The Black Prince Ruby: The Spanish origin of the famous crown jewel

This past weekend millions witnessed for the first time in 70 years (and in their lifetime, for that matter) a coronation in the United Kingdom. Naturally, that includes using real crowns and everything! Probably the most recognizable headpiece is the Imperial State Crown, worn by Charles on his way to Buckingham Palace. In the center is a beautiful red spinel stone known as the Black Prince Ruby, and it most assuredly came from the treasure chest of Pedro I of Castile in 1367. Learn a little more about its history in today’s podcast. Enjoy!

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Dorset: North of Spain. 8

1375282168433We visited a souvenir shop on the way out, picked out a few postcards we ended up not ever sending, snacked on a soft ice cream cone and then plotted out the next couple of hours.  We walked down the pretty streets of Salisbury thinking of where and what to eat.  As I salivated as we went by every pub, my daughters suggested Burger King, and since we had made it through the cathedral with my being beheaded, and the Stonehengey-thing still looming, I thought it was a good moment to compromise and allow them to perk up their spirits with some crappy food.

                It did the trick.  With kids happy and ready for the second half of the day, we explored the town a little more.  Salisbury was certainly attractive and pleasant to visit, but perhaps because I was used to medieval heavyweights back in Spain like Toledo, Segovia or Santiago de Compostela, I have to admit I felt a little letdown.  I know it’s not a fair judgment since the two countries have such contrasting appearances, but I can’t help thinking I was expecting more.  Oh well, the section around the cathedral was truly awesome.

                We went back to the car and headed for the big challenge of the day: the blocks of rocks. 

                I have to confide that, on one hand, I was very excited about seeing Stonehenge but at the same time terrified of what I would find.  I had heard that it had been cut off from the public and only could be viewed from a distance; and that the crowds, oh the crowds, rivaled 5th Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day.  What kind of cultural experience would I end up impressing on my daughters?  Reverting to my teaching techniques, I kept expectations as low as possible to avoid excessive disappointment in the end, and relied heavily on the long-term effects to visit would have.

                “I know you may not find this enthralling, but, trust, ten years down the road, you’ll be thanking me for it.”  A decade was a very comfortable margin to snatch a victory from defeat.  And, if worst came to worst, at least time would heal that wound.  But I had lived similar experiences when I was there age, and even I can tell you that I have come to appreciate such bizarre tidbits of knowledge, like declining Latin words, years after considering homicide when having to study them by force.   Learning can be such an odd process.

                We departed Salisbury and, after bumping up on my first curb of the trip, a space judgment flaw that afflicts people used to driving on the other side of the road, we coasted north to the final destination of our day. 

Stonehenge is located on the famous Salisbury Plain a 300 square mile stretch of open land which has served as the backdrop of many literary tales.  Aside from that, it turns out to be a real task trying to ascertain just exactly where the Neolithic monument par excellence is and what or whom it belongs to.  Research is no good.  If anything, it serves to distance you from the truth.

It appears that Stonehenge is nearby a few different towns, but not technically within the boundaries of any.  A kind of no man’s land.  From my understanding, it is owned by The Crown, which suggests the royal family could pop down there at any time and munch on some cucumber sandwiches while reclining on the blue stones, but in reality it refers to everything that embodies the government (executive, judicial and legislative) of the United Kingdom.  In a sense, everything but the monarchy per se, if I have got it right.   So, the monument is owned by the country, and managed by the English Heritage, which takes care of many of England’s most cherished historical sites.  The surrounding land, some 2,000 acres in all, is maintained by yet another conservationist body, the National Trust, which I used to think ran the show when it came to England’s heritage, but apparently it’s not that easy. 

