Cartagena was the capital of the Spanish Main, and though much younger than Santo Domingo it was far wealthier.
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.
Meanwhile Frobisher advanced with the flotilla against the harbor fort, and as soon as Carleill was heard in contact with the enemy’s pickets he opened fire. The boat-attack was repulsed — indeed, it may only have been intended as what soldiers then called “a hot alarm” — but Carleill was completely successful. By the march through the surf he had not only evaded the obstacles which the enemy had so carefully prepared, but he had been covered from the fire of the galleys in the harbor, and had never so much as entered the fire-area of the heavily armed entrenchments. After a desperate struggle at push of pike, the position was carried by assault, and once more so hotly was the advantage pursued that in one rush the whole town was captured. The garrison fled across the bridge to the hills, and the next day, when Drake brought up the fleet to bear upon the fort, that also was evacuated.
No success was ever better earned and few more richly rewarded. Cartagena was the capital of the Spanish Main, and though much younger than Santo Domingo it was far wealthier. It yielded rich loot for the men; and for his shareholders Drake, after a long negotiation, succeeded in exacting a ransom of a hundred ten thousand ducats, besides what he got for an adjacent monastery. Though to all this plunder Drake could add the consolation that he had destroyed the galleys and shipping which crowded the port, and blown up the harbor fort which the Spaniards had forgotten to include in the convention, he was still unsatisfied. Well knowing that by an advance up the Chagres River in his boats Panama lay at his mercy, he was resolved with its capture to crown the campaign; but as he lay in Cartagena the sickness, which had never really ceased, broke out again with new virulence, and made such havoc with his force that he had reluctantly to confess that Panama must wait. To capture it with the crippled means at his command was impossible, and the only question was whether Cartagena should be held till he could return with reinforcements.
The soldiers declared themselves ready to undertake the task; but in a full council of war it was finally decided that no strategic advantage would be gained at all proportional to the risk that would be run in further weakening the fleet, and on the last day of March the signal to make sail home was flying from the Elizabeth Bonaventura. So severely, however, did they suffer from the weather and want of water that it was nearly two months before they reached the coast of Florida. Still Drake found time and energy to destroy and plunder the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine, and relieve Raleigh’s exhausted colony in Virginia. With the remnants of the settlers on board, he weighed for England, and on July 28, 1586, he was writing from Plymouth to Lord Burghley laconically reporting his return; and, apologizing for having missed the Plate fleet by only twelve hours’ sail — “the reason best known to God” — he declared that he and his fleet were ready at once to strike again in any direction the Queen would be pleased to indicate.
“There is a very great gap opened,” said Drake in his letter to Burghley, “very little to the liking of the King of Spain.” That, with the calm request for orders, was his comment on a feat which changed the destinies of Europe. At its fullest flood he had stemmed the tide of Spanish empire. It was no less a thing than that.
A few months ago all Europe had been cowering in confused alarm before the shadow of a new Roman empire. Ever since the first triumph of Luther, the cause of Reformation had been Steadily losing ground; on England and the Low Countries hung its only hope, and with the fall of Antwerp Europe saw itself on the eve of that “last great battle in the west” which must decide its fate for centuries. In despair of the result, each trembling power was trying to hide behind the other; each was thrusting its neighbor forward to break the coming blow; and Philip led the cheating till his hour should come. He was bent on crushing Elizabeth; and then, with one foot on the ruins of her kingdom, he meant to stamp down his rebellious Netherlands into the gloomy Catholicism in which his own dark soul was sunk. As the fruit of his splendid deliberation ripened, he strove to cheat Elizabeth into inactivity by a hope that peace might yet be purchased by the betrayal of the Netherlands.
Then in laughing gusts came over the Atlantic the rumors of his exploits, till the full gale they heralded swept over Europe, whirling into oblivion a hundred intrigues and bending the prestige of Spain like a reed. The limitless possibilities of the new-born naval warfare had been demonstrated, and the lesson startled Europe like a revelation. An unmeasured force was added to statecraft, and a new power had arisen. The effect was immediate. Men saw the fountain of Spanish trade at England’s mercy; they knew how narrowly the Plate fleet had escaped, and a panic palsied Philip’s finance. The Bank of Seville broke; that of Venice was in despair; and the King of Spain, pointed at as a bankrupt, failed to raise a loan of half a million ducats. Parma was appalled. With his brilliant capture of Antwerp he had seen himself on the brink of that great exploit with which he hoped to crown his career; and now, instead of a host armed at all points for the invasion of England, he saw around him a broken army it was impossible to supply. In Germany the Protestant princes raised their heads, and, seeing dawn at last, began to shake off the lethargy into which despair had plunged them. England was wild with joy. Burghley himself was almost startled from his caution, and cried out with half a shudder that Drake was a fearful man to the King of Spain.
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