A Brief History of Spain

Second Millenium - from the artistry of El Greco to the Spanish Armada

1540-1614 CE El Greco was a Cretan-born painter, sculptor and architect who settled in and adopted Spain. He is regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish School. He was known as El Greco but his real name was Domenikos Theotocopoulos and it was thus that he signed his paintings throughout his life, always in Greek characters and sometimes followed by Kres.
In 1586 he painted The Burial of Count Orgaz in Toledo. (Personally I found this the most moving of all paintings) El Greco died in Toledo on April 7th 1614, and was buried there in Santo Domingo el Antiguo. www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/greco/

1547-1616 CE. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra Creator of Don Quixote, novelist, playwright and poet. The most famous figure of Spanish literature, he lived a life of hardship and adventure. He was born in the small town of Alcalá de Henares and studied in Madrid under the humanist Juan López de Hoyos during1568-69. In 1570 Spain, in alliance with the Pope and Venice, were at war with the Ottoman Empire. Cervantes joined a Spanish regiment in Naples and in 1571 his ship (as part of a combined fleet) was engaged in a major sea battle at Lepanto. The result was a major victory for the Alliance with the Ottoman fleet losing 260 out of their 300 galleys. This was to mark the end of sea battles by these outmoded galley fleets. (The Galley was designed for its speed in the calmer inshore waters and was no match for the more sturdily built ocean going war vessels).

Cervantes fought well. His left hand was permanently maimed but he was proud of the part he had played in this famous victory. It is said he earned the nickname of El Manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto). When his health recovered he rejoined the army.

In 1575 sailing in the galley El Sol, his ship was captured by pirates under Arnaute Mami. Cervantes was taken to Algiers as a slave. Despite endeavouring to escape several times, he survived until he was ransomed in 1580 with the payment of 500 escudos.

1580 He returned to Madrid to write. There he sustained a living in ill-paid administrative posts whilst he began his writing career. His first play, Los Tratos de Argel (1580), was based on his experiences as a Moorish slave.

Despite his disastrous marital affaires, being made bankrupt, thrown in jail for debt and being accused of some obscure complicity in a nobleman’s death which took place outside his house, he maintained a prolific writing output, but life was never easy. Tradition maintains that he wrote Don Quixote whilst in prison at Argamasilla in La Mancha.

1605 The first part of Don Quixote de La Mancha was published. Cervantes' idea was to give a picture of real life and the manners of the day. It is said he wished to express life "in simple, honest and well-measured words" as expressed in the prologue to Part I of Don Quixote. The inclusion of everyday speech into a literary context was acclaimed by the reading public
Cervantes published the completion of Don Quixote de la Mancha in 1615; Whilst this work may have relieved his finances only a little, it brought him some well deserved international acclaim and appreciation as a true man of letters.

His last novel, The Exploits of Persiles and Sigismunda, dedicated to the Count of Lemos was completed on April 20th 1616

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra died just three days later on April 23 1616.

Cervantes was, without doubt, the Spanish Shakespeare and is credited with writing 30 plays although only two survive. It is said he was a terrible poet but his stories will long survive and continue to enhance his reputation. Don Quixote was a masterpiece.
Many remember the novel in its original format as a comic satire against a chivalrous romance.

I particularly appreciate Cervantes quotation, "The truth lies in a man's dreams... perhaps in this unhappy world of ours whose madness is better than a foolish sanity."

1550 CE. Gandia. In the preceding 200 years the farmstead village of Gandia had grown into a City with a population of some 50,000 but with the expulsion of the Moors in 1570, it is said that the city lost a third of its population, a loss which delayed its recovery for some 150 years.

1570 CE The final forced expulsion of the Moors took place; regretfully a dark age for Spain.

1588 CE. The Spanish Armada. In the 16th Century, Spain was at its most powerful, stronger and richer than any other nation, ruling over and receiving vast treasure from its many rich colonies in the New World. King Philip (Felipe II) of Spain had initially backed Queen Elizabeth’s succession to the English throne. It is said that he proposed marriage and that her refusal was not taken well. However the main reason for the worsening relations between the two countries was Philip's ambition to reinstate the Catholic faith throughout England and the British Isles and to replace the Protestant Queen Elizabeth with a Head of State true to Catholicism. Philip was also enraged by Elizabeth's financial backing of the Hispanic Netherlands' revolt against Spain. This was particularly aggravating because the finance was being made available by the attacks made by British Privateer Ships (considered pirates by Spain) on the Spanish galleons returning from South America carrying bullion taken by the conquistadors (such as Cortez).