We glided up a long straightaway, leaving soon-to-be new visitors’ center to our right and, once on top, made for the makeshift parking lot in what otherwise would be a meadow for sheep. The English Heritage prides itself in making dozens of its properties available to the public for free, but it certainly finds a way of making up for the difference in heavyweights like Stonehenge.  Entry costs something like 14 pounds, 9 if you are a child.  Then you have a 5 quid fee for parking – unless you were a member of the Heritage or a ticket-holder, neither of which applied to us.  You’d think that since they would be having me fork over a handsome sum to see the rocks on the Salisbury Plain, the least they could do was foot the bill for the parking lot. 

                Enough of the complaining.  Despite my fears of masses of multitudes turning the afternoon into something like the New York State Highway on the weekend of Woodstock, to my surprise, the visit, while hardly intimate, was manageable.  I was just reeling to get inside.  Considering it was early August, it could have been worse. 

It was also one of the most international moments of our visit to England that year.  Down in Dorset, a foreigner is a Liverpudlian whose mother is from Glasgow.  At Stonehenge, English is just one of the dozens of languages filling the air.

                The visit takes you through a short subterranean exhibit with murals that prep you for the big moment.  Since the big moment was all that I was there for, we passed through rather blithely and headed for the ramp. 

There is certainly something liberating about emerging from the time tunnel they guide you through and rising up to the open plain with the family of ancient and noble stones cracking the horizon.  The vastness of the open area muted the magnitude of the people speaking there.   Stonehenge is hands down the most famous prehistoric site in the West, and to say you’ve been that close to it, sends a chill up your spine regardless of the multitude surrounding the circle.  Say what you will, but I didn’t see it as a letdown.

My daughters feigned disinterest at first, claiming that every child under the age of fifteen there was complaining as much as them.  “I just heard a boy saying how boring it was.”

                “He was speaking German.  How would you know?”

                “You can tell.”

                “You can, can you?”


           There is little mysterious about how to visit the site.  You start at one point, something like one o’clock, and go counter clockwise for a full loop until you have observed it from 360 different angles.  It may seem simplistic to say, but I can tell you that the changing perspectives are worth it.  The weather was typically English fickle climate.  The balmy and mostly cloudy skies allowed for persistent changes of light and depth. Not sure if I would ever return, I went for another around, doing my best to tune out the crowds.

        The girls ended up loving it; I knew they would.  After looping around slowly, we sat down on the grassy prairie, pulled out a couple of packs of Walker’s crisps, or chips, as the Americans would say, and gazed at the timeless structure endlessly, the way you do when bewitched by the dancing flames in a fireplace. 

         The girls enjoyed it, I tell you.  And I no longer had to tell them “Ten years from now.  Ten years from now.”  Two thousand years ago had suddenly become now.  Ten years into the future had turned into now.  Now was all of time encapsulated, beneath the expanse of a bone-white sky and in a silence only broken by distant windy voices and the crunching of brittle chips.  Or crisps, as the British say.

Dorset: North of Spain 7

In fact roads and their peculiarities were beginning to engage me in a way I thought no asphalted network would.   After just a couple of days on the road, I was taking an interest in the lanes and their surroundings to such a degree that my daughters began to suggest that I either change the subject or leave the country all together.  But I couldn’t help coming to some general conclusions about English roads that went beyond just hedgerows and their fine trimming.

       Hills; that was another one.  You know England isn’t precisely what you would call the Himalayas of Europe, I think its highest point, Scafell Pike, doesn’t even reach 1,000 meters, which is almost laughable by almost any human’s standards unless you live on an atoll.  Then again, Bear Mountain back in my home state of Connecticut marvels at a hardly staggering 700 meters.  It’s more of a lump than anything of geological prominence.  Here’s a picture.




       That wooded boob on the right is it.  I was going to put an arrow, but I figure I would let you have some fun and try to locate it.  My goodness, that will sure cure your vertigo.

        The heights on the British Isles tell another story.  Scafell Pike, modest in altitude itself, does have a way of imposing rather impressively.

        It may hardly surpass the mighty Connecticut range, but it certainly has managed to look like little other than a yeti could survive on its slopes.  And the English like that.  Here’s proof.

