Ten Great Events in History
By James Johonnot

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Drawing of the Mayflower
From the collection of the
Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association

Chapter VII. The Invincible Armada

1. In 1588 the “Invincible Armada” sailed from Spain into the high seas. To understand the nature of this formidable naval armament and the reasons for its sailing, we must take a brief survey of the condition of Europe at this period of the world’s history.

Spain Before the Armada

2. At this time Spain was the most powerful of the monarchies of Europe. Many causes had conspired to give her this pre-eminence. About one hundred years before, the two principal provinces, Castile and Aragon, were united by the marriage of their sovereigns, Isabella and Ferdinand. In 1492 the Aloors were subjugated, uniting the whole peninsula under one government. In the same year, under the auspices of the Spanish sovereigns, Columbus discovered the New World, giving additional luster to the Spanish name and a new impulse to Spanish adventure.

3. Thirty years later, Mexico and Peru had been overrun and plundered by Cortes and Pizarro, and the treasures of millions of people, accumulated through many centuries, became a possession of the Spanish people; raising them to a degree of opulence unknown since the time of the most illustrious of the Roman emperors. In consequence of this wealth, commerce expanded, large cities grew up along the courses of the navigable rivers, and all branches of industry were aroused to a state of great activity.

4. In 1516 Spain and Austria were united under the Emperor Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella; and, during his reign, the united kingdoms arose to a height of power almost equal to that of the empire of Charlemagne. The dominion of Charles extended from the Atlantic to the steppes of Poland, and from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. It included all of Western Continental Europe, except France and Southern Italy. In 1556 Charles abdicated his throne, and divided his empire, giving Austria and Germany to his brother Ferdinand, and Spain and the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium to his son Philip II.

5. Spain was now rich and powerful. Her armies were large, and were commanded by the most experienced military officers of Europe. Material progress showed itself on every side. The richest commerce of the world poured its wealth into her ports. A new intellectual life was aroused, which found expression in literature and schools. All the conditions seemed to indicate that the Spanish people were about to lead Europe in the direction of a higher civilization.

Character and Policy of Philip II

6. But soon all this changed. Philip was vain, bigoted, and ambitious. In his administration of public affairs he seemed to have but two objects in view, to augment Spanish power, and to cause his own religious creed to be universally accepted. To promote these objects he had no scruples in regard to means. His own people were tortured and executed by the thousand. By this savage policy he stamped out heresy, placed freedom of thought under a ban, and put an end to the intellectual progress of the country. In his dealings with other nations his diplomacy included all the arts of chicanery and deceit.

7. Two formidable obstacles stood in the way of the realization of his plans. Heretical England had become a strong naval power, and English ships captured his treasure-vessels laden with the spoils of the countries lie had plundered. The eagles of the sea despoiled the wolves of the main of their ill-got gains. The second trouble was nearer home. The people of the Low Countries revolted alike from his government and his creed. To remove these obstacles was the first step toward the attainment of his larger ambitions.

8. In regard to England, Philip ventured upon a master-stroke of policy. He sought the hand of Mary, the newly crowned Queen of England, and married her. By this step lie hoped and expected to extinguish dissent in England as he had done in his own dominions, to gradually usurp the government, and to make English naval supremacy subserve the interests of Spain.

9. But Philip was sorely disappointed. Mary, though narrow and bigoted, and at one with hire in creed, had still English blood in her; and English independence had been sturdily maintained through too many centuries to be surrendered to any power or on any pretext. The English Parliament also interfered and refused to crown him jointly with Mary. So Philip found himself united to a sickly, peevish wife of twice his age, and entirely powerless to effect the purposes he had in view.

10. Three or four years passed in fruitless intrigue. Punishments for heresy were frequent, but the fires of persecution never blazed so fiercely in the cooler atmosphere of England as in Spain, and the victims of the stake could be counted singly instead of by the thousand. Then Mary died, and Elizabeth ascended the throne of England. The new queen declined the honor of Philip’s hand which was tendered her, and she zealously espoused the cause of the English church. The hunted turned hunters, and the last fires of English persecution were lit by those whom the stake had threatened all through the dreary years of Mary’s reign. This change of front and the gradual amelioration of penalties which followed show that persecutions are not the monopoly of any sect, but are rather the manifestations of an irresponsible power in a semi-barbarous age.

11. Philip retired angry and disgusted. The contemptuous refusal of his hand by Elizabeth was a terrible shock to his personal pride; the triumph of the new church inflamed his bigotry; and the sturdy independence of the English people was a severe blow to his pride of country. He brooded over the situation and determined to resent the slights–personal and public–which had been put upon him.

