A brief telling of England and its Sailing Men

Herein lie tales of the Elizabethan men and women of the seas. While many infamous and popular pirates and privateers plied the ocean waves in the 17th and 18th centuries, we will leave their history to other sources.

On the seas there were no Ten Commandments, and trade existed by permission of piracy. Small pirate craft used the inlets of the British coast as lairs and thence sallied forth to seize what they could; if the victims were Spanish the English could enjoy the religious fervor of plundering a papist. Bold men like John Hawkins and Francis Drake fitted out substantial privateers and took all the oceans for their province. Elizabeth disowned but did not disturb them, for she saw in the privateers the makings of a navy, and in these buccaneers her future admirals. The Huguenot port of La Rochelle became a favorite rendezvous of English, Dutch and Huguenot vessels, which “preyed of Catholic commerce under whatever flag it sailed,” and, in need, on Protestant commerce too.

From such piracy the buccaneers passed to that lucrative trade in slaves which the Portuguese had opened up a century before. In the Spanish colonies of America the natives were dying out from toil too arduous for their climate and constitutions. S demand arose for a sturdier breed of laborers. Las Casas himself, defender of the natives, suggested to Charles I of Spain that African Negroes, stronger than the Caribbean Indians, should be transported to America, to do the heavy work for the Spaniards there. Charles consented, but Philip II condemned the trade and instructed the Spanish-American governors to prevent the importation of slaves except under license –
costly and rare – by the home administration. Aware that some governors were evading these restrictions, Hawkins led three ships to Africa (1562), captured three hundred Negroes, took them to the West Indies, and sold them to Spanish settlers in exchange for sugar, spices and drugs. Back in England, he induced Lord Pembroke and others to invest in a second venture, and persuaded Elizabeth to put one of her best vessels at his disposal. In 1564 he headed sought with four ships, seized four hundred African Negroes, sailed for the West Indies, sold them to Spaniards under threat of his guns if they refused to buy, and returned home to be hailed as a hero and share his spoils with his backers and the Queen, who made 60 per cent on her investment. In 1567, she lent him her ship the Jesus; with this and four other vessels he sailed to Africa, captured all the Negroes his holds could stow, sold them in Spanish America at £160 a head, and was homeward bound with loot valued at £100,000 when a Spanish Fleet caught him off the Mexican coast at San Juan de Ulúa, and destroyed all of his fleet but two small tenders, in which Hawkins, after a thousand perils, returned empty-handed to England (1569).
  [Continued under Sir Francis Drake]

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

William Baffin (1584-1622)

William Baffin explored the bay and the island that bear his name, ventured as far north as 77o 45′ − a latitude not reached again for 236 years − and had the further distinction of first finding longitude by observation of the moon.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

Thomas Button (15??-1613)

An early explorer of Canada in search of the Northwest Passage.  “Hudson Bay” was originally called Button’s Bay after he crossed it and explored it’s west coast.

Thomas Cavendish (1555?-1592)

Cavendish explored southern South America, accomplished the third circumnavigation of the globe, and died at sea (1592).

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

Drake was followed by Thomas Cavendish who took the Portuguese Madre de Dios, a ship of 1,600 tons. The ship was poorly guarded when it [docked in] England and the majority of its cargo was looted. Even so, £150,000 was left on board when an inventory was taken.


Thomas Cavendish

George de Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558-1605)

The days of the Privateers based in Europe were ending. The Spanish were putting up a better defense. In 1594, the Cinque Chagas, a huge ship richly laden, beat off attacks by the Earl of Cumberland’s three ships and finally burned before it could be taken. Richard Hawkins, son of Sir John Hawkins, was captured at Callao and remained a Spanish prisoner for some years. Cumberland mounted another voyage in 1597 but it was a financial failure.


John Davys (1550-1605)

Four years later John Davys pushed through the strait now named for him; then he fought the Armada, went off to the South Seas with Thomas Cavendish, discovered the Falkland Islands, and was killed by Japanese pirates near Singapore (1605).

