Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia

Alonso Pérez de Guzmán
Born (1550-09-10)10 September 1550
Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, Crown of Castile, Spain
Died 26 July 1615(1615-07-26) (aged 64)
Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, Castile, Spain
Allegiance Spain Spain
Service/branch Spanish Navy
Rank Captain-General of the Ocean Sea
Captain-General of the Coast of Andalusia
Commands held Invasion of England
('the Spanish Armada')
Battles/wars Cadiz
(Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604))

Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y de Zúñiga-Sotomayor, 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia[1] (10 September 1550  26 July 1615), Grandee of Spain, a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece since 1581, was the commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armada.


His father was Juan Carlos de Guzmán y de Aragón, deceased 1556. Juan Carlos died two years before his own father, Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, 6th Duke of Medina Sidonia, thus he did not inherit the ducal title and died as the 9th Count of Niebla only.

His paternal grandmother was Ana de Aragón y de Gurrea, deceased 1528, one of the daughters, "born out of sin", of Alonso de Aragón y Ruiz de Iborra, Archbishop of Zaragoza, himself an illegitimate son of king Ferdinand II of Aragón. In 1518 she had married two Dukes of Medina Sidonia: firstly with Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, 5th Duke of Medina Sidonia, deceased childless, 1548, formally declared "mentecato", (out of his mind, unfit to reason properly), and then again, in the same year with the 5th Duke's brother, Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, 6th Duke of Medina Sidonia, (24 March 1502, + Sanlúcar de Barrameda, province of Cádiz, Spain, 26 November 1558).

His mother was a most powerful and wealthy lady, Leonor de Zúñiga y Sotomayor, herself daughter of a powerful duchess, Teresa de Zúñiga, 2nd marchioness of Ayamonte, 3rd duchess of Béjar, 4th countess of Bañares, 2nd marchioness of Gibraleón, so it was her name Zúñiga, the one to be passed to the family, as she was married to a "Sotomayor" of a less endowed with nobility titles, county of Belalcázar, something by no means unique in the High Spanish Nobility of the time.

As his father, Juan Carlos, had already died in 1556, Don Alonso became Duke, and master of one of the greatest fortunes in Europe, on the death of his grandfather in 1559, aged only around 9.[2]

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 and the Princess of Éboli. In 1572 when the duchess was twelve years of age, the pope granted a dispensation for the consummation of the marriage.[2] The Duke of Medina Sidonia had a son, Juan Manuel, who succeeded his father.

The scandal of the time, for which there appears to be no foundation, accused Philip II of a love intrigue with the mother of the young girl, 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, Ana de Mendoza daughter.[2]

Don Alonso made no serious effort to save his mother-in-law Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Éboli from the later 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.[2]

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 King Phillip II of Spain to lead the Spanish Armada.

Spanish Armada


When the Marquis of Santa Cruz died, on 9 February 1588, Philip insisted on appointing the 7th Duke to the command of the Armada.[2] 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 and personnel state of the Armada was much improved. The distribution of cannons and ammunition was rationalized, and he got permission from Philip to lodge some of his men ashore; prior to that, the king had insisted that the sailors be kept aboard their ships at all times, which had a disastrous effect on the health and morale of the fleet. He managed to establish good relationships with his subordinate commanders, and gathered additional supplies right up to the point of sailing.

Fleet command

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. He stated "Action without cause is illegitimate of reason" in response to public outcry on re-sending a fleet to Britain. 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 an English account which claimed that the Duke of Medina Sidonia was a fool and a coward who hid below decks in a specially reinforced room. This 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

When an English fleet attacked Cadiz in 1596, his allegedly slow response was blamed for giving the English enough time to sack the city.

In 1606 the obstinacy and folly of the duke caused the loss of a squadron which was destroyed near Gibraltar by the Dutch.[2] This event made the duke a satirical target of Miguel de Cervantes.

In popular culture


See also


  1. Alonso Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno, séptimo duque de Medina Sidonia, décimo conde de Niebla, quinto marqués de Cazaza, señor de Sanlúcar de Barrameda, señor de Gibraleón, caballero del Toisón de Oro, capitán general del Mar Oceano y de la Armada Invencible
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Public Domain One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Medina Sidonia, Don Alonso Perez de Guzman el Bueno". Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 66–67. This cites Cesário Duro, La Armada invincible (Madrid, 1884), which gives numerour references to authorities.
  3. Vandersteen, Willy, "De Stierentemmer", Standaard Uitgeverij, 1952.
  4. Co Van Loerakker, Thom van Roep, "Van Nul tot Nu: Part I", 1982, Oberon/Big Balloon, page 51.


Spanish nobility
Preceded by
Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán
Duke of Medina Sidonia
Succeeded by
Juan Manuel Pérez de Guzmán
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