The foremost naval commander of the age that saw his homeland rise to dominate an empire that spanned the globe, Álvaro de Bazán was the son of a Spanish naval officer. He entered the navy at an early age, being appointed the “Military Governor and Captain of the Fortress of Gibraltar” at the age of eight … although it was his father (Álvaro the Elder), in command of the galley fleet there, who actually ran things.
In the ensuing years the young Álvaro would see action in naval engagements against the French, the Turks and the Moors, steadily advancing in rank and created Marqués de Santa Cruz in 1569 AD. Two years later, in command of the reserves at the Battle of Lepanto, he played an important role in crushing the hapless Turks. In 1580, de Bazán commanded the fleet that supported the Duke of Alba’s conquest of Portugal, and then defeated a French squadron sent to support a revolt in the Azores. Although his victory was marred by his execution of all the French prisoners in contravention of the rules of war, Philip II made him “Captain-General of the Ocean.”
It was in this role that Álvaro would undertake the invasion of England to get rid of that upstart Protestant Elizabeth. In 1583, on Philip’s orders, the Captain-General began the thankless task of assembling the ships, provisions and men in Lisbon. Despite difficulties in recruiting, corrupt contractors, English raids, and the interference and nagging of Philip, he succeeded in assembling the greatest fleet Europe had yet seen. But unrelenting strain and work likely led to Álvaro’s untimely death in February 1588.
Command of the Armada was given to the Duke de Medina-Sidonia, thoroughly unfamiliar with naval affairs. How much might civilization have been changed if only de Bazán had lived to lead the Spanish Armada?