        Aside from these pseudo-alpine landscapes, however, the rest of the England can be classified as hilly at best, wherever, of course, there are knolls and hillocks to back that up.

       But the English sure know how to make the most of them, especially when it comes to designing a road.  The concept of shaving and flattening seems unbecoming of British civil engineers, as if by doing so they would be cheating.  You could imagine some grumpy Englishman grouse, “That’s what the bloody hill is there for!”

        If the ascent has a gradient of 30º, well by God, who are we to ease it?  That results in some pretty punishing usage of the gearbox.  You can sail through towns in fourth, head into a climb as you depart, and scramble to downshift to 2nd before your vehicle starts to go backwards into the village bakery. There were moments when the ascent was so steep you could actually see the midday sun without looking up.  Luckily, rental car had maybe a thousand miles on it, so I figured I could do just about anything I wanted to the engine and it would survive the holiday.

        Once you reach the top, on occasion you are treated to a new challenge in the form of a sign that reads “Warning: Blind Summit”, or something to that effect.  It’s usually capped by a large and imposing exclamation point.  There was no doubt that the British Road Network Agency meant business when it hammered the post into the ground, but I had some doubts about how to decipher it because I could clearly see the top approaching.  It didn’t seem very hidden to me, so I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

        What I hadn’t detected was the near vertical drop on the other side, turning the road into a makeshift rollercoaster plunge.  As your vehicle becomes airborne, you feel that the notice should have been worded differently.  Something, maybe, like “Hidden Cliff” would have more precisely foreshadowed my imminent predicament.  And as my two daughters and I yelped “Holy Shit!” in a variety of languages, I took a moment from the drastic descent to yearn for the softer lanes of New England.

Dorset: North of Spain 6

You can say what you want, but I am still at a loss, and probably forever will be, at how the English manage to keep the hedges and tree branches that hang over the road so nicely manicured.  Unless there is some designated day in the year for carrying out this laborious chore, twenty-four hours in which every citizen stops whatever it is that they are doing and arms themselves with sheers, clippers and pruners, I cannot for the life of me explain how so many thousands, about 200,000 miles to be exact, of foliage are kept at bay…and here’s the thing, without anyone noticing it.  Just how do they do it?  We were on our third day of touring Great Britain’s greenest hills and dales and couldn’t quite figure it out.  The roadways had been carved into, no bored.  Not bored in the sense of boredom, but the participle of bore, to make a hole.  Back in Connecticut trees abound, but you’d be nuts to think that public money is going to be spent on making sure all those limbs are smoothened.  In Spain that’s not even an issue because there are so few trees around.

                In Great Britain, tree and hedgerow management is an important issue, and how it is financed may explain a thing or two.  It seems that on the minor roads, which make up 87% of the total, the responsibility falls upon the property owners.  Regulating appears to be handled on a regional level, but sites like Natural England give you an idea of what it’s all about, and it is clear that they are matters not to be trifled with.   Pdf files with intimidating titles like “Hedgerows and the law” are proof that if you are the proud owner of some overgrown shrubs, you’d better read up on your rights and obligations before to get the clippers out.  The website even facilitates some helpful hints:

  • You should avoid trimming hedgerows between 1 March and 31 July (as required by the guidelines) – the main nesting season for birds.  Exemptions apply if the hedgerow overhangs a public highway or public footpath, or if it obstructs the view of drivers.
  • It is best to leave trimming until the end of winter, but where it is impossible to get on the field at this time, trimming can be brought forward to early winter.
  • Ground cover at the hedge’s base should be retained over winter for ground-nesting birds.
  • It should also be noted that over-management – or trimming a hedge too severely – can have a detrimental effect on conservation. In general, taller, bushier hedgerows provide more wild life potential than smaller, thinner hedges.
  • If conditions are such that you need to trim hedges when berries are still present, only the hedge’s sides should be trimmed, as this will leave some fruit.
  • You should pay particular attention to the need to avoid spray and fertiliser drift into hedges, hedge verges and hedge bottoms.
  • Livestock should be fenced away from hedgerows, and a strip of uncultivated or ungrazed land maintained between the hedge and the adjacent crop.

