A Spanish invasion force, already crippled by punishing storms that had separated it from most of its troops and supplies, landed at the Irish harbor of Kinsale on September 21, 1601. The Spanish troops intended to battle their way through Ireland with the support of a population that Irish expatriates assured them was eager to fight for the Catholic king of Spain and then conquer England from the west. Instead they found themselves besieged by English forces in an indefensible harbor town, waiting for allies and reinforcements that never came.
In The Last Armada: Queen Elizabeth, Juan del Águila and the 100-Day Spanish Invasion of England, Irish journalist Des Ekin tells the story of the failed Spanish invasion from the perspectives of not only the English and Spanish commanders but their Irish allies. Ekin establishes his major characters—General Juan del Águila of Spain, Charles Blount of England, and Irish chieftain Hugh O’Neill—as the heroes of their own stories and places them firmly in their very different cultural milieus. Many of the secondary characters, including an English femme fatale, a Jesuit secret agent, and a Franciscan priest determined to run the invasion in the name of God, are equally vivid on the page. The result is an even-handed account of a critical event in Irish history that has often been the subject of “bitter recriminations, laments or partisan rants”.
The Last Armada is a historical page-turner with acts of heroism, betrayal, espionage, self-aggrandizement and self-sacrifice.
This review appeared previously in Shelf Awareness for Readers.