12. From his purpose he was for a time diverted by the attitude of his rebellious subjects in Belgium. Maddened to ferocity by the failure of his plans, he devoted the whole people to destruction, and he sent his best-equipped armies, under the terrible Duke of Alva, to devastate the cities of the dikes as Pizarro had destroyed the homes of the Incas. After innumerable atrocities, and the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children, the remnant of freedom was preserved by the obstinacy of the Dutch burghers, the wise policy of William the Silent, the aid of the sea, and the succor furnished by Elizabeth.

13. Here, again, was practical defeat. His cherished purposes were thwarted, and the high hope of his life was gone. Nothing was left but despair and revenge. At this time Philip began to exhibit in a marked degree the madness which overshadowed the last years of his life. His hatred of England grew from day to day, and at last took shape in a determination to make one supreme effort to conquer his rival, and to check the rising free thought of the English people. For years the preparations went, on for the great conflict, and in 1588, twenty years after the accession of Elizabeth to the throne, everything was ready.

England’s Power to Resist the Armada.

14. And what of England and of her ability to resist this formidable attack? For a hundred years before the beginning of the sixteenth century, the civil wars of the Roses had desolated the country and put an end to national growth. For the next fifty years, and until the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth, violence and bloodshed were so common that the population barely maintained its own. In 1588 the whole number of people in England and Wales was estimated at four millions, about one third of the population of Spain.

15. But England possessed two elements of strength–her people, although differing in creed and often warring with one another, were intensely patriotic, and were united as one man against a foreign foe; and the ships of England, manned by English crews and commanded by her great captains–the legitimate successors of the old Vikings–dominated the seas. No enterprise was too hazardous for these hardy mariners to undertake, and no disparity of force ever induced them to pause. Philip was often wrought to frenzy as he saw these bold corsairs capture his treasure-ships and ravage his coasts in sight of his invincible but impotent armies.

16. The mode of attack which Philip determined upon consisted of two distinct but co-operative movements. A formidable army of invasion, under the Duke of Parma, the most experienced and skillful commander in Europe, was stationed at the several ports of the Low Countries, opposite the British coast, from Dunkirk east. Innumerable transports were provided to convey this host across the Channel, and, once on English ground, an easy and triumphant march to London was expected. The second part of the grand expedition consisted of an immense fleet of the largest vessels ever built, under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, which was to drive away the English ships and convoy the army of Parma to the English shore. This fleet was christened by the Spaniards “The Invincible Armada.”

17. “Philip hastened his preparations with all the energy he could command. In every port resounded the axe and hammer of the ship-builder; in every arsenal blazed the flames of busy forges. All Spanish Europe echoed with the din of arms. Provisions were amassed in a thousand granaries; soldiers were daily mustered on the parade-grounds, drilled, and accustomed to the use of arquebus and cannon. Carts and wagons were built in hundreds for the conveyance of stores; spades, mattocks; and baskets were got ready for the pioneers; iron and brass ordnance were cast, and leaden shot melted in enormous quantities; nor were the instruments of torture–the thumb-screw and the ’jailer’s daughter’–forgotten.”

18. In 1587 the preparations were nearly completed, and the Armada was about ready to sail, when a knowledge of its destination became known to Sir Francis Drake, the great English commander. Without considering the disparity of force, the old sea-king, with a fleet of swift-sailing vessels, made a sudden descent upon the port of Cadiz, where the ships of the Armada were at anchor. Many of the larger vessels escaped by taking refuge under the guns of the forts, but the city was lit up by the blaze of one hundred and fifty burning ships, and the great enterprise was delayed for another year.

Sailing of the Armada.

19. But this disaster only called forth greater exertions. The maimed vessels were repaired, new ones were built, and at length one hundred and thirty-two ships, many of them the largest ever known at the time, were ready to sail. They carried three thousand guns and thirty thousand men. On May 3d the Armada sailed from the mouth of the Tagus, but a great gale dispersed the ships, and obliged them to put back into port to repair. Surely God did not smile upon the beginning of a warfare carried on in his name! It was not until July 12th that the fleet finally sailed from Corunna on its mission of destruction, and to meet its fate.

20. To cope with this formidable force, the whole British navy could muster only thirty-six vessels, all much smaller than the largest of the Spanish ships. But, in consideration of the great danger, merchants and private gentlemen fitted out vessels at their own expense, and by midsummer a fleet of one hundred and ninety-seven ships was placed at the disposal of the British admiral. In tonnage, number of guns, and number of men, the strength of the whole fleet was about one half that of the Armada.

