Anglo-Spanish Wars

Wars and conflicts between Britain and Spain

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  Timeline of the Anglo-Spanish Wars

Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)-This conflict, though never a declared war, was significant in both English and Spanish history. It began with the English attempting to aid Dutch rebels in the Spanish Netherlands, and included the infamous Spanish Armada’s attempt to invade England in 1588. Much of the background between Anglo-Spanish hostility relates to the larger Protestant-Catholic conflicts in Europe at the time. In the course of this war, England supported not only the Protestant Dutch rebels, but also Portugal, which was trying to fend off Spanish advances. Spain gave support to Catholic Irish rebels fighting the English in Ireland. Naval combat and privateering also took place in the Americas and the Caribbean. The French civil war between Catholics and Protestants also drew in both English and Spanish forces into France on opposing sides.

Map of the Spanish Armada's Route. Engraving by Augustine Ryther

Map of the Spanish Armada's Route. Engraving by Augustine Ryther


During this war, the King of Spain was Phillip II, and the Queen of England was Elizabeth I. Following the ascension to power of new monarchs in both countries, England and Spain agreed to end hostilities.



Anglo-Spanish War (1625–1630) - part of the Thirty Years' War and the Dutch-Spanish 80 Years’ War. The final large inter-European religious war sucked in the English on the Protestant side, in opposition to Catholic Spain and France.



Anglo-Spanish War (1654–1660)-The radical Protestant government of the English Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell intervened in the ongoing Franco-Spanish War on the side of France, as Cromwell saw Spain as a greater threat, plus, war with Spain allowed English privateers and naval ships to prey on Spanish shipping and Spanish colonies in the Americas.

The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1657)-Anglo-Spanish War

The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1657)

Unlike previous naval wars against Spain that were more interested in plunder, Cromwell sent a large naval force, with Marines, to seize Spanish colonies. After a failed attempt to take Santo Domingo, the English landed in Spanish Jamaica and managed to hold on against repeated Spanish attacks.


Spain and France made peace in 1659, while Cromwell’s death in 1658 led to the eventual restoration of the English monarchy, and the new King James II ended the war with Spain in 1660, though the actual peace agreements were not signed until years later. England kept control of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.



English Expedition to Portugal/Portuguese Restoration War (1662–1668) - English support for Portugal was due to marriage alliances (the new English king, James II, was married to a Portuguese princess), and, despite the end of hostilities in the recent Anglo-Spanish War, James sent a brigade of English troops to Portugal to help fight the Spanish. With the conclusion of the recent war with Spain, and restoration of the English monarchy, James needed to find employment for former New Model Army (Cromwell’s army) troops, as well as his own Royalist veterans. Thus, a 3,500-man brigade was raised and sent to Portugal. Once in Portugal, the host nation assumed financial responsibility for the brigade, and command was given to a German mercenary officer. The English Brigade proved to be the most effective troops in the Portuguese forces, and led in large part to Portuguese victory over Spain and a treaty that guaranteed Portuguese independence. By the end of the war, only 1,000 of the original English Brigade were still alive. After the war, many of the Englishmen settled down in Portugal with local wives. Once the Brigade left England, they were effectively part of the Portuguese military, and not really under English authority.



War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713)--The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was caused by the question of who would succeed to the Spanish throne with the death of Spanish King Charles II in November 1700. He died without producing an heir, and he was the last member of the Habsburg Dynasty to rule Spain. The Habsburg’s also ruled Austria, but he was also related to the Bourbon Dynasty that ruled France. Whichever royal family took power in Spain would also acquire the large Spanish Empire, which would upset the existing European balance of power. Queen Anne's War in North America, involving English, French, and Spanish colonies also was part of the larger European war.


The late King Charles II’s will gave the Spanish throne to Philip Bourbon, the grandson of the French king. England and other nations (including Habsburg Austria) joined an alliance to keep the Bourbons from taking over the Spanish Empire.


The war was fought in Europe, the Americas, India, and in the Pacific. By 1714, all parties in the war were exhausted, and peace was made when the Bourbons agreed that despite being family, the Spanish and French monarchies would remain separate. For England, the war marked Britain's rise as the leading European maritime and commercial power. Britain also gained control of Gibraltar from Spain.



War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718–1720)--Spain sought to retake territories in Italy and the Netherlands that it lost in the War of the Spanish Succession, and launched a new war against Habsburg Austria to recover them. Primarily conducted in Italy, it included minor engagements in the Americas and Northern Europe, as well as the Spanish-backed 1719 Jacobite Rising agains English rule in Scotland.


The Quadruple Alliance against Spain formed on August 2, 1718, including Britain, France, The Holy Roman Empire (controlled by the Austrian Habsburgs) and the Dutch Republic.


Anglo-Spanish War (1727–1729)-A short conflict in which Spain tried to retake Gibraltar, and the British tried to disrupt Spanish commerce in the Caribbean.


War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-1748) -A war in the Americas between the British and Spanish. later merged into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), which was a war in Europe based on the question of who would succeed to the Austrian throne.


Anglo-Spanish War (1762–1763) - part of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). Spain remained neutral for most of the Seven Years’ War, which pitted Britain and her allies against France and her allies. Spain eventually joined the French side toward the end of the war


Anglo-Spanish War (1779–1783) - Spain joined with France and the Netherlands to fight the British during the larger American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

 See also: Anglo-French Wars

Anglo-Spanish War (1796–1808) - A part of the larger French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Spain was initially allied to Britain against Republican France, but was eventually convinced to side with France against Britain in the hope of gaining territory and money. One of the most significant battles in this Anglo-Spanish War was the Battle of Trafalger, in which the Royal Navy, commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a combined French-Spanish fleet. The Franco-Spanish alliance ended in 1808, when French Emperor Napoleon invaded his ally Spain in order to put his own brother on the Spanish throne. At this point, the existing Spanish monarchy allied with the British against France.

The Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Painting by J. M. W. Turner

The Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Painting by J. M. W. Turner

Service of the British Legions in the South American Wars of Independence (1817–1832) - The British government aided the rebels in Spanish South America in their wars of independence with large amounts of weapons, and also by allowing the recruitment of large numbers of British and Irish war veterans to form the so-called British Legions to serve in South America. While Britain and Spain technically did not wage war on each other, this overt/covert assistance to the South Americans, greatly aided their successful wars of independence from Spain.


First Carlist War (1833–1840) - Britain intervened in this Spanish civil war, (the first of the three Carlist Wars) in support of Queen Regent Maria Cristina , who served as regent for her infant daughter and heir to the throne, Isabella II, against supporters of her late husband’s brother, Carlos (his supporters were called Carlists). Supporters of Cristina and Isabella were called Cristinos or Isabelinos. Britain supported the Queen Regent against the Carlists.

Britain sent a volunteer force, called the British Auxiliary Force, to Spain to help the Cristinos fight the Carlists. At times, this auxiliary force was reinforced by regular British soldiers, marines, and naval forces. The Carlists were defeated in 1840.


Despite occasional disputes over continued British control over Gibraltar, Spain and Britain have not gone to war since this the First Carlist War. Spain, though in some ways friendly to and allied with Germany in World War Two, did remain officially neutral in that conflict. In the 1980s, Spain joined NATO and became an official ally of Great Britain.





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