's an image of Philip and Mary but above them is a floating crown.
Now what this suggests is a kind of dual monarchy, the idea...
This isn't a crown that's on the top of Mary's head,
it's both above Mary and Philip.
It shouldn't be but it's a kind of little-known fact that Philip
was, for a time, King of England.
But just four years later, Mary had died, and Elizabeth -
a Protestant - had been crowned Queen.
We have this coin and, if we compare the coin to the one we saw of
Mary and Philip, a dual monarchy,
here we have Elizabeth as sole Queen
and, of course, this is a situation
that was to continue through her life
even though, for the very early years of her reign,
Elizabeth was relentlessly petitioned to marry.
First in the queue had been Philip himself.
Historians still debate whether his proposal
was driven by royal politics...
or even love.
Philip proposes to Elizabeth soon after she becomes Queen
because he doesn't want to give up being King of England.
It was a jewel in his crown,
and he isn't going to give it up without a fight.
Also I think he had this sort of obligation to God, in a way.
He said that he wasn't attracted to Elizabeth but it was the fact
or the hope of saving Catholic souls
that made him reluctantly propose to her.
I think there was an attraction on Philip's part towards Elizabeth.
Certainly she was a stark contrast, in those days, from her sister
and I think, actually, that Philip was drawn to Elizabeth.
Philip did not love Elizabeth. There's no evidence of this at all.
This was a dynastic match, this was for religious reasons.
Whether or not Philip's alleged love was genuine,
it certainly wasn't requited.
Elizabeth made him wait, manana, manana, so Philip waited,
he waited for several weeks and then she turned him down.
Now, three decades later, Philip wanted Elizabeth dead,
and England for himself.
Years of religious differences
had bred an increasingly bitter animosity.
Philip certainly wasn't pleased with the Protestant direction
Elizabeth was taking her country in.
He saw the mass being banned, he saw priests being outlawed.
Torture was used and almost 200 men
and women were executed in her reign for essentially religious reasons.
In addition to this, England has not been out
and found its own wealth but, instead, is attacking
the Spanish treasure fleet as it's making its way back from the Indies.
And this is state-sponsored piracy.
The final straw for Philip
was when Francis Drake made his famous raid on Cadiz,
"the singeing of the King of Spain's beard," as it was called.
It was one thing to try and intercept the treasure fleet,
it was another thing to raid the coast of Spain itself.
And if Philip could not respond to this,
then his hold on his provinces was under threat.
The time had come to stop this dead in its tracks.
He decided after two months' rumination,
the only way he could do that
was to set up an Armada and invade Protestant England.
The cold war...was over.
Philip's great Armada
had finally set sail from Spain on the 21st of July, 1588...
..intent on annihilating the English navy, Elizabeth,
and all they stood for.
CHURCH BELL CHIMES
Some weeks earlier,
Elizabeth had cancelled all her public engagements.
-Her entire court had moved to Richmond Palace...
..her country retreat outside London.
It's the place she always feels safest.
She calls it her "warm box".
And we can trace throughout her reign
that she tends to go to Richmond
when she's feeling particularly under threat.
I'm as happy here as anywhere.
Always so peaceful.
As Elizabeth hid in Richmond,
she surrounded herself with her menagerie of pets,
and the only person she could fully confide in,
her oldest companion, Blanche Parry.
Elizabeth had lost her own mother, Anne Boleyn,
when she was just two years and eight months old.
Blanche had entered her household very soon afterwards.
I think there's no doubt that she was almost a replacement mother figure for Elizabeth.
She is somebody that Elizabeth trusts.
And, of course, at this point
when Elizabeth is very, very fearful and apprehensive,
it's trust and people that have been with her for years
that she's going to increasingly rely on.
As her navy prepared for battle,
Elizabeth's ladies whiled away the hours.
-Can't we let him off his leash? Just for a moment?
You know he'll run amok.
BLANCHE LAUGHS I feel for him.
BLANCHE LAUGHS SOFTLY
We can conjecture about how she might have felt.
She's a woman, she's unmarried,
she's childless, so there is no heir,
and she is also governing a country
where Catholicism is STILL present.
The threat to Elizabeth wasn't just from without, it was from within.
The great dread was that
there was this huge fifth column of Catholics
who were just ready to march under the papal banner.
Even in her favourite palace, Elizabeth's life was still at risk.
Just for an hour, Blanche...
to breathe the air.
No-one need know.
It's safer...within the embrace of these walls.