21. But all England was aroused. For more than five centuries this was the first foreign invasion that had threatened her shores. The years of preparation had given time for the avowed purposes of Philip to become known throughout the kingdom. There was anxiety everywhere, for no one knew where and when the blow was to be struck; but there was no thought of submission, and all England stood alert, eagerly watching and waiting. Much to Philip’s disappointment and chagrin, the great Catholic families of England rallied to their country’s defense as readily as their Protestant neighbors, and all Englishmen stood shoulder to shoulder in this supreme moment of the nation’s peril. Vessels patrolled the shores, to give notice of the coming ships; soldiers drilled in every hamlet; and on the hill-tops piles of fagots were placed so that signal-fires might speedily send the news to the remotest parts of the kingdom.

Waiting For the Armada.

22. Canon Kingsley has given a graphic picture of England’s great naval commanders, when the news was received that the Armada was off the coast. He supposes them assembled at Plymouth on the 19th of July, engaged in the then favorite game of bowls.

23. “Those soft, long eyes and pointed chin you recognize already. They are Sir Walter Raleigh’s. The fair young man in the flame-colored suit at his side is Lord Sheffield; opposite them stand Lord Sheffield’s uncle, Sir Richard Grenville, and the stately Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, Lord High Admiral of England next to him is his son-in-law, Sir Robert Southwell, captain in her Majesty’s service.

24. “But who is that short, sturdy, plainly dressed man, who stands with legs a little apart, and hands behind his back, looking up with keen gray eyes into the face of each speaker? His cap is in his hand, so you can see the bullet-head of crisp brown hair and the wrinkled forehead as well as the high cheek-bones, the short square face, the broad temples, the thick lips, which are yet as firm as granite. A coarse, plebeian stump of a man; yet the whole figure and attitude are those of boundless determination, self-possession, energy; and, when at last he speaks a few blunt words, all eyes are turned respectfully on him, for his name is Francis Drake.

25. “A burly, grizzled elder, in greasy, sea-stained garments, contrasting oddly with the huge gold chain about his neck, waddles up, as if he had been born, and had lived ever since, in a gale of wind at sea. The upper half of his sharp, dogged visage seems of a brick-red leather, the brow of badger’s fur, and, as he claps Drake on the back, with a broad Devon accent he shouts, ’Be you a-coming to drink your wine, Francis Drake, or be you not? saving your presence my lord.’ The lord high admiral only laughs, and bids Drake go and drink his wine, for John Hawkins, admiral of the fleet, is the patriarch of Plymouth seamen, if Drake is the hero.

26. “So they push through the crowd, wherein is many another man whom we would gladly have spoken with face to face on earth. Martin Frobisher and John Davis are sitting on that bench, smoking tobacco from long silver pipes; and by them are Fenton and Wishington, who have both tried to follow Drake’s path around the world, and failed, though by no fault of their own. The short, prim man, in the huge yellow ruff, is Richard Hawkins, the admiral’s hereafter famous son.

27. “But hark! the boom of a single gun seaward directs the attention of every one to a small armed vessel staggering up the sound under a press of canvas. A boat puts off; its oars flash quickly in the sun; the captain lands, and, inquiring for the lord high admiral, is quickly brought into his presence. He has discovered the formidable array of the Spaniards bearing down with the wind like so many floating castles, the ocean seeming to groan under the weight of their heavy burdens. The lord high admiral proposes to hold counsel with his principal officers; but, says Drake, with a hearty laugh: ’Let us play out our play; there will be plenty of time to win the game and beat the Spaniards, too.’

28. “The game was played out steadily, and, the last cast having been thrown, Drake and his comrades leaped into their boats and rowed swiftly to their respective ships. With so much skill did Howard and his lieutenants direct the movements of their squadrons that, before morning, sixty of the best English ships had warped out of Plymouth Harbor.”

How the News Spread Through England

29. While preparations had been made to meet the Armada, there seems to have been a half expectation on the part of the government that something would occur to prevent its sailing. Until the very last, Elizabeth and her counselors appeared to place more confidence in diplomacy and political combinations than in the powers of Sir Francis Drake and his coadjutors. So, when the Armada was seen off the coast, the signal-fires were kindled, and the whole kingdom was soon ablaze. The stirring verse of Macaulay best describes the spread of the news, the alarm, the anxiety, and the grand uprising of the whole people.

  30. Attend, all ye who list to bear
    Our noble England’s praise;
  I tell of the thrice-famous deeds
    She wrought in ancient days,
  When that great fleet invincible
    Against her bore in vain
  The richest spoils of Mexico,
    The stoutest hearts of Spain.

  31. It was about the lovely close
    Of a warm summer day,
  There carne a gallant merchant-ship
    Full sail to Plymouth Bay;
  Her crew hath seen Castile’s black fleet,
    Beyond Aurigny’s isle,
  At earliest twilight, on the waves,
    Lie heaving many a mile.

  32. At sunrise she escaped their van,
    By God’s especial grace;
  And the tall Pinta, till the noon,
    Had held her close in chase.

