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The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada Hardcover – January 18, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This splendid volume takes its title from a Spaniard's description of his compatriots' mood when the Armada sailed; a miracle was not forthcoming, however, for the Spanish or English fleets. The Spanish lacked the strength to overcome the inherent strategic disadvantages of having to bring a fleet and an army together over such a long distance; the English achieved their naval victory by sheer hard fighting, which nearly exhausted their ammunition and in which not only Sir Francis Drake displayed a freebooter's contempt toward disciplined obedience. Hanson (The Custom of the Sea) is superlative in doing justice to the social complexities of the time and the suffering of the many who fought on both sides. He does an equally fine job capturing the epic scope of this naval confrontation, which may not have caused the decline of Spain but certainly prevented that of England. The annotation is thorough, and the 16-page color insert (along with 21 b&w illustrations) includes a rare unglamorized portrait of Elizabeth—no legendary Gloriana this, but a shrewd working monarch.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Although Hanson doesn’t say much new in Confident Hope, he gives the story of the English defeat of the Spanish Armada a modern-day spin. Without King Philip II of Spain’s desire to bring heretical parts of Europe back into the Roman Catholic fold, there would have been no devastating battles. Critics applaud Hanson’s evenhanded approach to the story, meticulous research, and good storytelling skills. They also agree that his thrilling reconstruction of the 10-day battle off England’s southern coast-replete with descriptions of military strategies and profiles of leaders like Sir Francis Drake and unremembered sailors on both sides-is where the book excels. Yet the Armada doesn’t fight its first battle until page 242, which may frustrate even avid history buffs. In sum: Confident Hope is a gripping, if not final, book on the subject.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042941
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042944
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,136,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gordon Walker on January 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion, Garret Mattingly's "Defeat of the Spanish Armada" remains the first book to read if you're interested in the story of the Armada. It's a better read than Hanson's book (I found a re-reading of Mattingly's version more entertaining than my first reading of Hanson's book) and it provides more context about what was happening in northern Europe at the time of the Armada (I found his account of the 'War of the Three Henry's' particularly intriguing). Not to disparage Hanson's book: it's definitely worth reading (I don't hesitate to give it four stars), but Mattingly's story is a classic of sound history that easily could be (and should be) turned into a screenplay.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is mostly an exciting read. I was hooked after the first chapter, a vivid narrative of the trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Battle descriptions come alive, especially the climactic night battle that decides the campaign. Above all, the book does an excellent job of conveying how the whole event must have felt to the participants, from descriptions of shipboard conditions to the perils of night navigation and the difficulties of maintaining communication amongst hundreds of ships without modern technology. Neil Hanson's obvious talent for writing fails him occasionally, however. Describing the fate of so many Spanish ships one by one - they mostly end up shipwrecked with those onboard either drowned or imprisoned - gets repetitive after a while. Also there were too many quotations overall. While some were interesting and insightful, too many were forced in awkwardly where the author's own words would have sufficed. Naval tactics are explained well, something that Hanson apparently has previous experience writing about.

My larger gripe with this book is that it is much better at explaining what happened than why. Some explanations don't seem to hold together very well. Hanson suggests in several places that the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, was the "catalyst" for launching the Armada, but Armada preparations began almost a year before that event. Portions of the book criticize heavily both Phillip of Spain and Elizabeth of England. As an Englishman, it seems Mr. Hanson is especially concerned with debunking the mythology around the Armada and around Elizabeth, who is portrayed as vain, indecisive, and miserly. Time and again, mention is made of how her navy lacked resources.
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Format: Hardcover
As we now look at the possibility of another religious war, this time between Islam and the Christian world, this book has a particular lesson for our time. The title itself speaks of the time. Confident that God would bless the Catholic church, the Spanish Armada set out to conquer England.

It appears however that better ships, better guns, better men. Then to cap it all was the weather in the English Channel. The Miracle certainly didn't happen. In fact you could view the storm as God's will pointing in another direction.

This book is supurbly researched and written with a descriptive flair that makes it almost read like a novel. You know the outcome, of course, but the story is very well told.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the best and most readable single-volume treatment of the English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 I have read. Neil Hanson's text is breezy but comprehensive, not simply covering the battles but setting the stage of European politics, religion, and military technology, particularly the revolution in English shipbuilding and gunnery.

The"Armada Year" of 1588 is one of those quintessential cleavage years in British history. In 1588, Spain was poised to come as close to world domination as any superpower since Rome; fueled by silver from the Americas, its clanking professional armies were unequaled, and wreaked genocidal terror in Flanders and Holland. This was an age of no quarter given between heretics, and had the Spanish gained a bridgehead in England, it is doubtful that the Tudors, and the Church of England, would have survived (literally) any organized campaign. The English navy, like the pilots of the Battle of Britain, were all that stood between England and the grey sweep of papist extermination.

Standard English texts such as the Oxford History tend to treat events like the Armada as a given happenstance, so Hanson's fresh look is a welcome addition to this period. Hanson manages not only to cover the essential events and foundations, but makes telling points. Most controversial of these points is his thesis that the English won in spite of, and not because of, Queen Elizabeth's leadership. Hanson is singularly critical of Queen Elizabeth, who, unlike the Bette Davis icon we are accustomed to, is portrayed as a parsimonious, grasping, selfish meddler, whose principal concern was self-aggrandizement. Worse, she infuriated allies and enemies alike by invariable waffling on major decisions.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful update on the Armada. The Armada was created by Phillip II in 1588 with the hopes of bringing the Catholic church back to England by the Sword. General Parma's troops were massed in the Netherlands to be floated across the channel under the tutelage of the massive Armada made up of Caravels and even Triremes. The Armada was paid for by the Pope's Gold, it was to be a great crusade. England was a backwater to some extant, and Elizabeth an untested queen, her captains like Sir Francis Drake were pirates. However the Armada failed. It fell into issues in the Channel, the weather was bad, it blew out to sea, foundered in Ireland(where later Eamon De Velera was a descendant of Catholic shipwrecked Spaniards). Elizabeth and her interesting assortment of naval commanders were made heroes. England gained a defining moment that would be replayed when she faced down both Napoleon and then Hitler across the same Channel and was miraculously saved both times.

This book retells this famous story, with whit, wisdom and in a handsomely written style. However there is one glaring problem, the need by the author to slander and revise the story of Elizabeth. Instead of the Gallant queen who claims `I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king' we are given the portrait of a selfish woman who cares only for herself, who allowed here naval seamen to starve to death after the battle and who gives no such speech. The sources for this are dubious and the revisionism is not fair to such an extraordinary women. However if true, perhaps the allegations force us to reconsider our views.

Seth J. Frantzman
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