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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and persuasive, but not without flaws, 23 Feb. 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Confident Hope Of A Miracle: The True History Of The Spanish Armada: The Real History of the Spanish Armada (Hardcover)
The Spanish attempt to conquer England in 1588 is not short of chroniclers and Hanson does not claim even to have conducted original research where most of the campaign is concerned, his emphasis having been on the aftermath. Nevertheless, he has illuminated apects that may not have received sufficient attention before, or not in publications for the general reader, at least. A recurrent theme is the refusal by Elizabeth I to spend money in her own defence, expecting the English army to be financed by cities, counties and prominent individuals, and refusing to release adequate supplies of gunpowder to the fleet until far too late. (Hanson contends, persuasively, that only the capture of Spanish supplies of powder enabled the English to defeat the fleet of Philip II.) On the other hand, Hanson also puts to the sword another common myth about 1588, namely that the Spanish were never defeated by the English, but fell victims to the elements. As he points out, ships that could round the South American or South African capes ought to have had no trouble circumnavigating the British Isles. Their problems arose because of the gaping holes in their hulls blasted by English gunnery and as a result of the fact that most of Medina Sidonia's ships severed their anchors in their panic to escape English fireships. Actually, the section on the fate of the Spanish during the return to Spain is fairly feeble; much more effective is Hanson's treatment of the way in which Elizabeth dismissed sailors unpaid, with the result that, having suffered battle casualties only a small fraction of their opponents', the English seamen eventually incurred the same sort of casualties, through disease and malnutrition, or outright starvation, despite never having travelled more than a day or two's sailing from England, during the most productive months of the year. Hanson's weakness lies in his occasional tendency to imagine what he cannot possibly know. We are told what Drake "thought", when he boarded his ship at Plymouth. We also learn what a bleary-eyed Cornish watchman felt, when the Spanish fleet loomed out of the mist. Both of these passages (and a few others) derive entirely from the author's imagination and have no place in a serious historical work. The book is well illustrated, but a few more modern maps might have been useful. Another weakness is the way in which the footnotes are distributed. Instead of allocating one footnote per item, Hanson chooses to group his notes, so that a string of quotations will have a single, cumulative footnote. Matching the relevant source to a given quotation becomes a bit of a struggle. We don't all have the time or opportunity to investigate the firsthand sources, so the author has a duty to make his sources rather clearer than Hanson does. Nevertheless, this remains a powerful, readable and well-argued narrative.
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