  33. Forthwith a guard at every gun
    Was placed along the wall;
  The beacon blazed upon the roof
    Of Edgecumbe’s lofty hall;
  Many a light fishing-bark put out
    To ply along the coast,
  And with loose rein and bloody spur
    Rode inland many a post.

  34. With his white hair unbonneted,
    The stout old sheriff comes;
  Before him march the halberdiers;
    Behind him sound the drums;
  His yeomen round the market cross
    Make clear an ample space;
  For there behooves him to set up
    The standard of her Grace.

  43. At once on all her stately gates
    Arose the answering fires;
  At once the wild alarum clashed
    From all her reeling spires;
  From all the batteries of the Tower
    Pealed loud the voice of fear;
  And all the thousand masts of Thames
    Sent back a louder cheer

  44. And from the farthest wards was heard
    The rush of hurrying feet,
  And the broad streams of pikes and flags
    Rushed down each roaring street;
  And broader still became the blaze,
    And louder still the din,
  As fast from every village round
    The horse came spurring in:

  45. And eastward straight from wild Blackheath
    The warlike errand went,
  And roused in many an ancient hall
    The gallant squires of Kent.
  Southward from Surrey’s pleasant hills
    Flew those bright couriers forth;
  High on bleak Hampstead’s swarthy moor
    They started for the north;

  46. And on, and on, without a pause
    Untired they bounded still;
  All night from tower to tower they sprang:
    They sprang from hill to hill:
  Till the proud peak unfurled the flag
    O’er Darwin’s rocky dales,
  Till like volcanoes flared to heaven
    The stormy hills of Wales;

  47. Till twelve fair counties saw the blaze
    On Malvern’s lonely height,
  Till streamed in crimson on the wind
    The Wrekin’s crest of light,
  Till broad and fierce the star came forth
    On Ely’s stately fame,
  And tower and hamlet rose in arms
    O’er all the boundless plain;

  48. Till Belvoir’s lordly terraces
    The sign to Lincoln sent,
  And Lincoln sped the message on
    O’er the wide vale of Trent;
  Till Skiddaw saw the fire that burned
    On Gaunt’s embattled pile,
  And the red glare on Skiddaw roused
    The burghers of Carlisle.

The Preliminary Skirmish.

49. It was on Saturday, July 20th, a dull, misty day, that the two great fleets, which represented the cause of freedom on the one side and the longing after universal empire on the other, came in sight of each other. The great Armada, with its huge galleons in battle array extending over a space of many miles, was suffered to sail up the Channel, past Plymouth Harbor, without molestation. This was in accordance with the general plan of attack which bad been agreed upon.

50. The superior force of the Spaniards caused no fear, but rather a grim determination to overwhelm and destroy. The universal sentiment that seemed to prevail among all classes of Englishmen concerning their country finds fitting expression in the words which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of John of Gaunt:

  “This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
   This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
   This other Eden, demi-paradise;
   This fortress, built by Nature for herself
   Against infection and the hand of war;
   This happy breed of men, this little world;
   This precious stone set in the silver sea,
   Which serves it in the office of a wall,
   Or as a moat defensive to a house,
   Against the envy of less happier lands;
   This blessed spot, this earth, this realm, this England,
   Dear for her reputation through the world.”

51. To guard this favored spot, and to protect its soil from the polluting footstep of the hated Spaniard, mariners went forth to do or die. It was now, in the moment of supreme peril, that the courage, hardihood, and skill of England’s great navigators gained in battle with the elements in the unknown seas of the North and West, and in many a strife against fearful odds with their Spanish foes, were found to be equal to the occasion and sufficient to insure the safety of their country.

52. On Sunday morning, July 21st, the English ships commenced their attacks upon their unwieldy antagonists. “The Spanish ships,” says Motley, “seemed arrayed for a pageant in honor of a victory won. Arranged in the form of a crescent whose horns were seven miles asunder, those gilded towers and floating castles, with their brilliant standards and martial music, bore slowly up the Channel. The admiral, the ’Golden Duke,’ stood in his private shot-proof tower, on the deck of his great galleon, the Saint Martin, surrounded by guards of infantry and captains of cavalry, no better acquainted than himself with naval tactics.

53. “And just as the gaddy hovers about and stings the horse, which is all unable to escape from its tiny enemy; so round the heavy galleons and unwieldy ships of Spain the light English vessels, commanded by able and experienced seamen, hovered with the utmost freedom. Their superior tactics soon obtained the advantage of the wind, enabling them at intervals to cannonade their enemies with great effect, while they themselves escaped out of range at pleasure, and easily avoided the tremendous discharge of the Spanish ordnance.

