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What was The Spanish Armada and Its Purpose?

The Spanish Armada was a massive naval fleet dispatched by King Philip II of Spain in 1588 with the intention of invading England. The primary motivations behind this formidable endeavor were to restore Roman Catholicism in England and to retaliate against English piracy that was disrupting Spanish trade and possessions.

Religious and Political Context

At the time, Spain was a dominant Catholic power, while England, under Queen Elizabeth I, was Protestant. The religious divide between the two countries was a significant source of tension. King Philip II, a devout Catholic, saw the Protestant Reformation as a threat to religious and political stability. He aimed to dethrone Elizabeth I, who had been excommunicated by the Pope, and replace her with a Catholic monarch, which would also strengthen Spain's position in Europe.

English Provocations

England's support for the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule and the English privateers' attacks on Spanish treasure fleets exacerbated the conflict. Notably, figures like Sir Francis Drake carried out raids against Spanish possessions, capturing significant wealth and undermining Spanish authority in the New World. These actions infuriated King Philip II and were perceived as acts of war.

The Armada's Mission

The Armada consisted of about 130 ships and was commanded by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. The plan was for the fleet to sail to the English Channel, link up with a Spanish army from Flanders, and then launch a full-scale invasion of England. However, the English fleet, led by experienced commanders such as Francis Drake, employed innovative tactics, including the use of fire ships, to disrupt the Armada's formation and prevent it from achieving its objectives.

Outcome and Significance

The Armada suffered a catastrophic defeat due to a combination of English naval tactics, unfavorable weather, and logistical challenges. Many ships were lost during the battle and the subsequent disastrous voyage around the British Isles, with a significant number of Spanish ships wrecked on the west coast of Ireland. The defeat of the Armada was a turning point in history, preventing the possible absorption of England and the Netherlands into the Spanish Empire and marking the decline of Spanish naval supremacy.

The failure of the Spanish Armada had profound implications for the balance of power in Europe, affirming England's naval prowess and contributing to the rise of the British Empire. It also served as a symbol of Protestant resistance against Catholic hegemony, shaping the religious and political landscape of Europe for centuries to come.

What is the Significance of the Salamander Brooch?

The significance of the Salamander brooch found on the Girona wreck lies in its historical and symbolic value. The Salamander pendant recovered from the wreckage of the Spanish galleass 'Girona' is a jeweled pendant shaped like a salamander, beautifully carved and set with rubies. The pendant is believed to have been considered a good luck charm by sailors due to the superstition that salamanders had power over fire[3].

The Salamander was a symbol associated with various meanings, including the ability to withstand fire and passionate love[5]. This exquisite piece of jewelry not only showcases the craftsmanship of the time but also provides insight into the beliefs and superstitions prevalent among sailors during that era.

The discovery of the Salamander pendant adds to the rich tapestry of artifacts recovered from the Girona wreck, shedding light on the personal possessions of those who perished in this tragic maritime event. It serves as a tangible link to the past, offering a glimpse into the lives, beliefs, and customs of individuals aboard the ill-fated ship

What other Artifacts were Recovered from the Girona Wreck?

The artifacts found on the Girona wreck provide valuable insights into the lives of those aboard and the historical context of the 16th century. Some of the significant artifacts recovered include:

  1. Gold and Jewelry Items: The excavation yielded various gold and jewelry items, such as precious gemstones, rings, pendants, and other intricately crafted pieces. These treasures likely belonged to the ship's officers and wealthy passengers, offering a glimpse into the opulence of the Spanish court.
  2. Weapons and Armory: The recovery also included a wide array of weapons and military equipment like swords, muskets, cannons, iron cannonballs, and stone cannonballs. These artifacts shed light on the Girona's role as a warship and provide insights into the weaponry used during conflicts with England.
  3. Kitchenware: Recovered kitchenware items from the Girona give an interesting glimpse into life aboard the ship. Silver candlesticks, decorated plates, jugs, forks with engraved handles, and even a miniature carved dolphin handle were among the items found. These artifacts provide a window into the dining practices and lifestyle aboard the vessel.
  4. Navigational Aids and Ballasts: The excavation also unearthed navigational aids used by sailors to navigate the seas, as well as ballasts that helped stabilize the ship. These items offer insights into maritime practices and technologies of the time.
  5. Other Artefacts: Additional recovered artifacts include goatskin wrappings, an insole from a shoe, pottery plates, wooden bowls, cutlery, hard tack biscuits, cheese, lard, tuna fish, sardines, rice, beans, sugar, raisins, wine, and more. These everyday items provide a comprehensive view of life aboard the Girona.

The diverse range of artifacts recovered from the Girona wreck not only enrich our understanding of maritime history but also offer a poignant connection to the individuals who sailed on this ill-fated voyage centuries ago.

