On This Day, July 29, 1588 – England Defeats the Spanish Armada

Spanish Armada

1588 – Off the coast of Gravelines, France, Spain’s so-called “Invincible Armada” is defeated by an English naval force under the command of Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake. After eight hours of furious fighting, a change in wind direction prompted the Spanish to break off from the battle and retreat toward the North Sea. Its hopes of invasion crushed, the remnants of the Spanish Armada began a long and difficult journey back to Spain.

In the late 1580s, English raids against Spanish commerce and Queen Elizabeth I’s support of the Dutch rebels in the Spanish Netherlands led King Philip II of Spain to plan the conquest of England. Pope Sixtus V gave his blessing to what was called “The Enterprise of England,” which he hoped would bring the Protestant isle back into the fold of Rome. A giant Spanish invasion fleet was completed by 1587, but Sir Francis Drake’s daring raid on the Armada’s supplies in the port of Cadiz delayed the Armada’s departure until May 1588.

On May 19, the Invincible Armada set sail from Lisbon on a mission to secure control of the English Channel and transport a Spanish army to the British isle from Flanders. The fleet was under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia and consisted of 130 ships carrying 2,500 guns, 8,000 seamen, and almost 20,000 soldiers. The Spanish ships were slower and less well armed than their English counterparts, but they planned to force boarding actions if the English offered battle, and the superior Spanish infantry would undoubtedly prevail. Delayed by storms that temporarily forced it back to Spain, the Armada did not reach the southern coast of England until July 19. By that time, the British were ready.

On July 21, the English navy began bombarding the seven-mile-long line of Spanish ships from a safe distance, taking full advantage of their long-range heavy guns. The Spanish Armada continued to advance during the next few days, but its ranks were thinned by the English assault. On July 27, the Armada anchored in exposed position off Calais, France, and the Spanish army prepared to embark from Flanders. Without control of the Channel, however, their passage to England would be impossible.

Just after midnight on July 29, the English sent eight burning ships into the crowded harbor at Calais. The panicked Spanish ships were forced to cut their anchors and sail out to sea to avoid catching fire. The disorganized fleet, completely out of formation, was attacked by the English off Gravelines at dawn. In a decisive battle, the superior English guns won the day, and the devastated Armada was forced to retreat north to Scotland. The English navy pursued the Spanish as far as Scotland and then turned back for want of supplies.


1773 – The first schoolhouse to be located west of the Allegheny Mountains was built in Schoenbrunn, OH.

1786 – “The Pittsburgh Gazette” became the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies to be published. The paper’s name was later changed to “The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.”

1874 – Major Walter Copton Winfield of England received U.S. patent for the lawn-tennis court.

1914 – The first transcontinental telephone service was inaugurated when two people held a conversation between New York, NY and San Francisco, CA.

1940 – John Sigmund of St. Louis, MO, completed a 292-mile swim down the Mississippi River. The swim from St. Louis to Caruthersville, MO took him 89 hours and 48 minutes.


1957 – Jack Paar began hosting the “Tonight” show on NBC-TV. The name of the show was changed to “The Jack Paar Show.” Paar was host for five years.


1957 – The International Atomic Energy Agency was established.

1958 – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was authorized by the U.S. Congress.

1968 – Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against artificial methods of birth control.

1975 – OAS (Organization of American States) members voted to lift collective sanctions against Cuba. The U.S. government welcomed the action and announced its intention to open serious discussions with Cuba on normalization.

1981 – England’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married.

1983 – Steve Garvey (Los Angeles Dodgers) set the National League consecutive game record at 1,207.

1985 – General Motors announced that Spring Hill, TN, would be the home of the Saturn automobile assembly plant.

1993 – The Israeli Supreme Court acquitted retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk of being Nazi death camp guard “Ivan the Terrible.” His death sentence was thrown out and he was set free.

1997 – Minamata Bay in Japan was declared free of mercury 40 years after contaminated food fish were blamed for deaths and birth defects.

1998 – The United Auto Workers union ended a 54-day strike against General Motors. The strike caused $2.8 billion in lost revenues.

2005 – Astronomers announced that they had discovered a new planet (Xena) larger than Pluto in orbit around the sun.

Source: History.com; On-This-Day.com