It was way back in 2004 that I spotted what appeared to be a new liberal myth, decanted by an English lecturer called Jerry Brotton at the Hay literary festival.
"Of course what we're seeing here is a liberal myth in embryo - that the Turks rather than Drake and Effingham beat the Armada."
This embryonic myth was repeated by Trevor Phillips a couple of months later (along with the "Islamic King Offa" myth). No one took any notice. He seems to have got a bit more attention this time.
British history should be rewritten to make it "more inclusive", says Trevor Phillips, the head of the new human rights and equality commission. He said Muslims were also part of the national story and "sometimes we have to go back into the tapestry and insert some threads that were lost".
He quoted the example of the Spanish Armada, which was held up by the Turks at the request of Queen Elizabeth I.
"When we talk about the Armada it's only now that we are beginning to realise that part of it is Muslims," Mr Phillips told a Labour fringe meeting. "It was the Turks who saved us, because they held up Armada at the request of Elizabeth I. Now let's rewrite that story, let's use our heritage to rewrite that story so it is truly inclusive. "That's the reason for this so we have an identity which brings us together, which binds us in the stormy times that we are going to have in the next century."
As far as I know, the only "evidence" for this theory is that Queen Elizabeth's security head, Francis Walsingham, sent a letter to her ambassador at the Ottoman court, asking him to do all in his power to get the Turks to threaten Spain in the Mediterranean :
The letter, which ordered the ambassador, William Harborne, to incite the Turks to harry the Spanish navy, was written in the mid-1580s and has been buried in archives ever since because it did not apparently relate to any major historical event.
But Mr Brotton told the festival: "Walsingham's plan was ultimately successful. Ottoman fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean fatally split Philip II's armada - So alongside all the stories we're told at school about why the Spanish Armada failed to conquer Britain and destroy Protestantism, we should add another reason: the Anglo-Ottoman alliance brokered by Elizabeth, Walsingham [and others]."
In his letter to Harborne, Walsingham wrote: "Her Majesty being, upon the success of the said King of Spain's affairs in the Low Countries, now fully resolved to oppose herself against his proceedings in defence of that distressed nation, whereof it is not otherwise likely but hot wars between him and us, wills me again to require you effectually to use all your endeavour and industry in that behalf."
Walsingham hoped that Islamic forces might keep the Spanish forces "thoroughly occupied" by "some incursions from the coast of Africa", or by attacking his Italian territories from the sea.
Now between Walsingham's letter and "Walsingham's plan was ultimately successful. Ottoman fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean fatally split Philip II's armada" lies the small question of some missing evidence.
Is there evidence that Harborne persuaded the Turks to any action they might not otherwise have taken ?
Did these actions have any impact on the Armada ? There are many possible impacts - manpower, ship-power, weapon-power, stores and supplies.
On these questions the Guardian report is silent. I've mailed Dr Brotton to ask him.
My knowledge of this period's naval history is limited to copies of Garret Mattingley's The Spanish Armada and Ernle Bradford's The Great Siege. From this admittedly limited base a few reasonably solid conclusions can be drawn.
1/ Any impact of Ottoman naval movements was unlikely to have affected the Armada as far as its complement of ships was concerned. Mediterranean fighting vessels on both the Ottoman and Spanish sides were oar-driven galleys, and as such totally unsuited to Atlantic and North Sea warfare. Original plans for the Armada called for forty galleys, but in the end only four were sent. All four were turned back in the Bay of Biscay by the storm of July 28th, one being lost. Five galleasses - higher-built galleys with a gundeck - fared ill, three (Mattingly says two) being lost. The Spanish could probably have sent their entire Mediterranean galley fleet for no greater result than lowering the price of firewood along the French coast.
2/ Most historians conclude that the battle was lost because
a) the Spanish tactics - of attempting to close and board - could not cope with the English tactics of standing off and using their superior range cannon at distances where the Spanish could not reply.
b) a Spanish failure either to take the few opportunities the English offered - when the fleet held the weather gauge on July 30th, or to wait in the shelter of the Isle of Wight for the Duke of Parma's forces to be ready. Instead they found themselves waiting off Gravelines for Parma - and they couldn't wait long enough without being attacked.
Unless the Turks managed to divert a large number of ship-smashing cannon away from the Armada - unlikely given that the galley's main armament was a single long gun at the bow and light deck anti-personnel guns for closing and boarding, I'm not sure that either of these reasons would have been affected by anything the Ottomans did.
You never know though - I may be completely wrong. Let's see what Dr Brotton has to say.
UPDATE - no reply as yet.
1 hour ago