Elizabeth has been constantly under threat of assassination.
And then of course the Pope excommunicates her.
He doesn't just sanction her death, he encourages it.
He encourages her subjects to kill the Queen of England.
Sometimes at night, I see such terrible things.
maids, sucking babes...
Cast into the river...
turned red with blood.
Meanwhile, at four o'clock that same afternoon,
a small boat dropped anchor in Plymouth harbour.
It carried the news that England, and Elizabeth, had been dreading.
The boat's captain, Thomas Fleming,
had been patrolling in the western approaches of the Channel.
At dawn that day just off the Scilly Isles, he'd seen the Spanish ships.
And he sailed back here to let the navy know.
The English fleet was caught off-guard.
Still not ready, it had to set sail to meet the Spanish threat.
And on the afternoon of July 29th,
it faced yet another problem that could have proved disastrous.
Back in 1588, you couldn't just turn a ship's engine on
and go wherever you wanted to go whenever you wanted to go,
you were at the mercy of the conditions,
wind and tide had to be favourable.
Today's a great example. There's now a howling gale blowing me back towards Plymouth
and I'm fighting the tide too, which is flowing in.
And those are similar conditions to the ones
that Drake and the fleet faced that afternoon of 1588.
This explains one of the most famous stories about Drake's actions that day.
The old story goes that Sir Francis Drake
was right up there on Plymouth Hoe playing bowls
when the news arrived that the Spanish Armada had been sighted.
The legend has it that he calmly said,
"Well, we have time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too."
Sadly, that certainly is a legend, it was invented decades later.
But if Sir Francis Drake had been playing bowls up there on that afternoon in 1588,
he would have known as a consummate sailor full well,
that he might as well finish the game because there was nothing else he could do.
The English fleet were effectively trapped by wind and tide right there in Plymouth harbour,
and there was no way they could go anywhere very quickly.
With the English fleet stuck in harbour,
Elizabeth's kingdom lay undefended.
For the Armada, it was an incredible opportunity to move in early...
and deal a decisive, killer blow.
For centuries we had little idea
what the Spanish commanders were thinking at this key moment,
until Professor Geoffrey Parker
began to explore some boxes of old papers in Madrid.
It's one of those amazing pieces of luck.
There were four boxes, in a series called Military Orders,
which just didn't seem to fit.
I was able to open them, undid the tape,
wondering what I was going to find.
And I opened them up...
and they said...Curious Papers.
And I thought, "Ohh, this is going to be interesting."
As Geoffrey painstakingly deciphered the near illegible handwriting,
he realised he'd stumbled across a treasure trove
that took him to the very heart of the Armada.
It took me a little while to figure out
that this was the series of exchanges
between the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Commander of the Armada,
and his second in command, a man called Juan Martinez de Recalde.
And, in fact, it was Recalde's papers.
It's very unusual, I later discovered unique
to find correspondence between two unit commanders during a naval battle.
And it tells us why certain decisions were taken,
why there was a disagreement on tactics.
And it's not just any battle, this is the Spanish Armada.
This unique window into the Spanish command allows us, for the very first time,
to recreate just what was going on
as Philip's battle fleet approached Plymouth.
With God's blessing...we will crush the heretics.
There is no time to be wasted.
Like his English counterpart, Lord High Admiral Howard,
Medina Sidonia was a landed aristocrat
whose high social standing had put him in charge.
Astonishingly, Medina Sidonia
had never actually commanded a fleet at sea before.
The landlubber was actually quite uncomfortable afloat.
He wrote to King Philip saying, "I don't do well at sea."
And he begged Philip to give command of the Armada to someone else.
But the King was having none of it.
Luckily, for the Spanish, like Howard, Medina Sidonia
would be surrounded by his own group of experienced sea dogs.
He even had his own Drake - Recalde.
Like Drake, Recalde had worked his way up through the ranks of the navy
and was an expert sailor,
the most experienced commander of the entire Armada.
There is no time to be wasted,
it is better to destroy the serpent in its egg.
One letter reveals a startling plan.
Recalde proposed a direct and immediate attack on the English navy
while it lay tide-bound in Plymouth harbour.
Recalde makes it clear in his rather accusatory letter to Medina Sidonia
that there had been a counsel meeting the previous day.
I propose...we attack Plymouth.
We have no idea of the enemy's strength.
What we know is that the harbour is narrow and treacherous.
A first strike would be decisive.
You know the seas better than I.