         As you can see, this is business which is not to be taken lightly. So, maybe the fact that it was summer and prime nesting time explained the dearth of farmers in hats snipping away at green limbs, but it only made my awe greater as that meant the people had even less time to prime their properties for the general public.

Dorset, North of Spain 2

It was my daughters who brought up the subject.  They asked rather tersely: Daddy, why do the English drive on the left?  No one else does.

                I smiled and told them that they (meaning the English) weren’t the only ones who drove one the opposite side of the road just as they (meaning my daughters) weren’t the only ones to ask themselves that question.  I have been told that it goes back to the old stagecoach days when the drivers (meaning the ones who drove the horses that pulled the carriage) would sit on the right side of the wagon in order to crack the whips (usually with their right hand) without lacerating the faces of their passengers, which would have been poor for business.  This sounded like a nice piece of folklore, but maybe not.  Chances are, carriage-driving customs would have had an influence on automobile-driving habits.  A little investigation shows that the Romans traveled on the left-hand side.  In Europe you had a mix, even within countries.  Traffic in Madrid used to be on the left side until the 1920s.  That’s why the metro, which is older, still uses it.  In fact, Spain is one of those countries which fall under the category of originally having no uniform orientation rules concerning traffic, and I happen to find that fitting.

                To some people, taking the motorway may have seemed like a risky way of initiating my experience of commandeering a 1 ton vehicle at high speeds in LHT circumstances, but actually it’s a lot easier.  All you have to do is stick to the left lane and let the rest go by and leave you in peace.  We stopped only once for a break at a station where my daughters feasted on several Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  The success of these sugar-packed pastries in the United Kingdom is nothing short of a puzzlement to me since the first time I had tried one was back in the 1980s in Richmond, Virginia.  Krispy Kreme had opened its doors in North Carolina in 1937, but didn’t venture much out of the Deep South until the 1990s…like much of the Deep South itself.  They were dirt cheap, a dozen cost something like $1.99, and they efficiently served their primary purpose as excellent fodder for college students with the munchies.  I later heard they had expanded rapidly to other parts of the U.S. and even abroad, too fast say some, but I could not have imagined they would be available at service stations throughout Great Britain.  This was a kingdom.  Royal subjects do not eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  Good old boys with wavy 70s haircuts and souped up Chevys do.  But maybe that was the first sign to expect the unexpected from the English.

             If you ask me, part of the blame behind Krispy Kreme’s recent decline must have something to do with the price: in this case, a pack of three went for 4 pounds (That’s about 6 bucks), and that included a discount.  I let my children enjoy the Krispy Kreme doughnut experience with the joy that it can bring and quietly said to myself, “That will never happen again.”

                There were also other rest stop mainstays: WH Smiths bookstores (there are more of them than actual books in the world…though I should add the company happens to be the inventor of the ISBN catalog system) and Costas, a coffee shop whose ubiquitous presence and food and drink offer make it a kind of hybrid between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.  While in England, I made a point of it of avoiding patronage there as much as possible in favor of supporting the local economy, as usual, it was nice to know that you could get a coffee in just about any nook or cranny of the country whenever you wanted.

                Our true destination in Dorset was Weymouth, a lovely seaside town on the southwest coast of the island, was about 2½ to 3 hours away.  The trip wasn’t too bad and acted as an infrastructural model for branching out.  The route essentially starts out as healthy four-lane highway and then gets progressively narrower from there.  Take the M-25 south, then the M-3 southwest.  That turns into the A31 and later into the A35, and finally into the A354, which was our road to Weymouth.  It’s basically straight on, but toward the end, the roundabouts get a little crazy, especially for a person who has spent the majority of their life circling in the opposite direction.  If something was going to go wrong with me at the helm, the roundabout was most likely going to be the scene of the incident, but I fared well enough, requiring only some last-minute assistance from the locals to assure I was heading towards the right place.

