Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: The Defeat of the Spanish Armada

The defeat of the Spanish Armada is one of those classic stories of English history, one that mixes a bucket of truth with more than a tumbler of myth. But it wasn't one I knew much about so I found this book in a second hand stall it felt like an easy £1 to spend.

And good value that turned out to be. This is the classic written by American historian Garrett Mattingly which won the Pulitzer prize back in 1960 and a cracking read it turned out to be, one that I was looking forward to picking up again, to find out "what happened next".

It follows the story from the execution of Mary Stuart to the aftermath and consequences of the defeat of the greatest power of the day by those upstart English (not Brits or Limeys yet). The excitement builds as the Armada prepares and then sets sails, and you can image the thrill of getting to a chapter with the great title and subtitle of "First Blood: The Eddystone to Start Point, July 31st, 1588".

Mattingly is clearly a professional historian, taking a balanced view from both sides, in particular treating the Spanish admiral Medina Sidonia with great respect, noting how it was his decisions saved many ships in his fleet from destruction.

But there is also strong respect for the English leaders, for Drake, Hawkins, Howard, Frobisher and of course Gloriana herself, Queen Elizabeth.

A few minor quibles: the style is showing its age (purple and formalistic), there was (for me) too much detail on the situation in France and finally he freely interchanges alternative names for the key players, so you have to concentrate to keep up.

But that shouldn't stop you buying and then reading what is certainly a classic, if not the classic, telling of the Spanish Armada.

My copy had further signs that I was on to a good thing: stuck within were a Heffers bookmark (Tillerman will understand) and the label from a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

A glass of highly quaffable wine in one hand and this book in the other: I suspect the previous owner must have had an entertaining evening's read.


O Docker said...

The perfect wine for that book, indeed, JP! More than a bit of irony in that label, considering the religious motivation of the Spanish invasion and the history of that appelation.

Tillerman said...

The Spanish Armada was about religion?

I always thought it was because the Spaniards wanted our pork pies, black pudding, and fish and chips with mushy peas.

Baydog said...

Irony in the label, maybe, but fruity on the palate with red and blue berry notes, along with Provencal herb-like nuances and an endearing barnyard whiff. Drink now through tomorrow.
86 points.

O Docker said...

It's all in the terroir, Baydog.

The Pope just felt he needed a little more terroir on the northern side of the channel.

Tillerman said...

Hmmmm. Marks and Spencer Organic Lager du Pape doesn't have quite the same ring about it, does it?

O Docker said...

No, but Ch√Ęteauneuf roughly translates as 'new castle'. Maybe they could market that locally as 'Newkie Red'.

JP said...

Ah, now it all makes sense.

The pope really wanted some Newcastle Brown Ale and so he convinced Spain to invade England to guarantee his supply.

When that failed he tried plan B but alas the French were unable to brew the right thing so he received wine instead.

The rest, as they say, is history

Benny Ratzinger said...

Sadly, Newcastle Brown isn't even made in Newcastle any more and is owned by Heineken.

But back in the day it was brewed by a firm called "Scottish & Newcastle" and, at least when I was in Newcastle in the 1960's, if you wanted some in a local pub you asked for "a pint of scotch." Not sure if the phrase is still in use.

JP said...

Hey, Benny, watch out - the link to your blog has been hijacked by Tillerman.

He's done this before you know.

Benny said...

Aaaargh. My cover is blown. Yes, I am the secret author of the Tillerman blog.