What we need...is success for the King!
I'll drink to that.
But despite Recalde's entreaty, the Spanish did not attack.
Instead, they sailed on.
Recalde clearly thinks that it's been agreed
that they will indeed attack Plymouth
and he feels betrayed when they did not.
He says, "I don't know why we failed to enter Plymouth harbour."
"I feel downhearted," he writes,
"there are some very experienced people out there," meaning the English,
"and we behaved like novices and we made the wrong call."
Surely, Sam, here's a great opportunity, isn't it?
Because if the Spanish had attacked Plymouth,
either blockaded it or, even bolder still, come in and attacked the British ships at anchor,
had they not got an opportunity to destroy the defence of England in a single blow?
Absolutely. It is a clear opportunity.
And if they'd changed course and headed for Plymouth, that great port in the West Country,
then they certainly could have done something.
It's not necessarily clear cut if they could have removed the English fleet from the equation,
because attacking a fleet at anchor's actually very difficult,
but they could have certainly done something here in the south-west,
perhaps attack Plymouth, perhaps land in Falmouth or Torbay.
So we're agreed then, it's a missed opportunity,
and if it had been taken it could have been the end of Tudor England.
The experienced sailor, Recalde,
resented Medina Sidonia dismissing his advice.
He believed that decisive action
could have handed Spain a swift victory.
And he might well have been right.
The fact was, Medina Sidonia had absolutely no intention
of diverting from the plans given to him by Philip.
If he had done so, the life of Queen Elizabeth, and this story,
might virtually have been at an end.
Far to the south, the architect of the grand invasion plan
continued to work...
..unaware of exactly where his Armada was...
..or of the developing tensions between his two top commanders.
Your Majesty, how do you feel today?
I feel there is not time enough in the world for me.
I will not stop.
Philip's orders had left no room for opportunistic attacks.
Carefully considered, he expected his plans to be carried out to the letter.
Philip had a choice of two plans that he could adopt.
The army came up with the idea of a quick incursion from the Spanish Netherlands,
where the Duke of Parma, his main military commander, was based
with a large army to shoot across the Channel and stage a smash-and-grab raid, if you like,
on England and depose the Queen that way.
His navy, naturally as navies do, wanted a seaborne force,
an Armada to set off from Spain and conquer England that way.
Philip had been given two choices...
but he'd taken neither.
Instead, he'd combined them into one seemingly invincible master plan.
Philip's master plan was for his ships
to sail up the Channel as quickly as possible.
Now, they would go the whole length of the Channel.
And the idea was for them to land here at Margate,
where they would join forces, in his words "join hands," with the Duke of Parma,
who had a vast army in the Spanish-controlled Netherlands.
Now, the Duke of Parma was Philip's nephew
and he was one of the greatest soldiers of his generation.
The Armada would then cover that army marching up the Thames to London.
It's a hugely ambitious and complex plan, isn't it, Sam?
But one thing is not in any doubt,
if that veteran Spanish army gets over to England,
we've pretty much got nothing left to oppose them with.
And it would do three major things for Philip.
It would consolidate his empire,
he could realise his dreams of a Catholic Europe,
and he could free the seas of irritating English piracy.
On the evening of July 29th, the Armada sailed on...
its mission clear...
..to "join hands" in the Channel with a battle-hardened Spanish army
Army and navy together.
-Their might would be...
CHURCH BELL CHIMES
Another day passes.
-With no news.
-Take confidence from that.
In Madrid, and in Richmond,
Philip and Elizabeth prepared for bed.
Your bed is safe, Your Majesty.
I would hope so.
ELIZABETH LAUGHS WEAKLY
Both monarchs prayed for the blessing of an even greater power.
Philip was intensely religious.
PHILIP PRAYS IN LATIN
He had a cell-like bedroom surrounded by pictures of the saints.
And the Escorial wasn't just a palace,
it was a monastery and a church and a mausoleum.
And it seemed for him like it was an extra weapon in his crusade against Elizabeth.
PHILIP PRAYS IN LATIN
Philip believed fervently that God was on his side. How could he fail?
PHILIP PRAYS IN LATIN
And he believed that it was his own personal duty
to try and save those English Catholics
and revenge all those Catholic martyrs who had been slaughtered,
not only by Elizabeth, but by her father as well, Henry VIII.
In these last and worst days of the world,
when wars and seditions with grievous persecutions ...
Elizabeth was by inclination moderate,
she didn't want to force consciences,
but she did expect obedience from her subjects and she was devout.