                We arrived in Weymouth just around dusk, made straight for the apartment we were staying at, which two dear friends had generously made available to us, then tossed our bags in the rooms (after finally learning the secrets of unlocking the front door), and tore down to the harbor for a little dinner because it was close to nine and I knew that meant we were running out of time.  We chose a classic meal to kick off the holidays, and a classic place to do so:  Fish and chips at Bennett’s on the Waterfront.

                You would think that a fast-food venue such as a fish and chips spot would be easy to order at, but that kind of premature reasoning can get a person into all kinds of trouble.  It was fish and chips for the three of us.  One for each.  And large too.  We had been traveling all day and the Krispy Kremes had done little more than whet our appetites.  The girl who served us was very nice and patient with all of our questions, though she did seem a little startled by what we planned to consume.  Large chips too?

                “How large is large?” I asked.

                She produced a small square paper plate that might have been adequate for a small square sandwich.  It looked all right. The three of us were professional French fry eaters.  We could handle that. “Go for it.”

                What she hadn’t mentioned was that they piled so many chips on that tiny plate, that I could have sworn they used a shovel.  The mounds were placed before us and we were invited to poor vinegar on them, which was typical in England but got an odd reaction from my Spanish girls.  Clara poked around the top layers of the potatoes and surmised that the portion was so great that the fish must have been underneath.  I wished I could have agreed with her, but before I could break the sad truth to her, a slab of crispy fish the size of a surfboard was dumped on top.  Ana and Clara were already warning me that there was no way in Hell they would be able to finish that, and I told they that there was no way in Hell I was going to finish mine, so they could forget about Daddy-to-the-Rescue later on.

              Ketchup came extra at 30p a sachet, a little steep since I wasn’t used to being charged for ketchup at all, but other than that, everything was great.  The good people at Bennett’s shaped the traditional paper used to hold the meal into the shape of a fish, which I said was “cute”, an observation my daughters refused to have me use because in their opinion, “Dads don’t say ‘cute’.”

                To turn this typical event into something even more special, we decided to go outside and sit by the harbor to enjoy the food in the cool summer evening air, glad to be able to enjoy anything at that temperature after six weeks of 90+ weather in Madrid.  Clara sat her plate on a rock and asked me to take a picture, which I was more than happy to do.  Unbeknownst to the three of us, a squadron of seagulls had immediately spotted us as we emerged from the restaurant, they may have even seen us ordering inside, and while I was focused on capturing on film a work of art known as “Hake Atop Mount Chips” one swooped down took a big chunk out of it.

                The surprise attack stunned us.  Amid dumbstruck laughter and shock, I tried to get each daughter to take charge of her respective plate and retreat to safety before they returned, but they feared that in doing so, the birds would continue to descend on them, this time with the target being in their hands.  So my plan was rejected, the girls fled without the victuals, leaving me to grab all three fish plates and run to seek haven from the circling birds.  Hitchcock’s The Birds was taking on new meaning in my life.  Seagulls with an attitude problem are no fun.

                We took cover around a corner and had a good laugh, but the ambush did make things tense for dinner, as each caw from above warranted an immediate search of the skies to see if another terrorist attack was imminent.  The gulls stayed away, but they never stopped looming.  We knew that the minute we departed, they would dive in and pick up whatever remains we had left behind.  The chips were delicious, but the soggy extra greasy kind which would have been great had we ordered just one for the three of us.  The fish was tasty too, but the size of the portions and the stress cut our appetite off.

                We scrambled to finish what we could, then went for a brief walk down the main pedestrian street, abandoned and almost forsaken at that hour, and afterwards went for a walk on the beach, which we enjoyed very much.  It would become our nightly ritual.

