Commander of the Armada

The Seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia

Peter Pierson

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The seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia is best known as the man who led to defeat the Spanish Armada of 1588.  This book by Peter Pierson is the first complete biography in any language of this important figure.  Based on previously inaccessible documents from the Medina Sidonia archives, it offers fascinating material on sixteenth-century Spain and new and exciting details about the armada campaign.
Pierson begins by describing the Duke’s youth and his close ties to the court of Philip II.  He discusses the Duke’s lifelong involvement with the shipping that navigated the treasure route from Spain to the Indies, his significant role in Philip’s successful quest for the Portuguese Crown, and his appointment as Captain General of the Ocean-Sea.  Spain’s war with England dominates the central chapters of the book.  Pierson relates how Medina Sidonia embargoed ships and recruited men for the armada, the largest fleet yet concentrated in early modern Europe, and he analyzes Philip’s choice of the Duke to command the armada.  Pierson provides a radical reinterpretation of the armada campaign, and with the aid of ten superb maps and diagrams he reconstructs the positions of the two navies, the number and names of ships, and their movements from the fleet’s departure for England to the surviving vessel’s arrival home.  Pierson continues with Medina Sidonia’s life after the armada campaign and discusses his second appearance on the world stage, as the unsuccessful defender of Cádiz against a major Anglo-Dutch attack in 1596.  
“This superb book is both the definitive biography of an important man and an indispensable source on the Armada campaign.” –Geoffrey Parker, coauthor of The Spanish Armada

"[A] significant work. Not only is this the first biography of the Armada’s commander, but it is also the first study of the Armada in English to be based on research in the Medina Sidonia archive at Sanlucar de Barrameda."—Simon Adams, History: Reviews of New Books




"Pierson traces Medina Sidonia’s public career from the young grandee keen to exercise authority, avid for royal favor, and imbued with a sense of duty to the elder statesman who, despite defeats, retained immense respect. . . . A highly readable book that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of one of the great events of European history."—Charles J. Jago, American Historical Review

"Pierson has wisely chosen to present his life, not as a conventional biography, but as the story of a career that reveals much about the conduct of sixteenth-century warfare. The result is a valuable contribution to the history of Spain’s golden age."—William S. Maltby, Sixteenth Century Journal

"A highly readable book that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of one of the great events of European history."—Charles J. Jago, American Historical Review

"It is remarkable that no one has previously written a life of the duke of Medina Sidonia, Spanish captain general of the ocean-sea, captain general of Andalusia, and in 1588 commander of the Spanish Armada. No one is better qualified to carry out the task than Peter Pierson. . . . In addition to the standard printed sources on the Armada enterprise, such as Cesáreo Fernández Duro, Enrique Herrera Oria, J.K. Laughton, and others, he has made good use of manuscript collections at Simancas, Madrid, Seville, Paris, and London. . . . Pierson’s assessment is critical and penetrating, revealing the duke’s weaknesses and mistakes as well as his strengths. It is, above all, a well-balanced account placing Medina Sidonia squarely within the context of his time, place, and social class. . . . Both balanced and convincing, giving a new perspective of the encounter itself. The accompanying maps and figures of the Armada’s battle formations are very useful, and the appendix on battle order seems to be the most authentic and complete listing of the Armada ships, sailors, soldiers, guns, and powder to be found in any publication. . . . This is an excellent book, certainly the authoritative account of Medina Sidonia’s career, and a valuable addition to the growing literature on the Armada."—De Lamar Jensen, Bulletin of the Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies

"The first full-length biography in any language of Don Alonso Perez de Guzman el Bueno, seventh duke of Medina Sidonia (1549-1615). Based on previously unavailable material in the Medina Sidonia archives, Pierson’s book rehabilitates the reputation of a man previously known for his alleged failures as commander of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and as Captain General of Andalusia at the time of the Anglo-Dutch sack of Cadiz in 1596. In a well-written, copiously documented narrative, Pierson clearly demonstrates the continuing importance of Medina Sidonia in the Spain of Philip II and Philip III. . . . This book provides valuable insight into sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Spain and is an important addition to the burgeoning scholarship on the Armada on its 400th anniversary."—Choice

"The seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia is best known as the man who led to defeat the Spanish Armada of 1588. Dr. Peter Pierson has written the first complete biography in any language of this important figure. . . . Based on previously inaccessible documents from the Medina Sidonia archives, it offers fascinating material on sixteenth-century Spain and new and exciting details about the Armada campaign. . . . In this valuable book a notable figure has received a worthy, definitive biography, which deserves to be widely read."—Gordon C. F. Forster, Yorkshire Post

"Peter Pierson’s Commander of the Armada is splendidly up-to-date. As the author of a useful brief survey of the reign of Philip II, he knows his way around the court of Philip II and is fully informed on the scholarly literature on the Europe of his time. He also proves himself a knowledgeable participant in the current debate about ships, guns, and naval tactics."—J. H. Elliott, New York Review of Books

"A compelling portrait of a significant but hitherto misunderstood political figure. It is also the finest account we now have of the political significance of the ’Enterprise of England.’"—Anthony Pagden, King’s College, Cambridge

"This superb book is both the definitive biography of an important man and an indispensable source on the Armada campaign."—Geoffrey Parker, co-author of The Spanish Armada

ISBN: 9780300044089
Publication Date: September 10, 1989
312 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4