The love of my people has appeared firm
and the devices of mine enemies frustrate.
Elizabeth made much of the fact that God was on her side.
Philip was on the side of the devil,
and that's how the contest was going to be played out.
World without end.
BOY SINGS IN LATIN
As morning prayers were sung,
the Armada continued its journey into the Channel.
HE CONTINUES SINGING IN LATIN
All was calm...
but the Spanish were wary of their easy progress.
There was no sight of the English navy,
and no way of knowing if it was still anchored in Plymouth,
or preparing to attack at any moment.
BOY CONTINUES SINGING IN LATIN
In fact, the English fleet had left port.
Overnight the tide had turned, the wind had changed,
they'd sailed down here out of Plymouth Sound.
But they had no intention of taking on the Spanish head-on.
Instead, they were going to try something far more cunning.
The English realised that the Armada was too big to take on directly.
So their plan was to stop the Spanish
from taking any harbour deep enough to use as a base...
..without getting themselves blown to pieces in the process.
You think that the Armada want to take a deep water port on the south coast of England, maybe Plymouth.
But their plan is to keep moving up,
constantly driving up towards Parma's army.
You're absolutely right. The English are pre-occupied
with the possibility the Spanish are going to take a deep-water port, they must prevent it.
First of all, get them away from Plymouth Sound.
But once they're out into the open, they're then going to put their master plan into operation,
which is to get behind the Armada, drive it up the Channel,
hopefully out the other end, and harry them like a terrier.
With the quality of our seamanship and the compactness of our formation
that's actually all you can do.
The English fleet first caught sight of the Spanish Armada
on Saturday 30th July at 3pm.
The weather had turned foul,
and so when a look-out on Howard's ship, who was up in the crow's nest high up in the mast,
was peering through the mist and the rain and he finally caught sight
of the Spanish ships just out there.
It was now time to turn plans into action...
and let the harrying begin.
But would it be enough?
Or would Philip's great Armada manage to successfully "join hands"
with the vast Spanish army...and invade?
Riders dispatched from Plymouth the previous day
reached Richmond Palace 24 hours later.
The news was delivered first to Elizabeth's most trusted ministers,
Sir Francis Walsingham...
and Lord Burghley.
The Spanish are sighted...
..off the Lizard.
At our gates.
The two dominant figures in Elizabeth's court,
the Tweedledum and Tweedledee if you like, were Burghley and Walsingham.
They sail with more than 120 ships.
Might and malice to match.
Burghley was the most powerful man in England.
He'd known Elizabeth since she was a princess
and they'd had tough times together.
She trusted him and she relied on him to speak truth to power.
She called him her "spirit".
He wanted to avoid a confrontation, because it was incredibly expensive.
He was Lord High Treasurer,
he wanted to keep his hands on that purse.
Walsingham was Elizabeth's spy master.
He'd set up this incredibly sophisticated intelligence network.
And because of his experiences,
he'd seen at first hand the terror that Catholic Europe could contain,
he was always advising Elizabeth
towards an aggressive foreign policy.
Elizabeth's biggest problem was, I think,
that she listened to both opinions for action and for inaction
and dithered between the two of them.
Let's remember, she is a woman in a man's world.
When she makes up her mind,
she's stuck with the results of that decision.
So she looked at a decision from lots of different ways,
and frequently changed her mind once she'd made one.
We sued for peace...
but to no avail.
I pray you, speak plainly.
The time has come. A Holy War.
I did not desire this...
but I did expect it.
Elizabeth, naturally, was very cautious.
She did not like spending money.
She naturally favoured Burghley's very conservative foreign policy.
But equally, she was justifiably aware
of the threat posed to her safety by the powers of Catholic Europe.
What is clear is that we cannot afford to stand idle.
We must strike...and strike hard.
And if that fails? When we have nothing left to strike with?
With the Armada looming,
Elizabeth knew the time for havering was over.
She really had nowhere else to go.
She knew she'd have to fight.
And those ships, those wooden walls defending England,
were the only thing between her and oblivion.
Your Majesty, you must meet this battle,
for the sake of England.
Then we shall prevail...
for God's favour is with me.
Then God will help us all.
Let all of England...taste victory.
Out in the Channel, both sides were preparing for battle.
Many no doubt were praying,
some were checking weapons and ammunition.
The ships on both sides were bristling with cannon,
most ships had between 20-50 cannon.
