The gunnery battle the next day cripples the Great Armada.
Today’s installment concludes Defeat of the Spanish Armada,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851.
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Previously in Defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Place: English Channel
Drake and Fenner were the first English captains who attacked the unwieldy leviathans; then came Fenton, Southwell, Burton, Cross, Raynor, and then the lord admiral, with Lord Thomas Howard and Lord Sheffield. The Spaniards only thought of forming and keeping close together, and were driven by the English past Dunkirk, and far away from the Prince of Parma, who, in watching their defeat from the coast, must, as Drake expressed it, have chafed like a bear robbed of her whelps. This was indeed the last and the decisive battle between the two fleets. It is, perhaps, best described in the very words of the contemporary writer, as we may read them in Hakluyt:
Upon the 29 of July in the morning, the Spanish fleet after the forsayd tumult, having arranged themselues againe into order, were, within sight of Greveling, most bravely and furiously encountered by the English, where they once again got the wind of the Spaniards, who suffered themselues to be deprived of the commodity of the place in Caleis road, and of the advantage of the wind neer unto Dunkerk, rather than they would change their array or separate their forces now conjoyned and united together, standing only upon their defense.
“And albeit there were many excellent and warlike ships in the English fleet, yet scarce were there 22 or 23 among them all, which matched 90 of the Spanish ships in the bigness, or could conveniently assault them. Wherefore the English shippes using their prerogative of nimble steerage, whereby they could turn and wield themselues with the wind which way they listed, came often times very near upon the Spaniards, and charged them so sore that now and then they were but a pike’s length asunder; and so continually giving them one broad side after another, they discharged all their shot, both great and small, upon them, spending one whole day, from morning till night, in that violent kind of conflict, untill such time as powder and bullets failed them.
“In regard of which want they thought it convenient not to pursue the Spaniards any longer, because they had many great advantages of the English, namely, for the extraordinary bigness of their shippes, and also for that they were so neerely conjoyned, and kept together in so good array, that they could by no meanes be fought withall one to one. The English thought, therefore, that they had right well acquitted themselues in chasing the Spaniards first from Caleis, and then from Dunkerk, and by that means to have hindered them from joyning with the Duke of Parma his forces, and getting the wind of them, to have driven them from their own coasts.
“The Spaniards that day sustained great loss and damage, having many of their shippes shot thorow and thorow, and they discharged likewise great store of ordinance against the English, who, indeed, sustained some hinderance, but not comparable to the Spaniards’ loss; for they lost not any one ship or person of account; for very diligent inquisition being made, the Englishmen all the time wherein the Spanish navy sayled upon their seas, are not found to haue wanted aboue one hundred of their people; albeit Sir Francis Drake’s ship was pierced with shot aboue forty times, and his very cabben was twice shot thorow, and about the conclusion of the fight, the bed of a certaine gentleman lying weary thereupon, was taken quite from under him with the force of a bullet.
“Likewise, as the Earle of Northumberland and Sir Charles Blunt were at dinner upon a time, the bullet of a demy-culvering brake thorow the middest of their cabben, touched their feet, and strooke downe two of the standers-by. With many such accidents befalling the English shippes, which it were tedious to rehearse.”
It reflects little credit on the English government that the English fleet was so deficiently supplied with ammunition as to be unable to complete the destruction of the invaders. But enough was done to insure it. Many of the largest Spanish ships were sunk or captured in the action of this day. And at length the Spanish admiral, despairing of success, fled northward with a southerly wind, in the hope of rounding Scotland, and so returning to Spain without a further encounter with the English fleet.
Lord Effingham left a squadron to continue the blockade of the Prince of Parma’s armament; but that wise general soon withdrew his troops to more promising fields of action. Meanwhile the lord admiral himself, and Drake, chased the “vincible” armada, as it was now termed, for some distance northward; and then, when they seemed to bend away from the Scotch coast toward Norway, it was thought best, in the words of Drake, “to leave them to those boisterous and uncouth northern seas.”
The sufferings and losses which the unhappy Spaniards sustained in their flight round Scotland and Ireland are well known. Of their whole armada only fifty-three shattered vessels brought back their beaten and wasted crews to the Spanish coast, which they had quitted in such pageantry and pride.
Some passages from the writings of those who took part in the struggle have been already quoted, and the most spirited description of the defeat of the armada which ever was penned may perhaps be taken from the letter which our brave vice-admiral Drake wrote in answer to some mendacious stories by which the Spaniards strove to hide their shame. Thus does he describe the scenes in which he played so important a part:*
[*] Strype, and the notes to the Life of Drake, in the Biographia Britannica.
They were not ashamed to publish, in sundry languages in print, great victories in words, which they pretended to have obtained against this realm, and spread the same in a most false sort over all parts of France, Italy, and elsewhere; when, shortly afterward, it was happily manifested in very deed to all nations, how their navy, which they termed invincible, consisting of one hundred forty sail of ships, not only of their own kingdom, but strengthened with the greatest argosies, Portugal carracks, Florentines, and large hulks of other countries, were by thirty of her majesty’s own ships of war, and a few of our own merchants, by the wise, valiant, and advantageous conduct of the Lord Charles Howard, high admiral of England, beaten and shuffled together even from the Lizard in Cornwall, first to Portland, when they shamefully left Don Pedro de Valdez with his mighty ship; from Portland to Calais, where they lost Hugh de Moncado, with the galleys of which he was captain; and from Calais, driven with squibs from their anchors, were chased out of the sight of England, round about Scotland and Ireland; where, for the sympathy of their religion, hoping to find succor and assistance, a great part of them were crushed against the rocks, and those others that landed, being very many in number, were, notwithstanding, broken, slain, and taken, and so sent from village to village, coupled in halters to be shipped into England, where her majesty, of her princely and invincible disposition, disdaining to put them to death, and scorning either to retain or to entertain them, they were all sent back again to their countries, to witness and recount the worthy achievements of their invincible and dreadful navy. Of which the number of soldiers, the fearful burden of their ships, the commanders’ names of every squadron, with all others, their magazines of provision, were put in print, as an army and navy irresistible and disdaining prevention; with all which their great and terrible ostentation, they did not in all their sailing round about England so much as sink or take one ship, barque, pinnace, or cock-boat of ours, or even burn so much as one sheep-cote on this land.”
This ends our series of passages on Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Edward Creasy from his book The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo published in 1851. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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