54. “In vain the Golden Duke attempted to bring on a general engagement. Howard and Drake were well aware that in a ship-to-ship fight the strongest would necessarily conquer, and that their only hope of success lay in keeping close upon the enemy’s flanks, or following at his heels, cutting off a stray galleon, making a dash into his ill-managed squadrons, and so gradually but surely reducing his strength, until they could venture to give him battle on more equal terms.”

55. “The Armada,” Mr. Fronde says, “made sail and attempted to close. To Medina Sidonia’s extreme astonishment, it seemed at the pleasure of the English to leave him or allow him to approach them as they chose. The high-towered, broad-bowed galleons moved like Thames barges piled with hay, while the sharp, low English ships sailed at near two feet to the Spaniards’ one and shot away, as if by magic, in the eye of the wind. It was as if a modern steam fleet was engaged with a squadron of the old-fashioned sailing vessels, choosing their own distance, and fighting or not fighting, as suited their convenience.

56. “Astonished and confounded, as well by the manoeuvring as by the rapidity of the English fire, the Spanish officers could not refuse their admiration. They knew they were inferior at sea, but had not fully realized their inferiority, notwithstanding the lessons Drake, Hawkins, Cavendish, and others had already taught them. But here were the English firing four shots to their one, while their ships were so nimble that, with a fresh breeze, even the swiftest of the Spanish ships could not touch there. Such splendid gunners and skillful seamen the Spaniards had never seen before, and were hardly able to believe in their existence.”

57. The wind was from the west, so that the English fleet were able to keep to the windward, giving them an increased advantage over their antagonists. The Spanish gunners, drafted from the army, could not manage the naval ordnance, and their shots flew high and scarcely touched the English ships. On the other hand, the Spanish vessels were riddled with shot, and men fell killed and wounded on every side. But the ships were too strongly built to be easily destroyed, and so the monsters continued to receive fearful blows, and sailed wearily and helplessly on. Toward night, Medina Sidonia, finding it impossible to bring on a general engagement, signaled to make sail up the Channel, the rear to be covered by the squadron under his second in command, Don Martinez de Recaldi.

58. “The wind was now rising and promised a squally evening. The English ships withdrew for want of powder. An express was sent up to London for a fresh supply. A fast boat was dispatched to Lord Harry Seymour, who commanded a fleet of coasters farther up the Channel, with a letter reporting progress so far, and bidding him be on the alert. But the misfortunes of the Spaniards were not yet over. The Capitana, one of their largest galleons, fouled with another vessel and broke her bow-sprit. She fell behind, and was left to her fate. In the morning Drake took possession of her, and found many casks of reals, and, what was of more importance, some tons of gunpowder, with which the Roebuck, the swiftest traveler of the fleet, flew to the lord admiral.

59. “Shortly after dark another serious accident occurred. The officers of one of the great galleons, impatient and irritated at the results of the action, were quarreling with one another. The captain struck the master-gunner with a stick. The gunner, who was from Holland, went below in a rage, thrust a burning linstock, or long match, into a powder-barrel, and sprang through a port-hole into the sea. The deck was blown off from stem to stern. Two hundred seamen and soldiers were sent into the air: some fell into the water and were drowned; some, scorched or mutilated, dropped back into the wreck. The ship, which was one of the largest in the fleet, was built so strongly that she survived the shock, and at day-light the English took possession of her. At the bottom of the hold were many barrels of powder, which Lord Howard so sorely needed.”

The Progress of the Fight.

60. On the morning of July 22d the Spanish admiral saw the remainder of the English fleet coming up from Plymouth Harbor, and he made all sail up the Channel. Owing to the want of powder, the attack of the English was less vigorous than on the day before, but still they dogged the Spaniards in the most persevering manner, and succeeded in inflicting serious damage upon many of the Spanish vessels. The breeze from the west still continued, but it was light, and the fleets made but little headway during the day.

61. On Tuesday, July 23d, a strong morning breeze sprang up from the east, and the Spaniards found themselves for the first time to the windward. Taking advantage of the situation, they bore down upon the English fleet, and tried to bring on a general engagement. This challenge the English would not accept, and stood out to sea toward the west. The Spaniards thought they were retreating, and gave chase. All the galleons were bad sailers, but some were better than others, and soon the San Marcus outstripped her consorts. When several miles ahead of all her companions the wind shifted to the west, leaving the English to the windward. Lord Howard immediately bore down in his flag-ship, the Ark, and attacked the San Marcus, but she defended herself with great bravery, and for an hour and a half fought single-handed, delivering eighty shots and receiving five hundred. His powder again giving out, Lord Howard was obliged to withdraw. This action was fought off Plymouth Harbor, so that in the three days’ fight the Armada had made no substantial progress toward its destination.

