Lepanto was the good naval battle. The Spanish Armada, aka The Invincible Armada, was the bad one. In 1588.
Philip is motivated to restore Roman Catholicism to England against Elizabeth (who was Phillip’s sister-in-law since he was married to Bloody Mary).
He’s also put out at English support of the rebellious Dutch in the Netherlands and the fact that Elizabeth had commissioned Sir Francis Drake as a privateer who raided Spanish treasure ships.
Phillip even put a bounty of what would be about $10 million on Drake’s head.
He sends a fleet of 133 ships to attack and conquer England. The English fight back in the English Channel with superior longer range canons and more maneuverable ships.
That was after they sailed fire ships into the Spanish lines in order to break their formation.
The English also had better gunnery. The Spanish guns weren’t as good (and many had the wrong ammo) and the gunners not well trained.
That and the Spanish were planning on boarding the English ships and fighting hand-to-hand. The English wouldn’t allow that.
The English pound the Spanish who retreat. The Spanish then keep encountering bad weather and more ships are lost.
Ultimately, 15,000 Spanish sailors are killed and nearly half the fleet lost.
The battle also occasioned one of Elizabeth’s most famous speech’s when she visited the troops:
“ I have come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.”
Spain, however, was facing some problems by the mid to late 1600’s.
The first is that all that gold and silver coming in was sparking inflation.
The more silver there was, the less it was worth to people.
Also, the greater population meant more demand for goods and higher prices.
Only the lower class had to pay taxes. Nobles were exempt.
This kept the poor people poor and prevented a middle class with spending power from developing.
Money went elsewhere
Spain’s manufacturing base wasn’t very good, so it had to buy a lot of goods elsewhere.
That meant all that Spanish gold and silver was going to the rest of Europe and not staying in Spain.
The Dutch revolt in the 1560’s and 1570’s.
They had been under Spanish rule but resented it, especially since they were protestant and quite religiously tolerant.
The Dutch succeed in part because of the flooding they created by breaking open some dikes.
Portugal was also restless and required a large army of occupation to keep under control.
On top of it all, there be pirates. Arrrr…..
Other countries, especially England, commissioned captains to attack and capture Spanish shipping to keep the wealth from getting to Spain.
Officially, they were privateers and as far as the commissioning country was concerned, they were doing legal activity. To the enemy, they were still pirates.
Even the U.S. once issued letters of marque (the power is given to Congress in the Constitution: Article I, section 8).
Letter of marque issued to William Kidd. Letter of marque issued by the navy of the Republic of Texas.
Sir Francis Drake (seen here again) was a very successful privateer who worked for Queen Elizabeth I.
Other privateers weren’t so lucky. If they accidentally ran afoul of the government, they could be tried and convicted, such as what happened to William Kidd. It took two tries to hang him and his body was gibbeted over the River Thames for two years as a warning to others.
Letters of marque were outlawed by international treaty in 1856.
Gibbeting was when a person or just the corpse (sometimes the former which turned into the latter, but usually the latter) was put in a cage and hung outside.
So, you combine inflation, poor taxation policy, money going elsewhere, rebellious subjects in Portugal and the Netherlands, various foreign wars and occupations eating up the treasury (and sending money elsewhere), and pirates attacking your money supply, and you end up with an empire in decline.
The path to absolutism
Absolute monarchs start to spring up.
These were monarchs with absolute power who ruled by divine right, which meant God had placed them in power and they answered only to God, not to subjects.
Nor could the monarch be validly removed from the throne or rebelled against.
He was put there by God, after all, and God doesn’t make mistakes.
Divine right was also anti-papist.
The breakdown of feudalism started centralizing power.
The increasing importance of cities meant there were centers of power and administration.
The Church had lost a great deal of power and was no longer quite the challenge to the monarchs.