The Armada of the Strait under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–84 came at a crucial juncture in global politics. Philip II of Spain had assumed the crown of Portugal and its overseas empire, and Francis Drake’s daring peacetime raids had challenged the dominance of Spain and Portugal in the Americas. The armada was intended to ensure the loyalty of Portuguese Brazil; bolster its defences against hostile native peoples, and English and French pirates and interlopers; and fortify and settle the Strait of Magellan to prevent further incursions into the Pacific.
Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada, kept a detailed, neutral chronicle of the venture which remained in private hands until 1999 but is now held in the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is published here for the first time. Previous historical assessments of the expedition have largely reflected the writings of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate for the planned colony at the Strait, who blamed all the misfortunes of the enterprise on Diego Flores de Valdés. Rada’s Relación is presented here in conjunction with other documentation and compared with Sarmiento de Gamboa’s accusations. The results will force scholars to revise long-standing conclusions regarding the place of Sarmiento and Flores in Spanish history and the accomplishments of a long-forgotten armada sent into the terrifying waters of the South Atlantic.
Carla Rahn Phillips earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and her Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at New York University in New York City. Throughout her career, her research has focused on the economic, social and maritime history of Spain in the early modern centuries. In addition to numerous articles and chapters in collected works, she is the author of Ciudad Real, 1500-1750: Growth, Crisis and Readjustment in the Spanish Economy (Cambridge, Mass., 1979); Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Baltimore, 1986); and The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession (Baltimore, 2007). She is also co-author, with William D. Phillips Jr., of The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (Cambridge, 1992); Spain's Golden Fleece: Wool Production and the Wool Trade from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore, 1997); and A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge, 2010; 2016). She retired in 2013 as the Union Pacific Professor in Comparative Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In retirement she is associated with the University of Texas, Austin; the University of California, San Diego; and the San Diego Maritime Museum.