Alonso de Guzmán El Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia

Alonso de Guzmán El Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia

Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia (es: "Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, séptimo duque de Medina Sidonia") (September 10, 1550 - 1615) was the commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armada. He was the son of Don Juan Carlos de Guzmán, eldest son of the 6th duke, and of his wife Doña Leonor Manrique de Zuñíga y Sotomayor. His father died in 1555, and Don Alonso became duke, and master of one of the greatest fortunes in Europe, on the death of his grandfather in 1559.

Betrothal and Marriage

The 7th duke was betrothed in 1565 to Ana de Silva y Mendoza, who was then four years of age, the daughter of the prince of Eboli. In 1572 when the duchess was twelve years of age, the pope granted a dispensation for the consummation of the marriage. The scandal of the time, for which there appears to be no foundation, accused Philip II of a love intrigue with the princess of Eboli. The unvarying and unmerited favor he showed the duke has been accounted for on the ground that he took a paternal interest in the duchess.

Don Alonso made no serious effort to save his mother-in-law from the persecution she suffered at the hands of Philip II. His correspondence is full of whining complaints of poverty, and appeals to the king for pecuniary favors. In 1581 he was created a knight of the Golden Fleece, and was named Captain General of Lombardy. By pressing supplications to the king he got himself exempted on the ground of poverty and poor health. Don Alonso was also the patron of don Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza who wrote the premier text on the Spanish system of swordplay which was called the 'True Art' or the "Verdadera Destreza". He was asked by Phillip the second of Spain to lead the Spanish Armada.

In Command of the Armada

When the marquess of Santa Cruz died, on the 9th of February 1588, Philip insisted on appointing him to the command of the Armada. He had prepared his orders to the Duke of Medina Sidonia already three days before the death of Santa Cruz. The motivation of Philip's decision is unknown, but it may have been grounded in his consideration of the duke's very high social rank, administrative competence, modesty and tactfulness, and last but not least his reputation as a good Christian. The micro-managing king probably wanted a commander who would obey his instructions to the letter, which was less likely to happen if Santa Cruz was in command, or either of the most experienced officers in the Armada, Juan Martinez de Recalde and Miguel de Oquendo.

The disadvantages of this choice were highlighted by himself in his own letter to the king, in which he stressed his lack of military experience on land and at sea, his lack of information about either the English enemy or the Spanish war plans, his poor health and tendency to sea-sickness, and his inability to contribute financially to the expedition. Philip II may never have seen this letter, for his secretaries Don Juan de Idiaquez and Don Cristobal de Moura replied to the duke that they dared not show it to the king. Historians have speculated that Medina Sidonia himself did not believe in the success of the Armada, and that this motivated his attempt to reject the command or his later letter to the king in which he advised to seek peace or at least postpone the operation. The opinion of the duke is unrecorded, but skepticism about the fate of the Armada is known to have existed among senior Spanish officers and informed foreign commentators.

The opinion of modern historians on Medina Sidonia's efforts to prepare the Armada is generally favorable. He reorganized the fleet, rationalized the chaotic distribution of loads and guns, and increased the ammunition supplies from 30 to 50 rounds per gun. The permission of the king to add the Castilian galleons of the "Indian Guard" to the Armada nearly doubled its first-line fighting strength. Under the duke's command the material equipment of the Armada was much improved, although the delay had a negative impact on the number of skilled sailors and the quantity and quality of the available food supplies. He managed to establish good relationships with his subordinate commanders.

Medina Sidonia's behavior as a fleet commander in the ensuing series of fights with the English has come under more criticism. Lacking military experience, he showed little initiative or self-confidence, instead cautiously obeying the instructions of the king, and relying on the opinion of his advisers and subordinate commanders. This tendency was reinforced by the senior adviser appointed to him by the king, Diego Flores de Valdes, an experienced sea officer but also a man renowned for his caution. Medina Sidonia also seriously underestimated the difficulty of coordinating his actions with the commander of the Spanish forces in the Netherlands, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, who was supposed to launch his invasion fleet to meet the Armada at sea. However, this problem was fundamental to the operational plan imposed on the two commanders by Philip II.

Allowing for the limitations inherent in a total lack of command experience, Medina Sidonia fought the battle courageously and intelligently. His health suffered badly as a result of the campaign, and after his return to Spain the king finally relieved him of his command and granted him permission to return home to convalesce. Later, he served the Spanish crown for another two decades in various functions. The duke's reputation suffered, because several popular accounts, notably the one written by the monk Juan de Victoria, placed all blame for the defeat on him. Informed commentators and modern historians have put most of the blame on Philip II himself for imposing an impractical plan on his commanders, and on Diego Flores de Valdes for badly advising the duke. Philip II himself did not single out his chosen commander to bear the responsibility for the defeat. The duke retained his posts of admiral of the ocean and captain-general of Andalusia, and continued to serve Philip II and later Philip III.

The popular image of the duke in later years was strongly influenced by propaganda surrounding the Armada, including a fanciful English account which claimed that the Medina Sidonia was a fool and a coward who hid below decks in a specially reinforced room. This absurd story became a lasting part of popular descriptions of the battle, in which the Duke of Medinia Sidonia was frequently portrayed as an incompetent buffoon.

Later years

In 1606 the obstinacy and folly of the duke caused the loss of a squadron which was destroyed near Gibraltar by the Dutch. He died in 1615. This event made the duke a satirical target of Miguel Cervantes.

ee also

*List of Dukes of Medina Sidonia
*Medina Sidonia


*1911 "From merciless invaders", Alexander McKee, 1963.
"The defeat of the Spanish Armada", Garrett Mattingly, 1959.
"The Grand Strategy of Philip II", Geoffrey Parker, 1998.

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