Shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada: La Trinidad Valencera
Elizabeth I support for the Dutch revolt against Spain and her efforts to increase Protestantism in Europe, was the final aggressive act towards Spain that resulted in King Philip II decision to invade England. By conquering England he could crush support for the Dutch. Stop privateers like Sir Francis Drake plundering the riches of Spains colonies. And remove Elizabeth I, the heretic, from the throne, thereby restoring Catholicism to England, for which King Philip II had papal support.
In 1588, after four years of preparation, the Spanish Armada sailed for England. There were 130 ships and 30,493 men, most of them soldiers. The Armada considered itself invincible, however poor tactics, and inferior artillery would prove decisive.
Many of the Spanish ships were not warships per se, but merchant ships that had been converted, with their main purpose as troop carriers. One such ship was La Trinidad Valencera, a Venetian built, former grain carrier. She was 1,000 tons and was built in 1586. She had 42 guns, including smaller swivel guns, designed for close, broadside attack. The Valencera’s captain was a soldier named Don Alonso de Luzon, and the ship had 281 soldiers on board.
As the Spanish Armada reached the English channel, the English gunnery attempted to stop the fleet. The Valencera used her guns to protect the less well armed troop carriers. In the ensuing chaos many of the Spanish ships missed their rendezvous points, and the invasion began to lose its cohesion. The more maneuverable, and better armed English ships attacked and routed the Spanish, pounding the fleet with artillery at distance.
After taking heavy casualties, and with many of their ships sinking, the Spanish armada was forced to abandon the invasion. At that point the remainder of the Armada and its soldiers had to get home. But in 1588 the only way was to follow the winds and current. That meant passing the Strait of Dover, north to Scotland, around Ireland and back out into the North Atlantic, heading south.
Map shows the location of shipwrecks and the Armada's route home.
Many of the Armada's ships had sustained damage during the conflict, including the Valencera, this made their return journey extremely treacherous in rough seas. As the Valencera approached the coast of Ireland she was hit by a storm and began to sink. She was beached at Kinnagoe Bay, County Donegal.
Many of the Spanish soldiers made it to shore, aided by local Catholics, who came to their rescue. However within a few days English soldiers had arrived. They arrested Don Alonso and his officers; they were later ransomed back to Spain. Most of the soldiers were executed.
The wreck of La Trinidad Valencera was discovered in 1971. The excavation project took thirteen years and was a joint venture between the Derry Sub-Aqua Club, the archeologist Dr. Colin Martin and the Ulster Museum in Belfast. Fortunately, the bays sand had helped preserve the wrecks artifacts. There was a large amount of artillery, including breech-loading guns, swivel guns and siege guns; there was different types of weaponry, armor, field fortification and tools. Many smaller items were scattered across the bay such as utensils, musical instruments, lanterns and pottery. The wreck was identified by matching the markings on cannon’s to the ships manifest.
The Valencera was one of 17 shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada, mostly discovered along the coast of Ireland and Scotland. A collection of artifacts form the Valencera can be seen at the Tower Museum of Derry in Northern Ireland. The artifacts have provided us with substantial information about the Spanish ships and the army of the Armada Campaign.
All images from commons.wikimedia.com
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