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

Sir Francis Drake (1545?-1596)

[Continued from leading paragraphs]
Among the survivors of that voyage was Hawkins’ young kinsman Francis Drake. Educated at Hawkins’ expense, Drake became, so to speak, a native of the sea. At twenty-two he commanded a ship on Hawkins’ futile expedition; at twenty-three, having lost everything but his reputation for bravery, he vowed vengeance against Spain; at twenty-five he received a privateer’s commission from Elizabeth. In 1573, aged twenty-eight, he captured a convoy of silver bullion off the coast of Panama and returned to England rich and revenged. Elizabeth’s councilors kept him in hiding for three years while Spain cried out for his death. Then Leicester, Walsingham, and Hatton fitted out for him four small vessels, totaling 375 tons; with these he sailed from Plymouth on November 15, 1577, on what turned out to be the second circumnavigation of the glove. As his fleet issued from the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific, it ran into a heavy storm; the ships were scattered and never reunited; Drake alone, in the Pelican, moved up the west coast of the Americas to San Francisco, raiding Spanish vessels on the way. Then he turned boldly westward to the Philippines, sailed through the Moluccas to Java, across the Indian Ocean to Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and up the Atlantic to reach Plymouth on September 26, 1580, thirty-four months after leaving it. He brought with him £600,000 of booty, of which £275,000 were handed over to the Queen. England hailed him as the greatest seaman and pirate of the age. Elizabeth dined on his ship and dubbed him knight.
For a time the war for the world was between himself and Spain. In 1585, financed by his friends and the Queen, he fitted out thirty vessels and sallied forth against the Spanish Empire. He entered the Estuary of Vigo in northwest Spain, plundered the port of Vigo, disrobed a statue of the Virgin, and carried away the precious metals and costly vestments of the churches. He sailed on to the Canary and Cape Verde islands, pillaged the largest of them, crossed the Atlantic, raided Santo Domingo, took £30,000 as a douceur not to destroy the Colombian city of Cartagena, plundered and burned the town of St. Augustine in Florida, and returned to England (1586) only because yellow fever had killed a third of his crew.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

Sir Francis Drake

Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex (1566-1601)

… enjoyed a “corner” on the importation of sweet wines …

Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, surpassed even Raleigh in fascination. He had Walter’s ambition and verve and pride, a little more of his hot temper, a little less of his wit, much more of generosity and noblesse oblige. He was a man of action enamored of intellect – victor in jousts and on the athletic field, distinguished for bravery and audacity in war, yet also the helpful and appreciative friend of poets and philosophers. When his mother became Leicester’s second wife, Leicester advanced him at court to offset Raleigh’s ingratiating charm. The Queen, fifty-three, fell maternally in love with the high-strung, handsome lad of twenty (1587); here was a son to console her childlessness. They talked, rode, heard music, played cards together, and “my Lord,” said a gossip, “cometh not to his own lodging till birds sing in the morning.” Her aging heart suffered when he secretly married Philip Sidney’s widow; but she soon forgave him, and by 1593 he was a member of the Privy Council. However, he was poorly fitted for court life or statesmanship; “he carried his love and hate always on his face,” said his servant Cuffe, “and knew not how to hide them.” He made enemies of Raleigh, William Cecil, Robert Cecil, finally of the ungrateful Bacon and the reluctant Queen.

Essex joined the war party, and planned to make himself head of the army. His dashing bravery at Cadiz made him too popular for the Council’s taste; failure at Azores and his undiminished pride, extravagance, and sharp tongue alienated the court and irritated the Queen. When she flatly rejected his recommendation of Sir George Carew for office in Ireland, he turned his back on her with a gesture of contempt. Furious, she boxed his ears and cried, “Go to the Devil”” He grasped his sword and shouted at her, “This is an outrage that I will not put up with. I would not have none it from your father’s hands.” He rushed in anger from the room, and all the court expected him to be clapped into the Tower (1598). Elizabeth did nothing. On the contrary –
or was it to get rid of him? – a few months later she appointed him Lord Deputy for Ireland.

[John Donne] shipped with Essex in 1596, helped raid Cádiz, and shipped with him again in 1597 to the Azores and Spain.

When Essex importuned the Cecils and Elizabeth to give Bacon the vacant office of attorney general, his appeals were in vain; Edward Coke, older and technically more fit, was chosen instead. Essex took the blame handsomely, and gave Bacon an estate at Twickenham with £1,800. Before Bacon could use this he suffered a brief and genteel imprisonment for debt. In 1597 he was appointed to the “Learned Council” of lawyers who advised the Privy Council.

Bacon had cautioned him not to seek that ungrateful task of countering a faith by force; but Essex wanted an army. On March 27, 1599, he left for Dublin amid the acclamations of the populace, the misgivings of his friends, and the satisfaction of his enemies. Six months later, having failed in his mission, he hurried back to England without permission of the Queen, rushed unannounced into her dressing room, and tried to explain his actions in Ireland. She listened to him with patient wrath, and had him committed to the custody of the Lord Keeper at York House until the charges against him could be heard.