What was the Preservation and Restoration Process?

  1. Excavation and Recovery: The artifacts were carefully excavated from the seabed by a team of dedicated archaeologists and divers. The recovery process involved meticulous documentation and handling to prevent damage to the fragile items[2].
  2. Documentation and Cataloging: Each artifact was documented, cataloged, and photographed to create a detailed record of the findings. This step is crucial for tracking and preserving the historical context of each item[2].
  3. Conservation Techniques: Preservation experts employed various conservation techniques to stabilize and protect the artifacts from further deterioration. These methods may include desalination, cleaning, stabilization of metals, and environmental controls to prevent corrosion or decay[2].
  4. Restoration Work: Some artifacts may have undergone restoration work to repair damage incurred during centuries underwater. Skilled conservators would have used specialized techniques to ensure the items were returned as closely as possible to their original state without compromising their historical value[2].
  5. Display and Exhibition: After preservation and restoration efforts, the artifacts were displayed in museums like the Ulster Museum in Belfast for public viewing. These exhibitions allow visitors to appreciate the historical significance of the Girona wreck and its recovered treasures[4].

The careful preservation, restoration, and exhibition of the artifacts from the Girona wreck not only honor the memory of those who perished but also provide valuable insights into maritime history and 16th-century life for present and future generations to appreciate.

What Conservation Techniques were used in Artifacts from the Girona Wreck??

  1. Desalination: Many artifacts recovered from shipwrecks have been underwater for extended periods, leading to saltwater saturation. Desalination is a crucial process to remove salt from these artifacts, preventing further deterioration.
  2. Cleaning and Stabilization: Artifacts are carefully cleaned to remove marine growth, sediments, and other contaminants. Stabilization techniques are then employed to ensure the structural integrity of the items.
  3. Environmental Controls: Maintaining proper environmental conditions is essential for artifact preservation. Controlling factors like temperature, humidity, and light exposure helps prevent degradation and damage.
  4. Material-Specific Treatments: Different materials require specific conservation treatments. For instance, organic materials like wood, leather, and textiles need specialized care to prevent rapid deterioration.
  5. Preventing Corrosion: Metal artifacts are susceptible to corrosion due to exposure to seawater. Conservators employ methods to inhibit further corrosion and protect these items.
  6. Protection from Physical Damage: During handling and transportation, artifacts are at risk of physical damage. Proper precautions are taken to ensure the safe movement and storage of these delicate items.

By employing these conservation techniques, the artifacts from the Girona wreck were carefully preserved and restored, allowing them to be showcased in museums like the Ulster Museum for public viewing and historical appreciation

History of the Girona Wreck

La Girona was a galleass of the Spanish Armada that met a tragic end off the coast of Ireland in 1588. Here's a detailed account of its history:

Origins and Voyage

La Girona was named after the Girones family, who had become Dukes of Osuna and viceroys of Naples, not after the city of Girona in Catalonia. The ship's captain was Hugo de Moncada y Gralla, a knight of the Order of Malta.


The vessel anchored with a damaged rudder in Killybegs Harbour, Donegal. After repairs with the help of an Irish chieftain, MacSweeney Bannagh, La Girona set sail for Scotland on 25 October with 1,300 men on board, including Alonso Martínez de Leyva, a knight of the Order of Santiago. However, after clearing Lough Foyle, a gale struck, and La Girona was driven onto Lacada Point and the "Spanish Rocks" near Ballintoy in County Antrim on the night of 26 October 1588. Of the estimated 1,300 people on board, only nine survived.

Aftermath and Salvage

The survivors were sent to Scotland by the local clan leader Sorley Boy MacDonnell. MacDonnell is also believed to have conducted the first clandestine salvage efforts on the shipwreck. In 1967 and 1968, a team of Belgian divers, including Robert Sténuit, located the remains of the wreck and recovered a significant amount of Spanish Armada treasure. The site was later designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act on 22 April 1993.

Commemoration and Exhibition

The wrecking of La Girona is commemorated on the reverse side of sterling banknotes issued by the First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Museum in Belfast houses a permanent exhibit titled "Treasures from the Girona," which includes gold and silver coins, jewelry, armaments, and utilitarian objects from the ship.


The story of La Girona is a poignant reminder of the perils of sea travel in the 16th century and the rich history that lies beneath the waves.

19th-century engraving depicts a Spanish Galleon shipwreck at Port-Na Spaniagh, 1588. Lacada Point and the Spanish Rocks are in the background
 &nbspA spanish Armada chest, possibly from the Girona
  A spanish Armada chest, possibly from the Girona
Salamander Brooch in Ulster Museum
Bazonka, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
&nbspAnne Burgess / Lacada Point
 Anne Burgess / Lacada Point