In the late 16th century Europe was divided by religion. The leading Catholic nation was Spain, while England was Protestant. To this religious animosity was added the conflict of national interests.

In 1588 the quarrels between England and Spain erupted into open warfare.

Phillip II, King of Spain, assembled a massive fleet or armada, of over 130 ships. He was determined to smash England and reduce it to a nation subject to Spain.

The Spanish Armada was sighted by the English off Cornwall on 19 July. For the next week the Armada sailed up the Channel with the outnumbered English warships keeping up a running fight.

On the night of 27 July, the Armada was anchored off Calais. The English sent in fireships to panic the Spaniards. Next morning, the English descended upon the Spanish Armada. Fierce fighting shattered the Spanish fleet. It then headed north to round Scotland and return to Spain. Of the 130 that had set out, only 53 ships returned to Spain.