62. “By this time the news that the Armada was in the Channel had circulated throughout the length and breadth of England, and from every creek and port and harbor came accession of goodly ships, equipped at the cost of leading squires and nobles, and manned by her ’best blood.’ From Lyme and Weymouth and Poole and the Isle of Wight, young lords and gentlemen came streaming out in every smack or sloop they could lay hold of, to snatch their share of danger and glory at Howard’s side. The strength which they were able to add was little or nothing, but they brought enthusiasm; they brought to the half-starved crews the sense that the heart of all England was with them, and this assurance transformed every seaman into a hero.

63. “On Tuesday evening, after the fight, Medina Sidonia counted a hundred sail behind him, and he observed, with some uneasiness, that the numbers were continually increasing. On Wednesday, July 24th, the weather was calm, and the English lay idle at a short distance from the Armada waiting for powder.

64. “Thursday, July 25th, was the feast-day of Spain’s patron saint, St. Jago; of him who, mounted on a milk-white steed, had ridden in fore-front of battle in one of the Spanish encounters with the Moors, and had led them to victory. Should nothing on this holy day be done in his honor by those whom he had so greatly favored? It was decided to make an attack. The galleys led the way, and in their van rode three of the four great galliasses, thrashing the sea to foam with three hundred oars apiece. The English met them with such tremendous discharges of chain-shot that, had not the wind risen about noon, enabling the Spanish ships to come up to their assistance, the galleys would surely have been taken. When the lord admiral withdrew his ships, the Spaniards were so cowed that they made no attempt to pursue them.”

65. “Thus,” says Canon Kingsley, “the fight had thundered on the live-long afternoon, beneath the virgin cliffs of Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, while myriad sea fowl rose screaming from every ledge, and with their black wings spotted the snow-white walls of chalk; and the lone shepherd hurried down the slopes above to peer over the dizzy ledge, and forgot the wheat-ear fluttering in his snare, while, trembling, he gazes upon glimpses of tall masts and gorgeous flags, piercing at times the league-broad veil of sulphur-smoke which weltered far below.”

Brief Respite From Battle.

66. Friday, July 26th, was a tranquil summer day. The wind died away, and the two fleets, but a few miles apart, lay rocking on the waves. The Duke of Medina Sidonia took advantage of the pause and sent a swift messenger to the Prince of Parma, praying him to dispatch to his assistance forty small sailing-vessels, capable of contending with the light swift craft of the English. All the next day, July 27th, the two fleets sailed slowly up the Channel in hostile but silent companionship–the Spaniard convinced he could not meet the Englishman in open fight; the Englishman heedful that he should not be surrounded by a superior force. At night the battered and maltreated Armada took refuge in the harbor of Calais.

67. The same afternoon Lord Howard was joined by Sir Harry Seymour with his squadron of sixteen vessels, which bad been keeping watch along the eastern ports, and the combined fleet dropped anchor to the eastward of Calais, and within a mile and a half of the French shore. “Never, since England was England,” says Mr. Motley, “had such a sight been seen as now revealed itself in those narrow straits between Dover and Calais. Along that low, sandy shore, and quite within the range of the Calais fortifications, one hundred and thirty Spanish ships–the greater number of them the largest and most heavily armed in the world–lay face to face, and scarcely out of cannon-shot, with one hundred and fifty English sloops and frigates, the strongest and swiftest that the island could furnish, and commanded by men whose exploits had rung through the world.

68. “Farther along the coast, invisible but known to be performing a most perilous and vital service, was a squadron of Dutch vessels of all sizes lining both the outer and inner of the sand-banks of the Flemish coasts and swarming in all the estuaries and inlets of that intricate and dangerous cruising-ground between Dunkirk and Texel. Those fleets of Holland and Zealand, numbering some one hundred and fifty galleons, sloops, and fly-boats, lay patiently blockading every possible egress from the ports in possession of the Duke of Parma, and longing to grapple with him as soon as his fleet of gunboats and hoys, packed with his Spanish and Italian veterans, should venture to set forth upon the sea for their long-meditated enterprise.”

69. This friendly attitude of the Dutch to the English was due to a variety of causes. Both nations represented the new religion in its struggle against the established church. In consequence of the terrible atrocities of the Duke of Alva, the Dutch had an inextinguishable hatred for the Spaniards, and were ready to do anything to thwart their plans and diminish their power. Then, too, the Dutch remembered how the ships of Elizabeth, laden with provisions, had brought succor to their beleaguered cities and saved the lives of their famished people. So, animated by enmity on the one side and by gratitude on the other, the Dutch for a time forgot their struggle for maritime supremacy with the English, and brought all their force to bear to support the English cause in its hour of greatest need.

70. The Spaniards seem never to have anticipated this energetic action on the part of the Dutch. The Duke of Medina Sidonia now found that he could get no direct sea communication with the Spanish land-forces; and the Duke of Parma found himself in a situation where his invincible army was powerless, and his soldierly experience and talents were of no avail. The plans of the Spanish admiral to make use of the small vessels of Parma had been thwarted by the Dutch, and the dispersion of the Dutch vessels had been prevented by the fierce attack of Howard and Drake upon the Armada.

