The history of the Silver Armada Dish

The history of the Silver Armada Dish starts with the word ‘Armada’ – The word derives from the Portuguese and Spanish term for naval fleet. ‘Fleet’ meaning a large formation of warships at sea; an army on land would be the direct equivalent.  But how does this ‘naval fleet’ translation link to a silver dish?

Armada Dish History

It is believed that these original silver dishes were seized from Spanish/Portuguese treasure ships throughout the Spanish armada in 1588 – Queen Elizabeth I was occupying our throne at this period of time.
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English landed gentleman, writer, poet, politician, soldier, courtier and spy. However, he was most famously noted for his exploring. Raleigh had a colleague named ‘Sir Christopher Harris’ of Radford, Devon. Harris worked as an ‘Admiralty official’ during the Spanish armada war and had similarly, around this time, acquired these dishes into his possession.

It is most likely that the dishes Harris got his hands on were taken from the 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), stocked full of exquisite cargo – Gold, silver, jewels and spices. Despite this, there is also 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.
silver armada dish

In time to come, these dishes were buried, buried 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. These dishes 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.

The Mystery Within the Tale…

One of the big, unanswered questions on many people’s minds over time has been ‘Where are the additional five dishes, making up the Armada service set?’ Are they still buried? Perhaps they remain undiscovered, lying in the bottom of the ocean? They may simply be sat on a side board somewhere, with the home-owner being completely unaware of the value, history and interest they hold.

The 16th and 17th Century: The Significance of Silver

During the 16th and 17th century, the collection of silver goods was highly associated with wealthy English families – Royalty, the rich and the famous. Two specific purposes stood out, with one acting as an investment and the other being a way to represent wealth and boost family prestige and status. In Elizabethan England, formal events would see the dishes put into use; other purposes involved keeping food warm by upturning smaller dishes to cover the larger dishes.

Standing the Testament of Time

Bearing in mind the history we’ve just guided you through, 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. However, the dishes were often sold and melted down for cash or made into new fashionable, modern items throughout the Elizabethan era.

Modern-Day Use

Today, there have been slight changes made to the reproductions of these dishes – a less indented bottom of the dish and having the rims plain instead of inscribed with circles. Functionally, these dishes today 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.