Dorset, North of Spain 1

The good thing about living in Europe is that it is so compact that getting around from country to country is a pretty simple thing.  You can get to most parts in less than what it takes to cross America.  England is just a two hour flight from Madrid, which is why people head up there as often as they do.  As our flight made its final approach into Heathrow, though, I began to wonder whether we would get there at all.  Quite literally.  The trip so far had been kind of bumpy, there were storms in the area, but the pilot, who spoke the best English I have ever heard an Iberia employee ever use, warned us of this and added that there might be delays because, in his words, there are always delays at London airports.  So far, though, aside from being tossed around here and there, it appeared that we would be on time after all.

     It turned out, underestimated the captain’s knowledge of the scenario.

     You see, just as we floated in over the runway ready to return to the earth, with the plane swaying annoyingly as if the cabin crew were fighting for control of the stick, all of a sudden, the engines revved full throttle and the aircraft lifted away again.  Knowing that planes don’t do this for pure entertainment, I took this as a bad sign and pictured the images of our crash landing breaking records on a Youtube upload, with lots of comments with “RIP” and plenty of “thoughts and prayers with the victims”, as if that was going to do much.

     Despite this, and to my surprise, I wasn’t freaked out, especially since the aircraft continued to rise and distance itself from Heathrow in a fairly normal manner, which I saw as being good since it meant that something about the landing did not seem right and that the pilot intelligently chose to abort instead of send us into a burst of flames.

     I was disturbed by the thought that the issue of concern was the plane itself, but I hadn’t noticed any unusual noises being emitted.  I couldn’t recall the loud grinding noise of the landing gear sliding out that so startles the aviophobics, but with two children next to me requiring my attention, sometimes you miss that stage.  The pilot gave some reason about there being another plane on the runway, which I agree is never a good thing when you are approaching at 250mph, but I had my doubts.  I think we had just plain overshot the runway because we were halfway across the airport and still two hundred feet above the ground before and there was no indication that we were going to get any closer.  My daughters braved it better than me, despite one suffering from an earache from the pressure with such intensity that had she possessed a weapon at the time, she would have posed a threat to the rest of the passengers on board.

     We circled around and came in again, this time without having to dash off into the clouds, but once more after sailing by terminal after terminal, it seemed as if we would never return to our planet’s surface. I had a right mind to stand up and shout, “Don’t you realize that there is no runway left!”  But it probably would have caused the kind of alarm you don’t need and people would have remarked afterwards, “I think you could have handled that better.”

     Some of my readers may feel that I was exaggerating my reaction, but proof of my worries came from the fact that, once we made it to the ground, the pilot immediately employed every means in his power short of his feet, to get the 75,000kgs of metal to stop before it ripped through a nearby field of cabbages.  The plane came to one of those screeching halts with such violence, that no one even clapped afterwards.  We all deplaned with our hair looking like we belonged to a Justin Beiber fan club.

     From my experiences, getting through Heathrow is an incredibly simple procedure.  There are plenty of officers at the passport control desks fielding the masses of travelers and, once past them, your luggage is generally out and drifting along the belt patiently waiting for you to retrieve it.  As a former resident of metropolitan New York, I always estimate an hour and a half to get through these stages, but at Heathrow, you can often be on your way in 30-45 minutes, which was what we took.  And that included getting a car rental; it was a slick fire engine red Ford, the kind that looks like it is going at a 150, even when it is parked.  All I had to do was remember to keep to the left side of the road.

Public Relations and The Spanish Armada

Another classic Spanish expression is “Abril, aguas mil”, which literally means, “April, a thousand waters”.  In English they are known as April showers, but here so far, they have been a little more steady.  It’s been a rough week for Spain.  The monarchy is against the ropes as a judge asked the Princess Cristina to stop by the courts for a little questioning regarding her involvement or not (after all, she has even been formally charged, let alone convicted…so let’s not make her guilty before even being a candidate for being guilty before being charged), but let’s just say that it was the last thing this country needed.  Or perhaps, the first thing.  Now that we are cleaning out house, let’s make it spic-n-span.  Meanwhile, the rest of us go about our lives they have been doing for the last five years, as if nothing really happened.  The rest of the world watches and wonders.  It’s another notch in the Dreadful Spanish Public Relations Campaign log.  It’s been that way for centuries.

