Armada Dish History
The term ‘armada’ derives from the Portuguese and Spanish terms for naval fleets. There is supposedly a legend as to how the naval term was first applied to these silver dishes. The ‘original’ armada dishes were seized from Spanish/Portuguese treasure ships throughout the Spanish Armada War in 1588.
Sir Walter Raleigh plays a significant role in this story. Serving at various points in his life as an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, politician, soldier, courtier, and spy, he was most famously noted for his exploratory expeditions. Raleigh had a colleague named Sir Christopher Harris of Radford, Devon. Harris worked as an ‘Admiralty official’ during the Spanish Armada War and had supposedly acquired these dishes around the time of the war. It is most likely that the dishes Harris had were taken from Spanish and Portuguese treasure ships. One ship in particular stands out, following it’s hijacking by the English in 1590. The Portuguese ship ‘Madre de Deus’ (Mother of God), was stocked full of expensive cargo – gold, silver, jewels, and spices. There is also debate surrounding the possibility that Harris may have received the dishes as a gift from Raleigh himself in recognition of his position as a member of the fleet that overcame and defeated the Spanish armada.
Over time, these dishes were buried – strangely – in a field during the Civil War (roughly 1645) to prevent them from being taken by parliamentary troops. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the dishes were rediscovered. A total of 26 dishes were unearthed, which are now owned by and can be seen at the British museum. Originally, there were 31 silver dishes in Sir Christopher Harris’s Armada service set. Each discovered armada dish is engraved with the arms of Sir Christopher Harris and his wife Mary Sydenham, making them easy to identify.
The Ongoing Mystery
One of the unanswered questions still lingering from this legend is ‘where are the additional five dishes, making up the Armada service set?’. They may remain undiscovered, still buried in a field. Conversely, they could owned by a person or persons who simply have no concept of their historical and monetary value.
The Test of Time
Considering the intrinsic value of silver throughout history, both as a social indicator and a financial investment, it’s easy to understand why silver is still so sought after today. It is important to remember that functional items of gold and silver of this date rarely survive, emphasising the value of the remaining armada dishes today; a unique survival of historic, English dining silver.
Today, there have been slight changes made to the reproductions of these dishes – a less indented bottom of the dish, featuring plain rims instead of being inscribed with circles. In contemporary society, silver pieces like Armada dishes would make a lovely gift for a christening, engagement, a wedding or an anniversary. Slightly larger dishes could be used for presenting awards or could be given as trophies.