71. In coming to anchor on that Saturday night in Calais Harbor, however, the Spaniards had gained two important points. Their ships were under the protection of friendly land-batteries; and nothing remained to prevent the co-operation of the land-forces and the fleet. The Duke of Parma could march his forces westward and embark from Calais instead of Dunkirk, and thus turn the flank of the Dutch fleet.

72. Sunday, July 29th, was a day of suspense and anxiety on the part of both the contending forces. The English knew that a junction with Parma was now possible, and Howard and Drake were too good seamen not to know that, in a close and general engagement, the superior size, weight, and numbers of the Spanish ships would prevail. On the other hand, the Spaniards knew that they were in an unsafe harbor should a strong wind spring up from the west, and Medina Sidonia began to have a wholesome dread of the valor and strength which guarded the homes of Britain. The day passed in Sabbath quiet and repose, and when the sun set there was no indication that a night’s strife was to follow, potential as shaping the future destinies of both Spain and England.

Fright and Flight.

73. During the day, Captain Winter, of the English fleet, suggested that the Spaniards might be driven from their anchorage by fire-ships, and his plan was adopted. Six vessels were loaded with wild-fire, rosin, pitch, brimstone, and other combustibles, and made ready to sail. The night was dark, with indications in sky and sea of a coming gale. “When the Spanish bells,” says Froude, “were about striking twelve, and, save the watch on deck, soldiers and seamen lay stretched in sleep, certain dark objects, which had been seen dimly drifting in the tide near where the galleons lay thickest, shot suddenly into pyramids of light, flames leaping from ruddy sail to sail, flickering on the ropes and forecastles, masts and bow-sprits, a lurid blaze of conflagration.

74. “A cool commander might have ordered out his boats and towed the fire-ships clear; but Medina Sidonia, with a strain already upon him beyond the strength of his capacity, saw coming some terrible engine of destruction, like the floating mine which had shattered Parma’s bridge at Antwerp. Panic spread through the entire Armada. Hasty and impetuous cries arose on board each menaced vessel. ’Up anchors, comrades! Out every stitch of canvas! Away, away! for in the track of those blazing ships follow death and ruin!’

75. “There are times when immense bodies of men suddenly give way to the influence of a needless but over-mastering panic, and this was one of them. Every cable was cut; galleon, galliasse, and patache drove hurriedly through the press of shipping, each heedless of its comrade’s danger, and seeking frantically some channel of escape. In vain the Duke of Medina Sidonia attempted to reform his disordered array. So long as the darkness lasted, the confusion prevailed; and ship after ship reeled, staggered, and drifted out to sea. Several of the Spanish ships were disabled, two were burned, and it was not until they found themselves six miles from shore, and at a secure distance from the smoldering hulks, that they recovered from their terror.”

Renewal of the Fight.

76. On Monday, July 29th, when the day dawned, Lord Howard discovered the Spanish fleet in great disorder, scattered over a wide space in the Channel. He immediately ordered an advance, and, while Drake made a bold attack upon the main body of the enemy, the lord high admiral drove upon the sands several of the sluggard vessels of the Armada which the fire-ships had failed to drive out to sea. For several hours he engaged the great galliasse under the direct command of Admiral Moncada, which was aground upon the sands. The vessel was captured and Moncada slain, and the English admiral hastened to the assistance of Drake.

77. “It was well,” says Froude, “that no more time was wasted over so small a matter. Lord Howard had already delayed too long for his fame. It was no time for the admiral of the fleet to be loitering over a stray feather which had dropped from the enemy’s plume when every ship was imperiously needed for a far more important service. Medina Sidonia intended to return to Calais, but his ships had drifted in the night far to the east, and before his signal of return could be obeyed the English fleet was upon them.

78. “Sir Henry Seymour, with his sixteen ships, having the advantage of wind, speed, and skill, came upon a cluster of Spanish galleons at eight in the morning. Reserving their fire till within a hundred and twenty yards, and wasting no cartridges, the English ships continued through the entire forenoon to pour upon them one continuous rain of shot. They were driven together, and became entangled in a confused and helpless mass.

79. “Drake, in the mean time, had fallen upon a score of galleons under the direct command of Medina Sidonia himself. They were better handled than the rest, and were endeavoring to keep sea-room and retain some command of themselves. But their wretched sailing powers put them to a disadvantage, for which no skill or courage could compensate. The English were always at windward of them; and, hemmed in at every turn, they, too, were forced back upon their consorts, hunted together as a shepherd hunts sheep upon a common, and the whole mass of them were forced slowly eastward, away from the only harbor open to them, and into the unknown waters of the North Sea.

