Her name was Ana Goméz de Silva y Mendoza, but she was known by her first name, according to the Spanish custom.

Doña Ana was only four when she was betrothed to the seventh duke of Medina Sidonia—Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno y Zúñiga was fifteen. He was obviously impatient, and in 1572 he obtained a dispensation from Pope Gregory XIII to consummate the marriage.

His wife was ten years old.

The duke was a favorite of Philip II of Spain, son of the great Emperor Carlos V, for reasons that are entangled in Philip’s amorous pursuits. These were many and varied, and strayed into the realm of the bizarre.

Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, one of Philip's many paramours.

Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, one of Philip’s many paramours.

La Cerda means the sow, and the name is still relatively common in Iberia—in Brazil and Portugal it is fused as Lacerda. The lady in question was a mistress of both the king and his secretary, Antonio Pérez, and with the latter was instrumental in various plots against the crown—under normal circumstances these would have led to her execution.

Instead she was imprisoned in 1579, and her daughter, deflowered seven years before, lived with her over the next eleven years of imprisonment, and afterwards until her death.

Philip II of Spain became Philip I of Portugal in 1580, due to a succession void, but the Leyenda Negra, the dark legend of this king is never taught at school—perhaps it should be, since it speaks volumes about the man’s character.

Social media at that time worked through chronicles and pamphlets, and the two enduring documents are the Apologia, written by William the Silent, and the Relaciones, written by Pérez.

In these documents, it is reported that Philip was already married to Isabel de Osorio, a lady-in-waiting to his mother, when he married Manuela of Portugal. In a story reminiscent of Charles and Camilla, the relationship endured until Philip’s third marriage to Isabelle de Valois in 1560.

In between there had been a four-year marriage to Mary I, known in protestant circles as ‘Bloody Mary’, which made Philip king of England and Ireland. After Mary died, Philip courted Elizabeth I, but she procrastinated and the suit was eventually terminated.

Philip’s friend Alonzo had made no serious attempt to help his mother-in-law during her imprisonment, and in 1588 the king showed his respect for the duke of Medina Sidonia by naming him Captain-General of the Ocean Sea.

By this time, William of Orange, otherwise known as William the Silent, was four years dead, possibly the first head of state to be gunned down. His assassin was captured and killed—European standards of the day put ISIS to shame.

The magistrates decreed that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his chest and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off.

When Medina Sidonia received notice of his appointment, he protested strongly to the king. The duke was no sailor—among other liabilities he suffered from violent seasickness.

It was therefore unfortunate that he was the man destined to lead the Grande y Felicísima Armada, which ended up smaller by two-thirds, and extremely infelicísima.

Since Portugal was then in its eighth year of occupation by Spain, the lead battle group of the Invincible Armada—and arguably the only one of significance—was the Squadron of Portugal. It included the flagship São Martinho and the São João de Portugal. The first carried forty-eight guns (and the duke), the second was the vice-admiral of the fleet, with fifty guns. The twelve ships in the squadron were captained by Spaniards and carried 3,330 soldiers.

History is written by the winners, but the whole story of the naval battle in the channel goes far beyond Plymouth Hoe and the unflappable game of bowls. The date of the final battle was August 8th, 1588, four hundred twenty-seven years today, but the fighting took place over the best part of two weeks, and the key episodes played out in France and the Netherlands. The final decision by the Spanish commander to route the fleet home via the North Sea was the nail on the coffin.

'Indians' of the Caribbean at the tender mercy of the Spanish.

American ‘Indians’ at the tender mercy of the Spanish.

Philip’s reign was an evil time, his early years marked by the exploits of Pizarro and Cortez, setting a gold standard, if you excuse the pun, for the barbarism that defined the colonial history of Latin America.

As for poor Doña Ana, a little girl raped at the age of ten with the papal blessing, her legacy is a more peaceful one—she left her name to one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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