This series has nine easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Let’s Bowl.
Spain’s war against England had been a long time coming. Elizabeth had given aid to Philip’s rebellious subjects in the Netherlands, and Sir Francis Drake had committed many depredations upon Spain and her colonies. For the purpose of avenging these acts, as well as the death of Mary Stuart, and of overthrowing the Reformation in Great Britain, Philip gathered up all his strength and prepared to hurl a mighty naval force, the “Invincible Armada,” against England.
This selection is from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
The celebrated military historian Edward Creasy shows how to write history in this non-fiction short story about one of the most consequential conflicts of human events. It begins with a lawn game of bowling.
Place: English Channel
On the afternoon of July 19, 1588, a group of English captains was collected at the bowling green on the Hoe, at Plymouth, whose equals have never before or since been brought together, even at that favorite mustering-place of the heroes of the British navy. There was Sir Francis Drake, the first English circumnavigator of the globe, the terror of every Spanish coast in the Old World and the New; there was Sir John Hawkins, the rough veteran of many a daring voyage on the African and American seas and of many a desperate battle; there was Sir Martin Frobisher, one of the earliest explorers of the Arctic seas in search of the northwest passage.
There was the high admiral of England, Lord Howard of Effingham, prodigal of all things in his country’s cause, and who had recently had the noble daring to refuse to dismantle part of the fleet, though the Queen had sent him orders to do so in consequence of an exaggerated report that the enemy had been driven back and shattered by a storm. Lord Howard — whom contemporary writers describe as being of a wise and noble courage, skilful in sea matters, wary and provident, and of great esteem among the sailors — resolved to risk his sovereign’s anger, and to keep the ships afloat at his own charge, rather than that England should run the peril of losing their protection.
Another of our Elizabethan sea-kings, Sir Walter Raleigh, was at that time commissioned to raise and equip the land forces of Cornwall; but we may well believe that he must have availed himself of the opportunity of consulting with the lord admiral and the other high officers, which was offered by the English fleet putting into Plymouth; and we may look on Raleigh as one of the group that was assembled at the bowling green on the Hoe.
Many other brave men and skilful mariners, besides the chiefs whose names have been mentioned, were there, enjoying, with true sailor-like merriment, their temporary relaxation from duty. In the harbor lay the English fleet with which they had just returned from a cruise to Corunna in search of information respecting the real condition and movements of the hostile armada. Lord Howard had ascertained that our enemies, though tempest-tossed, were still formidably strong; and, fearing that part of their fleet might make for England in his absence, he had hurried back to the Devonshire coast. He resumed his station at Plymouth, and waited there for certain tidings of the Spaniards’ approach.
A match at bowls was being played, in which Drake and other high officers of the fleet were engaged, when a small armed vessel was seen running before the wind into Plymouth harbor with all sails set. Her commander landed in haste, and eagerly sought the place where the English lord admiral and his captains were standing. His name was Fleming; he was the master of a Scotch privateer; and he told the English officers that he had that morning seen the Spanish Armada off the Cornish coast. At this exciting information the captains began to hurry down to the water, and there was a shouting for the ships’ boats; but Drake coolly checked his comrades, and insisted that the match should be played out. He said that there was plenty of time both to win the game and beat the Spaniards. The best and bravest match that ever was scored was resumed accordingly. Drake and his friends aimed their last bowls with the same steady, calculating coolness with which they were about to point their guns. The winning cast was made; and then they went on board and prepared for action, with their hearts as light and their nerves as firm as they had been on the Hoe bowling green.
Meanwhile the messengers and signals had been dispatched fast and far through England, to warn each town and village that the enemy had come at last. In every seaport there was instant making ready by land and by sea; in every shire and every city there was instant mustering of horse and man. But England’s best defense then, as ever, was in her fleet; and, after warping laboriously out of Plymouth harbor against the wind, the lord admiral stood westward under easy sail, keeping an anxious look-out for the armada, the approach of which was soon announced by Cornish fisher-boats and signals from the Cornish cliffs.
It is not easy, without some reflection and care, to comprehend the full extent of the peril which England then ran from the power and the ambition of Spain, or to appreciate the importance of that crisis in the history of the world. Queen Elizabeth had found at her accession an encumbered revenue, a divided people, and an unsuccessful foreign war, in which the last remnant of our possessions in France had been lost; she had also a formidable pretender to her crown, whose interests were favored by all the Roman Catholic powers. It is true that, during the years of her reign which had passed away before the attempted invasion of 1588, she had revived the commercial prosperity, the national spirit, and the national loyalty of England. But her resources to cope with the colossal power of Philip II still seemed most scanty; and she had not a single foreign ally, except the Dutch, who were themselves struggling hard, and, as it seemed, hopelessly, to maintain their revolt against Spain.
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