Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What on Earth was the Duke of Parma doing as the Spanish Armada approached?

As the Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel in 1588 its commander Medina Sidonia was beginning to worry about where Parma and his army was and what they were doing. He was, after all, supposed to link up with them to invade England. But he had had no news of Parma. Meanwhile, Parma himself was even more worried about what the Armada was up to. In the 16th century communications relied upon men carrying messages. They might carry written letters or verbal messages in their heads, but however they did so they had to physically go from one place to the other. This inevitably meant long delays and, in times of war, the constant danger that messengers might be captured by the enemy.

Parma was, in fact, at his central headquarters at Bruges, where he had been all along, not as Medina Sidonia had hoped down on the coast getting his troops ready to embark into boats. Historians have long argued over Parma’s behaviour during these crucial days in late July and early August. On the face of it his actions were quite bizarre.

This was recognised at the time and rumours abounded to try to explain things. Some whispered that Parma had fallen out with King Philip and was dragging his feet accordingly. It was said that some years earlier Philip had promised Parma that in the event of a Spanish conquest of England he would marry Mary Queen of Scots and so become Philip’s regent in England. Others said that Philip had gone so far as to promise the English crown to Parma in his own right. Now that Philip was going to give the crown to his daughter instead, men said, Parma was angry and saw no point in making much effort over the invasion.

Others suggested that Parma had been bought off by Elizabeth. It was rumoured that Elizabeth and the Dutch rebels had suggested to Parma that he should become independent Duke of the Netherlands - a throne to which he would have had a claim if his mother had not been illegitimate. The price demanded, men gossiped, was that Parma would have to allow freedom of worship to his subjects.

So far as we know neither of these scenarios had any foundation in fact at all. There is nothing in the records to indicate that Parma was anything other than unswervingly loyal to his royal uncle, Philip II of Spain. Nor is there much to show that he was less than a competent general, indeed one of the best of the 16th century. In fact it was probably this fact that explains Parma’s behaviour.

from "The Spanish Armada" by Rupert Matthews.
Buy your copy HERE

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