80. “Howard came up at noon to join in the work of destruction. The Spaniards’ gun-practice, always bad, was helpless beyond all past experience. From eight o’clock in the morning until sunset the English, almost untouched themselves, fired into them without intermission at short range. They ceased only when the last cartridge was spent, and every man was weary with labor. They took no prizes, and they attempted to take none. Their orders were to sink and destroy. They saw three great galleons go down, and three more drift toward the sands, where their destruction was certain.

81. “On board the Spanish ships all was consternation and despair. Toward sunset the great Santa Maria went down with all on board. When the ships’ companies were called over, it was discovered that no less than four thousand men had been killed or drowned, and twice as many wounded. The survivors were so utterly dispirited that nothing could induce them to face England’s sea-kings again.”

Chase and Destruction.

82. On Tuesday afternoon, July 30th, Lord Howard summoned a council of war, which decided upon a course of action. Lord Henry Seymour with his squadron was to return to guard the mouth of the Thames against any attempt on the part of Parma, while the remainder of the fleet was to continue the chase of the Armada. Ninety vessels, under Howard, Drake, and Frobisher, followed the flying Spaniards into the North Sea. “We have the army of Spain before us,” Drake wrote, “and hope, with the grace of God, to wrestle a fall with him. There was never anything pleased me better than seeing the enemy flying with a southerly wind to the northward. God grant you have a good eye to the Duke of Parma, for, if we live, I doubt not to handle the matter with the Duke of Sidonia, as he shall wish himself at St. Mary’s Port, among his orange-trees!”

83. The wind, now strong from the south, had risen to a gale. The Spanish ships, so fashioned as to sail only before the wind, were driven northward. Between them and the shore, where lay possible safety, was the dreadful English fleet, which had battered them so sorely during the past ten days. Before them was the sea, full of unknown perils. “Not only man but God was against them. His wind blew discomfiture to their meditated enterprise. More than one poor; crippled ship dropped behind as her spars snapped, or the water made its way through her wounded seams in the straining seas. The Spaniards, stricken with a wonderful fear, made no attempt to succor their consorts, but pressed heavily on, leaving them to founder.”

84. The pursuit continued until Friday, August 2d. There was now no more danger to be apprehended from the scattered enemy. The wind was threatening, and, the supply of provisions beginning to fail, Howard and Drake determined on returning homeward, leaving a couple of pinnaces to dog the Spaniards past the Scottish isles. Though the wind was contrary, they beat back against it without loss, and in four or five days the vessels, with their half-starved crews, all safely arrived in Margate Roads, having done the noblest service that fleet ever rendered to a country in the hour of supreme peril.

85. Meanwhile, so much as remained of the Invincible Armada was buffeted to and fro by the resistless gale, like a shuttlecock between two invisible players. The monster left its bones on the iron-bound shore of Norway and on the granite cliffs of the Hebrides. Its course could be traced by its wrecks. Day followed day, and still God’s wrath endured. On the 5th of August Admiral Oguendo, in his flag-ship, together with one of the great galliasses and thirty-eight other vessels, were driven by the fury of the tempest upon the rocks and reefs of Ireland, and nearly every soul on board perished. Of one hundred and thirty-four vessels which, gay with gold and amid triumphal shouts and loud music, had sailed from Corunna July 12th, only fifty-three battered and useless hulks returned to the ports of Spain.

86. The fate and exploits of the Armada are graphically summed up in the emphatic language of Sir Francis Drake. “It is happily manifested,” he says, “indeed, to all nations how their navy which they termed invincible, consisting of nearly one hundred and forty sail of ships, were by thirty of her Majesty’s ships of war, and a few of our own merchants, by the wise and advantageous conduct of Lord Charles Howard, High Admiral of England, beaten and shuffled together from Lizard in Cornwall to Portland, from Portland to Calais; and from Calais, driven by squibs from their anchors, were chased out of sight of England, round about Scotland and Ireland. With all their great and terrible ostentation, they did not, in all their sailing round about England, so much as sink or take one ship, bark, pinnace, or cock-boat of ours, or even burn so much as one sheep-cote on the land.”


Preface  •  Chapter I. Defense of Freedom By Greek Valor  •  Chapter II. Crusades and the Crusaders  •  Chapter III. Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes  •  Chapter IV. Bruce and Bannockburn  •  Chapter V. Columbus and the New World  •  Chapter VI. Defence of Freedom On Dutch Dikes  •  Chapter VII. The Invincible Armada  •  Chapter VIII. Freedom’s Voyage to America  •  Chapter IX. Plassey; and How An Empire Was Won  •  Chapter X. Lexington and Bunker Hill

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Ten Great Events in History (Large Print Edition)
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