The people of London murmured, for they were ignorant of his failure and remembered his victories. The Privy Council ordered a semi public trial, and commissioned Bacon – as a member of the Learned Council and as a lawyer pledged to defend the Queen – to draw up a statement of the charges. He asked to be excused; they insisted; he consented. The indictment he formulated was moderate; Essex acknowledged its truth and offered humble submission. He was suspended from his offices and was told to remain in his own home till the Queen should be pleased to free him (June 5, 1600). Bacon pleaded for him and on August 26 Essex was restored to liberty.

Now in his own Essex House, he continued his search for power. One of his intimates was Shakespeare’s patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; him Essex sent to Ireland to propose that Mountjoy, now Lord Deputy there, should return to England with the English army and help Essex take control of the government. Mountjoy refused. Early in 1601 Essex wrote to James VI of Scotland, asking his aid and promising to support him as successor to Elizabeth; James sent him a letter of encouragement. Wild rumors spread through the excited capital: that Robert Cecil was planning to make the Spanish Infanta queen of England; that Essex was to be immured in the Tower; that Raleigh had vowed to kill him. Perhaps to force Essex to show his hand, the younger Cecil induced the Queen to send Essex a message requiring him to attend the Council. His friends warned him that this was a ruse to seize him. One friend, Sir Gilly Merrick, paid the Chamberlain’s company to stage, that evening in Southwark, Shakespeare’s Richard II, showing a sovereign justly deposed.

The next morning (February 7, 1601) some three hundred supporters of Essex, fervent and armed, gathered in the courtyard of his home. When the Lord Keeper and three other dignitaries came to ask the cause of this illegal assembly, the crowd locked them up and swept the hesitant Earl on with them to London and revolution. He had hoped that the people would rise to his cause, but the preachers bade them stay indoors, and they obeyed. The forces of the government were on guard and routed the rebels. Essex was captured and lodged in the Tower.

He was quickly brought to trial on a charge of treason. The council bade Bacon help Coke in preparing the government’s case. His refusal would have ruined his political career; his consent ruined his posthumous reputation. When Coke faltered in presenting the indictment, Bacon rose and stated the matter with convincing, convicting clarity. Essex confessed his guild and named his accomplices. Five of these were arrested and beheaded. Southampton was sentenced to life imprisonment; James I later released him. Legend told how Essex sent the Queen a ring once given him by her with a promise to come to his aid if he should ever return it in his hour of need. If sent, it did not reach her. On February 25, 1601, aged thirty-five, Essex went gallantly to the fate that was the seal of his character. Raleigh, his enemy, wept when the blow fell. For a year the Tower displayed the severed and decaying head.

Robert Devereau

Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?-1594)

The advance of science appeared more dramatically in the efforts of adventurous or acquisitive spirits to explore the “great Magnet” (North America) for geographical or commercial purposes. In 1576 Sir Humphrey Gilbert published a suggestive Discourse… for a New Passage to Cataia – i.e., “Cathay,” or China – proposing a northwest sailing through or around Canada. Sir Martin Frobisher, in that year, set out with three small vessels to find such a route. One of his ships foundered, another deserted; he went ahead in the tiny twenty-five-ton Gabriel; he reached Baffin Land, but the Eskimos fought him, and he returned to England for more men and supplies. His later voyages were diverted from geography by a vain hunt for gold. Gilbert took up the quest for a northwest passage, but was drowned in the attempt (1592).

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

It is commonly taught that the English ships were smaller than the Spanish. This is a misconception caused by the practice of Spanish captains to inflate the size of their ships in order to get more compensation for their use in war. At the beginning of the 16th century the English ton was equal to the Spanish tonelada, but by the time of the Armada the tonelada had shrunken to 1/2 ton. In addition, the largest ship in the battle was the 1,100 ton Triumph under the command of Frobisher.


The English explorer Martin Frobisher created a gold fever in England in 1578 when he returned from Baffin Island with 200 tons of glittering gold ore.  Great preparations were made for getting more and more gold, but it turned out that the ore was merely iron pyrite (“fool’s gold”).  It was eventually crushed and used for road repair.


