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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

on 28 April 2017
Love this book. Read it first about 10 years ago, lent it and lost it, as one does.Re-reading is as much a pleasure as the first reading. A heart- breaking perspective of the Armada.
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on 10 March 2017
Very good and detailed book
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on 23 February 2004
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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on 5 April 2008
What an enjoyable read; history brought to life. This book is a pleasure - excellent research, great storytelling interwoven with it. Have gained crucial insights into the thinking and behaviours of all parties involved in the planning and action of the Armada. Highly recommended; one of the best books I have read for a while.
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on 20 July 2004
The author has written a very readable history of the Armada, but when he includes "the real history" in his title, we're entitled to expect that this book has something new that the numerous previous books on the subject haven't had. And there isn't anything new. Garrett Mattingley's Defeat of the Spanish Armada, or Parker and Martin's Spanish Armada are the real pathbreaking books on the subject, and there's nothing here on the Armada that wasn't in them. And Mattingley's book was as well written. Since it's out of print, this is a good substitute, but the title is misleading.
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on 10 March 2005
This is a fascinating book detailing the melodramatic sea battle between the English and Spanish navies during the high-summer of that most infamous of all years in English history; 1588!
This book is an interesting and very detailed account of the Spanish Armada during that year, a summer every bit as important as the Battle of Britain was in 1940. For, as in 1940 against the Germans, England was in peril of being invaded and subjugated by a foreign power.
It covers all the action in the English Channel, the failed Spanish attempt to link up with the Spanish army in the Spanish Netherlands and the Armada's subsequent wrecking on the way home.
English Queen Elizabeth's miserly attitude to the supply and provision of her ships and sailors is exposed too. Overall, she doesn't receive a very flattering portrait; coming across as distant from the action and somewhat greedy for Spanish booty in the way she pestered her sea captains. Not quite the legend we've come to believe...
Flamboyant and charismatic English heroes such as Francis Drake, John Hawkins and Lord Charles Howard are also mentioned and come off as far more attractive characters. They're talented and patriotic Englishmen who do all within their means to hinder the Spanish invasion, despite often having to fight against stubborn and ignorant superiors in the English government, far away in London.
The Spanish are also detailed in an unbiased way, giving us a much better understanding of their actions and decisions. Contrary to the simplified, popular history version of events, the Spanish weren't incompetent, but intelligent and resourceful soldiers and sailors. They tried their best in the circumstances, but were handicapped by an overly complex plan, dodgy weather, persistent English resistance and sheer bad luck!
The Armada's disastrous wrecking on the rocks of Ireland in late 1588 is also documented. After the Spanish fled the English Channel and the English Navy, they sailed around neutral Scotland and then many weakened ships were wrecked on the jagged rocks of eastern Ireland. The fate of these miserable wretches was being attacked by local Irish or occupying English soldiers who were fearful of an attempted Spanish landing.
The whole Ireland episode of quite sad really, for most Spaniards shipwrecked there were captured, robbed, killed, ransomed or otherwise harshly treated. But then again, it was war and if the Spanish had succeeded in landing in Kent with their huge invasion force, they'd have undoubtedly killed many Englishmen. So it has to be viewed within context...
This book also has illustrations of contemporary English playing cards, printed and sold after the Spanish Armada had failed to invade England and had limped home in a ruinous state. They interestingly portray various Armada scenes, but should be viewed within context as English propaganda; after all, England and Spain were at war.
Anyway, this book is an enthralling and engaging read for anyone wanting to know about King Phillip's attempt to invade and subdue England with his infamous 'Enterprise of England' in 1588.
In fact, I'd personally rate it as the best book I've read on the subject for its historical details and engaging writing style.
If you want a good book about this subject, buy this one as it's well worth a read...
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 February 2011
This is an excellent book describing the near invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. The book uses the death of Mary, Queen of Scots as it's starting point, and proceeds to set the political and social scene of the times, showing the reasons for the Armada, the planning and preparation, the launch of the enterprise, the reasons for its failure and finally the aftermath and legacy.

It is a book with a grand scope. Neil Hanson has a thorough grasp of his subject, and writes with a clear narrative style that guides the reader through some tangled webs with great clarity. The book is well organised and structured, allowing the story to flow well.

As well as the history lesson this is an excellent and entertaining adventure story. History from this period is rich with great characters, from Queen Elizabeth, Francis Drake, Phillip II of Spain etc, etc. It is also rich with great tales of daring, adventure, piracy, sea battles and Machiavellian politics. Hanson paints both people and adventures vividly (but not luridly, there is always a thorough grounding in historical fact) and makes this a thrilling read.

I was especially interested in the descriptions of Elizabeth - used to the picture handed down by history it was fascinating to have a description of what lay behind the mask, and the lengths she went to protect her image.

An excellent history and a rip roaringly good read. In a world of dull, dry and lifeless history tests this really stands out as a good and instructive read. 5 stars.
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on 20 June 2013
The author's enjoyment of his task shines through these pages. It is fascinating to read such an objective view of the 'golden age' of 'Good Queen Bess', and find that Elizabethan sailors were dealt with so shoddily by the country they had saved. Equally the whole disastrous concept of the 'Invincible Armada' is thoroughly unpicked, and we can discern failings in military strategy that seem to change little as the centuries roll past.
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on 23 February 2011
I bought this book as a present for my dad.
His head is buried deep in the pages and he thinks it's brilliant.
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on 13 July 2009
Like everyone else, I knew the schoolchild's history of the attempted invasion and the way it was repulsed. But the intricacies of the actual events - the political chicanery, the attempted invasion and the aftermath - are here set down in intricate detail and in an absorbingly readable style so that even for non-historians like myself, this is a rivetting read.
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