Drake’s ideas of naval warfare were developing a step further, and the Queen for the moment listened.
Continuing Drake Captures Cartegena; Raids Cadiz,
our selection from Sir Francis Drake by Julian Corbett published in 1890. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Drake Captures Cartegena; Raids Cadiz.
For two years Philip had been at work upon his Armada. His ports were crowded with its details; his storehouses were bursting with its furniture; and Walsingham at last was able to convince the Queen, by a paper stolen from the very closet of the Pope, that it was upon her head the great engine was to crash. Her eyes were opened; and, infected for a moment with the warlike spirit into which her people and her Parliament had lashed themselves, she ordered Drake in 1587 to the coast of Spain.
It was no longer as a privateer that he was to act. He held the rank of her majesty’s admiral-at-the-seas, and William Borough, the comptroller of the navy, was his vice-admiral. Four of the Queen’s largest battle-ships and two of her pinnaces were under his command, and the London merchants committed to his flag ten fine cruisers, with the famous Merchant Royal at their head. Besides these, he had six hundred tons of his own shipping, as well as some of the lord admiral’s. In all, exclusive of tenders, there were twenty-three sail — five battle-ships, two first-class cruisers, seven of the second class, and nine gunboats large and small. With this fine force he was instructed to proceed to Cape St. Vincent, and by every means in his power to prevent the concentration of the several divisions of the Armada by cutting off their victuallers, and even destroying them in the ports where they lay. If the enemy sailed for England or Ireland, he was to hang on their skirts, cut off stragglers, and prevent a landing; and, finally, he was given a free hand to act against the East and West India convoys.
Elizabeth was in a resolute mood. Drake’s ideas of naval warfare were developing a step further, and the Queen for the moment listened. He was beginning dimly to grasp that the command of the sea was the first object for a naval power to aim at. It was because he had not command of the seas that he had been unable to retain his hold of Cartagena, for the troops which should have formed its garrison were wanted to defend his fleet. Wiser for the lesson, his aim was now to crush the Spanish navy, and then, in undisputed control of the sea, to gather in his harvest. The opposition were thoroughly alarmed, and, while Drake in hot haste was driving on his preparations, they left no stone unturned to get his orders modified. They tampered with his men, they whispered slanders in his mistress’ ear, they frightened her with threats from abroad, they tempted her with offers of peace from Parma on the old disgraceful terms. For Walsingham, who, through thick and thin, was always at Drake’s back, it was an unequal fight; with the stanchest of his party in disgrace for Mary’s premature execution, he was single-handed against a host, and at last the friends of Spain prevailed. Early in April a messenger sped down to Plymouth with orders that operations were to be confined to the high seas. As Philip’s ships were all snug in port, and could well remain there as long as Drake’s stores allowed him to keep the sea, it was a complete triumph for Spain. But when the messenger dashed into Plymouth with the fatal packet he found the roadstead empty. Drake was gone.
In vain at the last moment a number of his sailors had been induced to desert; he had filled their places with soldiers. In vain a swift pinnace was dispatched in pursuit; Drake had taken care no orders should catch him, and, with his squadron increased by two warships from Lyme, was already off Finisterre, battling with a gale which drove the pinnace home. For seven days it raged and forced the fleet far out to sea. Still Drake held on in its teeth, and so well had he his ships in hand that on the 16th, within twenty-four hours after the gale had blown itself out, the whole fleet in perfect order was sailing gayly eastward past Cape St. Vincent.
Eastward — for he had intelligence that Cadiz harbor was full of transports and store-ships, and on the afternoon of the 19th, as he entered the bay, he saw a forest of masts in the road behind the city. A council of war was summoned at once, and without asking their opinion he quietly told them he was going to attack. It was his usual manner of holding a council, but it took Borough’s breath away. It shocked the old Queen’s officer, and outraged his sense of what was due to his own reputation and experience and the time-honored customs of war. He wanted to talk about it and think about it, and find out first whether it was too dangerous. And there was certainly some excuse for his caution. Cadiz stands on a precipitous rock at the end of a low and narrow neck of land, some five miles in length, running parallel to the coast. Within this natural breakwater are enclosed an outer and an inner port; and so cumbered with shoals and rocks was the entrance from the sea that no ship could get in without passing under the guns of the town batteries, while access from the outer to the inner port was only to be gained by the Puntal passage, half a mile wide.
Opposite Cadiz, on the other side of the outer harbor, was Port St. Mary, and within the Puntal channel, at the extreme end of the inlet, stood Port Royal. Both places, however, were so protected by shoals as to be unapproachable except to the port pilots. It was an ideal scene of action for galleys to develop their full capabilities. Two had already appeared to reconnoiter, and how many more there were no one could tell. Galleys, it must be remembered, were then considered the most formidable warships afloat, and quite invincible in confined waters or calms.
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