Sir Martin Frobisher

Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c. 1539 – 1583)

A favorite of the Queen, publishes Discourse to prove a passage by the northwest to Cathay and the East Indies. His ideas get the Queen’s support. She gets the court to back Martin Frobisher’s first voyage. Frobisher reaches Baffin Island, and returns with ore he thinks has gold in it.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert

Bartholomew Gosnold (1571?-1607)

In 1602 he sailed westward to what was to become New England in his ship Concord.

During that journey which is well documented, Gosnold named Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard (after his infant daughter who died and is buried in the Great churchyard in Bury St Edmunds).

Five years later in 1607, he returned on the ship Godspeed and was instrumental in establishing the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown in Virginia.

Bartholomew Gosnold

Admiral Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595)

Elizabeth was as careful with ducats as the Pope. Wary of peculation in the navy, she demanded account of every shilling spent by navy and army before, during and after the battle; Howard and Hawkins made up out of their own pockets whatever discrepancies they could not explain. Elizabeth, expecting a long war, had kept the crews and troops on short rations and low pay. Now a violent disease, akin to typhus, ran through the returning men; on some vessels half the crew died or were disabled; and Hawkins wondered what England’s fate would have been had the epidemic preceded the enemy.

Drake and Hawkins made another sally to the West Indies (1593), but they quarreled and died on the way.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

The English had been fishing in Newfoundland since the days of Henry VIII, but the first Englishman to deal directly with the Spanish colonies was John Hawkins. He established a triad, sailing first to Africa for slaves, then to the New World to sell them, and finally back to England. The voyages were ostensibly peaceful and Elizabeth (a shareholder in the enterprise) heartily approved.

Spain took a different view of the proceedings. In their eyes Hawkins was a pirate and the governors of the various islands made what token show of force they could before surrendering to Hawkins, who would then start offering his goods. Despite the fact that Hawkins was their military superior, various governors were arrested for allowing him entry. On the third voyage, Hawkins’ fleet was surprised in Vera Cruz by the flota, the fleet that was to carry the silver back to Spain. After arranging a truce, the Spanish launched a surprise dawn attack. Hawkins escaped with only two ships, his own Minion with 14 survivors and the Judith which was commanded by Francis Drake.


Sir John Hawkins

Lord Admiral Thomas Howard (1561-1626), 1st Earl of Suffolk

The naval war continued till Philip’s death (1598). Drake took a fleet and fifteen thousand men to help the Portuguese in their revolt against Spain (1598); but the Portuguese hated Protestants more than Spaniards, the English drank themselves drunk on captured wine, and the expedition ended in failure and disgrace. Lord Thomas Howard led a fleet to the Azores to intercept the Spanish flota bringing silver and gold to Spain; but Philip’s new Armada put Howard’s ships to flight –
except the Revenge, which, caught lagging behind the rest, fought fifteen Spanish ships heroically until overcome (1591).

Thomas, Earl of Suffolk, built Audley End at a cost of £199,000, “mainly procured from Spanish bribes,”. . .

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

Henry Hudson (c.1570 – d. 1611)

Henry Hudson navigated the Hudson River (1609), and, in another voyage, reached Hudson Bay; but his crew, maddened with hardships and longing for home, mutinied and set him adrift, with eight others, in a small open boat (1611); they were never heard of again.

Taking the planet for their province, the Dutch sent ships to seek a Northwest Passage to China. In 1609 they hired an English captain, Henry Hudson, to explore the Hudson River.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant. 

Henry Hudson

Grace O’ Malley (1530-?)

Gráinne Ni Mháille, or Gráinne Mhaol, was known to the English as Grace O’Malley. This Irish noblewoman, born in about 1530, became a skilled seafarer. She had a large fleet of galleys based in Clew Bay, on Ireland’s west coast. Her pirates raided the Irish coast and attacked Atlantic shipping from the 1560’s. She negotiated a royal pardon in 1593 and retired.

Pirates, Philip Steele

John Oxenham (?-?)

As Spain tried to stop the smugglers, many of the foreign captains turned to privateering and outright piracy. The Dutch banded together under the name “Sea-Beggars” with commissions from the Prince of Orange. Huguenot privateers were sailing for the Prince of Conde. English ships joined both of these groups.

By 1571 relations between England and Spain were so strained that Drake felt safe in raiding the Spanish Main. He enjoyed great success between 1571 and 1573, capturing three mule-trains of silver and returning to England with £30,000.

