The ships of the royal navy at this time amounted to no more than thirty-six . .. .
Continuing 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. The selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Place: English Channel
At the time of the armada, that policy certainly saved the country, if not from conquest, at least from deplorable calamities. If, indeed, the enemy had landed, we may be sure that he would have been heroically opposed. But history shows us so many examples of the superiority of veteran troops over new levies, however numerous and brave, that, without disparaging our countrymen’s soldierly merits, we may well be thankful that no trial of them was then made on English land. Especially must we feel this when we contrast the high military genius of the Prince of Parma, who would have headed the Spaniards, with the imbecility of the Earl of Leicester, to whom the deplorable spirit of favoritism, which formed the great blemish on Elizabeth’s character, had then committed the chief command of the English armies.
The ships of the royal navy at this time amounted to no more than thirty-six; but the most serviceable merchant vessels were collected from all the ports of the country; and the citizens of London, Bristol, and the other great seats of commerce showed as liberal a zeal in equipping and manning vessels as the nobility and gentry displayed in mustering forces by land. The seafaring population of the coast, of every rank and station, was animated by the same ready spirit; and the whole number of seamen who came forward to man the English fleet was 17,472; the number of the ships that were collected was 191; and the total amount of their tonnage, 31,985. There was one ship in the fleet — the Triumph — of 1100 tons, one of 1000, one of 900, two of 800 each, three of 600, five of 500, five of 400, six of 300, six of 250, twenty of 200, and the residue of inferior burden.
Application was made to the Dutch for assistance; and, as Stowe expresses it:
The Hollanders came roundly in with three-score sail, brave ships of war, fierce and full of spleen, not so much for England’s aid as in just occasion for their own defense, these men foreseeing the greatness of the danger that might ensue if the Spaniard should chance to win the day and get the mastery over them; in due regard whereof, their manly courage was inferior to none.
We have more minute information of the number and equipment of the hostile forces than we have of our own. In the first volume of Hakluyt’s Voyages, dedicated to Lord Effingham, who commanded against the armada, there is given — from the contemporary foreign writer Meteran — a more complete and detailed catalogue than has perhaps ever appeared of a similar armament:
A very large and particular description of this navie was put in print and published by the Spaniards, wherein were set downe the number, names, and burthens of the shippes, the number of mariners and soldiers throughout the whole fleete; likewise the quantitie of their ordinance, of their armor, of bullets, of match, of gun-poulder, of victuals, and of all their navall furniture was in the saide description particularized.
Unto all these were added the names of the governours, captaines, noblemen, and gentlemen voluntaries, of whom there was so great a multitude that scarce was there any family of accompt, or any one principall man throughout all Spaine that had not a brother, sonne, or kinsman in that fleete; who all of them were in good hope to purchase unto themselves in that navie — as they termed it — invincible, endless glory and renown, and to possess themselves of great seigniories and riches in England and in the Low Countreys. But because the said description was translated and published out of Spanish into divers other languages, we will here only make an abridgement or brief rehearsal thereof.
“Portugall furnished and set foorth under the conduct of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, generall of the fleete, 10 galeons, 2 zabraes, 1300 mariners, 3300 souldiers, 300 great pieces, with all requisite furniture.
“Biscay, under the conduct of John Martines de Ricalde, admiral of the whole fleete, set forth 10 galeons, 4 pataches, 700 mariners, 2000 souldiers, 250 great pieces, etc.
“Guipusco, under the conduct of Michael de Oquendo, 10 galeons, 4 pataches, 700 mariners, 2000 souldiers, 310 great pieces.
“Italy, with the Levant islands, under Maitine de Vertendona, 10 galeons, 800 mariners, 2000 souldiers, 310 great pieces, etc.
“Castile, under Diego Flores de Valdez, 14 galeons, 2 pataches, 1700 mariners, 2400 souldiers, and 380 great pieces, etc.
“Andaluzia, under the conduct of Petro de Valdez, 10 galeons, 1 patache, 800 mariners, 2400 souldiers, 280 great pieces, etc.
“Item, under the conduct of John Lopez de Medina, 23 great Flemish hulkes, with 700 mariners, 3200 souldiers, and 400 great pieces.
“Item, under Hugo de Moncada, 4 galliasses, containing 1200 gally-slaves, 460 mariners, 870 souldiers, 200 great pieces, etc.
“Item, under Diego de Mandrana, 4 gallies of Portugall, with 888 gally-slaves, 360 mariners, 20 great pieces, and other requisite furniture.
“Item, under Anthonie de Mendoza, 22 pataches and zabraes, with 574 mariners, 488 souldiers, and 193 great pieces.
“Besides the ships aforementioned, there were 20 caravels rowed with oares, being appointed to performe necessary services under the greater ships, insomuch that all the ships appertayning to this navie amounted unto the summe of 150, eche one being sufficiently provided of furniture and victuals.
“The number of mariners in the saide fleete were above 8000, of slaves 2088, of souldiers 20,000 — besides noblemen and gentlemen voluntaries; of great cast pieces, 2600. The aforesaid ships were of an huge and incredible capacitie and receipt, for the whole fleete was large enough to containe the burthen of 60,000 tunnes.
“The galeons were 64 in number, being of an huge bignesse, and very flately built, being of marveilous force also, and so high that they resembled great castles, most fit to defend themselves and to withstand any assault, but in giving any other ships the encounter fair inferiour unto the English and Dutch ships, which can with great dexteritie wield and turne themselves at all assayes. The upper worke of the said galeons was of thicknesse and strength sufficient to beare off musket-shot. The lower worke and the timbers thereof were out of measure strong, being framed of plankes and ribs foure or five foote in thicknesse, insomuch that no bullets could pierce them but such as were discharged hard at hand, which afterward prooved true, for a great number of bullets were founde to sticke fast within the massie substance of those thicke plankes. Great and well-pitched cables were twined about the masts of their shippes, to strengthen them against the battery of shot.
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