Elizabethan Unit study: Week Four: Drake and the Spanish Armada



This week we continued to read the next couple of chapters from our main core book:


We learnt about the political and religious back drop to the Spanish declaring war on the British, and the resultant failure of the attack by the Spanish Armada.

The Reformation

I’ve shared these books before but for cohesion I also wanted to include a few here.  The children are currently reading these and so far they have been a hit and have caused much discussion and further research (which is always a good sign):


Sir Francis Drake and the Armada

This week we focused all of our activities on Sir Francis Drake and the Armada.  We found some really excellent books on the Armada and Francis Drake which the children read over the course of the week:

armada books

I also had them watch the following documentary at the beginning of the week:

This was such a good, quick video which sums up the whole undeclared war of Spain against England in 1588.

  • Francis Drake and the Sea Dogs

Firstly the children learnt all about Drake.  I had them focus on his circumnavigation around the world.  The children were really surprised to find out that outside the UK, Drake is generally considered a pirate.  In their heads, pirates were trouble makers extraordinaire and the man who Elizabeth eventually knighted did not fit this bill.

We completed some of the lesson ideas found here.  The children particularly enjoyed going through the Google Earth journey, which showed each of his stop offs and described what happen there.  Using this information on the Google earth lesson I had the children fill in the following worksheet, deciding on whether he was a hero or a villain based on his actions during his stops around the world:


The children then wrote an essay answering the question: ‘Was Drake a hero or a villain?’.  Both the girls did a particularly good job with their essay and C12 wrote one of the best non fiction essays she had ever written (she doesn’t enjoy writing non fiction).

Using a thicker thread, the children also showed the route he took around the world on our huge paper mache map:


  • The Spanish Armada



The Spanish Armada set sail from Spain in July 1588 with the sole goal of dethroning Elizabeth I.  Ultimately they failed and I wanted the children to look at the reasons for this.  Using the following book alongside this activity from the thinking history website we were set:



  • Activity: Why did the Spanish Armada fail?

Ian Dawson (author of book above and thinkinghistory.com sets his activities out to be used in a classroom situation, where he assumes there will be enough students to partake.  Obviously, we don’t have the space or student bodies to replicate this activity accurately.  Instead we made up a very quick map of England from green card, set on our black board painted table.  We also made some tiny ships, some with green sails (for the Spanish ships) and some with red sails (for the English ships).  We used party poppers for the gun fire and cannons going off.

First we used the book above to look at the Spanish plan and all of the primary and secondary evidence linked with the Armada.  L12 took on the roles of the Spanish Armada, T13 was the English whilst C12 became Parma’s force at Calais.  We all partook of the discussion at each stage.

Next we set up the scene as it was when the Armada was first spotted from Lizard:


At this point we discuss the Spanish plan to travel the English channel, pick up Parma’s army at Calais and land in Margate.  We chat about the difficulties they may face (opposition from English and communication with Parma).  We look at the goals of the English troops (to defend England, prevent the Spanish reaching Parma and deflect the Spanish) and asked why the English forces chose to divide themselves between Plymouth and Calais (Seymour’s army at Calais would prevent Parma from travelling out to reach the Armada)


The Armada was able to sail past Plymouth because the prevailing winds meant that Drake and Howard’s squadrons were unable to make their way out of the harbour.  In this instance the winds worked in the Spanish Armada’s favour.


Because of the crescent formation of the Spanish Armada the English were unable to make much of an impression on the Spanish army.  The English choose to keep their distance and fight from afar.  This would prevent the Spanish being close enough to board and take over the English ships:




At this point Drake makes the decision which the English believe was pivotal in their success at defending their land.  He sacrifices some of his own ships by setting them alight and sending them in the direction of the anchored Spanish Armada.  Now it is not moving, the Armada is vulnerable to attack and Drake takes advantage of this.



This breaks up the crescent formation of the Armada scattering them in all directions.


No one wins the Battle of Gravelines, but the Spanish are forced to retreat due to strong Northward winds.  At this point the weather is working in England’s favour.



The Spanish are attacked by the Irish and, defeated, they make their way back to Spain.



Queen Elizabeth’s Speech at Tilbury 1588

The final activity was to look at Elizabeth’s speech at Tilbury.  Speech studies are very much a part of our learning because there is much to learn about effective communication within a good speech.  We have already done an in-depth study on Pope Urban’s speech calling for crusader’s to fight the war against the Muslims.  That speech was full of lies, propaganda and persuasion.  It focused on the faith aspect of the decision to fight, promising things he had no right to promise.  This study can be found here.  We did not go nearly into so much depth here, primarily due to time restraints, but also it was short and sweet and did not have the same repercussions as Pope Urban’s.

We listened to the speech being given on this youtube video:

I also had the children copy it out, whilst pondering over its content:


We then discussed it at length, drawing out the queen’s pronoun use to personalise it (I and we and our); her apologies for being a woman in body but her assurance she is as a king in spirit and we also discussed her usage of God which gave more credence to her message.  The speech, whilst rousing, was unnecessary in the end as the Spanish never did land on English shores, but it provided a useful study for us.

Weekly Wrap-Up


  1. I like how you have done your battle narrations with the map. What a great way to remember key facts. I seem to remember you doing this before? I think it was you….. Thank you again for providing some great ideas

  2. This is the best explanation of the Spanish Armada invasion I have ever seen! I think it is interesting that you do a speech study. I am very interested to see what decisions you make regarding whether you have your students write a written essay or whether you have them discuss it orally only. The speech as copywork was also an interesting idea.

  3. I remember going to see the Golden Hind on a field trip in 4th grade, and then on our honeymoon the replica was docked in London and I got to see it again, so I’ve got a picture of me at 9 years old in front of it and another at 23.

  4. I am so glad this study is just ahead for us. I am really looking forward to it. Thank you for sharing all your resources, Claire. I really appreciate the video links. It makes my job much simpler.:))

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