            Take the Spanish Armada, for example.  Here’s what I was told when I was 12 years old and under the impression my European History teacher knew a lot:

The Spanish under Phillip II tried to conquer England and restore Catholicism to that kingdom.  Phillip sent the largest fleet the planet had ever known, went up to the shores of Great Britain and got whooped by the tiny English fleet manned by smaller but faster English ships, with a little help from a storm.  Drake and his men outwitted the Duque de Medina Sidonia and his cumbersome flota.  The Armada was destroyed, Phillip detained, and the heroes of the day, Elizabeth and her countrymen, victorious against overwhelming odds.

       Sounds good from a British perspective, and the general gist is no far off, at least in the sense that the English one and the Spanish lost, but the rest of the facts were somewhat different.

       The original plan of the Armada was not to defeat the English at sea, but to pick up the Spanish army, under the command of the Duke of Parma, in Flanders and use it to invade England.  Spainin those days was unique in that it was said to be the only nation with a fulltime professional army, due in part, no doubt, to the fact it was almost always at war.  Its tercios were the marines of their day, and the most feared force inEurope.  Reaching English soil was the last thingElizabeth would have wanted.

       The plan was a daring and complex operation made trickier by the fact that communications at the time were scant.  This would prove decisive to the outcome.

         The Armada was a fearsome force to be reckoned with and a direct threat to the future ofEngland, but it wasn’t the largest group of warships ever assembled; it wasn’t even as large as the English force, which outnumbered their foes about 230 ships to 140.  The Spanish had more guns, I’ll give you that, but that advantage proved less significant since the English possessed faster ships which were harder to shoot at.  Then there was another factor: the Spanish preferred boarding enemy ships and defeating their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, which sounds courageous but takes away from the edge you might have in terms of artillery.

            The leader of the fleet was the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who bravely rose to the challenge even though he had absolutely no sea warfare experience.  They might as well have sent me, for all it was worth.  The Duke apparently wasn’t very keen on the plan, given its evident risks, nor were many of Phillip’s advisors.  But most advisors back then were there to agree with the monarch and not rebuke him, so their opinions were of little good.

          The English navy inflicted relatively little damage on the Armada.  It was just too dangerous to take it on directly, so they nipped at it here and there, forcing it to adopt a defensive formation all the way to its destination where…where…practically no one was waiting for them.

          What do you know!  The ground forces had been stricken with disease and half the force was unable to go anywhere.  The Duke of Medina Sidonia held tight for as long as he could hoping he could carry out the mission, but that was when the English decided to sail in numerous unmanned boats that had been on set on fire.  The Spanish, who thought the vessels were packed with gunpowder and other explosives, broke their formation and scattered.  This was what the English had been hoping for.  They Armada managed to pull together again, but decided that it could no longer wait for the land troops and decided to return toSpain.

        Due to the winds and the English force to their backs, they chose to take the long route around the Scotland and Ireland before heading home.

       This was a mistake.

       They ran into some of the worst gales the region had seen in years.  Ships were tossed against the rocks like toys.  Men either drowned in the shipwrecks or made it to land, upon which most were promptly killed by the locals.  It wasn’t a good time to be a Spanish sailor, I tell you.

          Twenty-five ships were lost there, some thirty-five in all, and the loss of life was horrendous, most of which came as a result of disease and bad luck.

            So, it wasn’t a particularly good enterprise by the Spanish, but the facts surrounding the events differ significantly from what the English would like us to believe.  They won, used their resources pretty well, and got pretty damned lucky.  But history is full of crucial moments whose outcomes are owed to fortune more than anything man had done.

            Let’s see what the week beholds.