‘Continual, destruction in the foretop, the pox above board, the plague between decks, hell in the forecastle and the devil at the helm.’
It is the summer of 1588, and the fate and future of England hangs in the balance. Obsessed by the dream of reclaiming England for the Catholic Church – and adding another country to his sprawling dominions – Philip II of Spain has assembled a fleet of huge, castle-crowned galleons that stretches for miles across the face of the ocean. In wait in the Netherlands lies a battle-hardened Spanish army, ferocious professionals with a taste for rape, looting and atrocity.
Across the Channel the English are scraping together bands of barely trained men, many armed only with scythes, stakes or longbows. Great warning beacons stand all along the coast of England; torches and kindling lie to hand. Watchmen strain their eyes to see over the horizon. Their only hope lies in the English fleet.
But Philip's Armada is doomed before it even leaves port. As soon as it engages with the English fleet, its shortcomings are clear in the face of superior tactics and firepower. Its hulls shot through with cannon fire, its men dying in thousands from wounds and disease, the mightiest fleet ever assembled is mercilessly harried into fleeing north, at the mercy of the elements. Over forty Spanish ships are wrecked on the Irish coast; survivors crawling ashore have their throats slit and their purses ransacked. The dream of subduing the Protestant English lies in tatters.
A triumphant combination of historical detail and storytelling flair, The Confident Hope of a Miracle draws on undiscovered and little known personal papers and records to tell the epic story of the Spanish Armada in all its scope. No book has ever conveyed in such vivid, living detail how kings, queens and courtiers, sea captains, deckhands and galley slaves, the highest and the lowest in the land, fared in those turbulent months as the fate of England teetered on the brink.
'***** Hanson's narrative is brilliant - melding deep research and page-turning writing. When he deals with the disaster of the Armada's homeward passage, battling monstrous seas and shipwreck, he reaches dramatic heights that make him the equal of Parkman or Prescott.'
Sunday Express, London
'An exceptionally vivid account... Hanson is essentially a narrative historian with all the talents required of that genre: a gimlet eye for interesting detail, an ability to convey atmosphere and a storyteller's instinct for pace. He has written a marvellous book.'
Daily Telegraph, London
'Superb... Not only does the author convincingly nail Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake as egregious villains but he does so in glowing historical prose.'
Best Reads of the Year, The Independent on Sunday
'Entertaining and exhaustive.'
Robustly clear-sighted and comprehensive... Atmospheric re-telling transports us back to robust 16th Century realities.'
'This year's greatest triumph of sheer driving narrative and a masterpiece of popular history. There are passages that can stand comparison with the finest historical prose but what is just as attractive is Hanson's originality. At the hands of Hanson's impeccable scholarship, the myth of 'Gloriana' takes even more of a battering than the storm-tossed Spanish galleons.'
Books of the Year, Glasgow Herald
'The book examines the politics behind the expedition, provides a vibrant account of its battles and disasters and vividly sketches the leading players - all presented in prose that bowls along like the Golden Hind in a brisk nor'easter. Popular history is rarely delivered with such brio.'
Daily Telegraph (paperback review)
'The story of Philip II's Catholic armada and its doomed attempt to precipitate an invasion of Elizabeth I's Protestant England is given new vitality in this epic account. Moving smoothly from the Spanish to the English perspective on events, Hanson shows how and why the armada so comprehensively failed and reveals the ways in which Elizabeth 's miserliness nearly threw away the advantages in tactics and firepower provided by buccaneering sailors such as Drake and Hawkins. Impressive in its large-scale narrative, the book also re-creates in brilliant detail the hellish lives of the ordinary seamen, Spanish and English, who were caught up in the religious and dynastic quarrels of their rulers.'
Sunday Times (paperback review)
'Deeply researched and bracingly told, this is new wave narrative history at its finest, rich in Spanish and English perspectives, sympathetic to all sailors but not to its villainess, Mean Queen Bess.'
‘Hanson's account of the great naval battle off the southern coast of England will thrill fans of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian, whose fictional creations would seem to owe much to the Francis Drake the author ably portrays here. The aftermath, with Spanish survivors straggling ashore only to meet gruesome ends, is just as well told-and just as full of intrigue. Richly detailed, concisely narrated: a superb, myth-shattering portrait of an epochal event.' Kirkus Reviews,
USA (starred review)
‘Hanson is superlative in doing justice to the social complexities of the time and the suffering of the many who fought on both sides. He does an equally fine job capturing the epic scope of this naval confrontation.' Publishers' News ,
‘Brilliant. This outstanding work covers a true turning point in world history'
Booklist , USA
‘An exciting narrative... Never before has actual battle been described in such detail and rarely with such flair.'
Los Angeles Times, USA
‘Brilliant...Hanson is a meticulous historian and a compelling storyteller. This is one of those rare works of popular history that, like Alan Morehaed's “The White Nile” or Barbara Tuchman's “The Guns of August”, makes a half-remembered story from school seem both real and relevant.'