Drake was followed by John Oxenham who had some initial successes but was captured by the Spanish. He was sent to Lima and questioned by both the civil authorities and the Inquisition. He died at the hands of the religious authorities.


Digorie Piper (?-1589/90?)

Captain Digorie Piper came from a Cornish family.   In 1585 he was authorized to command a ship called the Sweepstake and to attack Spanish shipping.  Instead, he and his partner, Richard Hodges, became pirates and preyed upon shipping up and down the Channel.  On June 10 1586 they were brought before Dr. Julius Caesar.  Both made confessions; they accepted the extreme penalty and were bound over to make full recompense to their victims.  Piper died deeply in debt and was buried in his hometown of Launceston on January 20, 1589/90.

[John Dowland composed a musical piece for this man, called “Captaine Piper his Galiard.”]


Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

Raleigh was almost the complete Elizabethan man: gentleman, soldier, mariner, adventurer, poet, philosopher, orator, historian, martyr; here was the uomo universale of Renaissance dreams, who touched genius at every point, but never let the part become the whole. Born in Devonshire in 1552, entered at Oxford in 1568 he fled from books into life and joined a gallant group of pedigreed volunteers who crossed to France to fight for the Huguenots. Six years in those wars may have taught him some of the unscrupulous violence of action and reckless audacity of speech that molded his later fate. Back in England (1575), he forced himself to study law, but in 1578 he went off again as a volunteer to help the Dutch against Spain. Two years later he was in Ireland as a captain in the army that put down Desmond’s rebellion, and he played no hesitant part in the Smerwich massacre. Elizabeth rewarded him with twelve thousand acres in Ireland and favor at her court. Pleased with his figure, his compliments*, and his wit, she listened with less than her customary skepticism to his proposal for English colonies in America; she gave him a charter, and in 1584 he sent out, but did not accompany, the first of several expeditions that tried –
and failed – to establish a settlement in Virginia; only the name survived, as a lasting memorial to the Queen’s inaccessibility. Elizabeth Throckmorton, a maid of honor, proved more approachable; she accepted Raleigh as her lover, and secretly married him (1593). As no member of the court might marry without the Queen’s consent, the ardent couple received an unexpected honeymoon in the Tower. Raleigh earned release – without banishment from the court – by writing to Burghley a letter describing the Queen as an amalgam of all the perfections in history.

He retired to his Sherborne estate, planned voyages and discoveries, played with atheism, and wrote poetry whose every line had a characteristic tang and sting. But two years of quiet exhausted his stability. With the help of Lord Admiral Howard and Robert Cecil, he fitted out five vessels and headed for South America, seeking El Dorado – a fabled land of golden palaces, rivers running gold, and Amazons with undiminished charms. He sailed a hundred miles up the Orinoco, but found no female warriors and no gold. Baffled by rapids and falls, he returned to England empty-handed; but he told how the American natives had marveled at the beauty of the Queen when he showed them her portrait; and soon he was readmitted to the court. His eloquent account The Discovery of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana reaffirmed his faith that “the sun covereth not so much riches in any part of the world” as the region of the Orinoco. Tirelessly, he preached the desirability of getting America’s wealth out of Spanish into English hands; and he phrased the doctrine of sea power perfectly: “Whoever commands the sea commands the trade; whoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself”

In 1596 he joined the expedition to Cádiz, fought as vigorously as he wrote, and received a wound in the leg. The Queen now “used him graciously” and made him captain of the guard. In 1597 he commanded part of the fleet that Essex led to the Azores. Separated from the rest by a storm, Raleigh’s squadron encountered and defeated the enemy. Essex never forgave him for preempting victory.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

*The tale of his coat in the mud beneath her feet is a legend.

(Bettmann Archive)

Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral and Baron Seymour of Sudeley (c.1508-1549)

Younger brother of Jane Seymour. Fourth husband of Katherine Parr, one time suitor of Princess Elizabeth. Executed for treason in the reign of Edward VI.


Captain John Smith (1580 – 1631)

Founder of the English colony in Virginia. He informed Hudson that there was a passage to the Pacific Ocean (the ‘Western Sea’) north of Virginia (below 40°), possibly through a river or inlet. Smith sent him charts. Hudson probably intended to visit Smith in Virginia, and came close in 1609, but turned North instead. He may have been afraid the English would fire on his Dutch ship before they found out who was its captain.