And they would be firing cannonballs, some light, about 6lbs,
others up to 60lbs of iron,
waiting to crash through wooden hulls and rigging.
Despite the sheer might of the Armada,
the English did have some reason for hope.
Superior weapons created by new English technology.
The great revolution in the 16th century
was an amazing technological advance, it led to the Industrial Revolution,
and this was the introduction of the blast furnace for cast iron.
-Traditionally, cannons had been handmade...
..the metal crafted into shape.
Cannonballs had been hand carved... from stone.
The blast furnace enables you to melt large quantities of cast iron,
it flows like water, so you can pour it into moulds.
You can make repeated items exactly the same.
It was cannonballs first,
it was then used to make the first cannon in England.
These iron guns were much cheaper,
they could be made fairly consistently
and they could be issued with large quantities
of consistent, standardised cannonballs.
England was ahead of the rest of Europe.
New technology furnished the English navy with cannon
that were more accurate and more powerful than those of the Spanish.
But would that be enough to even break the tight formation of the Armada,
let alone defeat it?
-MAN SHOUTS IN SPANISH
And a Spanish lookout finally spotted the English navy.
But it wasn't where the Spanish were expecting it to be.
The Spanish were expecting the English to appear in front of them,
to contest their march up the Channel.
But instead the English did something quite different,
they split into two groups, came round behind the Spanish,
and prepared to launch a pincer attack.
Medina Sidonia ordered the Spanish royal standard to be raised,
the signal for the Armada to get into battle formation,
a crescent of ships stretching for over two miles.
Then at 9am, in a piece of old-fashioned chivalry,
Howard decided to officially throw down the gauntlet to the Spanish.
He sent ahead a small ship, appropriately called the Disdain,
which fired one shot into the midst of the Armada...
and then quickly turned round
and headed back to rejoin the English fleet.
With that, the first battle against the Spanish Armada had begun.
Now, we've surprised you by our position, Sam,
but the English have also got another trick up their sleeve,
-the way they're going to fight.
Their tactics are to use new and more effective guns,
but also the way they're going to use them, this is going to surprise the Spanish.
Traditionally, what the Spaniards are expecting
is to have boarding actions
where the ships will come up close alongside,
the soldiers'll pile in with grappling hooks,
there'll be lots of stabbing, and fighting, and slashing,
and they'll settle the matter in hand-to-hand combat.
That's exactly what they expect and they want the English to do.
Now, that's exactly what the English didn't want to do.
They didn't want to close with the Spanish ships,
which were bigger and they were packed with more men.
Instead, they wanted to stand off, keep their distance,
and blast them with cannon fire.
Now, to us today that seems entirely logical, but for the Spanish,
it was pretty much the first time they'd ever seen this.
The Spanish soldiers were stuck on their decks,
and could only taunt an enemy...
who refused to come close.
Now, the one problem you're going to have is that if there's one thing the Spanish are good at,
it's maintaining close formation under hostile attack,
it's how the Spanish empire works.
They usually protect their silver convoys going across to the New World.
This time they're protecting their vulnerable troop ships in the centre of this crescent formation.
And they're very good at seamanship,
they're good at maintaining their position in this tight crescent formation.
It's absolutely true, it's a formidable formation,
but it has a couple of weaknesses and I'll show you were they are.
These two arms of the crescent,
if we can use our ships to close up pretty effectively
and then we can fire our guns at a distance in a continual rolling fire.
And if you have enough of these ships sailing one after the other after the other, using their broadsides,
you've almost got a primitive machinegun.
Drake and Howard lined up their squadrons
and launched a relentless barrage against the Armada.
This was one of the first times
this had ever happened on this scale in European naval history.
Over the next couple of hours,
the English managed to fire off around 2,000 shots.
The Spanish only got in 750 in reply.
What people were witnessing here was a revolution in military tactics.
The English called off the attack after two hours,
having driven the Armada beyond Plymouth.
But the reality was the Armada had never been planning to enter Plymouth,
and for all their rapid cannon fire,
the English hadn't actually inflicted that much damage.
So often the details of historic battles are lost,
but because of Professor Geoffrey Parker's discoveries,
we know that the Armada's second-in-command, Recalde,
immediately understood the English tactics.
One of the things I most admire about Recalde,
he sees instantly what the English are up to
and he writes to Medina Sidonia saying, "We're not doing well here."
And he says, "In future we need to make sure that our enemies
"don't consume us little by little - poco a poco - and without risk to themselves.
