Medina Sidonia, Alonso Pérez De Guzmán, 7th Duke of (1549–1615)

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MEDINA SIDONIA, ALONSO PÉREZ DE GUZMÁN, 7TH DUKE OF (15491615), Spanish grandee, admiral, and councillor of state. Succeeding his grandfather to the dukedom in 1558, with a palace at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, he acquired an interest in the sea and shipping. Sanlúcar's customs house, the tuna fishery (almadraba) of his coastal estates, and revenues from the county of Niebla made him the richest grandee in Spain, with an income that by 1600 approached 170,000 ducats annually. Some 55,000 souls lived under his jurisdiction. He married Ana de Mendoza y Silva (15611610), daughter of the prince of Éboli, and had eight surviving children, with heir Juan Manuel born in 1579.

From the 1570s he assisted in the annual sailing of the Indies fleets. A patron of books on chivalry, he also sought in 1574 to serve Philip II by contracting the Spanish galley squadron. Deemed too young, he got his chance to serve in 1578, with the succession crisis in Portugal. He assisted the marquis of Santa Cruz, despite strained relations, to prepare an armada, and used family connections with Portuguese nobles to promote Philip II's claims. In summer 1580, he led the Andalusian militia to the peaceful conquest of the Algarve, and then organized a dragnet that forced Dom António, Philip's chief rival for the Portuguese crown, to flee.

Philip awarded him the Golden Fleece and appointed him governor-general of Milan. He did not assume the office, for personal concerns and perhaps expectation of better. One concern was Philip's imprisonment of the princess of Éboli, which Medina Sidonia eventually succeeded in changing to confinement to her palace. He continued to work with the Indies fleets and was appointed in 1582 to head an expedition to occupy Larache, which the sharif of Morocco offered to Philip in return for aid against the Turks. When the Turkish threat abated, the sharif reneged on his offer.

War with England drove Philip in 1586 to build the Invincible Armada, with which Medina Sidonia was early involved. When Francis Drake attacked Cádiz Bay in April 1587, the duke rallied the local militias to defend Cádiz. He promoted a plan to overtake Drake with naval forces from Cádiz and Lisbon, but Drake left Spanish waters before it could be executed. Given his achievements and the traditions of his forebears, he requested explicit authority for regional defense, which Philip granted on 8 January 1588 with appointment as captain general of the Coast of Andalusia. In February, when Santa Cruz died, Philip shocked Medina Sidonia with appointment as captain general of the Ocean Sea and command of the Armada waiting in Lisbon. Medina Sidonia tried to turn down the appointment, and recommended galley chief Martin de Padilla (c. 15351602), Adelantado of Castile. Philip persisted and the duke headed for Lisbon, where he found all in confusion. His diligence had the Armada to sea by 30 May, but a storm forced it into La Coruña and neighboring ports. Believing it a sign from God, and pessimistic about chances for success, he urged Philip to use the Armada's mere presence to pressure Queen Elizabeth to withdraw from the Low Countries. Philip refused and on 22 July the Armada sailed. In the campaign, Medina Sidonia hewed to Philip's orders to proceed directly to join the duke of Parma and his army for the invasion of England, rejected proposals to assault Plymouth, and abandoned two ships disabled by accident. But as the English fleet hounded him, he vainly attempted to force a boarding action. His communications with Parma proved inadequate and he reached Calais to discover Parma not ready. Forced from Calais, he chose to return the Armada safely to Spain by sailing around Ireland. Storm battered the Armada and scarcely half the ships reached Spain.

Disgraced in the public eye, if not in Philip's, he retired to his estates. He continued to advise on the Armada, Indies fleets, and Morocco, and complained of the weakness of home defense, which the Anglo-Dutch sack of Cádiz in 1596 proved inadequate. His hurried response limited enemy gains, but his authority was transferred to professionals.

His heir in 1598 married the daughter of the duke of Lerma, Philip III's favorite, while he became a councillor of state and had many of his debts canceled. A humane man, he disapproved of black slavery, and suggested that Moriscos expelled from Spain be resettled in Cuba. To the public he remained a scapegoat. He was blamed when a powerful Dutch fleet in 1607 destroyed the smaller Armada of the Strait at Gibraltar. His only role was to send its commander warning and advice. In the last years before his death he largely withdrew from public life. The defeat of the Armada has forever marred his reputation.

See also Armada, Spanish ; Philip II (Spain) .


Álvarez de Toledo, Luisa Isabel, duquesa de Medina Sidonia. Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, General de la Invencible. 2 vols. Cádiz, 1994. Interesting if uneven.

Martin, Colin, and Geoffrey Parker. The Spanish Armada. Rev. ed. Manchester, U.K., 1999.

Maura, Gabriel Maura y Gamazo, duque de. El Designio de Felipe II. Madrid, 1957.

Pierson, Peter. Commander of the Armada: The Seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia. New Haven, 1989.

Peter Pierson

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Medina Sidonia, Alonso Pérez De Guzmán, 7th Duke of (1549–1615)

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