“[They] hide themselves in trees covering their head and letting the other part hang down like a rope.  In those trees they watch until the Elephant comes to eat and croppe off the branches, then suddainly, before he be aware, they leape into his face and digge out his eyes, and with their tayles or hinder partes, beate and vexe the Elephant, untill they have made him breathlesse, for they strangle him with theyr foreparts, as they beat him with the hinder.”

Edward Topsell
Historie of Serpentes, 1608

A Brief Telling of the Battle Against the Spanish Armada.

On February 8, 1587, the English government put to death the Scottish Queen. Philip informed Sixtus V that he was now ready to invade England and dethrone Elizabeth. He asked the Pope to contribute 2,000,000 gold crowns; Sixtus offered 600,000, to be paid to Spain only if the invasion actually occurred. Philip bade his best admiral, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, to prepare the largest armada so far known in history. Ships were gathered or built at Lisbon, stores were assembled at Cádiz.

Drake urged Elizabeth to give him a fleet to destroy the Armada before it could take irresistible form. She consented, and on April 2, 1587, with thirty ships, he hurried out from Plymouth before she could change her mind. She did, but too late to reach him. On April 16 he ran his fleet into Cádiz harbor, maneuvered out of range of the batteries on the shore, sank a Spanish man-of war, raided the transports and store ships, captured their cargoes, set all enemy vessels on fire, and departed unharmed. He anchored off Lisbon and challenged Santa Cruz to come out and fight. The Marquis refused, for his ships were not yet armed. Drake moved north to La Coruña and seized great stores collected there; then to the Azores, where he took a Spanish galleon. With it in tow he returned to England. Even the Spaniards marveled at his audacity and seamanship, and said that “were it not that he was a Lutheran, there was not the like man in the world.”

Philip patiently rebuilt his fleet. The marquis of Santa Cruz died (January 1588); Philip replaced him with the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, a grandee with more pedigree than competence. When finally the Armada was complete, it numbered 130 vessels, averaging 445 tons; half the sips were cargo carriers, half were men-of -war; 8,050 sailors manned them, 19,000 soldiers sailed. Philip and his admirals thought of naval warfare in ancient terms –
to grapple and board the enemy and fight man to man; the English plan was to sink the enemy’s ships, with their crowded crews, by broadside fire. Philip instructed his fleet not to seek out and attack the English squadrons, but to seize some English beachhead, cross to Flanders, and take on board the 30,000 troops that the Duke of Parma had ready there; so reinforced, the Spanish were to march on London. Meanwhile a letter composed by Cardinal Allen (April 1588) was smuggled into England, bidding the Catholics join the Spanish in deposing their “usurping, heretic, prostitute” Queen. To help restore Catholicism in England, hundreds of monks accompanied the Armada, under the vicar general of the Inquisition. A devout religious spirit moved the Spanish mission; prostitutes were sent away, profanity subsided, gambling ceased. On the morning when the fleet sailed from Lisbon (May 29, 1955), every man on board received the Eucharist, and all Spain prayed.

The winds favored Elizabeth; the Armada ran into a damaging storm; it took refuge in the harbor of La Coruña, healed its wounds, and set forth again (July 12). England awaited it in a feverish mixture of divided counsels, hurried preparations, and desperate resolve. Now the time had come for Elizabeth to spend the sums that she had saved through thirty years of skimping and deviltry. Her people, Catholic as well as Protestant, came manfully to her rescue; volunteer militia trained in the towns; London merchants financed regiments and asked to fit out fifteen ships, for the Queen’s navy; Drake was now a vice-admiral. Privateers brought their own vessels to the fateful rendezvous. Early in July 1588 the full compliment of eighty-two ships, under command of Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham, as Lord High Admiral of England, gathered at Plymouth to greet the advancing foe.

On July 19 the vanguard of the Armada was sighted in the mouth of the Channel. The defending fleet sailed out of Plymouth, and on the twenty-first the action began. The Spaniards waited for the English to come close enough for grappling; instead, the light English vessels-
built to low lines and narrow beam –
scurried around the heavy Spanish galleons, firing broadsides as they went. The Spanish decks were too high; their guns fired too far above the English vessels, doing only minor damage; the English boats ran beneath the fire, and their maneuverability and speed left the Spaniards helpless and confused. As night fell they fled before the wind,, leaving one of their ships to be taken by Drake. Another [San Salvador] was blown up, reportedly by a mutinous German gunner, and the wreck fell into English hands. Luckily, both ships contained ammunition, which was soon transferred to the Queen’s fleet. On the twenty-fourth more ammunition came, but still the English had only enough for a day’s fighting. On the twenty-fifth, near the Isle of Wight, Howard led an attack; his flagship sailed into the center of the Armada, exchanging broadsides with every galleon that it passed; and the superior accuracy of the English fire broke the Spanish morale. “The enemy pursue me,” wrote Medina-Sidonia that night to the Duke of Parma; “they fire on me from morn till dark, but they will not grapple . . . There is no remedy for they are swift and we are slow.” He begged Parma to send him ammunition and reinforcements, but Parma’s ports were blockaded by Dutch ships.