As early as 1585, Philip had begun to prepare a great fleet which, under Admiral Santa Cruz, would invade England. Unfortunately for Spain, this prestigious Spanish Commander died. His successor, the Duke of Medina Sedonia, had little experience of the sea, and he advised the King against the enterprise, it being obvious that Elizabeth was already aware and arming against the planned Armada. The British Admiral Sir Frances Drake had already attacked and destroyed many of the potential ships of the Armada in Cadiz Harbour.

England in the 1500s was a small, non-rich emerging country with many enemies. Her greatest assets were her people, loyal and resolute. With sea captains such as Drake and Raleigh setting out on exploration and colonisation of the new world, the Far East and India, she was making herself felt.

1588 May The Spanish Armada of more than 130 ships and 19,000 men set sail from Lisbon. Its intention was to meet and protect a massive fleet of barges manned by the army of the Duke of Parma, Philip's nephew. This army and the barges were waiting in dispersed positions in the low lands of Flanders, Holland and the intention was for the fleet to meet them at Dunkerque (Dunkirk) and escort them across the channel (similar to Germany’s Hitler strategy with his operation Sea Lion in the 1939-45 war). However the French (although allies of Spain) would not allow the Armada access or protection within the French channel ports. The Armada could go no further into the Channel than Calais which had a sympathetic Catholic Mayor who allowed the massive fleet to lie outside the port but under the protection of the guns of the fort. The French distrusted the intentions of their powerful Spanish neighbours.

Having finally arrived at Calais, the Spanish Admiral received a message from his Co-commander, the Duke of Palma, that his force of barges and men could not arrive for a further six days. This lack of co-ordination and the worsening weather was to be a major factor in the defeat of the Armada.

1588 July The English coastal watchers were waiting for the first sight of the Armada and used a series of huge bonfires set along the cliffs to give the warning. This massive chain of signal fires ran along the coast to Beachy Head near Eastbourne and then inland to London. Thereby Queen Elizabeth, the Admiralty and the Government were alerted of the impending danger with amazing speed. Almost immediately Admiral Lord Howard and Drake sailed from Plymouth to engage the Spanish fleet.

Admiral Howard was Lord High Admiral of England (a title that at the time demanded Noble birth). He had little experience in fighting at sea but he had Sir Frances Drake acting as his Vice Admiral and immediate subordinate. Drake’s was the real expertise behind the battle, such as it was. His use of the dreaded fire ships, which caused the Spanish galleons to break their defensive ring, was a deciding factor in the battle.

July 30th Drake’s ship, the Revenge, was in the thick of the fighting, capturing the Nuestra Señora del Rosario on July 30 together with one of the main commanders of the Armada, Don Pedro de Valdés.

August 8th Drake also attacked Medina Sidonia's flagship the San Martín de Portugal. However, the weather brought a tremendous gale which caused havoc in the English Channel and brought about the end of the fighting. Whilst Drakes’ ships were able to seek a safe haven in English ports, the gales scattered the damaged Armada across the North Sea. The remaining ships attempted to withdraw to Spain by way of the east coast of Scotland but in the terrible storms, many of the ships sank or were driven shoreward onto the rugged coasts. It is reported that only sixty seven ships survived the return to Spain. Whilst very many sailors died, it is said that there are still Cornish, Irish and West Country families who have blood in their veins dating back to the Armada.

Comment - With hindsight it is possible to see that England's victory was as much due to the atrocious weather of the time and the lack of communication and coordination between the two Spanish commanders and their forces. At the time of the Armada, communication was primitive, mainly by horse across many miles of rugged country (inhabited by unfriendly Dutch patriots) and then by small boat out to the fleet.

1604 CE Peace Treaty was signed between Spain and England.

1680 CE Earthquake Spain suffered a major natural disaster when an earthquake destroyed large parts of Málaga.

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