The Spanish Map

This contemporary map shows the formation of the Spanish Armada as it set sail from Lisbon on 29 May 1588. Produced in Rome for a Catholic audience, the map is entitled ‘The true design of the Armada of the Catholic King’ and shows the great fleet in its crescent formation as it embarks on its first leg of the planned invasion of England. The signature crescent shape of the Armada promised strength and cohesion but in actuality by the time they reached La Coruña, in Northern Spain, they had lost several ships to storms and many men to disease.  

The print shows the Armada with each squadron headed by a significant Hapsburg nobleman. The key at the bottom of the chart identifies 16 different groupings, each identifying either a commanding officer, a sponsoring noble, or the region from which the ships were sponsored (for example the Admiral of the Galleons of Castlille). 

Notably, the right cone was under the command of Juan Martínez de Recalde, second-in-command of the entire venture, who would die of illness only days after limping back to Spain in October 1588.

These titles remind us that although the Armada may have been a Spanish plan, the participants were from the far-flung Hapsburg realms, with officers hailing from Italy, various parts of Spain, and Portugal. The ships were also of different sizes and designs; item thirteen mentions a fleet of galleys, which are identifiable by their oars. 

Lisbon is shown as a small bird’s eye view, situated on the Portuguese coastline. Portugal at this time was recently united with the Spanish Crown (1580). The city was the departure point of the Armada in late May of 1588. While Philip’s forces were one of the largest naval flotillas ever assembled to that time, it is slightly exaggerated here. Rather than nearly 200 vessels, there were roughly 130 with 7,000 sailors, 17,000 soldiers, and 1,300 officials that left Portugal to sail north. 

It was King Philip II himself that devised the plans for the Armada. Whilst diplomatic relationships between Philip and Queen Elizabeth I had been reasonably cordial following the death of Queen Mary I (Philip’s wife and Elizabeth’s sister), as time passed and religious tensions rose war became inevitable.   

Relying on contributions from around his numerous territories, ships from Spain, Portugal and Naples were to meet up with the army of the Duke of Parma, who ruled the Spanish Netherlands. With Spain the dominant superpower of the age, Philip’s ‘Fortunate Armada’ was a huge undertaking, even if was not quite as large as the Spanish Map suggests. Even with the vast resources of the Spanish Empire Philip sought further investment from Pope Sixtus V, with substantial loans made from the Vatican to him but only to be made once the invasion had been successful.  

Between his coffers and the support of the Catholic Church Philip had every reason to believe that his ‘Fortunate Armada’ to be blessed by God, however the events of the campaign proved the Armada to be no match for the audacity of the English or the infamously stormy weather of her coasts.  

The only other example of a contemporary Spanish chart is housed in the National Library of Malta where other Lafreri material sheds some light on to the work’s possible authors. The library contains some 132 Lafreri maps and plans, of which the majority were produced by in Rome by the printing house of Pietro de Nobili. Between 1586 and 1588, de Nobili worked with Marcello Clodio and Girolamo Arbotti. The chart was, therefore, most likely created in the Lafreri publication house. 

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