On the twenty-seventh the Armada anchored in Calais roads. On the twenty-eighth Drake set fire to eight small and dispensable vessels and placed them in the wind to sail amid the Spanish fleet. Fearing them, Medina-Sidonia ordered his ships to put out to sea. On the twenty-ninth Drake attacked them off the French coast at Gravelines, in the main action of the war. The Spaniards fought bravely, but with poor seamanship and gunnery. At noon Howard’s squadron came up, and the full English fleet poured such fire into the Armada that many of its ships were disabled and some were sunk; their wooden hulls, though three feet thick, were penetrated by the English shot; thousands of Spaniards were killed; blood could be seen flowing from the decks into the sea. At the close of that day the Armada had lost four thousand men; four thousand more were wounded, and the surviving vessels were with difficulty kept afloat. Seeing that his crews could bear no more, Medina-Sidonia gave orders to withdraw. On the thirtieth the wind carried the broken fleet into the North Sea. The English followed them as far north as the Firth of Forth; then lacking food an ammunition, they returned to port. They had lost sixty men and not one ship.

For the remnants of the armada there was no haven nearer than Spain itself. Scotland was hostile, and Irish ports were held by English troops. Desperately the injured ships and starving men made their way around the British Isles. The water was rough and the wind was wild; masts were shattered and sails were torn; day after day some vessel sand or was abandoned, dead men were dropped into the sea. Seventeen ships were wrecked on the rugged Irish shores; at Sligo alone 1,100 drowned Spaniards were washed up on the beach. Some of the crews made landings in Ireland and begged for food and drink; they were refused, and hundreds, too weak to fight, were massacred by the half-savage denizens of the coasts. Of the 130 vessels that had left Spain, 54 returned; of 27,000 men, 10,000 most of them wounded or sick. Philip, learning of the prolonged disaster day by day, shut himself up in his Escorial cell, and none dared speak to him. Sixtus C, pleading that no invasion of England had occurred, sent not one ducat to bankrupt Spain.

The Age of Reason Begins, Will and Ariel Durant.

That night Drake left the fleet in order to take the damaged Rosario which could not keep up with the rest of the Spanish. He was following Queen Elizabeth’s orders in doing this. The Queen was determined to make a profit even in the defense of her kingdom
The following morning, Tuesday, August 2, the wind changed to the northeast. With the wind on their side the Spanish moved to cut off Frobisher’s five ships from the rest of the English fleet. They had mistaken Frobisher’s Triumph, the largest ship in either fleet, for Howard’s flagship.

Howard and Drake knew the wind would change again and took up a position to take advantage of this. When the wind did change in mid-afternoon they led a savage counter-attack. The day ended with the Spanish fleet still in perfect formation.

By this time the English were running short on gunpowder. Wednesday, August 3 was spent collecting powder from nearby English ports. Several captains volunteered their ships at the same time and by Thursday Howard had over 100 ships. The fleet was divided into four squadrons commanded by Howard, Drake, Frobisher and Hawkins.

In the meantime the Spanish had decided to take shelter off the Isle of Wight until the Duke of Parma was prepared to cross the channel. The Duke sent back word that he would not be ready for at least two weeks.

On Thursday, August 4, Howard summoned Frobisher and Hawkins to his flagship and knighted them.

The day began calm, which gave the Spanish an advantage because of their oared galleasses. In order to meet them the English had to have their ships towed by longboats. Frobisher was again nearly trapped but a wind sprang up and he slipped past, leaving the two fastest Spanish ships in his wake. In the meantime Drake and Hawkins attacked the right flank, causing it to crowd the center and pushing the entire Spanish fleet into a bank of shoals known as The Owers. Realizing what was happening, the Spanish commander, Medina-Sidonia, withdrew his fleet from the Isle of Wight and headed for France.