"We should rather put all our eggs in one basket
"and the sooner the better for this fleet and for the army."
So Recalde's strategy is
turn the fleet around and hit the English hard now.
But once again, Medina Sidonia ignored Recalde's advice
and dutifully sailed on, following Philip's master plan.
After the battle off Plymouth, for all the smoke and noise,
neither side had lost a single ship.
But that was about to change.
All that day, local people lined these cliffs around Plymouth
watching the great battle out at sea for the fate of England.
For those who'd never heard anything louder than a church bell or a clap of thunder,
the noise of these several hundred cannon reverberating off these hills must have been almost deafening.
But the loudest explosion of all
would come that afternoon at four o'clock.
One Spanish ship, the San Salvador, blew up.
Now, we don't know why or how, but there are some accounts
that there was a disgruntled Dutch or German sailor on board
who set fire to the powder store and then legged it overboard.
In any case, 200 Spanish sailors drowned. It was a massive own goal.
It's not the only disaster that day, because that same afternoon, a second ship, the Rosario,
another of your most powerful fighting ships, bumps into first one ship then another,
the foremast comes down into the mainmast and completely disables the steering.
Medina Sidonia would have loved to have gone back to rescue the Rosario,
but he didn't feel he could deviate just one little bit
from the master plan given to him by King Philip.
So, reluctantly, he led the Armada on up the Channel.
The Rosario was left to its fate.
Recalde was appalled
and vented his feelings in a hastily written letter,
discovered by Professor Geoffrey Parker over 400 years later.
He's absolutely furious.
"I can't begin to tell your Excellency how grievously I felt the loss of the ship."
And then he goes on to say, "If we'd laid to, if we'd drawn in sail,
"the situation could have been remedied. In the position we were in, we could have done it."
I think this is the point where perhaps Recalde's beginning to think
Medina Sidonia is not the right man for the job.
As the Armada sailed on, shadowed by the English fleet,
the commanders took stock of the day's events.
Medina Sidonia hadn't been able to get close to the English navy,
and he'd already lost two great ships.
Meanwhile, Howard and Drake were no happier...
all too aware of the formidable strength of their enemy.
-Two ships down.
-Better we'd dealt the deadly blows.
We'll puck their feathers little by little.
That's a lot of plucking.
But they were already concerned by a serious problem,
caused by their rapid-firing tactics.
Quite simply, the English were lacking crucial ammunition, powder and shot for their cannon.
So much so that that very night, Howard wrote to London,
he wrote to Walsingham, asking for more supplies.
But he knew that, in all likelihood,
that request would fall on deaf ears.
Elizabeth's finances are in a parlous state,
the coffers are bare and Elizabeth doesn't want
to go to parliament to ask for more tax revenue.
In a sense, she doesn't want to be in hock to parliament.
MONKEY CHITTERS ELIZABETH GASPS
Please remove the monkey, Bess.
He takes what is mine without fear nor favour.
She had spent quite a lot of money
on building up brand-new ships for her navy,
but now she didn't really want to spend money on ammunition, or indeed food to feed her sailors,
because her cupboard was bare.
To the Tower with the impertinent ape!
A jest, that was all!
Even at this time of great crisis,
Elizabeth was failing to properly provide for her navy.
She was clearly hoping it would defeat the Spanish Armada
without any further financial assistance.
She was, basically, sending it into battle with one arm tied behind its back.
Being short of ammunition was bad,
but things were about to get much worse.
That evening, Howard ordered Drake to lead the English navy
during the night with a light on the stern of his ship, the Revenge.
But, ever the maverick, Drake had other plans...
..and he extinguished the flame.
He knew exactly where the Rosario lay stricken,
and for such a seasoned pirate, the fully-stocked Spanish ship
was simply too much of a temptation.
It was an extraordinary dereliction of duty, but Drake, in typical fashion,
was about to stumble across a great treasure trove, gold and ammunition,
but something even more important than that...intelligence.
Intelligence that was to give the English a hope
that they could in fact defeat this, the greatest naval force on the planet,
keep their country independent and Protestant,
and their Queen Elizabeth...alive.
The Armada sails ever closer.
MAN: Remember, speed. Now!
Drake tries out new tactics.
And the battles for England grow ever more intense.
Subtitles by Ericsson
In the first 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. Newly discovered documents take us right inside the Spanish Armada for the very first time and reveal a missed opportunity that could have spelled the end of Tudor England.