Newsday , USA
‘Hanson writes with sweep, confidence and great verve. He re-creates the feel and sounds of 16th-century battle [and] is especially vivid when describing the appalling squalor of shipboard life. "The Confident Hope of a Miracle" is a driving narrative, filled with keen observation and the occasional debunking.'
Washington Post, USA
‘An extraordinarily detailed and... magnificently researched account... Hanson's text remains intelligent, persuasive and well- structured throughout, a triumph of diligent research that will undoubtedly be of immense appeal.'
San Francisco Chronicle , USA
‘This excellent history... conveying the excitement and danger of the individual sea battles... [he] enlivens the narrative with captivating details.'
Chicago Sun Times, USA
‘Neil Hanson's big and very readable The Confident Hope of a Miracle justly earns its subtitle.... probably no historian before him has known as much about so many aspects of the struggle... Hanson's own contribution is to have researched more thoroughly than any historian before the fate of the common sailors and soldiers on both sides of the epic sea battle. That story, which fills the final chapters of his book, is among history's saddest and most forlorn... History at its grandest and most exhilarating. ... clear, insightful, and very gripping.'
St Petersburg Times, USA
‘Combines a brilliant array of historical detail with vivid storytelling flair in a thrilling and controversial new overview of one of the most fascinating campaigns in European history. The Confident Hope of a Miracle ... portrays in vivid, almost cinematic detail how the highest and the lowest lived their daily lives during those turbulent months when the destiny of all Europe was in question. This is a book that truly brings the past to life with compelling prose and a carefully researched foundation. An outstanding read, and a “must-have” for every history library.'
History Book Club , USA
‘Recreates the period and personalities in both countries in magnificent detail... Hanson's riveting narrative enlightens and stimulates our thinking about a major turning point in European history.'
Bookpage , USA
‘Hanson tells the story well, and with a good eye for the telling quotation... It is with the ships, the commanders and the common fighting men at sea – Spanish and English – that he comes into his own. Here is where the book carves out its special place.'
San Diego Union-Tribune , USA
‘A vibrant account... a riweting read... highly recommended.' Library Journal , USA ‘Putting this book down, after hours lost in another time, will be one of the hardest things you will do. You will want to search out any other work by Neil Hanson, a truly remarkable historian.'
Decatur Daily, USA
‘Will rank among the best reads of the year. Brilliant in conception and exquisite in execution, The Confident Hope of a Miracle is a definitive account.'
Charleston Post and Courier , USA
‘A rollicking account full of historical colour and detail. Historical reporting at its best. The research is meticulous and the prose has all the dash, pace and drama of a novel.'
Tucson Citizen , USA
Neil Hanson's new book combines a sophisticated literary style and exhaustive research with stellar results. What a story this is and what a book this is. Read it and treasure it.'
Staten Island Sunday Advance , USA
'This superb book... Everyone knows the broad outline of the story of the Armada, one of the turning points in world history. Here are the hard details, wrapped in a swashbuckling, effortless narrative. Smell the gunpowder and taste the salt!'
Ireland on Sunday, Dublin
'Neil Hanson tells the story of the famous victory and its political, economic and social ramifications with formidably detailed scholarship and narrative flair... an enlightening work of historical investigation.'
Irish Times, Dublin
‘A splendid narrative interspersed with irreverent, but convincing, character sketches... escapism of a very high historical and literary order. We should be the poorer without this privileged glimpse into another world.'
'Neil Hanson does a masterly job of mixing the micro and the macro in the Confident Hope of a Miracle, his engrossing narrative swirling around the Armada and its aftermath. He weaves his tale around the two royal protagonists... but he also regularly pauses to zoom in on the human details among those who did the bulk of the fighting and dying. The result is history with the pace and drama of a novel.'
The Australian, Sydney
‘Neil Hanson's account of the Great Fire of London was a wonderfully readable book. This retelling of the timeless story of the doomed Armada is, if anything, even more absorbing.'
Christchurch Press , New Zealand
'The launching of the Spanish Armada was one of the most extraordinary episodes of the Elizabethan age. Neil Hanson has written a truly gripping account of the armada's progress - from triumphant departure to doom on the high seas. His narrative is epic in scope and meticulous in detail - a vividly conjured tale of intrigue and heroism, tempest and shipwreck.'
Giles Milton, author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg
'A major story, rich in intrigue and incident, told with flair.'
Otago Daily Times, New Zealand
‘A thundering good story.
‘Neil Hanson has a reputation for writing a rattling good yarn, and I have little doubt that this book about the Armada will be relished and widely read.'
Paul Johnson, Literary Review, London
‘Hanson is an excellent story-teller and is particularly good at weaving eye-witness accounts into his text.'
Owen Richardson, The Age, Australia
'An exhaustive account of the background, events and aftermath of the attack on England .. Hanson narrates with great clarity the convoluted diplomacy, dynastic relations and religious and commercial rivalry of Europe in the late 16th century.
Brian Maye, The Irish Times, Dublin
'A well-researched, thoroughly recommended read.'
Good Book Guide, London