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The 80 Years War and the Spanish Armada

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  • 0:07 The Habsburg Dynasty
  • 1:28 Protestant against Catholic
  • 3:44 Reasons for the Spanish Armada
  • 5:56 The Spanish Defeat
  • 7:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the relationship between the 80 Years' War and the Spanish Armada. It will focus on the Netherlands' struggle for independence from Spain while also describing the role England played in the conflict.

The Netherlands Under the Habsburg Dynasty

Map of the Netherlands
The Netherlands Map

The 80 Years' War was the revolt of the Netherlands against the Spanish king. The Spanish Armada was the attempted invasion of England by this very same Spanish king. Although one conflict happened on Dutch soil and the other on the seas, they are intricately related to one another. In today's lesson, we'll explore this relationship.

To start out, let's grasp an understanding of the 80 Years' War. As already mentioned, this long conflict was the revolt of the Netherlands, also known as the Dutch, against Spain. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Netherlands had slowly been absorbed into the Habsburg dynasty of Spain. By the 16th century, the Netherlands were an extremely prosperous and wealthy region within the Habsburg Empire.

However, while the Netherlands were busy creating wealth, Spain was busy spending it on wars with France, Turkey and Germany. Making matters worse, many of the countries Spain chose as enemies were trading partners with the Netherlands. Not only were the Netherlands forced to foot the bill for these wars, they were losing trading partners left and right. By the late 1560s, the Netherlands' aristocrats and merchants had had enough and were ready to tell King Philip II of Spain to find someone else to fund his wars.

Protestant Against Catholic

Adding to all of this, Protestantism was gaining ground in the Netherlands. Although Catholicism was still the main religion of the Dutch people, Protestants were openly tolerated within the Netherlands. However, King Philip II of Spain was a staunch Catholic who felt it was his duty to squelch Protestants at every turn. Eventually, Philip sent troops into the Netherlands to round up unruly Protestants who were practicing iconoclasm, or the destruction of Catholic religious images. With this invasion, the Netherlands' dislike of the Spanish turned into a full-blown fight for independence in the year 1568. To head this revolution, William of Orange, also known as William the Silent, emerged as the leader of the Dutch forces.

Philip II sought to squelch Protestantism from his kingdom.
King Philip II

By the early 1570s, the Spanish had suppressed much of the rebellion throughout the Netherlands but then pushed their luck by levying new taxes onto the Dutch. This new tax rekindled the fire of rebellion. In 1572, the rebels captured Brielle, giving them a foothold in the north and inspiring Protestants all over the region to once again take up arms. With William of Orange at the helm, the Netherlands continued gaining ground in the north. The Dutch momentum was further helped by Spain's inability to pay their soldiers. When Spanish soldiers mutinied for pay in a violent scene known as the Spanish Fury, the Dutch began to smell victory.

William of Orange was a leader of the Dutch forces during the war.
William of Orange

In 1576, the Pacification of Ghent was signed. This attempt at peace called for the retreat of the Spanish armies and religious tolerance from both sides. Of course, this didn't really bring about peace. Fighting continued for years, and as the war progressed, the Netherlands moved closer to independence. In 1581, the Oath of Abjuration was issued. In this, the Netherlands declared their independence from Spain and formed the United Provinces of the Netherlands. This bold move enraged the Spanish, who recaptured the city of Antwerp with gusto. Adding to their momentum, William of Orange was assassinated in 1584. With their leader dead, the Netherlands split into an independent north and a Spanish-controlled south.

Reasons for the Spanish Armada

And, this leads us to the Spanish Armada. With the war going downhill for them, the Netherlands turned to the English for help. Up to this point, England had been supporting the revolution, but from behind the scenes - never outwardly choosing sides. In 1585, Elizabeth I of England decided to openly get involved by sending the Earl of Leicester to lead several thousand English troops to aid the Netherlands in their fight against Spain. Although Leicester proved to be a poor leader, his simple presence was enough to enrage Spain.

In fairness to Spain, I should mention that Elizabeth had been a long-standing problem for King Philip. To begin, Philip had been married to Elizabeth's sister, Queen Mary I. Working together, Mary and Philip had persecuted English Protestants so severely that Mary was given the title 'Bloody Mary'. When Mary died without producing a child, Elizabeth ascended to the throne. After refusing Philip's offer of marriage, which would have kept Philip in the English limelight, Elizabeth sent Philip packing. She then added insult to injury by re-instituting Protestantism in England.

As if all this wasn't enough, Elizabeth also sponsored many raids against Spanish ships. Using men like Sir Francis Drake, known as the English Sea Dog, England robbed Spain of a huge amount of silver and gold. While all of this was occurring, Philip was preparing to invade England and return it to Catholicism.

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